Archive for Lincoln Center

When the Circus Leaves Town

Posted in Music Business, Players, Playing, This and That with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2016 by theguitarcave

…and we’re back! It’s been almost two years since I posted. I was diagnosed with a serious illness and had to have two surgeries, a few hospitalizations, and a bunch of other stuff. I spent last year in treatment and rehab and finally life has gotten back to a semblance of normal. The treatment was/is unpleasant, but since it seems to be working I’m not going to complain too much since the alternative (if treatment wasn’t working) no one would ever hear me complain again. Because of the surgeries, playing guitar can be a challenge, yet I find I’m playing better than ever and still enjoy it. People still read this blog and sometimes they write in and say nice things so I am going to keep it going for another year. There will be a flurry of activity over the next month or so, including a video lesson of my favorite licks. THANKS to everybody who wrote in last year about my post on Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisen. Also, THANKS to those folks who wrote to tell me of Bill Fritsch’s passing. He figured prominently in the 60s San Francisco scene and in my post Gimme Shelter and the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont. THANKS to everyone who comments or sends me messages! I really do appreciate it. I’ve adjusted to my situation. Everyone bangs into the hard wall of their mortality sooner or later. I’m grateful that I am still here and hopefully I’ll be here for a while.

bar2

Some people who were really important in music, life and entertainment have died since 2014. I’m not trying to be overly morbid or anything, but some of these performers were really important to me and a whole lot of other people and their passing leaves a void where they once were. Soon there will be more great musicians in that band in the sky that on planet earth. The people who made the music and entertainment for the Boomer and Gen X generations are rapidly leaving town and it makes me wonder what will be left when they are all gone?

Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead! Wow! Shocking! Who will ever replace him? The guy had a rock and roll pedigree that went back to the 60s when he was a roadie for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He was in Hawkwind! He basically invented the brand of loud speed rock that he spent almost 40 years playing and never compromised for anyone. I saw Lemmy at Heathrow Airport in London back in 1988. I had just landed for a visit and then we were both at the luggage carousel. He was wearing an all white leather suit and his complexion, color, whatever you want to call it, was whiter than the suit. BADASS! Motorhead’s performance here is from the British sit-com The Young Ones, which featured comedian Rik Mayall, who passed away in June of 2014. A pioneer of early 80s alt-comedy, Mayall’s over-the-top performance in The Young Ones and many other appearances (BlackAdder, Bottom) earn him a rock and roll mention!

A long time ago I posted this interview with Yes bassist Chris Squire…well it’s not really an interview; he tells a story about opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in London in 1967. Squire’s band YES was HUGELY popular in the 70s and 80s and he was always a big part of their sound. It’s hard to imagine any dudes my age that weren’t touched by this band at least a little bit. Always amazing musicianship and songwriting and basically one of the main pillars of progressive rock. I still like to crank this up once and a while and thanks to YouTube a whole lot of their prime entire concerts are online.

Riley “Blues Boy” King, who I wrote about here back in the day was one of the most influential musicians ever. From his early days on radio, through his groundbreaking Live at the Regal album to world-wide super-stardom, no one played and sang the blues like BB. He was also one of the hardest working people ever and was playing his signature heavy vibrato blues/jazz licks right up ’til the very end. The fact that he influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to Duane Allman to Adrien Moignard speaks volumes on his talent and wide-reaching appeal.

While I was never a huge fan of any of these guys, they all made their mark on the development of rock guitar: Gary Richrath, Sam Andrew and Paul Kantner. I remember watching Gary Richrath on TV in the 70s and then seeing his band REO Speedwagon live in the early 80s. I really liked the live album, You Get What You Play For and was ok with You Can’t Tune a Piano But You Can Tunafish, but I hated the multi-platinum ballad rock of High Infidelity, so I bailed after 1981. I really dug his Les Paul/Marshall sound though and he really had it goin’ on back in the day. Definitely knew how to move a crowd! Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues Band and Paul Kantner from Jefferson Airplane/Starship were both legendary guitarists/instrumentalists and had long careers in the business. This clip of Big Brother at Monterey is the stuff of hippie nirvana and Kantner was the longest-serving member of the Airplane and the guy who engages Bill Fritsch of the Hells Angels in a “discussion” about the violence that is happening at the Altamont concert after Airplane singer Marty Balin gets knocked out trying to break up a fight. Here is that exchange along with the Airplane song The Other Side of This Life in all of it’s acid drenched, boob-shaking glory.

Another cat from San Francisco I really dug was the late Dan Hicks — singer, songwriter, guitarist and swing band leader par excellence. Dan and his various bands like The Hot Licks and The Acoustic Warriors had that Hot Club meets Bob Willis swing sound and I have long been a fan. Supporting musicians included the incomparable Sid Page on violin, John Girton on guitar and future Hot Club of San Francisco leader/guitarist Paul Mehling. Vocalists Naomi Eisenberg and Maryann Price always helped give the band and extra layer of awesome-ability. All of Hicks’s songs were filtered through his trademark dry, deadpan humor and considering The Hot Licks opened for bands like Steppenwolf back in the early 70s I think it’s fair to say that he qualifies as a true legend in the acoustic/swing community. All of those old records, if you can find them, are treasures! I will write more about Dan and his bands in an upcoming post.

Glen Frey of The Eagles died recently and you know what’s amazing? I have had literally a thousand albums, tapes and discs pass through my hands over the years. I have weeks worth of songs on a hard drive. But I have never owned an Eagles album or even had Eagles songs on a mix tape. I don’t know what that says about them…or me? A whole lot of people did like The Eagles though…they sold an staggering amount of records.

bowie3

Of course the biggest star to pass away in the past two years was David Bowie. I wrote a post on Bowie’s first guitarist Mick Ronson way back in the early days of the blog. I must confess I wasn’t Bowie’s biggest fan. As a rockin’ dude, I certainly liked some of his stuff and loved Mick Ronson’s guitar playing, but thought Bowie’s output was uneven over the years. While I love tracks off of his first 6-7 albums, I don’t think he ever delivered a solid classic album like Rubber Soul, ZOSO, Who’s Next or Exile on Main Street. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was certainly very close. In the pre-Let’s Dance days, before he was a world-wide phenomenon, what I remember is that Bowie was really hot with the girls. Women LOVED Bowie. He had the same type of appeal as Freddie Mercury and Queen in that he combined hard rock with Bertolt Brecht and Edith Piaf so as a listener you were never sure what was coming next, rock and roll or a lounge act. Vocally, he seemed to be exactly equal parts masculine and feminine…sort of like how Miles Davis played trumpet. I probably appreciate his ambient music now more than I did before, but still dislike a lot of the “industrial” stuff. Don’t think I’m ever gonna be a fan of machine music…sorry.

bowie6

Bowie was a multi-instrumentalist and played a lot of guitar over the course of his career, including almost all of the guitar on the Diamond Dogs album, which had the “hit” title track and the genre-defining Rebel Rebel. He was also really good at bringing the right musicians together and pushed them to perform well. He worked with some of the best guitar players ever, including, Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Nile Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Earl Slick. Here is a video interview with the late Mick Ronson that serves as a great retrospective of his early guitar days, the years with Bowie, and offers some insights into Bowie the artisté.

bowie1

I listened to the Station to Station disc recently and it was pretty good—it’s fun to throw on discs that haven’t been played in a while. Golden Years is a pretty great song isn’t it? Back when I interviewed Mick Ronson in 1989, I mentioned really liking the guitar sound on some very early songs like Running Gun Blues, Black Country Rock, and Width of a Circle. He was pleasantly surprised that someone in America would know and like that material since the album, The Man Who Sold the World, in it’s pre-Nirvana Unplugged days, wasn’t very well-known or popular. I still like that material a lot…it was really fucked up…in a good way. David Bowie and all of his artistic partners definitely expanded the borders of music, fashion and art and he deserves a lot of credit for making life, music, and the arts more interesting and colorful…and my girlfriend really, really, really liked him.

The “5th Beatle”, Sir George Martin, just passed away last week at the age of 90. Wow! What a great life! If he had done nothing but produce The Beatles from 1963-1969 that would have been enough, but of course, he did much more than that. Since he was older than many of the artists he worked with over the years he brought a very paternalistic presence (as well as a great set of ears and a wide wealth of musical and technical knowledge) to every project he was involved in. He would also go on to produce another of my favorite albums, Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow. Totally awesome record, which is why it ranks a review in the right column.

Keyboard master Keith Emerson, from Emerson Lake and Palmer fame took his own life last week. According to reports he was suffering from depression and heart disease and shot himself with a firearm. According to his girlfriend, he was also suffering from hand issues that prevented him from playing at the virtuoso levels from his glory days and was trolled by fans on the internet who didn’t like his new music. Pretty messed up if that’s true…While I wasn’t ever a huge fan of ELP, like YES above, it was inconceivable that anyone from my background could not know who they were and recognize songs, like Lucky Man, From the Beginning, and Karn Evil 9 (Welcome Back My Friends), and Still You Turn Me On. One of the giant bands of the progressive era.

bar2

snake

While he wasn’t a musician I’d give a rock and roll salute to Ken Stabler, 70s quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. “The Snake” was a rock and roll outlaw cut from the same cloth as Ronnie Van Zant and Clint Eastwood’s 70s Man with No Name/Josey Wales characters. He had the rock and roll hair, “studied the playbook by the light of the jukebox”, practically invented the late 4th quarter comeback and led the Raiders to some of the most exciting victories in pro football and finally to Super Bowl victory in 1977. I used to LOVE watching the Raiders play late on Sunday afternoons. You just never knew what was going to happen until the final seconds were up. His family related that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama and Van Morrison’s When The Leaves Come Falling Down were part of the soundtrack to The Snake’s peaceful passing. One of his last acts before dying of complications from cancer last year was to donate his brain to a study of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). He was found (post mortem) to have had Stage 3 of the illness (in part or totally) thanks to all of the hits he took as a quarterback decades earlier. I wish he had achieved the recognition when he was alive, but I’m glad that he will finally be enshrined.

70s
bar2

612jClYo6bL._SX522_

Closer to home, right after New Year’s 2015, my friend and the long-time musical director for CAB CITY COMBO, Paul Rubin, passed away. I wrote about the Combo here and here back in the day and in wake of his passing a couple of albums have been released here and here. We had a lot of fun over the years making music and silliness and although we had stopped in 2004 there was always the possibility that we might do more. That’s the thing about death: it’s always so final. Paul was also a very good friend and everyone knows how hard it is to lose a good friend. Unfortunately, once the 50 year-old milestone is passed, losing people is something that becomes a bigger part of life. I always valued his opinion and input on things I was doing and he was an early supporter of my gypsy jazz enthusiasms. We went and saw Tchavalo, Dorado and Samson Schmitt along with Florin Niculescu one hot summer day in the Jazz at Lincoln Center space many moons ago. Great concert, great time. I had plenty of these moments with Paul over the years and I am glad I can look back with happiness and a certain measure of pride on all the things we did together.

polaroid1

Finally, my mother also passed away last week. She and my father both had a great love of music, but it was my mom who always indulged my passion for it and helped me along the way. She had played horn and piano when she was younger and her side of the family was very musical. She also taught me the importance of fortitude, perseverance, and hard work in the attainment of meaningful goals. The first guitar I ever played was actually hers…given as a present by my father one Christmas. She was never a great fan of rock and roll and couldn’t understand why I played it so LOUD, but the fact that I liked it was enough for her to grudgingly respect some of it. She liked The Beatles, Yo Yo Ma, Arlo Guthrie, and Simon and Garfunkel. She was impressed with Eddie Van Halen’s writing and playing skills, loved classical music and enjoyed coming to Lincoln Center, especially if it was for The Mostly Mozart Festival. She was an influential, well-loved person to her family, friends and associates, but above all she was…MOM. It hurts to lose one’s mother, but now she is free and forever out of pain.

All of these people shaped me to one degree or another and some of them shaped entire generations. That kind of influence does not dissipate with their passing because it remains in their creations and in people’s memories. Guitar players and other musicians keep other musicians alive by playing their licks or covering their songs. Music that was written almost one hundred years ago is played constantly at blues, jazz, and gypsy jazz jams all of the time. We all owe a debt to those people who have meant so much to us and we can make their legacy (words, music, creations, thoughts and deeds) eternal and if we do, and if we bring some of our own legacy to the world, then we too will remain even after we are gone. The circle of life is, after all, the circle of life.

welcome to showbiz…Now Get To Work!

Posted in Music Business with tags , , , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by theguitarcave

I‘ve had many gigs in the creative field over the years and while many were not directly related to music and guitar playing they helped make me what I am today. All of the work was educational and most of it was a whole lot of fun. In the future I’ll write about many experiences that were ALL ABOUT GUITAR PLAYING, so if you are looking for guitar articles this would be one to skip. However, I do think it is important for any musician to try and pay attention to the BIG PICTURE in all things, as well as follow Spinal Tap keyboard player Viv Savage’s philosophy for life — HAVE A GOOD TIME, ALL THE TIME.

Do You Know How Astronauts Poop?

Well do you? Have you ever thought about this? It’s not like I have some special attachment to POOP, but it is an interesting question considering that evacuation of waste is much harder in space. I’ve asked people about SPACEPOOP and they either didn’t know or didn’t want to talk about it. I’ve been interested in space exploration for a long time, saw a few of the moon landings (or did I?) on TV back in the day, have been to the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, read a lot of science fiction and built a lunar module model when I was a kid. But the other night while I was starting to write this post it occurred to me that I had forgotten how number ones and twos are done in zero gravity. Luckily, NatGeo on the Interwebs has the answer! You might think this is a trivial thing, but let’s face it, there would be no one in space if this problem hadn’t been worked out. While everyone remembers or has seen film or pics of the astronauts jumping around and planting flags on the moon, most people don’t give much thought to the people who worked out the SPACE BATHROOM solution. It’s actually a pretty convoluted operation compared to what we do on earth isn’t it? Probably not a good idea to hold it until the very last minute or drink a lot of beer in space. Could you imagine going through all of that drunk?

Let’s apply this same line of thinking to, I dunno, New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Have you ever watched or visited New Year’s Eve in Times Square and wondered how all that confetti ends up flying around? Well, wonder no more! I was one of a group of friends who dumped confetti on crowd below one NEW YEAR’S EVE back in the early 90s. It was pretty awesome — easiest gig I ever had. It did take awhile to get paid, but hey, THAT’S SHOWBIZ! You want to talk about a total stealth operation! We congregated at this secret bunker location in Times Square T-minus 6 hours before BD (ball drop). Our leader, a dude from Los Angeles named DERF (that’s Fred spelled backwards), was pretty taciturn and low-key — not at all what I’d expected from a guy assisting with the biggest party New York has every year. I’m not using his real name, but it was similar to DERF and when he took the time to explain the whole backwards nomenclature thing I was thinking, “that’s not very original is it? You’re from LA, why not just use a new name like ALGORYTHM, OTHO, SEASIDE LOUNGE CHAIR, or something like that?” I guess was he going for comedy or maybe using the whole I reversed my name thing as an icebreaker, but found himself looking at a room full of people who were giving him a BLANK STARE. After learning the correct way to empty a box of confetti (tipping, shaking, dumping was not allowed), we split into groups and made our way to strategically positioned locations high above Times Square. There were already loads of revelers and hundreds of cops all over the place and we had to get a special police escort to the building. CONFETTI GUYS COMING THROUGH! STEP BACK PLEASE!. It was totally like being one of the Super Friends

High above Gotham ConfettiMan waits for Midnight!
When midnight comes he rips open boxes of confetti and throws it on the party people below. WHEEEEEEEEE!

My friend/bandmate Jim Fournaidis and I were part of a group stationed on top of a hotel, which was nice because we were able go inside, get warm and annoy people. Some of the other groups had to stand or sit outside for 5+ hours and it was pretty frigid. We had a nice meal and a few drinks and were whiling away the hours until lift-off talking with the ladies from the group in the hotel gym. But then Hotel Management thought we were having a little too much fun, so we had to go back up to the roof and it was cold, but no biggie. The noise level up there was unbelievable; nonstop waves of guttural moaning that at times sounded barely human, plus all of the various noisemakers everyone was tooting. It’s amazing that people keep this level of energy and noise going for 4-5 hours beforehand. Alcohol is certainly a factor, but there are other people for whom this is a kind of Quest or something and they really get it into it. I forget how many stories up we were, but we had a bird’s eye view and saw everything including fights, arrests and the whole range of human emotions. It occurred to me that there is something very sexual about the New Year’s Eve event. Freud would totally look at NYC NYE, stroke his beard and say “ze party is not always ze party”. When midnight came and all of us launched the confetti, it was a massive rush and pretty impressive and amazing, I gotta say. See, like the SPACEPOOP, there was a ton of planning beforehand, all of the details were worked out and this is what this post is trying to illustrate — how the thinking, preparation and work behind an event, concert or production enables the MAGIC to happen in a truly spectacular way. Also, before reading this, while I’m sure you’ve probably at least seen the whole shebang on television, you never gave much thought (spacepoop!) to how this happens and who does it. It’s a silly operation for sure — none of us cured a major disease or saved any kittens, and the actual work took a little over a minute. But it was a very important minute for all of those people in Times Square, some of whom traveled thousands of miles to be there and for Dick Clark and all of the people watching New Year’s Eve Countdown on television at home. A large amount of confetti flying around was and always is an integral part of the show and the beginning of a NEW YEAR. When our group had tossed all our confetti we stood there and took in the moment. Because of our elevation and a mild wind, the confetti didn’t just do a straight drop to the ground but was floating and blowing over the crowd below like a huge blizzard. It looked really cool! Our group hugged and wished each other HAPPY NEW YEAR and then we started getting out of there. We all had parties to go to and even though we were rushing, by the time we got back down to the pandemonium on the street, the Sanitation Department had already begun sweeping up.

Years before the New Year’s gig, very soon after I moved to NYC, I was an extra in the opera, AIDA. I was a spear-carrier for one act and although opera and theater were never really my thing, the chance was there, it paid and I was new to NYC, so I figured why not? This was really the beginning of my career in Arts and Entertainment and what impressed me the most was the size, scope and intricate workings of the support people who enabled the production to function smoothly. True, it was a pretty heady rush to be standing onstage at The Metropolitan Opera looking into the Lincoln Center audience dressed as an Egyptian soldier, and the tallest one at that. While all of the drama was really taking place between a couple of singers, as with the confetti in the last story, the fact that I and 30 other dudes were standing there added to the AMBIANCE of what was happening, and someone had figured out how many spear-carriers were needed, the costumes we would wear, the correct mix of body paint that would make us look all Egyptian and buff. So even though the role I played as a performer was cool, seeing how the MAGIC was a coordinated team effort really impressed me. The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in NYC is BIG BUSINESS baby. These cats aren’t playing around and all of the people who come to see these productions pay for, and expect A SHOW. This takes a whole lot of smart work and follow-through. If that isn’t happening, you might end up with STONEHENGE! Just the sheer logistics of making sure everyone is onstage and off at the right time takes a few people. I had never seen or heard the opera, I didn’t know what I was doing and as with movie productions, extras come and go as they are available. Someone WHO KNOWS when and how everything is supposed to happen must take charge. The funniest part of the evening occurred while all of us spear-carriers were waiting in the wings to go on. We had been led up to the edge of the stage to wait for our big entrance and were standing there when Aida, the female lead (or Primma Donna if you’re into the whole 18th century thing), a very attractive woman showing some really bodacious cleavage, finished her very beautiful aria and shuffled quickly offstage hissing…“GIVE ME THE F*CKING KOOL-AID!” and there was an middle-aged mousy woman there whose job involved having a Dixie cup of cherry Kool-Aid and a lit cigarette waiting. The Kool-Aid lady also was calmed Aida down, “You’re doin’ well tonight, uh-huh, just take it easy…”, kind of like the trainers who are in a boxer’s corner between rounds. Even though I was about to walk onstage I saw this and thought two things. First, I had expected the singer to sound more like “oh, darling, do give Dollie some juicy as that last high C constricted my poor tonsily wonsilies” in a Julia Child kind of voice. Give me the F*cking Koolaid is not what I thought OPERA was all about. Second thought: WOW WHAT A COOL JOB! Little did I know that within a few years, I would be performing similar functions for rock and rollers, but Kool-Aid would not be the beverage of choice and there wouldn’t be as much cleavage, but hey, ya can’t have everything. My spear-carrier went on, looked very soldierly, and then got back out when we were supposed to without a hitch and it was pretty cool. As I said, the whole OPERA scene wasn’t for me but I was pretty jazzed when I left Lincoln Center because I hadn’t even been in the city 2 weeks. After my bit that night I went out to eat with a few people and when I got home, even though it was late, I called my mother and said “I was onstage at the Metropolitan Opera tonight.” When I talked about it at the next family gathering she asked “You were really there? I thought I had dreamed that.”

Shortly after the opera stint I began working for a party planner as a driver, stage-builder, lighting guy and all-around action figure. I was introduced to the crew through a couple of people I was playing music with and this was typical of almost all of the gigs I had. Musicians, artists, writers, actors all do work of this nature for the experience, money, fun and flexible hours. There is a whole lot of money in New York City for parties and partying and it is a very integral part of some very major business functions. Over the 3 years I was involved with this company, we set up very expensive weddings, had major corporate accounts with clients like The City of New York and American Express, decorated Donald Trump’s Christmas tree, and I drove all over the country, sometimes with Kitty Kelly (a drag queen) in tow, throwing parties for L’Oréal. Kitty was the set and stage boss and was pretty friggin’ amazing at setting up and lighting sets that were sometimes as involved as those one might find at a Broadway show. S/he and many others associated with the company had been in Show Business their whole lives and all of us rock and roll band guys liked working with Kitty because we learned a lot and s/he was funny as all get-out, drunk or sober. Never one to mince words, she had a whole lot in common with our Rock and Roll! attitude, even though she preferred musicals and Irving Berlin. Besides the stage sets and lighting there were linens, props, flora and fauna, and accessory stuff we would integrate into one big synchronized color+sound+light design. What we needed for a gig would completely pack at least one 36 ft. rental truck (often 2-3) and when we traveled far from home it had to fit in one truck that I would drive and whatever else we needed was provided by local vendors.

L’Oréal had costumes made for some of their products and beauty products for women can sometimes be sexually suggestive, especially if they are large enough for someone to wear as a costume (think…LIPSTICK TUBE). Ironically, or not, some of the women hired to wear these costumes for an event were exotic dancers or strippers. Since the favored party spot at the time was West Palm Beach, FLA, this meant driving through the southern states with a very nervous Kitty Kelly and a truck full of really outrageous and/or elegant looking stuff. One of the funnier moments on our travels occurred one year at the Florida border, where the State Police do truck inspections to make sure no one is smuggling in anything that will hurt their agriculture and because they like messing with people. The cop was a typical Southern hard-ass with mirrored sunglasses, toothpick, and the swagger and appearance of someone who spent 25 years in the Marine Corps. Our exchange went something like this:

(looks me over) SON, WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON MY HIGHWAY?

Taking a bunch of stuff down to West Palm Beach for a party.

(looking me over) A PARTY? (looking at truck)

Uh-huh.

OPEN THIS!

He raps on the door and I jump up on the tailgate and open it. The truck is packed to the back — a huge collection of stuff, but a 4 foot lipstick tube and eyeliner brush, buckets of glitter, fake palm trees and plastic stars that we are going to hang on the staging are stand out. The Cop moves in for a closer look, then begins turning red in the face and neck. His opinion of me has just dropped 300%.

WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?

Well that’s glitter, that’s an eyeliner brush, the stuff in the-

ARE YOU TRYING TO BE FUNNY WITH ME? WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM AND WHY ARE YOU ON MY HIGHWAY?
(getting up in my face)

(I start laughing)…. This is all party stuff for L’Oréal, ya know, the women’s cosmetic company? …The party’s probably going to be real entertaining. I’ve never seen a lipstick tube dance, but I hear that’s what it will be doing…But the palm trees are fake though. So…no worries. Really.

The cop looks the stuff over again, looks at me, looks at the truck and shakes his head with disgust.

CLOSE THIS UP AND GET THE HELL OUT OF MY CHECKPOINT!

In the city (NYC) the crew would take well-known locations like Roseland Ballroom and transform them into a luxurious, color and sound coordinated environment so the well-to-do could have a rip-it-up kind of party. As I said, there is a whole lot of money in New York City for partying and it was really funny to spend two days setting these events up with the total cost in the neighborhood of several hundred grand and then have to keep the attendees from walking out with the table-centerpieces at the end of the night. It took quite a bit of skill to wrestle expensive vases away from blue-haired dowdies who were wearing enough jewelry to pay my rent for 5 years. They held on tight and it was tug-tug-tug, but seeing as most of them weighed under a hundred pounds I couldn’t tug too hard or they would go flying into the scenery. One time I had to take 3 vases away from the same lady. She was drunk and kept going back to get another vase each time I took one out of her hands. When I say Roseland, maybe you’re thinking “oh that’s such a glorious place with a long history”, or maybe you’re thinking something like, “Hey I saw Rob Zombie and Monster Magnet there in 1998 (I did). Either way, on a rainy Friday morning when we were loading in to begin setting up an event, Roseland was a passed-out 75 year old lady of the night who smelled of unwashed feet and stale booze and had a countenance that approximated 16 blocks of bad road in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. But, by HIT TIME Roseland was TRANSFORMED into a glamorous and very elegant Society Hostess ready to party, thanks to great planning and lots of hard work and creative genius performed by the crew, including yours truly. The boss was really great when it came to planning these things out. It was a definite combination of science meets art and he wasn’t afraid to get up on an 8 ft. stepladder balanced on top of two folding chairs to hang streamers from a chandelier. When I think of how many chances we all took do set-up in those days, it’s pretty incredible. Usually things went pretty smoothly and even though some clients were incredibly demanding, they were happy with the final result. Things didn’t ALWAYS work out though. We got a contract to decorate a new bar with a “sports” theme, and because the place was in Brooklyn Heights and they’d hired a professional decorator it was assumed that they wanted the usual artistic touch. So the boss put together this classic kind of Sports Lodge look (Preppy 1950s) and we picked up a whole ton of props, including an 12 ft kayak that was so old it had it looked like something Teddy Roosevelt would’ve paddled (does one paddle a kayak?). Long story short: The sports bar was “mobbed up”, they thought all of the props looked like crap and were looking for a much more MANLY theme then what the boss had intended. So they threw us out… about ten seconds after I sawed the kayak in half in order for it to fit down the narrow staircase that led to the bar. The boss came running out onto the sidewalk yelling “Don’t cut the kayak” and there I was with the saw in my hand and pieces of a kayak. This caused Kitty and some of the other crew people to guffaw loudly, which the boss didn’t appreciate very much, especially since he had just heard he “didn’t know d*ck about sports bars” from Joey Gallstones. So he told me to RETURN the kayak to the prop house, which was, of course, a complete waste of time. Kitty was along and although we had a whole lot of helpful suggestions — “How about this…you could rent it out as 2 canoes! Brilliant!” the guy just kept repeating “YOU CUT IT IN HALF!” with barely-restrained exasperation. The kayak was retired to our storage and eventually thrown out without ever being used.

All of this background work really opened my eyes to the FOREST that is PRODUCTION. Musicians usually focus on the TREES, because we are often a small part of the whole production and need to do our part well and not worry about other things that are going on. While I was doing all of this work I was playing in bands all over the NY metro area and so were half the people on the crew, so there was a lot of OVERLAP between gigs. Being involved in the process of productions onstage or on-location was a very good learning experience and is certainly something I would recommend to anyone with a desire to do so. Not only was this a great help to my music career, but I also think it made me a very excellent production manager in the publishing business for almost 10 years. Having a feel and and eye for integrating many distinct and sometimes contrary elements together is a skill that is worth learning and one that can be applied to many situations in one’s life. While television shows and the internet can give you a feel for how it works, there is something cool about being a part of a crew or company making it all happen. As cynical as everyone on any of these crews could be sometimes, we really did some amazing stuff and as EVERYBODY knows, people with a lot of bread are not easy to impress. Sometimes, especially with the weddings, we were not only paid, but thrown a bunch of cash as a tip. Depending on the role one plays on the crew, the work can be very physically demanding, high-pressure and take place during very weird hours or require long hours of set-up without a break. Kitty and I and another guy who was doing stage work with us once worked 36 hours straight for a half-million dollar wedding at the Plaza Hotel. Not only did we build a very involved stage, but we also had to hang almost 50 glittered foam core designs from the ceiling. It is certainly very easy to burn out after a few years, but there are people who stick with it forever. The crew often becomes like a family with all of the fun, good times and drama that entails. In a place like New York City where, especially back then, there were so many characters and various NY cultures interacting with all of our productions, it could sometimes be a non-stop laff-fest. After three years though, it was time to move on and within 6 months of leaving the decorating company I was writing for Guitar World and working for VITAL VAN and both of these gigs were much more music-related. It was very helpful to have already had the background I did though and there were many times when I was thankful for the experience I had gained in the first few years. If nothing else, it has resulted in a post that has gone from Spacepoop to Roseland Ballroom, with New Year’s Eve, The Metropolitan Opera, L’Oréal and Dinosaurs in between… Wait, I didn’t tell you about the Dinosaurs we set up in Central Park? Stay tuned!

Bireli Lagrene is Really Great!

Posted in Players with tags , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2011 by theguitarcave

This video was my introduction to the guitar monster known as Bireli Lagrene and from here I picked up his 2004 Jazz at Vienne Concert where he does a whole mess of great playing and has help from some of the best talent around today. This concert is really amazing and I know that word is thrown around a lot, but if you haven’t been exposed to this style or the people who play it, you will find this to be a real eye-opener. It’s almost too much to watch all at once as it goes for almost 3 hours and then there’s bonus footage. It is a testament, not only to how great the European gypsy jazz players are, but how super-duper comfortable Bireli is in any playing situation.

Not only are these guys so good musically, but they are also really fun to watch (like all of the faces Bireli is making in the video above). I went to Jazz at Lincoln Center a few years ago with a couple of friends to catch Tchavalo, Dorado, and Samson Schmitt along with amazing violinist Florin Niculescu. Their complete disregard for the Broadway showbiz rules was refreshing. Jazz at Lincoln Center can be a little, er, stuffy. But we had seats front row center and caught all of the mirth the guys were having onstage. Dorado and Florin spent the whole second half of the program sharing some joke that brought laughter from the first few rows, us included. To have a sense of humor and also have chops that put most people to shame are two of the best human qualities as far as I’m concerned.

Here is a video from the Jazz at Vienne concert with Tchavalo, Dorado and Stochelo Rosenberg doing the Django classic J’attendrai. Tchavalo played this at Lincoln Center and as soon as he started it — I got a similar feeling when I saw Buddy Guy, Johnny Cash, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray or Jimmie Vaughan — you KNOW you are watching the real deal. He was wearing a white suit and played like a man possessed. Dorado Schmitt is also remarkable and he played guitar, violin and even crooned a sweet ballad for us. To watch Tchavalo, Dorado and Florin  trade chorus after chorus with each other was just fantastic. A woman sitting in the next seat said “I can’t believe how good they are!” and I had to agree with her even though I knew we were going to see good show.

I encourage anyone the least bit interested to get the Jazz at Vienne DVD, you won’t be disappointed. Any guitar players interested in this style should watch the top video repeatedly and pay attention to Bireli’s right hand. THAT is what people call Gypsy Picking and nobody does it better than he. He also uses standard alternate picking when the mood strikes him, but plays the Gypsy Picking most of the time when he is doing this kind of material. The DVD has him onstage for a many segments — with his Gipsy Project, in duos, trios or group jams like the following. Bireli is a guy who can pretty much do anything.

Here is another video from the Vienne concert with Bireli, Stochelo Rosenberg, Tchavalo and Dorado doing the jazz and GJ standard Them There Eyes. This is these guys doing what they have been doing since they were kids — having a gypsy jazz  jam — only here they are in front of thousands of people.