Friday, October 13, 2017

Fat Friday Feature: Louis Johnson On Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'"

The Fat Friday Feature is a semi-regular post that showcases a great bass part.  Today, I'm going to explore Louis Johnson's bass on Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'". 

Louis Johnson is one of the giants in the bass world, yet it is criminal how few people (including bass players) actually know him by name.  For better or for worse, he's one of the fathers of the very popular slap bass method.  You've definitely heard his work - "Strawberry Letter #23", "Get On The Floor", "Billy Jean" - because he was the go-to bass player for producer/composer Quincy Jones. Louis was earning a steady pay check.  Like a lot of players showcased in the Fat Friday Feature, there's probably a hunnert bass lines I could showcase by him.  But I like how this one snuck up on me - he definitely and anonymously got on my radar backing the guy with the second best beard* in rock n' roll:  Michael McDonald.

"I Keep Forgettin'" has a groove that creeps up on you.  I love how the bass line is so tightly locked in with the bass drum.  And because he was an early adopter of the now legendary Musicman Sting Ray bass, he cast a particular well worn tonal mold that is still quite popular today.  Indeed, it is one that I'm quite familiar with - I own a 1977 Sting Ray, which was only the second year they were made.

I also love that there are all sorts of little bass "Easter eggs" - nimble fills that sneak up here and there when you least expect it.  But Louis Johnson's playing, helped in part from the drumming from that guy from Toto, takes a song that otherwise is pretty sucky and makes it memorable.

 *-The best beard award going to fellow yacht rocker Kenny Loggins.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Songwriting 101: Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'"

Tom Petty's death has (rightly) spawned lots of coverage and tributes.  I've listened to some interviews, read some factoids, and even put a highly recommended Tom Petty documentary in our Netflix queue.  Honestly, I felt sort of bad when he died.  What struck me about Tom Petty is how utterly normal he seemed; from the simplicity of his tunes to his outlook on life.  In the interview with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air", he talked about how the tour he just completed was likely his last because he wanted to spend more time with his grandkids.  That is SO not rock n' roll, man.  Even is death was kind of normal - he died of a heart attack.  Also not rock n' roll at all.

As his songs flood the airwaves this week, it has made me think about my relationship with his music.  I've concluded that it's sort of a funny relationship because I don't think of myself as a Tom Petty fan at all, and yet he actually has a lot of songs I really like.  Even more interestingly, I seem to like each song for a different reason.  For example,  "The Waiting" (one of my faves) features that Rickenbacker twelve string sound I love so much.  Apparently Tom did too - he cites the Byrds and the Beatles as two bands he had hope to emulate, and both used Rickenbackers to great effect.  I'm also a huge Byrds fan, so that song was a natural fit for me.  "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" has a sort of ass kicking vibe to it, helped in large part by the loud chorus, which contrasts with the cool, Hammond B3 laden verses.  Doing the duet with Stevie Nicks was a brilliant choice as her voice is perfect for that song (never thought I'd type that), and that fact that it lends itself to amazing covers is also a tribute to that song.  [Edit:  I guess since it is on Stevie's record, she invited him to sing, not vice versa.  Still. . .]  We played "Don't Do Me Like That" at the 4th Street Art Festival last month and, though it's not a favorite for me to listen to, it's damned fun to play.  His brilliant use of the music video medium made "Don't Come Around Here No More" even more appealing to me.  That and the cool sitar-sounding guitar.  I could keep going, actually, which is sort of surprising to me, especially since I don't own a own a single Tom Petty tune.

"Free Fallin'" isn't a particularly interesting song to me - except for the lyrics.  It's one of those songs that makes me envious that I hadn't thought of it.  I am absolutely captivated by the vivid, evocative imagery of this song.  We all knew the "good girl" in the song; we've seen her with her heart broken by the "bad boys" and "vampires".  I also like the "fuck it" desperation that the last verse alludes to; this idea of going out in a (romantic) blaze of glory.  As the Stranger says, I've done innerduced this song enough.  Have a gander at the lyrics yourself and see what you think.

She's a good girl, loves her mama
Loves Jesus and America too
She's a good girl, crazy 'bout Elvis
Loves horses and her boyfriend too
It's a long day livin' in Reseda
There's a freeway runnin' through the yard
And I'm a bad boy, 'cause I don't even miss her
I'm a bad boy for breakin' her heart
And I'm free, free fallin
'Yeah I'm free, free fallin'
All the vampires walkin' through the valley
Move west down Ventura Blvd.
And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows
All the good girls are home with broken hearts
And I'm free, free fallin'
Yeah I'm free, free fallin'Free fallin', now I'm free fallin'
Now I'm,Free fallin', now I'm free fallin
'I wanna glide down over Mulholland
I wanna write her name in the sky
I'm gonna free fall out into nothin'
Gonna leave this world for awhile
And I'm free, free fallin'Yeah I'm free, free fallin'
Yeah I'm free, free fallin'Oh! Free fallin'
Now I'm free
Oh!Free fallin'

The More You Know: That Soft Cell Song Is A Cover

I watched a movie trailer this morning that used Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" to great effect.  You know this song - it's a great song, and it is mandatory playing at any American wedding reception:

 But did you know that that song is actually a cover from a version that was released in 1964?  It also is very good, but totally not what you're used to.  Check out Gloria Jones' version (the original version) of "Tainted Love":

I didn't know Soft Cell's version was a cover until about five years ago.  But now you know and can enjoy them both!


Friday, September 22, 2017

MB On The "Earth Eats" Podcast

I've totally forgotten about this - the annual salsa planning party that my wife Mary Beth attends every year was showcased on the "Earth Eats" podcast.  I had hoped to embed it, but I don't think I can.  So go check it out!  It's great stuff.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

[UPDATED] Link Dump 20 September 2017

Here's some audio related stuff you should probably read:

[UPDATE] I just watched this - "How Flea Plays Bass".  I love stuff like this and could watch it all damn day.

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Day At Russian Recording

I had the good fortune of getting to spend the day yesterday at Russian Recording with my friend Caleb Weintraub.  We were working on a tune that Caleb wrote and recorded at home; and we had the whole day to work on just this one tune, with a focus on not only recording new guitar, bass and vocal tracks, but cleaning up/messing up (whatever the song called for) the tracks we brought in with us.  This was exciting for a number of reasons, but probably at the top of that list is the fact that Caleb and I have been talking about getting into a studio for years.  The track has yet to be mastered, but it already sounds fantastic thanks in large part to the skills of engineer Matt Tobey.  And for the record, if you can't get along with Matt, you can't get along with anybody.  He was game to try anything we wanted, and he did it with complete grace and cheerfulness.  His input was useful and most welcome. He was an utter professional.
The mixing board at Russian Recording.
Some of the instruments owned by Russian Recording.  I was
loving the Gibson RD Artist bass (second from left) in particular,
though I did not plug it in.

I arrived around 10 AM, and Matt was already setting up.  Caleb arrived moments later, and I proceeded to practically overdose on black coffee as we began the process of listening to and "re-amping" select tracks of Caleb's densely layered, multi-tracked composition.  Re-amping involves sending a pre-recorded track out of the control room through an amp that is in the live room.  The amp is mic'd and then re-recorded, allowing us to fine tune the pre-recorded tracks using the settings on the amplifier. It makes a huge difference.  That process took us about two hours, but it was a great, simple way to make each track more unique than it was when we came in to the building.

When it came time for me to lay in my bass track, I did so on my upright bass.  That went pretty smoothly, but we went ahead and recorded the same bass line on an electric bass that the studio had.  Ultimately, we decided to go with the electric bass track as it seemed much tighter, much more precise.  Interestingly, we didn't lose much in terms of the "largeness" of the sound; the vintage Kramer bass I used did a shockingly good job approximating the sound of an upright even though that was not necessarily our intention.  We had talked about doing a third bass line with fills and nifty little bass tricks, but decided to forgo that to keep the song from being too cluttered. I'm delighted with the tone we got as well as the run itself.
I did the first take on my upright (left), but we ended up using
the takes I recorded with the studio's beautiful old Kramer bass,
which features an aluminum neck and (I think) body.

A closer look at the Kramer, which is a dead simple and lovely
sounding instrument.  The neck was super fast as well - just
a nifty bass.  Learn more about them here.
It was fun watching Caleb work.  He got the guitar parts done quickly, and really worked hard on the vocal parts.  Among the challenges he faced with the vocal parts was the fact that he was singing this tune in a falsetto, which, if you have to do multiple times, can really wear out your voice quickly.  This was also exacerbated by the fact that Caleb is allergic to cats, and the studio has at least three cats.  (Though Lil Bub's dad owns the studio, Lil Bub was not present.)  But Caleb did multiple takes of every vocal part (and there are many), all of which were pretty damn good.  It was nice to have a lot to choose from.
Caleb Weintraub
Caleb practicing his guitar parts in the control room.
This tune doesn't sound like anything I've ever done, which is one of the big reasons I'm so excited about it.  I'm not sure what we'll do with it after it has been mastered, but there has been some interest in the song already - that's about all I can say about that.  I'll post it here if I can.  One thing's for sure:  we've both got the bug to go back.  Caleb already has a number of songs that are ready to be recorded.  The biggest limiting factors at the moment are time and money.  But if that changes, I hope to have a lot more to share with you.
Gratuitous photo of my upright bass.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't send out a hearty thank you to Mary Beth for holding down the fort while I was out playing rock star.  I would never take that for granted.  I am so glad, so thankful for all you do that allows me to do this, Mary Beth.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

First Dance: Pete And Keri

Welp, my fifteenth wedding anniversary fast approaches.  It's a great time to reflect upon the life my wife and I have built; it's a great time to relive our wedding day, which we both agree was pretty damn fun.  I did an entry last year about our first dance, but I also reached out to some friends and family to learn more about their first dances.  I thought I'd highlight my friends Pete and Keri's first dance for this entry.  Pete answered my questions via email.

Pete and Keri's first dance as a married couple was to a live band ("They were very good!" - Pete) playing the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere":

Pete reasoned that they wanted something that was "classic and classy and had some staying power" rather than something that was "fleeting or trendy".  If they had it to do over again, Pete thinks they would've selected the same tune since he doesn't recall "being overwhelmed by any romantic tunes since then that have any deep, meaningful significance".  The tune has a special place in his memory, and when he listens to the tune now, he feels a comfort in its familiarity; it hearkens him back to a simpler time.  Although "Here, There and Everywhere" isn't in any regular rotation at Pete and Keri's house, it does pop up from time to time when the music is on "shuffle".

What was your first dance, married people?  Leave your stories in the comments.

Other first dances: