If I Only Had a Sign

From L.A. Story, starring Steve Martin

In a meditation on my birthday back in September, I got down to business and told myself/the universe/God/whatever that I wanted a definite, unmistakable sign about which of my two creative expressions—either my books or my album—I’m supposed to concentrate on in 2017. I would be happy working on either one, I stressed, but I needed to know which path I was supposed to take because I didn’t want to waste precious time pouring myself into something that would bear no fruit.

The larger part of me didn’t really expect anything to happen. I’ve been let down my entire life in my ongoing search to have faith in the validity of faith. Beloved childhood mythological entities like Santa Claus had let me down, revered religious figures had let me down, and in more recent years The Secret and all that weebie-wobie, pink cloud, white light crap had let me down.  All the same, in this extremely proactive, confrontational meditation I promised I would accept help from anyone or anything and give credit where it’s due once the project was completed and bearing that fruit.  I wasn’t easy. I demanded an irrefutable sign of some kind. I wouldn’t settle for something flimsy and I wouldn’t read non-existent, pie-in-the-sky, self-serving meaning into otherwise mundane events. My greatest purpose was not to lie to myself.

Actually, until last week I’d forgotten about that meditation and, believe it or not, signs came. Tangible, irrefutable synchronicities that reminded me of my leap of non-faith faith. From out of the blue, unsolicited help has come in from different places where my album is concerned while there has been nothing whatsoever about my books, but when the single, incontestable sign came last night, I knew I’d received an answer.

“Sci-fi has never really been my bag, but
I do believe in a lot of weird things these
days, such as synchronicity. Quantum
physics suggests it’s possible, so why not?”
John Cleese

Actually, it all started when I checked into my ReverbNation account one night just before Christmas. I hadn’t been in there for a few months and at that time I had just 12 fans, all who mostly were musician friends. Man, was I taken aback when I logged in and saw that I had nearly 1000 fans and a number of comments from strangers praising my songs! So I tidied up my profile page, added the two videos that I posted here, and “fanned” back some people. At the time I thought it might be a sign, but it was too flimsy, too serendipitous, and too easily explained as a consequence of the passage of time and of simply having a page there at all. I was encouraged, but I let it pass.

Jim Rolfe

Then, one night last week as I sat up late writing, I received a text from a man whose musicianship I’ve admired for a number of years. Jim Rolfe is the quintessential musicians’ musician. Not only does he write amazing music and can play any instrument he lends his hands to, he’s well-respected around the country, having performed both onstage and in the studio with many other musicians for the past 50 years. He’s seasoned, professional, dedicated, and just a darned nice human being. When he texted me asking for the guitar and vocal tracks of Judge and Jury, I was stunned. You might remember that in 2015 Jim offered to help with this album but, due to my aversion to using people, I never followed up with him. (Wild Bil McCombe first offered to help, which I accepted for one song, but no others. I may have to rethink his offer and invite him in on another song or two.) Jim said he had some ideas and would like to add them to the mix. Now, normally I wouldn’t send anyone the naked tracks of my demos, but this was Jim Rolfe so I sent them without reservation. I’m not an idiot. I  still didn’t think this was enough of a sign to justify closing my book’s manuscript and pull out my music, though, but I knew that if it were a sign another would come along to support and substantiate it. I’ve always believed in the saying,

“Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence,
thrice is confirmation.”

The confirmation came last night when he sent me the first mix and  I was gobsmacked by what he’d added. Bass, drums, guitar, mandolin—I’m not sure what all is in there, but I loved what I heard. We communicated back and forth about it and, feeling the need to test this supposed threefold sign, I pushed a little harder. Terrified I might overwhelm him (i.e. scare him away) with demands and assumptions (which I’ve never done with anyone before where my music is concerned for fear of coming on too strong), I, in my fashion, jokingly asked if he might want to work on some other songs, perhaps even mix and produce the entire album? Heh-heh, just kidding… I even went so far as to explain that I can’t afford to pay him, really, but I’d give him full credits and a cut of the sales. Heh-heh… I never expected the answer that came back. I mean, he’s a busy man. Not only does he perform,  record and tour, he also teaches guitar and has a life! He replied with, “Let me know what you are thinking as far as another song, etc.” I then audaciously suggested I send him my demos as I complete them and he sent me a thumbs up followed by a smiley face.

So there we are! I’m amped! As of Tuesday I’ll begin not only recording demos of the songs I already have, I’ll be writing new songs. I’ll get back to my books when this project is completed. I still don’t know what I have faith in, but whatever it is, I’m a believer!

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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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