About mid-March I told my employer that I would have to work from home for the week as the kids were sent home by the school district because of COVID-19. It’s been almost 3 solid months of isolation. This is my first pandemic you know, so I’d figured I’d lay low and keep everyone masked and six feet apart.

Fortunately, no one around me has had any Coronavirus symptoms, but I have received a bit of health scare news in the past month. A good friend of mine that tI’ve known all mu life has cancer requiring surgery, and my mother had a heart attack at the end of April. These two events kinda of set me back a bit, while my mom is OK my fingers are crossed for my friend.

I’ve been going over band stuff to keep in shape, and as I’ve done it I’ve been playing my Carvin fretless more and more. Soon I went back to my fretted basses and they felt clunky, slow and clanky.

I don’t know if I will ever buy another fretted bass again… I think I’m going fretless.

I have been working with my new band, auditioning a vocalist (not a good fit), but we’ve been waylaid by the pandemic and the closure of all I’ve ever held dear in life.

However, I have a new pedalboard, some fantastic stuff, and some free time until April 7 (our next rehearsal) to churn out a video or two for my youtube channel.

I just hope things don’t get dumbed down any further in the band… Triumph, but not Liquid Tension, Another Day, not Metropolis Pt1.

Just sayin.

Well, we have rehearsed 3 times and it sounds amazing. Un-freaking-real. I stop and close my eyes and it is literally difficult to tell many parts from the original artists. We are doing some Dream Theater (of course), Kansas, Triumph, Steve Vai and Porcupine Tree. We are adding a third Dream Theater song next.

We have a few singers lined up to audition starting next week. Some sound pretty good, so it should be interesting.

In the band, everyone is relaxed, professional, fun with no attitude. The guitarist is astounding. He pulls together Petrucci solos in a week, nails them in a band situation and does it consistently – wow.

So I’m really hopeful, It’s not, strictly speaking, a purely prog project, but it’s prog dominated. We may be adding some Queen, Peter Gabriel, and other artists to our set list. Rehearsals are great because everyone comes prepared, relaxed, no attitude and excited to play.

We jam in the drummer’s finsnished basement which is a multi-room studio. I am currently only using my Trace AH500X head with my 4×10 and 4052h cabs, gigs will be played with my AH250S and 2×15 (both lighter than the 4×10 and AH500X).

I’ve sold my TC Electronic G System. It was just a bad fit for me. I’m going back to he pedalboard type I had before – bass into tuner into Eletro-Harmonix Tri Parallel Mixer – channel A – clean bass; channel B – Darkglass Vintage Ultra V2, Hyper Luminal Compressor and Brimstone Audio XD-2, channel 3 will be my TC Nova System, which has an awesome analog drive and, for my purposes, is way more usable than the bigger, more expensive G-System.

It’s gonna get really cool and fun,

On the train from work today I saw a post on talkbass.com saying “R.I.P Neil Peart.” I thought, “Sick joke,” ( I hope) but then I googled his name to find out. I saw the Rolling Stone article that said he had indeed died from a glioblastoma and felt punched in the stomach… HARD.

I’m still reeling.

We only found out about his passing two and a half days later, and it blows my mind that we’ve been living in a world without Neil that long.

He was the greatest drummer who ever lived. He pushed the envelope of drumming and was really at the forefront of drum composition more than anyone before him. Without Neil there would be no Mike Portnoy, or Danny Carey. HIs drum solos with the iconic cowbell “duh (ta) duh-ta-duh-duh-duh” ring in my mind and I think about his speed, his absolute perfection in drumming and the way that his drumming MADE songs. Imagine “Tom Sawyer” as played originally by any other drummer and you know what I mean.

Neil was not just about sticks pounding skins and metal in a perfect way, he was a great lyricist. I loved his lyrics and they influenced me in countless ways. Philosophically lyrics like “Different Strings” moved me towards atheism. His lyrics in “Limelight” “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long awaited friend” influenced me about the imperative to be sincere. “Xanadu” introduced me to Coleridge and the English romantic poets. 2112 got me (momentarily) interested in Ayn Rand. And in the shower this morning I was thinking “Lakeside Park,” a song that lyrically Peart declared he didn’t like. I read his “Ghost Rider” book, I know his lyrics like I know his drum fills – note by note.

This really hurts.

When we lost Keith Emerson I almost cried at work. When we lost Greg Lake and John Wetton, I felt alone and miserable. When we lost Chris Squire, on a night that I had a gig, I was blown away. But I knew Chris was sick, and I know John Wetton battled colon cancer, and that Greg Lake wasn’t doing so well, and news of their passing, while horrible and deeply saddening, was not unexpected.

I remember when Elvis died, when John Lennon was murdered, and when Freddie died. When Elvis died, it was a beautiful August day. When John was killed, it was a rainy, ugly afternoon. When Freddie died, I got into a 2 hour fight with a DJ on KDF in Nashville because a woman called in asking the DJ to play something from Queen the day after Freddie died, but the DJ, Ian Case, refused to play any requests for Queen, saying that Freddie had AIDS and deserved everything he got. I laid into that DJ for 2 hours, and my assault on him was played back on air the next day.

This is different. I had no idea that that Neil was sick. I feel angry in a way that I didn’t know, which is odd, but he meant so much to me and others that I can’t help but feel like we should’ve known. Neil was an intensely private person, but still I feel a bit selfish that I didn’t know he had brain cancer. It’s like he was ripped away quickly and I had no idea of the that he had been sick so long.

But that was his choice, and although I don’t like it personally, I respect it.

This hits like a ton of bricks. I’ve spent a lot of time just walking in circles, as Neil called it in “Ghost Rider,” I’ve been homing, trying to get a handle on it. He was such an immense figure in my life that his absence has caused a crisis, and part of that is the seeming suddenness of his passing from this terrible disease.

I am gutted. I miss him already although sadly, I had never met him.

He wasn’t just a great drummer, or lyricist, he was a great person.

He respected his fans and while their devotion at times bordered the surreal, he was never derisive or curt. Always thoughtful always poised, always Neil.

Neil Peart is missed, in ways he could never know.

Against my fabled predictions, I actually have joined a new start up prog band!!!

I got a call from a keyboardist who saw my CL ad, and contacted me about a new band he was helping to start up. They had a drummer who wanted to be in a Dream Theater tribute, a fantastic guitarist, and they needed a bass player.

Well, “HELLO SAILOR!!!!”

So we got together at the drummer’s house and worked out a songfest we are going to practice on January 27, and we are auditioning singers starting in mid-February (there are 3 or 4 we are considering at this point).

From what I’ve heard on their Youtube channels, they are the best musicians I have ever played with.

I am ecstatic! So I’ve got to learn these songs (3 are for auditioning the vocalist, and the other 3 are for helping us get acquainted in a band/rehearsal context.)

We don’t have a name yet, but I am really stoked to get the whole thing going and can’t wait for our first rehearsal – I finally get to move some gear out of the house!!!

“Mamma I’m so happy, I’m gonna join the band!”

More to follow soon!

Last week a keyboardist from my former band invited me to a club they were playing last night to hear her and my old drummer sit in with another prog project. At first I declined as I already had plans, but then things fell through and I went, “Why not?”

I had not seen anyone in my last band since I quit back in 2016, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. After finding the club (somewhere in the black ink unlit pre-Edison backroads of Libertyville, IL), I was delighted to see her and some other friends at the bar, then paid my cover and went to see the rest of my former bandmates and get ready for the show.

After catching up a bit (not much happening here LOL), I learned that they were the second band on the bill that night, and that the first band had a 2 hour set.

oh god. 2 hours.

“Ever hear these guys?”

“Nope.”

oh god…2 hours.

Naturally, they were late starting, went way over 2 hours (oh god), and said almost nothing about the next band up (the one I came to see). They had 3 decent vocalists, and absolutely NO harmonies worked out at all. They covered a Queen song (no harmonies there, LOL. To find Queen songs without harmonies is like finding single dads without drinking problems – it can be done but good luck with that) and 2 Beatles songs – “Birthday” and “I’ve Gotta Feeling.” Neither song has any harmony vocals except a bit of octave stuff in “Birthday.” They could have done “Help!” or “Paperback Writer” even – something to showcase the vocals. But nooooo.

And the Queen song? One with minimal harmonies – “Under Pressure” (and the lead vocalist couldn’t hit the insane high notes that Freddie did, so he just yelled the first note for about half a bar then gave up, never holding the note or trying to catch the more insane 2nd high note LOL).

Whatever. There were no three-part harmonies in that song, anyways. They could’ve done “Fat Bottomed Girls,” or literally almost anything in their entire catalog for crying out loud. Nope. So that was disappointing.

The sound could have benefitted from a lower volume and some HPFs. It was so boomy I felt seasick from the subharmonic waves that were only contrasted with a shrill guitarist, and very little musical content in the middle,. That’s hardly the band’s fault, for some reason there are FOH sound engineers who feel that unless the bass frequencies are 19Hz and 247 db at 60 feet, it’s not “rock n roll.” Geez.

When the band I went to see finally took the stage, it was about midnight, and they played a good set, but the vocals were way in the background and the guitar was too loud from the stage (the guitarist, I was told, just picked up an EVH 5150 and I think Eddie could probably hear it from wherever he was last night, too).

Anyhow, they did a good 1-hour set, had vocal harmonies and sounded much better than the first band – the “boom” had been tamed. Of course, the first band fills the club with their families and coworkers, so after 2 hours plus of boom-boom-squeal, there were about 22 people on hand to enjoy the much better part of the night.

But hey, that’s prog.

The best part of the night was seeing my old friends and how little they’d changed in a little more than 3 years. Everyone was gracious and friendly – even encouraging to me about finding a band and working with other artists – so this morning I got up, thanked them for a (mostly) lovely evening on my Facebook page and reposted my Craigslist ad for a band.

So let’s see if I get any hits this time, or if I spend all my time playing “Hungry Hungry Hippos.”

I’ve been practicing all day on “When the Water Breaks” and going over the murderous parts of “Dance of Eternity” to help get my chops up. I just hope it’s so I can join a great band, or find some awesome musicians soon.

ON Sunday November 24 I posted my latest cover, Rush’s “La Villa Strangiato,” featuring a ripped off Billy Sheehan solo (from “Prime Cuts”), and a lot of fun overplaying. I’m beginning to feel like the funk is starting to clear, and I’m looking forward to adding some new gear very soon (more on that after I get it).

I still have ZERO band opportunities. I jammed with a drummer who thought he could learn “Dance of Eternity” and “Paradigm Shift” in three weeks, but, as I thought, it didn’t work out. It didn’t help that he had not practiced on his kit in about a year, but was using practice pads in his apartment. This can be fine – but at some point, you need to get behind your kit and play. Besides, he had a jazz touch, which sucks in prog metal. Jazz drummers play prog metal as if they are apologizing every time they hit the skins. Prog metal is something to be overpowered AND overplayed, it’s not for the faint of heart, or those who play like the skins are made of tissue.

So that didn’t work out.

I reached out to a local guitarist who posted some good videos, and he covered “Limelight” and a Dream Theater song, and we talked a bit but…. crickets.

I don’t think the musicians exist in Chicago who can and want (that’s the rub – ability AND desire) to play this stuff, so I’m not sure what to do except to keep recording, making videos, and beating my head against the wall.

I feel a bit of relief from the funk with my latest video and the prospect of new gear, so I’m using whatever I can to keep my head above water and stay motivated. If a bass guitar lands in the forest, does it make any sound?

Well, so much for surfacing LOL. My last post was as optimistic as I am ever going to get, and this is why: the funk is bigger than I thought. I’ve dropped out of working with Jim because what I really want is to be in an outrageously good band, playing insane music. Plus I was really bummed out about some other things that fell through recently, and have been delaying doing any new bass cover videos.

But today I did “The Trees,” which isn’t a difficult song to play, just a lot of fun and it felt good doing it.

Well it’s been a few weeks since I’ve made any posts or updates here as I’ve been lost, marooned in The Big Funk for a few weeks.

I’ve felt rather uninspired (lazy) lately, and TBH it is difficult for me to stay motivated when I’m not in a band, with a regular practice schedule, songs to learn, etc. I enjoy making videos and recording, but it’s such isolation from other musicians – there is just no substitute for a band, with the cabs thumpin and the drums pounding and the guitars screaming – you know, rock n’ roll.

I’ve been sitting on a cover of Rush “The Trees,” just because it isn’t difficult to play and I already knew about 98% of the song – but I haven’t felt the motivation to post it yet. I’m also trying to figure out what to work on next – another LTE piece? Side 1 of “Moving Pictures”? “Heart of the Sunrise”? i don’t know. I don’t have much energy in the way of bass covers, but fortunately, the clouds are breaking up.

I’m starting to find my way out of Big Funk land – not from doing video bass covers, but from the gem.n.i project and our new song, with the working title of “Gotham.”

I went to Jim’s this past weekend (and a dog nipped me on the calf when I walked in LOL!) We sat in his studio and listened to the tune, which sounds awesome. I began to get goosebumps as I imagined the bass parts that I wanted to play – the heavy, dark, Simon Grove sort of thing that hammers a very intense low end hammer to the whole track (I am even sneaking in a Billy Sheehan style solo from the 17th fret down to the first starting about 35 seconds into it!)

I think I’m on my way out of the Big Funk and back into the lovely Lowlands of bass guitar and bass fun.

“Gotham” (not it’s final name) is an intense, powerful prog metal song that just sounds like a dark city in the rain, with crashes of lightning and thunder in the streets, dark clouds writhing over the city’s skyscrapers, the moon obscured.

There is a second song we are working on too – a great riff based tune that is largely straightforward (quarter notes, roots, fourths) but is amazing and a great contrast to “Gotham.”

As I have been working on it tonight I am grinning ear to ear listening to my rough playback as it is exactly what I heard in my head (so far). I can’t wait to get the next couple of minutes under my fingers, and get out of the FUNK for a long time (I hope).

I hope to do more blog/site updates, post the Rush video and start adding some new material soon. This “Gotham” track has really done a lot to get me motivated again!

The Big Funk can funk off.

Well, it finally happened.

Today there was no blizzard. No National Holiday. No Extinction Level 5 Event. No family or work demands. El Niño said it was copasetic this once.

Consequently, I got together with Jim to hang out, jam and reignite gem.n.i.

I had a terrific time. We worked on some things he has been writing and arranging, some impressively cool new material, and xaught up. At one point he played an old guitar riff {“something I’be had on the back burner”) and I was like… “Wow – play that again.” The guitar melodies did some very unexpected things while still following a nice set of intervals. After he played it, I added the root notes, then developed a “verse” sort of thing based on it and the existing intervals in a moderate 4/4 quarter ROOT note (I know – GASP!) straight feel rock bass and we pretty much built a really nice song from that riff. I thought Robert Plant solo stuff, or David Coverdale There’s a lot more work to do, but I’m hoping we can put the pieces together and have an awesome new rock song.

In other things we worked on a long complex prog piece he is writing, and I’m stoked as he will be adding to the piece over the next few days. The first two minutes we jammed were great. Jim has a fantastic ear for music and is very creative. As he is playing things’ he has written or is developing there are frequent “oh wow” moments that catch my ear. Basslines come to me easily as I hear his writing, and when he has a bassline for me to play it is always exactly what the song needed. He is an excellent multi-instrumentalist with drums, guitars, and keys as well as a composer and engineer. I’m very excited about the future of gem.n.i and hope to post more updates soon.

Within the past week I made two new bass covers from Yes’ “Drama” album – “Machine Messiah” and “Tempus Fugit.” On my Facebook page I put a shortcut to the “Machine Messiah” video and asked people to check it out.

Well, this one guy who sent me a friend request a couple of weeks earlier, someone I had never chatted with met or spoke to added a response that my “Machine Messiah” video brought back horrible memories of children’s recitals, some of the worst moments of his life.

I thought,” Is this guy kidding me? In the ‘Machine Messiah’ video, there are 2 and a half missed notes.” I replied on the Facebook page, “So, no good?” thinking ” I MUST have misunderstood the guy – THAT bad?”

Nope. I misunderstood nothing. “I don’t care for this modern stuff, You are no John Entwhistle.” He ranted about my playing, comparing it to the worst thing ever,

So I asked, “What was it? My technique? My muting? My tone? BTW this was made in 1980.” He replied with a story about a Peavey BlackWidow back in the day that blew out then something about mules.

I thought about the whole thing later then dropped him from my friend’s list because really anyone who is going to essentially compare a personally-made video of any kind or quality to cancer on your Facebook page before ever speaking to you at all is not a nice person. Don’t like it? The polite thing is to not comment, or find a way to voice your critique in private instead of blasting them on their own page. To get bashed out of the blue ain’t cool. And then there were more messages that followed from him about mules and stuff.

And let me just say that i stand by my video. It’s a difficult song to play and I play it pretty well. There are more than 2 and a half notes, if I want to be picky the number goes up to well never mind all that, mmmmkay?

Meth is a hell of a drug.

But I also realized what had happened. All of my newer videos have a little goofy “theme song” of me playing a fast over a silly drum machine. Its like the theme to “Cheers” except it doesn’t make you feel nearly as white and thin – and it sounds goofy and new-ish. Sorta.

I bet Dave Marsh, Jr (not his real name, a reference that only one other person I know might get) stopped it in the middle of the theme and never made it to the cover song itself, which starts about 12 seconds or so into the video. So he said it stunk – meaning my goofy theme song – not my bass cover “Machine Messiah” – he bailed before the main event. Or he sat through it and totally hated “Machine Messiah,” but what’s not to love? 😉

Oh well. He still wasn’t a nice person.

November 2019 update: I backed out of the gem.n.i. project as the songwriter was always changing things, so I would work for a couple of weeks on stuff then come back to find everything changed, and my work was a waste of time – more than once. Plus, I need to be in a band, up loud, not playing into a computer. It’s just me, but I backed out before we got too far along as I’m a rocker at heart who needs the living give and take of other musicians in a live band setting to stay interested.

So that’s over. And still no band, and no collaboration.