I started out as a child…

18 04 2009

I have people ask me how I got started as a guitarist.

After all, to make it big, you have to gain entry into a very small club. I tell them that it’s serendipity at it’s most bizarre application…

Here’s a case in point;

It was probably meant to be…

I started out in Rock ‘n’ Roll early. In fact, my first gig was as a walk (crawl) on in a Rock ‘n’ Roll classic called “World’s Greatest Sinner.” My big brother and I were being tended by my mother’s sister (otherwise referred to as “The Commie Aunt” by my father), while both my mother and father (card carrying killers) were out “hunting,” pillaging the landscape in the US Government’s attempt at making the world safe for Democracy. 🙂

We’d been stationed at El Toro, a US Marine Air base that lived in the middle of orange groves that went on for thousands of acres.

El Toro was a weird place. The base’s logo ( a “Flying Bull”)  was actually designed by Walt Disney. We actually knew Lee Harvey Oswald, who was stationed there from December of 1958, to the spring of ’59. Supposedly there’s a photograph floating around of him holding me as a baby.  We also knew counter-culture guru Kerry Wendell Thornley, who was in the same radar unit as Lee.

My aunt had come to stay with us, due to a “domestic dispute” involving her, her soon-to-be ex, and a butcher knife. Oh yeah, an ambulance and the police were also involved…

But, no charges got pressed, the “ex” healed with a nasty scar, and Ginny came to live with us. She was a 6′ Amazon of a woman allergic to bras, totally caught up in the celebrity of Southern California, and deeply embedded in the surf “Rock” scene. And, as male children, we were enamored by her. (That came later, though…)

She was friends with Frank Zappa, who was a young college kid writing a film music score for Timothy Carey, a Hollywood bad boy turned director, who recorded low-budget films for the masses. Now, we’re talking late 1960 or 61…

I forget, because frankly, I was about 2 or three years old.

One day, she took us to Long Beach, CA, and we got our first taste of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hollywood fame… The cinematographer took one look at us, and stuck us in front of that camera, and our future was revealed… 🙂

I suspect that she did it simply because my parents couldn’t stop her. I suspect that she thought it would give my father an aneurysm. I suspect that she did it because SHE was trying to get in front of that camera. I even suspect that she might have been a “commie.” But, we didn’t care. We loved her anyway.

Why am I bringing this up, after all these years? Because I just watched it again on late night TCM. I wasn’t aware that any copies still existed! 🙂

Damn, I was a cute kid…

We have a photograph in our family archives, of me being held by the young Frank Zappa, who looks like he’s holding a hostile alien…

The film, just in case you haven’t seen it, is a sorry Timothy Carey tale of a demented “Elvis worshipping” insurance salesman who tires of a traditional life, and wakes up deciding he’s God.

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It’s undeniably one of the most bizarre movies ever made, and I’ve gotta tell you that even over forty years later, it’s STILL way ahead of its time! It’s a grotesque parable that’s as innovative and subversive as any film ever made. Carey sticks himself in the lead as Clarence Hilliard, a middle-aged insurance agent who goes insane and decides to become the “rockabilly messiah.” Abandoning his normal life, he changes his name to “God” and stands on street corners, handing out flyers, recruiting white-trash greasers to his fire ‘n’ brimstone “Life is Hell” doctrine.

To raise money for his cause, he seduces old ladies for cash, and performs in an Elvis-like silver-lame suit. He even starts his own “Eternal Man” political party, which promises to make everyone a “superhuman being.”  Their creedo is:

“There’s only one God, and that’s Man.”

This is seriously whacked stuff,  folks… Carey pulls off one of the most intense, overwrought performances of all time (putting novice scenery-chewers like Dennis Hopper to shame, sorry Dennis!), ranting, crying, dancing, and looking wasted, his eyelids at half-mast throughout. Eventually, Clarence’s followers begin rioting and vandalizing, but that type of social upheaval has to be expected when a new God emerges–especially one promising “No Death.”

When the political machines get wind of his Rock ‘n’ Roll charisma, they run him as an independent candidate for president, but Clarence is corrupted when his dogma takes on  fascist overtones and he starts seducing cute, 14-year-old volunteers. Though lacking in little things like coherency, Carey packs this volatile tale with venom toward modern politics, the media, dried-up religion, and the entire sorry state of the human race. It’s even narrated by The Devil, represented by a big snake!

You won’t believe Tim’s performances. He just starts shaking and his hair falls down… He must have watched Jerry Lee Lewis or something. He starts rolling around on the stage, he’s just shaking all over. It’s a live performance and he’s just smashing his guitar, he’s really beating on it real loud. This is one of the greatest rockabilliy movies ever made. If you get a chance to see it, it’ll just change your life.

Carey is dead serious with all this craziness (even the heavily religious finale) and his outrageous direction is beyond belief! Most of the extras were simply pulled off the streets (I know, because my brother and I were among them), and the score was provided by a young musician…  Frank Zappa.

frankzappa

See? The post went “full circle.” Remember the “Commie Aunt” connection?  🙂

Even its theme song is hilariously unforgettable:

“As a sinner he’s a winner,
Honey, he’s no beginner!
He’s rotten to the core,
Daddy, you can’t say no more!
He’s the world’s greatest sinner…”

If I ever move to an underground farm, stock it full of big-breasted goth girls, and start a cult… that’s gonna be my theme song… In fact, I should probably have the lawyers start working on the music clearance now, just in case…

There’s more… so stay tuned… because playin off-key really sucks! 😉

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‘Cuz Lexx likes Rosewood! Mmmmmm-good!

3 04 2009
I know I told you that I was going to write about Guitar Amplifier Selection today, but something came up. Bear with me, okay? I’ll get to that next time. I think that you’ll find this interesting;

I’m gigging in L.A. this week (sessions stuff for a film project), but I was talking to a pal in New Mexico today…

I know what you’re thinking… Who the heck lives in a place like New Mexico? I mean it’s mostly desert, and the seasons “run wild,” and it’s really, really far from L.A.

Isn’t that the place where all the crazy buggers build “Earthships?” Wait, maybe I’m thinking of Roswell… Wait! That’s New Mexico, too! I rest my case.

You know who lives in New Mexico? Artists live in New Mexico.

(Man, I’ve said “New Mexico” so many times, that the State Tourist board should send me a check!) 🙂

And some of those artists build guitars. Artists who build guitars, are called “Luthiers.” Now, when I hear that word, I immediately think of some European looking guy clad all in green felt, with those crazy shoes that curled up and the end and had bells on ’em… Wait… Maybe that’s an elf, or was that a “minstrel?”  Geez, I gotta get outta L.A.! It’s starting to affect my brain… again.

According to Wiki:

A luthier (IPA: /ˈluːtɪə(r)/) is someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments. The word luthier comes from the French word luth which is French for “lute“.

The craft of lutherie is commonly divided into two main categories: stringed instruments that are plucked or strummed (like a banjo, a guitar, or a harp), and stringed instruments that are bowed (like a  cello, a violin, or a double bass).

According to ME… A  Luthier is a guy who has dedicated most of his life to:

  • the study of fine exotic woods,
  • doing math calculations that make me think of  “the Rain Man…”,
  • drawing schematics that look like they belong in a nuclear powerplant,
  • and decades spent sniffing glue fumes and eating wood dust.

Although I like working with wood, I’ll stick to building popsicle stick birdhouses with my son.

Real Men build guitars. Great Guitars. Guitars that can make you cry and beg for the chance to caress their necks, to fondle their bodies, and… um… er… never mind. If I’m not careful, this’ll turn into “guitar porn!”

Where was I? Oh yeah…

Enter Rick Canton. Rick is to guitars, what Henry Ford was to production lines.  That means; he’s a visionary bent on progress. Now, unfortunately, Henry Ford’s contribution to the Industrial revolution led to things like the “massed produce Hell” where “modern guitars” have ended up. Places like China, and Korea, and even Japan have become the number one importers of guitars into America. Blah! 😦

But Rick… man, Rick is a purist. Luckily for us, he “sees” guitars as something other than just wood and plastic. He sees them as something ethereal,  mystical icons that sooth the souls of mortal men. Rick doesn’t just build guitars one at a time, he breathes life into them… Just being around him makes you want to hock your car, to beg a chance at owning one of his “children.”

Now, I always say that; “You shouldn’t cry over a guitar that won’t cry over you…” Rick’s guitars will make you weep. Uncontrollably.

But, this post isn’t solely about Rick, although it could be. When it comes to guitar lore, Rick is as deep as the Pacific Ocean.

It’s also about Rosewood. Brazilian Rosewood, to be exact. Now everybody that knows anything about guitars knows that the best ones are made out of this stuff. But Brazilian Rosewood is a rare commodity. Since the 70’s, it’s been illegal to bring it into the US, because of embargoes. They have this CITE litigation in place, to make certain that Luthier’s cry.

And that brings me to the POINT of this post.

I  have this big tabletop. It’s a behemoth of a slab of wood, that used to be a really nice “rustic” dining room table, before some neanderthal dropped it off the back of a freight truck. Now, it’s just a slab, and some broken legs and spreaders.

The guy I got it from swore up and down that it was just “oiled redwood,” but even a cursory glance told me that it was more. Much more. I know guys who make their living dealing in exotic hardwoods. And a few of them lately, have been offering me a pretty fair amount of cash, for this slab of wood. Why?

canton1

First, it looks like this.

Because it’s a hunk of 50+ year old Rosewood. Brazilian Rosewood, to boot! How do I know? Well, it’s like this;

The family that I got it from brought it back from South America in the 70’s.

(Now, I didn’t get it directly from them, but that’s another long story, filled with 8″x10″ glossy pictures, with circles and arrows draw all over them.)

Here’s the “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version:” The people that brought the “slab” back were working for “United Foods” offshore,   they got tired of Brazil, and they headed back to sunny Southern California. And naturally, they brought their stuff back with them.

And then, they died. And, their greedy kids, who grew up with the furniture, hated it. So they sold it to a consignment guy, and HE’s the idiot I got it from.

(I’m not telling you THAT story, there’s far too much profanity, threats of physical violence, and attempted calls to “911” involved!) 🙂

Anyway, like I said, I verified my suspicions by calling in “exotic wood experts.” (Ever seen a “wood broker” cry? I saw them do just that, and even salivate, too!) It’s Rosewood. Brazilian Rosewood, legally imported into the United States, in the early 1970’s. How do I know that? Well, because it came into the country as “furniture in a crate.” that’s how. In the 70’s. Duh! Were you not you paying attention?

When I first saw the tabletop, I though it was” bullnosed.” That’s when a craftsman puts a big piece of molding on the edge of a surface, to make it look thicker. But, I was wrong. It’s a solid slab, almost 5″ thick. Actually, it was a solid 10″ slab, cut in half, an then glued together, to make a “wider” slab.

There is a strip of Ebony inlayed into the middle of the table, to hide the “joint.”

It measures as follows;

The tabletop is 8′- 1 1/2 inches long x 3′ 7 1/4″ wide x 4.75 inches thick. Remember it’s “rustic” so the measurements vary by about 1/8th to 1/4th inch, throughout. It has a rough edge.

According to my calculations, that means I have … lemme see… carry the three, multiply by the square root of Alien Tech, and divide by the circumference of my cranium (at the point) and you get;

139.098 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

In 1960, you could buy Rosewood for 10$ a foot, I’m told. Today, if you can find it, it goes for over $100 a board foot.

The (2) “spreaders” that held the legs to the table measure;

90″ long x 6″ wide, and they go from 2″ to 3″ thick in a slow taper. There’s a tenon at each end, and two holes drilled into each center, presumably to secure the middle legs to the table. That yields about;

18.75 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

Remember that there are two of them.

I’d forgotten that there are also (2) short spreaders, that spanned the width of the table. They measure:

31″ long x 6″ wide x and 2″ thick, with a tenon on each end..

5.166 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

That means that the table will yield;

163.014 board feet of Brazilian Rosewood.

The (3) legs that we salvaged, unfortunately are NOT Rosewood. The grain is quite cool, and the wood is noticeably darker. The inlay strip in the middle of the table married the whole thing together…They appear to be Brazilian Ebony, as near as we can figure. They measure;

5″ x 5″ at the top, 3″ x 3″ at the bottom, with a slight flute to them… Height is 28 1/2″, with a 3/4″ deep mortise in 2 sides to accept the spreader tenons.

Even if you cut them down to 3″x3″ … that’s over 5 board feet of really nice wood.  They’d probably make cool guitar necks… and those “slices” you took off to square them up… well, I bet that they’d make a pretty good looking fingerboard or three… Or, you could use them as “accent” wood, inlayed into the Rosewood…

But it’s the Rosewood that’s important, here.

If I sold the slab to those “wood brokers” they’d cut it up into really thin slabs called “veneers.” That stuff is used to make cabinetry, decorated boxes, and even (gasp!) flooring. And, they’d pay me a pretty penny for the pleasure of doing  exactly that.

SACRILEGE! A Pox on them! Hawwwk! Patoo-ie!

This Brazilian Rosewood is gonna get a new life,  just like G_d intended when he made those heavenly trees. Rosewood was meant for guitars. Beautiful, dark sounding babies with sustain time that rivals Michael Jordan’s “hang time”  on his best day! And although I already have children, I think I’m about to have a few more… A pair of beautiful daughters not directly affected by my lousy genes. A six-stringed and twelve-stringed pair of  semi-hollow bodied “Goth Prom Queen” sisters with voices so dark that you’d swear you were hearing Africa cry…

Ready, Rick?

lexx-sigAnd there will definitely be some Redwood left over, for Rick and I to get to other great guitar builders!  Great “green” projects that will help pay for all my electronics! Can you say: It’s all good!?!




“Recording Studio in a Box”

14 03 2009

Greetings Campers!

When last we met, I told you all about “some guy trying to take over the music world, all by himself.”

This time, I’m gonna tell you the story of a life “recording underground” (well, nearly… It IS Australia, after all… It’s “under ground…” from here!), in a box we call an ISBU (that’s a “shipping container” to you noobs…), to MAKE a living!!

As families all across the planet build new homes out of Shipping Containers and other recycled materials, some guys are making a living, by turning the same boxes into businesses.

Pay attention folks! Thanks to the President, there’s about eleventy-gazillion dollars in Stimulus money out there floating around waiting for people to grab it. And, this falls into about three categories I can think of off the top of my head; New (small) business, “Green” application, recycling materials… and I bet there’s more! I wanna be one of those guys!

“Lexinator like money. Money goooood!”

You should wanna be one of those guys, too! Imagine one of these babies in your backyard, or under your carport! That’d piss your mom right off, huh? For the price of an oxidized old shipping container, you can become the neighborhood “Music Producer!”

Okay, that, and about $20 grand for actual “gear” if you wanna do it on the cheap! We actually sat down and did a work-up of how you could actually do this at home, for under $20,000, including the container. Now, at that price, you aren’t gonna compete with Sparky, but you’ll score on the local talent, and possibly even with a few girls… 😉

Hmmm… about those plans… Perhaps I’ll make ’em available… Perhaps not. I don’t wanna give anybody any competition… 😉

So, in the spirit of “Stimulus,” or at least “stimulation,” I’m gonna introduce you to one of those guys, right now!

Built and operated by an Aussie named Mark “Sparky” Paltridge, the “Spark1 Studios” is more than just a place to record music. It’s a place that lives within a Corten Steel Coffin (or two)!

Sparky has a history, folks… he has over 15 years performing and recording in the industry, and it seems that Sparky has an unparalleled passion for song arrangement, music production and attention to detail.

spark1studio

This incredible facility was constructed by converting two shipping containers to a state-of-the-art, cutting edge modern recording studio. Spark1 Studios is designed for ideal acoustics, comfort and portability. Now, I’m not sure that they actually pick the studio up and move it, but…

floorplan

floorplanb

Now, when I first learned about Sparky, I had to do a double-take, because the guy who turned me on to him misspelled his name, and I thought he was one of the founding members of “The Partridge Family.” But, after checking with Shirley Jones, I finally figured out who he really was!

(Good thing, too. I’m not sure that being a member of David Cassidy’s clan would have been too good a reference! Especially musically! ) 😉

Sparky says that: “Recording music on the Sunshine Coast grants you an International standard in recording in an idyllic environment”

At least, that’s what his marketing says! And I’ve been to the Sunshine Coast, so I  tend to believe it!

Based in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland of Queensland, Australia since 2004, Spark1 Studios has already become the coast’s premier recording studio for discerning musicians. If you take a hard look at his company, you’ll see that he’s been involved in several albums to date, with more on the way. Not bad for a guy hunkered down in “a little insignificant box that isn’t worth looking at twice.”

At least, that’s how the natives refer to “shipping containers.” How many guys have to demonstrate their value, before these idiots just shut the hell up? Hmmm? I mean, really…

plan

From huge, ‘in your face’ modern radio production, to capturing the ’stripped back’, intimate acoustic performance, those “tiny little boxes” allow Spark1 Studios to cover most recording needs.

Okay, so you’re not gonna record the Philharmonic there, but…

you CAN record warm and lush sounds in a comfortable, creative and inspirational space at what looks like an extremely affordable price.

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With separate recording rooms to choose from, one can track drums either with a tight, well controlled sound, or go for huge drums sounds in Studio C, utilizing mics placed in the stairwell and adjacent bathroom, as well as all the close mics around the kit.

This is no “slipshod operation, either! Spark1 Studios has invested in the finest gear of the analog and digital realms, featuring the foremost mics, preamps, compressors, EQs & AD/DA converters available. This includes recording equipment such as Neumann, Senheisser, AKG, , DBX, Purple Audio, JLM AUDIO and RME, as well as utilizing ‘classic’ older valve gear and equipment. In other words, they have all the right stuff…

spark1studio21

So what have we learned? Hmmm?

ISBU’s are versatile, and worthy of most uses if you just use your gray matter, and think things through. Be it a cabin in the woods, a business by the roadside, or a hotel in the ‘burbs, these boxes can go great distances, both at sea, and on your bottom line.

Kudos Sparky!!! Today, you’re my hero… But don’t let it go to your head…

Yesterday, it was my kid… He made a poop, finally! Let me tell you, he was one cranky little monster for a while… 🙂

Next time, we’ll get back to the matter at hand… Finding that perfect guitar! 🙂

Rock On!

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I’ve been talking to Sparks lately, and here’s a bit of information that you’ll find way more palatable than “Vegemite!” (You know Aussies have to be either REALLY tough, or completely crazy, to eat that horrible stuff. Blah!)  Sparks tells me that; “I’m actually thinking of selling the first studio, (The control room/vocal booth one), and buying another high cube and redoing the same control room with sliding doors this time. I’m hoping to get around $35,000 AUS for it.” That’s “BOX ONLY,” plus “A/C, perhaps.”

(And that’s $23,059.90 USD for us Yanks!)

If you’re interested, you can contact him at:  Spark1studios@bigpond.com