Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Two Guys Live Shakedance...

A couple of years ago thanks to Facebook, my brother was reconnected with an old high school chum from the big brain set. Jim was also an enthusiastic music aficionado and guitar player who I’d bump into from time to time at some of our post high school heavy metal vomit jams in my friend Brian’s basement. Solid chops, always quiet, but a true gentlemen long before any of us every knew what the word meant. At some point in the mid eighties, both my brother and I lost touch with Jim as he headed down to study engineering, or math or something, at Georgia Tech we would discover following our reconnection.

Apparently that wasn’t the only thing he studied. Turns out Jim immersed himself way deep into traditional blues guitar. I don’t know how well he did with fluid dynamics, or numerical methods, but the man certainly mastered Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin' Hopkins at the post doc level during his tenure as a Yellow Jacket undergrad.

As we were also to discover, Jim cofounded his post college band The Urban Shakedancers, an almost signed/missed it by that much, popular local band whom I had the pleasure of hearing countless times following my recent arrival to Atlanta in the spring of 1991 and on visits prior. My newly minted friends would take me to see these guys whenever we could since their own high school friends were band members as well. The thing is… I had no idea that was Jim playing guitar and was stunned to realize that the two of us were in the same room MANY times during that era and never managed to reconnect. My buds and I were pretty big Shakedancer fans to be sure.

My brother and I find all this out while attending our first show by Jim’s current band The Breeze Kings. The two of us sat there in awe while the crowd was up on their feet dancing like 50 years had not passed. I’m telling you the joint was jumping. Guys twirling girls around their waists, throwing them into the air, etc… it was a sublime moment. And Jim’s band? Two words: Fucking SWINGIN’ Jack!!! (okay that’s three words). My brother and I immediately picked up both of the BK’s CD’s and they’ve been in heavy rotation since in both our households.

A few months later, I mentioned to Jim in passing that one of my old friends owned a club down in Five Points that had a good vibe and decent house system. I thought it might be a good place for the Breeze Kings to play. It was summertime and with school out, Five Points retreats into a much mellower scene than it has during the semesters as club owners leave the doors open to air their places out from nine months of merriment that are stuck to the floors. Jim thought that perhaps it might be a good opportunity to work on their duo act (him and Carlos) that they were tuning up for gigs where the bread wasn’t sufficient to justify the whole band. During my reconnection with my old club owning friend, I discovered he had an old long unused 16 bit ADAT recorder stuffed in the house systems rack that he swore ‘worked’. I tossed out the idea to Jim of recording the performance which was met by a sort of “What the hell…” response.

It took some doing to get it all to work that night (the ADAT actually had dried vomit on the transport, I kid you not!), but I managed to capture two long sets of The Breeze Kings Lite that night. The next order of business was to dump it up to the hard drive in the studio and make thumbnail mixes for Jim and Carlos. I had the discs lying around waiting to drop in the mail when my brother next came to visit from Ashville. He and I typically stay up into the wee hours playing and rapping about music, so I tossed the BK demo into the player for him to taste. After three or four tunes he said, “Ya know what? That sounds like a record, can you burn me a copy without Jim getting pissed?” I listened to it a couple more times in the following weeks and came to the same conclusion myself. Turns out Jim and Carlos thought the same as well. Thus, this whimsical little tune up session on a hot summer weeknight in Five Points Atlanta (with the aid of Jeff Bakos mix and Chris Griffin mastering job) became the Veritone Records release “Two Guys Live”.

This record stands as one of my proudest accomplishments as a behind the board wannabe dude. I’ve worked on countless projects in my studio and others and this one simple truth always manages to prove itself: The best moments captured on tape come when you’re not even trying.

The Breeze Kings ‘Two Guys Live’ is a collection of some mighty fine moments. Take the chance, go to their website and pick up a copy. If you wanna get off your feet, pick up a copy of “You Got To Bring Some to Get Some” too. You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

For the fun of it...

I think it was almost five months ago when my long time friend Bryan said to me, “Dude, you should join this Christian band I’m playing bass in”. “You know Joyce Gruschow? Well, she made this record up in Nashville and she wants to put a band together to do some shows behind it”, he added. I was aware of the record since Joyce and Michael had asked me to record a five song demo for it a year earlier, but that wasn’t going to change what my response was, “Why on earth would I want to do that?” He quickly responded, “Come on man, it’ll be fun.”

My concerns were many, but not least of which was the glaring fact that contemporary lite Christian music is really not my thing, but the caliber of musicians already recruited, including Bryan who is quite the accomplished player, was WAY above my ability. I could easily envision getting the stink eye from any and all of them as I stumbled my way through a myriad of arthritis inducing “hard chords” while dragging the whole sound into a garage band style morass. “Ah, no thanks…” I said, clerverly deducing that Bryan himself had been asked to join, and knowing him all these years, could not say no and just wanted a partner in his self created misery. I suspected he reported a different response back to the fledgling members of Joyce’s band, that my response was something closer to say, “Maybe”. This was confirmed when piano player Mike Fleisch pulled up to my house while I was leisurely applying a coat of wax to my car on the next sunny Sunday and said, “Why weren’t you at practice today?” So with EXTREME trepidation, I agreed to attend ONE rehearsal. The extent to which I had been played was revealed to me when, once Joyce determined she wanted three part vocal harmony, I was sent out to recruit my own sister Cindy and was dispatched to her place to deliver very the same pitch Bryan had speiled to me, her response was a familiar “Ah, no thanks…”. Ole Mike Fleisch paid her a visit as well and low and behold there she was nervously standing behind a microphone at our next rehearsal.

Flash forward to last night and there we all were, Pat and his sister Cindy along with all the members of Second Chance, Joyce Gruschow’s backing band in the opening slot for the “Your Not Alone Tour" on their Peachtree City stop at the Fredrick Brown Amphitheater. My friend Bryan was sort of set up in front of me during our performance and although I couldn’t see his face from my vantage point, I’m certain he wore a satisfying smirk at the success of his little scheme. Well played sir.

My first surpirse came as we worked through the first couple of twice a week rehearsals. It was after one of these rehearsals that it suddenly dawned on me what I had been missing all these years. It had been so long that I forgotten what it felt like. That being the enjoyment and satisfaction of playing music with real live people. That may sound funny to most, but for the last twenty years, any playing I did was to machines and/or pre-recorded tape in the studio. My personnel studio work through those years has all been small to elaborate overdub projects. Once I learned my parts well enough, and thanks to some of the kindest, patient, and encouraging musicians I've ever known, I found myself really experiencing that satisfaction long lost and the band sounded better and better with each passing rehearsal.

All this preparation was for our first gig as the opening act for the before mentioned tour. Regardless of genre, most bands first gigs usually take place in a small bar or restaurant. Nope, not ours. Ours was going to take place on the stage of an amphitheater with a huge stage and professional sound and lights. Nervous? It’s not a strong enough word, and after hearing all the tour bands sound check, I felt like I’d funneled five Red Bulls.

Anchoring my immediate fears early in the day was the mear fact that we were an opening act, and having worked a few crew jobs in my time, I’m familiar with how crappy the opening act is treated with regard to their setup, monitor sound, performance time, etc… hell, most of the time they don't even get fed. You wonder why opening acts sound like crap most of the time? It’s not by accident I assure you. But this was a Christian tour and the sound company catered to churches large and small. When I asked to hear more piano in my monitor during sound check I braced myself for some snidely punk guy at the monitor console to breathe a heavy sigh and mutter, “everybody’s a rock star…” before reluctantly turning the knob, but instead what I got was a quick and pleasant, “Yes sir”. That was the way it was all day. Pleasent, polite, and upbeat people everywhere.

As the date drew near, amongst the various worries were making sure our set stayed within our allotted time, but as we took the stage after the first band had cleared out and the stagehands had set our stuff up a new terror gripped my spine: NOT blowing it in the first song, an up tempo number the sort of features my guitar. As luck would have it, I fobbed a crucial part in that first tune and in the horror of fumbling the chords, I bit the hell out of my tongue which is still killing me as I type this. I managed to get back on track and finished the song following the rule that we all work by: when lost, stop playing until you know where you are and jump back in at the begin of a measure.

Then something amazing happened. With all those people cheering and while getting setup for the next tune, a calm fell over me and from that moment on I felt not an ounce of nervousness. Not just that, I was as relaxed as if I was by myself in the comfort of my home studio playing to tape. I began having the time of my life and made no major mistakes for the rest of the show (at least any I immediately recognized, the tape might tell a different story). No matter, we finished with our big epic number and the crowd responded well. I really cannot remember the last time I had so much fun. As rewarding: Watching my sister experience the magical gypsy like circus of a real professional live concert production. Naturally, I immediately began to feel guilty about enjoying myself while countless people had been working their asses off all day, for months really, and we really did nothing more than show up and play our set.

My mother and father somehow managed to keep secret the surprise visit of my youngest sister who flew down from Maryland to join my brother and my other sister to see the show. The after party at our house was EPIC, the last guest calling it a night a 2:30 AM. It was simply a perfect day from beginning to end.

I’ll be honest, some of the adoration that goes on at these shows is still a bit weird for me as a long fallen Catholic, but my wife, my kid, mom, dad, brother, sisters, and many of our friends turned up for the event. I hope we get to do it again real soon. More pictures up on my Facebook page if you’re interested.

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Joyce and all the members of the band who convinced me that this was something I wanted to do, and that includes my wife. When your head is as thick as mine, sometimes it's hard to concede that someone knows better.

Lastly, it may sound cliché, but a hearty thanks to every member of the crew and to the Knights of Columbus for their tireless work on this show.