Thursday, February 25, 2016

Frank & Bacon

If you think this is gonna be about your favorite pork product, I'll tell ya now...it's not.

I was supposed to be sitting in at a friend's gig tonight but...family stuff. Nuff said. Got to spend some quality home time instead, which I'll take any day.

At one point this evening, conversation led me to thinking about an old friend of not only mine but our entire family, John "Bacon" Adams.

I never knew why his nickname was Bacon. Might have been because he was a chunky dude. Not fat but he had an obvious affinity for carbs. I'll tell you this, and I mean it as no insult to my brothers, Bacon was the big brother I looked up to.

If you ever wondered how I learned to play guitar, you can thank Bacon...but I'll get to that in a minute.

Bacon was seriously one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to know. Friendly, outgoing, athletic, fun to be around. He was the sort of guy who would give you his last dime. He definitely liked a good time, and this was eventually his downfall.

He loved music. When I was 11 or so and first started to play guitar, he gave me an old Beatles record, and a few months later, after deciding I was ready for it, gave me a copy of Jimi Hendrix's 'Electric Ladyland' record. Mind blown? Damned straight!

As I struggled through teaching myself chords from an old folk guitar book, I'd listen to those records and wonder just what the hell they were doing to make them sound so amazing. Bacon started introducing me to more and more blues records - BB King, John Lee Hooker, and a lot of funk. I took it all in.

I wanted to play everything. I attempted to build a drum kit out of old pretzel tins. I finally got my hands on a used Slingerland kit, courtesy of one of my sister's boyfriends. $110! I mowed a lot of lawns to get that! For my birthday, my parents got me my very own electric guitar, a Fender Musicmaster. I tried everything I could to make it sound like what I heard on records...but I was missing that magic.

One day, Bacon and another guy, Frank Prolago, were over visiting my oldest brother. They heard me in the basement and came down and changed my life forever. Bacon could play a little bit...nothing flashy but like I said, he knew how to have fun. His friend Frank, now that guy could play and could play any instrument! He sat down at those drums like he owned them. He played my guitar like a King. I was mesmerized. The two said that they'd come by later on in the week and show me how to really play. I couldn't wait!

The next time they came over, Frank had his guitar and Bacon brought his, a beautiful old Guild Starfire 3. Damn, I loved that guitar. They sat me down and taught me how to play some simple 2 and 3 chord blues rhythms. Then they gave me the greatest lesson of my life: they taught me to improvise.

Neither were trained musicians. Frank could hear a song once and play it on any instrument. He was really that good. Bacon, his talents were limited by comparison but he knew how to have fun with it.

They showed me how to start a solo. They showed me certain 'shapes' where I could play something that sounded reasonable. They taught me that if I hit the wrong note, to just bend it until it sounded right. Somewhere is an old cassette tape of the 3 of us playing. I'd love to hear it again...but I remember every note by heart.

A few weeks later, Bacon came by the house with his Guild. He decided to loan it to me for a while. I was in awe! This was a REAL guitar. This was something a pro would use. Sure, it was almost a dozen years old at that time and had a few scratches on it (which my dad fixed) but damn, it was an amazing guitar! It sounded like nothing I ever heard...before or since. I could get Beatles sounds out of it, blues sounds, even Joe Negri jazz sounds, even if I couldn't play any jazz chords. The tone was in there! I had that guitar for about two years and played the hell out of it!

The three of us would often get together and they'd teach me more. One of my brothers had an old electric bass and they showed me some bluesy bass lines. They taught me about I-IV-V progressions, one of my first real AHA! moments. I still couldn't figure out what the hell Hendrix was doing. I mentioned having seen the concert film of the Monterey Pop Festival and how absolutely amazing Jimi Hendrix was. His version of "Wild Thing" almost ruined me. I knew it was just 3 chords but damn...it was like something from another planet when he played it. That was when they taught me "the Hendrix chord". I thought I was the baddest know-it-all lil sumbitch in the world at that point.

As we got older, Frank and Bacon didn't come around much anymore. They were both partying a lot. I remember running into them one afternoon and they were both obviously wasted. Bacon lectured me that the only wine to drink was some cheap swill he was swigging from a bottle in a paper bag. It kinda broke my heart to see him like that. He eventually had to take the Guild back. I was worried he was going to pawn it. To my knowledge, he didn't...although no one knows what happened to it.

A few years later, Bacon stopped by the house. He was so happy with himself. He had stopped drinking and doing drugs. He had lost weight and was really cleaning up his act. I remember how proud my dad seemed of this turn of events. Even my grandmother and auntie were thrilled. That's how Bacon was. His personality was infectious.

Less than a year later, I remember coming home one day, my best friend Paul with me. We hadn't been in the house 30 seconds when my dad asked Paul to go upstairs and wait for me...he had something serious to talk to me about. In my mind, I was trying to think what rotten thing I'd done and had been found out this time, and how much trouble I was going to be in. Dad took me into the living room, had me sit down...and told me that Bacon had died. He had gone out with some friends, had made the decision to 'party' a little bit...and long story short, his body couldn't handle the drugs anymore. His mother had found him in bed the next day. He'd died in his sleep. I was crushed.

I rarely ever saw Frank after that. I have no idea whatever happened to him. To this day, I think of those two every time I pick up a guitar. I especially think of Bacon. I remember thinking about him as I stood onstage in Narooma, NSW in Australia, playing my first show there. I couldn't help but chuckle to think how Bacon would have reacted. I think he'd be proud. At one point, I remember playing a chord he taught me...and he was with me for a brief moment onstage...10,000 miles from where we grew up, playing to thousands of screaming fans.

Like I said, I was supposed to be sitting in tonight at a friend's gig...but like I said, family stuff. Family comes first. Music a close second. I'll be playing the blues this weekend...and I can guarantee you, I'll be thinking of Frank and Bacon. Mostly Bacon. I wish he could be there to hear me play.  I wish I could thank him for all he taught me about music and life in general. In the scheme of things, I didn't know him very long...but sometimes all it takes is one moment to change a life.

Friday, February 19, 2016

America Town

Some years back, I read an article about a TV show in the works called America Town. To my knowledge, it never happened...and I can't find the article or any other mention of it on the internet. The concept was probably too realistic and terrifying for American viewers.

In a nutshell, the premise was simple: mid 21st century, in a large city in some other country. The once United States of America had finally imploded and the majority of it's remaining citizens living their worst nightmare. Many had escaped, emigrating to other countries, looking for a better life. These migrants clustered together in America Town...a ghetto neighborhood in a foreign, formerly friendly land.

Imagine the American version of Chinatown or Little Italy. Fat, badly dressed Yanks and Seppos living in slums, selling hot dogs and other classic American cuisine from pushcarts or small, family-owned eateries. From their windows, one can hear the strains of "America The Beautiful" or some other long-forgotten melody. The 4th of July is just another day. Their kids are trying to just be part of the crowd, but they carry with them the stigma of their parents' homeland. The other kids tease them. Cultural slurs are tossed about.

It can't happen. Or can it?

Look around you. We're on our way.

This country doesn't really produce much, and what we do, we outsource to other countries. MADE IN THE USA doesn't mean much these days.

Our rich get richer off of the backs of the rest of us. One day, someone will have had ENOUGH, and the first shots will be fired in an effective direction. The target will be a CEO, politician, banker, etc. It will ignite a spark in the masses and all Hell is going to break loose - a civil war unlike anything the world has ever seen. Americans do everything bigger.

Living in Prague or Paris or Rio, "Press 1 for English" will no longer be an option. We'll be the ones trying to take the jobs...just to feed and house our families. We won't understand why everyone hates us. We'll be forced to rely on each other while we attempt to assimilate to life in our new homelands.

How many of you know someone already considering leaving the country? How many have already done so? How many more have tried and failed?

Think this can't happen? Again, look around. Land of the free? Free to do what? Work long hours at a job you hate, earning just enough to keep you there a little while longer, until 20 years of your life is gone. You can't afford school...you're still paying off your old school loans. Everything you buy, regardless of the cost, is essentially disposable - by design - so you'll have to replace it, and spend more money.

You're taught to hate the wrong people. It's a con job. You're taught to hate the poor, not the people and corporations making them poor and keeping them that way. You're taught to hate and fear immigrants who might take YOUR job, but not the employer who will happily hire them to keep profits high. You're taught to hate anyone who differs from YOU. You're convinced to build walls but not bridges. You're convinced we need bombs more than schools. You're convinced to eat garbage.

It's what you'll miss the most living in America Town.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Since they changed YOUR life, how about YOU changing someone else's?

The recent deaths of Lemmy and David Bowie have caused a mighty ripple through humankind. People that I never would've guessed to be "fans" have shown their true colors. An old lady I know, it turns out, is a huge Motorhead fan. Folks I work with, who seem much more at home listening to bland modern country, have vocalized their lifelong love of Bowie's music and movies. These two musicians changed a lot of lives for the better.



Both died of cancer.

As a two-time cancer survivor, as well as being a musician, their death hit home with me...and hit hard. I was lucky enough, both times, to not only survive but to also have decent health insurance at the time. My out of pocket costs were minimal. Many aren't so lucky.

With Obamacare we're all forced to pony up for affordable health insurance...or be fined. For many, it's just not feasible. One of the groups hardest hit by the US health care nightmare is musicians. Professional musicians make their living making music. A fortunate few make a good living and can probably afford Obamacare. The majority struggle to get by and cannot afford Obamacare or even the fine. What are they supposed to do when they get sick?

Here's a thought: If you'd like to find a way to personally memorialize Lemmy or Bowie, why not give a donation, of any amount you can afford, to a free clinic? As a musician who has been lucky enough to find a free clinic and benefit from it's services, I'll tell you first-hand, those places are a Godsend.

If you know me, you know the story. If you don't, here's the short version. I was well past broke and had no way to get my heart medication...which I kinda need to stay alive. I found out about the Birmingham Free Clinic and they took care of me. They made sure I got the check ups and blood work I needed, as well as my medication.

At one point, I was helping a friend paint houses and almost fainted. I chalked it up to being fat and 48 with a bum ticker painting a house on a hot day. I had a few more dizzy spells throughout the next week. So what did I do? I went to the Birmingham Free Clinic. They sent me for more blood work and I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (The Beetus!). Again, at no charge to me, they got me the medication I needed, got me started on a path to getting healthier, and within a few months I was dropping the pounds, monitoring my blood sugar, and was feeling so good about life that I finally found a new full-time job. I happily shared that bit of news with the folks at the clinic and have since donated money, when I can, to them. I know for a fact that every penny I give them is helping someone who really needs help.

No one asks to be broke. No one asks to be sick. No one likes to ask for help. If you honestly believe that free clinics are a hand-out to lazy people, you don't know what you're talking about. From the working poor to the unemployable and homeless to the person just a little down on their luck, the clinics help anyone they can.  The clinics are also often part of the education of the people working there. I've met student nurses and student pharmacists there. The latter, especially, were really enlightened to see how their chosen profession helps people.

So give it some thought. If you can donate a few bucks to a clinic near you, do it. You can tell them you're doing it for Lemmy or Bowie. It just might help another musician with cancer and that musician just may go on to change a few more lives.

Here's a link where you can find a clinic near you: http://www.nafcclinics.org/find-clinic

Thanks!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

That moment I realized just how awful I really am...

I've been a lifelong musician. If you know me, you already know that. I've been playing guitar for almost 40 years. Some will tell you that I'm really good. I've even had my moments when I thought I was.

But, any artist, regardless of their medium, has to grow. My first guitar hero was (and still is) Joe Negri. His jazz playing is astounding. So beautiful, skillful, and even...and that's one of the trickiest parts!

Blues, rockabilly, surf, rock & roll, punk, metal...none really require a great deal of discipline to play well. Just bash, bend, and twang. And it's a lot of fun! But (again....that 'but')...there comes a point when musically one wants to do more.

For the past couple of years, I've become a huge fan of a Brazilian guitarist named Naudo Rodrigues. If you're not familiar with him, don't be surprised. He's not a huge recording star. He probably could be if he wanted, but that doesn't seem to be his motivation. He makes his living playing in resorts in Spain. Just him and his guitar. And he'll blow you away. He can play pretty much any song and make it his own. He can take a song that you might loathe and turn it into a thing of beauty. He's just that good.

I watch videos of him playing and think "I wish I could...."

I finally decided that yes, I probably can, if only I start to rebuild some of the discipline I had in my younger days. Hell, I never practice. I just pick up the guitar and bash out the same old crap. I've decided to change that.

I bought a cheap flamenco guitar. I love the sound of nylon strings, and the wide, flat neck makes me work harder. I've started working on chord melodies...my goal to be able to play for hours without a band, without being boring.

Wow! I just made a quick demo of a song I'm trying to learn. It's a beautiful song called "Sabor A Mi". WOW....do I really suck! I can hear myself trying not to bash, bend and twang. I can hear the unevenness of my playing. I can hear every weak note. And you know what? That's a good thing! Recognizing one's weaknesses is necessary to turn them into strengths.

This is going to take awhile...but I'm patient. I know that at some point, I'll have an "aha" moment, just like I did with slide guitar. That said, I don't see it happening any time soon.

I'm taking myself back to the rudiments. Scales. Modes. Finger exercises. I'm training my right hand to do a lot more work. No pick for this stuff!

For years, people have asked me for lessons. I'm a lousy teacher. Now I'm looking to become a student again! I hope I'm a good one.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgivus


Thanksgivus...the 10th year anniversary edition


I post this every year. Why? Because some folks ask for it....also because I like it. I hope you will too. We probably shouldn't need a holiday to remind us to be thankful for whatever we have...but I'm glad we do. So with out further adieu....

Thanksgivus

Thanksgivus: that's what she called it. The 'she' in question would be a very short, loud, middle aged black woman with retardation who I supervised for years. Her name is Omega...fitting because she truly is THE END!

Omega didn't exactly have a speech problem but I think her hearing wasn't 100% on the mark, as certain words would get slurred together such as "Thanksgivus". Another fave was her version of Social Security, which often sounded more like "sociable secretary" (of which I've known a few).

Thanksgivus (which is what I now prefer to call the US holiday Thanksgiving) is the last Thursday of November (this is for my overseas friends who may not be fully knowledgeable of the subject). It is the holiday where we Americans give Thanks to God for giving us BIG tasty birds, punkin pie & cranberry sauce...all courtesy of a tribe that we soon took great pains to wipe out. In short, when those Pilgrims (essentially English religious nuts) 1st landed at Plymouth Rock, they didn't have a CLUE what they were doing or what they were in for!

After that 1st winter (what do you mean "No Central Heating"???), most of the Pilgrims had died off. A few hearty ones remained (probably by eating the others...but that story seems to have vanished in the annals of history) and it was looking bleak for them, as they didn't know SQUAT about farming North American soil. Luckily, the Indians (bite me, I will NOT be PC) took pity on them, showed them what to do and the Pilgrims survived. They did sooo well, in fact, they had a big feast and invited the Indians. When the Indians showed up, they realized that white folks are either really bad at planning feasts or are just stingy, so they sent some braves to go kill a half dozen or so deer....gotta make sure ya don't leave the table unless yer ready to burst....STILL an American Thanksgivus tradition. NOWHERE on the menu was green bean casserole....PLEASE make note of that! (the Americans reading this will get the humor)

Finally, sometime in the 19th century, after decades of confusion as to what this "New England" holiday was and when it was supposed to be observed, some mad woman wrote everyone in the colonies suggesting the last Thursday in November...just in time to mark the start of Xmas shopping season!

Now, contrary to what some of my English colleagues have been lead to believe, Thanksgivus is NOT the American Xmas. Trust me, NO ONE on this planet overdoes Xmas like the Americans! Here it is, the Sunday BEFORE Thanksgivus and I'm looking out my front door at my neighbor's Xmas lights! 1 month 5 days before we celebrate the Man's b-day (even though we have the date wrong)...1 month 5 days of looking at those damned lights! Don't get me wrong, I love the holidays as much if not more than most people...but I like things to be done for the right reasons...not just to be the 1st, best or brashest.

For the holidays, I wish you all peace, happiness and a full belly. May your homes be filled with laughter (and not just the canned version coming from your TV). May your pockets never be empty, maybe your fridge always be full (with at least 1 6pack of decent beer...in case I should stop by lol) and may your troubles be few & far between.

In fact, I don't just wish you these things for the holidays...I wish them for you all EVERYDAY.

I'm having a few friends over (as usual) this year for Thanksgivus. It might not be the fanciest dinner but I hope to guarantee all a good meal, a full belly and someplace to sit and digest and enjoy some good company after (and before...as long as they stay OUTTA MY WAY in the kitchen.).

We will revel in the death of a turkey. We shall take delight in the taters, which will be mashed. The rolls will hopefully not be slightly burned on the bottoms...but if they are, that's what butter, gravy & butter knives are for! The veggies will be plentiful and not overcooked. The pie will be chocolate cream...NOT PUNKIN! (my tradition...not yours, OK? ) And yes Virginia...there will most likely be cranberries of some sort...JUST NO DAMNED GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE...PLEASE!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fixing Leo's Mistakes

I don't like Stratocasters. Never have. Oh sure, Buddy Holly, Dick Dale and Jimi Hendrix made them sound good, but those were flukes. Dave Alvin gets a pretty fair tone from his too...but hell, he made a Mustang sound killer!

So, I bought a cheap Strat today. I couldn't resist. It's just so damned ugly...and did I mention cheap? I couldn't say no to the price!

But...it's still a Strat.

Not for long.

This will be an interesting project, turning a Stratocrapper into a Memph-O-caster!

Step one, those pickups gotta go! Sweet Jeebus they sound plinky. Luckily, I have some Texas Specials that have been waiting for a forever home. Problem solved!

That 5-way switch...gonna be gone! Hate those things!

That damned volume knob and those ridiculous dual tone knobs...GONE! Leo proved his lack of guitar playing knowledge when he put that damned volume knob so close to the strings. Hell, a midget with stubby fingers would be hard-pressed not to accidently kill the volume while playing.

Sure sure...lots of  "tonal variety" with a Strat. Too bad most of it sounds like a guitar being played through grandma's transistor radio...and not in a good way. Seriously, they're the most overrated guitar on the planet.

OK, Leo got a few things right with the Strat. The body was ingenious for it's day. It was the Atomic Age and the Strat looked futuristic. It didn't look like a guitar. The double cutaways and the contoured body....nice! The recessed input jack, pure genius! The neck was just a slight variation on the Tele...and really, that's where most of a guitar's magic comes from. If the neck ain't playable, ya might as well make a lamp out of it.

Now that I have this thing...it's time to make it rock! Here's some of the changes you can expect to see:


  • New pickups
  • New knobs
  • New Pickup Selector Switch
  • New Pickguard
  • New Nut
  • New Bridge Saddles
  • New Wiring (maybe...we'll see how things work out)
  • New Tuners


When I'm finished, it's gonna be a keeper, not a weeper!

Stay tuned!



Saturday, August 1, 2015

We'll just call this a personal update....

For those playing along at home, I haven't been as "active" as usual lately. There's a reason for that.

I FEEL LIKE CRAP!

A year or so ago, I was diagnosed at diabetic. Then "not". Then probably diabetic. Then, probably not.

It's been a roller coaster. It looks like diabetes but doesn't act like it. So, lifestyle changes, lost 70 pounds, eat healthy, check my blood sugar often, worship at the altar of St. Wilfred...and now, for the 1st time since my diagnosis...I feel like crap.

I never felt bad before. But lately, my blood sugar has been tanking. It's been too low to be considered a diabetic since day 1. Therein lies the confusion for the docs. But the past few weeks has been a mess.

On a good day, if I eat like a pig, I can get my blood sugar near 100. Most days it starts out around 80 and tanks from there. 60s...50s...a few days in the 40s. I've passed out a few times. It ain't fun. I've also been feeling weak, fatigued (and I mean seriously so...like can barely move kinda tired), and irritable as fuck.

However, my A1C is around 4. That ain't diabetic by any stretch. So, the docs are weening me off my meds...see if that helps. Hasn't so far.

Factor in all of my other health issues...well, it's been interesting. I'm used to feeling, at least, halfway decent. Not so lately. I just always want to go back to bed. I was ready to get violent with an old friend last week...that's when I knew something was seriously wrong. I left work early last Monday and stayed home until Wednesday. Almost left early again then...but made myself stick it out. My blood sugar went down to 50. And did every day the rest of the week.

OK...I'm following doc's orders...doing what I'm supposed to do....and really feel like crap...but I'm OK, as far as I know.

Hopefully, we'll get to the bottom of this ASAP...really, I don't have this to do. I have too much going on to get sidelined like this.

So, for those asking...this is what's going on. Catch ya on the flipside!