Monday, February 27, 2012

Ashbory Bass For Sale [UPDATED]

I'm selling my Ashbory bass to get some dough to repair a beloved camera.  I figured I'd give History Lesson readers and Craig's List trollers first dibs before it ends up on eBay.  If I know you and you're interested in purchasing this bass, just leave a note in the comments below.  Here's a link to the Craig's List listing.  If there's no action on it in a coupla weeks, I'll probably put it on eBay.  Anyway, it's a great bass that's a ton of fun, and you'd be hard pressed to find a better deal on a used one.

Aside:  if you ever decide to buy one of these new, the only place to get it (as far as I'm concerned) is from Brock over at Large Sound.  Brock is knowledgeable, a straight shooter and a fellow aficionado of the highly under rated G&L L-1000 - a bass I will be writing about at a future time.  Anyway, avoid the sleazy sales dudes at your local music shop and avoid the markup of all those Sam Ash-type websites and just buy from Brock.

[UPDATE]: Bass has been sold.  Looking forward to getting my Yashica fixed.  Hope I don't miss this Ashbory - it was a cool bass!

Watt Talkin' Econoline Vans With A Nice Young Man

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fat Friday Feature DOUBLE SHOT: Mike Watt and Tony Lombardo

These two clips show my "damage":  I'm a total sucker for busy bass lines.  Busy bass lines aren't ejaculatory (See:  Victor Wooten, Jaco Pastorius) but they really aren't groove oriented either (See:  Pete Shand, George Porter Jr.).  Busy bass lines don't require any sort of virtuosity and they push the song forward in high gear until the song is done. Most of the punk rock I grew up with lent itself to busy bass lines, but very few bands actually had aggressive bass players.  The bass players that used them are memorable to me because they differentiated themselves from all others with such catchy bass parts.  "Myage" and "Fascist" are two of my favorites.  Frankly, I think these two songs are a helluva way to end the week.

Monday, February 20, 2012

More From The Unexplained's Classic Cassette "Rough"*

Here are some more tracks from my high school band The Unexplained.  "Surfboards From Hell" was the first song I ever made up; Dan, if you didn't figure it out, kinda ad libbed the lyrics.  Sounds good, don't it?

The Unexplained are:
Dan - vocals
Jim - guitar
Matt D. - guitar
Joseph - drums
Matt Z. - bass

Read the story here.
Get tracks 1 & 2 here.
Get tracks 3,4, & 5 here.
 * - Yes, I am aware that there's really no such thing as a "classic cassette" (unless you're Quack).

Report: Trowar's Second Gig

Our second gig was at Hoosiers Bar in Ellettsville, IN.  This is a strip mall-type bar off of Indiana 46.  You'd probably miss it if you weren't looking for it.  As with the Emerson Theater show, we really wanted live experience and to see what works for us and what doesn't.  Fred took a Thursday (not a great night for gigs, esp. in Ellettsville) and insisted that there be no cover charge.  We arranged for a sound man and everything was set.  When we arrived Thursday, we were early. The set up and sound check were fast.  We were ready for our 9:30 show by 8:45.  At about 9:40, they rolled back the huge door that separates the bar from the band room, and we took the stage.

We were 100% better than the first gig.  The sound was good due in part to the room itself and Fred's modified amp set up.  We were tight, had the right energy and when we made mistakes, we recovered so quickly that you would've had to know the song before hand to know we even made a mistake.  The sound was pretty good, and my bass was slightly over driven, giving it a fuzzy edge similar to this though perhaps not quite as distorted.  I thought it was bad ass sounding though I'm not sure it's the right sound for this band.  I also ditched using picks for this show as the blister on my right middle finger had healed into a nice callous.  It was much more comfortable and controlled;  it also got rid of the tinny sound I had at the previous show.

The feed back from the crowd - all 6 of them* - was very positive.  By the second song, the music had lured a drunk dude out of the bar and had him right up in our faces for the rest of the show, dancing/stomping/screaming.  He was very into it and only slightly perturbed when he found out we wouldn't be doing an covers.  We powered through for an hour, and I'm very proud of what we did.  I wish more people would've seen it, but all that matters is we were tight, loud and leaving them wanting more.  A great night for sure.

* - Three audience members were friends of the band, and I included the sound guy to pad the numbers a bit.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fat Friday Feature: John Entwistle And Unknown Bassist From Steppenwolf

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I'm supposed to be doing as a bass player when someone else - usually the guitar player - is soloing.  I'll tell you what I like to do (dogfight), and I'll tell you what I'm supposed to do (groovemaster).

Example #1:  John Entwistle on "Young Man's Blues".  This is what you're not supposed to do - that is, go off when someone else is soloing.  You're supposed to hold the bottom end and provide a foundation while the guitar player takes flight.  It's an unfair generalization, but guitar players hate it when bass players go off like this because it's not so much about holding down the fort for them, it's stealing their thunder.  In the theater world, it would be like stepping on another actor's lines over and over again.  But if a song has a snappy pace like this one, I think it should sound like a dog fight between the guitar player and the bass player.  When one zigs, the other zags; the intensity of both players should be the same.  That is exactly how I imagine it too - a battle for supremacy in which the nimble fingered survive and the winner is the audience.  You can try to give me the argument that the groove is sacrificed when a band plays this way, but listen to "Young Man's Blues" and tell me honestly if you still feel that way after listening to it.  If Entwistle just stuck to a holding pattern (to use another aerial metaphor) while Townshend soloed, this song wouldn't even have half the intensity.

Example #2:  Unknown bass player from Steppenwolf on "Tighten Up Your Wig".  There are plenty of decent versions of this tune, but this live one is far and away my favorite.  Note that this bass player (Rushton Moreve?) sticks to a uniform, standard blues bass line for most of the song.  To ratchet up the intensity of the song, the band goes into a key change and the bass player changes the bass line a bit each time he plays it, creating more interest in the tune rather than letting it sound like some extended, boring ass Skynard jam.  Of course the slightly overdriven sound of the tune helps too, but the bass player is indeed anchoring everything while doing something fresh each time.

Of course, both approaches are fine.  I think it depends on the song and your band mates.  Since all of us in Trowar are aspiring to be a true power trio, I'm never dissuaded from going off when I feel comfortable.  This is cool because I'm coming up with more and more stuff to try as I play more.  Of course, I'm not at Entwistle levels yet, but stay tuned. . . .

Monday, February 13, 2012

Report: Trowar's First Gig

 Well, Trowar played our first ever gig this past Saturday.  I'd say all and all, I'd rate our performance at a 7; to put it in terms of a report card, I'd give it a C.  There were things that were promising, but we were pretty sloppy.  There are lots of rough edges to work out.  Oddly, we're still pretty happy with how things went.

Back stage door.  No groupies to be had

There was great graffiti everywhere.
The hand stamp for reentry reads "Go Get Your Cancer",
a reference to the most common reason
for leaving the venue.

Here's the tickets we were supposed to sell. 
Note the hilarious typo for our name. 
There's our Spinal Tap Stone Henge moment for this gig.
We played first because we sold the least tickets.  It was a "battle of the bands"-type thing, but we didn't stick around to see who won.  When we played, it was mostly other bands watching us as no one else had shown up yet.  They were very nice and very supportive despite our missteps.  Most of the bands seemed to be comprised of white, middle class, high school kids with very good manners. For that reason they reminded me a lot of the folks that ran around the No Bar in Muncie back in the day.  I'd forgotten about close, tribal feeling those happenings generated.  It was cool to see that that vibe is still alive and well. 

Sade (bass) stands in front of the rig
I borrowed for this gig - an
ancient Yamaha amp.

The Emerson itself is a dump, and I actually man that as a compliment.  Whoever owns it is riding it hard into the sunset as I don't think a single improvement has been made to that space in years.  Graffiti covered walls and scuffed/broken drywall somehow gave the club the appropriate amount of grit.  The staff there really had there shit together, herding bands through set up and take down with clear directions and a kind - but firm - hand.  Throughout the night (at least when we were there) things pretty much ran on time.  Unheard of for most rock shows it seems.

Here is the summary of our performance, starting with the bad:
  • We frequently lost each other.  The sound man was not at fault; the acoustics of the Emerson are abysmal.  All I could hear of the guitar was a loud, sustained noise.  Chord changes were hard to pick up and as a result, we found ourselves lingering in certain sections of the song a bit too long until we were all together again.  While we were up there, I thought it was probably my fault somehow.  I felt much better hearing how muddy all the other bands were.  Plenty of volume, NO definition.
  • Rookie mistakes - at least for me.  I even stepped on my cable at one point during a song, forcing it to come unplugged.  There's no graceful way to cover up that error.  I just had to smile and move on after I plugged it back in.
  • The Emerson conjures up memories
    of New Orleans after Katrina.

  • Not sticking to song structures.  This was in part due to the acoustics issue, but also in part due to our doing our best to try and raise a song up to a higher intensity.  Normally this works for us, but not this go round.
The good:
  • My playing was fairly solid when I wasn't lost.  I got a few compliments and even overheard another compliment in a nearby McDonald's when I went over to get a Coke.  It was a father talking to his sons.  He said that the bass player (me) and really the whole band were pretty good, but our sound was just "MWAUGGGH" - a pretty fair assessment really.  I didnt' feel too bad about that for the aforementioned reasons.
  • My thought about our songs is that the riff heavy songs - of which most of them are - would carry the day.  I was right: when we locked into these riffs, we really had people moving.  Well, the few people that were in front of the stage anyway.  So the songs WILL work; we just need to tighten up.
  • Fred getting tuned up.
  • This first gig met all of our expectations, from crowd size to our actual execution.  We left this gig realizing we have much to do, but feeling better about having one gig under the belt.

Friday, February 10, 2012

How (Not) To Write About Women In Music

Read this article from the Village Voice.  It's entertaining, informative, even pretty funny.  I have to admit that I hadn't really thought about the issue too much, and the bad writing that is sampled is truly bad.  It probably would've slipped by me unquestioned before; maybe not so much now.  Check it out - it's after 4 PM on a Friday.  You're only kidding yourself if you think you're going to get anything done before 5.  Or maybe that's just me.

Fat Friday Feature: Justin Meldal-Johnsen On Beck's "Debra"

Here's what I know about this song:

  • The bass riff was lifted from a song called "My Love For You" by Ramsey Lewis.  Take a listen to it - it's a great tune in its own right even though it some how manages to make me feel sleazy (despite the absence of suggestive - or any - lyrics).
  • It was inspired by David Bowie's "Win" - another great tune in it's own right. 
  • I hadn't heard "Debra" (and by extension, "Win" and "My Love For You") before last Friday, when it popped up in one of the blogs I read.  How did I go so long without having heard of any of these tunes? Anyway, it features a live performance of "Debra", which ALSO is worth checking out.
  • The lyrics are hilarious.  Beck is both the funkiest and funniest white dude there is.
Why do I like the bass part so much? 
  • This is exactly the tone I strive for when recording/amping my upright.  I'm not there yet, but hey:  I know what I'm shooting for at least.
  • It is smoove and in the pocket.
  • It's just enough to be interesting/catch my ear, but not over the top.  I guess that's another way to say it's in the pocket.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Audio Scratch Pad: The Cosby Sweaters' "Taco Smell"

While we're on the topic of tacos, enjoy the Cosby Sweaters' "Taco Smell", which is actually just me trying to figure out my then new four track recorder.  Please forgive the ham fisted slapping and hooking - it's pretty abysmal.  I'm mainly sharing because the other bass - the one that is being plucked - is as close as I've ever gotten to getting the early Minutemen-era Mike Watt tone.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Holy Crap One Of My Bands Is Funded By A Taco Truck And Other Musical Updates

2012 is gearing up to be a pretty big year for me musically.  I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to scratch some things off of the list of musical fantasies that I have - more on that down the line.

Trowar, the "blues-metal" outfit I'm with, is gearing up for our first ever public performances.  We know that they won't be perfect, but we're eager to refine our sound and perfect our live shows - you can't woodshed forever.  John and Fred are in town to do rehearsals before our gig at the Emerson Theater's Battle of the Bands (flier below).  I met with Fred last night to quietly run through some tunes in his hotel room.  We talked at length about what we hope to get out of this project, and we identified factors that need to be addressed to hit our goals.  Of course, the issue of money came up.  It was at this stage of the conversation that I found out something really cool:  Trowar is being funded by Trowar Tacos, a taco truck that operates on Microsoft's campus in Washington state.

The back story is this:  Fred spent about 3 weeks earlier this year in Seattle purchasing and customizing a trailer for selling tacos.  Chris Wilhite, the operator/money guy for this project (and more or less the Trowar manager) already operates 3 restaurants on Microsoft's campus.  It is my understanding that Fred and Chris created the taco truck solely to generate funds for this band.  Within a day of its completion, Microsoft called Chris and asked him if he'd be interested in parking the Trowar Tacos truck outside of building 24, which apparently is still under construction on M$'s campus.  I asked to see some pictures of the truck, which Fred showed me on his new phone (which was purchased with Trowar Taco money).  (Further proof  of this business endeavor can be found here.)  This is freaking cool.  Besides the obvious - that most of our costs for this project will be covered by the brisk business that Trowar Tacos is doing - I just really like the idea of a taco truck, esp. one that bears the band's name.  I'm pushing hard for some Trowar Taco t-shirts - once they're available, I'll let you know.
Come early - we'll probably be the first band.
We have some pretty big aims right now with Trowar and the taco money we're generatin'.  It's all talk right now, but we're hoping to have a fully outfitted, dedicated rehearsal space in Seattle sometime this year.  If this happens, I'll be flying out there courtesy of the fine folks eating tacos at Microsoft.  We shall see.

We do have a few other gigs - see the flier below.

What of the Creekdogs, the acoustic trio I play with?  We're going to be the backing band for a number of performers at the UU Church coffee house this Friday.  It's a fund raiser for the Shalom Center.  That should be pretty fun.  After that - and this is going to be exciting - we'll be part of a larger band for Cardinal Stage Company's production of "Big River".  I'm positive that this will be one of the most challenging, most rewarding musical ventures I've ever done.  I can't wait to dive into it.  It's also at an amazing venue - you should definitely go if you can.

So yes - cool stuff is afoot.  There's a lot of other potentially great news to mention; but until the reality of such news is more imminent, I'll keep it under my hat for now.

Because You Demand More Unexplained, You're Going To Get It

Well, no one demanded any more, but you're getting it anyway.  I took a listen to these after I uploaded them, and I have to say I'm still (embarrassingly) proud of these tracks.  "Mary Olson" is the track that I mentioned that sounds like Green Day's "Warning" though it predates it by approximately a decade.  For whatever reason, Tom Burris (guy who was recording us) put animal noises from one of those "The Farmer Says" toys on song.  Pointless, but we thought it was pretty damn funny/irreverent.  Same with Kevin Kriner's saxophone.

Anyway, the story about this project is here; the first two tracks are here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fat Friday Feature: Wm. Sims On Scratch Acid's "Crazy Dan"

For impatient bass aficionados or those not charmed by the song in general, skip ahead to the 3:02 mark.  Sims does what I love to do when playing, but guitar players usually hate:  he goes off with no prior warning.  He keeps it pretty steady for most of the song, then just unleashes.  I think it sounds bad ass and adds to the song's over all crescendo.

The sound quality on this is not great - listen to "Crazy Dan" here instead - but I posted because I really like the energy of this performance.  Read the lyrics too - I love the darkness of this song.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The 25 Most Iconic Basslines Of All Time

I'm a sucker for lists - all kinds of lists, from "to do" lists to grocery lists.  I especially like "best of/worst of" lists and am usually in heaven in December when they come out.  But really, I'll take lists any time of the year.

There are lots of reasons for my love of lists, and I'll spare you most of those reasons. But part of the charm of "best of/worst of" lists are that they spark either ire or strong agreement; they are almost never met with indifference.  People love their opinions.  

So it's with that in mind that I devised the "25 Most Iconic Basslines Of All Time" list.  Note that I didn't say "favorite basslines", or even "good basslines".  Hell, I don't even like some of the songs listed below.  Also note that these are bass lines, not bass solos.  That's why "My Generation" isn't on the list, for example.  My my rather informal criteria is as follows:
  • The bass parts had to have been done on a bass gutiar or upright bass.  Herbie Hancok's "Chameleon" almost made it on there, only the "iconic bass part" was done on a keyboard.
  • When you ask someone to hum/sing the song below, they will inevitably do the bass part, sometimes even before the vocal.  Try it - go ask someone to sing "Under Pressure" and I'll bet you a hunnert bucks they do the bass line.  
  • If the song had the bass line removed, it would render the song unrecognizable.  
  • Finally, they had to be songs that most folks would know.  To that last point I should say I purposely put in some controversial choices and left out others.  
What do you think?  Who should be booted off the list?  Who should be added?  Those who know me know that there are some shocking omissions on here.  (NO JOHN ENTWISTLE?)  But let's see what you come up with.

“London Calling” - Paul Simonon (The Clash)
“Money” - Roger Waters (Pink Floyd)
“Once In A Lifetime” - Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads)
“Under Pressue” - John Deacon (Queen/David Bowie)
“Waiting Room” - Joe Lally (Fugazi)
“Haitian Fight Song” - Mingus
“Myage” - Tony Lombardo (the Descendents)
“Blister In The Sun” - Brian Ritchie (Violent Femmes)
“Walk On The Wild Side” - Herbie Flowers (Lou Reed)
“Thank You For Lettin’ Me Be Myself” - Larry Graham (Sly and the Family Stone)
“Green Eyed Lady” - Bob Raymond (Sugarloaf)
Theme From Barney Miller - Jim Hughart
Theme From Night Court - ?
“Give It Away” - Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
“Express Yourself” - Melvin Dunlap (Charles White and the Watts 103 Street Rythmn Band)
“The Guns of Brixton” - Paul Simonon (The Clash)
“Love Will Tear Us Apart” - Peter Hook (Joy Division)
“Come Together” - Paul McCartney (the Beatles)
“Cannonball” - Mando Lopez (The Breeders)
“Pump It Up” - Bruce Thomas (Elvis Costello and the Attractions)
“Another One Bites The Dust” - John Deacon (Queen)
“Low Rider” - B.B Dickerson (War)
“The Joker” - Lonnie Turner (?) (Steve Miller)
“Bust A Move” - Flea (Young MC)
“Start” - Bruce Foxton (The Jam)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Listening To A Sub-Par Record With A Human Door Mat

The truth is that I could relate to Eddie a lot more than I cared to admit.  For starters, we were both held back in 6th grade together; which is to say we had both endured the single most awful thing a grade school kid could think of. Although I'd later see being in this younger class as a gift, it was never anything but awkward for Eddie.  He was scared of everything and everyone.  As a result, he would never disagree with anyone and would do whatever it took to stay in someone's good graces.  His opinion was no opinion.  A conversation in our junior high group of friends might go something like:
Matt:  Hey Eddie - listen to this:  "Slip It In" by Black Flag.  What do you think?
Eddie:  Well - what do you think?
Matt:  I think it rules and I think I get a stiffy every time I listen to it.
Eddie:  God, now that you mention it, I'm getting one too.
Matt:  I was just kidding about the stiffy part.
Eddie:  Oh - me too.  You thought you got me, didn't you?  Anyways, great tune.
I never wanted to risk not being accepted by the crowd, but the truth that liberated me decades later - that I was never in any fucking crowd in the first place and never would be and that "the crowd" was a big waste of time anyways - was nowhere on the horizon. I found myself placating friends with half truths and unobtrusive opinions, just like Eddie.  Eddie was way worse, but I couldn't help but sympathize with him.

Eddie's world was kinda messed up.  He was a very gifted singer called upon frequently to sing wedding masses, funerals masses, or musicals.  He was called regularly by local orchestras when they needed a young lad to sing classical music.  He had an opportunity to study in Vienna for a summer when we were in 8th grade - nixed by his mom.  His mom was an overbearing racist windbag who had this really lame Dave Berry rip off opinion column in the local paper.  Although I don't recall her saying anything overtly racist, you didn't have to be around her long to see where Eddie got his fear of the world from.  Once when I spent the night, she grounded Eddie for not locking his doors/rolling up his windows fast enough when we drove through the "black neighborhoods" in town.  I once watched a Redskins/Giants football game with Eddie's mom's family and it elicited all kinds of racist commentary, to which she laughed up uproariously.

That was kind of the tip of the ice berg for Eddie's pinched/repressive world.  His older brother was good looking and popular; Eddie was vanilla and tubby.  His obnoxious younger brother could kick Eddie's ass.  His henpecked dad was a mechanic who chain smoked Winston Lights and always had this look of defeat on his face.  He usually retired to the TV or hid away in the garage, coming in only for meals.

So when I went over to Eddie's house for overnights (which I did with great regularity), I tried to be as kind to him as possible.  I saw him as a good dude that the world walked all over.  And honestly, he was the only guy who would do whatever he could to placate me - steal cigarettes from the drug store he worked at or smoke in the house after his parents went to bed, for example - so yeah, I kind of used him.  But I'd be lying if I said I didn't cherish those overnights for the companionship.

Of course, they centered on playing records and mix tapes until all hours of the morning in his bedroom.  Our conversations meandered from hot girls in our school to teachers we hated to how fucked up Reagan was (okay, the last one was only me).  The music seemed to follow the ebb and flow and sometimes even the subject matter  of the conversation.  From the Who ("Tommy") to Tears for Fears to Dire Straits ("Brothers in Arms") and the Angry Samoans (I couldn't get enough of "Hot Cars").  Some nights we were swilling stolen gin that was camouflaged in a brown bottle of prescription mouthwash I had to use.  If we were really lucky, we were sipping gin and pawing smutty magazines while the Replacements played.  I don't think Eddie liked any of the stuff I brought over because he never recorded it and he never bought it. But of course, he never said anything about it.

I do remember him taking a real liking to one record I brought over:  Frank Zappa's "You Are What You Is".  He thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard.  He loved it because it was totally outlandish.  He couldn't believe the things that ol' Frank was singing.  He immediately ripped, er, copied the entire double LP to a couple of cassettes.  I was to find out later he listened to it pretty heavily for at least a couple days.

I didn't notice the kitchen phone ringing two nights later; I didn't notice that my mom had stopped cooking dinner to talk for a bit to the person on the other end.  When she came into the living room - where I was listening to "You Are What You Is" on very low volume - she informed me in a very matter-of-fact manner that "that was Eddie's mom".   Eddie's mom was furious that I had brought that record into her home and she wondered if my mom knew what I was listening to.  It was filth - about sex or drugs or the Bible or whatever; mercifully, my mom didn't expand.  She just thrust out her hand and said, "Let me see it."  Worried about the outcome, I gingerly handed over the LP.  She looked at both covers, then read the lyrics on the record sleeves.  She shook her head.  "You know this is garbage, right?"

I'd like to say I launched into an impassioned defense of art, of expression, of ideas; but the truth is that I sputtered out something to the effect of "I'm not an idiot, I don't take that stuff seriously and it doesn't influence my behavior".  I was bracing for the worst.  My parents didn't believe in grounding as an effective means of punishment, so they'd have to concoct something more devastating.  I awaited my sentence for my offensive music and for back talking.

And mom turned out of the living room and went back to dinner.  That was it.  Nothing happened.  I'm not even sure she brought it up to my dad.

It never came up again until I was an adult.  In addition to not thinking too much of Ed's mom (she tuned her out for the most part on the phone), she saw my behavior and knew any mischief I was getting into was, in the over all scheme of things, pretty harmless.  She knew any psychological problems I had were rooted much deeper than one of Zappa's weaker records.  My mom is smart like that.

As for Eddie - he was grounded.  Probably still is.  I was not to spend the night over there as much after that.  I'm pretty sure that was a direct result of me introducing "harmful" material into Eddie's house. Eddie got his driver's license before I did, so we still palled around from time to time; just not at his house.   We usually went bowling or to the movies.  It almost always involved smoking ciggies (though Eddie didn't smoke.)  It was still fun, but Eddie never showed any interest in anything I listened to again.