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Why Musicians Speak Cryptically

Cryptically. Yup, that’s a word.

When I was a young teen, I’d read interviews given by seasoned musicians and was often left wondering precisely what the hell they were talking about a great deal of the time. Folks like Eric Clapton would refer to getting ‘lost’ or ‘out there’ and I wondered if it wasn’t some vague drug reference.

I began playing guitar at seventeen, and was, for much of the time, sorely aware of how poor my playing was. I was super-conscious of every little hiccup, always thinking about what I was doing, and as a result often made major mistakes, sometimes even forgetting the words to my own tunes.

By the age of twenty-nine, I was beginning to feel the urge to follow another path and leave all of my influences behind. This did not happen overnight, but began to make itself apparent only when I ceased to care about what these influences were doing anymore.  I began to play with rhythms and chord voicings which appealed to me, rather than spending time attempting to figure out what someone else was doing. Later still, I began to feel that words and vocals were somewhat unnecessary. I would sometimes ‘hear’ nice melodies in my head, but there were no particular vowels or consonants that would seem to fit, so I would stumble through a the process of picking these melodies out. This was at once awkward and time consuming. Having had no formal training in music, I decided to learn all of the major and minor scales, bit by bit.

I practiced for an hour a day for over a year, seemingly getting nowhere, although I could easily tell that I was gaining in dexterity. I absolutely could not remember all of the minutia.

One day while another guitar player friend was over, my son Sterling walked into the studio and asked me to figure out a song for him. It was She Talks To Angels by the Black Crowes. He handed me the CD and I plopped it in and hit play and picked up my acoustic guitar.

“Oh well, there’s your problem, the guy is in an alternate tuning.” I reached up and re-tuned first one string and then another, still engaging in the subject at hand with my friend, and absent-mindedly began to play the song, “Here, just do this.” I told him, showing him the fingerings.

It was at this point that my son motions toward me, looks at my friend and says, “How the hell did he do that?” to which my friend responds, “I have no idea.”

I looked at them both. “Do what?” I asked. I didn’t know what they were referring to.

“Have you never played that song before?” my friend inquired. I responded that I had not, that I’d only heard it at various times, but did not listen to the Black Crowes. He just looked at my son and shrugged.

Some days later, I was listening to an Aimee Mann CD when something I’d never heard caught my ear. I grabbed my Tele, plugged it in and began to fiddle around as my mind wandered aimlessly. I don’t know how much time had passed, but after some amount, I ‘woke up’ to what I was doing. Then it hit me. I’d been sitting there playing my ass off without even thinking about it. This was light years away from where my journey had begun.

After so many years, I finally came to understand what others were referring to when they’d talk about going into that ‘place’ in their mind. I call it the Zone, and it’s a completely sober experience. It’s a place in between your ears that doesn’t have eyes, or conscious thought. It is akin to driving down the expressway and then ‘waking up’ after having driven several miles. We’ve all done it. It’s kind of dangerous and thrilling all at once, but somehow or the other, we have maneuvered an automobile at a given speed between two lines without really being able to recall precisely how much time has passed.

This is the Zone. When one enters this place while playing guitar, one is not consciously thinking of what one is doing, the fingers develop a mind of their own. This is where the best stuff happens.

Here’s the best tip: Always be recording when you’re playing. It’s like taking photos while you’re on vacation, believe me. You want to have this on tape in order to prove that you really went there. You won’t regret it.

If you’ve never visited the Zone, there’s always a first time.


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?

Recording Mythology, Pt. 50 / The Aphorisms

This post will be the last of my Recording Mythology articles. I did not begin this series to teach anyone anything, only to perhaps ‘unteach’ certain preconceived notions, and primarily in the realm of true sound recording and engineering.

I firmly believe that there is only so much that begs to be said in respect to a given subject before one resorts to redundancy, and I have said all that I feel is required of me, that is to say, I have reached the limits of my knowledge on the subject.

As I recently opined to a long-time musical colleague, the new generation does not understand the meaning of the word production in relation to music. If the truth were to be laid completely open, one could go as far as saying that ‘cut & paste’ production has a great deal in common with ‘point and shoot’ photography, in that both have little to do with producing anything close to what may resemble Art.

Any rebuttal would simply be an exercise in semantics, as the facts would quickly manifest in a true recording studio, where ‘virtual’ ends and ‘reality’ begins.

However, I was contacted by one clearly annoyed yet mysteriously anonymous digital ‘producer’ who informed me that I was an idiot. (as best I could tell, amidst the mishmash of misspelt words). I am left to assume that punctuation is considered an academic option these days, as the author had used none. If his or her literary prowess gave any indication as to their production ‘skilz’, I regret to inform the reader that we risk being overrun by a master race.


As a kid beginning in music, I had no idea where to start, or what to do. There seemed to be no one around who was interested in teaching me the way in which I required learning.

I persevered nonetheless, learning music in every way accessible to me, and what did become apparent to me after many years, was that although there are many paths to music, there is only one language, constructed of seven whole tones, five semitones, and innumerable intervals.

How one utilises it makes all the difference.

It is my sincerest hope that if you too choose this journey, with the best of intentions, we will both eventually find our way to wherever it is we endedavour to be going.


The following is an alphebetical listing of the Aphorisms which Mr. Fripp promoted throughout his Guitar Craft series. I have not acquired permission to reprint them, but I think that Robert had higher goals in mind when he originally distributed them. The goal in studying the Aphorisms is much as one might study a Zen koan; but to first understand and apply them in relation to one’s music. Attempt to apply them throughout life. Expect nothing.

Best of luck to you all. Captain out.


A beginning is invisible.
Accept nothing less than what is right.
A completion is a new beginning.
Act always in accordance with conscience.
Act from principle. Move from intention.
Act with courtesy. Otherwise, be polite.
A decision changes the world.
A function of language is to disclose. An effect is to reveal.
A mistake is always forgivable, rarely excusable and never acceptable.
An artist acts with the assumption of innocence within a field of experience.
An end may be a finish, a conclusion or a completion.
Answers will come through the guitar.
Any fool can play something difficult.
Anything within a performance is significant, whether intentional or not.
A principle is an instruction in qualitative endeavour.
A principle is universal. A rule is specific. A law is invariable.
Artistry repeats the unrepeatable.
Assume the virtue.
Before we do something, we do nothing.
Before we move from A to B, better to know we’re at A.
Begin with the possible and move gradually towards the impossible.
Being a slob is hard labour.
Being is a measure of our coherence.
Better to be present with a bad note than absent from a good note.
Be very careful about the beginning. Then, be very careful about the end. Then, be very careful about the middle.
Change one small part and the whole is changed.
Commitments are to be honoured.
Comparison with others is a mark of the fool.
Conscience is utterly impersonal.
Craft is a universal language.
Craft maintains skill. Discipline maintains craft. Craft follows the tradition. Discipline maintains the tradition. Music creates the tradition.
Creative work is serious play.
Define the aim simply, clearly, briefly, positively. Discard the superfluous.
Discharge one small task superbly.
Discipline is a vehicle for joy.
Discipline is not an end in itself, only a means to an end.
Distrust those who profess altruism.
Distrust anyone who wants to teach you something.
Don’t be helpful: be available.
Each part does the work of that part, and no other.
Establish the principle.
Even genius requires a competent technique.
Everything we are is revealed in our playing.
Expectation is a prison.
Expect nothing.
Good habit is necessary, bad habit is inevitable.
Health is a measure of our wholeness.
Hearing transforms sound into music.
Helpful people are a nuisance.
Honour necessity. Honour sufficiency.
How we hold our pick is how we organise our life.
If a quality is present, it is clearly recognisable and may be named.
If in doubt, consult tradition. If still in doubt, consult your experience. If still in doubt, consult your body.
If we can ask our body to do nothing for half an hour, perhaps we can ask our body to do something for half an hour.
If we can define our aim, we are halfway to achieving it.
If we don’t know where we’re going, we’ll probably get there.
In popular culture, the musician calls on the highest part in all of us.
In mass culture, the musician addresses the lower parts of what we are.
In popular culture, our musicians sing to us in our own voice.
In mass culture they shout what we want to hear.
Intentional action generates intentional results and unforeseeable repercussions. Unintentional action generates unintended consequences and inevitable repercussions.
Intentional poverty is fine. Unintentional poverty is wretched.
In the creative act, the Creation continues.
In the creative leap, history waits outside.
In tuning a note we are tuning ourselves.
It is difficult to exaggerate the power of habit.
It is not necessary to be cheerful. It is not necessary to feel cheerful. But look cheerful.
Just below the surface of our everyday world lie riches.
Let us find clean and cheerful friends.
Life is often desperate, but never hopeless.
Life is too short to take on the unnecessary.
Listening changes what we are listening to. Listening is a craft. Hearing is an art.
Listening is how we eat music. Hearing is how we digest it.
Mastery acts on what is below. Artistry submits to what is above.
May we have the clarity to see our work, the courage to embrace it, and the capacity to discharge it.
May we trust the inexpressible benevolence of the creative impulse.
Money is not a problem, only a difficulty.
Music changes when people hear it.
Music is a benevolent presence constantly and readily available to all.
Music is a quality, organised in sound and in time.
Music is silence, singing.
Music is the architecture of silence.
Music is the cup which holds the wine of silence. Sound is that cup, but empty. Noise is that cup, but broken.
Music so wishes to be heard that it calls on some to give it voice and some to give it ears.
Necessary repercussions are possible. Inevitable repercussions are expensive. Unnecessary repercussions are dangerous.
Necessity is a measure of aim.
Necessity is never far from what is real.
Nothing is compulsory, but some things are necessary.
Nothing worthwhile is achieved suddenly.
Offer no violence.
Perfection is impossible. But I may choose to serve perfection.
Performance is impersonal yet intimate.
Performance is inherently unlikely.
Playing fast is easier than playing slow.
Quiet is the absence of sound, silence the presence of silence.
Relaxation is necessary tension. Tension is unnecessary tension. Relaxation is never accidental.
Rely on what someone does, not what they claim to do.
Remain in hell without despair.
Right action moves from principle.
Rightness is its own necessity.
Signposts are useful when you know where you’re going.
Silence is a bridge between worlds.
Silence is a distant echo of the approach of the Muse.
Silence is an invisible glue.
Silence is not silent.
Silence is the field of creative musical intelligence that dwells in the space between the notes, and holds them in place.
Small additional increments are transformative.
Sometimes God hides.
Suffer cheerfully.
Suffering is necessary, unnecessary or voluntary.
Suffering is our experience of the distance between what we are and who we wish to become.
Suffering of quality is invisible to others.
The act of music is the music.
The audience is mother to the music.
The concern of the musician is music. The concern of the professional musician is business.
The creative impulse animates whatever instrument is placed at its disposal.
The end is a finish, a conclusion or a completion.
The future is what the present can bear.
The highest quality of attention we may give is love.
The mind leads the hands.
The musician and audience are parents to the music.
The musician has three disciplines: the disciplines of the hands, the head and the heart.
The necessary is possible. The optional is expensive. The unnecessary is unlikely.
The only contribution we make is the quality of our work.
The performer can hide nothing, even the attempt to hide.
The presence of absence is an entry into loss.
The problem with knowing what we want is we just might get it.
The quality of a person is revealed in their conduct in front of sex, money and the use of time.
The quality of the question determines the quality of the answer. The question is its answer.
There are few things as convincing as death to remind us of the quality with which we live our life.
There are no mistakes, save one: the failure to learn from a mistake.
There are three kinds of repercussions: the necessary, the unnecessary and the inevitable.
There is only one musician, in many bodies.
There’s more to hearing than meets the ear.
The science is in knowing, the art in perceiving.
The simplest is the most difficult to discharge superbly.
The way we describe our world shows how we think of our world. How we think of our world governs how we interpret our world.
How we interpret our world directs how we participate in the world.
How we participate in the world shapes the world.
The work of one supports the work of all.
Things are not as bad as they seem. They are worse than that. They are also better than that.
Trust music.
Turn a seeming disadvantage to your advantage.
The greater the seeming disadvantage, the greater the possible advantage.
Understanding changes what we understand.


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. 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. 34 / We Serve At the Pleasure of Music

By the time that I secured a job in my second record store, the proliferation of spandex clad guitar ballerinas, big hair and makeup was enough to make me want to quit. God, I hated the Eighties.

I recall the epitome of it: One night, some friends and I were watching one of Roy Orbison’s last live performances. He was playing with an ensemble which included some other guitarist who looked strangely out of place. While Roy was doing one of his classic tunes, he gives strange dude the nod to take a lead break. What this guy did was deplorable. Rather than being satisfied with sharing the stage with a legend and playing a respectably fitting lead, this clown goes directly to the pedestal of self-worship, both hands dancing like spiders all over the fretboard, showcasing his ego at the expense of the song. I’d have executed him right onstage if I’d been Roy. Classic Eighties Dillweed – to hell with what the song calls for, he’s balls out like there’s no tomorrow with all of his freaking ‘chops’.

And that, in a word, describes the Eighties. Overkill. Luckily, there were folks like Kate Bush, the Cocteau Twins, and even Iron Maiden on ‘the other side’ who helped me maintain my sanity. On this side, I finally discovered a true acoustic artist named Michael Hedges, who utilised a unique version of the two-handed technique while maintaining a sense of melody. But as far as electric guitar players went, after Eddie Van Halen, the rest of them were a course in obviating redundancy.

But this article is not about the Eighties.

George Harrison once said that he liked to think of the guitar lead as being a song inside a song. Listen to his tasteful lead on ‘Nowhere Man’. Shortly after Rickenbacher presented him with the second electric 12 string that they made, he prehended the opportunity to serve the song splendidly. I challenge anyone to compose a simpler and better lead for that song. In the same vein, I wasn’t ever crazy about Guns N Roses, but at least Slash kept his hands where they belonged, and he dutifully fulfilled his position with some very carefully composed leads.

Whether composing in the home studio or comping during a live set, the first thing that one should remain aware of is that we serve at the pleasure of music. Once again, this involves not only listening but hearing as well. It is easy to get caught up in the moment from time to time, but it pays to remember that just because ‘some’ is good, ‘more’ isn’t necessarily better. We must become subservient to the tune we are presently performing. The ability to foster this quality is what separates the men from the boys.

If a melody of half notes would better convey the emotion of the piece, we shouldn’t feel obligated to cram a thirty-second note into every available crevice. That’s a lot like exhaling without ever inhaling. The music needs to breathe, and the job of the composer, as well as the performer, is to realise this by considering the pace and the feel of the tune-in-progress. The goal should always be the same: We don’t ever want to embelish the tune to death. I can’t remember who said it (and I paraphrase), but I’ll never forget that ‘the silence between notes is as important as the notes themselves’.

In the professional studio, a producer is always there to make suggestions regarding this ‘compositional aspiration’ in order to keep the overzealous musician in check. In the home studio, where one individual quite possibly wears many (if not all) hats, including that of producer, the same standard must be applied. This requires a great deal of objectivity.

That being said, when cutting a rough draft, everyone is tempted to overplay. Hell, I do it all of the time. The secret, is to begin throwing away unnecessary notes until only those that are absolutely integral are all that remain, especially when this ‘breathing room’ is needed for other instrumentation that we intend to use. If there will be vocals, a good chunk of the frequency spectrum (referred to as the ‘donut hole’) will need to be left vacant for the vocals to sit comfortably in. If the piece that we are composing features the guitar, then by all means, the guitar has to take centre stage. Even then, our choice in notes must be decisive and varied in tempo, much like singing songs without words. This allows each listener to make his or her personal identification to the piece.

The importance of this cannot be over-emphasised. I once had an individual leave a comment regarding one of my instrumentals: “I absolutely loved (this tune). It took me back to when I was a child, playing in my backyard in England.” To me, this is one of the best compliments that an artist can receive.

Sometimes, a song will call for a particular instrument, sometimes not. Many times I have forgone percussion, or even bass. When asked why I didn’t include these items, my response is always the same: “I didn’t hear it”. I have always felt like the tune is the best indicator as to what instrumentation is used. My approach has always been to ‘let the song write itself’.

Recently, when Carole King was presented with a prestigious award for her lifetime achievements in songwriting, I was astonished when, during her reception speech, she casually said, “I have always attempted to get ‘out of the way’ and allow the song to write itself.”

“YES!” I hissed aloud before I could catch myself. That statement immediately formed a sort of spiritual bond between the two of us. Her words made perfect sense to me in a very intimate way. I shouldn’t have been surprised, however; these sort of statements are what I refer to as absolute truths, because they function on a universal level. Much like a Zen koan, the meaning is unclear until you experience it. This experience took me several years to achieve, unfortunately.

It may sound metaphysical, or even goofy, but I feel as if the songs that come to me have already been written, perhaps centuries ago. Some of them sound so old. I think that once you have properly prepared yourself to receive the tunes, they will begin to be presented. As long as you remain receptive, they will continue to come. Sometimes I’ll hear, or even awaken, to a tune playing in my head as if I’ve been listening to it repeatedly all night in my sleep. I never experience ‘writer’s block’, because I do not feel as if I am the writer. When someone asks what a song means, they are often surprised to find that I am as clueless as anyone else. I’ll give an example.

A couple of winters ago, I was vegging out, watching a documentary about horse racing (which I have no particular interest whatsoever in). The subject of the film was the horse ‘Man O War’, which dominated the sport during the WWI era. In a portion of old racing footage, the horses were nearing the sixteenth pole, when Man O War suddenly bolted ahead. The announcer who was calling the race responded by screaming, “…AND HE KISSES THE BOYS GOODBYE!” The line stood out to me, but I didn’t dwell on it.

A couple of days passed and I was walking through the home library when, out of the blue, I sang out “…and sheeee will kiss the boys goodbye” to a very definite and catchy melody. This time however, the line lingered, and turned in my brain. The key emerged with the opening chord. As always is the case, I went into the studio to record what I was hearing. I picked up my son’s Tacoma Olympia, hit record, and began hammering out the basic chords as they ‘developed’.

Over the following week, the individual parts continued to present themselves to me, and I continued to record, but I wasn’t hearing any more lyrics, only individual words, and they were, almost without exception, French terms. I found this slightly disconcerting because I do not speak French. I dutifully wrote the words down in no particular order and continued working on the recording, doing not as I wanted, but as I heard. I finally determined that the music was realised, yet I still had nothing in the way of lyrics. “Something is wanting out,” I thought to myself, “but I simply cannot hear it properly.”

I had attempted to pen the song for over a week now, but had been writing in longhand in my pad thus far. Suddenly there was a flash, and I arose with my list of words and went to the computer. It had become apparent to me several years beforehand that my writing would sometimes take a different tack when I used the typewriter. I turned on the keyboard, opened Wordpad, and stared at the ‘tabula rasa’. Then it came, just like that. I almost couldn’t type fast enough. Within thirty minutes, I had the finished lyrics. The most amazing part of this story, is that the French terms, the meanings of which I had no knowledge, worked perfectly in the song.

“My God,” I thought,” I’m going to have to try and sing this now”. The vocals melody was playing along in my head as I had been writing, but I’d realised that the delivery was going to be in a style which I was unaccustomed to singing. I warmed up, adjusted the compressor, and laid into it. I got what I felt was the spirit of the song in two takes. Not wanting to split hairs and thus risk losing the spontaneity of my performance, I left well enough alone.

Here is a link to the tune.

You can even tell that I utilised the original acoustic tracks, as it takes an entire bar for me to synch up the second acoustic with the first. I learned long ago that my attempts at polishing the life out of my songs usually ended in regret, so I now opt to allow minor mistakes to simply become part of the tune, which in my mind, lends to the overall individuality of the composition.

I am proud to say that this tune is ‘not me’, only me serving at the pleasure of the music.

Recording Mythology, Pt. 33 / An Unorthodox Approach? Hardly.

I’ve been involved in what is called the ‘liberal arts’ for the majority of my life, albeit I have never had much to do with the ‘art community’, because to me, most of its members seem to be long on attitude and short on talent. The community seemed to be filled with a bunch of duckheads who were more concerned with ‘looking like artists’ than they were with the art itself.

As someone who considered himself a normal guy who painted portraits, I was put-off by the apparent facade of those who were in what I referred to as ‘The Warhol Clan’: those who had to ‘advertise’ their ‘weirdness’ through their dress, their consciously contrived physical tics, such as slurping their coffee or holding their cigarette in some stupid fashion, or some other such ‘abnormality’. Whenever I was around these fakes they exasperated me. Whoever propagated this nonsense about ‘artists on the fringe’ deserves to be shot.

Likewise, musicians have always been a notorious lot for keeping late hours, waking at noon or thereafter, gigging well into the night and tearing down their rigs long after the crowd has filtered into the darkness. This is primarily a matter of necessity, however, yet tends to create a routine which carries over into life and studio time, where many sessions are booked during these ‘peak performance’ hours, primarily to maintain some semblance of a schedule. It becomes common practice to such an extent that many of us think that this is simply the ‘lifestyle of a musician’, but this may not always be the case.

It has been indicated by others that yours truly observes an ‘unorthodox’ approach in contrast to the perceived norm, but throughout the years, I have discovered a slightly different routine more favorable to my creativity. I am simply not a night owl. I held to the generally accepted norm until I could not otherwise, then discovered quite by accident that the early bird system simply suited me much better. And I like to play to my strengths.

I stopped gigging years ago, and as a result I have probably become notorious for not being at the ‘right’ places at the ‘right’ times. In other words, I’m Johnny Nowhere, dammit. When I went into business for myself, I naturally (at least for me) preferred getting an early start, primarily because knocking off earlier appealed to me. After a couple of decades, this became an ingrained habit. I attempted to burn the candle at both ends for some time, jamming well into the night, but it didn’t jibe with the early morning ritual. Besides, I always felt my evening performances lacked a certain edge, mostly because I was tired as hell. After a couple of major life adjustments, I retired from the work force but, in accordance with the aforementioned ingrained habit, I continued to rise early. First, I simply love to go out very early before dawn, when all is peaceful and quiet, and meditate on the breaking day. High octane coffee is a prerequisite, of course. Second, I live in an area which occupies several acres, and is surrounded by lush summer greenery. On account of this, I am able, due to local ordinances, to keep chickens if I so desire.

And I so desire. I dig fresh eggs. They are worth the following caveat.

A flock of hens is not complete without a rooster. Chickens have very sensitive eyes, and can see first light twenty minutes before the human eye. When roosters sense the dawn, which in summertime is about 5:30 a.m., they do what most other birds do and begin to ‘sing’. Of course, roosters sing by ‘crowing’. Loudly. The coop is behind the casa, in close proximity I might add, within a larger enclosed portion of the yard. This, taken with the fact that I prefer fresh night air to cold, dry, ‘processed’ air, means that our windows are wide open. When the rooster crows, I awaken. It is still dark. No matter, I get up. Nothing unorthodox about that.

But what the hell can anyone do so bloody early? That part is easy for a songwriter who wakes up to tunes composed largely in his sleep. Don’t ask me how it works, but it’s pretty freaking convenient.

Subsequently, my gear gets switched on soon after I rise so that it is afforded time to stabilise. The soft yellow glow of the VU meters and the gentle whirring of the motor is inviting. My body is refreshed, my ears are rested, my mind is clear. Years of playing having taken their toll, my carpel tunnel takes about an hour to expand enough so that my chording hand doesn’t go to sleep five minutes into a take. By this time, the first organic notes on the acoustic guitar suit me much better than the late night roaring distortion at 90 dB through tired ears and a stressed body. Headphones on, and I’m effortlessly in the zone. One hour after sunup, I’ve gotten two acoustic takes, as well as a gently gurgling B3 bed tracked. By 9:00, my ears are becoming attenuated to the growing volume as the tracks stack up, and after adding bass and drum programming, I am, by now, more sonically prepared to hear my Tele’s choking top-end whistle through the headphones, or my own wailing vocal howl. By six bells, I’m hungry, the tune is in the can, and I’m proud of a job well done before many of my late-night colleagues have even begun to stir.

It might not work for everybody, but for those who are willing and able to break ‘tradition’, a revelation may await you in an early morning reveille.

Works for me.