We played in Sacramento last night at the Prescott Showcase of new, improv and jazz music hosted by our friend Ross Hammond. For some reason SPLITLIP has played more shows to fewer people in Sacto than anywhere else. But the shows are always interesting there, so the few who make it get the goods.
Things felt really great onstage and we could have played on all night or as Suki said, ‘until the electricity runs out.’
A comment overheard during a lull in one of our pieces:
‘Do these people have any talent?’
followed by this Q&A w/ Ross:
Q: ‘What do you think their influences are?’
Ross: ‘I wouldn’t know where to start.’
ALBUM next year, we should hope…(the wonderful Michael Zelner recorded this and most of our shows, so…)
My frighteningly awesome sounding amp rig circa 2000-2. There have been many such combinations, but this one, taking elements of both Neil Young & Ry Cooder stage set ups, was one of the best. Certainly the most…robust.
60s Vox wah (modded)->80 Dyna Comp->Matchless Hotbox->Memory Man (modded)->Boss Tu2 trem->70’s EP3 echoplex (with volume pedal mod to control mix)->
1965 Princeton Reverb. The heart of it all and remains my favorite amp ever. Onstage it gets mic’d for house and has a custom made instrument level tap that comes off the speaker and travels->
1971 Hiwatt 100. Unbelievable headroom (this one rated 120 watts clean, 170 full up) and responsible for whatever stage volume needed. It fed either 2 or 4 Bell & Howell 1×12 movie cabs, often set at an angle or backwards depending on the room.
Ahmet Ertegun, the chairman of Atlantic Records, died this past weekend at 83 after being in a coma since October 27 when he fell backstage during a Rolling Stones concert at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Hanging out with musicians as always, he probably wouldn’t have wanted it any other way – except maybe at a Ruth Brown (who died on October 29) concert.
Together with the late great Tom Dowd and the still-with-us Jerry Wexler, this trio – a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian – thought outside of the box and worked together with some of the greatest African-American Blues, R’n’B and Jazz talent to help elevate their music to a deserved and exhaulted status. They also curated some of the great English rock bands of the 60’s, including Led Zeppelin and Cream.
After seeing “The Language of Music“, the great documentary about Tom Dowd at Sundance in 2003 (just after TD passed away), I noted how humble, genuine and passionate Ahmet was about music. I watched it again a year ago and pledged that the next time I was in New York, I would meet him and tell him that. Several times I was in New York and every time I failed to take the initiative. Now, it is too late and that makes me sad. A lesson, to always follow your plans and ideas, because someday it may no longer be the possibility it once was.
In the spirit of following all possiblities and passions, like Ahmet did,
Depends…Often when you’re under the microscope of the studio you can rarely judge accurately if you’ve given it your best. You can rarely be objective enough to know what you put down is actually what you are after. A good producer can offer that. However, if you are really focused you can do it yourself. Take for example, one of my favorite artists, Billy Childish, who loathes the idea of a producer yet has managed to put out over 100 cool records. Then again, Billy Childish is one focused fella when it comes to his art.
Some of my favorite producers – Roger Moutenot, Chris Thomas, Tucker Martine, understand that the gig is just as much about people and psychology as it is music. They become an integral part of the formula and work very transparently. Consequently, they often don’t get credit where it is due (what did he actually do?!). No matter – let’s look at what can happen without one.
Case A: The artist knows what he/she is doing, has the studio and all the musicians in order, songs together, band rehearsed, nails the performance, pays attention during the mix and leaves with an amazing record. Now this takes a lot of work, a lot of mistakes and a lot of experience to do. Nothing like finding that out in a studio! Do you need that kind of stress? Maybe. If you have done 10 years of 4 tracking and are able to produce in your own environment – then consider making a record that way, because that will all change the moment you walk into another studio. Your experience will need breadth as well as depth. Frequency – rare.
Case B: The engineer or someone playing on the session ends up producing by default. Usually this person will develop a migraine from the multi-tasking, won’t have much fun and will probably feel underpaid. This will affect the session. What? The engineer/producer erased a track? The mix isn’t what you wanted? The guitarist hates what he played? Frequency – often.
So, if you are not afraid of a new relationship and are willing to put an effort into finding a good producer, it can pay off. You are going to have to put a lot of trust in the person producing, trust that he/she is of like mind about your project and that you’re both going for what you ultimately want to hear.
One last caveat! (Case C) A bad producer is the result of bad communication. And a bad producer is probably worse than none at all. So choose wisely.
Production Tip #1 – Work on your songs and arrangements before you step into a studio. Work is the key word. Takes up time. Makes better records. Great SONGS and compositions are the most key ingredient in making make great records.
This the history and evolution of Kingtone Studio recording set-ups. The idea was lifted from the liner notes to the Pete Townshend “Scoop” LPs.
Studio #7 2008-present. 8-24 tracks. I’ve been obsessed with keeping the smallest footprint possible. I wanted something both portable yet totally pro to track with, making do with what I already have excepting a few necessary upgrades. There are so many options available but it boils down to two or three paths. My Metric Halo 2882 firewire AD/DA interface (which I owned/used briefly in 2003 before they developed the crucial 2D mixer option) is still running strong into a MacBook pro running a combination of Harrison MixBus 32C (for mixing and some editing), Waves Tracks (for live tracking) and Reaper (for editing and manipulating). I used to use Digital Performer and long ago left Protools in the dust. This setup gives plenty of ultra high quality ins and outs. The 2882 and a UA 2-610 tube mic preamp has enabled me to get great recordings and keeps my table top nice and clean. I always have a pair of ADAM A7s and a few other speakers for reference (including my trusty Cambridge Audio computer speakers) but do miss a mixing board for hands on control…someday soon. I recently scored a great Otari MX-55 1/4″ open reel deck…ah analog, how I sometimes miss you.
Studio #6 2007. The PARIS system’s main card died – RIP. Faced with the prospect purchasing another card with a limited life span and continuing to run OS9, I chose to sell the PARIS parts off. I started using a simple Protools setup with a $200 MBox.
Studio #5 2004 to 2006 – Emeryville, CA. 16 tracks+. I moved to a more spacious and brighter studio and fully committed to the digital age when I discovered and purchased a ‘vintage’ DAW platform, PARIS. Fantastic sounding, stable, with really intuitive (ie analog) recording, mixing and editing capabilities. 16 tracks, 24 bit, no latency with real time fx, eq and aux capability AND a solid, workable control surface. Basically a Protools HD with better sound at a fraction of the price. And since it had its own processing power, I ran it for years with my old Mac 7600 with no problems. I added a sweet Ampex 350 mic preamp (rebuilt by Rance) and a FMR audio Really Nice Preamp to the setup which was now neatly contained in two roll around racks.
Studio #4 2003 – Emeryville, CA. 8track. I struggled for a year with a free version of Protools 4.0 and an old Digidesign Audio Media III card (16 bit, 2 i/o) running on a really old Mac 7600 (G3) in a dark and dank rehearsal studio. The setup was hodgepodge and without a proper patchbay, but it sounded okay. I recorded a lot of cool music – much of it for the Immersion Composition Society.
Studio #3 1998-2002 Berkeley, CA. 8+ tracks. I moved into a warehouse complex right on the train tracks in West Berkeley and made the move to mostly vintage pro gear with the help of my good friend and SF bay area audio guru, Lawrence Fellow-Mannion. The centerpiece was a beautiful 1969 3M M23 1″ 8 track that I found sitting in a forgotten corner of El Cerrito Guitar Center, a late 70’s Soundcraft Series II 16/8/2 desk from Wallysound, a couple of Dan Alexander Neve 1272 and Ampex 601 mic pre’s, some good compressors, an Otari MX 5050bIIb 1/4″ deck and a tt patchbay with fancy quad cabling. I added an amazing Lawson L47 tube mic and a Coles 4038 ribbon to the collection. My friend Ricardo Esway, chipped in some digital gear including 8 channels of MOTU digital in/out (that paled in comparison to sound of the M23).
The tracking room had great sound and fantastic reverb decay due to the 30′ arched wood ceiling. We built a proper double-walled control room but left the rest of the space as is (ie not remotely soundproof). Amazingly the trains that frequently roared by rarely interfered with recording. I eventually moved out of the space and broke up the studio (no more tinkering and soldering!). The M23, Soundcraft and patchpay live with Chris Butler and his vintage collection in Hoboken, NJ, but I did keep some crucial gear…
Studio #2 1990-1997 Boston, MA, CT and SF, CA. 8 tracks. My first real studio with a Tascam TSR-8 1/2″ open reel deck, Seck 1282 mix console, Tannoy monitors, Sony DAT deck, Lexicon reverb and a Symetrics compressor. All very decent sounding and popular semi-pro gear that I acquired while an employee of the now defunct EU Wurlitzer Music in Boston (thanks David Bryce and Ducky Carlisle). I eventually purchased a few more mics including a really nice AKG 414TLII, made many demos and several records.
Studio #1 1985-1989 Various east coast USA locales. 4 track. Purchased the venerable Tascam Porta-One cassette ministudio and a couple of Shure 57’s from Manny’s in NYC. What a great combo. Ease of use, durability, cool VU meters, it was just such a home run by Tascam. Recorded A LOT of demos, ideas and several cassette releases. Before this the only machines available were huge. In fact, the only recording experience before this (the thing that started it all, really) was a month long internship with the huge, dodgy Ampex 4-track open reel studio in my university music department.
It is 1993. I have just moved from New York City to San Francisco. I’ve found a nice little studio apartment on the second story of a nondescript beige/pink building on Jackson Street – between Nob Hill and Chinatown – a steal at $550. There are parrots in the tree branches outside my window. They are loud. There is a very strange large, bald man who lives upstairs and tells me about his experiments with acid in the 60’s. They involve lying naked in bed for a week in a fetal position. His exaggerated speech, gestures and facial expressions remind me of the father of the voodoo woman who helps Johnny Angel find the “Dark Prince” in the movie “Angel Heart” (and ends up face down in a pot of boiling gumbo for it).
I don’t have a job, the girl I chased halfway across the country doesn’t seem that interested anymore and I’m desperately looking for something to latch onto. I’ve come to realize that every long term friend I’ve ever had is three thousand miles away. I exist in a world full of acquaintances.
I seem to have time for many things. I do some useless temp work for Charles Schwab. There, I make a lot of long distance phone calls, steal computer diskettes, pens and everything else that isn’t nailed down. My car gets many parking tickets. I now take buses and walk alot. I peruse bookstores. In one such place, I find a used copy of Anthony Robbins‘ Personal Power. How many times have I seen those late night 30 minute info-documentaries with this charismatic gent emphatically pitching his way for everyone to get their shit together? Well, I ain’t paying 300 bucks for the tapes, but I will pay $6 for the book.
I read the first three chapters. Basically it says, “decide what you are going to do today and then go out and do it – especially if you have no idea how to.” Fair enough.
* * *
In 1993, Pete Townshend put out the record Psychoderelict and was doing his first ever solo tour to support it. The night before in Berkeley I had attended the first of two sold out shows and was happy to have been able to see him in the relatively intimate 3000 seat Berkeley Community Theater. It was a very good show. I go to bed feeling inspired. I awake the next morning and the Personal Power question stares me in the face:
“What are you going to do today?” Hmmm….
I am going to meet Pete Townshend! I’ll thank him for being who he is, let him know how big an inspiration he has been to me and have him to sign my favorite guitar – a TV-yellow Gibson Les Paul Special.
Pretty tall order. So, how to go about it? -> part ii
…Well, I figure the best bet is to go back over to Berkeley and catch Pete at sound check before the second show – somewhere between 3:00 and 5:00 pm. I climb into my 1989 Toyota 4Runner (ahh, a gem that got away – the last year it came with a removable top and the first year with a V6 engine) and head over the Bay Bridge to the far away land of Berkeley, California.
I’m headed up what turns out to be Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley – not far from my intended destination, but I am completely lost and, of course, listening to The Who. As the last strains of Who’s Next taper off, the tape pops out of the deck and 1989 technology kicks in hard as the “auto-radio” function does it’s thing. Lo and behold, there’s Pete’s voice. Ahh! I’ve got him!
I spot a phone booth, abruptly pull over, search madly through the phone book and find the address of KFOG 104.5 FM in San Francisco. I write down the address (nice of me not to tear out the page, right?) and head back the way I came.
As I re-cross the Bay Bridge, I realize how incredibly beautiful it is here! Not a cloud in the sky – a perfect blue gradient from the white of the horizon to the deepest blue overhead. The rusty red spires of the Golden Gate bridge jut out over the horizon to my right. The San Francisco skyline is up ahead. I notice that most of the buildings in San Francisco are white – it is a very white city (not just the population). If you’re from here you might not notice that, but I can tell you that New York City is much more of a grey/dark brown…anyway, I fly through traffic listening to Pete talk about music and think, “Don’t you get off the air, fucker!” He sings a song from Psychoderelict (an interesting concept record but, unfortunately, one that contains very few tracks that qualify as a “song”). His voice is shot and he doesn’t sound great, but I’m not complaining. As long as he keeps talking.
It is now rush hour. Cars are just about everywhere and I’m in downtown SF. I make an inspired, lucky left turn and end up just a few blocks from my destination. I spot a long black limo double-parked up ahead. This is it! The parking goddess is with me and I nab a spot just a block away…
I rush over to the limo and start knocking on the rearmost window. The black mirror facade rolls down and an English gent’s long face appears in its place. He asks politely what I might want. I tell him I would like to speak to Pete. He replies, “He’s still inside, you’ll need to talk to his manager over there.” I look over and standing on the sidewalk, having a smoke is Pete’s manager, who has been keeping and eye on all this. He is nice enough when I repeat the question and tells me to wait for Pete to come out. I ask him if Pete might sign my guitar. He informs me that “Pete doesn’t sign guitars.”
I am standing on the sidewalk in front of a glass enclosed lobby with a clear view through to the silver elevator door not 25 feet way from me. There is a black canvas soft guitar case slung over my right shoulder. In it is my favorite guitar. The one I use the most. A Gibson “TV-yellow” Les Paul Special named “Mean Mr. Mustard.” There’s a pin on the strap that says “Thunders lives!” (I got the pin while Johnny Thunders was still alive – which was often a tenuous state for him). I stand there for a long time. I begin to realize that this is actually going to happen…What to say! “Hello Pete! Uhh, Hi Pete, uhh…”
After a few minutes or so of this, I spot a middle aged man running up the street. He stops in front of me and breathlessly asks if Pete has come out yet. Perhaps he thinks I’m Pete’s manager. In his hand, he reverently holds a small, white paper napkin. Apparently, he seeks an autograph. I inform him that Pete hasn’t yet materialized, but that he can wait in front of me.
We wait some more.
And then suddenly, there he is.
Pete pushes through the glass doors and seems in a bit of a hurry. Looking perfectly English in a grey tweed coat he approaches us and quickly, but politely, signs the napkin of the fellow in front of me. He then looks at me standing there with a smile and a guitar over my shoulder. Since I ask for (and seemingly offer) nothing, his demeanor changes in the minutest way. His weight shifts backward and he pauses as if to say, “right then…” -> part iii
Shit! What do I say? I was silent for a few moments as I was a bit distracted by Pete’s gaze. He has very intense blue eyes. They search. He is obviously interested in people. Behind Blue Eyes and all that.
I finally started in by thanking Pete for his inspiration. That he was one of the main reasons I picked up the guitar in the first place and continue to this day. That perhaps my parents were not so much in debt to him as I was since they’ve never really understood the whole process to begin with. I have no idea why I said that. It just came out. No comment from Pete.
I told him about seeing The Who in NYC at Madison Square Garden in the fall of 1979. How when the the bright white lights lit up the crowd during Won’t Get Fooled Again there was a certain 16 year old boy standing on a railing above the crowd, his arms stretched toward the ceiling in ecstasy – just about 50 feet from stage left at eye level – when Pete Townshend had suddenly pointed at him. He grinned and mentioned that he “vaguely remembered those shows” (Pete was quite a drinker in those days).
I told him that I had seen the show last night in Berkeley, which had prompted me to seek him out today and that I very much enjoyed the reach of his new work. That it was important he was still taking risks, however good or bad they might be or be received. He very much appreciated that.
I then mentioned that I too was a musician playing original music and doing all I could toward that end – the same as he. At this, I asked him, “Would you sign my favorite guitar?”
He did not hesitate with his answer,
A sharpie pen was produced and the guitar signed, just below the tailpiece where it would be rather safe from wear and tear.
Until now, Pete’s entourage had stayed respectfully away, but was starting to shuffle a bit. As Pete made a turn to leave, I thanked him again and said,
“Hey Pete, keep on pushing.”
He turned back and said,
“I intend to.”
*** *** ***
It has been over ten years now and I don’t play the guitar as much. Mostly because I love my Telecasters, but also because I don’t like hauling it to gigs.
I have used it for shows with the HO! (a punk rock, tongue-in-cheek, Live at Leeds era Who cover band) as a backup to my red Gibson SG and for the songs that needed a capo. In fact, at our “last show ever” the SG got damaged and for My Generation, I went to the PT signed Les Paul Special and proceeded to bash it around on the stage and snapped the bottom straplock off of it in true Pete fashion. It’s a working guitar, dammit. You can witness this at the end of this promo trailer:
I still use it for recording and every once in a while I take it out when I feel like jacking up some power chords though my Hiwatt head. It always feels right.
A friend asked recently if I ever worried about losing the guitar.
I believe my response was, “It doesn’t really matter because I’ll always have the story.”
Sometime around the third grade, I started guitar lessons with a friend of my parents named Joe Petrone. It was on a small classical guitar, which I still have. Joe Petrone was a nice fella who had wire-y reddish hair that reminded me of a rusted brillo pad and which was in fact, a bad toupee. He had a music shop in the basement of his house in Cos Cob, CT and I still remember the smell of all the amps and guitars down there. I particularly remember a big promotional poster of Robin Trower standing next to a wall of huge Marshall amps. That was a sound I wanted, but didn’t know how to get.
After a few frustrating years of plucking ‘Au Claire de Lune’ on my classical guitar, I was convinced by one of my grade school teachers to play the cello in the school orchestra. It was led by a portly man named Mr. Serafin, who had the god forsaken task of keeping a bunch of 4th through 6th grade kids interested and in tune. I remember being able to sight read some pretty tricky stuff and even taking a solo at my 6th grade concert, but gave it up in 7th grade in order to try out for a drum position in my junior high school band. This gig was one I promptly quit – I swear the conductor was such a hardass.
Sometime around the 9th grade I returned to the guitar after I convinced my parents to purchase a Univox Les Paul electric guitar and Univox amp from Petrone’s Music shop.
Said Univox’s in hand, I turned up at my best friend Paul Porter’s house where the first band I played in, Ludlow J. Poindexter and the Dirty Underwears (named by Paul’s dad, Erf Porter), was forming. We mostly played classic rock tunes by The Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Doobie Brothers, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and a few cutting edge tunes that our buddy David Dear’s sister (who was in college at UMASS) turned us onto, like the Cars and the B52’s – all very poorly. I think back on all those parties we played and can only appreciate the effort our the parents and neighbors made in putting up with us. Then it was on to a band named LSD which I remember was a short-lived 3 piece ‘instrumentals only’ band that could play Heart’s “Crazy on You” for like 15 minutes or more.
The next band was called Renegade. A truly inventive name, I believe the drummer Brad Dippy named it after a model of Jeep he coveted. That band sort of grew out of Ludlow J. and LSD by slowly ejecting members until we were actually pretty good. The line-up consisted of Will Weisbecker on drums – who got the gig after Brad Dippy didn’t show up for rehearsal the nth time, Rob Parker on guitar – who replaced Paul Porter who was great but could never quite keep his guitar tuned (the big vice grip that hung from a missing tuning peg was bad-ass, but not very helpful), Tony Doughney on bass and vocals – the only guy we knew who could do both things pretty well, and me.
I got my first big guitar amp, a silver ’79 Fender Twin Reverb with an MXR Distortion+. Rob Parker had the same exact rig. In fact, I think our parents bought them together at Sam Ash Music in White Plains, NY. I made matching black wooden boxes with “Renegade” stenciled on the front for the amps to rest on (for ‘the look’) and now we could really rock. I remember one show in particular – I had made a tape loop on a reel to reel recorder of the beginning synthesizer part of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” so we could do it like them live. I swear it worked great at practice. But at our first big show, an outdoor affair opening for some band with really BIG Marshall amplifiers (see below), our soundman Mike Bonaparte must have put the deck on vari-speed or something because the loop played out of tune and tempo and it was ugly. I remember hearing a tape of the show and you can hear my little sister laughing when it gets real bad.
Will Weisbecker recently unearthed a tape of Renegade playing Skynyrd’s, Needle in the Spoon on January 24, 1980 and forwarded to me:
1. Needle and the Spoon
What a hoot. Rob Parker played a really nice melodic first solo, then I proceed to play this ridiculous solo to end the song. I’m sure I hated it at the time, but love it now and would like to think I was somehow channeling Robert Quine, who is one one my guitar heroes and was probably wildly soloing just 30 miles away in NYC around this time.
Composed and improvised instrumental music to juxtaposed found slide images and 16mm film prepared by San Francisco filmmaker Thad Povey.
The music – based around the electric guitar and drums and incorporating keyboards, loops and other devices – consisted of composed and structured improvisational pieces cued by film projections.
For our 15 date US tour in 2001, we setup facing each other with the projection screen between and slightly behind us. This enabled interaction with each other, the projections and the audience.
The overall effect was stunning – with no two shows the same. Musically, we were able to stretch out and explore our compositions and really try some cool stuff with the improv parts. The effect and importance of Thad’s visuals can’t be overemphasized – wild splashes of color from prepared film, flames, disasters, racecars, absurdities of the human psyche – they all came together to create some incredible synergistic moments from show to show.
Tone matters for everything – not just guitars. Voice, drums, organ, etc. Most important, it has to work for the moment and for the composition.
I often get asked about my guitar tone. My usual response is, it’s in the fingers!
Most musicians who understand this concept don’t really need to talk about the basis of someone’s tone. Others seem to think this response is some kind of inside joke and that if they just use the right piece of gear…
Listen. The gear you are using is but a small part of the formula. It’s one thing to talk about different textures one can create by using a particular piece of gear, but far more important is how you play through and respond to that gear – the connection between your heart, your fingers, the instrument and the sound you are producing.
I have experimented with many guitars and with many amp and effects setups – vintage, non-vintage and combinations in between. It is an ongoing process. I tend to gravitate towards things that are built to last (often over-engineered) except if it provides ridiculous functionality or fucked-up sound. As Les Paul once said, “You’ve got to constantly mess around with things.”
I don’t change my basic setup around much, but little things are always in flux and there are always new discoveries!