Random thing #1. I watched an excellent, albeit a bit long documentary the other night on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. It is called “Fifty by Four: Half Century of CSNY.” I always loved that band and still do. I saw one of their reunion tour concerts about 10 years ago and while not youngsters by any means they could still “bring it” when they had to. Then about a year and a half ago I saw David Crosby doing a solo show and he was great. The documentary goes into great detail about the well-chronicled break-ups, romantic entanglements, macho posturing, drug use, etc., but two things intrigued me the most. One was extensive commentary by the sound engineer who recorded their first two albums. He basically said that there was a huge amount of creative freedom in the studio, which led to some timeless, fantastic music but also many head-butting sessions between Steve Stills and Neil Young. The other thing that I found absolutely fascinating was the extensive concert footage showing the jaw-dropping collections of guitars, mostly Martins, used by the group over the years. Anyway, if you have Amazon Prime you can easily find this documentary and it’s worth your time if you are a fan of CSNY.
Random thing #2. About a week ago I played a private birthday party for the wife of a former student. This in and of itself is not a big deal, I play private parties fairly often. But this one was on a boat! The former student had chartered the 63’ power catamaran, which sails out of Hyannis harbor. Having never done a gig on this boat (although I have on others) I made a point to do as much research as possible about details like power supply, where I would be setting up (inside the cabin) and even contacted a local musician who has a regular weekly gig on the boat for one of their sunset cruises. The boat owners and the captain could not have been nicer and although the space was cramped I did manage to situate myself so I would be heard. Of so I thought, until the boat cleared the harbor and big diesel engines began to roar. Oh well! Things got even more interesting when we turned around and headed back into four to six-foot chop. My speaker stand almost collapsed on top of me – I was sitting on my folding stool, which was the best strategy as there was no way I would have been able to stand up and play. Only one thing to do: crank it up, shout out as many Jimmy Buffett songs as I could think of and keep smiling! A good time was had by all, or so I was told. As I was driving home it came to me that I should have broken into the second verse of the theme from Gilligan’s Island:
“The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed! If not for the courage of the fearless crew the Minnow would be lost! The Minnow would be lost!”
But I doubt if anyone would have been able to hear me. In any case, it was kind of an adventure and one more story to file under “The Reality of Being a Work-a-Day Musician”!
Random thing #3. It’s taken about six months of use but I’m finally getting comfortable with my “drummer” – my Boss DR-01 rhythm box. If you’re unfamiliar with this device, it is a programable drum machine that is designed specifically for use with acoustic guitar or piano. Instead of having a drum set heavy mix of available pre-sets, the instrumentation available is quite a bit more organic sounding, featuring congas, cajon, bongos, timbale, cow bell, claves and much more. There are many dozen pre-sets of various combinations of instruments and you can tweak these presets in terms of tempo, meter and volume. You can also start from scratch and create up to 48 “favorites” which will be saved. It took me quite a few hours of experimenting to fine tune things like tempo and exactly which “favorite” I had created sounds best with a particular song or genre but I’m pretty pleased with the results. I use the device as subtly as possible; in some cases it’s hardly even there but I often observe audience members who may be in conversation start tapping their feet when my “drummer” kicks in. I won’t ever use it on every tune but it’s nice to add some frosting on the musical cake, so to speak. With the use of sound altering devices the norm these days in performance I feel pretty confident that using the DR-01 does not detract from my performance. The bonus is – I probably keep better time than I have since the days when I played with a drummer regularly.
Random thing #4. Back in the 1990s one of my favorite singer/songwriters was Karla Bonoff. Karla was very well respected in the California music scene and her songs were recorded by artists such as Linda Ronstadt, plus her albums featured duets with James Taylor, Jackson Browne and others. Unfortunately, at some point she lost her recording contract but she kept touring and writing, which kept her small but loyal fan base happy. I am a Facebook “friend” of hers and I was thrilled to learn that she had completed a new album of mostly older tunes from previous albums but done in a more stripped-down format than the originals, featuring just Karla on piano or guitar (and vocals of course), a lead guitar, bass and occasional soft percussion. I ordered a copy from her web site and it arrived this week, signed by Karla too. Although some of her songs are a bit sad, lyric-wise, the production and execution of the music is absolutely beautiful and showcases her wonderful voice. Check out her song “New World” – gorgeous on every level. Karla’s songs are very much like one of my other favorite writers of similar style, Kim Richey. In both cases you hear a song and part of your brain is sure you’ve heard it before – and you like it a lot – but you know you haven’t! Now, that is fine songwriting. Check out Karla. Kim too, if you haven’t.
Peace & good music,