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┬áSarah 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.


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!