Autumn Leaves

I have been busying myself with new videos, producing “Anesthetized” and “Acid Rain” in the past month, and have begun working on a Dixie Dregs cover for my next video (Andy West is a BEAST). In the meantime I am talking with a drummer who was advertising on CL for a prog rock-fusion band, but because of Covid and my still-healing ankle, I don’t believe we will be getting together for a few weeks at least.

Someone once asked me if I taught lessons, and my swift response was “No.” The reasons I don’t teach lessons are:

  1. I am completely self-taught and my way is not THE way I would want someone else to learn;
  2. I can’t really read music (I can bumble through sheet music, given enough time), and I don’t really know any formal music theory. I understand the scales and know a minor from a major, if someone shouts out “the 6th is flat” in a major key I know what not to play, but I would not want someone to learn my own janky system;
  3. I don’t really have the time.

So yes, I confess, I have never had a bass lesson in my life. I recently began to look for potential teachers, but eh. I would like to learn some other techniques – I’d love to be able to slap and play some Primus, I would love to be able to play three finger plucking (index, middle, ring finger), but every time I’ve tried to learn either by watching Youtube videos, I have failed miserably.

And yes, I only play with two fingers – index and middle (I got this from emulating Geddy), but I really wished I had learned three-finger plucking techniques early on. As it is, I have gotten my two fingers to play pretty fast and in insanely fast stuff (bass solo in “Dance of Eternity”) I have found a way to use my two plucking fingers, one at a time, back and forth across the strings VERY quickly. If one finger gets tired, I can switch to the other to complete the riff or solo. I got the idea from guitarists, who only use a single plectrum to shred, going back and forth across the strings quickly.

I do sometimes use my ring finger to play a quarter note section or my thumb (to conserve energy in my two plucking fingers), and sometimes I will use all my fingers (except my pinky) to finger pick all at once (my Genesis’ cover of “Firth of Fifth”), but generally, it’s a two finger attack.

Finally, I can’t play with a pick. At all. So this makes the Yes stuff a bit challenging, but not too bad. A pick feels like it’s a barrier between my fingers and the strings and I can’t feel them like I’m used to. Plus I am nervous about dropping it, or it breaking, and I don’t need something else to worry about while playing. I usually use the fingernail on my index finger plucking hand when any sort of required pick-ish sounding stuff (see my cover of “Tempus Fugit,” or the chording part of “Acid Rain”). So I have my workarounds that do just fine, but I would not want anyone to emulate my finger “style.”

I never learned to read music. I’ve played in bands where people had their master’s in music and teach it formally, but they never really wanted to teach me much (I guess if you do it for a living, you don’t want to do it at home, which has made me shy away from gynecology lol). I have learned the staff, and can work it out, and I know a rest and a repeat when I see one (and I know my circle of fifths from the bass fingerboard), but that’s about it. In the band with the master’s degree musicians, they would argue about the inverted something of something while I played Angry Birds on my phone. Then the drummer would look at me and go, “You’ve got your system – you’ll do it.”

It’s not that I don’t want to read music or know theory, or are against others learning (far from it). As that drummer said to me, “You have your own way of doing it.” But I’ve never really felt the need to learn either, as I have depended on my ear all these decades to learn or work out something. For instance, when it comes to odd time signature, I never ever count anything. I just know what a 4/4 sounds like, then tell myself “This is cut off sooner than the usual,” or “This goes da da DA da da” in my head.

I listen intently to the kick and snare, then work it out. Odd time signatures have never been a problem for me, I first learned the “Overture” to 2112 as my first song, and odd times were just a natural part of playing, they were never unusual and are not challenging at all. Maybe it helps that when I play, I do not ever notice the guitar or keyboards, but I stick to the drums and seek to double them when possible – beat – fills – it makes no difference – stick with the drums!

When a really fast part comes up (the end of “Instrumedley,” or the entirety of “Acid Rain,”) I tell myself “This is faster than you realize….GO!” Check out my video cover of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Tarkus – Eruption” for a good example. This usually works to keep me in tempo, but, TBH, I sometimes go too fast, which is not a good thing. I try to play a little ahead of the beat to push the song alone, but too much and it’s a blurry mess.

Tapping has never been a problem, however, it has its own challenges. One of the things that made Eddie Van Halen so great (RIP), was that his tapping was precisely fretted and in perfect tempo – so it’s completely clean. To tap cleanly, the two big things are “Know your notes perfectly” and “Tap it HARD.” If it’s not clean, it sounds horrible, and if it’s not definitively punched through, it doesn’t sound at all.

When learning a new cover, I check Youtube for how people play it, tabs, and depend on my ears (because tabs are notoriously goofy). I just finished “Acid Rain” and the tab, for 50% of the time, was plain wrong, so I had to rely on my ears, or, if all else failed, grabbed the sheet music and wrote out each note from the score.

Also, I’ve never learned another instrument, other than some guitar stuff (I can play Kansas’ “Reason To Be” and Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and some chords, but that’s all).

I don’t play keyboards, but I know where the notes are and what they are. The reason I never learned or cared to learn another instrument was that, to me, if I wasn’t playing bass but another instrument, that was time taken away from bass and really wasted. Sure, it’s fun to goof around on guitar, but to seriously learn it means that I am not using that time to get better on bass, which is my goal.

What’s coming up? It looks like a great Dixie Dregs tune (there is some slap in it – oh no!), then maybe an Emerson, Lake and Palmer instrumental (“Karn Evil 9, Second Impression”), or my last Liquid Tension song (“When the Water Breaks”), Frosts* “Hyperventilate,” or Yes’ “South Side of the Sky.” Those are all on my radar, but we’ll have to see – maybe I’ll be in a band, or at least, playing with a great drummer.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this autumn season and take care.

“The Only Thing She Needs”

Here I sit with my purple leg cast, having just finished recording the video for my bass cover of UK’s “The Only Thing She Needs.” The app “Handbrake” is busy in the background crunching my video down to 29.97 NTSC and constant framerate so iMovie can work with it, listening to FROST* new EP “Others.” Fantastic music – I am a big FROST* fan and contemplating adding a redo of their song “Toys,” which was on my channel before I yanked it over quality concerns.

I have redone Frost* “Toys,” but UK’s tune os then getting all the attention now.

UK, to me, ended like Fawlty Towers – there was a lot more magic left in the bottle for them to pull the plug so quickly. With Alan and Bill being the “artists” while John and Eddie were the “craftsman” (as John said later), Alan and Bill wanted to go into more fusion type stuff, more improvisational experimental work -while John and Eddie were more rock n’ roll types who wanted to stay more on the rock side of things.

So Alan and Bill left, having already begin working on “Danger Money,” and Terry Bozzio joined for two UK recordings, one studio and one live.

By then Asia was on the horizon, a “supergroup” I remember hearing them called at the time, and while Asia already had a keyboardist (former Buggle and Yes man, Geoffrey Downes) John left to join them on Vox and bass. Terry Bozzio went on to start his own band “Missing Persons” with his wife, Bill did fusion stuff, some King Crimson, and Alan did his own thing. That leaves Eddie Jobson.

Eddie Jobson is criminally underrated. He is a genius composer, with dark and moody music, interesting choreography changes, time changes and dynamics, he wrote nearly ALL of UK’s music. He is the BEST violinist in rock, his solos (“Caesar Palace Blues” for instance, are insane. He belongs with Wakeman, Rudess, and even Emerson as a keyboard virtuoso. How he has flown under the radar all these decades is beyond me.
Eddie Jobson is one musician I would be intimidated to work with, he’s just so good.

Here’s a link to a transitional UK – Alan, Bill, John and Eddie, in between the first album and “Danger Money” from a concert in Cleveland Ohio. It is a fantastic and odd at times recording, with guitar in places I’m not to hearing, better bass work that on their studio albums, and Bill Bruford’s take on “The Only Thing She Needs”:

Click the play button and enjoy!

Peace out, low enders and our friends.

Hot Summer Daze

So here I am in August. As expected, COVID came back once people thought it was cool and fun to get together and ignore reality (despite the obvious that reality doesn’t avoid us), the country burst into flames (OK, didn’t see that coming but should have), and, then in the most unexpected of events I fell in my kitchen 3 weeks ago, breaking my ankle in 3 places requiring emergency surgery, several large screw, metal plates, 27 stitches, crutches and casts.

I couldn’t practice for a couple of weeks because I had to keep my ankle elevated and found no easy way to hold a bass… but now I’m back at it baby!

My band just received news that our keyboardist is unable to continue with us, so we are starting to look for a new keyboardist, in addition to a vocalist – but we haven’t practiced since mid March and do not know when we will be getting together again.

I’m continuing on with my bass cover videos – UK’s “The Only Thing She Needs” – juiced up – is coming to my Youtube channel soon. The music project I recorded last year for Chris Steberl (featuring former Fates Warning drummer Mark Zonder) was picked up by a record label and is now number 1 on the Radio Guitar One charts – ahead of Tony MacAlpine, Stu Hamm, and Paul Gilbert:

I’m hoping to get to do more work for Chris and others soon (maybe something with Aquiles Priester!), so that’s cool.

About my friend with cancer mentioned in my last blog, he’s decided to forego treatment for his cancer, which is pretty scary. I’ve been reading and while it is sage 4, there is a 3 in 4 chance of surviving 5 years, which sounds pretty good with stage 4 cancer, but not so good when you could accept the (harsh) treatment and be done with it. So it’s made me anxious about his future, and very worried.

That’s not cool.

I spent a few weeks this summer playing nothing but my fretless Carvin bass, because fretless playing is just faster and more fun to play. My plans on switching to fretless full time are a bit premature, but it may eventually happen as I really love the way fretless bass feels, even with the tonality issues that can arise.

Quarantine…

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.

Spring Pandemic Update

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.

New Band!

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,

1/7/2020 – RIP Neil Peart

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.

After 3 and a half years of looking, I’m finally in a NEW BAND!

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!

Saw some old bandmates/friends last night

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.

Clawing my way back!

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?