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.

timothycarey1

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! 😉

lexx-sig





Whaaaaa? I can’t hear you!

31 03 2009

I’m sorry I’ve been away for a while. Besides gigging my butt off, I’m in the middle of a new project.

It’s a project that every musician dreams about. It’s a project my family and I have always aspired to. And it’s happening as we speak.

We’re finally building our own Recording Studio!

Take two chunky little warehouses, build a box to connect them together, and add about all the money you ever saved (plus all the money that you can borrow), and voila! Instant “land of dreams.”

Well, not exactly “instant.” More like a YEAR from now. Man, these babies take a long time. After I figured out hard it is to build a studio, I finally bit the bullet and placed the call.

wes_lachotYou know the one where get down on your hands and knees and grovel at the feet of the “Sound Box Gods” and beg for attention... I mean, you can play in the forums, but sooner or later, you’ll just start going crazy.

But, the music gawds were smiling, and I got the help I needed! Praise the powers that be! I mean, I don’t want to learn how Steven Hawkin does ‘rithmatic! I just wanna play!  So… I have an acoustical designer on the team, now! Finally, I have  somebody to share those “Excedrin headaches” with! 🙂

Where was? Oh yeah…

I was going to start “teaching lessons” this week, but I have another idea. It came to me on the plane back from Miami, in the form of a little boy who wandered up to my seat, and asked me what kind of guitar and amplifier I was playing. Seems that he and his mom were seated a few rows back, and they overheard me talking to my partner about the next gig, in LA. And that little tyke told me that he’s always wanted to play the guitar, and end up on VH1. He said;

“I’m not a Guitar Zero, man! I’m a Guitar Hero!”

If he’d have said “MTV,” I’d a ignored him. But, since it’s “VH1…” His birthday is coming up, and I know a kid who’s gonna get a guitar in the mail.  I’ve got this Yamaha  APX500 FM Thinline Electric Acoustic in the back of a closet I picked up for free, at NAMM. He’ll have to grow into it, but it should just about do the trick. Whaaa? You thought I’d send him a Taylor Koa? Nope. You wish.

I get asked all the time about which guitar is the best. There really isn’t a “right” answer for that. Guitars are like girls, when you find the right one, you’ll know. Everybody is different, and we all have desires of a different color. I mean, I love Japanese, but  I wouldn’t want to eat it every night…

Now, amplifiers. That’s an entirely different matter. Although there are tons of good amps out there, some just stand out, doing what they do, better than the rest. And, you have to pick them by category. There’s no such thing as a Rock/Jazz/Heavy Metal amp…

For instance, I just got back from Miami, where we spent a few days recording some serious Jazz licks, with a little “Mikosukee” flair. Sounds odd, I know, but it’s a project that will make you sit up and take notice, I promise. Tasty licks, and rich enough to let you close your eyes and feel it wash thru you!

Recording studios make it a point to have just about any amp they need, but no Studio can have everything. So, you call ahead and tell them what you want, and they make sure they have it.

We’ll start this out by talking about Amps for Jazz guitarists, since my favorite 335 is sitting right here.

Guitar amps are really about “tone.” Making your jazz guitar sound “so sweet and tasty” obviously requires more than the right amplifier and guitar.

It requires you to make a choice.  And that first choice is between tubes, or electronics.

tube-ecc83sBefore you go anywhere near that music store to buy your new amp, you need to know the answer to this question;

  • “To tube or not to tube?” That is the question Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of noisy tubes and capacitors, or… … um… never mind… Suffice to say, you’re gonna be forced to choose between an all tube amp, a hybrid tube/solid state amp,  or a solid-state amp.

Here’s the “Pros” of choosing that tube amp:

  • Tubes rule! The sound cannot be equaled by solid-state  amps. Period! That said;

If you’ve attended events like NAMM, you already know that great strides have been taken in incorporating recent technology innovations to make it possible to emulate the sound of a tube amplifier in a solid state amp. (The Roland Cube 60 and its Cosm amp emulation are real good examples).

  • The overdriven sounds are more far more “musical” compared to hybrids, and solid-state amps.
  • Tube amps have that great “High” dynamic range you’re looking for!

tube-holygrailBut, Tube Amps have “Cons” too:

  • Your roadies will hate your guts! Tube Amps are heavy! And you need a spare!
  • And tube amps have “valves” that need to be replaced yearly. Tis a pain in the butt, that is!
  • Tube Amps are noisier than their solid-state amp brothers and sisters.
  • Tube amps are more expensive. Way more. But worth the cash, I tell you now!

Here’s the ABC’s of amp selection (plus or minus a few)…

Combo or head and cabinet? That separate head and amp look and sound great, but combination amps are way easier to haul around. If you’re still gigging out of a van, you choice is made. If you have a tractor-trailer… well… it’s on! Who cares if the roadies howl? 🙂

Are you a control freak? If you’re like me, you like to tweak and shape your sound, so a control panel with a lot of knobs and “dohickey’s” is exactly what you want. If you don’t like fiddling with knobs (you’re not a “real” guitarist :)), go look for a simple control panel.

Digital modeling: Can you believe it? They haveStar Wars Amps,” now.  Some amplifiers can actually switch from say… a Fender to a Marshall type amp with the flick of a knob. And some of these amps are loaded with “goodies!” Some of these boxes have just about every classic and modern guitar amp that you ever heard of, already built in. If that wasn’t enough, they have a ton of  effects, a veritible “who’s who” of speaker cabinets and even a few microphones.

Now, these  amp models don’t sound exactly like the originals, but they come pretty darn close in my opinion. Some guitarists go “ga-ga” over digital modeling, and some like the real thing. I’m kind of a “purist,” so I’m not impressed by ’em. Your mileage may vary.

Headphone connection: Look, if you have roommates or “in-laws” that share a wall, you’ll probably need this. I never did. I actually liked making them mad! It was “sport.”  There’s nothing quite like “Eruption” played full tilt, at 4am! 🙂

Low volume: This is the alternative to “wearing headphones.” Does that amp you’ve been lusting after sound good at low volumes? I think that this is a real important point to consider, as you may end up playing little intimate gigs, where that low volume clarity is a huge plus. Plus, it will double as a practice amp! That’s a “two-fer…”

line-6-spider

Get the right amp the first time, and you don’t need a practice amp like this! That’s more bucks for pedals! 🙂

Portability: Look, unless you’re “the Incredible Hulk,” size and weight becomes an issue if you’re gigging all over town.

Power: Duh! Your amp needs enough volume to be heard during concerts. I don’t touch one that can’t be heard all the way to the International Space Station, but that’s just me…

Reverb: Okay, it’s test time. Do you prefer spring reverb or digital reverb? Spring reverb sounds way more natural, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. If you’re really a Jazz musician, you can tell. For you rock guys with “buzzing eardrums,” that may pose a challenge! 🙂

Tone: what kind of tone are you looking for? Some guitar amps are more suitable to producing the darker tones sought out in traditional Jazz recording. And if you listen to Pat Metheny (in fact, I’m listening to Pat’s album; “TRIO 99–>00” right now) you want to look for amplifiers that produce brighter tones. Of course, some amps claim that they can double up and do both, but they  rarely deliver. You may find yourself with both “light and dark meat…” , to make sure you get a good vibe when you need it…

XLR connection: Look, if you’re really a pro, you need an XLR connection on your guitar amp to run through the PA. It’s just part of playing “big gigs.”

fenjazzking1

Next time, we’ll look at some of the more popular amps, and pick a winner or two…

Stay tuned!

lexx-sig





“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.

plan_2

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!

100lft_guitar_ava1

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