Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Summer of Scoundrel

Ahh, the summer of '85. My summer in Canada. Well, specifically ,
July of 1985, Western Canada, province of Alberta, cities of Calgary and Edmonton. Calgary was a beautiful place as I remember- all the dynamism of a big city with its skyscrapers but a lot more cleaned up than our major burgs. For what it's worth, it's used in the movie Superman III. Metropolis is actually downtown Calgary. 
   Our neighbors to the north were friendly and hospitable. We were treated with kindness and respect. And they certainly liked to drink- at least the ones I met. The big event in July was(and hopefully still is)the Calgary Stampede, a 10-day celebration in which I saw people literally falling-down-drunk as they left. 
I also witnessed the band playing opposite us in the daily rotation- who, in the grand Blues Brothers tradition, drank their entire week's pay. Normally, this would be just another musician story on its third telling(i.e. embellishment), but seeing them carrying their guitarist off the stage kinda gave it a little credence..
Anyway, a nice time was had by all. Something I'm glad I did at 31 years of age. And now there's a video available, actually several, featuring our antics during that period. I'm even in this one for a minute or so. 
Thanks, Gina Dean and Scoundrel for the memories. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Whiplash, snidely..

For a couple months now, I've been hearing about this controversial movie released last year- Whiplash- about the tyrannical music teacher and the students he's affected. It's been all over Facebook, much discussion there, and I'm sure the other places as well(as far as I'm concerned, Facebook is the only stop I make on the social media express, and even that is often one too many), and my curiosity finally got the better of me. 

Well, the acting is terrific. JK Simmons turns in a wonderful performance as the teacher(you may know him from the Farmers' Insurance ads and a brief TV comedy about a blind attorney)and likewise Miles Teller as the student. Teller is a drummer in real life, and contributes about 40% of the sounds you hear. I will give them that. 

The character of Terrance Fletcher is an amalgam of Buddy Rich(as heard on the infamous band tapes excoriating his musicians on the bus ride from their gig for the performance they just gave)and the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. He does have his own brand of volatility, but basically fashioned after those two "warriors".

I could see the writer's wheels turning as he created this character. In the case of the drill instructor, practically lifted him off the page, from the homophobic remarks toward his students('that's not your boyfriend's dick')to the scene where he slaps the student repeatedly to demonstrate the difference between rushing and dragging. In Full Metal Jacket, the sergeant slaps a soldier back and forth to demonstrate the difference between left and right. 

There's nothing wrong with combining traits to come up with a unique blend of a character. I'm thinking of the ephemeral young Dell rep- 'dude, you're getting a Dell!' Yeah, that guy! Steven something, who was a composite of Eddie Haskell(the unctuously polite kid from Leave it to Beaver who immediately dropped the manners once the grown-ups were out of the room)and the Keanu Reeves character from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Never could keep them straight, which one was which..

But I thought that was a marvellous combination: the smart-ass and the air-head. Unlike the practically cut-and-paste job in Whiplash, a subtle jelling. Too bad the actor got busted trying to buy pot. 'Dude, you're getting a cell!'

So yeah, getting back to the teacher(I do digress sometimes!)I thought that was a bit derivative- both the slap and the homophobic remarks. But more than the obvious source material, I had a problem with the teacher himself. With his martial arts methodology. Unless you're training a fighter, striking a student is  so inappropriate I don't even know where to start. For that matter, so is brow-beating a student into submission. We see as the movie progresses how this can affect a student even more than the physical abuse of a slap. 

The movie tries to take a tone of realism, in the school atmosphere, the conversations you hear, his sense of fitting in with the other students, his attempted romance with the concession girl. All well and good. But from there, everything is hyperbolized-for-Hollywood. The teacher's "tough love", the Herculean tasks he puts his drum students through- and of course the Charlie Parker story. 

Okay, I wasn't there personally. But the story goes(at least by all semi-reliable sources)that the cymbal was thrown at Charlie Parker's feet! Jo Jones wasn't trying to decapitate him, just shake him up a little bit. 

Every musician has a story where he's humbled in some way- maybe in a lot of ways at once. It happens. Not much fun, but it's part of the growth process. So, again, that part they got right. They just- embroidered it.

My main objection to the movie though, is again the teacher's methods, which of course is the crux of the movie. It's one thing to push a student, but when it becomes emotional and physical abuse, then the line must be drawn. The character, late in the movie, says, "I know I pushed people.But I'm never gonna apologize for how I did it!" 

On the contrary, he should apologize profusely for how he did it. He should perform Community Service for how he did it. That sort of behavior is reprehensible. I'm not even sure it belongs inside a boxing ring..

He also says, "the worst thing you can say to a student is good job!" I see what he's saying(I think anyway): that you don't want your student ever to be complacent, but I think you can moderate this--like much else in the movie. If used sparingly, so they feel like they earn it, I think the best thing you can say to a student-when it's warranted- is good job

 When all is said and done, it's about the student. His or her needs.  The minute that stops, you've got a problem, Houston.  All these histrionics of Terrance Fletcher leave that priority behind and end up being much more about Terrance Fletcher. He's got some serious problems, emotional problems that have to be dealt with before he'd be fit to teach again. Maybe a sequel: Whiplash II, after he's had a year or two of therapy.                                                  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Playing IN

These pictures were taken during my vacation in St Pete Beach, Florida. I'm the guy on the left. We did a ton of playing over my week down there, both guitar and piano duo and with a bassist and drummer. My friend on the piano there has them come over every week for a good 3 hours of musicmaking. There's always a meal, and then down to it. 
The sessions with bass and drums are more along the lines of a rehearsal/reading band. They're there to work on stuff, just for its own sake. Tunes are selected by each musician, in a rotation, so with a quartet you're calling every fourth tune. Each tune is rehearsed in entirety and then for trouble spots, and then recorded. My piano player buddy has a very nice rig which can make studio-quality CDs, even though we're not recording for posterity.. 
This bassist and drummer are full-time musicians- like the Fabulous Baker Boys, never had a dayjob in their lives. "Lifers" as my piano player friend calls them. And as you'd figure, they play very well. The drummer in particular is a seasoned veteran, having been a working musician in New York for some years. 
I got to do two such sessions with them. The playing itself is lots of fun, as they are wonderful players. It's also a bit of a teaching session. They work a lot with the piano player on various things. The drummer will deliberately speed up at times to make him play the songs' melodies faster; and other times bring the tempo down if it starts to rush. 
When you work with a drummer this good, it's hard not to play in rhythm. You just naturally align with what they're doing. I did pick it up just a little on one tune, for which he chided me a bit: "Yeah, ya got frisky". Otherwise, I felt like I kept great time. His time.
For my piano player friend, these weekly sessions are his bread and butter. There aren't too many playing opportunities in the area, and apparently not much of a database of musicians to work with even if there were, so working from home seems to be the elegant solution. Playing in, as it were. 
This gave me food for thought, as far as my activities back here in Illinois. Maybe I can get something similar going myself- at least on a monthly basis if not weekly.

Normally we musicians are out there looking for the perfect place to play, directing our energies outward to whatever local establishments exist(and will still have us). Playing out, as it were. This is usually the goal of any band. The gig: where you finally get to do your stuff in front of a live audience, as opposed to the "synthetic environment" of someone's garage or basement. An important part of any musician's development. 

But what if you can't get a gig you like? Or you still want to play but are sick of the noise and crowds? This latter scenario is mine, and I try and handle it by playing lower-keyed gigs(no pun intended), in smaller places with fewer folks. And, I'm thinking, with home sessions. Playing in. 

I've been feeling this way for awhile now. Leaving the world of daygig, back in mid-2013, I thought I'd want to play all the time. Play out, that is. And at very first it was great. But I soon tired of the noise and crowds and the whole phenomenon of being up in front of folks- even though the playing itself was still very enjoyable. 

So I'm taking another look at playing in. The joy of playing without the hassle of schlepping my equipment into the vehicle, negotiating a place to park, heading into some crowded, noisyass establishment and banging out tunes for people who may or may not be listening. Of course there will still be a few occasions where I'll be out in one of these dives, but for the most part I plan on making music from the comfort of hearth and hame. 

We'll see how this plays out of course, but for now that's the plan. If our sessions here are anywhere close to the ones I got to do in St Pete Beach, we'll really have something! As an end result, I see more recording than anything. But this is all planning. Gotta get there first. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Dynamic Duo

 One person I seem to be doing a lot of gigs with is bassist Rib Kollam. Yours truly, Roger U Roundly on guitar, and it looks like I'm comping for one of Rib's bass solos.
I don't use my real name in this blog, so I try and extend that same courtesy/anonymity to whoever I feature along with myself. Well, unless they're Kanye West or somebody..
 So here we are, yamming away at the now-defunct Centrum Cafe, where we had a nice run last Winter, for maybe 3 weeks in there. Rib looks perplexed about something in this shot.
 Another gig, this one an annual fund-raiser called Bassburg(as it features the area's high practitioners of the low frequencies). On this one, the dynamic duo is joined by drummer Mike Saunders. The picture of intensity. I look like I'm about to burst a blood vessel. Good thing Mike has a medical background. We might need it.
This one is a little more low-key. Rib and I are concentrating hard there. Looks like Mike is enjoying himself back there.
Finally this is us, Rog and Rib, in what's become our native habitat. Our monthly open-mic gig at Dr Ug's. To the uninitiated, Dr Ug's is a cafe-style restaurant in the heart of Virginia Illinois. They feature a variety of musicians a few nights every week as well as the infamous duo here. We've had this going for over a year now. 

I like playing gigs with Rib. We have a nice musical chemistry- he pulls a bit and I push, and between us we create a pretty good groove in there. And it usually follows that if you have a good musical rapport, you get on well when you're not playing. So it's a friendly climate.

And I'm sure more gigs will follow, either of the duo/trio variety or bigger groups. And more pictures of us middle-aged guys with weird expressions on our faces... 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

In Defense of Kanye- well,...

Many people misunderstood this photo when it made its way through the social networks. They saw it as yet another loud-mouthed celebrity getting payback from that already predatory animal we call the media.   
  Actually, I think the media would be better described as a Doberman Pinscher. It can be Your Buddy, but it can also turn on you in a second. I had a boss like that. He was even described in that way. Ten whole years. Wow. 
So the media excoriates poor Mr West, rips him to shreds just like his buddy Mr Doberman would've done(and with even less compunction). Turned him into the guy you love to hate. Clownye West. Kanye Twitty. And my favorite: Kim Kardashian's Ass! 

  And we just  love to see those folks getting theirs.(It fuels our own self-righteousness, don't you know..) Another self-absorbed(and self-proclaimed)artiste-  who for the umpteenth time has crossed that not-so-fine line between candor and Tourette Syndrome out in front of a whole bunch of people, thus disrupting said bunch of people and calling things to a screeching halt. 

So here he is, after shitting all over countless Hollywood events, finally getting his comeuppance, this time in the form of a Vulcan squeeze to the jugular. 

Or is he? My take on this is quite different. I contend that Mr Spock has returned from the future(or the past, however you want to see it)and is healing rather than hurting. He's massaging the brain-stem and basal ganglia of the rapper/genius and restoring Seratonin levels, thus preventing further outbursts. An old Vulcan home remedy. 

Aside from the recent vilification on Facebook(I already told you my favorite)-and, okay, the less recent picture juxtaposing  West and Jimi Hendrix as poser and Real Deal(with 'representative' statements from each), also on Facebook- which, after all was said and done, smacked of a kind of Goofus and Gallant moralism- I hadn't given much thought to Kanye West. 

I happened to catch SNL's highly-touted 40th Anniversary show the other night. Much of it I found disappointing, but I liked how they embraced Kanye West's recent controversy by making a sort of skit around it. Well that really was the move of necessity, otherwise you'd just have that huge elephant in the room, and it was packed enough as is. 

Which brings us to his performance. Having been demonized by the media, I was prepared to hate him. Anyone who's such a blowhard deserves to lose, right? Kanye West's number was creative and imaginative and musical. It was actually the most so of anything on the show. My second favorite musical moment. It didn't suck. 

Okay, maybe he is an asshole. Talent is bestowed upon them just like "nice" folks. You can be a real jerk and still be a fine performer. Unfortunately those two qualities are not mutually exclusive.  I didn't find him to be the creative genius he touts himself to be, but still- pretty damned good! Credit where credit is due.

Actually, the best musical moment on the show, to me, was Paul McCartney and Paul Simon doing an "impromptu" I've Just Seen a Face. Only a verse or so, but beautifully harmonized. Strangely enough, much better than their lengthier individual spots.

Short of that, the Kanye West number was the best thing I heard. 

I don't know if subsequent listens will yield the same result. Haven't been curious enough to find out. If I need to, I will. But what I heard seemed to work. I hope for his sake he doesn't continue to act like a doofus. Some people seem to get in their own way. Maybe Spock needs a recurring role here.. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Road Repartee

One of the nice things about Geezerhood(perhaps one of its few saving graces)is that you have a lot to look back on. At this point, your Book of Life has some heft to it. There are already more than a few chapters, twists and turns, joys and sorrows- the concatenation of events which somehow got your ass here

One such chapter for me was the 16 months-from December of 1984 to March of 1986- when I was on the road. Gina, Dean and Scoundrel was the band. This was from a gig on Halloween in Ogden Utah, sometime in 1985. All the guys were there when I first started, but we had a different female vocalist on my first day of school.

She was with us for maybe eight months into my tenure, before moving on to her own career. Give my regards to Broadway.  I think we had one interim vocalist after that(Dallas?), and then came Raggedy Ann. In the picture, I'm the beer-wielding Mr T. The Sheik was our bandleader, and he and The Green Lantern to the extreme right were the people in the band with whom I felt the most kinship. 

16 months is not a terribly long time for a musician to be on the road. (They made Apocalypse Now in a year and four months.) Still, I got a taste. Some musicians spend their entire careers in this kind of perambulation. I guess it gets in your blood. Can't help but think of the line from A Streetcar Named Desire: trying to recapture in motion what's lost in space. Our bandleader had a little of that in him as I remember. He was most comfortable when we were moving. 

One thing I do know about being on the road is that it intensifies whatever was(or would've been)already there in terms of your relations with the other folks on the road with you. The Sheik and The Green Lantern were people I would've liked wherever and however I'd met them. So much the better. You're going to have your differences with anyone with whom you're in such close proximity, but a basic affinity still holds things together(the ligament in human relations). And we still keep in touch, 29 years later.

On the other side of the coin, you can have a toxic(or at least problematic)individual who in these close quarters ends up being the worse for wear,  more contemptuous-by-familiarity. You're not going to solve the problem and neither are they.  So you just try and get along while in a band with them, and wish them well in their new endeavors at the end. But just like Bill Murray and Lucy Liu in Charlie's Angels, that's the last movie you're going to make together. Get somebody else to play Bosley...

Traveling all the way across the country to work with complete strangers was something you only do when you're young enough and foolish enough. At 30 I was perhaps not young by some standards but certainly still had the fool in me. I met the Sheik and the Guerilla(also a very nice sort)at the Boston Airport. They had to bum money from me for the tolls. I should've known then that something was up. 

Actually I got a very nice(and unabashedly sentimental)card when the band broke up in March of 1986 with two quarters attached! The quarters eventually found their way back in the economy but I still have the card. 

It was an adjustment being with these strangers all the way across the country, and me with a brand new job to learn(I even had to learn to duck-walk!). Everything was new and a little scary. Plus I was used to having my own place, and had to adjust to having a roommate. And being one. 

At very first, I roomed with the Sheik. I must admit, my diet wasn't the greatest. In addition to whatever starchyass, sodium-laden stuff I was wolfing down, there was much beer consumption. And junk food- with a predilection for cheese-flavored snacks. The Sheik referred to these as Cheez-Plugs, this of course a reference to the obstructive potentials on the path of digestion. Yep, got us a traffic jam here in the Transverse Colon- there's a cheez plug in the road!

Boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. This meme has been used to describe the military experience and prison life, and could also give you a picture of life on the road. Only I don't know if I'd call it terror necessarily. Confusion, exhilaration, irritation, hilarity- and sometimes all those things at once. 

But a lot of down time. For one thing, you've gotta get there, which accounts for much of it. So many hours in transit. And in all this time, you get to know your fellow travelers. Some commonalities emerge(if there are any). As it turned out, The Sheik and The Green Lantern  and I all liked a good joke- in particular, a good witticism. Sometimes, as the Sheik pointed out, we were laughin' to keep from cryin', but jocularity is still jocularity. Still helps to lower blood pressure. Maintain homeostasis within the band. "Happy band", as the Sheik used to say.

The Sheik's manner of comedic expression was either sharp bordering on caustic(he loved Carson), or sardonic. The latter usually kicked in while he was driving, where we'd get some disgusted commentary on whatever was in front of us. I used to refer to this as his having his foot on the disdain pedal. 

On one occasion it was a Wet n' Wild kinda funplace in El Paso TX('Oh God, I can already smell my state!'--somehow the kitsch element reminded him of similar stuff in southern California, where we were headed); on another a club/restaurant  in Houston where we were due to play, called Peppers.

Peppers. Well it is a name with that sort of jive-y aftertaste. Tickles the palate just a bit. 

I consider myself very fortunate to still hear from a few of these people, 29 years later. Since our traveling days, I've been back out to LA to see the Sheik get married, along with most of the old group. And I recorded one of his songs on a CD of mine. Just heard from him a few days ago, which unearthed a few memories which turned into this blog. 

And I've been to the other side of the country to visit The Green Lantern and his lovely wife(not pictured- as I said, she was Raggedy Ann's predecessor)on several occasions. When I was going through a divorce in '93, he said "Gee, that's a shame. Now you're going to have to learn how to order food!"(He finds this comment a little cold now, but I still think it's funny). 

Of the other two in the picture, I've heard from one- and of course wish both of them well. We had a few personnel changes in my time with the band(seems like for awhile in there we went through singers like a junkie through socks), but the above picture was the lineup when I joined. 

 I remember this as a mostly fun period. Certainly a necessary move at the time, getting out into the world a bit. Springfield was starting to close in on me, and getting some fresh air was the best thing I could've done.  It wasn't all fun and games, all happy happy joy joy. But I still wouldn't trade it. For one thing, it somehow got me here.


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Band Pix

 On my website at,  there's a listing of  All the Bands I've Ever Played In . At the time, I came up with 94. That was 2004, when I first started my site, and 94 was probably a bit conservative then. 

The first picture here was the earliest I could find- age 14 or so. The Bob Graham Quartet. Bill Waldmire, drums; Bob on saxophones and clarinet; Ben Drake on piano or guitar- and I was the shy young man holding the bass.We had a gig every Friday and Saturday at what was then The Flaming Pit(now Diamond Restaurant)in Town and Country shopping center, and that's where I got started learning to play jazz.

Less shy here, wearing a silly shirt that's fortunately obscured in the picture by whatever I was drinking(okay, it said Guitar Hero- I was having a bit of fun, as well as a bit of booze). Sometime in 1984, me at age 30, with Magnum Force. From left to right: me, Art Carey, Rebecca somebody, Marvin "Binky" Day, David Hoffman, Larry "Hubba" Nelson.
This one was around 1982. Looking strangely bewildered in the picture. Hmm. The Hinds Bros band, from left to right: Steve Hints Perry Zubeck, me, Jay Hinds, Jim Lanier, Tim Beck. Jay, sadly, is no longer with us. He was a fun guy and is missed.
This one is not a band pic but rather a band alum pic. The band was Scoundrel(1984-86 for me). From left to right: Eric Ongie(former guitarist), Michael somebody(former bassist), Ed Greig, me, Dean Hall, Richard Dennis. The zany guy in the middle got married on that day, in sunny LA.
The band was called Frankly Speaking, the year around 1994. From left to right: Steve Alexander, me, Frank Parker, Alicia Wilson, Johnny Thompson, Kevin Ellis. I used to joke about being the Affirmative Action hire of the band, being the only melanin-challenged individual there. We had a nice time playing together, and it was always relaxed enough that you could make a joke like that!Much appreciated.
An artier, film noir look in this band photo from the same period of time. The Frank Trompeter Quartet. From left to right: me, Frank, Tim Harte, Brian Pryor. We worked together a lot in the 90's, even got to play in Japan in 1995. Something that looks pretty good on a fella's permanent record..
This is Muzik Maker Band(yes, note the zany spelling), founded by keyboardist Evans Brittin. From left to right, Bob Smith, me, Steve Fowler, Steve Dykema, and Evans. Somewhere in Jacksonville, 90-something. I got that guitar(an Ibanez Artstar) from the owner of a music store in Jacksonville, one of two he brought down for me to try as he wanted to see me playing a Real Jazz Guitar-- can't recall his name, that memory Just In). Bob somebody. Helluva nice guy, and not just for bringing guitars for me to try.
   Back to Muzik Maker for a minute. There was always a bit of a civil war going on, in that at least two of the guys wanted to do more contemporary pop stuff(Bob was a whiz at copping the exact sound and so forth of the records)and Evans wanted to keep with the old standards. I was with Evans on that one. Anyway, Muzik Maker Band. .
Bob Katt and the Missing Lynx, founded by the slightly wizened figure to my right(your left). This was a nice patch, for about a year, back in 2003 or so. From left to right: Brad Davis, Kevin Cox, me, Chaz Blythe. It was billed as a jazz band but really was more variety: R & B, some revamped pop things, a few Swing Era standards. 
   Kevin would be the first to tell you he was a blues player and not a jazzer, but whatever his declared style, he had a lot of technique- damn near flawless chops- and boatloads of imagination!
I had quartets for the longest time, and finally broke down and went to trio in 2006. From left to right: Bill Schlipf, me, Don Cochran. This is what I used to refer to as the SamBillandDon ensemble, which was my group- our group- from 2006(our first gig was on January 27th of that year- Mozart's birthday, for what it's worth) until Bill's death in 2013. The trio continues(as the SamTomandDon ensemble), but Bill is missed.
This motley crew(plus special guest Frank "Bruh" Parker on trumpet)is another group I've played with a lot over the years. The Dan Rivero Trio. From left to right: Dan, Frank, Wayne Carter, me. It's a lot of fun. 

This is the most recent band pic of sorts I was in, taken just a few weeks ago. It was taken to promote a gig I did with them on 3 occasions last Fall. I'm not on that particular project, but I'm sure we'll work together again soon. From left to right: me, Gordon Cahvallo(percussion), Mark Rusillo(harmonica and vocals). 

  I hope you've enjoyed these band pix. As you can see, I've aged a bit in the meantime. It happens. Still getting these old bones out on occasion to make noise with other aging life-forms. Seems like a reasonable plan.