Back around March/April of 1994 I was making a first foray into advertising my services as a drummer. At the time there was no Craigslist where one could explain everything about their artistic vision and influences and all that in elaborate prose, or in txt msg spk. There was no MySpace or Facebook where you could network and allow someone to hear your stuff, and where you are able to change your public profile at will and at no particular expense. Nope. It was just free ads with up to 25 words in a print ad in the Reader, once a week (and with one word spoken for if you included your phone number). If someone called and was interested in a follow up, you either get together and jammed (akin to sex on the first date) or maybe you traded already-out-of-date demo tapes (akin to showing pictures of your old girlfriend to the new chick you're trying to get with). I don't really remember the ad, but there must be one kept for posterity in my stash of things from that period. I think I referred to myself as a "drumset player" for some reason. Some influences back then might have included Tull, Toto, Rush, Primus, and probably a few others that were representative enough to put on such a short ad. I got a few calls.
At that time, I was not yet a sensible player who took only the needed gear to any given playing situation. I was sporting my heavily modded kit that was quite refined by that time—but crafted for something totally unlike any of the responses I got from my ad, or any of the ads I called. It was built around a Pearl rack and had seven drums, at least six or seven cymbals, and a couple of cowbells. Yeah, I was still in my Neil Peart phase, or more recently, my Tim Alexander phase, which was a new twist on Neil's formula anyway, replete with oversized kit with all manner of toys, and too many notes per measure! I was still moving deeper into prog rock territory around then. By then I was yet to hit my Yes period (it was about to happen this same year) but I was over a year from diving into King Crimson, and months from discovering Keneally and all that arose from that circle of players. I had some knowledge of Frank Zappa's more comical work but had little discipline to try to play it. I had seen Terry Bozzio do a clinic on his massive drum kit and he was a hero for a bit, showing the power of the drum set as a viable musical instrument. All my playing had been in my quite ridiculous drum/vocal duo Rhythmic Catharsis and with an odd, sort of avant garde improvisational group called New Electron Symphony. I was the least avant garde in NES but I was unconventional and at least not tamed yet. In more clear terms, I didn't really know what the fuck I was doing. At least some playing with NES tamed me a bit in the fall of 1993. In that setting, I learned something about grooving a bit more in odd meters, laying off cymbals some, choosing better notes and when to use them. But after the start of 1994, I wanted something different.
So the ad campaign began at the suggestion of Bonnie Hanika, a mentoring friend from church who was giving me some pep talk to fight the depression that had set in when Rhythmic Catharsis fell apart, followed by the often ego-destroying lessons that arose from playing with NES. Even at that point, I was about to pack it in, or so I thought. What silliness it seems now that I would have exhausted any creative potential when I had barely tapped into any yet, but my heart was broken at that point. Still, the ads went out and I phoned a few. I went on a handful of auditions and first jams with my seven piece kit. Oh, it looked good, but it was wayyyy too much to be hauling around on these first dates, and I just know I caved into all the stupid things you can play when you have too many drums and no idea what to do to musically compliment things.
On the morning of the 14th of April—15 years ago today—I got awakened by a call from a guy named Jim Pupplo. He and his band Slaves By Trade needed someone to play drums for their gig that night since their drummer was MIA. I had no idea what I was getting into and how this would begin to change my life for years to come. He asked me to come up to Miramar where their rehearsal studio was in one of those modified warehouses that cater to musicians who can't play at home. So I filled the Ford Escort with the kit, and got up there and set up and played for a couple hours in the early afternoon. Their show was later on at the notorious Spirit club. I guess there must have been about ten songs to learn. I remember the usual stuff now but forgot the songs just a few hours later; dark room with fans raging to cope with the gym locker heat and man-stench, a few breather breaks to get some questions answered, earsplitting volume, overplaying to make up for not knowing what to play (!), posing as a guy who could play metal when in fact I really never had nor wanted to. Shit, I was a prog rock guy, and maybe a guy with a tad bit of fusion exposure too, but never metal or what was that G word? Grunge? Slaves were playing something more shaped by Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and Dio than Primus and Toto. I was totally posing, but I did have the volume thing down. I just didn't know how to play straight and hard, even though I am essentially a backbeat kinda guy.
Having not recorded the rehearsal I promptly forgot the songs by the time the show began, recalling only bits of starts as they were thrown at me. No matter though; no one expected perfection, and the guys had a group of friends from their Navy workshop who were happy to have beers and get rowdy and frankly were quite cool with the fact I just blew in off the wind that day. They were always good support for us. Each show had a good rent-a-crowd, so we were spared the usual empty venue embarrassment that plagues a lot of bands at that early point in their careers.
For months after I sat in with them, SBT carried on as a foursome with a singer who didn't play an instrument. Alan was okay but he always had it out for me and was waiting for their former drummer to figure out if he was going to come back or not. After Alan was canned in June, things improved but it never really was going to be my band. I had no real experience in song writing or in playing any instrument but a bit of piano and that was certainly out of place. I had written lyrics to my own shit with Rhythmic Catharsis, but none of that was right for a rock band, and it was barely right for RC anyway since Matt refused to sing half of what I wrote. But on one occasion—all the more exceptional because it was during the Allan period— I got a lyric into SBT that reflected a certain part of my own self, and yet one that could also be delivered with some conviction within a hard rock band. Pull My String was about being teased and taunted, manipulated to explosive anger. About half my time in the band was with Alan fronting. Most of our setlist was formed during his time in the band. There were a small number of songs which came about once Alan got canned and we were able to function more freely as a trio. By far the better part was after he left and after I had a chance to settle in with Jim and bassist Josh. We tried out a few vocalists but Jim was finding his confidence and just decided to assume that role himself. And he was seemingly better at it than Alan. I began to streamline my kit some for the more straight ahead parts, turning to a Bonham five piece setup. It seemed like it might work out with these guys.
We played at the warehouse rehearsal site for a while but since Jim was living in the Old Town area and I was in Clairemont, it made sense to ditch the space and just meet at Jim's house. His roommates were Navy buddies anyway so they didn't care about the sound and were totally into live entertainment. I was also working close by at the Subway across the street from the Spirit Club which itself was less than a mile from Jim's house. We jammed in his bedroom, and I left my kit at the house—a huge leap of faith for me—ready to set up on the way out of work. But even this wasn't established enough for them. Despite being Navy guys, they still had that classic idea of rock bands everywhere—that we were gonna work together for something great. I never really felt that way toward them and couldn't see myself playing such music for long. I had no idea how they planned to tour while in the Navy. So I was jamming concurrently with another band that had called me a few days before SBT had. One time they put it to me that it was "SBT or the gig with Greg" (doing a more jazzy and jammy So-Cal oriented thing that I may have liked more even if I was just as much a fish out of water with them.) SBT were a lot more uptight and until I gave them a clear answer, they sort of dismissed me for a few days, but they had some form and discipline, so I went with them for the rest of the time, and dabbled with Greg and his loose collective of folks when I had time. But for a while in the spring and early summer, I rehearsed and gigged a few times with both.
Recall how in the early part of the year, I was depressed and feeling quite the loser. I even had a long spell of feeling that I should just quit music and sell my stuff. But a different thing happened that spring and summer. Instead of winding down, I dug deeper into the craft and bought more gear. Concurrent with the SBT period, I bought a bunch of new cymbals, including one that could only serve Slaves By Trade or something even heavier. It was a massive 22" manhole cover of a ride cymbal that did one thing and one thing only— "PING!" That's it on the recording of Pull My String. I replaced my hi hats and other cymbals too, favoring the bright and cutting sound that would be ideal for a metal band. I was not yet into more subtle and delicate sounds, nor did I have the sense to add sounds without ditching my old gear if it still served me well. So there I was, getting all this new metal while simultaneously thinking I am quitting music. Then comes the big one—getting a brand new maple Premier Signia kit in August! That was timely; we had just planned to go to a studio where I had done one demo with Steve Woodham, yet another of the April ad connections. SBT had nine songs we planned to record, and I was all beaming since I got new drums for the occasion. It almost started to seem like things would go somewhere.
The recording of Pull My String is from that session. It was the first time I had been in a studio setting that sought to capture a live feel from all of us playing at once. And that is essentially what it is, but for a few guitar solo and vocal overdubs. For my part, each song went down in a take or two, scarcely more. We recorded in one night and mixed the next. It was only a week later when I took my drums to my drum guru Roger Friend and had him show me how to tune my first professional grade kit. (Too bad I didn't think of that before the session—the toms sound a bit boxy. In many cases though I prefer the sounds I got at Hog Heaven after more chance to establish my tastes and abilities at my leisure.) I ended up leaving the studio with the master multitrack tapes, the DATs and other such stuff. No one ever asked me for them but no one really knew how we'd get things copied for the demo tape either. So, in September, I happened upon a digital studio that would be able to transfer DAT to CD. This was good news, because they I could dupe the CD to tapes (this was heady stuff then)! The CD blanks at the time were 650 MB and cost bleepin' $15 apiece! So I got two copies. All told, the bill was just about $200 for real time transfer to computer, real time burn x 2, and digital editing too. That was all so I could hear our work on a format that I had at home.
(Meanwhile, as I was doing this on my own dime, studio engineer Joe Statt told of a certain Mike Keneally who came in earlier in the year with a box of DATs and who compiled his CD Boil That Dust Speck by digitally editing a zillion bits together. I had heard of Mike and met him shortly before Frank Zappa died, but this really got me interested in him. A few months later, I went to see a show of his and I found religion!)
I guess I would be remiss to not tell the girl part of the story. I swear I didn't join a rock band to get girls, but it was a practical inevitability, I guess. There was this girl who was a bit um, rounded but who had the face of an angel and was quite the high end in the audience cheering section. I think her name was Tracy. I was sort of holding out for a chance with her, but never really moved on it because she was friends with a few of the Navy people. There were various occasions where the entire crew was present doing what sailors do best on their off time—consume mass quantities of their favorite libations. Despite never moving in on Tracy, it happened that on the day when I bought my drums, I ended up at a party at the band house and there was this one girl who did have enough beer in her to think I was worth a diversionary walk in the park at the bay. Well, that led to a string of events that changed things primarily for the next couple years and beyond! But that was the only time when my membership in a rock band ever led to nookie, engagement, abortion, and the requisite heartache that follows.
Anyhow, after the new drums, the new girlfriend, the new demo (a sure sign your garage band is about to break up!), it was time for it all to fall apart! There were a few "third wave" songs (the second wave after Alan left) that were ready to play out by early September when I took my new drums to the stage at the Spirit club. Somehow I lost my place while we were trying to segue some couple things together, and the whole thing crashed and burned. That took some arguing over since the segue was my idea. We played a pretty good show a few days before Halloween but that wasn't enough to save it. Already it seemed Jim had found some other people he was going to play with. By the end of the year I saw him singing with Typhoid Mary. And he moved house with his new fiancee, so we were out of the Navy buddy bachelor pad. So now what? I had a bad ass kit and no gig, and a demo recording of a band that didn't exist anymore. WTF?
Not much more passed between me and Jim, but he was gracious enough to show me some guitar chords and to explain some things about guitars and theory. It was enough to pique my interest since I had just weeks before gotten a used acoustic guitar for my 21st birthday, and would want to know something about it. There never was any SBT closure or anything. It fizzed out. I saw Typhoid Mary and their reformed alter ego Pincushion a few times and at least once after one of his gigs at the Spirit (or maybe Brick By Brick as it has been for years since SBT closed up shop) he offered to play on a recording of mine, but nothing I was doing particularly required his style. (Jim died in a plane crash in 2004 in Japan. Read my blog from then.) But discovering a new outlet for musical dabbling on guitar was useful in years to come. The prolonged search for a replacement band led me to turn toward my own means and method and after eight months of auditions and jams, I launched into the five year period of recording and experimenting that culminated in Receiving in 2000. I guess you never can predict the twists and turns that result from the spark of creative tension.
The irony for me now is that in all practical senses, I actually have put down the music like I thought I was going to in 1993-4, but still want to play something if I find the time or people to share in making it happen because I don't at all feel that I have tapped the creative well like I could. But my mentor Bonnie was right about never knowing what could happen if I placed an ad.
As an epilogue, I have to report a new bit of surprising trivia. I wrote a blog about Jim after he died in the plane crash, but didn't realize something else about the whole incident. It turns out that the pilot of the doomed plane over Okinawa was the same guy who flew George Dubya onto the aircraft carrier in order to announce Mission Accomplished in Iraq. The snarky left-leaning part of me laments that the artist-musician that tried to bring a bit of creative good into the world was the one who had to die at the hands of this pilot who also flew the worst president ever to one of the most notorious and ill-conceived photo ops ever, to celebrate the faux-ending of a "war" that should never have been launched. Life just aint fair, is it?