Saturday, July 22, 2006

art vs reality

art vs reality
Originally uploaded by mazen kerbaj.
To hell with CNN, to hell with network news, this is one brave voice in Lebanon . . .
Go, Read, Listen, Watch . . .


Friday, July 21, 2006

First Show

Curtain's up, introductions are made and we begin to play. The first song is one of the STAR's signature tunes. It would be unfair for us not to play it but after all these years it does become stale. During rehearsals we found a few ways to bring something new to the tired old thing. It is, after all, a very good tune, lively and perfect to open the set. Now maybe they will leave us alone and we won't have to play it again until near the end of the show. I could play this one in my sleep so I use this time to scope out the way things are around me. I'm at far stage right slightly upstage. To my right, downstage is the violinist, a lovely woman from Laurel Canyon with that throbbing gypsy intonation and real fire in her phrasing. I swear there's a whiff of burning sulpher in the air whenever she glares at me over her instrument's neck. To her left and level with me is the ex-pop star who has left a lucrative session career in L.A. to make this little trip with us. He handles not being a star very well, and the years of scuffling for session work have turned him into a solid, steady working, lunchpail kind of player. He was the last addition to our group and so far the chemistry has been great. Our drummer is second generation (he's the kid of the group at 35) L.A. studio wizard. He's everything I love in a drummer, he's got a solid, no nonesense beat. Adding a stroke or taking a stroke away would diminish his performance, only the best drummers are like that. On keyboards we have yet another studio bear who also had a solid hit of his own. STAR is down front center where he should be. I love this guy too. He has one of the finer voices in the business and is, like me, clean and sober for many years. He doesn't make a big deal of it, but it is a huge factor in his surviving all these years. He is also one of my absolute favorite producers to work with. No nonsense, just lots of hard work to lay the ground for any inspiration that might come our way. Three female back up singers round us out and, so far, everybody brought their A-game to the first show.

It's going well enough that I try squinting through the lights to see if some of the people I'm expecting have made the show, or are waiting to come to the midnight show later. My agent is there. Let me say I love this man. I do not deserve him. He was my father's agent and has stuck by me through more shit than he deserved to go through. He's old school Hollywood entertainment industry. He was a solid, working professional actor in westerns for years and years. He ran around with John Wayne, and all those guys. He loves music, especially jazz, and during one of the lulls in the production of western movies he opened his talent agency. His main offices are in Vegas and I'm delighted to see him. There are a few friends scattered through the audience and I make contact where I can. It's also time for me to bring full attention back to the stage because we are ready to start off on another song.

One of the best ways to deal with having a body of work that most of the audience expects to hear and having a long list of tunes that many people would feel cheated if they don't get to hear them is to do a bunch of them hard and fast right at the top of the show. That gets things out of the way and helps to clear some room for anything new that might be on the boards. In our case, there has been a new album released recently and these shows are being done in support of that. First though, we have to get the crowd to a place where they will listen to something new instead of being all restless and disappointed waiting for their favorite.

We finally get to some of the new stuff with about fifteen minutes left in the first section of the show. There haven't been any really noticable rough spots and the crowd is with us all the way. When STAR says "Here's something from the new collection" they get right into it. Whew! That worry's handled for tonight. We give them four new ones right in a row and announce that we're taking a short break and some comedian from the circuit that I've never heard of will be coming out.

Backstage I towell off and chug a bottle of ice water. There is an ice bag for my left wrist (Again, I LOVE THE CREWS IN VEGAS!) and I just sit there icing my wrist and breathing. One of the light crew brings me a note from the audience, it's from my agent and I won't have to be thinking of ways to kill the two hours between ringing this show out and the curtain of the late show. Good. (you might have guessed that I don't have a great track record of dealing with time on my hands, especially in places like Vegas)

The beginning of the second part of the show is my very favorite. Star is sitting on a stool, center stage. I am seated slight up and right on a stool with my harps. We do old Irish and American folk stuff for two or three songs (depending on the crowd and the mood of STAR). Then we are joined by the bass player for some old acoustic blues. As the set progresses, one by one the rest of the band comes out and, almost without the crowd noticing anything we are at full strength. Now we are doing about a one to one ratio of old stuff to new stuff, increasing the tempos, volumes and intensities each time. At ten minutes to final curtain we are at max. Everybody working hard, sweat flying. Hell, I even cut a few moves loose (and I'm a notoriously static player, not big on hopping around) because I am caught up in the energy.

When that song's done, STAR takes a moment to introduce the band and thank everybody for coming out. We take our bows, the crowd's going nuts, standing and jumping and screaming and clapping. Our work here is done.

next installment soon. . .

IMG_4416 random flickr blogging while avoiding promised work on another, more serious post

Originally uploaded by Fiona Cullen.

my mind is
a big hunk of irrevocable nothing which touch and taste and smell
and hearing and sight keep hitting and chipping with sharp fatal
in an agony of sensual chisels i perform squirms of chrome and ex
-ecute strides of cobalt
nevertheless i
feel that i cleverly am being altered that i slightly am becoming
something a little different, in fact
Hereupon helpless i utter lilac shrieks and scarlet bellowings.

     e.e. cummings

Friday Random Ten

I promise, promise, promise that I am hard at work on the continuation of the Performance Chronicle.

It might be up tonight. If not tonight, then tomorrow. Until then, here's a random shot from the playlist . . .

Wild, Wild Life - - - Talking Heads
All I Know - - - Art Garfunkle
Shambala - - - Three Dog Night
All Through The Night - - - Cyndi Lauper (live bootleg from Hamburg)
Death Letter - - - Son House
No Lonesome Tune - - - Townes Van Zandt
The Wreck of the Barbi Ferrari - - John Hiatt
Eres Tu - - - Mocedades
The Obvious Child - - - Paul Simon
Boogie Chillun - - - Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (live bootleg)

Bonus track: (hit random twice take the top)

Do Re Mi - - -Woody Guthrie

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Going for the joke instead

I wanted to write something profound about the President's veto of the stem cell research bill. All I come up with is motherfucker, asshole, phoney hypocritical cocksucking son of a bitch then back to motherfucking motherfucker.

Since that word is stuck in my head I'll go with another favorite musician's joke. From the great Moms Mabely (who gave me my words to live by "don't start none, won't be none)...

There is this preacher who has a big ass revival meeting scheduled. The hall is rented and everything is in place until the organ player has to leave town (something about a choirgirl or boy anyway he had to leave fast). The piano player has a hangnail and can't do it, the guitar player's stoned. He can't find anybody to play for the service that night.

He sets the deacon to canvas the crowd and find out if there is a musician that is willing to play. Right before the service begins the deacon brings up this little old man and says "This guy says he's a piccolo player and he has it with him." There isn't time to do anything but go on with what he has so they set the little old man and his piccolo up near the altar and prepare to make the best of the situation.

Things start out bad. The man doesn't know the hymns that the preacher is calling for and his sight reading is awful. The tone of the instrument is piercing and unpleasant. The preacher determines to soldier through. Ignoring the horrid sounds coming from the choir loft, he continues to preach. They come to another hymn and right in the middle of the song somebody from the congregation shouts out:

"The piccolo player's a motherfucker!"

There is stunned silence in the the church. The preacher doesn't know quite how to deal with this. He tries to start the singing again but before he can make much headway there's another shout from the congregation:

"The piccolo player's a motherfucker!"

Silence again. The preacher is now thoroughly pissed off. He glares out over the congregation and says:

"This here's a house of God. We are supposed to control our tongues better. Who was it that just called my piccolo player a motherfucker?"


"Will the man what called my piccolo player a motherfucker, will he raise his hand?"


"Then, will the man sittin' next to the man what called my piccolo player a motherfucker, will he raise his hand?"


"Then will the man sittin next to the man sittin next to the man what called my piccolo player a motherfucker, will he raise his hand?"


"Then will the man sittin next to the man sittin next to the man sittin next to the man what called my piccolo player a motherfucker, will he raise his hand?"

All the way in the back, a man rises.

The preachers asks "Why did you call my piccolo player a motherfucker in the house of God?"

The man says "Preacher, you misunderstand me. I am not the man what called your piccolo player a motherfucker. I'm not the man sittin next to the man what called your piccolo player a motherfucker. I'm not the man sittin next to the man sittin next to the man what called your piccolo player a motherfucker. I'm not even the man sittin next to the man sittin next to the man sittin next to the man sittin Next To The MAN, what called your piccolo player a motherfucker."

The preacher says "Then why you standin here?"

The man says "Preacher, I want to know, who called that Motherfucker a piccolo player?"

George W. Bush is a piccolo playin motherfucker.


by clicking here you can sign the petition urging republican congressmen to vote for over ride. It is probably as futile a gesture as pissing at the stars to put out their fire, but hey, it's a gesture nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Performance Chronicle

It seems that the majority of the six regular readers of this blog seem to be most interested in the nuts and bolts stuff around being a performer. Some qualification stuff though, I really haven't been much of a live show kind of guy for the last thirteen years. My experience over the weekend was a testing the water sort of thing more than anything else, and, quite frankly, I doubt I have the stuff inside me in sufficient quantities to make it anything but a "now and then" occurance with me.

Here's why:

Let's start with the night before. . .I was a basket case. I hate being that lame. I thank those of you (especially you, litbrit m'dear) who took the time and trouble to point out the obvious fact that I was mind fucking myself. I was. Here's a blow by blow of the way things went.

7:20 a.m. roll out on the road. RV (for cargo purposes more than anything else) gassed, new tires (that's 10 for those who are in to accounting), full tank of diesel ($180 at Costco), iPod inserted into sound system. I take a pretty relaxed attitude when I'm driving, I leave in plenty of time, after making sure that all the mechanical stuff is as up to date as I can. I hate assholes who try to make up time on the road. I make my time before I leave. I leave in plenty of time to accomodate the unexpected. Drive time from home to Vegas was 6.5 hours. No glitches. I like that. Arrive at the hotel, park the beast and call the stage manager of the room where we're playing that night to tell him that I have my load-in equipment ready. Bring it to the dock where the wonderfully professional and talented crew members swiftly unload and take my performance gear to the places they have designated (goddamn, the top drawer crews are something I fucking LOVE about Vegas). I give the key grip $50 and tell him thank you and that I'll be down to tune up and check my equipment once I've gotten to my room and showered etc.) Dude says "Just put your luggage out here on the dock, we'll send a bellman or someone up with it later. Billy has worked as a guitar tech for a lot of major acts would you like him to tune up for you?" Gotta love guys like that.

I hit the room (just one more hotel room, nothing fancy, that's OK.) and shower, flop down on the bed and just veg for twenty minutes. Phone rings, I'm reminded that our sound check is in one hour. I tell them that I was planning to be there in ten anyway.

If I must endure sound checks, let me endure them in Vegas. This is not like your crew is traveling with you and needs to get a feel for the room. These guys know their turf. I show up, my guitars, mandolin, well, everything but the harps are tuned and arranged on stands. The harps are unpacked and waiting. The kid, Billy, who tuned up all my other stuff asks I will show him anything he needs to know about tuning a harp. No problem Billy. Since I have two, you can do one. It's easy enough, you just tune each string to the scope and then check them. Final test is to play something. I did "O'Carolan's Quarrel With the Landlord". Billy gets a $20 (although that is not why he did what he did, he was already in line for a share of the previous $50, but cash gratuities are the lubrication of the Vegas machine it's how you say "thank you" or "I care.") Billy asks if he can try tuning them up after the show and I say "of course, if you want to try playing them a little, go ahead with that too." He takes this as an opening for conversation on my equipment. My two electrics are ones that I built myself on the Stratocaster line. I go over the process of ordering the parts online (the only part of the process that is not available to the general public is that I have an old friend who is a Master Builder at Fender who snuck my bodies into their routers and planers) He asks about my strings (I use big, fat, heavy strings) and I say that I prefer the tone quality and durability of the bigger strings and I laughingly add "Plus, as soon as they've tried fingering those cables nobody wants to borrow your guitars much." (technical aside: I will offer up my stringing scheme to anyone who asks in the comments but I go for heavy because you have a more complex tone, greater sustain, and once the strings get set they don't change, so, in trade off for physically harder to manipulate I get vastly better sound and performance, 'nuff said)

The rest of the band shows up and we go for our peaks. This is where we want our loud and fast, this is where we want our ballads, these are the changes from point of style (acoustic v. rock v. blues v. jazzy). We work with them for about 40 minutes and STAR shows up, bleats into the mike for another 10 minutes and we're done. Again, I love Vegas for this part of it. Hell for a musician just might be an eternal sound check. These guys know their room and they know from performances. They hate wasting time as much as we do. I ask Billy when his break is and if he would like to grab some dinner before the show. He says sure, excited to be treated like a human being instead of a cog in the machine. A lot of the crew people you find fall into one of two categories. They are frustrated performers who are biding their time waiting for their big break or they are dedicated techies. I'm not sure where Billy falls in this yet, but I intend to find out over dinner and then treat him accordingly. One thing I have learned over the years is that treating your crew with deference and respect is good business. They don't work for they work with me.

It is now 3 hours until show time and I am in that golden zone. All my prep is done, all is looking smooth and easy. Everybody is rested, ready and all we have to do is wait for the show. I almost never like to spend this time with other performers. We have a strong temptation to mind fuck ourselves by going to much over what could go wrong or to visit past performances that have nothing to do with what's about to happen. I like to spend my waiting time by myself or with somebody like Billy. I've got an hour to kill before his break so I take $100 to the Poker room and sit down with some strangers to play Hold 'em. After an hour I cash in $200 which mainly came from two good hands and I managed not to piss it away on stupid bets. I meet Billy at the buffet and we tear into some serious calorie packing. He is somewhat taken aback by how much stuff I'm packing away. I tell him that I'm going to be barfing it up 20 minutes before curtain anyway so it's all uncounted stuff. I'm also pushing 60 and don't worry about looking good for the ladies anymore. They are either far past the visual or they don't bother with me. (I'm about 20 lbs overwieght and have been since I got sober) In our conversation I find out that Billy plays guitar but knows that he can't count on it to be a living. I don't dispute that, I just tell him that it's a prudent choice and that there will always be a job for a good tech. I don't know of any guitar techs or stage hands that have gone on to being on the other side of the show, but I'm sure they're there. He really seems to be the perfect mix of understanding the music and performing end of it while being strong on technicall wizardry. He asks some pointed questions about my decided lack of sound effects gear. I tell him that I like the sound of electric guitars and all the other things I play. I also tell him about how I totally demoralized a kid at a festival once. This kid had a huge plywood base that held all his switches and sound gimmicks. During their performance something shorted out and he was cursing and kicking the shit out of it as I was going onstage. I said "Dude, want to see my effects panel?" He looked up and I waggled my empty hands at him. Billy got that.

Dinner's over now. I go up to the room to put on my performance togs. Tonight we're wearing Teva leather sandals (it's 120° out there sandals are called for), Wrangler jeans from the local feedstore, black tee shirt, Versace double breasted purple silk jacket, grey stetson with two eagle feathers in the hatband, hair is in tight ponytail with another small beaded hawk feather from the ribbon. Usually I'm a scrunchi wrapper but for the show silk ribbon works.

Halfway through getting dressed my stomach empties, teeth are brushed, altoids sucked. Now I feel ready.

Down to the green room. Say hi, all the usual bullshit. The adrenalin's starting to pop, we get the 5 minute call and go out to the wings. All the stage hands are giving us thumbs up and fist daps (another by product of being nice to them and cool to their boy Billy). We're lead out one by one to a dark stage, then the lights go up and we begin to play. STAR comes out on the stage manager's introduction.

It's all clockwork from there.

More to follow....

Monday, July 17, 2006

DSC_7226.JPG random flikr blogging

Originally uploaded by glen salls.
If I leave here while George W. Bush is still President, there might not be any place to land. . .