The Grammies, and being in the company of monsters.

Last night was the first time in years that I watched (at least much of) the Grammy Awards. It was the first time I’ve ever watched an awards show while being on Facebook so I got to see immediate response from my “friends”. Here are some random thoughts:

I heard very little Autotune, and I can hear it in places most people don’t (due to my studio production work). It wasn’t used at all as an effect, at least from what I heard. It’s interesting to look at the trajectory of Autotune: it started out as a stealth studio tool to pitch correct a less than perfect performance from real singers, then it “progressed” to a tool to make “singers” out of people who can’t sing, then it became an effect to make people sound like machines. Most singers aren’t pitch perfect 100% of the time (Yolanda Adams and Streisand make it look easy), and I guess that the producers finally realized that it was better to have people sound like human beings.

After Christina Aguilar’s painful (to me anyway) rendition of our national anthem at the Superbowl, you’d think she’d reign it in a little but the girl just can’t contain herself. Sing the song, girl. I’m all for embellishments when they’re what the artist is naturally hearing (like Charlie Parker or Mariah Carey or Fantasia Barrino) but these vocal contortions she puts on do nothing for the music because she’s not hearing or feeling them. She puts them on like a hipster in some funky hat, but it’s just a hat.

Watching Rhianna’s performance was like being in a strip club; sorry, but a stripper with a microphone is not a singer. Not that I mind a little eye candy but it’s got to be part of the larger package. I think a lot of people confuse sexual attraction with talent or vision or leadership. (Do you think that if Sarah Palin looked like Janet Reno anybody would be talking about her?). A lot of people I know (musicians in their 40’s) were ripping on Lady Gaga, saying that she’s a big Madonna ripoff, like Madonna needs defenders, but they’re way off-base. Sure, they’re both dealing with pop/club/dance music, but where Madonna was really a producer’s product until well into her career, and marketed herself by becoming a bigger and bigger slut Gaga is much more than T&A and a funky beat. Not only is she a really good singer and pianist, but the music behind the vocals is more complex and she puts forth an image that redefines sexy as creative and imaginative (and humorous).

Last Saturday I went to the Midwest Gypsy Swing Festival in Madison. I used to play in Harmonious Wail, the band that puts this on, and I was looking forward to hearing Gonzalo Bergara and Frank Vignola, two monster guitarists of international reputation (BTW, Vignola played for Madonna at one time). It was a great concert and the two of them played together (for the first time ever) for the last few tunes of Vignola’s set. I got to meet these guys, all really nice and down to earth people, just really into music. Later in the evening, there was an impromptu jam in the dressing room and I even sat in and played a bunch of tunes with them. It broke up around 2:30 am mainly because Frank and Vinny Raniolo (Frank’s guitarist) had to catch a flight and we had to get back to Milwaukee for Sunday commitments, but I think everybody could have played til dawn.

A New Year

Well 2010 was a heck of a year, lots of good stuff and some major challenges too. I woke up one morning in early March in the most incredible pain I’d ever experienced…it was almost religious. It felt like all the nerves in my neck, arms and shoulders were firing simultaneously. Ninety minutes later I was in the ER, and the weird thing was all the drugs they kept giving me had no effect whatsoever. Finally they put me on a morphine IV, that worked. An hour after that I left the hospital with a bottle of pills….The next morning I woke up in the same pain, but could not move my right arm. It didn’t hurt to move it, it’s just that when I tried to lift it or reach for something nothing happened; basically I was paralyzed at the shoulder (fortunately I could still move it from the elbow down).

It turned out that two cartilage discs between the vertebrae in my neck had herniated and were compressing nerves, causing pain and preventing neural impulses from passing through. About two weeks later I was scheduled for a spinal fusion. They took out the two discs and fused my c3,4,5 together. Recovery was no fun, but thanks to a great surgeon (Dennis Maiman at Froedert) and a great physical therapist (Craig at St. Francis) I have made pretty close to a full recovery. I’m playing bass and lifting heavy gear again, the show must go on!

Ironically, right at the time when I wasn’t sure if I’d ever play upright bass again I was voted Bass Player of the Year by WAMI. I could do a somewhat limited job on bass guitar by sitting down and and parking my right arm on the bass, dangling my wrist over. This is how I played a Salt Creek gig 10 days after my operation (with a lot of pharmaceutical support). I wouldn’t have minded missing it but since it was already booked I didn’t want to take a gig away from my band mates. It turned out to be a pretty good gig, and gave me a needed boost.

I kept teaching (I took one week off), and pretty much kept working: I recorded another CD for the Branches Band, Salt Creek played a great gig at Summerfest in July and several more over the summer. In the fall I recorded EPs for Micah Olsan and Uncle Larry. Recently I just started the second session of my beginning guitar class. I’ve also been playing gypsy jazz with a new trio, Djanka 3. We’ll be playing at the Art Museum during the upcoming music video contest, March 24.

October, pt 2

Well the Bluegrass Caravan was a total success: great turnout, all the bands played very well, and no insurmountable tech problems (is there ever?). We recorded a mix off the board as well as a stereo room mix, listen for selections coming soon on Simply Folk. I also recorded a fantastic CD release party for Dan Vaughn’s “Listening to God”; this very high energy show featured both up ‘n’ coming and veteran poets as well as DJ Martin. Hard hitting, poignant, at time hilarious, the poets, DJ (and audience) really delivered. This disc will be available soon.

Next sunday I’ll be sitting in on bass with the Andreas at the Reef Point Inn(in Hartford), we’ll be rockin’ after the Packer game.

October

Does anybody even read any of this?….Well, I’ve been busy. Since I last posted we put out the Salt Creek Live! CD, containing the hottest cuts from shows recorded at the Up ‘n’ Under Pub, High Noon Saloon, and Gays Mills Folk Festival. There are a LOT of inspired moments on this disc….This year I also put out (1)”Drop, Baby Drop” by the phenomenon that is Lil’ Rev, which features yours truly on upright bass as well as many fantastic guest musicians; (2) Cream City Bluegrass‘s debut CD, which features traditional acoustic bluegrass and gospel: wonderful 3 and four part harmony singing and hot pickin’! (3) “Goin’ Burlap”, the 2nd release from the Liberty Bluegrass Band, this one featuring bright harmony vocals and original songs and arrangements. (4)(5) Recently I finished 2 CDs from the Branches Band. They are possibly the hardest working band to come through here, having recorded almost 3 CDs worth of material in 2 long sessions…great singing and playing throughout, it was a joy to be a part of this.

I also mastered “Shellshock”, lyrical hip hop and poetry by national poetry slam contender Shelly , and “Listening to God” by Dan Vaughn (featured on HBO’s Def Poetry jam). Both projects feature the work of up and coming producer Trixx. Sunday 10-11 Dan has the CD Release and a Def Jam of his own down at ComedySportz. This event will be recorded by yours truly, so come down and make some noise.

I also worked with the fanatbulous Laurie Birmingham doing 2 voiceover demos for Mike Petranech that helped him get signed with Lori Lin’s Talent. Way to go Mike!

I did sound again this year at the Leinie Celtic Rock Stage at Irishfest. This was a great year, thanks in part to my monitor engineer, Steve Sampson. I’ve also been doing some club work at the BBC and Club Garibaldi. Both places have recently upgraded their P.A.s, and sound really good (not to mention that Garibaldi has a damn tasty chicken sandwich).

Salt Creek had a good (if not terribly busy) summer playing to great crowds at Discovery World, Acoustic Fest, Miramar Theater (with the Radiators), and Whitnall Park (where we played for 1600 people). We’re starting to prepare for the recording of our 3rd record. Recently I’ve been playing more straight ahead jazz on the upright bass, as well as electric guitar. Among other gigs, I’ve been playing at the tuesday night blues jam at On the Limiter, in Cudahy. They have a really cool host (J.D. Optekar from Hounds Tooth) and a KILLER rhythm section in Donnie Mac and Larry the Legend, (who’ve played with BB King, Albert King, Chaka Kahn, and many others). It’s a great jam and I encourage all musicians and music lovers to come down.

I’m no longer playing with the Riverwesterners…call it a difference in expectations, but they found a more than suitable replacement in Kurt Bauer, and are still holding down the honk tonk. I got to learn 2 sets of great songs and played some fun shows and wish them the best. However, I’ll be playing many of these songs on Halloween when I take over bass duties for the Carpetbaggers at Jakob’s Pub (see calendar).

This Saturday I’ll go to Baraboo, WI to mix the Bluegrass Caravan at the world famous Al Ringling Theater….Liberty Bluegrass Band, the Henhouse Prowlers, and the High 48s…critically acclaimed top notch midwest bluegrass. Dang!

2009

Happy New Year Y’all. Well,  it’s been seven months since I’ve posted (see a pattern forming?). Busy, busy. Last summer we finished and put out the Urbansol and Bob Parduhn CDs. Both were well received; I did sound for Urbansol on the last nice Saturday of the year at the Bavarian Club. Initially it seemed a little strange to have a hip-hop/R’n’B band playing in such a “European” surrounding, but producer Damion Thompson had enough vision to look beyond that, and as the sun went down and the lights came up, it was pure soul magic.

The Bob Parduhn  Band split a bill with my band Salt Creek at Linneman’s, always one of the best places to play and see live music in Milwaukee…it was great to see so many of Bob’s friends and fans from over the years come out, and take home a great disc. A good time was had by all.

The Torahpalooza CD is finished, just waiting to unleash it on you all…Shabat Shalom!

I had the Cream City Bluegrass Band in not too long ago. The session went great; the initial demo turned into the first third or half of their upcoming album, the band played well and I am loving! the sound of my new gear.

Well, I’ve been playing a lot more recently…Salt Creek is back in action and even working on new material. We have some shows booked, and an all live CD coming out in April. Due to my foresight and insanity, I dragged out my recording rig to four concerts we played; the CD includes the best tracks from those shows, and there is some seriously burning stuff on there. I’ve also started playing bass with Tim Cook and the Riverwesterners. This is a seriously fun band doing classic honky-tonk standards (Ray Price, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, etc). Tim Cook is a definitely an original, and is a great frontman. The band really cooks too…it’s half of the Uptown Savages, and Milwaukee legend Tim Taylor killing on the lap steel. This is country from the time when country music was still swingin’. I’ve been playing straight ahead jazz with Ben Hans as well, which is good because I started to get real lazy with my bass playing, and when you’re playing with guys like Ben and Roger Brotherhood, they know right away if you’re faking it-you’ve got to be on your game.

I am teaching a free one month beginning guitar class at Fixx Coffeehouse, in St. Francis. This is designed as an introduction to guitar playing and a way to get people to begin to conquer the physicalities of the instrument. If you’re interested get ahold of me through the contact page on this site.

It’s been a long time, but I’ve started to write again, and finish halfway written songs that have languished for years. Next week I have a solo gig in madison; Chris and Mary of the Stellanovas will be backing me up. I recorded their CD, “Cafe Jazz”, and Chris played in Salt Creek for a year and a half… they’re fantastic and I’m looking forward to the show. It’s part of their Tuesday night series Mad Toast, which will be podcast from WORT. Look for more solo shows around the Milwaukee area in 2009.

…Been a while

Well, I really let this site slide for way to long but I’ve had a lot on my plate. Lots of stuff going on with my kids (the most awesomest in the world), and the studio, which has been BUSY in recent months, not to mention a fair amount of gigging. I just did a great gig last Sunday, a tribute concert featuring Joe Aaron, a great clarinet player (for the last 80 years) still doing 10-20 gigs a month. We did some jazz standards as well as traditional eastern European music. I play upright bass with Joe in Torahpalooza, you should hear him.

Torahpalooza is one of the projects (nearly finished) in the studio right now, it’s turning out great! There’s a lot of playing on this CD, which features reknown Cantor David Barash, ‘Lil Rev on mandolin and harmonica, as well as flute, tenor sax, electric and acoustic guitar, percussion, and a choir on several songs.

Also nearing completion is the debut by Urban Sol, Damion Thompson’s joint. US is a large, super high energy soul/hip-hop band playing ‘real’ instruments (including three horns, 4 singers straight outta church, rappers and poets). This CD is a live recording of a concert done in March, and it’s smokin’! Great playing throughout, this band is definitely from the street, but with a fantastically uplifting message and energy.

Also set for release in June is Bob Parduhn’s latest, which features yours truely on electric bass. Bob led the hugely popular Bones of Contention, and this music is in a similar vein, though a bit less jammy and more textural. This has been a lot of fun to play on as well as produce. Hopefully we’ll do a release party later in the summer when keyboardist Matt Meixner has more time.

Randy Newman…

…might not be an artist you’re familiar with unless you remember the song “Short People” from the 70’s, but you’ve probably heard a lot of his music in movie soundtracks. He combines a piano style derived from early jazz, gospel, and classical music combined with an ironic, character-driven populist approach to lyrics. Listening to Newman it’s evident he loves humanity, but doesn’t close his eyes to our dark side either.

Recently on Prairie Home Companion, Newman, in the context of a song, spoke of how fear has permeated our lives. He referred to FDR’s statement that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and that now it’s patriotic to be afraid. We are supposed to be afraid, and what are we supposed to be afraid of? Terror, another word for fear.

Are fearful people less likely to raise a ruckus about the government listening in on their phone calls, or suspending their rights of Habeus Corpus, or sending their kids to war?

Polar Bears

Well this year I finally did it, and it was exhilarating! I’m speaking, of course, about the annual New Year’s Day tradition of taking a dip in Lake Michigan. My 16 year old nephew Eric and I made the trek down to Bradford Beach to find the roads blocked off from the top of St. Mary’s Hill and the bottom of Lake Park so we had to park about a half mile from the beach, which almost put the kabosh on the thing. I expected there to be dozens of people down there but it was hundreds, maybe a thousand. The official plunge is at noon but due to the parking situation (I had foolishly expected to park in the lot or along Lincoln Memorial Dr.) we were about 25 minutes late. No problem, there we’re still people getting in with and after us and cheering us on!

I’ve had some extended New Years Eves over the years. It is the one night when bars never have to shut down and if you’re dedicated you can put yourself in quite a frame of mind by the morning. This, however, was not one of those years. I knew that we were going to FEEL Lake Michigan. Eric and I had our swimsuits on under lots of clothes, cranked the heater in the car, and jogged halfway to the beach, so when we got there we were pretty warm. On the beach we quickly stripped down, dashed out into waist deep water, dove down fully under, and got the hell out! Toweling off and getting dressed was COLD, and as I shook the water from my hair the tiny droplets were ice, but we never got shivering cold. My feet had a cold burn from standing on the frozen sand but that went away. Quickly we were back in our clothes and feeling good. We checked out some crazy revelers in various stages of undress and intoxication (like a Samurai in just a robe and slippers, icicles in his beard, making sexual jestures with his sword) before making our way back to the car. A stop for some hot chocolate brought us back to full recovery.

 I’m going to do this again next year, but I’ll get down there earlier and bring the hot chocolate with me in a thermos.

Huckabee Speaks His Mind

Politics is above all about winning, and that is why Republicans have been so reluctant to criticize President Bush…keep a united front against the enemy (i.e., Democrats). However, conservatives seem to be awakening to the fact that President Bush is only the current leader of the country, not America itself. At what point does “winning” justify a greater losses for America? 

It was interesting and refreshing this week to see Mike Huckabee level some well placed criticism at the foreign policy of the Bush Administration. If more Republicans  had been willing to publically criticize misguided policies during the last seven years we might not be so far up the creek at the moment. I’m speaking first and foremost about the Iraq War, but also the abandonment of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition and secret prisons, and the new arms race stemming from missles in Eastern Europe.

Americans have become so polarized that there seems to be no place left for critical dissent. Its either “Our guy can do no wrong” or “Your one of them so you have NOTHING to say”. This may be part of a slow collapse of our two party system, a system where the parties more different in style than in substance and neither are looking out for middle class America. It offers no real alternatives to the mess we are in. When calls for change are so easily dismissed who wins?

Sharon Jones

Holy cow!!! You’ve got to see Sharon Jones live! All I can say is I showed up with a bad cold and by the time I left I felt great…In this day and age of performers doing the “soulful thing” (Can’t you see how I’m FEELING it by my histrionic hand and facial expressions and overwrought vibrato?) it’s hard to put in words the energy given off by Jones, who not only has something to say and really seems to need to sing it, but is clearly the real deal. While perhaps not possessing the pipes of Aretha or Patty LaBelle, Jones is more down home and totally for real. She is singing out of her own life experience and would have sounded right at home with Otis Redding on any Memphis soul record.

Jones is also one of the most magnetic performers I’ve ever seen, it’s hard to take your eyes off of her once she hits the stage. Her energy kind of reminds me of James Brown; coincidentally, they both hail from Augusta, GA and in a recent interview Jones said that her mother knew Brown. Clearly they’re both coming out of the same culture and their music reflects this.

To top it off, the Dap Kings, Jones’ back-up band is everything you could possibly want from a soul band. Funky and tight, without sounding slick (in a smooth jazz kind of way) they keep the music coming non-stop, one song segueing into another, going 30 or 40 minutes before breaking. The Dap Kings could have backed James Brown any day of the week.