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Category Archives: Songwriting

Overuse Of the Word ‘I’ Reaching Epidemic Proportions Worldwide

Having received more than a few inquiries from my Facebook friends and ReverbNation associates about my intermittent activity on the Internet, the following explanation is offered. As most everyone knows, these sites are capable of consuming huge hunks of time and it is with this knowledge that I have made a conscious decision to avoid the computer in order to devote all of my energy to songwriting, recording, and turning wrenches. Therefore, for the past month or so, I’ve been immersed in recording, guitar repair, and cylinder head work.

Inasmuch as the songwriting portion goes, there is, what I like to refer to as ‘passive’ songwriting. That is to say that I don’t ‘try to write’. It has become my modus operandi to simply let the music and songs come to me as they will, and the process works out rather well. Once in the ‘recording mode’, the songs just begin to filter down, and all that is left for me to do is to get onto tape what I hear in my head. That may sound somewhat esoteric and arcane, but this is simply the best way to describe it.

If I try to write, everything tends to turn out sounding redundant and contrived. This I hate. Once the process begins, however, it is something that is quite constant, and I find it more conservative in regard to total time spent to give myself over to it completely until such time that it ceases of its own accord, thus my absence from the Internet sites is duly noted and addressed.

I do like to post a blog on occasion when a subject comes to mind. It helps me keep up appearances.

A bit more on writing to those who may be interested.

A couple of weeks ago, my son was reading a piece I’d written earlier.

“You’ve used the word ‘I’ too many times,” he observed. It was humble pie directly to the face. My own advice had come back to haunt me.

“True,” I conceded, “but I was writing about me.”

“That doesn’t matter,” he continued, “you can always reword a sentence to avoid overuse. You used it six times in one sentence.”

He was right. I was identified with my subject matter and there had been a strong emotional attachment, which explained everything.

For many years now, it has been a practice of mine never to write a song in first person. To my way of thinking, this leads to no good. It also is the best way to develop writer’s block, create boring subject matter and come across as being self absorbed. When one writes in this fashion, the possibilities are immediately limited to ones’ own experiences. I don’t intend to speak for anyone else, but life has been pretty boring insofar as writing songs about me goes.

At best, all first person writing is good for is a couple of sappy love songs, and few more blues songs after the relationship has gone kaput.

Now, we all can name songs which have been written about courtship, and then there’s a couple of wedding tunes, but can anyone name a ‘We’ve Been Married Twenty Years’ song? Not too many ‘Honey, I’m Picking Up a Gallon of Milk and a Newspaper, See You at Six’, or ‘Meatloaf Serenade’ songs out there, are there?

Sure, there are songs full of promise, and tunes such as ‘I Love You More Today Than Yesterday’, but I can’t say with any amount of certainty that Dude was married when he wrote that.

This isn’t to reflect badly on marriage, it’s just that there’s such a limited amount of material there.

Unless you want to count that stupid ‘Pina Colada’ song by that guy whose name I don’t even remember.

Oh yeah. Rupert Holmes. What a dillweed.

Damn it.

Now that nonsense will be playing in my head all day long and I won’t get any work done. Sheesh. I hate that freaking song.

See why I stay off of the computer when I’m trying to write and compose?

Voluntary Versus Involuntary Personal Slavery

I know this big, friendly fellow who had a severe heart attack a couple of nights ago. The prognosis isn’t good. A wife, three teen-aged children, and there he lies today, not yet forty years old, in a coma, somewhere in the middle of time itself.

As in all such instances, the fragility of life got me to thinking about my own achievements, or lack thereof, made in the time that I’ve been so far given. As I’ve aged and suffered setbacks, I’ve become a pretty reliable authority on how to do things.

Mostly on how not to do things, unfortunately. But one way or the other, we learn.

As far as my own choices go, I like to contrast my life against that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It keeps me humble.

According to Arnold, he was a poor kid from Austria who had developmental issues, and one side of his body was a good deal weaker than the other. As a result, his doctor prescribed weight training to address the problem. Arnold quickly adapted to the regimen and decided to take big, giant steps to become the best he could be. And he did.

He came to America, although he barely spoke English. He lived in his car for a while. He took lots of risks, but he believed in himself so strongly, he didn’t allow anything to stand in the way of him and his dreams.

His abilities and achievements are a direct reflection of his dedication to, and practice of, his craft.

This same thing can be said for each and every one of us as musicians and songwriters.

One can argue with this logic all day long (mostly in defense of one’s own lack of achievements), but at the end of the day, the fact will stand as testimony to the undeniable truth that can be found there.

Universal truths are glimpses of universal facts, tucked into timeless proverbs.

For instance, if one wishes to be a guitar player, yet practices drinking beer more than he practices guitar playing, he will become a better drinker than guitar player. The facts bear my words out. I know some devoted drinkers who play guitar only tolerably.

Several years ago, I quit drinking and applied myself to the craft of practicing guitar, within five years my guitar playing improved 1000%. Seriously. But I was encouraged early in life to play to my strengths, and one of my strengths was to make rational decisions. I decided that I wanted to play guitar more than I wanted to get a buzz.

A man who I much admire once said, ‘a man who wishes to become a Man cannot sit between two stools for very long without losing everything’. Now I, at fifty-eight years of age, understand the meaning of his words all too clearly.

I wasted time sitting between stools, and by the time I got good enough at my craft to write and record suitable compositions, the music industry had taken a hard turn. Within a decade, a once thriving business was going down like the proverbial Titanic. The model changed, largely on account of the digital revolution, and it caught a lot of musicians with their pants down around their ankles. Others perceived the coming cataclysm and diversified.

But the losing horse blames the rider.

I went through that phase for a while. It was bullshit, of course. Now I blame no one but myself.

I still have beautiful melodies arise from the ether in my noggin, and I, ever dutiful to the Muse, pick up my instrument and do my very best to transpose the sounds in my head onto tape. I do it for a different reason now. But I do it. And I do it the best way that I know how.

Unconscious, or Involuntary Personal Slavery is a terrible thing. It is the worst form of slavery, for it is the hardest form to release oneself from. It is so much easier to designate a scapegoat. Most people who cling to Involuntary Personal Slavery secretly love their chains. They’ll come up with every excuse under the sun to justify staying chained down, rather than rising up and leaving the plantation. Most of the time, fear is the prime motivator for remaining clapped in their imaginary irons. Fear of failure. Fear of nothing of real value in the free Man.

This type of slavery takes many forms; addictions to food and alcohol, religion, sex, fame, anger, notoriety. All such slavery is simple stupidity. Until one can break these chains, one will never truly be free. But most people do not really wish to be free, for slavery gives them the option to apply blame to an outside instigator or oppressor.

Let us use the analogy of slavery in America. Now, slavery hasn’t been practiced in America in over 100 years, but most modern Americans have been taught very little about the role of slavery in America, or of the War Between the States for that matter, which was more over money and states rights than slavery. Even free blacks owned slaves in America before the War, but that is never discussed because it cracks the mold; and although most modern American blacks wouldn’t recognise a cotton stalk from a corn stalk, they live as if they are still on the plantation.

And in one sense, they still are.

—————————————————————————–

African blacks regard American blacks with disdain. They think that they (much like the modern Jew) are big crybabies who have every opportunity to make something of themselves, yet who prefer to spend all of their time and energy making themselves out as victims, blaming past events for keeping them in their present set of ‘circumstances’.

Ask anyone who has spent time getting to know the blacks who inhabit the continent of Africa. African blacks are very tribal. If an American black is unable to trace his tribal ancestry, he is not considered a ‘long lost brother’. He is just another Black American. Neither is he referred to as an ‘African-American’. African blacks will tell you that they would gladly trade places with any American black in order to be able to take advantage of all of the opportunities available to them. However, African blacks, in spite of all of their difficulties, such as walking miles daily simply for water, are among the happiest people in the world, always smiling, always joyful.

These native Africans have every reason to wear their daily struggles like a badge, but they choose to have a bright outlook on life, unlike American blacks, whom the Africans think are a bunch of brainless fools, shooting one another up, running drugs, and rapping about how ‘hard’ life is. African blacks feel that American blacks know nothing of real struggle.

I pretty much agree with the Africans, because the so-called ‘struggles’ of the American blacks are primarily imagined. The mindset is passed down like a disease from one generation to the other. These days it is referred to as ‘white privilege’. Meanwhile the genuinely enfranchised class becomes extremely jealous of their lawfully granted privileges: Although American blacks, who in the past thirty years have been born into a society which, through all sorts of legislation, grant them more rights than most other American citizens enjoy, the majority of them still choose to blame their own failure to act on white people, primarily because it has been made too tempting to whine about some perceived inequality.

And many whites exacerbate the image. They choose to believe that they, via inheritance, are partially to blame for the black population’s imaginary suffering. This further allows the American black population to keep themselves ‘down’, while allowing many of the white population to actually defend the mindset.

Both attitudes, incidentally, insure the continuation of the Status Quo.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but once the squeaking stops, the greasing stops. Some American black ‘leaders’ have figured this out, as ‘spokesmen’ in order to keep the wheels greased, as well as their pockets.

What a sad joke. It is unfortunate that so many people buy into the whole facade, because there is no solid foundation on which to base the belief, only a lot of justification for imagined anger.

The point I am attempting to make here, is that this is just another form of Involuntary Personal Slavery.

This form of slavery almost always takes on the form of justification and false inculpation.

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If one cannot look objectively at one’s position in life, one will never be able to make the most of one’s skills and talents. Merely mimicking another person’s way of doing things is not being true to oneself.

I discovered that until one is made aware of the fact that he is indeed a slave, he never feels the need to escape. This is a fact that I did not discover this on my own.

By quite accidental and ‘miraculous’ intervention, I found the student of a teacher of a ‘school of another kind’, who tempted me to ‘look’ at myself. It was said that if I could only realise that I was enslaved, that I might, through cunning, obtain certain metals in order to devise tools which would then enable me to design and file a skeleton key which might then unlock the shackles of imagination, but nothing was guaranteed. The prescription was not an easy pill to swallow. The idea, in and of itself however, was painfully simple. It required me to sacrifice my ‘self’ to the will of another for a period of time, to sacrifice my imaginary suffering, and suspend all of my beliefs. This can be thought of as Voluntary Personal Slavery. I found that this was much easier to discuss than to put into practice. This work necessitated a great deal of inner struggle, as one of the requirements was to mercilessly destroy all of my idols. As prescribed, it took years to reach some semblance of achievement. It also caused me to become very calloused.

What I found left was nothing more than an empty shell, a raw animal, devoid of form. There was nothing of my self to be found. All of my ideals were baseless. I was an idiot in the truest sense of the word. All of my opinions were those of others. All of my ‘beliefs’ turned out to be little more than silly Jewish fables parroted to me in my earliest days, from one hyperventilating idiot to the next.

Then I was sent to ‘school’, where I was ‘educated’. Simply put, school gives us ‘vocabulary’, teaches us how to crunch numbers, and instructs us in all of the vogue sciences of the day, but gives us very little solid knowledge.

It took me far too long to shake the shackles of my musical influences, The Beatles, the Doobie Brothers, and the ‘singer songwriter’ phase that I went through. I was none of these. I was simply trying to copy someone else, but wasn’t aware of it.

This was the slavery that my so-called ‘freedom of thought’ consisted of.

It was during this extended period of ‘wandering the wilderness of my soul’, that I experienced a ‘shifting of poles’, wherein everything seemed very superficial and inverted. But then I began to practice my instrument in a certain way, and things began to take order.

Robert Fripp’s school of Guitar Craft was extremely instructive in this regard.

Robert was also a student of the same particular ‘school of thought’ which I had discovered, and there was a ‘secret language’ of sorts which I immediately recognised as school terminology. His instruction in guitar led to further ‘enlightenment’ for his approach to practice was completely different. It was only then that I began to distinguish the Muse from otherwise distracting thoughts, and gave myself over to it.

In this realm, the music has existed from the moment of the beginning of time, and the musician is merely an instrument which makes himself available to the Muse. In this respect, the music makes the musician, rather than the opposite. The feeling is much like being taken down a wooded path blindfolded. Often, the musician is only vaguely aware of what he is doing until he is done. Music is a moving and ‘religious’ experience.

Everyone already really knows what I mean: The annual television cartoon ‘Merry Christmas Charlie Brown’ is really only good because of the music. And everyone gets that fuzzy feeling inside when Linus quotes the short biblical scripture and everyone begins the a cappella ‘oooh’s to ‘Hark, The Herald Angels Sing’ around the proud little Christmas tree. You don’t have to be religious to feel religious. The secret is the music. Not the religion.

That’s precisely why all churches make use of music. Closer to God. It’s that simple. Oh, some denominations will split hairs about the use of instruments and whatnot. That’s just a lot of nonsense. God invented music. Don’t believe me? Just go to church and tell everyone that you don’t believe that music or singing have a place in the church. They’ll look at you as if you’ve lost your mind.

But you won’t do that, will you?

————————————————————————————

Since finding my Muse, I have developed into an instrumentalist which I would have never imagined myself, and have ‘ghost written’ many tunes which It has presented to me. Fame and fortune were not to be mine, but I would not trade my task for anything in the world.

My achievements are mine alone, and the rewards are likewise.

Due to illness, there are many activities that I have been forced to discontinue, but my guitars and my Muse will be the last things that I will surrender when I follow the others into that timeless void that John is edging ever closer toward tonight.

Recording Mythology, Pt. 48 / Why I Am A Solo Recording Artist

Not that anyone cares, but I like to write about music when I’m not recording it.

Music runs in my family, so I acquired what skills I have by force of genetic habit.

Both of my children, Jessica and Sterling, eventually took up music, and persued it to their own desire. I never interfered, after all, I had pretty much done the same thing.

As my offspring developed musically, they would occasionally pose questions of some sort, wondering what I thought about this, or if they could do that. Having always been the sole investigator in my own musical ventures, I’ll usually have an answer, but if I don’t, and my interest is piqued, I’ll either do the research and get the lowdown, or I’ll get my hands dirty and learn through experience and failure.

For the duration, I’d kept a journal of sorts with copious notes describing my recording setups, sessions, signal path accounts, and control settings, mostly for my own reference, in the event that my spastic frame-of-recording-mind would escape me at some later date.

One night I found myself combing through my notes while writing to my daughter and addressing some question she’d posed, concerning a method I’d applied to great effect in the recording of a particular tune.

I decided that my ADD fueled notes were a pitiful mess, as disorganised as my brain.

Within the time that this fact had taken to dawn on me, and the subsequent course of action having actually taken place, the digital revolution had occurred, and a computer had come into my posession.

‘What I ought to do,’ I mused, ‘is exhume all of these notebooks, organise all of my recording notes into key subjects, copy and edit them on the word processor, and then save them onto the hard drive.’

I finally achieved this, although it took some time.

Some time later, after establishing a presence on the Internet and uploading my music for streaming, it didn’t take long before I’d realised a sizable fanbase for this post-analogue era (at least in my way of thinking), and had begun fielding the same sort of questions from other individuals that I’d been getting from my own kids.

I finally got around to blogging said ‘notes’ in the form of individual articles, not only in the name of Discipline, but for the sake of posterity, and in the event that my house burned down, taking my self and my notes along with it.

My original notebooks had taken shape to become a ‘blog’.

I hate that word, by the way.

———————————————————-

Well, anyway, there’s one question that I haven’t gotten around to addressing yet, primarily on account of it was of a personal matter, but what the hell. Quite a lot of folks have asked why I’m a solo artist.

I suppose that I subconsciously knew that it’s how I would end up working, I just didn’t know how it was going to happen. I never wanted to be in a band, although for a brief period, I sang in one when I was in high school.

The way that came about was that ‘somebody’ had told ‘somebody else’ that I was a singer. ‘Somebody else’ was a member of a band whose members wanted to replace their singer-at-the-time, on account of his chorus boy voice, and his not filling the prerequisite ‘image requirements’. People can be superficial. Which pretty much goes for the the seventies, but the music of the period was being developed by some top-notch talent, and the idea appealed to me.

I’m not implying that I fulfilled the aforementioned image requirements, nor am I saying that I was even a singer back then. Somebody else said that. I just wanted to get all up in it.

Anyhow when I was asked, I replied (to my own astonishment) that I did indeed sing. Upon my affirmation, I was likewise asked if I’d show up at such and such place to audition for the position, and I replied that by damn I would.

I’d never sang for anyone in my entire life, and wasn’t sure that I could. When the time to audition came around, I killed a quart of beer to quell my nerves. They asked if I knew the words to ‘Can’t You See’ by the Marshall Tucker Band. Luckily, I did.

‘Great,’ I thought to myself, ‘a cowboy band tune. I hate cowboy bands.’

The band started playing and I began wailing the song. Halfway through the tune the guys stopped playing and said, “Okay, we’ve heard enough.”

Not good. I figured I must suck as a vocalist.

“I believe I speak for us all,” one of the guys said looking around at the others, “and you’re in. Great performance.”

“You sound just like that guy in Marshall Tucker,” another one of the guys said, “Where did you learn to sing like that?”

“In the shower,” I drily replied.

Everybody laughed. I was serious.

“Do you know ‘Tush’ by ZZ Top?”

“Yes,” I answered aloud. ‘Another cowboy song,’ I thought.

“Mind if we run through it?”

We blew through the tune. I’d found my first gig.

“That’s cool man. You sound just like that guy. How do you do that?”

“I’m a singer,” I said and shrugged.

I could summon up some real attitude as pseudo-asshole, but it was mostly to hide my lingering self-doubt.

The truth is I’d just discovered my new-found talent.

I had no idea how what I was doing or how I was doing it. I was just mimicking what I heard and it just seemed easy for me.

Later on, I recall really being impressed when I heard that Paul McCartney had recorded his solo ‘McCartney’ album at home all by himself. I thought that anyone who could do that didn’t need a band at all. That was what I called a real artist.

It wasn’t long before I also discovered that folks like Todd Rundgren and Dan Fogelberg had both done the same thing on a couple of their respective records.

I eventually determined that my own personal measure of success would be realised in not only writing, but singing, playing, engineering, and producing music.

However, at the time I could barely play the guitar. I’d written a few songs but they really bit the bag.

I’d always been highly interested in all things musical, and even in my youth, had reasonably good taste in music. I was able to distinguish the cream from the crap, and looking back, the choices I made were solid, but this was different: I was considering a musical career. This would become a point of contention with my parents. Music, although considered part of a well-rounded education by my mother, was not at the forefront of what could’ve been thought of as a solid career choice by either her or my dad.

Music was a booming business at the time and I wanted to be part of it. By the time
I’d hit my twentieth birthday I’d written my first decent tune. I’d never been much for fantasy life, preferring reality to imagination, but one thing that I embraced above all else was to succeed in the music industry as a composer and writer.

Years passed. ‘Real’ jobs, marriage, children, and all of life’s other realities crept in, crowding me at times and making me uncomfortable as hell at others, scattering my intentions, but I always insisted in making room for my musical pursuits.

Women were always the worst stumbling blocks. Relationships demanded time. They retarded my creativity. I saw movies in my mind and turned them into three minute songs, but life could never be so simple. I never met the woman who understood the artist inside of me. They all thought that my songs were some special ‘code’ representing something besides what they were about.

Soldiers and Musicians should never marry. Women, in all of their imagined intuitiveness, always think that there are other women, but there’s really only war and music. It may sound trite, but relationships just complicate things.

——————————————————-

Over the next ten years I kept writing and attempting to teach myself music. I even tried to co-write and play with a few different individuals, but nothing never really congealed. I kept hearing things which I could not clearly explain and as a result I felt as if the finished compositions had been compromised. I couldn’t ever define what ‘type’ of music it was that I wanted to play, which was somewhat annoying.

I spent the next fifteen years refining the productions that I heard as they came to me, finally deciding to hell with styles and genres, then took another five years piecing together the studio that I felt I required to capture the performances.

I’ve been writing, singing, playing, engineering and producing my own work for over seven years now, and I’m working on my sixth CD.

Suddenly…I’m a solo recording artist. Just what I always wanted to be.

Rich? Nope. Successful?

You’re damn right.

Recording Mythology, Pt. 47 / Habits Were Made To Be Broken

 

 

I was listening to one of those radio stations on which they loosely format their programming around Big Band era music, but will play almost any contemporary vocalist whose tune has, over the years, achieved ‘standard’ status. There was a Barry Manilow song being played, and I was paying attention to the arrangement of the orchestral accompaniment.

 

 

Barry came up in music the working man’s way, through jingle writing. He was responsible for the old MacDonald’s commercial tune, you deserve a break today, so get up and get away to MacDonald’s. His own break came in the way of getting discovered by Bette Midler.

 

 

It occurred to me that, since his accomplishments in earlier recordings, that as his carreer progressed, his arrangements had become somewhat formulaic, and as a result, all his tunes had taken on the same shading. In other words, Barry had begun to sound like himself.

 

 

I soon began to wonder if this wasn’t actually true in everyone’s case to a great degree, even my own, and what could be done to thwart the development of this, what I considered to be, a terrible hinderance to creativity.

 

 

I recalled a thread on Facebook of which I’d been a participant, where scalar practice was being discussed, during which time another individual, who was not only a formidable guitarist, but instructor as well, repeated the mantra “practice, practice, and then forget it all”.

 

 

Practice, practice, and then forget it all.

 

 

This is a rock of advice which will always contain more secrets than it will reveal. The problem is that barnacles of habit will begin to form, and the rock itself is forgotten. More often than not, one may come to repeat the phrase like a parrot, for the dissemination of such advice is generally much easier than heeding it.

 

 

Those who discover the true purpose of practice understand the value in ‘forgetting it all’.

 

 

Many individuals fail to take the same advice regarding production work, however. These habits may begin innocently enough via ‘favorite settings’. After having recorded for over twenty-five years, I cannot for the life of me understand the logic behind these favorite settings, be it on an guitar amp or a stereo compressor. The fact of the matter is that, for every new recorded tune, the dynamics will change considerably. Unless you are recording all of the songs at one time (unlikely) or the style is identical for every tune (Boston), you are going to want to change the settings of one or both in order to convey the difference in feel of that respective song.

 

 

Albeit I have a ‘basic’ setting for my vocal mic compressor, I still have to torque down the attack or release time depending on whether I’m recording an alpha screamer or a beta boy tune. Sometimes I may crank up the compression for the effect itself. Fact is, you simply can’t ‘set it and ‘forget it’.

 

The constant redialing of settings assures that at least every tune won’t suck, just in case one may.

 

And turning the knobs also keeps potentiometers from oxidising.

 

 

Another habit that may creep in is the order of processing units. It’s too easy to lay out all of the stomp boxes based on how they look coolest, but in what order will they achieve the best sound? This is a point of contention among guitarists and shouldn’t be discounted.

 

 

Then there’s the subject of which instruments to include in the composition. We might be tempted to follow Barry’s lead and involve the entire symphony orchestra on every number. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want every tune that I write to emulate the sound of God emerging from the clouds.

 

 

For instance, during one session, I was working on an elusive sound bed. The finished product was destined for a tense underwater scene in a big movie production with a colossal budget and a cranky client. I was so desperate to capture an ambiant sound I was hearing, that I groaned down into an empty coffee can and… good Lord, that was it! But dare I take such a low-tech risk with Mr. Cranky himself? Well, if my procedures were drawn into question, what he didn’t know would be referred to as a trade secret, and therefore could do him no physical nor emotional harm.

 

 

I socked on the headphones and held the closed end of the can to my guitar mic and groaned hard and loud. I laughed as I reached over and turned the reverb onto ‘cathedral’ or ‘oil tanker’ or whichever, and blended a wee bit in. Presto. I hit the record button. It took a few dry runs to get the breathing breaks right and then it required double tracking both groaning and humming so that the proper ‘ethereal feel’ was achieved, but after a little work and a bit of oxygen deficit, I had the sound bed that I needed. The rest was just guitar swells using false harmonics, a slide, a volume pedal, and delay.

 

 

How did my ‘trade secret’ end up sounding? http://www.reverbnation.com/johnnynowhere/song/3137441-trouble-brewing

 

 

The point here being, if we don’t continue to try new ideas, devices, and/or settings, we risk falling instead into the same predictable habits, thereby becoming boring, and we’ll never know what we may be missing.

 

 

Playing it safe and falling back on a proven technique only sounds fresh for so long, kinda like Tom Morello using that ‘wild & crazy’ string stretching effect in every single freaking lead that he plays, and that becomes pretty tiresome rather quickly, according to reliable sources.

 

 

One might do well to ask oneself, ‘What does the song call for here?’ rather than pouring over banks of presets and asking ‘What sounds are available for me to use?’ The first question is open ended, it allows our mind to ponder different possibilities. The second question limits our imaginations to some other goofball’s ideas.

 

 

In another scenario, I was tapping on everything I could find, using a drumstick, a mallet, even my fingertips. I was hearing something between congas and tabla, but not bongos. Nothing I had was giving me the sound that I required and soon I was in my milk crate, throwing boxes around. With nothing to be found, I went to my repair bench and picked up a coconut shell half that I used primarily to create wood dust. I clattered it on the bench ala Monty Python horse hoofs. Ah! An idea. I picked up the other half and re-mated the two halves with hide glue. After it dried, I bored out two of the three ‘eyes’ of the shell and alternately slapped on the openings using my fingers. Knowing that I was almost there, and realising that one more larger hole would give me more variance in tone I needed, I used a paddle bit to make a one inch hole in the side of the shell over which I could cup my palm while slapping the first two holes with my fingertips.

 

 

Many of you may be thinking, ‘Dude, that’s too much damn work,’ but in the end I got exactly the sound that I was looking for, and all it cost was a little time. Granted, it wasn’t very loud, but that’s what clever use of proximity effect and reverb is for.

 

 

Just in case I’ve piqued your curiosity, here is how the resulting ‘percussion’ turned out:

 

http://www.reverbnation.com/johnnynowhere/song/10472671-un-poco-andante

 

 

Remember, the hard part is the fun part, so if you don’t enjoy being uncomfortable by constantly having to break old habits to make room for new ones, you’re probably in the wrong business.

 

 

 

Recording Mythology, Pt. 46 / Twenty Years After Hell Froze Over

 

New Years Eve.

 

I didn’t have anything to do.

 

I refuse to give the police state more leverage against me, so I didn’t get on the road at all, nor did I set off any fireworks.

 

The county that we live in has outlawed fireworks, restricting our ability to celebrate freedom from oppression. Right. Naturally, thousands of normal folks are forced to become ‘outlaw for a night’ and take the scenic thirty minute drive just over the county line where mobile firework stands appear and disappear within a week. Needless to say, the skies around here burn on the holidays.

 

The dude down the road must spend a fortune on thunderous nuclear warheads which he patriotically detonates with fierce defiance every July 4 and New Year, so we just watch his money explode instead.

 

I quit drinking.

 

I no longer allow the government to tax my pleasure. It had become apparent that they, as well as big alcohol, profited far too much from addiction, depression, and violence, and I despise crony capitalism. I still miss a good glass of wine, but my CFS had gotten in the way anyhow.

 

As far as pot goes, I used to enjoy it when it was a inspiring buzz rather than a useless stone. The new stuff sucks. And once the government gets a taste of the revenue they can obtain in taxing the stoners in Colorado, we’ll see who “won”.

 

Coffee is my drug of choice now. French Roast.

 

To be completely honest, I had no yearly resolutions to make. I work on big things in a nine year cycle, so this was a typical night for me.

 

I decided to settle in and review a concert documentary which I’d stumbled across a few days before.

 

Jeez,” I thought aloud when I came across the DVD, “twenty years have already passed since this concert was recorded!? Where has the time gone?”

 

Believe it or not, 2014 marks two decades since hell reputedly froze over.

 

The Eagles formed innocently enough back in 1973 when Glenn Frey and Don Henley sat down to try and write a few songs together. Things coalesced, and the band got really big, really quickly.

 

In the ten years that followed, there were minor personnel changes. There was the addition of Don Felder, later the departure of Bernie Leadon, the addition of Joe Walsh, and finally the departure of bassist Randy Meisner whose shoes were filled as well as could be expected by singer/bassist Tim Schmitt.

 

The perfection that such an act expects from themselves and one another takes a toll over the years and as the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. In many ways it had gotten to where they were competing only with themselves. By 1980 the fellows couldn’t stand to look at each other so they parted ways.

 

The friction was supposedly the worst between the two who had started it all. When asked if the band would ever perform together again, a frustrated Henley replied, “Yeah…when hell freezes over.”

 

Tough odds to overcome. 

 

But hell froze over fourteen years later. The members last comprising the band were carefully reunited with the assistance of Irving Azoff, everybody shook hands, and rehearsals quietly began.

 

If only everything could be done so expertly.

 

Now, I was always impressed, above all else, with the quality of the songwriting of the members, thus was a fan of the band off the bat, so my objectivity in this respect may be drawn into question, but few acts have garnered my monitary support throughout their entire existence, and the Eagles were no exception.

 

There was one album which I didn’t buy due to my severe distaste for all things cowboy.

 

Never caring to stand out, I certainly never have gone out of my way to fit in.

 

The explosion of the urban cowboy fad in the mid seventies was too much for me. I heaped scorn on anybody who wore boots, and especially a hat. Pure Prarie League, Michael Murphy, Marshall Tucker, and many other acts that ‘went cowboy’ received the butt of my ire. To this day, I do not own a copy of the Eagles ‘Desperado’ album, so that should prove something.

 

Finally, the band hit their stride in bucking trend and playing to their strengths. Dead-splat in the middle of the disco era, the Eagles were writing gems like Hotel California.

 

The performances presented in this reunion concert were absolutely spot on.

 

Most of the best songs throughout the band’s tenure were there, and the absence of Meisner was held in silent respect by their not attempting to perform any of the tunes which he’d penned and sang. A sensible move. Schmitt did a couple of his own memorable songs instead. He’s a fantastic bassist, and also sings as good a high harmony as anyone, but there’s only one Meisner.

 

This is a sticking point for me: I’ll always remember Tim as being a member of the band Poco. He wasn’t in the Eagles long enough to replace the image I have of Meisner in the lineup. To be honest, it took me a while to get comfortable with Walsh as a member of the band. He’ll always be part of the James Gang to me.

 

The guys claimed to be nervous their first time out before an audience in so long, but once on stage, the professionalism which they’d honed from previous years and countless tours came back in a performance which melded the five into one, and it all appeared so effortless.

 

When the band began the opening chords to songs such as ‘The Last Resort’ and ‘Wasted Time’, I held my breath. These fellows were really putting themselves to the test, but they delivered with astounding accuracy. This was no half-assed concert put on on in an attempt to make some fast money. It was obvious that the band was hell-bent on proving, not only their durability, but their merit, and they did it with colors flying.

 

Professionalism at this level is something to behold, and nothing short of mesmerising.

 

 

Recording Mythology, Pt. 45/ Ghosts In The Machine

Recently, I was at a client’s home tuning the family console piano when he asked me if I’d like to take a look at his latest acquisition.

This fellow is in the habit of acquiring some pretty interesting stuff from time to time, so of course I told him that I’d be glad to have a gander at his new toy, at which point he held up a finger and slipped away, reappearing momentarily with an old acoustic guitar case. He popped the latches, opened the case and extracted an old Martin.

“Oh! An old 00-18!” I enthused.

He peered into the soundhole, “Ahh….yes, indeed it is. Reputedly a 1961. Here, tell me what you think about it,” he said as he passed it to me while I still sat at the piano bench.

As I began to chord the instrument and play, my smile slowly melted. I held the guitar out and looked at it in disbelief. All it wanted me to do was play The Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” on it.*

“Where did you get this guitar?” I asked him. “This is awful. This guitar has hardly been played.”

“Why do you say that? What do you mean?” he asked with a confused look.

“As you are well aware, these instruments are made of several types of wood from different trees. Well, it’s only through continued playing that the seperate pieces of wood become familiarised with one another, and that the instrument becomes whole, and learns to talk. I don’t mean to get all esoteric with you, but these things open up as they are allowed to resonate. They have to be played before they can learn to talk.”

“This guitar isn’t familiar with itself at all,” I said, staring at it, “It doesn’t speak music; it doesn’t even recognise it’s own voice. This is a terribly sad guitar. It has spent nearly it’s entire existence in this coffin of a case,” I continued, waving at the case in disgust. “The worst kind of afterlife for a living tree, is to be killed, and then turned into an instrument that is never allowed to breathe, let alone speak. This poor guitar only knows a couple of songs.” I said.

My client stood there with his arms folded looking somewhat incredulous.

“So where did you get it?” I asked, handing it back to him.

“Well, I can’t believe that you can tell all that just by holding it and looking at it, but you are correct indeed,” he said, “it has hardly ever been played.”

He went on to tell me the story behind the 00-18. It was a tale that is repeated far too many times: Some well meaning parents invest in a really nice guitar to present to their only child on his 13th birthday. The kid plays around on it until it becomes apparent how much work is going to have to be invested in becoming proficient on the instrument, at which time the guitar goes back into the case and into the closet, never to be pulled out except when the owner moves from place to place, or someone wishes to see it.

If android phones had been invented back in the 60s, a lot of the guitars made at the time would still be like new, but luckily, most kids weren’t as lazy back then as they are now.

Most like-new old guitars (or ‘closet classics’ as Fender likes to call their clones), are really a mixed blessing when you find one, and almost every one that I’ve ever played hits me on a visceral level in the same way.

Guitars that are destined to become pretty but miserable trophy wives for some wanna-be guitar player are sad instruments once they’re discovered and unchained. They can’t rock and they can’t play the blues. They haven’t been taught any language by their owners.

They sound like Buddy Holly’s Stratocaster did, new and virgin.

It’s weird, but the first thing that most players will do is play some lick from the appropriate generation when they first pick up one of these instruments. It is as if that is all that the instrument knows how to do. It is the only language. The musician merely responds; he is generally unaware that he is attempting to communicate with the instrument.

There is no soul, no mojo, no voodoo. Only the ghosts of dead trees.

It may only be my imagination, but when there are ghosts in these instruments, I hear their stories, they talk to me.

My client had obtained this particular Martin via the original owner in lieu of losses contracted through the same. He was hoping to recoup some of those losses in the sale of the guitar.

He told me that he had already received several offers of varying amounts, but none that quite suited his expectations.

“Why not give it to one of the girls?” I asked him, knowing that both of his daughters played.

“Oh, it’s too nice for that; it would just get banged around at coffee houses and stuff. I’d like to see someone get it who would really take care of it.”

“Dude,” I replied with a bit of exasperation in my voice, “this damn guitar has been ‘taken care of’ its entire existence. What it needs, is to be played for a change. Why not forget about top-dollar this time.” I suggested, “Do this guitar and your karma a favour instead and let the player who you believe will give it the best voice have it. This instrument deserves a home and a loving pair of hands. You owe that much to it.”

That’s how I feel, and that is my advice to anyone who has such an instrument tucked safely away inside some closet: Play it or sell it to someone who will.

 

 

* The song was originally an old Blue Ridge Mountain folk tune called “Tom Dula” which ingeminated a true story. I have been unable to determine who the songwriter was.

Recording Mythology, Pt. 39 / By The Way (readers questions answered)

 

Q.

‘Yo John: Ever time I plug my microphone into my new preamp and turn up the gain, it sounds like a trombone playing an E%. It’s like hyper loud and the drivers in my monitors flap like dish rags. What am I doing wrong?’  

-Therman D., Roanoke, VA.

A.

Yo Ther: the short answer would be ‘attempting to record,’ but I shan’t offend you. I need to know other pecularities in order to answer your question, but it sounds as if you’ve got the attenuation switch on the preamp set wrong for the type of mic you’re using. Is it a low or high impedence mic? Hi-Z mics do not require phantom power. I can’t stress how important it is to read the freaking directions that comes with all of your equipment. Did you make all of your cables? Were you careful to solder the connections properly? Those low-Z connections can be tricky. You didn’t try to save money by buying speaker cables instead of instrument cables, did you? Speaker cables won’t work because they’re unshielded.

By the way, 1) The name is Johnny, 2) the word is ‘every’, not ‘ever’, and 3) what the hell is an ‘E%’?

 

 

Q.

‘Johnny: My cat Ceefer projectile vomited her wet dinner all over my console. HS/WTF can I do to clean it out? Please hurry and answer, her slash is drying!’   -A. Reader

A.

What do you mean, ‘What can I do to clean it out?’ Sheesh. Well, first, unplug the damn thing. Next, get a small sponge, a roll of paper towel and put a 50 vinegar/50 water mixture in a spray bottle. If she blew chunks all over the sliders and pots, gently pull all of the knobs off and then, after dampening your sponge, mop up the goo. Then spray a bit of the mixture on a couple of sheets of paper towel and clean off any residual splatter. If, as the case seems to be with cats, Ceefer (I’ll get back to that name) was probably perched up on top of one of your $700 monitors and aimed her hack directly into the cooling vents of the unit’s transformer. Buck up, dude. If you are familiar with this electrical, flashlight-in-your-mouth type of work, remove all of the screws that hold the cover onto the electrical access. (Oh, BTW, and ROFLMAO, please do not kill yourself with a huge blast of stored electricity. If you insist on digging farther, take extreme care not to touch the leads of those gigantic black or gray cannisters with arrows printed on them or you’ll get the life shocked completely out of you.) Use some electrically inert objects like chopsticks to carefully tweeze and remove the lumps of matter (and hair; I know how that stuff looks) from amongst the heat sink, the resistors, and the little green and orangish-brown capacitors. Dab the area with the sponge to remove most of the wetness. Head cleaning swabs work well for this task. Remove the fuses, one at a time, and clean beneath them, too. Use a blow dryer to completely dry any remaining moisture and then put the thing back together. 

By the way, don’t take it out on your cat. Since you didn’t sign your name, I know that 1) you’re a guy, 2) you own cats in an attempt to pay penance for being cruel to them when you were a snotty nosed kid, and 3) the name ‘Ceefer’ is supposed to make people ask, “What does that mean?” and then you smartly reply, “C fer cat.” Try again Ace, I’m onto your game.

 

 

Q.

‘Howdy Captain! My band is having a problem and I was hoping that you could help sort it out. The lead singer doesn’t get along with our drummer. One night during a gig, the singer got drunk and slugged the drummer right in front of everybody and ordered him to tighten it up. What would you suggest?’  -Gary R., Jackson Hole, WY.


A.

Hey Gary. Uh, that’s really funny, dude. When did you write this letter? Things certainly have a way of sorting themselves out, don’t they?

By the way, the neck is still holding up on the Paul, I presume.

 

 

Q.

‘Hello Johnny, great blog. Concerning the full revision for International Standards for Equal Loudness Contours (ISO 266), what are your thoughts?’  -Annonymous, G.B.


A.

Dear ‘Annonymous’, are you presuming that I’m a stereotypical dumbass American Southerner? For your information, I am fully cognizant of the ‘full revision’ and happen to think (as if you really cared) that the criteria, as well as the subsequent testing done in order to arrive at the original measurements, were conducted an environment more closely approximating a ‘real world’ context. What the revised chart does reflect, in my corn-fed opinion, is simply indicative that the equipment used for taking said measurements is more sensitive than the instruments used when the original tests were conducted. The new chart in no way suggests that the test subjects, nor the human race, have undergone any type of miraculous ‘evolutionary modification’ which has altered their sensitivity to, or their ability to hear, various frequencies. Stick to the old chart.

By the way, at least your question made you seem smart.

 

 

Q.

‘Hi Johnny: It takes forever for our vocalist/guitarist to get a vocal take that he’s satisfied with. I’m convinced that if he records the tracks separately, he can concentrate on first the guitar take, and then the vocal take, doing a better job at both. Also, he doesn’t ever want to use a click track. He defends himself by insisting that he can’t get ‘in the zone’ when things get ‘all technical’ or when he has to track the parts individually. What would you do in this situation?’   – Eric K., Orlando, FL.


A.

Eric, I’d probably just insult his ineptitude for the studio until he cried and quit the band. Barring that, you could just replace him and quit telling him when you guys are recording, thus giving him the old Syd Barrett heave-ho.

By the way, you’re not just using him for his gear, are you?

 

 

Q.

‘Oh Captain, my Captain; have you ever heard of a band called the ‘Wrecking Crew’? This band was supposedly pretty big back in the sixties, but I can’t find anything on them.’  -Brunt S., Post Oak, MD.


A.

Bwaa-hahaha. Finally, a real question. Dude, what would you think if I told you that half of the bands from that era that you have heard of didn’t ever really exist, and that they were, in actuality, The Wrecking Crew? What if I told you that many members of this completely unknown ‘pretty-big-back-in-the-sixties’ band were, themselves, very prominant and well known artists? Well, you’d better sit down, because I’m about to rock your freaking world.

It has always been widely suspected that the music business was a money-making racket, but relatively few people have any idea to what extreme this is true. Lucky for you, I do. After all, I don’t call me Johnny Nowhere for nothing.

Have you ever heard of Al Casey? How about Carol Kaye? Hal Blaine? Louie Shelton? Earl Palmer? How about Leon Russell, or Glen Campbell? Ah, those ring a bell, do they? Well…

Back in the sixties and early seventies, most of the bands recordings that were made famous on AM radio were really just one band: The Wrecking Crew. I’m not implying that some of those ‘bands’ didn’t exist in some form or the other, but whether it was Mason Williams, the Monkees, Wayne Newton, the Partridge Family, the Ventures, or the Beach Boys, the music on those studio recordings was being played by the best of the best: The Wrecking Crew. For instance, I could keep writing for the next twelve hours, and during that time, we could sit here listening to all of the pop tunes which this band was responsible for, and you’d know every one of those tunes by heart. It’s enough to make you want to shoot yourself. But look: some players just can’t handle studio work. The demands can tax the nervous system. Bands were for looking cool and going on tour to promote the records, but with studio time and the record production costed, the most effective way to record the hits was with crack musicians who could get it right on the first or second take. That was The Wrecking Crew. I’ve actually seen Glen Campbell play ‘Classical Gas’ at twice the normal speed. The dude was the guitarist from hell in any style. I’m a big fan of Campbell. And Carol Kaye nailed more memorable bass parts than any of her colleagues. I could elucidate, but I’ll do you one better:

For those of you who aren’t afraid of the truth and have waded through my, primarily, self-entertaining monograph thus far, this special link is your reward: 

http://www.wreckingcrew.tv

The truth awaits, but be prepared: You can’t unread this, and you’ll never hear those old songs the same way again.