Monday, December 23, 2013

A Great Christmas Song That's Not Actually A Christmas Song

Similar to the "Christmas movies that aren't really Christmas movies" post, we have "Snow" by the Trashcan Sinatras.  It's not really a song about Christmas - more about nostalgia or longing more than anything - but it seems I enjoy it most when I listen to it around Christmas time.  For sure, it doesn't really work past January at the latest.  But this song is a pleasant contrast to hustle and bustle of the season, which is often reflected in seasonal music as well.  I recommend turning off all your lights except your Christmas lights and listening to it with your favorite beverage in hand.  I'll have a scotch, please. . . .

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Ghost Of Christmas Blog Entries Past

In 2011, after I wondered when it was appropriate to kick out the Christmas jamz, I posted the lyrics to quite possibly the most patronizing, ethnocentric song of all time - that I still like for some reason. I also showcased a lovely a capella version of "Silent Night" sung by Leslie Donovan, and I took care of all your Christmas needs by assembling the "Parental Advisory Christmas" playlist - you're welcome!  Santa (and Prancer) left a voicemail of gratitude for the healthy snacks my son left out for him - thank YOU, Santa.  You're the man.

In 2012, I received another voicemail, this time from a complete dumbass who wanted me to fix their computer.  I showcased Fred Marshall's great bass work on the greatest Christmas album of all time, and I linked to a Guardian article about one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time.  I threw in a couple Creekdogs Christmas covers - "Spotlight On Christmas" and "While Roving On A Winter's Night".  (While we're at it, check out the Creekdogs cover of "Merry Christmas From the Family".)  I asked my mom and dad to pick out and read their favorite account of Christ's birth, and this is how it sounds.  It gets me almost every time.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sonic Firsts: First Concert

December 11th,   1985.  Clowes Hall, Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana.  Although I had seen plenty of music at all ages venues/happenings like Muncie’s “No Bar & Grill”, REM was the first real concert I had ever been to.  I say “real concert” because REM was an actual national act, actually touring to support to an actual LP (“Fables of the Reconstruction”) that was released and distributed by an actual national label.  Oh – and they had an honest-to-God light show, which somehow made them more of a big deal to me.  I liked REM a bunch; but even more than REM, I was there to see their opening act:  The Minutemen.

The Minutemen were an acquired taste for me, but I did eventually take to them in a big way and I haven’t stopped listening to them ever since.  Their songs were short bursts of frenzied energy, brilliance and originality that had absolutely no pretension whatsoever.  Each piece stood out as a lean piece of commentary, introspection, humor or some combination thereof.  Bassist Mike Watt was the reason I started playing bass, and he continues to be the bassist and dude that I want to be when I grow up.  I was jazzed up about the show, practically skipping into Clowes Hall with my brother Joe and the Snyder brothers, assuming everybody had the same affection for the Minutemen that I did.* 

I was so wrong.  We stood on the main floor near the back under the balcony, which was sparsely populated (although REM had a large dedicated following, they had not yet reached stadium rock status) save for a handful of frat bros here and there.  The bros in the row of seats behind us sat for most of the show, taking swigs out of a flask disguised as a pair of binoculars.  They only stood up from time to time to shout things like “YOU SUCK” and “GET SOME LESSONS”.  The clapping for the Minutemen between songs was sparse and scattered throughout the massive theater.  At one point, Mike Watt – very much resembling Fidel Castro in his olive drab fatigues – in a moment of excitement, threw his hat into the crowd.  They returned it to him real hard.  That seemed to succinctly sum up that crowd’s feeling on the Minutemen.

The theater went dark when REM was to take stage.  The sound of a locomotive was blasted through the darkness, louder than I had ever heard.  The bros behind me began cheering wildly.  REM had not even taken the stage and already the anticipation was notched up to fever pitch.  Eventually, the opening notes for “Gravity’s Pull” sounded; the lights came up and everyone pushed toward the stage.  The show was on.
It was amazing.  REM’s energy was high.  Michael Stipe was like a whirling dervish, a danger to himself and the people nearest the stage.  It was loud and theatrical; lights and the occasional sound effect between songs made it feel more like a performance than a rock show.  The crowd – though relatively small – was loud and enthusiastic.  If memory serves me correctly, REM did three encores to an appreciative audience.

At some point, all four of us left the show to go to the toilet and cop a smoke.  There, in the vestibule of the auditorium, freshly showered and unnoticed by anyone milling about, was D. Boon and George Hurley – 2/3 of the Minutemen.  I couldn’t believe it.  We continued to the toilets as though we hadn’t seen them, and tried to remain cool as we discussed in the bathroom whether or not we should go up and talk to them.  My buddy Matt Snyder had no fear in that regard. He marched out and initiated a conversation with D. and George.  In retrospect, it shouldn’t have come as any sort of surprise that both men were accessible, friendly and fun to talk to.  Like their music, D. and George were ego free.  Even though I felt like a goof asking for it, both men were happy to give us autographs.  They borrowed a Sharpie from a merch table and signed my sweatshirt.  When D. asked Matt if he could write “U.S. out of El Salvador” on his army parka, Matt told him that it was his dad’s parka, and that his dad would not appreciate the sentiment.  D. and George had a great laugh about that.  They were really nice guys.

That night, I went home with an REM concert shirt and autographs from two dudes I greatly admired.  Both bands were phenomenal and provided an excellent musical contrast that was uncommon back then.  REM would go on to achieve the success they very much deserved.  For the Minutemen, it was their second to last show ever:  D. Boon died in a car accident in Arizona on December 22nd.  It was the first “celebrity”** death I ever felt personally.
* - In fact, this blog takes it's name from a Minutemen song.
** - I reckon D. Boon would hate that label.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Sonic Firsts: Media Edition*

First vinyl record:  "Here and There" by Elton John.  It was a hand-me-down from one of my siblings.  I played it on a red (with a red and white striped lid) record player designed for kids to use.  Favorite track was "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding".  I loved the build up of that tune.  Not sure how old I was when this album came into my possession - probably about 9 years old.

First vinyl record I ever purchased with my own money:  "Bad Moon Rising" by Sonic Youth.  Purchased at the legendary A1 Records in Anderson, Indiana, way back when A1 was still operating out of the bottom of an apartment building near my school.  Everything you purchased from that place smelt of incense.  Favorite track was either "Intro" or "Death Valley '69".  Purchased in 7th grade, I believe.

First Compact Disk I ever purchased with my own money:  "All Mod Cons" by the Jam.  After first hearing live versions of "All Mod Cons",  "To Be Someone (Didn't We Have A Nice Time)", "In The Crowd" and "It's Too Bad" off the Jam's excellent "Dig The New Breed" album, I felt somewhat let down by "All Mod Cons".  It felt forced and sanitized; it lacked the energy of many of their other albums.  I appreciated the blue collar tone of some of the songs, but I never actually bought into it.  Favorite track was "In The Crowd".  I don't remember how old I was when I purchased this, but it was sometime in high school.

First MP3 I ever downloaded:  "Pale Blue" by the Byrds.  Downloaded via iTunes.  I love the Byrds; but this is kind of a crappy song, actually.  I downloaded three tunes that day; I can't remember what the other two were.  However, I know for a fact this was the first of the three that I downloaded.  I loved the novelty of downloading tunes.  I also recognized how, since iTunes had my credit card number, downloading could be a very bad thing:  it was almost too easy to acquire music.  If I wasn't careful, I knew my credit card would take a beating.  Purchased in 2002 if memory serves.

First pirated album/mp3 I ever downloaded:  Can't recall for sure, but I do know that it was via Napster and when I was living in Louisville, Kentucky.

* - To the best of my memory, these are my firsts.  I'll post corrections if I find out I'm wrong.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

80s New Wave Artists: What Do They Look Like Now?

I ran across this fun little article in my Internet wanderings today.  I learned several things:

  • Despite their best efforts, even New Wave stars age.
  • Like the rest of us, some age more gracefully than others.
  • Many of them aged more or less like I would've expected them to.  A general rule of thumb is the more dated a tune sounds, the crappier the artist aged (b/c they followed trends so closely).
  • Tanning beds and plastic surgery are the enemy of aging gracefully.
  • It's important to dress your age.  If "youth is a feeling, not an age", dress your age anyway.
Here is a small sample of some who didn't age so gracefully - because let's face it:  that's what these articles are made for.  It's the same mentality that drives people to go to their class reunions.  You want to see if these folks look crappier than you do.
Adam Ant
Kate Bush

Limahl (Kajagoogoo)

Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders)

Billy Idol

Some guy from Soft Cell

Nina Hagen

Pete Burns of Dead or Alive

And here are some folks who look great:

Brian Ferry (Roxy Music)

Some guy from Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Human League

Terry Nunn (Berlin)

Morrisey and Johnny Marr (The Smiths)

Thomas Dolby
I was shocked at how great Terry Nunn, the Frankie Goes To Hollywood guy, and the Bananarama women looked.  Holy Mary!  I was stunned at how poorly Pete Burns, Chrissie Hynde and Kate Bush* have aged. But maybe they're all real nice people, God love 'em.  (Remember:  if you throw the phrase "God love 'em" at the end of any judgement call, your exempted from judgement yourself.)

* - I think there was a time when this photo of Kate Bush drove men so crazy that it was handed out on moving in day on every college campus in the U.S.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Off Topic: Best Christmas Movies That Aren't Actually Christmas Movies

Around December each year, I get a craving for a handful of movies that will put me in the Christmas spirit. The interesting thing is that they aren't actually Christmas movies.  I guess because they have memorable Christmas scenes in them, or perhaps because they may have been released in the Christmas season (too lazy to go to and check), I always think of them as Christmas movies.  So at some point, I'll probably load them into the ol' Netflix queue to get meself into the spirit.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Context Is Everything

I've said often that the soundtrack of our lives often chooses us, not the other way around.  Another way to put it would be to say "context is everything".  If you'd ask me to sit down and listen to the funeral march from Beethoven's "Eroica", most likely it would register emotionally in a very limited way. Stuff like "oh, that's a nice piece" and "I wonder if the bassist is playing with a French bow or a German bow" might pass through my thoughts.  If I liked it enough, I might even try to remember the piece to download it/listen to it again later.

But in light of the introduction in the video below, I don't think I'll forget it now.  Listening to this piece in my cozy (but lame) office 50 years after it was performed, it sent chills down my spine.  I was transfixed.

Uploader "sexgulag" (LOLz on that name, by the way) has the full explanation of the video in the "about" section on You Tube, but for the full emotional impact, listen to the first 3 minutes or so before clicking over to You Tube to read it.

UPDATE:  This entry has had multiple formatting issues that have been fixed.

Monday, November 25, 2013


So I was trying to sell some stuff to offset the cost of an exciting new eBay purchase:  A stunning, early 80s G&L L-1000 fretless bass.  The long and short of it is it's a bust.  The bass is a piece of junk and I haven't had the heart to blog about because I'm so profoundly disappointed.  There are dead spots in the neck up past the heel (where the neck joins the body) and I'm not sure the electronics are working correctly.  Now that I've put higher tension strings on the bass, it appears as though the neck might even be warped.  I will still take it to a local guitar tech to see if it can be salvaged in some way; but I am in no hurry and I don't want to dump too much more money into it.  This entry is intentionally vague because I don't want it to turn into a self-induced public flagellation - my own guilt/shame on the issue is enough.  Let's just say I made multiple mistakes; and now I might be stuck with a shiny, black, fretless turd.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stuff That You Need

Hey you - yes, you.  Can we talk?  Christmas is coming up and  you haven't even thought about all the stuff you need to do to be ready.  Do you have sidewalk salt stowed away in case it snows?  No?  Man, you're going to feel horrible if mom falls down on  your sidewalk.  What about snow tires?  You get those snow tires on your car?  No?  It's cool - just pretend like your driving an expensive, heated sled.  Okay, well then you've started at least brainstorming for gifts, right?  YOU HAVEN'T?   Don't worry - I have you covered.  I've got to make way for a new addition to the stable (more on that soon, trust me) and so the way I see it, we can help each other out.  I'm selling some really dope stuff on Craig's List right now.  Go look at it now before it gets moved to eBay or Reverb.  Buy the T20 for yourself.  You deserve it - you've been good this year and it's a bad ass bass.  Pick up that Yeti mic for your nerdy nephew.  You should be encouraging his creative endeavors.  And the Fishman preamp?  Well, just like it's a good idea to keep candles and bottled water around for emergencies, you never know when you'll need a quality preamp.

Move on this stuff fast before it moves on you!  Move on them before I change my mind and keep them, yo!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Around The Internet [Updated]

Here's some of the stuff that's got my attention on the Internet:

  • PBS's documentary on Jimi Hendrix is getting some attention.  I'm looking forward to checking it out even though I only recognized two people (Steve Winwood and Paul McCartney) they interviewed in the trailer.  I don't listen to Hendrix too often, but hearing even his old standards like "Voodoo Chile" in the background of the trailer got me excited to check out this documentary.
  • NPR has a great interview with the Bad Plus's Dave King despite the horrible, horrible interviewer.  (Some gems:  "Is being a drummer hard work?" and "As a Minnesotan, you probably know a thing or two about hockey."  When Dave mentions his Midwestern roots/band mates, she changes the subject.)  I think it gives some valuable insight on a musician of which I had very limited knowledge.  He's so much more than just an amazing, powerful drummer.
  • Dave's website is super interesting too.  He's a pretty funny dude.  You can tell he has super active, super creative mind and a killer work ethic.
  • Here's a profile of "sound collector" Justin Boyd.  He does what I try to do with my dopey little "Audio Scratch Pad" entries, only he is infinitely more proficient at it than I am.
  • And finally, enjoy this French site, wherein contributors record the sounds of their neighbors having sex.  Sweet revenge?  Erotic enjoyment?  Who knows.  One thing is for sure:  privacy is dead.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Not Having To Use Your AK And Other Reasons To Be Thankful

It's weird:  I lament the end of summer. . . until November rolls around.  And when November DOES roll around, I'm okay with weather that usually gets me down.  Bring on the gray, windy skies.  Rain at night and branches tapping on the windows?  Fine.  Colder temperatures - I'll deal with it.  (I scored one of those sweet Columbia puffy jackets for $25 at Plato's Closet.)  My house is a tad drafty, but we've got plenty of blankets, so I'll be fine.

All that staying indoors in November turns into a subconscious biological imperative to turn inward to reflect and to remember.  There is much taking stock of my life, thinking of the future, and remembering the twisted path my life has taken to this point.  This inward focus manifests itself in pleasant indoor pursuits like reading, journalling, looking at old snap shots and family movies, watching DVDs, whiskey sipping, Foosball, and if I had a dart board, darts.  It's like a "staycation" for my soul.  It makes me feel cozy just thinking about it.

All of this pondering ends up becoming a warm up for my favorite holiday:  Thanksgiving.  Sure, Thanksgiving lacks retail sales, the glitz and amazing music of Christmas.  It does not afford adults the occasion to put on costumes and act like jack asses.  It is, in many ways, the meditative breath on the calendar between the craziness of the holidays.  Thanksgiving is Christmas without the pressure:  you have the socializing, the great food, the comfortable house - all without the hassle of gift-giving or mandatory mass. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, what with all the thinkin' and reflectin' I've done by the point, I'm usually awash in a spirit of humble gratitude and a hankering for turkey, giblet gravy, Cherokee dressing and rolls.  Thanksgiving is truly the most wonderful time of the year.

In honor of this over looked, completely awesome holiday, here is a playlist for you.  I'm not saying I like everything on this list, but have a listen and get thankful, mofos.

Poi Dog Pondering - "Thanksgiving"
Led Zepplin - "Thank You"
Natalie Merchant - "Kind and Generous"
Big Star - "Thank You Friends"
Beastie Boys - "Gratitude"
Neko Case - "Thanks Alot"
Dido - "Thank You"
Sly and the Family Stone - "Thank You (Fallettenme Be Mice Elf Agin)"
Sam and Dave - "I Thank You"
Ice Cube - "Today Was A Good Day"

Got any tunes of thankfulness you'd add to the list?  Put 'em in the comments section below.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trowar Report: 25 October 2013

We did another gig at the same venue (Pete's Bar & Grill) in the same town (Carnation, Washington) for the same reason (to get our chops up) on Oct. 25th.  We were the first of two bands to play.  The second band did not know until they arrived and saw our gear on stage we were playing first.  If they were pissed, they did a great job of concealing it.  Although I didn't interact with them too much personally (I was able to catch a ride home pretty early - don't really like hanging out after shows), they seemed like a real nice bunch of guys.  This was a pretty good sized crowd and they were primed to celebrate on this, the last weekend before Halloween.

I'm proud to say this was our strongest gig to date.  Vocals were the main priority for this gig, esp. Fred's lead vocals.  He did great.  He was plenty loud enough and he stayed on the mic.  Anytime there were any rough patches, he was back at it - he didn't let the less-than-stellar moments stop him from persisting on his singing efforts.  And to be honest, I don't remember any less-than-stellar vocal moments.  We were able to overcome the awful acoustics in that bar and nail our harmonies.  This is thanks in large part to our vocal coach Emily, who had worked with Fred and I earlier in the day.
This is the view I wake up to.  Looks like a damn
Russell Chatham painting.  Awesome.
We provided an interesting contrast to the second band.  We were loud and play aggressively, doing only originals, dressing in street clothes.  They did covers in the rockabilly style, completely kitted up as pirates and zombies and whatnot for the Halloween crowd that had gathered.  I noticed more crowd involvement this time - I saw some head bobbing, clapping after the tunes and even a little hollering between songs.  Usually the praise is directed at us after we tear down our gear; it was nice to get some love while we were still on the stage.  There was a lot more dancing for the second band, but creating "danceable" music is not high on our list of priorities.  
Obligatory gear shot of the T-20 and the
Ampeg SVT-350.   Tone and volume have
been a struggle with me in this band.  I'm
hoping to address this soon.  I've got ideas.
As usual, it was not a perfect performance, but with each gig, the confidence, precision and wealth of improvised ideas popping up in the music get better.  Areas for improvement:  continue working on vocals (lead and harmony) and keep them high in the mix, and work on eye contact/interband communication during tunes. The rest is fine tuning what is already there.
Grafetti on the box truck we use to haul gear, courtesy of an
unknown artist.
Some notable differences in this trip (beside some difficulties on the travel home - sux when you arrive on the flight before your luggage's flight):  It was a short weekend.  As a band, we only had time to rehearse the day of the gig.  We ran the set as a band, took a break, and camp back and did a concentrated rehearsal with Emily focusing less on the song structures and more on the vocals.  In a way, I like this abbreviated schedule forced us to focus on problem areas to make sure they were ready by evening time.  It also didn't give us enough time to succumb to the pre-gig head games.  This was key.

Smart advertising on our part, you gotta admit.
That's the trip in a nutshell.  There's probably plenty I've forgotten to mention.  But I'll have some other Trowar news coming up soon.  I will update when the details are finalized!

Landing in Indianapolis

Random Musical Memory

I remember seeing/hearing this video, hanging out at Bill's house on Stull.  Doors open, warm breeze coming in the front of the house.  Lying on the floor, reading (and not getting) a "Love and Rockets" comic, getting a deep crush on Luba.  And of course, smoking ciggies - probably Winston Lights.

I remember having mixed feelings about this song and video, which I had seen on MTV's "120 Minutes".  With the totally new, mostly synth based sound of  the "Ideal Copy" album, I wasn't sure if Wire had jumped the shark or accelerated their musical evolution.  The album - and their new sound - eventually grew on me though I'll always be partial to what I consider their ground breaking, unappreciated and unheralded work of the 1970s.  Don't believe it's awesome?  Go buy a copy of "Pink Flag".  Go rent the "Wire on the Box" DVD.  Wire's modern, minimalist sound and song structure of the 70s era still feels very ahead of it's time.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thumper Thursday: Saying Nice Things About A Phil Collins Song

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!" - Thumper, "Bambi" (1942)
"Thumper Thursdays" might become a semi-regular feature in which I try to say something nice about a song, artist, or noise that I generallly loathe.  Let's start with Phil Collins.  Yeah - that "Su-Su-Sussudio" motherfucker.

Let's get one thing clear from the outset:  I've never much cared for Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight", but I've never actively hated the song either.  I grew up with that tune and it got heavy air play.  Like Phil Collins' hairline, it pretty much faded into background for me.

That is until recently.  I heard it somewhere - I can't recall where for sure, but I think I was in the car - and was struck by it's sparse simplicity.  It starts with that cool canned drum beat, then a low key organ part with  an occasional a distant sounding guitar peppered in.  That combination, plus the foreboding lyrics (made all the more intriguing by the urban legend surrounding them) create a great, grim air.  This is definitely an atmosphere piece, and I'm impressed with how well Collins pulled it off.  Remember that P.C. was coming from a band (Genesis) known for their elaborate, bloated, proggy records and live shows.  "In The Air Tonight" marks a significant departure from that vision.  Even if a sort of minimalism was the creative direction P.C. was heading (and I'm not sure he was), the song stands out all the more because of the era it was from (written in 1979; released in 1981) and the era it was released.  I think you can safely generalize popular rock acts of the 1970s as pretty Baroque if not in the studio, definitely live.  The 70s witnessed the birth of arena rock; and the subsequent decade (1980s) saw the rise of a pop music that was a frenzied storm of synthesizers, drum machines and samples.  In comparison, "In The Air Tonight" stands as a model of stark simplicity and solid song writing - and I'm not the only one who noticed/appreciates it's moodiness.  Well done, Philly!

But I'll probably still never buy this tune.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Music Of "The Cool Folder" (So Far)

You probably don't know it, but History Lesson Pt. 2 has a sister blog (again!) on Tumblr.  It is called "The Cool Folder" - check it out, yo, and let me know what you think.  But because the focus of this blog is narrowed down to contemplating the sonic input in my life, let's check out some of "The Cool Folder"'s sonic offerings.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Way More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Upright Bass Strings

Of late, I've become discontented with the action and sound on my upright bass.  Or, more accurately, I've not been satisfied with the set up for some time - like a year.  The action is high, the notes are buzzing at certain points on the fingerboard, and the hand strength it takes to play the bass is pretty limiting.  I've been reluctant to do anything about it because addressing such issues takes money.  Also, I wondered how much of it can be addressed by simply practicing more.

I've got some gigs coming up (actually, just had one - a fund raiser for the Exotic Feline Rescue Center - photos here) that I really want to make sure I'm doing a decent job.  I really want to make sure that bass sounds great and is as easy to play as I can responsibly afford.  I took it to Bloomington Stringed Instruments for a consultation.  The harsh truth is that with a bass of this calibre (an Englehardt EM-1), costs of set up and repair can quickly exceed the actual value of the bass.  It's not worth it to get too crazy with a new fingerboard and/or new bridge.  I was relieved when Lucas (the luthier) suggested that a $100 fingerboard dressing would take care of most of the buzzing issues.  This involves scooping out the middle of the fingerboard in such a way that the strings will not vibrate against the fingerboard.  It's kinda hard to explain.

Anyway, after I got the bass back, the buzzing annoyance had improved but not disappeared.  At this point, the only "financially viable" option is new strings.  I use quotes around "financially viable" because strings for an upright typically cost between $100 and $400.  While it's true that upright strings seldom need to be changed, I decided it was time for mine to go.  In addition to the high string tension and the buzzing at certain points on the fingerboard, the windings on the strings were beginning to break.

The short version of the story is this:  after consulting with an old bass teacher, I narrowed my choices down to Thomastik Spirocore strings and Innovation Silver Slap strings.  Spirocores have a strong following; but on the strength of my old maestro's recommendation, I opted for the Silver Slaps, medium tension.  (I thought low tension would sound "plasticky", artificial and floppy.)  I was hoping to have a solid all around string - something that sounds good when playing pizzicato (that's plucking with your fingers, gringo) which is 99.9% of what I play; but something that would also allow me to begin working on my slap bass technique.  I've been dying to bust out my instructional DVD, and I didn't want to wait any longer.  So would these strings lower the action, the string tension, both or neither? Would it eliminate the buzz on the fretboard?  How would they sound playing pizz? Would it help me become more agile/precise with my runs? I felt that at $145 for a set, this was a bit of a gamble.

Here's what I found out about Innovation Silver Slaps (medium tension):
The disadvantages of the Silver Slaps compared to my old strings:

  •  My old metal wound strings are louder and have a bit more sustain than the Silver Slaps.
  •  The older strings have a bit more warmth to the sound.  There is a nice little "mwah" sound that the old strings make when sliding into a note; the same "mwah" that happens as the notes decay and resolve.  You can hear what I'm talking about on the first note of this tune.  That's not as evident with the Silver Slaps.
  • You can't really bow Silver Slaps because of what they're made of; but hell, I don't even own a bow.  So no biggie, but I wanted to mention it.
The advantages of the Silver Slaps compared to my old strings:
  • The pizz sound of these strings is great!  Very organic sounding; similar to how gut strings might sound.  My old strings were pretty bright sounding, the Silver Slaps are pleasantly mellower.  The attack of the notes starts with a nice little "thud" that I like so much.  Again, hard to explain.
  • I'm not sure the action is lower - it might be. But the string tension is a lot less!  But it's not so low that the strings feel floppy under my fingers.  I can be very physical when I play, and I like to wrestle a little with my bass. So some string tension is good, and Silver Slaps have just the right amount.
  • The buzzing is gone on the fingerboard.  This alone makes the purchase worth it.
  • These string are great for slapping.  They make the proper "ka-thunk" sound instead of the loud snap and pop of my old strings.  And, as advertised, they sound great for jazz as well.
  • I think my stamina is a bit better playing with these strings.  Sometimes muscles and tendons in forearms and hands are killing me when I finish playing; not with these strings.
  • For some reason, the Silver Slaps have given me the courage to attempt soloing.  I'm not saying I can solo worth a damn.  Yet.
The verdict is that these strings kick much ass!  Ultimately I will go back to metal strings.  In fact, I'll probably go back to the Obligatos, but I'll probably get the lower tension of those strings.  To me, metal strings are just how an upright should sound.  If you don't have that warmth, then it's just not the same.  In the meantime, because of the Sliver Slaps, I can't wait to play my bass these days.  They will do just fine for the next few years.

Those last lines sound so fucking corny I feel obligated to mention that Innovation strings is not reimbursing me in any way for my endorsement of their strings.  However, if they wish to, a representative from that company should leave a dollar amount in the comments section below.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Wayback Machine: October 2012

It might be a lazy cop out to do so, but let's see what I was thinkin' about a year ago at this time:

Full October 2012 archives here.

Take a look and let's remember these entries together, shall we?  And if you want to go waaayyy back, you can check out the October 2011 archives as well.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Links Of Interest

Some shit you might find interesting.  I know I did.

  • Robin Thicke may not be an actual rapist, but he plays one on TV.
  • Here's a comic I can relate to.  Somewhere there are recordings of me, my siblings and some friends acting like jackasses like this.  If I can find it, and if I can digitize it, you'll be the first to hear it.  You might not like me for it, but hey:  you'll be the first to not like me for it.
  • Check out this rather dope performance by The Ace of Cups, courtesy of Notes Toward Everything.
  • What do Kayne West and Joy Division have in common?  Peter Saville.

Long Overdue Trowar Report

I flew out on Sept. 4th to Redmond, Washington for rehearsals and a gig.  Here's what happened.

My personal goals for this trip were as follows:
  • Stay hungry.  Literally (I'm close to meeting my weight loss goals; must resist urge to pig out/eat garbage) and metaphorically (always be looking for ways to improve, practice as though my life depended upon it). 
  • Keep my mouth shut.  Absorb everything.  Leave assessment of performance to everyone else.
  • Be ready for anything.  . . . and embrace it with zeal.
  • Find joy in the process.  If you don't enjoy (or at least value) even the tedium of the process, then the end product will not work.
Rehearsals for a Saturday night gig began in earnest on Sept. 5th. Things were different this time as Fred brought in a vocal coach to work with him on singing.  After our last gig, bringing vocals out became a priority.   That was to continue this trip, as was the movement towards refining the blues power trio sound we are working on.  

I wanted tightening my bas playing, and I tried my hand at some vocal harmonies.  I feel like this added a welcome dimension to the songs.  When I was hitting the harmonies, the songs began to feel more refined, more "finished".  When I can pull it off, I love singing and playing at the same time, but that is particularly hard for me. Still, the taste of even small successes in rehearsals proved addictive, so I was not shy about stepping up to the mic to sing.

The set itself was the same set from the last gig plus a new tune that has a reggae feel.  I was a little leery of the reggae tune as I don't listen to reggae on a regular basis and wasn't sure I could find a bass run for it.  I did, and John and Fred loved it.  I'm pretty proud of it too, truth to be told.  I found myself thinking "not bad for some whitebread dude from a land locked state."  

Our rehearsals were as intense and as long as ever, and none of us would have it any other way.  Fred was under additional pressure to make sure he was staying on the mic. Emily (vocal coach) was there to remind him.  I felt bad for Fred in a way - there was no hiding behind solos this time, not with Emily in the room being a taskmaster!  Fred was under a lot of pressure.

The gig itself was at Pete's again, a venue we had had some sound struggles at before.  After the opening act came and did their thing (and they played great!), we took the stage and were beginning to have a bad sort of deja vu: mics not working, a wall of undefined sound kept Fred and I from locking in any vocals.  I found myself backing away from the microphone, opting for no harmonies instead of shitty harmonies.  Fred soldiered through, doing the best he could, wrecking his voice in the process.  Still, he stuck it out even though he was not at all in his comfort zone and was displeased with the sound.

About halfway through the set, the ship was righted.  The sound got better as did our respective vocal and instrumental performances.  Fred put John on the spot and John improvised a monster drum solo.  Although John later stated he was not please with his solo, I credit it with reviving our set energy-wise (and I say this as a person who is not the biggest fan of drum solos).  I'd say we ended much stronger than we started, and to the small crowd gathered there, we sounded great.  This was one of our strongest public showings to date.

We met briefly after the gig to discuss the show and the direction of the band.  We decided that we are in fact improving significantly, and we need to plunge ahead with the path we've set laid out, specifically:
1. Continued vocal work
2. Background vocal work
3. Tighten up a couple minor arrangement sections and tighten up the endings
4. Work on the song segues  going into each other 
Speaking for myself, I'm getting more and more excited about this project.  I've seen glimpses of where we are going, and it should be pretty amazing if we keep at it on a regular basis.

What of my personal goals?  I'd assess my own performance this way:
  • Stay hungry = B.  There is always more that can be done. Always.
  • Keep mouth shut = B+.  To stretch a metaphor, my two cents is worth more if I'm not squandering my intellectual capital on a myriad of topics.
  • Be ready for anything = C+.  I needed to react better to the sound morass I found myself in.  It was obvious a few times I was discombobulated.
  • Find joy in the process = A.  I'm definitely pumped about the direction this band is going.  I hope we can pick up the pace even more.

Monday, September 16, 2013


As the crisp, fall morning warmed to a stunning fall day, and after the final notes of Fred Eaglesmith's "Before I Go" were offered to the Bloomington Farmer's Market crowd; Dan, Kevin and I nodded at each other and began taking down our gear.  This was the last Creekdogs gig for the foreseeable future; maybe the last ever Creekdogs gig.  This past Saturday couldn't have been more perfect (at least weather-wise) for it.
One last sound check.
I've had time to emotionally prepare for this, so I was able to enjoy the gig.  You have to understand I've been playing with Dan and Kevin since something like 2005, possibly earlier.  Knowing that this was our last gig was really hard on me for awhile.  I thought about it real hard - what was it that was making me so heart broken about it?  I mean, I could literally feel pain in my chest when I thought about the fact we only had one more gig left to do.

I determined that it wasn't so much that I'll miss the music, although that is certainly a huge part of it.  I have really come to love those two.  The thought that I will no longer be interacting with them on a regular basis has really bummed me out pretty badly.  There was a great deal of comfort with those guys and I never, ever took for granted a single moment I had with them.  My greatest gigs and musical moments have happened because of them, and I will always be indebted to both of them because of it.

As my wife has pointed out, you never know what the future will bring.  Maybe this will not be the last of the Creekdogs.  But for now, I believe it probably is.  And that's okay.  I'm not as sad as I once was about it.  Now I am just grateful beyond words.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Let Us Conclude 80s Overload Week

I'm not going to lie to you:  it feels like 80s Overload Weeks is going out with a whimper - even the once mighty fell into the crap morass of the Reagan years (I'm looking at you, Rolling Stones and the Who).  Maybe I did actually OD on 80s music, because my enthusiasm for the songs gradually waned.  Still, it was fun to dig many of these out, and I'm glad to have them all in one place.  I hope you enjoyed this trip back to the Golden Age of Music Video (and Independent Music as well).

  1. Sheila E. - “Glamorous Life
  2. Daryl Hall - “Dream Time
  3. Rockwell - “Somebody’s Watching Me
  4. Eurythmics - “Here Comes The Rain Again
  5. Dan Hartman - “I Can Dream About You
  6. John Lennon - “Nobody Told Me
  7. The Rolling Stones - “Undercover of the Night
  8. The Pointer Sisters - “Automatic
  9. Phillip Bailey - “Easy Lover

Friday, September 13, 2013

80s Overload Continues: The Good, The Bad, And Mostly Ugly

80s overload continues.  It's getting out of hand. . . .
  1. Musical Youth - “Pass The Dutchie
  2. Eddie Grant - “Electric Avenue
  3. Sergio Mendes - “Alibis
  4. Toto - “Rosanna
  5. Suzanne Vega - “Luka
  6. Kajagoogoo - “Too Shy
  7. Mr. Mister - “Kyrie
  8. Steve Miller - “Abracadabra
  9. Pete Townshend - “Slit Skirts
  10. The Who - “You Better You Bet
  11. Culture Club - “Time (Clock of the Heart)
  12. Chaka Khan - “I Feel For You
  13. Billy Joel - “Allentown
  14. Belinda Carlise - “Heaven Is A Place On Earth
  15. Eric Carmen - “Hungry Eyes
  16. Power Station - “Some Like It Hot
  17. Icehouse - “Electric Blue
  18. Pet Shop Boys - “Always On My Mind
  19. Level 42 - “Something About You
20. Dream Academy - “Life In A Northern Town

By all means - make your suggestions in the comments below.