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"Knowledge is power."

Musical Thoughts and Experiences

This page is a journal of my thoughts about music and of my performance and recording experiences here in Seattle. Between my apparently random moments as a guest musician in various musical settings, to the adventures of Novabossa, the bossa nova band I started, there are lots of opportunties to see how one musician finds his way in the world. If I have something to say---and in many cases, when I don't have anything to say but need to write it down---this is where you will read it.

April 20, 2006

I've been playing a lot recently, and if they say "variety is the spice of life" then I have a spicy life. For example, March 29th and April 12th I sat in with the Vice Squad, an offshoot project of Paul Jensen, singer for Seattle fave band the Dudley Manlove Quartet (there are six of them). Vice Squad performs tunes about vices...coffee, marijuana, booze, The first time I sat in on tenor, and it turns out two other tenor players showed up, so we had an instant horn section. You had to be there to hear our amazing ska version of "Rainy Day Women" by Bob Dylan. It was....different. The next time I sat in it was just me as guest sax player and I brought my soprano sax, which blended better with the band (I had my very own frequency range), and we did covers by Joe Jackson ("Everything Causes Cancer") and "Black Coffee," "Tempted," and some really obscure ones I faked on the sax.

Then on Easter Sunday I drove down to this biker bar in Algona to see the Knuckleheads, a power trio led by ex-Motel guitarist Tim McGovern. They were truly "ahhhsum," playing note-perfect versions of songs by Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Robin Trower, and Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice." This isn't a surprise because Tim McGovern is an amazingly gifted musician and a killer guitarist. I had a few beers (they had two sizes: Shooter, which was a pint, and Mondo, which was a quart mug) to get up my courage, then Tim invited me up and I sang "Little Sister," and played sax on "Mustang Sally," "Can't you Hear Me Knocking," and some other songs I don't remember because I had enjoyed a Shooter and a Mondo of Pyramid Hefeweizen."

Then, last night I played keyboard for a Gary Heffern Cavalcade of Stars show at Ballard's famous Tractor Tavern---"A Nice Diesel Place to Hear Music." Gary is my good friend and a gifted songwriter, singer and performer, and this was a farewell gig before he moved to Finland....another story. But I played keyboard on two blues songs led by a harmonica player---a couple tunes by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee---and then played two bossa nova tunes later in the evening with Novabossa, and that was an interesting experience, playing bossa nova for a rock/folk crowd, we were followed by a loud metal band called Hearseburner. Then I played keyboard later in the evening with Gary, on three of his originals, and also "The Weight" by the Band and "Passin' Through" by Leonard Cohen. So April has been rather musical. The week before I had finished overdubbing some drums and guitar and percussion on Novabossa's recording of "Smile," a song written by Charlie Chaplin, no kidding.

June 20, 2008

Sax adventures. I've known guitarist Mark Bombara for years up here, we played in a "spy band" for a while that played songs from James Bond movies, the Pink Panther movies, wierd moody '60s TV show detective tunes, and other atmospheric music. Well, Mark has a band called Johnny Astro and they play some of the spy tunes ("A Shot in the Dark,") and kitschy surf-guitar stuff, definitely an eclectic act. He invited me to play sax at the end of the evening. So, I drive from the Eastside of Seattle to Magnolia, a working-class neighborhood northwest of downtown Seattle and to an Irish Pub. Yep, music is played all over the darn place.

After listening to a sort of electronica band called Laguna, Mark's band plays their unique brand of surf/kitsch/film noir material, and I come up for the last five songs...these include such tunes as "Mrs. Peel," "Bank Commercial" (yep, Mark heard a bank commercial and somehow got the music), "It Had Better Be Tonight" (from the "Pink Panther" movie,) and then the showstoppers: "Tequila," the well-known sax instrumental by the Champs, and this hilarious medley Mark created, wherein he plays "Tijuana Taxi" by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, but interweaves short versions of other, more current songs, then instantly going back to "Tijuana Taxi," back and forth. The other songs included "Blister In the Sun," "Brick In the Wall," "Everybody Wants to Rule The World," ....

You get the picture. As soon as I started playing tenor sax people started dancing and didn't stop. There is something about a tenor sax playing funky rhythm and blues or tex-mex stylings that gets people dancing, especially in a bar, after the beers have been drunk. This was big fun for all concerned. I've said it before, but the best, most fun setting for playing music for me is in a crowded, sweaty bar where people are dancing to the band. When the Motels played a club tour shortly after "Only the Lonely" was in the Top Ten we played sold out clubs for weeks and it was just fine. Anyway, we played the four songs at this Irish bar, everyone had fun, and I went home. This sax gig is cool, you just pack up the instrument and walk out...no keyboard or amplifier to lug around. So I play another random, exciting, fun gig.

Part of the joy of playing music is the sheer randomness of when and where it happens.

June 28, 2008

A week later and I am asked to play sax at an "instructor showcase" at the National Guitar Workshop seminar in Seattle, at Seattle Pacific University. My guitarist friend Richy Stano, who is teaching at this workshop, has had me play keyboard and sax before at previous NGW events here in Seattle, but five years had gone by since he was teaching a class here in Seattle. We played "Chicken" by Maceo Parker, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" by Cannonball Adderley, and "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston, a song some consider the first "Rock 'n' Roll" recording. After hearing six guitarists show off their instructor-worthy chops during the concert--the total note count approached infinity--- it was finally our turn. People enjoyed it. The first tune is strictly James-Brown style funk and I tried to channel King Curtis as best as I could. The next tune is a slow, funky groove with a laid-back but soulful atmosphere. And "Rocket 88" is an uptempo shuffle, which I sung and played sax on. Me and Richy played these last two songs back in 1988 with my post-Motels sax band Locomotive, so it was really a kick to play these songs again. The hired rhythm section (bass and drums) rose to the "funkiness" occasion and we all repaired to the Nickerson Saloon where, in the company of other musicians, we sat around an outdoor table, in truly perfect summer Seattle weather, and drank beer until we closed the place at 1:30 a.m. Musician camaraderie. It can make you do strange things such as enjoy yourself. I drank three beers in a row. These are the good old days.