Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hell on Wheels

Anyone with a teenage child will recognize the horror in this photo.

My daughter Chloe turned sixteen on Valentine’s Day. Two days later, she called to tell me she got her driver’s license on her first try. Two days after that, she called to brag about her new car.

My son Dylan and I both failed on our first attempts.

It didn’t really sink in until Dylan called to tell me he and his sister were going to the grocery store. I said, “Remind Chloe, her soda contains a flame retardant and try to find some healthy vegetables.” “No, you don’t understand,” he said, “just Chloe and I are going!”

A sense of dread almost left me breathless. Chloe was driving. I imagined her texting while driving through a red light into a group of pre-school pedestrians.

The time span of her first driving experience is pretty similar to what mine had been. The difference is, I had already been working for two years and had to buy my own car.

“Wild Life” was a black Pontiac station wagon with a red interior.

On one of my hitch hiking journeys to the east, I left her with my brother. “Don’t forget to top off the oil every couple of days,” I instructed. When I got back to town, Wild Life had thrown a rod. ------- I still grieve.

The big difference these days is the mandatory liability insurance. I could never have come up with that when I was a teenager. Even with a job.

My ex and I were supposed to have a deal with our kids that they’d be working to pay their own insurance. I couldn’t afford it anyway.

Chloe somehow convinced her mom that she would have a job in a few days if her mother could just front a couple of the payments.

My son is so opposed to getting a job; he’s resolved not to drive at all. After all, a lot of my friends don’t drive. My friend Fojammi has successfully made it through his entire life without a license. My son likes to think of himself as a tough urban kid and urban kids take the subway, don’t they? They don’t run very often around here though!

A lot of my friends didn’t drive for years, but it’s impossible to live in the Midwest without a car.

Dylan’s about to turn eighteen, and I think that might put him in a cheaper insurance demographic. He does have his permit, and let me tell you, it’s been a life saver when we come home from one of our Soulard parties, probably literally.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cover Music

I have one last Jon Cotton post.

We didn’t start out as song writers. In fact, what we played depended more on our abilities than our taste.

We were playing Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Allman Brothers, Canned Heat, Jethro Tull, Spirit, Cream, and more. If we were capable of playing it, we considered it fantastic music.

I was very lucky that, Dominic could pick out just about anything on the guitar and show it to me. I’m still amazed at how quickly he picked up the flute. His sister had one, he decided we needed a flute player, and there you have it.

Somewhere along the line we found a couple of clarinets. I used to step outside Dom and Benet’s Laclede Town townhouse and use the pay phone on the corner to call my mom or girlfriend.

I was out there one night improvising strange scales on one of them when there was an answer in the distance from the other. We concocted a really interesting piece as Dom marched over to join me.

Across the street, a hippie couple sat in the grass marveling at our music. Ron and Lisa became good friends and when I was 17, Dom and I hitchhiked to New York to stay with them for a while. I think we left with two bucks.

Just after we write Webster Hangover, John Steffen left the band. He was in the process of becoming a priest.

The Schaeffer’s long time friend, Jimmy Hill joined the band as bassist.

My friend Gary Peek has always been sensitive about music without bass and he was quick to point out its absence in Webster Hangover. That’s probably because he plays one.

Jimmy was into Jazz and had us playing Killer Joe almost immediately. He was also funny as Hell.

I not sure how long he was in the band or why he left, but he was replaced by Tracy Wynkoop and the rest is Earwacks history.

Jimmy has been working for the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee’s Barney Frank. Frank just retired, so maybe I should find out if he wants to get back in a band.

This recording is the band paying Jethro Tull’s Driving Song. I found it on the back of the same cassette Webster Hangover is on. It’s pretty accurate if I do say so myself, right down to Ian Anderson’s flute vamps at the end.

I don’t really have enough old pics to choose from and I used footage from some of my old films.

Check it out---------

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Webster Hangover: The Back Story

I spent 6th through the beginning of 8th grade in a small, unincorporated area between Webster and Kirkwood called Oakland. It was a beautiful wooded place and the only house I had ever lived in.

I actually went through 8th grade in Kirkwood, Hillsboro, and back to the city in Laclede Town. In spite of that, I spent more time out of school than in.

Hillsboro was a bit of a culture shock. It was a huge rural school that kids were bussed in from miles around. In spite of its size, every single kid was white.

When I moved back to the city, I still missed all my friends in the county. Already suffering from acute nostalgia, I began to hitchhike back when I was 14.

The first person I looked up was my buddy Don Belk. He was in a band and turned me onto the cheap guitars at Mel Bay Music in Kirkwood.

He had just fallen in love with a girl named Lee Bock in Webster. He left his girlfriend Nancy, and to make him jealous, she decided I was her boyfriend.

This was the first girlfriend I ever had and when she realized Don wasn’t coming back, she dumped me immediately.

It was great while it lasted, though. She was 16 and had access to her dad’s car. I was the only kid who had a girlfriend that drove.

She lived in a huge house that had a secret passage to hide runaway slaves. It was part of the Underground Railroad. I used to hide from her dad in there.

Lee had a twin sister named Lin who was the first girl I really fell in love with. With Nancy, making out was very matter of fact and we went right at it. With Lin, we hid in the bushes by the railroad tracks and it must’ve taken 2 hours before got up the nerve to kiss.

I started bring my city friends out there. We were nobodies back home, but in Webster we were the worldly city boys.

Somehow, an intense amount of disdain I had for a girl named Pam turned into an equal amount of love. I left Lin to be with her and we became inseparable. She even came back to the city with me and entered the alternative high school I went to with Dominic. Logos gave us SLR cameras and access to a dark room. That’s how I took all the pictures for this project. Unfortunately, I took the pictures so there aren’t any of me. My dear friend Margie Manne provided me with what I have.

This was all happening as the band was developing. We were experimenting with everything!

The twins’ older sister Ali went out with my buddy Kent who lived downstairs from me in our old Soulard house. It had been rehabbed into an apartment building. This was before gentrification and the place was a dump. Ali is still one of my favorite people.

Almost as soon as we started learning songs, Dominic and I wrote. We decided it wasn’t too ambitious to write a rock opera based on our life and loves in Webster. After all, we were a couple of world weary 15 year olds. We called our masterpiece Webster Hangover.

All but two of the songs on this project were recorded on a little cassette recorder I placed on a table at our first audition as Jon Cotton. It was at a place called The Star Chamber in Clayton. In those days 18 year olds could drink 3.2 beer in restaurants in Missouri. They didn’t know Dom, the oldest of us, was only 16.

We performed the entire opera and landed the gig. Unfortunately, the night of the actual gig there was a basketball game on TV and no one wanted the band to play. Friends that showed up weren’t happy about it and made that pretty clear. We were all asked to leave.

I think all of the songs are represented here. I couldn’t find a copy of “Someone to Talk To” so I recorded the only two verses I could remember. Dominic left his flute at my studio, so I used it. Originally he sang it and played flute. Luckily the song was in C so it was easy to play. Unfortunately, I still had to record several takes because I have absolutely no lip. I nostalgified it a bit with the EQ. It’s the one with the black and white hallucination scene form one of my early films.

The last piece was also the last song of the project. It’s called “Going Back to the City”. It’s a recording of the band learning it in Dom and Benet’s basement in Laclede Town.

I left in some of the banter because I love the sound of our young voices. Benet was probably 13 and his voice hadn’t changed yet.

My girlfriend Valerie and I took a field trip to Webster and Oakland to get shots of the houses for the instrumental track. The houses in order are: my house in Oakland, Don’s, Nancy’s, the Bock’s, Pam’s and finally our house in Soulard. I don’t have any good shots of Benet and Dominic’s place in Laclede Town West. The best I could do was the aerial shot at the beginning. The pan stops at their house on the corner. We rehearsed in the basement there.

The tape was old and I could only retrieve bits and pieces. Almost all of the lyrics are lost and that’s probably just as well. The pics are a little beat up too.

By 15 we’d seen it all as evidenced by our lyrics---

“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”

Check it out -------

Jon Cotton was:

Jon Steffen – Lead Guitar

Benet Schaeffer – Drums

Dominic Schaeffer – Vocals, Flute, Acoustic Guitar

David Udell – Rhythm Guitar

The songs are:

E Harmonix

Webster Hangover

Someone to Talk To

Slip Away


Going Back to the City

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Axes pt. 3

During the mid 80s I decided I was through with live music for a while. Recording has always been where my heart is. I never wanted to be the movie star; I always wanted to be the director.

Fojammi had taught me lot about computer recording way before anyone else we knew was into it. Recording was within our financial grasp, but there was a lot to learn. We shared our wants with the software manufacturers and actually saw them realized.

We released our first post-Dominic recording as part of a collection of St. Louis artists called Urban Cabaret. The song was called Black Olive.

We experimented with a really crude mono sampling device controlled with a drum trigger pad. I really loved what we came up with but it sounded terrible. Poor Benet had to program his part on a drum machine and we hadn’t yet learned how to process the sounds.

Right about then, I decided it was time to get a guitar with a whammy bar. I actually walked into Dale’s Music in Hazelwood and swapped my beautiful Les Paul even for a $700.00 Fender Telecaster. It was an incredibly bad deal for me, but I was determined to have a whammy bar!

I loved the Tele’s neck and its pickups switched from single coil to double coil Humbuckers. It could sound like a Fender or a Gibson. In retrospect it was a good trade. I still have it and it does everything I need, especially now that I understand the correct use of amplifiers.

I always wanted to plug an acoustic guitar right into the recording deck. After a little research I bought a Canadian L. Baggs acoustic/electric. It looked like a Stratocaster. It’s the guitar I used in the Christmas YouTube video I made for my mom. It sounds great with a slide, but it hardly sounds acoustic.

I bought a $300.00 Greg Bennett acoustic at a guitar shop in Clayton, but it’s time to get a real one.

I’ve been using my son’s Alvarez in the studio. It’s like I came full circle.

Come to think of it, I’ve been using an old plywood Fender acoustic Steve Martin gave me years ago. I love that thing, but it doesn’t record well. I stopped changing strings on it over 5 years ago because it doesn’t make a difference. It’s a piece of junk I’m totally comfortable with. I write all my guitar stuff on it.

I always regretted giving up the Les Paul. Gibson gets in your blood. After a lot of research, I learned Epiphone’s Korean Les Paul used heavier wood than the Japanese one. Epiphone is Gibson’s low budget version, but Les himself let them use his name. I found a Korean one on Ebay and put real Gibson pickups on it. I got those on Ebay too. I love it. I figure I put together a $2000.00 guitar for $500.00.

Modified Epi Les Paul and Telecaster at the Wax Theatricks Reunion, current acoustic, Acoustic/Electric, and the junky Plywood Fender acoustic I love so much. You can just make out my son’s little half size nylon string acoustic behind it. It was his first guitar. I think he was three.