New Favorite Song

My brother turned me onto this record.  80s/90s R&B cat reinvents himself as a Motown-inspired hybrid of Smokey Robinson & Stevie Wonder with a dash of Sam Cooke, a foot in the present and an ear to the future.

Buy this thing and let yourself go.  You’ll dance, you’ll sing, you’ll smile.  You might even choke up a little like me.

I keep playing this cut, “Sometimes”, over and over and over and over lately.

I think about this coming Tuesday and I pause …

I’m excited yet guarded.  I’ve got a feeling of cautious relief.  There’s embers of hope but still ..

such a long .. long .. long way to go.

Get Ready

Peace,

Mark

Raphael Saadiq

Axe and you shall receive

I grew up worshiping a whole range of guitar heroes. But I was too lazy to be the kid locked in his bedroom for 10 hours a day, skipping school, running scales and practicing practicing practicing. And I liked just strumming chords and playing songs as much or more than playing lookatmelookatmelookatme triplets.

Ever since he joined Robbie Fulks’ band almost a decade ago, I’ve been telling anyone who’d listen that Grant Tye is hands down the best, most versatile, rock/pop/country/younameit guitar player around. Wicked technique, fat, full tones to fit any situation and an uncanny ability to not overplay (though he can slice your head off if he’s feelin’ ornery) but rather stick to sweet phrasing and playing for each and every song.

Did I mention if you close your eyes you’ll swear he’s suddenly playing pedal steel and slide guitar with just a Strat and a whammy bar? Don’t believe me?

And if that’s not enough to turn all us wannabes green with envy he’s just a sweet guy to be around and comedian-level funny. Oh yeah .. he can sing his ass off too with a soulful growl.

When I was a kid, I doubled over with laughter watching Derek St. Hubbins lament about He Who Unleashes The Fury ..

I suspect Derek would say the same thing about Grant.

I watch Grant every time with my jaw half-open knowing full-well what he’s doing yet realizing what looks so effortless demands heroic talent and work behind it.

After years and years of making countless artists and bands sound great, he’s got some of his own terrific songs on his MySpace page. Check it out, drop him a line and send him some coin for all of his efforts.

Now excuse me while I set my bourbon down on my Fender coffee table, click replay above and enjoy.

Cheers,

Mark

To the party

I usually arrive on time. Often slightly early, un-fashionably so. I’m a dork that way.

To the music, I don’t mind being a bit late to the game. I gave up trying to be ahead of the curve when I was eleven – all it got me and my Almost Famous-y subscription to Rolling Stone was playground teasing and the moniker of ‘Professor Punk’. Admittedly, The Clash was as punk as it got back then for me and they and the rest now sit comfortably on Retro 80s playlists.

Sure, I looked up from whatever else I was doing during iPod commercials last year and was tickled by Feist’s “1234″. I just never got off the couch to investigate further.

Caught a rerun of Feist on SNL last night and she and the band were just tremendous.

Watched her perform and there it is in full view. Terrific pop songs, great singing, catchy melodies, inventive arrangements, great band. Every unique voice quiver and quaver right on the mark. Leaning into the performance. Made me shout. Made me happy.

Let’s

to the party.

The Little Huddle

There was no cable television in my Chicago neighborhood when MTV debuted in 1981. My brothers and I subsisted on the smattering of music videos from programs like SCTV or The Kenny Everett Video Show.

But my mom was so cool she would give blank VHS tapes to a co-worker living in the nearby suburbs who would drop the tape in overnight and give us back 6 hours of eye ear candy.

The great mix they played the first few years included lots of single cuts pulled from long-form concerts.

Fleetwood Mac’s performance of “Sara” was a big favorite of mine. It’s much better than the version on the 1980 live album.

Lots of great little moments in four groovy minutes. Mick looking like a mad Muppet, but rolling in with a simple, understated intro. Stevie with her knowing glances, scatting off-mic. John McVie sliding down to grab a meaty low Alembic F. Lindsey sidling up to Christine for a brief moment. Hell, just the guy screaming “YEAH!” at the beginning in high jubilant recognition.

But it’s The Little Huddle at 3:28 that just killed me. Dancing a little jig .. moving in tight to lock in with the drummer .. Lindsey proceeds to unleash the simplest little chord suspension lick with a clean-dirty guitar tone that’s just sublime. Leaning into it, feeling it, milking it. Mick grinning like a madman, lending an ear, playing that groovy brush shuffle like their lives depended on it. I could absolutely feel what they were feeling, rewinding that part over and over.

Stevie sends it off into the sunset with some resonant reverb on Lindsey’s mic and it’s over.

Pop perfection.

I’ve long suspected many guitar players are frustrated drummers. I certainly fit the bill. Many of my favorite moments performing live are these little huddles with the drummer .. just reveling in the now, the moment, and swinging with the music that we’re creating.

And I’ve learned over many years that a guitar player ain’t worth nothin’ without an amazing rhythm section. You can’t get to where you’re going if they don’t clear the brush away and light the path. When the pocket is so deep you’re free to just close your eyes and go off into la la land and float up high .. knowing they’re simultaneously keeping you aloft and also playing that little game of hopscotch with you among the clouds .. yeah, I’m mixin’ some metaphors but when your bandmates create a situation where time stands still and you can actually think a few steps ahead of yourself ..

Woah ..

I’m OK, you’re UK

I’ve just returned home from 10 shows in 10 days touring the UK with my mates in Dolly Varden.

Steve Diane & Mike atop Cardiff Castle

 

 

 

 

We spent hours traveling through and enjoying beautiful cities, countrysides, islands and towns.

May Peace Prevail On Earth

 

 

 

 

We met amazing, warm and open-hearted people in every town we visited.

Bill & Wendie Lewis host Dolly Varden 23 Oct 2007 Ian and Carolyn Fox hosting Dolly Varden - 24 Oct 2007

 

 

 

 

We played our music to people who responded with great enthusiasm and rewarded us with their hard-earned dollars, queuing up for autographs and bestowing upon us kind words.

When we broke bread with them and took shelter in their hospitable homes, we remembered how much in common we all have. All striving to do something meaningful and provide for and protect our family, friends and fellow creatures.

I mercifully lacked time and access to my usual world news sources and e-mail and when I had all of 60 minutes in a internet cafe to catch up on things, I realized things hadn’t changed much.

Everything’s still completely fucked.

A quick check-in with the blogroll, let’s try Glenn Greenwald and .. yep .. the warmongers and propagandists are still turning up the heat as high as it will go. Bush Administration lackeys continue to disembowel consumer agencies and the Justice Department. Blackwater skirts accountability. Orwell .. you were a goddamn genius.

I’m glad I traveled overseas. It was a nice little reminder that there’s sensible people across the pond who are disgusted with their leaders too. And they’re just like you and me. Looking to get by, treat others with respect and do the right thing.

 

How’s things?

I hope you and yours are well.

These folks are having a tough go of it.

Who’s responsible for their hardships?

Who are the people in positions of access, leadership and power making decisions that are furthering these humanitarian disasters with little to no relief in sight?

Who want to expand the chaos in the Middle East outward?

Take a look here.

With A Little Luck

If my memory serves, the second piece of vinyl I ever bought was a 45 of “With a Little Luck” by Wings. Not Paul McCartney. Wings.

It was on a very important feeling shopping trip to the Goldblatt’s store in the Scottsdale Shopping Center at 79th & Cicero. It followed sometime shortly after the first purchase, “Night Fever” from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Disco Stu, that was me.

It was important feeling because my two older brothers and me were using some allowance money our folks gave us and Dad drove the three of us to the store with the express purpose of doing so.  A musical subsidy.  Ya kinda knew what ya wanted ahead of time from the WLS-AM Top 40 Countdown and what you’d already researched while thumbing through the records on previous trips with mom.

It was important feeling because it was me and my brothers. Sharing this music passion at a really early age. And our dad, music lover that he was, leading the way.  Driving us on.

I can’t remember what my brothers picked up. Glenn might have had enough money to get an LP. Scott probably hid his dough and bought some firecrackers the next day.

I’ve been having a pretty shitty few days of trying to keep my spirits up but that trip with my dad and brothers just popped in my head and thinking about it put a smile on my face.

And for all the McCartney critics who would go on about how lightweight and sugary this stuff was .. here’s what I have to say to those folks ..

Ahh .. fuck it .. it’s not even worth it ..

Come Around

to some Dolly Varden shows this month, my eastern friends.

My band mates and I are traveling your way. We’ve got lots of new material to share and it’s not exactly an annual pilgrimage at this point so come on out and support an honest-to-goodness grassroots musical entity.

Say hello, share your stories, and help make our road drummer, Jimmy, feel welcome.

If you’re looking for me .. I’ll be the guy out back .. howling at the moon …

Moondance

Who knew

me and Flea had so much in common?

The 90 second interview starting this clip is great. Flea and Frusciante waxing on the relative rock merits of The Clash and Van Halen (as examples) plus/minus the politics. The song? Ehh .. not so much.

Scott gave me the older brother/younger brother smackdown last week for all my political scratches interrupting the flow of the music in the ol’ record collection here. After he was done with the hovering loogie routine and let me up off the floor, I calmly dusted myself off and penned a screed defending my wacked out modus operandi.

I’ll have to revisit and repost my (No) Guilty Pleasures rant from the old site soon and maybe incorporate some of that.

Oh, and sorry RHCP … I’ll have a little shot of this instead:

Why did I ever pick up a guitar?

Just follow the cowbell …

Adding .. at about 1:07 Eddie sneaks in one of his little pick-slide-wipe-the-fretboard-clean Stealth Ninja moves that just sums up in a split-second his rock guitar genius.

It’s that Zen Kung Fu moment where you’re doing 110mph but time stands still and you feel like you’ve got all the time in the world to decide whether to sneak in another lick or play something off the top of your head or maybe order some Chinese take-out or make an emergency Batturn if you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

without. missing. a. beat.

Sizzle!

I’ve been waiting a long time for something to crack me open like an egg.

Watching the Stax Records documentary on PBS tonight did it.

Steve Dawson unlocked the door to Stax soul for me. I’m forever in debt to him. Listen to any of his music and you can hear how hard it hit him.

Seems like a good time to revisit my trip down to Memphis in 2003 while recording my first record, Come Around.

A few weeks before I started recording in March of 2003 with Jay Bennett, I finished writing a song called “Good News”. I had written the chord progression months earlier and given it a working title of “Otis Ripoff” after Steve had taught me Otis’ trick of forcing all the chords to be major when they should be minor.

I had it in my mind that I’d get some old school horns on it and make it sound like an Otis tune. I ran the idea past Jay and he mentioned some local guys he knew and I just sort of nodded and wondered if I could take it a bit further.

When it was time to cut “Good News”, I called my pal Gerald Dowd in to play the drums, knowing he’d have a great feel for it. He walked in, having never heard the song, and the two of us sat down to record it. I told him the groove I wanted, we started playing, and Jay sent Scott running out to tell us to quit playing so that he could record it before we ‘learned it too well’.

That next take is what’s on the record. We recorded the majority of the album’s basic tracks to a digital recorder but for this one Jay dusted off the analog tape deck and that’s how we captured it that night. Jay stayed up all night in his creative haze and did the Duck walk on bass and Booked some time on the B3 organ. When it was time to transfer the analog tracks to digital, we almost lost everything when the machine went out of whack. In fact, my guitar doesn’t show up until the first chorus, thanks to some aberrant azimuth.

Gerald mentioned some of his horn playin’ buddies to do the parts I was talking about and I just sort of nodded and wondered if I could take it a bit further.

After the bulk of the tracks were recorded, I started pokin’ around the intertubes and found some management contact info for the Memphis Horns. After some intermediary communication, I found Wayne Jackson and made arrangements to meet him and Andrew Love in Memphis at the legendary Ardent Studios. Dolly Varden fan and soul brother Jeff Powell offered his engineering services for the session and pulled it all together.

I asked Wayne if they wanted to hear a demo in advance. I told them I wanted a similar feel to Otis’ version of “It’s Growing”. The classic stabs and long-held notes. I told him it was probably a song he’d heard a thousand times before. He just chuckled, “Nah!”

I loaded the tracks for “Good News” on a little portable hard drive. I rented a car. I took the train out to Westmont to save some dough and walked and walked to the rental office. Drove all day to Nashville to stay with my brother. Went to the late, lamented Slow Bar for some live music. Woke early and drove to Memphis. Straight to Ardent where the assistant that day, Adam, welcomed me and led me in to the classic Studio A.

Wow. Sam & Dave. The Staples Singers. Led Zeppelin. Big Star. Leon Russell. Cheap Trick. Replacements. ZZ Top.

Wayne and Andrew arrived on time. We made small talk, cracked some nervous jokes, then Jeff, who had done several sessions with them, eased them into their favorite spot with their favorite mics and setup.

The Memphis Horns

Remember, they’d not heard the song yet, so Jeff gets the recording levels set, tells them the song’s about to start and they listen to it, whisper to each other some ideas, chat a little bit about going to the gym, and just kind of crack each other up the way old friends do.

One listen and they say they’re ready to give it a try. Fine with me!

Jeff hits the Record button …

There it is … THAT SOUND!

Maybe an hour later they’d finished two songs and Wayne had added a small part to a third. But it was “Good News” that I was after.

Boy, did I GET it!

More precisely, boy, did they give it to me.

The Memphis Horns with Mark Balletto and engineer Jeff Powell

We wrapped up the session, Andrew’s wife picked him up, and I went with Wayne to a live Memphis radio interview he was scheduled to do. And instead of having me sit in the corner, he invited me in and onto the air to sit and talk with him during the interview with Joe Terry and Bob Holden. What a thrill.

We finished up and Wayne suggested we stop by his family’s place then get some Memphis BBQ.

Well, twist my arm.

Wayne, along with his wonderful wife, Amy, and her mother welcomed me into their home that day and during dinner he shared his stories and I feel forever grateful to have spent time with them and say that I worked with music legends.

I don’t usually toot my own horn but I’m damn proud of this one.

Good News

I kept it honest, I kept it simple, I kept it soulful.

Have a listen …

Political Theater

I’m watching a little bit of this all-night Senate debate on the Levin-Reed amendment and listening to some of these Republican asshats (I’m lookin’ at you, Bunning from Kentucky) trotting out the same boring talking points and reading them painfully slowly from their double-spaced print-out in such a stultifying monotone it just crystallizes how fucked up this quagmire is.

Impeach.

Withdraw.

Rebuild.

Oh, and Lieberman?

Fuck you.

Go on .. take a picture ..

THAT MEANS YOU!

Ever take the 22 Fillmore?

No ???

You know those days when you take public trans and you don’t know whether to punch people in the face or bear hug them? You know what I mean .. ya wanna just fucking reel back and clock ‘em one or .. or .. aww shucks, maybe plant a big ol’ surprise smooch on their cheek in a fleeting, graceful gesture. Beautiful, sunny day and ya take the high wit’ da low.

I realize this has very little to do with the song. I suspect he’s more on about a SF Muni booty call. Shit, you and I will be lucky if we can ever measure up to an iota of Chuck’s coolness. The dude gets it. All we can do is abide.

Go on .. take a picture ..

Just breathe

but not until you’ve sucked in your gut and and reviewed some feature on your face you can’t stand or surveyed the area of your thigh fat and on and on and on.

I’m all for individuals taking care of themselves. Understand your own body and how it works. Learn how to eat healthy and find exercise that you enjoy and can do regularly. But please don’t beat yourself up over this impossible manufactured image or that unrealistic, sadistic ideal.

Love your body.  Love your self.  Fuck the advertising and societal pressure that tries to bend and break you.

I’m riffing on this post by Melissa McEwan. The before and after is pretty ridiculous.

I’m digging lots of posts over at Shakesville lately. A good hang.

Sunday morning coming down

Following a little Saturday night hedonism and rock ‘n roll.

Great post and comments Friday at Shakesville to get you thinking of your own Saturday night/Sunday morning dynamic.

Growing up I often spent Sunday morning in a Lutheran church. The closest I get there anymore is sharing the stage with my Lutheran Pastor bass player. Amazing human being, he is.

These days I’m much more comfortable embracing my inner atheist. I’m certainly open to evidence, should it be presented to me convincingly. Open ears should new shit come to light. More accurately, it’s just the openness of agnosticism I’ve felt for most of my life. Fairness and justice and logic and reason and sunshine and truth flow easier through that lens. It actually gives me more of a sense of awe and wonder and respect for the world we live in.

When it’s over .. who knows? Maybe you become a cardinal, dropping by occasionally to keep an eye on your loved ones.

Time for a musical interlude? Here ya go ..

No fried chicken for me but I am off to see some friends and eat some tacos.

Heavenly.