Saturday, January 9, 2010

Writing Songs/Finding My Music

If you ever decide to write songs for more than your own
personal amusement,a few things should be kept in mind.
The most important thing, I guess, would be that you have
to write several bad songs before you write your first decent
song. You feel really good about the idea that you've just put
some words and a melody together. It's truly a form of magic.
That may not be what everyone gets from your songs. Everybody
I've met so far, that writes, has to write songs. We all have
varying degrees of talent,but the imperitave remains.
We may love it, hate it, put it off or just try to stop for a
while, but we always resumethe task. Sounds kind of grim,
doesn't it? It isn't. But, I'd be lying if I said that I'm just as
happy not writng.Why am I saying all of this? I'm hoping that
if I tell you a little about my process,you might be interested
enough to look at this art that remains an endless source of joy to me.

Winston-Salem,NC-1965 The journey began for me after hearing live music,for the first time .I was in the 5th grade at St.Leo's Catholic School and the NC symphony sent over a portion of their brass section to play for the students. Trumpets.French Horns.Trombones. Perhaps,a Tuba.This was amazing! The radio or records did not capture this. It was so rich, so real.How had I lived so long and not discovered something this important? I remember that the kids in the gymatorium just seemed bored. They acted like this was something one was forced to endure. Not me. My life had just changed forever.

The next step on my path took the form of a local teen band called The Comets. Part of the Saturday matinee included local groups performing before the movie started. This was pretty cool. Seemed like all of their amps and guitars were Fender.My brother Jim told me that Fender was about the best stuff going. I liked the red power lights that gleamed from the amplifiers. Red sparkle drums. The band came out in matching outfits. The line hum from the amps came up as the amps were switched off standy.This added to the feeling of exciement. Take off time. The dummer clicks a four count.Brang! Live Rock! The drummer's ride cymbal cut through the music in a way that never seemed to have been captured on records. The Fender Bassman amp thumped in person, in a way that was primal and three-dimensional. You could feel it! The twangy electric guitars sounded cool but, kind of skewed.I thought this sound needed fixing. Something not quite right here. But, it was very exciting. Better than records.

My brother Jim got the combo bug. He worked summer jobs and bought an old ivory colored Supro electric guitar. We would go over to Allen Gamble's house since he was the only person we knew that had a guitar AND an amp. His amp had Reverb andVibrato! That was just like being on The Jettsons....His Boy,Elroy! Jim let me fumble around on his guitar. I couldn't understand how he placed his fingers on the guitar to make a sound. All it would do for me was something in between a thud and a plink.A kid I went to school with,Gordon Dilldy, (I swear that's really his name!)let me spend an afternoon in his mother's laundry room playing with a Harmony guitar. He explained to me that I was doing it all wrong. I wasn't getting any sound because I wasn't pressing on the strings lightly enough.When I did it just right, it would start sounding good. Didn't have a clue.(More pressure, son-not,less!)

My family moved to Durham, NC in 1966. My dad got a job at WTVD-TV doing on-air new and voice-overs. WTVD had two country music shows: The Homer Briarhopper Show,( That was the guys' "stage" name) and, Saturday Night Country Style. I went to see Homer's show once in a while. (It was on early in the morning, in between segments of The Farm Show.)They had a great guitar player named Jim Forsythe. When he wasn't picking for Homer, he painted signs and drank quite a bit. He told me about the classical guitar and some guy named Segovia.(I knew about him already.The Segovia Master class used to be on shown WUNC back then.)I was more intrested in Jim's plying. Watching JF play gave me a lot to think about. Everybody in Homer's band was sort of surreal. They were each living country cliches'. One of the strange but,true facts about Homer Briarhopper concerns a fellow that played drums in his band. This guy has gone on to become a fine alt/country singer:Phil Lee. He's the chap pointing at us.

a young Hommer Briarhopper

Saturday Night Country Style was my first exposure to a first class country band. Everyone in the band was super on their respective instruments.The lead guitarist, Jimmy Saunders, played a very cool west coast country style. I dreamed for years of owning a cherry red Gibson 335 like his. The steel guitar player, Marvin Hudson,showed me what an amazing instrument the pedal steel could be. North Carolina has never had many great steel players, but; Marvin was among the best.

Clyde Mattocks

The number one spot,however, belongs to Clyde Mattocks,who may still play with The Super Grit Cowboy Band.I've heard him do many gigs with The Malpass Family,too. If you get the chance, go see Clyde.His guitar,banjo and dobro playing is pretty dang fine,too)

Clyde introduced me to the Texas Troubadours. This band played behind Ernest Tubb.Mr. Tubb always had a great band. Some of the hottest players of the 1960's worked in this band.

check out The Troubadours on this video:

But, I sort of wandered off topic. I was about to talk about Saturday Night Country Style.

Saturday Night Country Style taped their shows on Wednesday night. I tried to never miss a single show. I will never get over how cool it was to watch Jimmy Saunders and Marvin Hudson blow through 6 or 8 songs that they had never played before. They would talk their way through the the keys of the songs, decide who was going to play fill or lead, and do intros and tags for the songs in less time than you could imagine. Each song got something like a minute a piece and they wouldn't even run stuff down with the singers. They would just do it right the first time while tape was rolling. The singers didn't have a clue how lucky they were. One of the singersI remember was "Little Philly Buck",(now Phyllis Dean, a busy session singer in the Raleigh/Durham area.) She was not yet in her teens, as I recall. I have a vivid memory of her finishing up a song and, Jim Thornton joins her and puts his arm around her and smiles. Then, he reaches down into his bib overalls and pulls out a big wad of bills bound by a rubber band. Right there on TV, he peels off a couple green spots and hands them to her and says-"You done a good job, honey." Man.Talk about tacky. But, Jim Thornton, aka, "The Barefoot Boy from Broad Slab" was not known for being subtle. He did, however, manage to keep his club, "The Jim Thornton Club",running at a profit for many years. The fact that you might get your ass kicked or get a pool cue "upside your head", did little to keep people away. An interesting side note about Jim Thornton,before he decided to be "The bare foot boy", he cut a minor rock-a-billy hit back in the late '50's. You can find it for sale on the web. If you're curious,click here to hear a this "classic". I note that my home town of Durham,NC is the place this song was recorded.

The only person in Jim Thorton's band I can recall, besides Jimmy and Marvin was the bass player,Don Girllie. He was great, playing and singing. The drummer and the rythmn guitar player both played well. I can't recall either of those guys' names. The first time I ever heard a Merle Haggard song was on The Jim Thornton Show . The band's rythmn guitarist sang once in a while on the show. (He played a Gibson J-200 guitar that I lusted for.) He was super on cover songs. He did a great job of Haggard's"I'm A Lonsome Fugitive". That song just flattened me! I became a fan from that moment on.The covers they did of Buck Owens helped me become a fan of ol' Buck, too. It seemed like any spare money I could scrape together went to Capitol Records. (Haggard, Owens and The Beatles were all on the Capitol Records label back then.) I was hooked. Contry music was all I wanted to do. I began trying to write country songs. Lots of really bad coutry songs. Example:

"I think it's time we had a talk

lets go somewhere and take a walk.

I've got a lot on my mind-you need to hear

the kind of words I need to say-when you're near."

The world can go on without this song.

Meanwhile, other forces were at work...... Nick Manoloff, Soul Music & English Rock

Monday, April 6, 2009

Who is Mitch Mitchell?

I went over to "Posh The Salon" to get my buddy Steve Hillard
to cut on the few hairs I have left on my head. Kind of sad. I
have so little hair left that he has to trim the hair on my back.
It's my theory that these hairs became lost on the way to the
top of my head. Besides giving wonderful haircuts to all who
sit in his chair, Steve also has a talent that I'll bet most of his
clients don't even suspect: Steve is a great hard rock singer.
I always end up talking about all of our musical friends that
we know or have know. We're both Durham boys. We went
to several of the local high schools and could talk for hours
about all of the local bands that are no more. One topic that
we dwell on concerns the guys we knew first starting out that
could duplicate singers,drummers and guitar players to such a
degree, they really did sound like the person they were copying.
Casey Haskins, who is now a professor of philosophy at SUNY
could play anything that John Bonham of Led Zepplin could do.
It was creepy how he could do all of the bass drum stuff on
"Good Times,Bad Times." Another guy, Graham Willams could
ace all of Jimmy Page's playing. Louie Myers could do all of
the bass parts Jack Cassidy(Jefferson Airplane) played. I
did a good a job on Duane Allman and Carlos Santana. But the
people's playing that I admired the most were never properly
duplicated. Never. Until I heard Stevie Ray Vaughn do Jimi
Hendrix, I did not think it was possible. But, his "Little Wing"
channels Hendrix to perfection. The other guy that I loved
was Mitch Mitchell. Mitch played for Jimi Hendrix on nearly
all of his recordings, excluding "The Band of Gypsies". The
drummer on this splendid album was Buddy Miles. (This album
was great in spite of Buddy's playing. Best job of musical coat-
tail riding in all of rock music.) Back to Mitch. Mitch was a
musical partner to Jimi Hendrix. His capacity to swing rock
music made Jimi's music soar. If Jimi had found another one
of the chittlin' circut drummers like he worked with for Wilson
Pickett or The Isley Brothers, you would't have heard anything
from Hendrix. The records that he made prior to going to
England, grooved o.k. but they were dull,dull,dull compared to
the great awakening of his music that took place when a great
drummer like Mitch came on the scene. Jimi's music found
it's pulse with Mitch. The cool playing he did on Jimi's masterful
writing just made great even greater. One of the things that still
kills me about Mitch is that he played a very hip,powerful big
band sound that did not sound like jazz. It sounded like rock
music. A brand new, yet to be duplicated blending that took
Rock to a new place. These guys seemed to be just as happy playing
very mellow as they were playing so loud and hard that it felt like
your head was being sawed off. This was known as Jimi's electric church. Praise the Lord and pass the ear plugs.

In the bad old days, prior to large scale sound systems, the
drummer did not have a bank of mikes sending his every tap to
a 64 channel board going into a 20,000 watt bank of speakers.
At Dorton arena, when I saw Jimi Hendrix play, Jimi had a mic;
Noel Redding,the bass player, had a mic and Mitch's bass drum
may have had a mic. This went through 4 "Voice of The Theater"
speakers (The ones they use to put behind the movie screens at the
local cinema) This, in turn, was driven by less power than the butt
heads have on their car stereos these days. Above all of this, a wall
of Marshall amps for Jimi. A wall of Sunn amps for Noel's bass.
Somehow, Mitch played loud enough sans mics to play up and
ocassionaly over Jimi and Noel. Hard rocking music back then
was known to damage the toughest of drummers. Not Mitch.
It makes me sad that he's gone. But, I'm glad to have had the
privilege of hearing him play. I have yet to hear anyone duplicate
Mitch Mitchell's playing. However, Ed Shaunesy, The drummer
on the old Johnny Carson version of The Tonight show did a
damn good imitation of Mitch when Jimi dropped by one night.
Hmmm.....I guess this means old farts can rock, too.
Mitch Mitchell 1946-2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Too many guitars?

Recently, Sara and I had company over for the evening. As is the
custom, we give the 25 cent tour on your first visit to our humble
abode. This entails seeing all of the lovely tile work that Sara has
created and installed in our house. (Sara Is a potter who does just
about anything made of clay that does not involve a potters wheel.
The wheel just isn't her thing.) The first floor is decorated
according to Sara's likes. This is a good thing because she has a
really good eye for detail and balance. It takes me a while to
find the form in a decorating scheme that she seems to see in a
flash. I can't imagine what she could have done if she had married
someone with more resources than ol' Geno. That's what you get
if you marry for love.

Upstairs, are the assorted sleep chambers. Our bedroom is
another one of Sara's design triumphs. I won't go into detail on
this room, except to say that it is lovely to look upon, not unlike
it's designer. One of the bedrooms is designated as
"Gene's music room". In this room, I keep a tool bench, a small
drill press and a bench grinder. This stuff isn't what you see when
first entering this room. Looking in the door, you see a good size
bookcase. Loaded floor to ceiling mostly with books. What a
suprise. You'll see to your left on the wall a a few meager examples
of my education, bands I've played in and the odd
poster. Below these pictures you'll see a book case loaded with all
sorts of guitar strings, effects pedals and live music doo-dads. Just
to the right of this is a Carvin electric guitar amp. I have yet to use
it on a live band gig. I would have to be playing a band to do this.
No bands for Gene anymore. At least for now.

To your right is my recording set-up. Microphones and a music
stand. On the wall are yet more music doodads,art work and a
sample CD of all the CD's I have played on including my stuff,
Sue Witty, Kid Sister and my pal David Glenn. I haven't described
all the other stuff in this room, either. Including several smaller
guitar amps, a meditation/prayer altar and slew of neck ties.
I only mention this because when people come in the "music
room" they don't see anything but the guitars. -"Jesus, do you
need all of those? Damn, how many do you have?" "I haven't
bothered to count them" I say. I think to myself, each one of them
has a story but I guess you might not want to hear them. Do you
tell your mechanic that he has too wrenches? The thing that
floors me about the "too many guitars" concept is that only
people who don't play feel the need to ask about the guitars.
At least they don't ask how much money I have in them. But,
for whom it may concern: not much. Really. But if I had some
money, I think I'd rather Sara have it for the house.
Besides, 42 guitars isn't really too many, is it?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

New word....New catch phrase, please!

Our culture seems to thrive on taking a word and
then pounding it in the ground. The current word that has
been over done to death is amazing. Can we please have
our next word. Please. Amazing has become the buzz word of all buzz
words. If we're forced to used a descriptive phrase, you may
be assured that the A word will be lurking nearby. Margo has
just lost 42 pounds on the Gagfast diet. Her gal pals will
tell her that she looks amazing. If the kids have just finished
Dr.Wacko's latest behavior modification program, the change
is simply amazing. 38 miles per gallon on the old fliver, well
you get the idea.

While I'm carping, I'd like to talk about the phrase:
"-not a problem." This seems to be filling a space formerly
reserved for actual manners. I remember when someone
performed some small service for someone, you would thank them.
Then, they would say"-your welcome."
What's wrong with simply being gracious? Are we past that, now?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Shut up and play the guitar.

From my last posting, you may have detected a slight hint
of negativity. We have all been dealt a hand that is going
to be hard to play. We know the game is rigged. We know
that while we're trying to do our jobs, a group of people are
busy trying to beat us out of our pay without actually doing
any of the work. I can hear my Dad say:"That's the way it is,
now deal with it." Well, old Dad had a point there. Of course,
my reply has been: the long suffering just get to suffer longer.
I guess it would be best to to thank God for all that we have.
Complaints without action have never solved any problem.
Problem solvers are the people who get sick of hearing us
complain. I guess the best thing for me to do is just shut up
and play my guitar. Frank Zappa was a wise man. Come to
think of it, Frank complained all the time in his music and in
print. Gee, I guess that makes me a bit like Frank.

Sure it does. Frank still sells millons of recordings. Me, well...
I've got several CD's for sell. Meet me in the nearest Wal-Mart
parking lot. I'm the guy in the beat-up green Honda with a
trunk load of Jazz guitar CD's. I'll make you a deal.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Watch That First Step, Eugene....

I don't know where this will take me. Perhaps I'll find my voice
after I've done this awhile.It seems to me that with the lay-off
frenzy that is taking place, there will only be 17 people left with
jobs. The rest of us will be going down to the unemployment kiosk
every day. I know the current situation is causing lots of fear among
those of us still employed.It should have never come to this. We had
lots of fear and loathing to spare, before the greed-quake took place.