The Bargain We Strike Up


Over the summer I began to notice a few differences between me, the 30-something musician and me, the 60-something musician. I’d be lying if I told you that my appearance doesn’t factor into it, because, let’s face it, there’s a definite double standard at work in the performance arts. Paul McCartney is still touted as one of the kings of rock and roll and told to “keep it up” at the age of 73 while Cher, who’s 69, is often asked if she thinks she’s too old to still be performing. When once asked this question she replied, “You’d better check with Mick Jagger.”  But I’m not on a soap box here, I’m simply telling you about what I’m lately noticing about myself. Let’s get right to the bottom, which actually is the top of my list.

My Arse.

From the time I sang my first gig in 1966 to my very last one in 1985, I’ve sat on a wooden four-legged stool. These work great for folk guitarists-singers, because the right foot can perch itself on a lower rung, thus lifting the guitar up to a comfortable position while the left foot provides support by planting itself firmly on the floor. Also, the flat, wood seat provides excellent  support for singing. There is no chair invented (that I’ve seen or used) that does all of this better. Period. I used to sit on my stool for hours not only on stage, but during recording sessions and rehearsals. I was never without my wooden four-legged stool. These days, however, my arse has lost a bit of its padding and a four-hour session sends me hobbling to the Ibuprofen bottle as well as my wing back reading chair for two full days. I thought that maybe just sitting there day after day, my arse might “buck up” sort of like my fingers did, but I don’t want calluses on me bum. I like my arse, thank you very much. It’s still pretty nice! So what to do? I’m playing with the idea of simply padding the seat with something soft yet supportive, but what I’ll probably do is just suffer.

My Voice.

I used to sing all the time, and at the top of my lungs. In the shower, the car, everywhere I could and not get arrested. I had a BIG voice, with a huge range, flexibility, and the ability to hold a difficult sustain without wavering or petering out. My voice had momentum; I could build up to a long, complex melisma and carry it through without even working at it. Man, I could do it while playing my guitar, drinking a beer, and hitting a ball into the corner pocket at the same time! Well… that may be stretching it a little… Fortunately, I retained a lot of that, because I didn’t sing—really sing—for 30 years. If I’d continued with my career back in 1985, I’d probably have no singing voice to speak of today. And if I did it wouldn’t still sound so young. The downside is that it tires easily. After a two-day recording session, Lynette put me on voice rest for a full week. I’m not too thrilled about this limitation, but she did buy two cartons of ice cream, so there’s that. So what to do? I’ll just space my vocal sessions a little more wisely and eat more ice cream!

My Fingers.

Everyone knows that if you play a stringed instrument, you’re going to have calluses. You can’t avoid it and once you build them via years of playing, they never really go away. They’ll soften up and they’ll quit the building-peeling-rebuilding routine, but they’re still there somewhere. Rebuilding my calluses was something I really dreaded last spring when I decided to get back to my music, but rebuilding them was far less painful than maintaining them. Steve Stewart, lead guitarist with Cast of a Thousand, told me that because our skin gets thinner as we age, the skin over the calluses is subject to more pain. Eric Clapton’s remedy is to keep them smooth with an emery board and bathe them in rubbing alcohol before and after playing. I’m OK with the emery board and the pre-session dose, Clapper, but that ablution afterward would be way too painful! So what to do? I use an emery board, and then a small slick of superglue on each fingertip to avoid pain altogether.

My Energy.

On those mornings that I get up knowing I’ll be spending the day in the studio, I get all excited and my energy level rises to the occasion. Because of the Hashimoto’s Disease, these adrenaline spikes play hell with me 24 hours later when I’m riddled with death-like fatigue and dynamite can’t blast me out of the chair. I hate this. I used to have unlimited energy. I used to work days on end and then party all night. ROCK AND ROLL! I used to drive people crazy with my energy. So what to do? Sod it. Between my arse aching, my fingers throbbing, my voice croaking, and my energy obliterated, I’ll just have to admit that I’m older now, and take every other day off to recuperate.

Let’s face it. We get old. We die. It’s the bargain we strike up when we come here. Things aren’t perfect and life is messy, but hey, there’s always ice cream.

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Take Five

Sometimes you have to put the instrument down and take five

Since my cousin Rob stepped in and solved the low-frequency hum issue, I’ve been working steadily on the album. Two songs are pretty much ready to be mixed down. All one needs is the bottleneck slide guitar track and the other needs my finger picking tracks cleaned up. I’ve decided not to share the songs as they are completed, except for the title track, A Polite Little Madness. I think it’s only right and fair to post that one. Last night I told Lynette that if I were to make a video to go with that song (do people still make videos? I really don’t know), it would be of me cruising out Route 66 in a pink ’57 T-Bird convertible. It’s good driving music. I mean, for old farts like me who actually remember seeing their first ’57 T-Bird in 1957. Wild Bil McCombe’s bass is dirty and primal and I can’t wait to hear what he does with his slide! He’ll be going into the studio with that track on Monday. Man, I have to wait a whole weekend!

I have every intention not to record today, but can I do it? We’ll see. I’m pretty tired. I used to be able to work on music indefinitely—rehearse, record, party until dawn, then sleep it off and start all over again—and never be worse for wear. These days are different. After three days of recording I wake up tired and brain dead. When I look to artists like the Rolling Stones (who are 10 years older than I am) I have to remind myself that Mick Jagger never gave birth to two children. Keith never had to survive menopause, Ronnie hasn’t lived a lifetime of financial worry, and I really doubt that Charlie Watts has ever had to scrub the shower, mop the kitchen floor, do the laundry, or pick up the dog crap. They have the best healthcare available, all the best old fart medications, and all they have to do, basically, is make the music and then go home while other people mix and master, and take care of life around them. I love the Stones, but they’re probably not the best barometer for me to judge myself by. Instead, I look to Wild Bil McCombe, Jim Rolfe, Wade Johnson, and my other musician friends. Yeah, I know they’ve never given birth, etc., but I don’t personally know any female musicians in my age group. It’s enough. They inspire me. When I was a kid I preferred keeping up with the boys, whose interests were more engaging than dolls and playing dress-up.

Knowing me, I’ll probably clean up those guitar tracks and call it a day. When I’m in music mode, staying away from the work is more work than the work itself.

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Low Frequency Hum, Duct Tape & Prayer

If I haven’t posted much in the past couple of weeks it’s only because I’ve been busy with one or two things. Besides the usual web design jobs, I’ve been working hard at getting in the Zone where recording my album is concerned. But I admit that finding said Zone hasn’t been as difficult as finding the space in which to enter it. Between the high temperatures and a broken air conditioner (which is why you always have to keep in mind some nice HVAC company for your heating & cooling needs), there was no place to set up that wasn’t either a) miserably hot and humid, b) populated by spiders, 3) dominated by the sound of fans, or 4) susceptible to outside traffic noise.

Beginning last weekend the university students have started returning so recording with a live microphone isn’t going to be easy; the sirens and the boom cars going past my windows have only begun to cramp my style. I have a very narrow window to claim: I can’t record in the mornings due to the strain on my night owl brain; I have only the hours between 1:00 (when Lynette gores back to work after lunch) and 3:00 (when the students and faculty leaving the university for the day drive past our house). It’s been too hot to retreat to the garage and the bedroom is just too cramped. Now I’m having an issue with what I think is a faultily ground in the living room AC outlets, creating a frustrating hum on my recordings. What’s an indie artist to do? I’m still trying to figure all of this out and t’s looking more and more like I’m just going to have to brave the heat, the dust, and the spiders in the garage.

Still, I was able to lay down two guitars and two vocals on the title track, A Polite Little Madness. This came out very well, although the vocals are only scratch tracks that will be replaced after Wild Bil McCombe lays down his slide guitar on Monday. I met Bil at Thousand Oaks Band Tree IV in 2012, where we became instant friends. I mean, I don’t remember ever just meeting him, or being introduced to him. We were just old friends who’d never met. Or, better, old friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time, but who picked up right where we left off. We sat at the same table, he asked me to babysit his guitar, and we were friends. I love when that happens, when someone new isn’t really new in my life, but is already an orbiting energy that somehow slips in and takes its proper place. I feel like I’ve known Bil forever. Besides all this, he’s an outstanding musician, well worn to the rigors of both the studio and the stage after a lifetime as a professional. I was completely stunned when he offered to help out on my album. What a gift!

Wild Bil McCombe
Wild Bil McCombe


Me and Wild Bil at Band Tree IV, 2012.
Yours Truly and Wild Bil at Band Tree IV, 2012.

A couple of days after I sent my files to Bil, another amazing musician contacted me about joining in on my album. Jim Rolfe, who not only has played in nearly every Thousand Oaks band that ever was (I exaggerate, but not much!) offered me his expertise on guitar, bass, drums, and basically anything I might need. Jim is also the organizer of the Band Tree Reunions, famous for his prodigious talent, his affable disposition, and his red sneakers. He currently plays in The Koles, which keeps his schedule pretty full. Like Bil, he teaches guitar when he’s not doing session work or performing onstage. I count myself fortunate indeed to have my music not only endorsed, but also enhanced by these two giants in California Gold Coast music history!

Jim Rolfe
The incomparable Jim Rolfe

On Monday the AC was fixed so I set up in the living room yesterday to record. I worked exclusively on You Leave Me Speechless, an original tune that once was frozen by Juice Newton (or I should say by her “people”), but never followed up on. My turn. I laid down the 12-string and bass tracks and then a solo vocal and two harmony tracks. These vocals are all scratch tracks that I recorded just to get an idea of where this song wants to go. The luxury of demos is that you can work them and work them until you get it right. I’d forgotten how much I love recording this way.

Somewhere along the line I came to the realization that this album isn’t going to be merely something to sell at my concerts. It’s taking on its own importance: I will perform to promote it, not bring it along to my performances like tee shirts or refrigerator magnets. Duh. Because of this I’ve postponed my house concert until the album is completed. Then the concert will serve as an album release party. I’ve penciled in December 1st as the date to send the files to the manufacturer, but if it takes longer, so be it. I want this album to be as good as it can be.

On the home front summer is winding down. The lawns are starting to turn gold, my Morning Glories are about to bloom, and my Libra tides tell me Autumn is around the corner. Joel’s computer went down for a week until the part he needed arrived. It’s running again, but my laptop is on its last legs, held together with black duct tape and prayer. We certainly can’t afford to buy a new one because Lynette needs new glasses, which is, of course more important. My present web design job will bring in enough money for us to get both so I’m hoping both her eyes and my computer will hold out just a little longer. I was hoping to put that money toward Christmas, but I should have known better. That never works out. Micah is on vacation until the 10th, basking in the sunshine of the Costa del Sol and today is Joel’s birthday. Tonight we’ll be dining at El Tapatio and then coming home to cake and ice cream. It’s a quiet day, but I won’t be recording; I have some running around to do and I must go.

Have a beautiful week!

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