Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

I was thinking about posting about the events of 2011. It’s been a really hard year for my circle of friends. I’ve never lost so many people I love.

I’ve never been so busy with projects either. It’s getting hard to find time to post.

Right now I’m working on a short presentation of Webster Hangover, the rock opera Dominic and I wrote when we were 15. I found cassette recordings of most of the songs. The sound goes in and out but I think I’ll be able to put something together with photos.

We’re about to plunge into Fojammi’s next CD and I’m expecting it to be a lot of work. He’s doing his best to finish the band’s documentary while Dom and I work on the sound track.

If there’s enough time, and Fojammi has the energy, he’s going to help me finish a video I’m putting together about Lora Steffen, my dear friend we lost this year.

We’re trying to start work on a Wax Theatricks studio project, but it’s really hard to find the time. Not to mention my own project that keeps getting pushed back.

It’s hard to find a bright spot in this world that seems to be getting greedier, more ignorant, xenophobic and just plain mean!

I have a really special circle of friends and our art is our way of reaching out. There are a lot of us left who still care about a decent quality of life and each other.

I love you!

Blue Skies Magazine found my story about my freefall wedding and they’re going to publish it in February. I LOVE being published.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Saturnalia

I decided to upload my mom’s Christmas CD covers since 1999. I’ve produced a song for her every Christmas since the late 70s. Gloria is from 2010. I’m still putting the finishing touches on this year’s song.
It’s just a sappy Christmas slide show of my kids over the last few years.
Chloe played flute and Dylan played acoustic guitar. This year she plays flute and Dylan plays bass.
Check it out---------

Also if you haven’t gotten the chance, check out my video from 1995. I didn’t have access to a studio that year, so I video-taped it. Dylan was a year and a half and Chloe wasn’t due until Valentine’s Day.

Also, there’s an older one from before they were born on MySpace. Remember that? Once in Royal David’s City features Yma Sumac on vocals.
Check it out------------

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rehearsal Spaces part 3

When I was 15 I got a cassette recorder. This was really high-tech stuff back then. My first recorder, a few years earlier, actually used two small, open reels.

I actually got some recordings of the rock opera Dom and I wrote. It was called Webster Hangover. I think I might have 4 songs from it.

We were world weary 15 year olds. For example: “You say you can rely on me, but you don’t know for sure. My blood runs cold, I’m thin and old and my thoughts aren’t quite so pure.” Or, how about, “So sit back in you easy chair and light your smoke without a care- Pretend that I’m not even there- and dream of days now gone”?

Dom and I actually wrote lyrics and music together, contributing equally. It’s amazing, considering how big our egos would get. We had a blast!

I was listening to E Harmonix from those recordings. That song made it all the way through the band’s career. We played it our very last show. We opened our reunion show with it.

Benet’s drumming on the old recording is amazing. He was dropping beats like an old jazz pro. He was the best in St. Louis even at 14.

We lost him several times to paying gigs. He’s the only one of us that could pull that off. We lost him while we were rehearsing in Theo’s basement.

I think I posted an ad that got us Keith Hittler. Keith sounded and looked like Bill Bruford.

My dad moved into a really cool house in LaSalle Park with his girlfriend Joan. He invited us to move into their attic. When I think about it, my dad did everything he could to support the cause.

It was at this time we played our first Euclid festival. My dad confessed that I was realizing his personal dream when he heard kids yelling out my name from the audience.

The attic was beautiful. The walls were brick but it still sounded great. All was well until winter came around. We were faced with our old curse--- no heat.

We burned Dura-Flame logs in an old Franklin stove and played right through the winter.

Eventually Keith found a paying gig and dropped out of the band. We went through several drummers. Most notably, a guy named Anthony who eventually left us to play for Jesus.

Nothing could break our spirit, but being in a band without a drummer is like being homeless. You’re convinced you could get your life back together if you could just get a break.

It turned out Benet was still paying attention and liked what we were doing. He came back and the family was whole again.

Joan’s ex was a psychotic Marine. Benet hung an American flag around his drum booth. Joan’s ex thought we were desecrating it. He took it out to the back yard where he burned and then buried it. The guy was totally raving. I think that’s why we decided to move. Maybe it was the absence of heat. We lost Theo, too.

There was a Fraternal Order of Eagles hall in the Dutch Town neighborhood. I have no idea how we found it, but their president, Marty Luepker told us they only met once a week to play cards. We could rent their basement.

This is where Matt O’Shea shot our sessions for his film, The Band Practice. We ran it at our reunion gig.

I think we grew up down there. It was the late 70s. I recorded my first Christmas song for my mom there. I’ve done it every year since.

I remember opening the door to go down into the basement one night. There was a frightened rodent at the bottom of the stairs. We squealed like children, convinced it was a huge rat. The poor animal was someone’s escaped gerbil.

We began to write the songs that would end up on the records.

Tracy and I were living together in the Central West End. Washington University bought our building and we were forced to move. It was the third place I had to move from because they were buying up the whole West End. We decided to get out of the neighborhood.

We moved into a 4 family flat in Benton Park. Dom and Benet lived a few blocks away. Fojammi lived in an odd little house in our back yard.

Right around this time the band moved into a studio on 39th street. It was attached to the Lester Family’s record shop. They were a gospel group and they even had their own TV show. Our rehearsal space was their recording studio. It was old and funky, but we were definitely moving up in the world.

Fojammi was playing drums in my brother’s band, Jam Box. They recorded an EP in the studio. Fojammi began to put together a solo project. He was really a keyboard player. I began to work with him and realized he was a great song writer.

My band found a 12 track studio in Southern Illinois that was really cheap. Fojammi and Earwacks split expenses and bought blocks of time.

We recorded Distances down there. John Lennon was shot during one of the Fojammi sessions.

It became clear he had to join the band.

A guy named Rick owned and lived at the Lester’s studio. I worked for him in trade for studio time. I still have a lot of good material I need to finish from those sessions. I got Jon Rosen to lay down keyboard tracks for me. He’s an incredible keyboard player and picked up on my material immediately.

The Lester’s studio only had 8 tracks and we wanted more for the band. We found a 16 track called Swing City in Collinsville, Illinois.

Dominic had come up with the name Earwacks for the band but he envisioned a theater group that would work with us called Wax Theatricks. I loved that name and when it became clear the theater group wouldn’t happen we adopted it as the band’s name.

In those days records were called wax. I love the idea of theater on wax.

Unfortunately I was drifting apart from Dom artistically. Being a control freak, I began to push for us to play more and more of my material. Dom was gradually squeezed out and, as a consequence, isn’t so fond of the name Wax Theatricks.

None of his songs made it onto the last LP.

On a brighter note, we had friends who owned an 8 track studio in Benton Park called Magic Masters. We bought a keg and invited 100 of our friends to a party where we recorded a live flexi-disc that would be inserted into a local rock mag called Noisey Paper.

We recorded Dominic’s classic punk song “Ronald Reagan”. The folks at Evatone Records decided they wouldn’t allow us to use the F word. They beeped the record in 4 places. Unfortunately Dom only sang the word 3 times. They also deleted the word Fun. When the disc came out Timothy Time, who wrote the accompanying story, noted, “There will be no fun under Ronnie’s rigid rule!” I know I’ve posted that story several times before, but I love it!

It was at the Lester’s studio that we decided to part company with Dominic.

We did a 2 week marathon of farewell shows at Heartbreak Hotel and Billy Goat Hill. They were our best shows and we should have realized we could have outgrown our differences.

Jon Rosen took Dom’s place. He sang, wrote and played. He seemed perfect. He was way more professional than us.

We had 2 weeks to teach him our material for a big fashion show at the Shell Building downtown.

The deadline was already creating too much stress when Jon announced he wanted half the songs to be his. Unlike Jon, we weren’t quick studies and I was very unhappy.

We pulled off the show, but this wasn’t the same band. I felt like I was responsible for kicking Dom out of the band and now I didn’t even recognize it. I quit.

I went on to work with a lot of great musicians in Delay Tactics. I started finding distraction in skydiving and eventually having a family.

Man, kids are a whole ‘nother story!

I’m still plugging away at the music. We all are.

Pics are: Theo’s basement, Theo and me in my dad’s attic, the attic with Anthony-Tracy and me, the attic with Keith- Dom- Tracy and Mark Gray, and a newspaper shot of band at the Eagles Hall. I can’t believe I don’t have a single shot of the Lesters’ studio. Years later I heard a news story that they were trying to kick out elderly people who lived on that same block. Televangelist Lary Rice fought the eminent domain powers at city hall. I sent him a little money to help with attorney’s fees. He wrote me back the most beautiful letter with all kinds of biblical quotes pertaining to the evils of greed and corporate corruption.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rehearsal Spaces pt. 2

The grocery store didn’t last long. It was depressing anyway. It’s hard to be inspired when the band sounds like crap. If you’ve ever had the feeling of insignificance as you gazed into the infinity of a starry night sky, you’ll get how our tiny group felt illuminated by a couple of bare bulbs in the inky darkness of that vast deserted grocery store. (Whew!)
I was still living with my mother in Soulard. It occurred to me that we had a garage we didn’t use. I think it was really an old stable. There was no electricity and it had a dirt floor. The door slid open and offered little protection from thieves or the elements. Those horses must have frozen.
We powered the whole band with one extension cord. The garage was about two stalls large and we weren’t happy there.
I must have been pissing and moaning about it to my dad, because he offered us his basement. I guess it was summer, because we weren’t aware there was no heat at first.
We threw up sheets to hide ugly objects in the room. My dad lived upstairs in a two family flat that a friend of his owned. You’d open the front door, lift the stairs (like the stairs in the Munsters where Spot lived), and walk down into the basement. It probably had dirt floors too.
When it got cold we found a huge, oil burning, heater. We never should have been left in charge of the beast. One night it blew up, covering everything in black soot. It took weeks for the smoke to clear and in spite of the cold air outside, we practiced with the door open so we could breath. We were writing the most complex arrangements of our career at the time. Dominic is trying to get us to record some of that stuff right now.
The songs included: Psychedelicness, which was based on a few really interesting chords I found in a Joe Pass music book, Cold Hands (a fast and furious song in 13/2 time signature), and the Magic Glass (Crimson-like arrangement about alcoholism).
We have always been an emotionally volatile group and we ended our stay there when we kicked Dom out of the band. We found ourselves back at Dom and Benet’s mom’s basement. At least there was heat!
We suddenly found ourselves without a vocalist and front man. As a three piece, we began to experiment with improvisation. We recorded it.
It’s a great document of the band. The first recordings are the three of us. Eventually you can hear Dom upstairs jamming along on his sax. One day he just walked downstairs playing and was back in the band. I don’t think we ever even really talked about it.
Tracy was still living in the county. Before we got Dom back, Tracy introduced us to a keyboard player and guitarist. The keyboard player was infatuated with Keith Emerson. I hated Keith Emerson. We found ourselves in a garage in the county showing these guys our material. Upon hearing Psychedelicness the keyboard player asked, “Is that comedy music?” Oh, I almost forgot, he wanted to call the band “Colossus – The Forbin Project”. I think it was some kind of science fiction movie (a genre that never really captured my imagination). I was so happy when we got Dom back.
We decided we needed a real vocalist. I’m not sure how we advertised, but we found a guy named Theo Johnson. Theo ended up being one of my favorite people in the world. I wrote about him in an earlier post about single-handedly wrestling with me in the snow and getting me up to my second floor apartment while I was in the throes of an epileptic seizure.
Poor Theo! I spent a year with him just acquainting him with the band’s psychology. We went through everything together.
We ended up in Theo’s basement. He lived in a run down mansion in the northern part of the Central West End. It was right next to all the private streets with all the mansions that were built around the time of the 1904 World’s Fair. I think we might have been back on a dirt floor, but there was heat. We always mixed acoustic and electric instruments, so we separated them in an old coal chute. We put Theo and Dominic back in there.
We went through some major changes there that I’ll get to next week.
Pics are all from Theo's basement.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rehearsal Spaces pt. 1

The band’s been working on a documentary since our reunion show last summer. Fojammi’s been working his butt off on the video part of it. He’s been interviewing artists and friends who were there. The whole experience has forced me to think about a lot of our history that I took for granted.

There are hurdles every young band has to get past. You have to have a shared commitment to your art, individual drive, the will to practice, similar taste, and your own instruments and amps. Not to mention, just like young lovers, you have to develop along a similar path as you age. Besides that last thing, the two most daunting hurdles are a P.A. system and a rehearsal space.

I’ve decided to lay down a history of our rehearsal spaces. I think the P.A.s will make a good story later. I hope the band will chime in if I’ve forgotten anything or if I’m not remembering correctly.

I remember watching Dom and Benet play in their bedroom in Laclede Town. I was blown away with their talent. Benet was 12 and a metal barrel made up part of his kit. There wasn’t enough room for anyone else, but it didn’t matter, no one else was good enough to play with them. I was totally inspired though. I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

My buddy Don Belk helped me get my first guitar at Mel Bay Music. He had a bass and knew another guitarist named Chuck Taylor. We started jamming in Don’s bedroom. Don was always working on his image. He built a huge piece of furniture to house his 10 watt amp and 10 inch speaker. It didn’t sound better and it wasn’t louder, it just looked cool. Between his amp and a new drummer Chuck found named Leland Smith, we had gotten too big for Don’s bedroom.

I’ll never forget loading up a little red wagon with all of our equipment. We walked along side of it holding onto everything so it wouldn’t fall off. It must have risen ten feet into the sky. We took it to a garage that was about twelve blocks away. I have no idea who lived there. We were so excited we’d become an official Garage Band!

We learned House of the Rising Sun and the verse to 18 by Alice Cooper. We never got to the chorus; we just played the verse over and over again. It must have been incredibly hard to listen to.

At some point during all of this, Dom taught me how to tune my guitar in open G. He showed me Down By the River by Neil Young and Honky Tonk Women by The Stones. I brought them back to my band and became a contributor. Up until then, Chuck decided what we’d play.

One day, as we were jamming in the garage, a cop showed up. He was very polite. He said we sounded great and watched us play. When we finished, he said there had been a complaint and we would have to break it up.

By this time I had talked my dad into cosigning for a loan on an off-brand Les Paul and small electric organ amp. I paid for it with my school lunch money.

Ludwig Aeolian had a little Rock n Roll department in their basement downtown. I bought them from a guy named Bob Powell. I wanted to throw his name out because he was the sweetest guy in the world and really worked with the kids.

Dom invited me into his band because he needed and amp and mine would accommodate two. John Steffen joined and we moved into Dom and Benet’s basement.

I remember our first name was Bronco Bullfrog. I always loved that name. We settled on Jon Cotton and began building our repertoire. We played a little bit of everything. We played a lot of Canned Heat, The Stones, Jethro Tull and Spirit.

Our first bassist was Jimmy Hill. He knew the song Killer Joe and that was our introduction into Jazz. Jimmy works with U.S. Representative Barney Frank now.

Jimmy left and for a while we didn’t have a bassist. A friend of ours named Albert Teithenbraum (help me out with the spelling guys) had a beautiful Gibson EB-0 bass. I don’t know how Dom did it, he not only got Albert to let us rehearse in his basement, but Albert let Dom use the bass. Dom became our new bassist. Hey, bass was more necessary than flute and a third guitar!

I think Albert was beginning to feel used and we lost it all. We moved back into the D&B’s basement.

I think I’m the one who got Tracy to come over. Tracy got us to play One More Red Nightmare by King Crimson. I didn’t know they did anything after Court of the Crimson King. It opened up a whole new world of music to me.

We began to write our own material.

We lost the basement, but someone found a really cool Art Deco industrial building at Vandeventer and Highway 40. It was attached to the old Famous Barr warehouse. We got it for free. It had a security camera and an intercom to buzz people in. This was all very futuristic at the time. It sounded terrible, but man did it look cool.

Tracy still lived way out in the county and worked at a Flaming Pit out there. He told us about a friend of his who had gotten fired. They made their house salad in a large Rubber Maid trash can. His angry friend peed in it. If I’m remembering correctly who the friend was, I have a great story about an adventure I had with him later.

We lost the Deco building. Tracy was friends with the manager at Flaming Pit. The restaurant was attached to a deserted super market and his friend let us use it. It was the strangest place we ever practiced. The whole building was completely empty. No matter how much we sprawled out, we were still a tiny little band in the middle of thousands of square feet of dark emptiness. Man did we feel insignificant, not to mention it sounded like we were playing in a cave!

I have a long way to go so this will be continued…………….

Band pic is in D&B’s basement. It features John Steffen, Jimmy Hill, Dom, Benet and me. The other pic is D&B in that same basement.