RANDOM RAMBLINGS OF THE MUSICAL MIND

A peak into the mind of John Hampton

Really Big Stardom … Mix it up (or Make it up)

In my front yard is a kidney bean shaped flower bed. At one long end is a large , beautiful Japanese Maple tree and behind it are several Crepe Myrtles. When the Crepe Myrtles are fully loaded with flowers and berries, the branches bow down to the ground, as if to salute the Japanese dignitary before them. In earliest spring, the tulips are the first to greet the new year. Lavender, red , yellow, even an occasional violet one. As they wilt and wither, Easter comes with it’s concert of lilies that greet my neighbors every morning until the first of May. Now the stars of the show begin their rise to regalia. My fabulous “variations of a theme” of midnight blue irises. Indigo fading to a snow white dripping into bright yellow and yellow pistils. Its living proof that there is a God. Meanwhile, the mums have been greening up, ready to take us into summer with a million colors.

Granted… a bed of nothing but the Irises would be striking at first, but with no second place winners, or even a Miss Congeniality, interest would wane pretty quickly.

Even Albert Einstein concluded that if every band in the world was the best reggae band ever, but there were no blues, country; no Enya or Sex Pistols; no Cramps or Soul Men at Stax … or NO “watchin’ the tide roll away”, no Spoon or Green Day or even the friggin’ BAJA MEN (FYI “Who Let the Dogs Out?”) … what kind of world would this be? In that light, music would not bevlaid, to me, anyway.

So let’s do a 180… Daddy Yankee, Three-6 Mafia, Down, and even Pit Bull are all enough proof that music has always been the most interesting when ALL of the flowers are growing in the same bed, absorbing the same dirt, and maybe even borrowing a little pollen from each other.

Simple case in point: There were The Beatles. Totally unique, right? Well … maybe. Early on, they were doing culturally filtered versions of American black music: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley , etc. … which led the AMERICAN music scene to it’s version of the same thing: Rockabilly, a kind of milk toast rock music, which had no real, monetary backbone until Elvis Presley embraced it, sanitizing Rock ‘h’ Roll for the masses. Now the music wasn’t quite as sexually tinted and parents were OK if their kids played it. Heck the parents liked it, too. So, this early American rock music, black roots still loosely intact, caught fire in Europe! And the Brit-Pop, i.e. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Yardbirds, Cream … after hearing the original Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Motown, Stax, and rockabilly, decided to play that style, too! Anyone feel a catch-22 coming?

Enter one Atlantic ocean, which means not distance, but a different culture and relatively far away… When the Brit-Pop slant mixed with the early, American rock music , an entirely NEW sound comes out. I would imagine it comes partly from not knowing or rather from not immersing themselves in the American culture, a totally different frame of mind, They had a Queen; a Monarchy, while we had the Bay of Pigs and Russia putting missiles in CUBA!. Ours was born from the feelings behind the music, where theirs were born from listening to our feelings. Two completely different playing fields.

Even Ringo knew that, like the Big Bang, when two protons collide, they give off unique, never before heard pieces. Here’s a weird one: a Memphis Band, Big Star, was one such band . They were influenced by British pop music, which was influenced by American music, which Big Star was?

Huh?

Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham has an ultimately awesome sound and technique, all the while thinking that he sounded like Stax drummer Al Jackson. So wrong, but beautifully wrong. Record scratching was born from non-technical minds believing that the ever present horn “stabs” that were all over 80’s records did not come from an electrical box that contained a digital “snapshot” of the sound that would come out at the push of a button. It was technically too much to understand for a non-technical musician to understand, so he/she figured if you take a record that had a stab on it somewhere, the sound could be cued up on a record player, so when the “DJ” let go of it, the same sound would play. Ah ha! Mystery revealed.

Nope. The DJ had to cue the record up for the next horn stab, but noticed he could a new revolutionary sound as he pulled the record back for the sound. He heard the beginning of record scratching, a rhythmic instrument played by “scrubbing” the record to and fro under the stylus. Add a little more ingenuity, and you have an insanely complex but ultimately unique, creative new musical instrument that is still extremely popular at clubs world wide.

It started with flowers in every color of the rainbow cross pollening their respective appeal into each other that, to this day, still yields the music that will be the next new thing today and everyday, I hope, until that fat woman sings!

Next question.

When You A.D.D. it All Up ….

What’s wrong with me? The same thing that’s wrong with every creative force I’ve ever come across in the music business. In fact , the better question is … what’s wrong with you?

I’m fine. My focus flies around the room at light speed everywhere I go. It’s fun at times, but gets me in trouble, too. I never lie because every time I’ve tried that route, I forgot the lie, which basically insured I would get tripped up in it. I always had a different answer to even the most mundane question.

“Why are you late? Don’t you know that people are spending their precious time away from their lives just to have you working with them?” My response is always different. “The police pulled me over. They almost took me to jail, but I talked them out of it. Close call. “That usually clams people up until I blurt out ” I can’t believe that girl can’t even set an alarm clock!”

Oops …  “uh, … that’s why I was speeding to work this morning. And those police pulled me over!”  Whew! Almost blew that one. Then my best friend walks in and announces,  “I saw you at about eleven this morning coming out of an apartment in my complex. Isn’t that where that girl Claudia lives?”  RATS!! I forgot he knew her! Well, cat’s out of the bag now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 my brain

See, most folks are A positive, or AB positive, or O negative, ad nauseam But I am A D D positive. Big time. I can be talking to a rocket surgeon about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and the excitement surrounding the finding of the answer to “What causes mass? ” We know photons are light particles, and gravitrons are gravity particles, so if E =mc², and c=186,000 Mi/sec, for any known energy, we can calculate MASS. BUT … what IS mass? It’s … wait … hello? … (my phone) …   ” yes, I LOVE rabbits …”  and I’ll wander off talking about bunnies with Alice.

It’s a fast paced, whirlwind of thought and impetuous action, ambiguosity and talk and more talk until it’s time for bed. Then I will keep myself up all night thinking about robots and song and electronics and then I wake up and return about 30 emails at 2AM, then watch a movie until the sun comes up, then get dressed and go do it all again! I just thank God I don’t have a lot of money, else I would be surrounded by a thousand unfinished projects.

Now that you have a tiny bit of insight into the ADD world, watch musicians. They are all the same way. Wrapped up in the creative world. The better ones get really successful when they have learned to channel the energy in a single direction, kind of like a laser. It would just be unrestrained energy in all directions  were it not for the rubicon pulling all of the energy into the red spectrum. Now, with the energy focused, it can cut through one inch thick steel.

One day, I took a test at the advice of a shrink to see if I was truly ADD or just nuts. A computer would show a number one, and a number two; it also would speak a number one and a number two. The doc said to push button A if I see a one; B if I hear a one; C if I c a two; and D if I hear a two. This was followed by a short test run to make sure I knew which button to push when. Once he was satisfied I had it, the test began. It started very slowly, and I thought “Piece of cake!”.

Over the next 8 or so minutes, it slowly sped up until, finally, I lifted my hands away from the buttons, and just sat there.My brain had tied itself into a million tiny knots. It was so severe that I couldn’t even speak.

A few minutes later, the doctor came from another room with a piece of paper. He didn’t have to say it; I beat him to it.

“I guess I failed that one pretty bad, huh?” His response hangs with me today and forever. ” you made a 46 out of 100 in auditory vigilance”. What the ham and eggs does that mean? “It means you no longer heard in reality after about 7 minutes. What do you do for a living?” I told him I was a recording engineer and music producer. After he came back to reality from THAT response, he said “well, it seems you have sublimated it well”                                                                                                                Huh?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            “Your brain has found a way to make a potential hearing challenge work FOR you instead of AGAINST you. Are you good at what you do?” he asked. I rattled off gold records and platinum records and Grammy awards and the lot. That’s when he said it probably would be a bad idea to medicate anything.

I’LL SECOND THAT MOTION

I remember as a child my mother was always saying, ” …oh, he’s OK.  He’s JUST hyperactive”. I always wondered what that was all about. And who was she referring to, anyway?

To some people, ADD, or ADHD, whatever that is, can be a debilitating disorder that can cause a wagonload of problems, and many employers that pick up on it during a job interview will scratch your name off the list, thinking that it’s a Pandora’s box of inefficiency for their busy , time sensitive schedules.

But from my point of view, ADD is a huge, limitless source of creativity IF if … the producer is able to focus the energy. And who could be more in tune to the potential than a fellow ADD? I could go on and on about ADD, and on , and on, and on, and on, and on, ……………..  HAMPTON!!!!! … shut up.

neXt qUestion, please? …..

The Night Corky Fathered Royalty

You would LOVE Corky Laing. I’m sure. He played with Mountain, a very well respected band from the latest sixties until (?). And he can tell a story. The amazing thing is, after looking around just a little, you realize he’s telling the truth! There’s probably a myriad of reasons why the song Mississippi Queen lists about twelve writers, but it would not exist without the Cork.

Now according to Corky (the man behind the cowbell as well as the rest of the drumzz) , Mountain was playing around in Nantucket, which I guess is a fave Mountain (the band, not a place in Appalachia) haunt, given their subsequent -to- Climbing album entitled Nantucket Sleighride. Any experienced music person will tell you that there exists a very real, almost tangible entity, a sort-of monthly installment plan called “paying your dues”. For some, it’s a severe nightly plan. For the luckier, it’s quarterly. And all of these “dues paying” gigs has it’s own unique and foreseen, yet totally unavoidable “gift” of adversity. That night at fabulous One -Eyed Jack’s, the enemy was shaped exactly like a fuse box containing 3 large objects that looked amazingly like power mains. The type that would get WARM under the weight of the quiescent, everyday bar activity, and HOT when powering two thousand watts of guitar and bass amplification, five thousand watts of “public address”, twenty thousand watts of stage illumination, four and a half watts for the eleventeen stylish box fans … you get it. In short, the camel becomes “straw laden”. The band steps up onto the stage under the not helpful auspices of a few ultraviolet light bulbs. As Lesley West, the robust yet hugely talented (no pun intended) guitarist who was still patiently awaiting his “fifteen minutes”, yelled out “Good evening Boston!” (as in Massachusetts), Corky, looking a bit too suave, whispers loudly, “Lee … Nantucket … we’re in Nanutcket!!” but the good-natured, high on God knows what crowd roared with laughter. No one noticed how the lights had dimmed during Mr. West’s little ha ha. So at the onset of a pre-destined set of events …. 1) the lights going up, 2) West’s welcome-to-hell first power chord, 3) the chord from hell’s accompanying vocal from hell, 4) the first bass note from hell, 5) and, of course, the eleventeenth fan kicking on …

VOOM!! … … … … … total and complete darkness. accompanied by the quietest half of a second EVER not heard in history. Out of the silence grew the beginning of the crowds expected “AAAWWWWWW” …

…and Corky saw them, picking up purses and red “to-go” cups, heading for the door. He had to think fast, and his genius instincts went to work. He HAD to stop them. He had to do SOMETHING. After all, they had paid money to be entertained by Mountain, man … the up and coming, next big thing, rock band.

That’s it! Noise! Bonk Bonk Bonk Bonk … cowbell … bonk bonk bonk bonk bonk bonk

A drunken little hottie who had come up, says Corky, from Mississippi to visit Lesley’s third cousin’s mom’s brother, could NOT have been in there legally, jumps up onto a nearby table, moving her young frame to every bonk. Now we’re entertaining … Corky starts playing a beat, letting the cowbell hold the reins, never un-locking his intent, “bad boy” gaze he had affixed to this fine, young Rebel. Understandably wanting her un-divided attention, he decided, naturally, it was time for a serenade … and straight from the heart Corky delivers a stream of non-consciousness over the bonk. MISISSIPPI QUEEN … he was actually giving the girl a heart-felt soliloquy! Isn’t that sweet!! ….YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN … he continues, thinking only one unpure thought, I’m sure, … having heard  “The Cork” rumors from back then. YEAH MISSISSIPPI QUEENSHE TAUGHT ME EVERYTHING” …

Then, as if it had been rehearsed for weeks, the lights came back up, Lesley and Felix (Pappalardi), who had worked out chords and a super-fast arrangement in the dark, step up and face the now returned and rockin’ out crowd, and Sir West takes control of the singing … roaring over Corky’s hardly less than stellar, yet brazen, attempt. Wait a minute. This is rehearsed, or I’m fabricating; okay, I’ve added a few details that he left out.

WAY DOWN AROUND VICKS-BURG

AROUND LOUISIANA WAYYYYY (he’s STILL lost)

THERE LIVED A CAJUN LADYCALLED THE MISSISSIPPI QUEEN (The river boat?)

YOU KNOW SHE WAS A DANCER …

SHE MOVED BETTER ON WINE , WHILE THE

REST OF THEM DUDES WERE A-GETTIN’ THEIR KICKS

OH I BEG YOUR PARDON I WAS GETTIG MINE …(badda dap! badda dap!)

Aw come on! What were you expecting, Faulkner? It’s ROCK LYRIC not ROCKET SURGERY!!

Ladies and gents, another hit song has landed on the planet!

So how do I know this is true? Because Corky says so … that’s how …..

You never know when, where, how or even why a smash hit song gets born. If there was even a secret recipe, everyone would be doing it. And I sure ain’t doing it. But Corky is.

Next Question

MORE CORKY IN PART II …

Corky And the Cubs and the Pinewood Derby

Keep Your Ears on the Ball

The spedometer was on 40, but I SWEAR we were doing 75 on that back road, headed straight toward nowhere out in the county. I had just picked up Mindy. She was cute. Wrong!  …… She was HOT!!! I had finally got enough dough for  this ’67 Chevy panel truck a week ago. Basically, it’s a pick-up truck with a van behind the front seat. OR, it’s a van with the engine pushed out of your lap, sitting where engines go. All last week, I’d spent every night making it so fine. Outrageous orange and brown and green SHAG covered the inch thick foam on the floor. Twelve inch by twelve inch dark cork panels, glued onto the walls, both hid the ugly pink insulation and sound-proofed the “sanctuary” … even more. Finally, last night, I finished putting in the mighty 20 watt per channel (… HEY, it’s a 40 watt. I’ll call it 50.) stereo. A psychedelic muslin bed spread draped the ceiling, tacked up randomly until it was out of the way. It both dimmed and tinted the rear dome light, making for some pretty swank wheels for a sweet evening with Mindy. I would later christen this great, white van … Moby Truck.

Stereo blastin’, the DJ announces a new one from the Stones. Two seconds of silence heralded …  a cowbell? But the drummer in me could NOT find the beat. That is, until SIR CHARLIE WATTS  comes a smokin’ in … BLAP Bloom doozh PAP …..Doom Pap …..  both setting the song and my butt ON FIRE!  “Holy ..” I choked, pulling over and TOTALLY rockin out to Honky Tonk Women for the first time. The night was suddenly ALIVE! As the last chord hit, I yelled to Mindy over the stereo, instead of turning it down,  “That is officially my favorite song … maybe EVER!” She looked at me, her smile bigger than her hair, eyes glazed, yet intent on moi. We stayed on the side of the road for hours.

That was then. It’s time for now. It’s the day I discover I’ve lost the music. Honky Tonk Women … now in the studio speakers, where I’ve so far mixed a couple gold records, was still giving me a picture of Mindy. I listened as I was setting up for the next mix, and remarked, “I used to LOVE that song. NOW listen to it. What a mess! You can’t even HEAR the bass, the drums are not near loud enough. … they needed ME back then.  I …

STOP. What am I saying? Had I become such a spoiled, prima-donna, arrogant ass that I had just called Honky Tonk Women … the song that had turned a summer back then into the best summer of my life … a mess? Did I just say I could do it better? Well tell me this, Mr. Hot Shot record dude … what, exactly would you change? How could you have made that song, that summer, that van, that MINDY … better than they were?

That was the moment that I realized I was hearing and feeling music much differently than when I was a boy.

I was actually getting scared. I was finally envisioning “missing the forest for the trees.” I was turning music into nuts and bolts…  and wheels and cogs and gears. Color was fading … it was just black and white and gray.

What I was doing today sure SOUNDED good. The bass was right where it needed to be. The guitars were bigger than life. The drums made John Bonham sound like an amateur. The singing was from Heaven. It was a lot of work, and those who had hired me were stumbling over their compliments.

But WAS it good? Would it get some 17 year old kid to pull over so he could hear every drop? With his HOT girlfriend in the car? That question … was the answer.

So today, after going back and finding that fork in the road where I wandered off, I’m still re-learning how to keep the forest in sight … ALWAYS. But instead of using a clumsy, yet easy,  “detail, schmeetail” approach,  which seems to be the attitude of many producers and engineers now, I personally have found more satisfaction in a place between tech and performance, the two warriors in the battle. It’s simple.  I have taken the technical part of the process off of the throne, and given  it a more subtle roll, so that if it ever gets down to a choice between technically good and MUSICALLY good, the M word prevails every time. And if the technical wanders off into the woods, so be it.  Look … you can always bank on the content of lyric and the performance of the musician, but it’s a good idea to keep your “sonic prowess” en garde, ready to back away lest it interfere with the audience’s ability to go from their world ……………..into the artist’s world.

And I won’t forget that that credit card in your hand gives YOU the final say.

Next question …  ♬  ♪  ♩

It WILL Get Loud

A straight up movie… and a sideways review of It MIGHT Get Loud with Jack White, Jimmy Page, and The Edge (and his fab tech Dallas Schoo!)

“Hamptone! I just got a call from Miracle Management. A guy named Jack White wants four days with you in studio A for mixing. They’re sending a video of him to give you a heads up on his band and their live show. Pretty wild.” My manager had just prepared me to what could very well be the GREAT HOPE I had seen coming years back. Someone to push he envelope HARD.

Last time I dealt with Miracle Management, it was an LA wanna-be with wwwwaaaayyyy too much money. Their motto was “If it works, it’s a Miracle”. Hah! They were only beginning to see what they had by signing Jack White. And I was still in the dark.

The first light was a video: Live at Blackpool – The White Stripes. My girlfriend and I sat and watched it, every now and then glancing at each other as if to say, “What the hell have these kids done now?” The audience was completely out of control … singing every word, dancing like a single minded, unified school of epileptics. Jack was… singing? Screaming? Let’s just say much sound was coming from his mouth. Blackpool was packed.

At the same time, he was generating an energy from the stage, the electricity from which powered the crowd. Flashes of lightning left the stage and struck randomly onto the floor, causing them to jump even higher as if to avoid shock. Every now and then, an unfortunatele soul took a direct hit. He or she would then broadcast the spark into those around him. It was a giant pool of flashes and movement and energy that resembled a power plant on the verge of melt down. All from 2 humans: a guitarist – and Jack’s sister Meg supplying the heartbeat that pounded the blood through 1000 united, hard driven, overheated and sparking electrical substations.

How did he do it? He played with a fair technique, but an attitude of an angry, stirred up wasp nest. His voice was that of random anarchy, morphing the crowd into a formidable, fired-up, HUNGRY animal. Virginia yelled, “Is this … music?” She was in the dark. It was so much more, she may never see it. I replied, “Yes dear, it really, finally, IS music … AGAIN!” It ended with me wanting more. Much more.

I reminded her, as if to add some validity, “Jack was one of the three minstrels on that Cold Mountain movie we saw.” NOW she was smitten. She countered, ” You know offstage he ….” no Virginia. We’re not going there.

He showed at the studio with Patrick Keeler, a Vespa dealer from Cincy, and, as I soon learned , a helluva drummer. We mixed the record Broken Boy Soldier …The Raconteurs (French for storytellers, telling in an amusing way, as in minstrels) And as they were leaving, Jack said “I’ll book some time to mix MY record.” Good. A new source.

The record he brought in a few weeks, Get Behind Me Satan, ultimately garnered Jack his millionth Grammy. And to my total surprise, I got one, too! Thanks Jack! I’ll put it beside my bowling trophy.

A charmed life. Since then, so many things have dropped out of the sky and landed in his lap, I begin to wonder if he has sold his soul for these opportunities: Coke ad, James Bond Theme w/Alicia Keys, hanging and playing with The Stones, Dead Weather, movies …on and on and on. That was when I realised the man was afraid of nothing. He would , if challenged, DIVE off of a ten meter board into an empty pool. And come out in better shape for it. And he was constantly re-inventing himself, moving at the speed of light. He was everywhere. Even my kids were awed with the guy. Now THAT is a good sign.

Jimmy Page was a god since I was fourteen years old. I had seen Zeppelin 2 times in ’69 and ’70. Houston was so progressive; I had seen the Merry Pranksters and the school bus near my house, (from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Thomas Wolfe,) Jefferson Airplane, Hendrix, The Doors, Bowie, Mott the Hoople, … stuff that rarely if ever came to Memphis due to demographics.

So I had musically bonded with Mr. Page from the millisecond I heard the first 2 chords of Good Times -Bad Times, their first American single. He was another who wasn’t Mr. Guitar Techniqo Supremo, but between his creative musical musings and his ethereal re-tunings of his instruments, has given us so many unreal, masterful, unique guitar performances that put him in a league of his own. And he, too was a total wild man in his day. Just look at the wear and tear on his partner Bob! Having evolved musically by listening to American blues music, an element he so desperately wanted running through his veins, and the wild, wanton of the forever anarchist London scene ala Yardbirds, the black driven rock of Chuck Berry,Little Richard, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, he hated his role of studio musician playing milk-toast, spiritless “garbage” and finally quit when his employer proudly announced in an excited, emphatic voice that they were going to begin the challenge of a lifetime. Recording Muzak immediately!! (That’s elevator, shopping mall music for you kids.) WOW!! Really? He walked out … and joined the Yardbirds.

Finally, the one guitar player who, through his token sound; his totally original guitar/delay compositions, The Edge can always bring that Walton’s lump to my throat when I think of his being raised in the middle of war-torn Belfast during the peak of the IRA wars that took out so many of his friends and relations. He started playing as a voice meant to plow it’s way through the bones and blood, and scream STOP KILLING FATHERS and CHILDREN and MOTHERS JUST BECAUSE THEY THINK DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU! WE WOULD RATHER DIE THAN BECOME A PART OF YOUR MONARCHIST MACHINE !! So here is a third wild man who had grown into the musical garden with yet a third perspective on the art.

What in the world ties these three opposite ends if a triangular rainbow together? The music. An artform. Painting is an art. In Paris, purse-snatching is an art. The art in addition to the chaotic development of it in each of their lives is what ties it all together. As a kid, Jack was so wrapped and enthralled with it that he completely filled his 7′ by 7′ bedroom with drums (2 sets), guitars, amplifiers, recording equipment, sonic generating “stuff” … so much that when he got tired, he pulled a rolled up foam mat from behind the drums, laid it out and collapsed. Jimmy used the art early on to proclaim his breaking free of the shackles of “organized” music. The Edge used it and still does as an instrument to color the messages of peace and calm with a warming etherea, or as a driving underscore to the ravings of hate, war, and violence. It is his bulldozer that gets a message to activists everywhere that life is to fragile. Yet war doesn’t see fathers, children, and relations of love, but rather a collective of a single thing standing in their way. His musical message painfully cries out for an end to the insanity.

The movie ends with these three electrifying elements coming together as artists, with a thing that’s creative yet alien to each other, and demonstrates that through that ever common language and sound, that they are able to speak a common language which both exalts the artform and demonstrates that there are common elements from around the world that prove to all that we are all one body and can learn so much from each other if we just drop the egos and the arms and use the spirit of music as the unifying translator that is a voice within us all.

Next question …

Catch ya later, Pops.

The clock went “BOINNNGGG!” as the mainspring flew across the room, almost decapitating me. It only scared me for a moment, as I recall … Damn the Torpedos. I just had to know how it worked. Of course, little did anyone know then about Radium, the “paint” used on the clock’s hands that made them glow in the dark. Years later Mom told me about the little old ladies who licked the brush tip before dabbing it into the paint, insuring a precise application. Over and over. Those tongues must be the size of the Taj Majal by now.

I used to take EVERYTHING apart to find out what made it tick, (no pun intended) … bicycles, Chatty Cathy dolls, (baby multi-grooved records!) my new model airplane motor, ad nauseum. My dad had looked for his cheap Timex a long time. It’s STILL buried behind the garage in Houston.

Curious Johnny is what Dad called me. I’m a self taught nuclear particle physicist in MY mind. Smart, but modest. So how does art work? Paintings, sculptures, song, and melody? As a drummer, how does rhythm affect people, smart guy? Well, let’s just take it apart and find out. Since drums are my main thing, let’s take apart other drummers. The mighty (and mighty late) John Bonham, once disassembled, is a cinch. It’s bold rhythmic tomfoolery! The arms are quicker than the ear. Brilliant. With Chris Leyton from Double Trouble, his swaggering “left hand shuffle” is dumbed down to make it easy to play, but it took genius to figure it out. Of course, Bill Bruford, from Yes and King Crimson, is Chinese Arithmetic, but he’s comfortable with it in his complex world … on and on … but they all only have 2 arms and 2 legs right?

WRONG!!!

Al Green’s records … on any given back-beat you can hear a snare drum and a hi-hat (so far, so good) … AND a tom-tom! Wait! That’s 3 arms! Well, after six years of listening to it, I finally concluded that the “groove” is the drummer himself playing an overdub as he listens to his playback. But … oh forget about it. That one goes into the drawer marked “MYSTERY”,  along-side Billy Gibbons, Howard Hughes, aircraft flight, UFOs, and Siamese twins.

I got into the machinery of sound, and picked up a Presto record cutting lathe for $30. I read and read and became a self-taught audio nerd. And in Memphis, that and music means a way into RECORDING STUDIOS. I took a deep breath and just boldly asked Ardent Studio … TO HIRE ME!”  They did. 7/7/77.

WOW!!! … music, drums, musical instruments, synthesizers, and an understanding of how it all works! A veritable plethora of dreams come true. But if folks think you are good, word gets out. And one day I got a call from Willie Mitchell. Willie Mitchell … who is he? Hi Records? As in Cream-Hi? As in Al Green? AS IN THE THREE DRUMS ON THE BACK-BEAT I had thrown into La Drawero Mysterioso? After work, I broke the speed limit all the way. Once again, I had to knowpCJ

Willie’s stuff was just like Ardent’s stuff. So I deduced that it must be good, because Willie has it, too. I fixed all of the broken gear after a few hours of drinking coffee and talking … and about twelve minutes of actual work. Now it was time. I had to know how things work. “Hey Pops … how’d you get that drum thing on the Reverend Al’s records? You know … the tom and snare drum on the back-beat? Is the tom-tom an overdub? Because I hear a hi-hat cymbal in there, too. Pops, that’s 3 arms.” Pretty bold stuff for my 25 year old butt to ask a Master, huh?

THEN,  HE SPOKE.

The culmination of years of wondering were about to end. And after getting to know Pops a little, I was ready for anything. “John … I always loved Al Jackson’s hard, consistent back beat and solid kick drum … but it was always missing a … that … that slinky, greasy thing. You know? I mean Al Jackson was solid, you know,  but maybe too solid when he needed to let it slip and slide a little. You know? (I know.) So I used Al Jackson on the kick and snare, AND HOWARD GRIMES ON HAT AND TOM, right there facing each other,” … he pointed to a place on the studio floor.

That’s what Poppa Willie said. I was stunned. Whirling at the thought of missing the most obvious rhythmic creation I could imagine. Like Bonham and Leyton, it was deceptively simple. I had to let that soak in a minute or twelve.

As I packed up my tools and meters and soldering junk and stuffed it into my  backpack, Pops came up and asked how much he owed. Huh? How much he owed me? Money? Is he serious? “Pops, what are you talking about? What do I owe YOU? You just paid me in full, and THEN some.”

Pops escorted me to my car, check book still out, and asked one more time. “C’mon, man…. what do I owe you?” If he only understood how indebted I felt for that story, he wouldn’t ask again. I could only babble, “I’ll get you next time, Pops.” Willie never paid me a cent. And that was always fine with me.

Next Question …

Welcome to the random ramblings!

HOWDY, y’all! Welcome to Random Ramblings of the Musical Mind. The fuel for this machine is simply 30+ years of immersion in the middle of the music industry… from the Cramps in 1977 all the way through Jack White in the present, 27 Gold/Platinum records, 3 Grammys, who knows how many Grammy nominations, and working with some of the most insanely fascinating personalities in the world…

My Mom said for me to just follow my heart and I did… I decided to learn, live and breathe sonic personality. (I TOTALLY made that up that term!) But seriously, music has and always will be my life.

John Hampton & Isacc Hayes

When I banged on John Fry’s door at Ardent Studios in 1977, I was in my early twenties. I filled the coke machine, mopped bathrooms, threw a rock “star” out on a good and drunk night, recorded Stevie and Jimmie Vaughan, erased some congas that weren’t documented, mixed with Jack White, recorded Lux Interior’s “Cramps”, and have survived a life that fought back at times… but I remember it ALL. And it really IS … ALL too much.

So much, in fact, that I intend to share it with the planet from our beautiful studio in Memphis, Tennessee. If you allow me to ease into this machine, I WILL find all the gears eventually and we will get there. A bit bumpy, maybe, at first, but, as with everything else, it WILL smooth out and BOOK!

Thanx.

John Hampton