RANDOM RAMBLINGS OF THE MUSICAL MIND

A peak into the mind of John Hampton

Accidents WILL Happen … (hopefully)

The session was called for 1PM. Stevie and Jimmie Vaughan were going to start their first and only album together.

Nile Rodgers was producing and I was all set up. Stevie and Rene Martinez (his guitar Tech and an excellent flamenco style player himself) were first, coming around a stylish 1:30. Jimmie was right behind them. Larry Aberman and Al Berry, drums and bass respectively, were setting up along with Rich Hilton, Nile’s “Do Anything” man.

Nile’s super-stylin’ 5:30 arrival could have been even later, had he not promised some magazine writer a “quickie” phone interview. And being the official recording engineer for these now infamous sessions, that meant phone interviews, too. As Nile talked record production with the interviewer,  he said something I didn’t understand … yet. This was 1990. And it took about ten years for it to soak in, but I eventually got it.
He said, “A producer’s job, really, is organizing the mistakes.”

Now it’s some time in 2003. And Jimmie is making his first solo record for CBS. It was during the first few days of his record that I discovered that Jimmie Vaughan is probably the hardest person on the planet to satisfy when it comes to getting “his” sound. And being the “NEVER give up” producer that I have become, I just won’t bail on pursuing that sound. We’ve talked about it in a language that only he and I understand. And we’ve driven around Austin for HOURS listening to this artist and that artist, from Johnny Guitar Watson to Blind Lemon Pledge, from noon to midnight …

But once you’re in the studio with a million ideas, it’s time to put the concepts to the test. And I’m coming up short on the intangible sound. But what is slowly coming into view as a bigger picture is that Jimmie Vaughan on his records is not a man singing and playing a guitar, Jimmie Vaughan is a really a conversation between a man and his guitar. When I finally saw that “big picture”, it was time to figure out how capture it.

I had two microphones I had planned on using. One on the amp, one for Jimmie to sing in. (Keep it stupid, simple.) First he wanted to re-do some guitar on the tracks we had finished the day before, so I got up a guitar sound and, as I expected, he didn’t like it. But as he played, I accidentally shoved up the volume on his vocal mike, which was across the room. Oh, if you could have seen our faces! His guitar through that amp IN THAT ROOM sounded like a million bucks. And as luck(?) would have it, adding that vocal mike meant all we needed … was a vocalist! These 2 microphones could now record the “conversation”.

This type of situation comes up in recording studios all the time. A guitar player gets lost reading a chord chart and plays a wrong chord at the chorus. The resulting chord could never have been calculated, even by Einstein, but it’s a magical chord that the song has been calling for.

A girl leading the other background singers brings them in 8 beats early. That little “mistake” fits so well that it becomes  the “hook” of the song.

An accidentally erased guitar part calls for a re-do. The new solo becomes the central theme of the song, which becomes a huge hit, and a theme for an insurance company’s ad that’s all over television. What would have happened to that band if the original guitar solo hadn’t been accidentally erased?

You know? Just writing this little blurb has made me want to go and tell four musicians to play four separate pieces of music at the same tempo and see what we come up with. Now the big question … should they all play in the same key?

Toots in Memphis is a record I had the honor of working on with Jim Dickinson that reeks of “Ja” … the idol of the Rasta way. Toots Hibbert and “the Maytalls” (what the heck is a Maytall?) were part of a huge onslaught of Reggae music that included Marley, Yellowman, … you know … REGGAE MUSIC! Sly Dunbar tells the tale of the birth of the art-form. The popular reggae feel apparently was the result of poor radio reception of Miami pop music radio. Over distance, the lower part of the bandwidth, THE BASS, is the first to go away in that poor reception. Which translates to the snare drum, or “back beat” is the main rhythmic component that comes across. I know this may be a little hard to follow, but in the simplest terms, any music that has equal force 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 …. comes through as _-2-_-4_-2-_-4. It’s the main rhythm of reggae music. Now that may not be accidental, but it certainly was influential.

The spirit of music has always been a little magical to me, and the “accidents” are actually not accidents at all. They are simply a spirit that some hear, and others don’t. And to me, that is the difference between the artist and the non-artist. It weaves itself around the senses that make a painter, an architect, or a musician able to see what others want to experience.

next question…

Rocket Surgery – Brain Recording

I woke up this morning with a brutal pain in my lower abdomen. I am the apex of pain wimps. If I step on an acorn with bare feet, you can hear me for miles..

Quick flashback to my tenth grade Biology class (Claire, Kathie, Hea …HEATHER! Whoa!) … my mind’s eye sadly moved off the chicks and on to that chart of (Inside) “The Human Anatomy”, which I had seen every day of the 10th grade year. The chart … I touched my hipbone to get the relationship to the “mind chart”. Over about 3 inches to the left, then down … 3 … 6 …SEVEN! YOW!! Seven inches!! Holy veriform, Batman! That’s my APPENDIX! I’m in trouble. I’ve heard if that sucker blows it’s “The Big Countdown”. Better call someone and get to a doc PRONTO.

A couple doors down, my buddy, Rocket ( we all called him that) was getting ready for something really big, too. He told me that his band, Even Steven, was going to start on their first record the next morning. When I asked him where he was doing it, instead of hearing the expected studio name, he said something about their live sound guy who just got all this … stuff. Laptop, software, a microphone set from Mattel … you know, STUFF! So now he’s producing records. (Huh? I never knew the dude could spell producing!)

Now look; I really like Rocket a lot, and sometimes I feel like I have got to show him every little (or BIG) pothole in the road he should avoid. In fact, it was during that very conversation two nights ago that I had felt the first twinge of this time-bomb in my lower right. When it became obvious that he wasn’t listening anymore, I just said ‘Good luck’, figuring I had said all I could without holding his hand.

I mean, COME ON! Thirty-plus years of making little records and big records, I feel I must know at least the basics of how to make a record, right? And today, these are shark-infested waters. But his pal apparently knew it all … and then some. Plus ☞ I needed to lay down; I was in serious pain (at least for me).

I knew I was probably about to have a life-changing event; under an anesthetic and a knife. And Rocket was about to have a life-changing event, too.

I received the following eMail in one of those mass mailings which was uncannily relevant to both of our situations. If the author of this fine piece of mass eMail wants, I’ll give you 100% of the credit and whatever I make from it. Oh, and thanks. The eMail really opened my eyes … and I hope it helps more “Rockets” out there:

DO BRAIN SURGERY AT HOME FOR FUN AND PROFIT!

I‘m not very technical but I just love doing brain surgery. I couldn’t see wasting all that time to get an undergraduate degree in science, then wasting four more years in medical school and another three or so as a resident, but I’m sure that I can make up for the deficit with my enthusiasm and my love of brain surgery.First of all, you really don’t need to be in a big fancy building, like a hospital. I use my ping-pong table in the basement to do my surgery. (I do throw a plastic sheet over it to preserve the paint). By doing it at home, I save on rent! I admit that sometimes the neighbors complain about the occasional screams that they hear, especially late at night. So I nailed some egg cartons to the walls.

Next thing is the equipment. They have all of that shiny stuff in the operating room and believe me, you don’t really need it. I equipped my Operating Room at my local dollar store. In the hardware department, pick up a hack saw. This is very handy for cutting off the top of the skull. If you want to get fancy, pick up a cross-cut saw, for emergencies. A good claw hammer is handy for removing any extra bone that you missed with the saws.

Move on to the housewares department. Here, for a dollar, you can get a whole set of steak knives. These are very sharp and they are good for the detailed work. For the rough work–get a bread knife. In the sewing department, you can pick up a sewing kit with all kinds of needles and different colored threads. This is handy for sewing the scalp back in place. You can also get a set of three different-sized scissors. Sometimes they come in handy. There! For 7 to 8 bucks, you can completely equip your operating room.

On TV, you see the operating room full of assistants. This is a total waste of space. If you really watch them, they are all just standing around doing nothing. In my home operating room, I have eliminated all of these unnecessary people. I do, however, engage the family dog to sit under my operating table to clean up the scraps.

You see how simple it is to do brain surgery at home? Anyone with a love of brain surgery can do it. I never read Grey’s Anatomy, although I did see a copy once. Very nice pictures but half of it was in Latin. Who wants to bother with all that! If you really want to be a brain surgeon, all you need is the desire and enthusiasm.

My prices are very reasonable since I don’t have all that stupid overhead.

ANYONE NEED TO HAVE A BRAIN TUMOR REMOVED? CALL ME. BR-54BRAIN

Next question! … and AMEN!


Hearts Off to Haiti

Aiding Haiti with Love and a Melody    

When my management approached me with an offer to help Larry Dodson (from the fabulous Bar-Kays) put together a record that the Bar-Kays and others were doing, my eyes lit up. ALL of the profit from the sales was going directly to someone in quake-ravaged Haiti who was honest to a fault and would get the money wherever it would do the most good. I just said “Sure. When? Where?” But I wasn’t sure WHY I had volunteered so quickly.In July 7, 1977, the first day I worked at Ardent Recording Studio, ZZ Top was in studio A, and the fabulous Bar-Kays were in studio B. There had to be at least 12 people in there, with the speakers turned up to 11, and every fifteen minutes or so, a Bar-Kay would come out to attend to his beeswax, always loud and laughing, and to the casual onlooker, one would think a hoedown was on rather than a record. But boy … they had fun and it was all over the place. I cottoned to this place and these people like a flea cottons to a dog. Good luck getting rid of me, folks. I’m home.

On the day we cranked up this session, Larry and their tech/roadie/remote recordist Markus came in with the production they had done so far, in some secret laboratory. Now WE were going to add more people and more voices, singing a song written to the unfortunate Haitian population that were desperately trying to restore their country that laid in ruin by a natural disaster of the ugliest kind.It seems a lot of people look at Haiti like the movie “Serpent and the Rainbow”, with it’s Black Magic and people coming to life AFTER being officially pronounced dead. But what was coming in on the net, in the news, and through the radio described something much different and even more horrifying once it sinks in that it’s REAL.

But you know, that’s when Americans and the world, do what we do best. We help. We comfort. We give what we can, hoping … what? That if we are ever in that shape, they would return the favor? No, I don’t think so. I think it’s because it just feels good to help a fellow human being in distress. It’s just in our blood.

The record was growing. Maurice White is coming, and Kirk Whalum is slaying us with the most soulful sax this side of, hmmmmm, this side of China.

J. Blackfoot is just plain old testifying, loudly, if I may. Many red lights, mon! Eric Gales is tearing up both a guitar and an amplifier as he blazes a brain boggling blur of fingers and arms and strings, all becoming just white hot! This is fantastic. Then, the almost winner of last year’s Americam Idol, (we call her) Lil Rounds. I wept.

And over the next few days, so many people came in that the production team was simply overwhelmed and we were just saying “GO! We’ll sort it out later”. When you add it up, we spent six days putting more and more and more on this record. Yes, the production was becoming a nightmare. But YES! You could NOT hold back the people who wanted to get involved. There was a couple from Spain, taking a tour of the studio. Larry asked them if they could sing. They came in and sang beeeeautifully … as if to say to say “Haiti, we in Spain care too!” It was all Un Be friggin lieveable!!! We were completely burnt after six days of that. Break!

I did the math. Assuming average promotion, and average airplay. Nationally, of course. Assume a CD with 2 different versions. Or 3. Heck,we could really make about 50 versions! Let’s assume a $5.99 retail. Say 100,000 people hear it, like it and buy it. In America. After the extremely minimal costs incurred are paid, it leaves you with about … it’s easily around a half a mil. What if 300,000 people buy it? Now we’re over a mil. For 6+ days work, we could send the Haitian people over a million BUCKS! A MILLION BUCKS!!  so …

All you have to do to help the Haitian people is buy the record! It’s not lining my pocket one cent. Nor Larry’s. Nor Maurice’s or Kirks or Eric or even Li’l Rounds!! The love shared in that room during the recording of that song made us ALL a little more humble, a little more aware to the devastation that Mother Nature, on a bad day, can cause. This reality check was our payment. And we ALL learned again that LOVE alone (with a little cash) can help even the worst situations.

And as we rounded the corner into the home stretch, Larry and I both realized that we had just been moved a little closer to each other, both on a personal level and a cultural level. One of the greatest things about the music business is that we all share a bond that supersedes race, religion, and just about anything that COULD come between us. It is a spirit that at times becomes the Great equalizer of mankind. It can be humbling. And, like anything spiritual, in the wrong hands, it can wreak havoc. Today, the Hatian peopkle were in good hands. Can I get an AMEN on that, J. Blackfoot?

And very soon, the Haitian people will become a part of it, too.

Next question …

two woRds

I am forever confused by a 2 words on every movie ever made….

PRODUCED BY:

Are you wondering what that means? I am. I know what a Record Producer does. He does EVERYTHING! He is a babysitter, a chauffeur,  friend, a teacher AND learner. In fact, Bill Leen, Blossoms’ bassist, asked “Why doesn’t my bass get louder when I PLaY louDer?” I was in error putting a NO LOUDER on his bass. (I learned volume was a major part of their performance.)  He decides what songs are going to be on the record. He, hopefully, has or develops soon after the record starts, a big picture of how the artist will “come off” when the public hears it. In short, that’s what I do. Here’s an example:

At the end of the Tora Tora record, I, as a producer, went to Phoenix, remember, (at Brian Huttenhower’s request … AND expense), and heard Gin Blossoms. They were doing a live show that first night, and I went to meet the band before the show. Although they had a million questions concerning how I would make their first real record, for A&M, I told them I have no comment until I see, with my own eyes, what their live show is all about. I want to know what the strong points and not so strong points were, when it came to performance. Plus, I wanted to see some college girls.

That night at Chuey’s, a U of AZ hot spot in Tempe, they went on at 9PM. And they really did start at 9PM! That’s a good sign. They take it seriously. I watched the crowd to see how they reacted to the band’s performance as well, because these people in the audience ARE the general public, the real record buyers, and I bet that their reaction is directly proportional to sales. If they sing along with the band, those songs are the potential “hits” that eventually the whole world would sing along with. If they went to get another beer during a song, that song had a problem, like bad lyric, too slow, weighty arrangement , etc. It could be used as filler … or on the cutting room floor. Unless the producer can envision it as something else, like faster, in another key, … or on the cutting room floor. Overall, the crowd LOVED the Gin Blossoms. And I think I did , too.

The next day, I met with the band, and now, when they start asking their million questions, I have answers. What songs did you like? Should we even bother cutting this or that? Song X , the one that no one likes , should we try a different arrangement? These were great questions and I gave my responses. We ended up with ten songs that we should cut for sure, and five more that we should try a different approach on. and 2 that were bye-bye. (we say “next record”)

I HAD to get them away from Tempe to cut them. Way too many distractions. So we came to Memphis and just had a lot of fun cutting and singing, and just hanging around. I took them to see Poppa Willie , and they were awed. We went to Graceland. And as usual, they kind of snickered under their breath about Elvis’ style of living, but we ALL fell to our knees (metaphorically) upon entering the trophy room My goodness, Elvis was a god to the entire planet! We all gained a boxcar load of respect by the time we left.

In a nutshell, we had fun, cut a record, and the fun stuck to the tape. And the record buyers of the world sensed that fun, and bought it so that they could have fun with us. And I had just PRODUCED my first multi platinum record. Of course, I could fill a room with this story, and I plan on revisiting these sessions in the future. But for now, that’s enough to digest.

But there’s still ONE burning question. What does a movie producer do? It’s not what I do, according to wikipedia. In fact, I hereby launch my quest to change records from reading PRODUCED BY to DIRECTED BY. The director’s job is almost exactly what I do.

And so far I have done that for Jimmy Vaughan, Robert Cray, Audio Adrenaline, John Kilzer, Big Tent Revival, … a LOT of artists. and I love it!

Next question …

Tora Tora’s walking shoes take them to “Wild America”

When Brian Huttenhower from A &M Records came into my “office” (a couch in the hallway ) at the studio that day, the last thing I expected was his question. Tora Tora, the  first band we had signed to our production company, was nearing the end of another wearying tour, and, unlike most rock bands’ first tours, it seems to have done amazingly well. Their three certifiable mini-hits, “Walkin’Shoes”, “Phantom Rider”, and “Guilty” had indeed seen the light of day, and there were probably a few more in the hat. They had seen a boatload of cities, and they made me privvy to some road stories about groupies getting the royal treatment back-stage, with one special story about a deli-tray and bonus points for hitting certain body parts; a veritable backpack of backstage stories, which I thought were surely just rumors. Surely.

This degree of success at this early part of the boys’ career is what made Brian’s question such a surprise: “So Hampton, you want to do their next record?” My response was one of curiosity, since I thought their last record sounded great. “Why? Not enough low-end for mainstream rock radio?”

Now HE looked surprised, “No, stupid! (Brian and I were close enough that he knew he could get away with that.) PRODUCE their next record!”. Now I WAS taken aback. I was sure he was talking about my sonic abilities, not my song/concept musings. Hence the bass reference.

Produce them? Where I come from, if a record does as well as this had, it was unusual to change horses midstreamlike this. But then again, Brian wasn’t known for playing it safe. (A.D.D. moment– Brian had come in the studio that day wearing a pair of Nike athletic shoes that were probably called Atomic Air Supremacy Deluxe, Special Edition Quantum Accelerator GOLDS. After staring at them a minute, I looked at Brian and asked, “Brian, exactly what kind of shoes ARE those?” Brian looked at the shoes, which added a full inch plus to his height, then he looked at me, then the shoes again, and responded,”Whaddaya mean?” Eight seconds of dead silence. Then, as serious as cancer he looked up and replied, “Bitchin’!” THAT was classic Brian.

So why me to produce their next record? The first one did O.K. didn’t it?

“It did allright, I just wanted to try something different.” Brian could hear hit songs a mile away. He had signed Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Extreme, Tora Tora, and now Gin Blossoms? Plus he was looking at a couple of other bands. Brian is talented. So talented in fact, that if he wanted me, he had me. “Sure!”

Well, it seems that the band would also glad if I would agree to do it, I found out later. Whatever had led these guys to this decision was one question I didn’t care to ask. They liked me, I liked them … let’s go.

What I liked most about Tora was that right when you thought you were getting any hair-band USA, you got something much deeper, though it wasn’t obvious at first glimpse. They were yet another clash of cultures that yielded a unique artform. This time, it was LA big-hair-big-sound pretentiousness in a real, delta based soul package, complete with mud and mosquitos. “Phantom Rider” had always sounded like a Skynyrd hit, and “Walking Shoes” was a riff-rock powerhouse from the same tree. A story of a man who had been jilted for the last time, so he broke out the walkin’ shoes. If THAT wasn’t a common blues phrase, I nominate it. Along side “I hear my back door slam”, “left home for a brown-eyed man”, “down on the killin’ floor”, and of course “Who Let the Dogs Out”.         (a joke, son)

So this was the key to the band I had decided to keep to the forefront as we made their second record. They wrote, and we hammered the songs out in an unused building a block from the studio. The Pink House we called it. It had been the big, string and horn recording studio owned by a jingle mill named Pepper-Tanner, well known in advertising music. Pepper-Tanner also made a sound effects library, (sorry, another ADD moment) and one infamous entry in this library was a sound-bite entitled “Man shoots pig”.

Over the next few months we recorded, wrote, rehearsed, recorded, wrote, and rehearsed. Suddenly one day I looked up and there were 2 overdubs left until we were done. Everything else on our production chart had been marked through. WOW! Time flies when you are having fun. So, I called Brian and he showed up a couple days later.

In a pecan shell, Brian wanted more. Where we thought it was a ten, Brian wanted eleven. Now I was in a pickle. I had committed to start Gin Blossoms (also for Brian) in about two weeks, but I can never blame a person who wants more, as long as he is paying for it.

So I went to Phoenix to start Gin Blossoms first record, which was later named “New Miserable Experience”, and Brian had a guy come in to cut some more on Tora Tora. I knew it was headed for huge success. But we all failed to foresee the effect that a new type of music that was boiling just under the surface would have on bands such as Tora Tora, who was NOT another any hair-band USA. The danger I saw was that they could possibly be “thrown out with the bath water.” Only time would tell, but my favorite, “Nowhere to Go But Down” was already becoming a favorite with people at the label, which was re-assuring. I didn’t want to leave these children in a lurch, and Brian spoke highly of the incoming guy, but alarms sounded when it got around that his biggest claim to fame was Ratt, so I had a little sit-down with him to get my two cents worth in. And I left it in his “capable hands” as I headed out for Gin Blossom land.

On my return from Phoenix a couple weeks later, I asked my co-producer how it had been going. Turns out he wore a toupee and the guys had been having a ball with him, putting duct tape across the doorway right at head level, just waiting to catch that furry thing in it’s stickum! I laughed until I was aching. They said it was going okay, but he was trying to make them into a Poison meets Motley Crüe meets Slaughter thing, and they’d had been a few “rock moments”, but otherwise, all was well. Good. I had actually missed these guys, and we were becoming good friends.

Next time Brian came in to town, we all sat and listened. Wild America was born. And now, New Miserable Experience was in it’s second trimester. Two radically types of music heading to radioland at about the same time. When I first heard the genius of  Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit’, I began to wonder if the listening/buying public would equally embrace this musical expanse. Ah, just put it out and see what happens. Right?

Next question … yes, you … in the toupee …

Transcending the Hair Band, Tora Tora Rocks … Again!

Tora Tora is playing this week in Memphis at Minglewood Hall on March 6th at 8PM and a splendid time is guaranteed for all. Once again, Anthony “Ant-Man” Corder will be singing, Patrick Frances will be playing the bass, Keith Douglas will be highly entertaining with his eeeelectric guitar, and the mighty John Patterson will provide the rock solid rhythmic foundation for Tora Tora. And when you’re standing there listening, try to remember …

That is not a hair band you hear.

Next question …

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.

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 …