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Progressive Travels

The haphazard chronicles of a professional musician and his relentless pursuit of an otherwise boring life.

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Location: St. Jacob, Illinois, United States

If it ain't Baroque, fix it!

28 May 2005

I'll Have the Talapia

Friday, 20 May 2005
I played with Knucklehead at Mac & Mick’s in Granite City, IL. We had played there once before, and I wasn’t impressed with the turnout or the response we received. It wasn’t a fun load-in either. The place is a restaurant/sports bar, and is not set up for live bands. We have to clear away some tables in front of the big-screen TV for “stage” space. But, it’s a gig, so what the heck.

I got there around 20:00 (that’s 8pm for those of you in Rio Linda) and no one else was there yet. I started to wonder if we were playing that night, or if it was even Friday for that matter. I had a lot going on this week and the days were getting confused. I called Deron and got no answer. I called Dawna and got her machine. I felt alone in the wilderness. I decided that the best course of action at this point would be to go inside and have dinner. I ordered the talapia platter. Deron had called back in the interim and said he would be there shortly.

Just after I sat down and ordered, Scrappy rolled in and ordered a beer and the shrimp platter. We sat there and talked for awhile until Deron arrived. He ordered the talapia as well. We all three sat and enjoyed a fine pre-game meal. For bar food, this fish was outstanding. Scrappy seemed to enjoy the shrimp, too, as he apparently couldn’t get it the last time we were there.

We moved in the equipment and were set up by about 22:30 (I’ll go ahead and run the risks of letting those of you in Palm Beach County do the math on this one). Steve strolled in about 2 minutes before he thought we were starting...par for the course. I always hate finishing set-up and jumping right into the first set. I was hot and sweaty and hadn’t had the opportunity to settle myself before the big concert began (...ahem). But, as Deron would say, I was a professional and rose above it...pimentos be damned.

Deron launched directly into Cumbersome, the safe choice for a first song. The response was polite and somewhat generous. Then someone immediately shouted out for some Black Sabbath. The mood was now set. We did War Pigs, which we morph into Rush’s Working Man during the guitar solo, then back again for the last verse, only to switch yet again for the ending. Deron did this once about 11 years ago, and we determined that it fit so well and was so goofy that it just stuck. Besides, we seem to take pride in being able to turn just about anything into a Rush song. It met with great hoopla this time as well. More Sabbath was the call, so I diddled around with the beginning of NIB and we somehow ended up playing Faeries Wear Boots. I’m not sure, but I think this was the first time we’d ever played that song together. It came off quite well. I usually joke about us turning into BenWahBob whenever we venture into the danceable rock genre, but lately that band has been learning a bunch of Sabbath. It’s like a flip-flop universe for me lately.

We did eventually get back to the normal set list...well, as much as we usually do anyway. We seemed to be in a land far, far away throughout the middle of the night though. Even simple stuff was coming out in different keys. Vocal harmonies were not quite there. Scrappy and I, who usually click pretty tightly, were just slightly off most of the night. Deron wasn’t falling into his usual I-can-play-anything mode. Steve was missing queues, and sometimes entire verses. It was just an off night. I don’t know that anyone really noticed though. We seemed to be getting a pretty good response. The place was by no means packed, but the people who were there seemed to genuinely be enjoying the music. This made it all OK. After all, that’s why we were there.

At the end of the night, there seemed to be some confusion about how late we were suppose to be playing. The bar is now open until 03:00. Deron thought we were going until 02:30. One of the barmaids came up to the stage and asked him to announce last call just before 02:00. He expressed his confusion publicly, evidence of his aggravation at whatever was going on with the management of the establishment. A general statement was made, but no details were forthcoming, so I won’t speculate here. We stopped playing about 02:10.

After we had torn down our equipment, some of the bar staff even “helped” us carry stuff out to our vehicles. It seemed that they really wanted us out of there with a quickness. Strike two. I have yet to get a good feeling about this place. There were some other young ladies who had obviously been partaking liberally of the adult beverages. They had offered to help us with our load-out, too. Deron and Scrappy didn’t seem to mind the help. I, on the other hand, was more than a bit weary. After having seen one of them falling all over herself (not to mention the stage monitors), I didn’t think it wise to have them carrying heavy, expensive gear through the loose gravel out back. So I expressed my gratitude at their offer and politely declined. Who says I’m a horse’s derrière?

There were many familiar faces there that deserve recognition, as they seem to always find the time to come see us. Roy and Carol (from the attic) were there most of the night, and Roy didn’t even pass out this time! Carol, though, did manage to find a way to head-butt one of the PA cabinets somewhere near the end of the night. She survived it with no major blood loss, and danced on as usual. What a trooper! Bill Henke and Mark Bowles stayed with us all night, too. I saw Scott Speck there briefly, but didn’t have the chance to talk with him. I also ran into Connie Popmarkoff and some of her friends who remembered me (& Deron) from high school. They were all unnecessarily kind.
Next weekend is the big Memorial Day float trip on the Black River at Lesterville, MO with BenWahBob. We play on the giant stage Saturday night, and then float on Sunday...weather permitting, of course. This will be my third year there and I haven’t been able to do the float yet. It’s a great time, though, as there are usually about 1500 or more people there every year. If you don’t already have a reservation (they always sell out), be sure to read all about it here next week. It’s sure to be entertaining at the very least.

17 May 2005


Thursday, 12 May 2005
BenWahBob played their first Fairmount Park gig of the year. Originally known as the Budweiser “Parties at the Park” series, they added Thursdays last year and called them Michelob “Ultra Thursdays.” Free buffet, dollar bottles, and horse racing...how much more fun does one need? There was an outstanding turnout this year. Last year was a bit slow on Thursday nights, probably because people hadn’t yet caught on to it. Apparently the word is out this year, because we had around 600 people there this night. That’s about twice as many as we saw last year, but less than half what we would see on a typical Friday night. Needless to say, it’s a pretty fun gig. The event is sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, so the pay is pretty good, too.

The scheduling is a bit unusual, though. We play for an hour before the first race, and then play in between the races. The track runs ads that say, “Every 19 minutes the place goes crazy!” The scoop with us is more like, “Every 19 minutes the band stops playing!” It’s hard to get a flow going with such short sets, but everyone is having such a good time that they hardly notice. Besides, they’re there to bet on horses. We are a side attraction.

Rick, former front man for Ivory Tiger, and his lovely wife Tracy stopped by and talked for awhile, as did several other familiar faces along with many new ones. One table directly in front of the stage was occupied by a bunch of young ladies who had just graduated from nursing school, and they were really wound up. I was sorry to see them leave, as they were most of the excitement of the party. We wrapped up the night in typical BWB fashion with Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, allowing Carlos to really stretch out at the end of the night. He always wails on that solo.

I packed up my bass and small combo amp, rolled it out the door, and began my grueling 10-minute trek home. I opted for an Arcangelo Corelli string concerto CD to accompany me on my journey. I was in bed before midnight. Sweet.

Friday, 13 May 2005
Club 501 in Wood River, IL was the scene of the next act of musical mutilation. This night it was with Knucklehead. One of the problems with playing in two bands is booking conflicts. KH had this gig booked before the Fairmount gigs were confirmed for BenWahBob. Although I had told them that the premium gigs with BWB would have to take priority (I was in BWB first), I had to do this Friday night with Knucklehead because it is a PA gig. Without my PA, there’s not a gig. So, Mike Hirsch from St. Louis Music was kind enough to fill in for me with BWB for the Friday night half of that gig.

I got home from work that evening, made a quick trip to the bank, ate a quick meal, loaded the van, and arrived at the club around 19:45. Deron had called me on the way there to remind me that I was suppose to be bringing new tubes for his amp. He’s been having some trouble lately with the tone, so I dug up a set of tubes I had stashed for it when I built it. Unfortunately, it would have to wait until the next night, as I had completely forgotten about them. (Have I mentioned how much I hate Friday gigs?) Despite running a little later than I had hoped, we were set up and ready to go on time. Steve strolled in right on queue – five minutes before we started.

The place was pretty much dead most of the night. I tried not to remind myself that I had willingly traded a better paying gig playing for 1500 people, many of them beautiful women, for this. But, so it goes at this place. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not. We had a good time entertaining ourselves, though. Towards the end of the night when things started to pick up a bit, we were fully engulfed in ourselves. One highlight for me was when our already entertaining version of Metallica’s Enter Sandman made its turn to Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. This is usually entertaining enough on its own. For whatever reason, I decided to get a little funky at the end with some slap-and-pop bass lines. As if somehow expecting it, Deron started right in with the guitar melody from Stanley Clarke’s School Days. Amazingly, it all fit together quite well. So, off we went for a little jazz exploration. We got somewhere near the end of the bass solo when Scrappy, who doesn’t know the song at all, decided that was about enough of that and drew it to a close. We even ended the night with Fly By Night by Rush. Very cool indeed.

Saturday, 14 May 2005
I showed up early enough to re-tube Deron’s amp and still have enough time to eat before we played. I had fallen with a thud off of the Atkins wagon on Thursday night at Fairmount Park. I should have used the same reasoning this week that kept me from starting it the week before – too much temptation and opportunity to eat poorly while playing three nights in a row. I was just finishing up the tube swap and about to dive into a basket of loaded nachos, when my gorgeous girlfriend showed up in her official PJS Band Chick spaghetti top and a nice short skirt. Swwweeeeet. I still don’t know what she’s doing with me, but I’m not going to complain. She distracted me while I was trying to eat my nachos, and I barely finished before it was time to start. One problem, though...no Deron. He’s usually not late. Scrappy and I speculated that he must have been riding with Steve. Steve strolled in at 21:25, but still no Deron. This was a first.

Deron rolled in a few minutes later. I never heard an explanation, nor did I ask. He puttered around with the amp a bit to test the new tubes. The tone had improved a bit, but it still wasn’t switching channels correctly. Something was definitely amiss electronically. He managed to deal with it through the evening, though.

At some point Howard, the manager, came up and asked for some Stevie Ray Vaughn. Howard loves the blues, especially SRV, and Deron was more than happy to oblige. We had played in a blues trio many years ago in which we did a Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute set. It was always a hit. So, Deron grabbed his beer for one last swill before launching into Texas Flood. Unfortunately, his tuners caught on the edge of the pitcher sitting on his computer table and launched it onto his foot pedal below. We all stood there looking at it with a mixture of disbelief and resolute acceptance. The LED indicators blinked a couple of times and went out – not good. He tried to drain the beer out of it, but it was done for the night. Being the professional that he is, he rose above it and finished the night anyway. The channel-switching foot switch shorted out as well, so he only had one sound with which to work.

It became obvious toward the end of the last set, at least to me anyway, that we had pretty much given up on this gig. No one was there all night, Deron kept looking at the clock like he wanted to be somewhere else, Steve was only singing most of the words to the songs, Scrappy kept dropping his drumsticks, and I was just tired. We finished with a big fizzle, packed our stuff, and left. Amazingly, I had my rig, the PA, and the lights torn down, and the van was packed in less than 45 minutes after we had finished. It’s likely that the knowledge of Dawna waiting for me at my house was instrumental in motivating me. I couldn’t think of a better reason to hurry. As Scrappy and I said our parting words outside on the sidewalk, one of the bouncers walked up with the Knucklehead banner in his hands...nearly left behind again.

Next Friday night is Knucklehead at Mac & Mick’s in Granite City, IL. At least that should be a shorter blog.

08 May 2005

Triple Shot of Tequila

Thursday, 06 May 2005
BenWahBob played at the Casa Gallardo mexican restaurant in South St. Louis County for their Cinco de Mayo festival. This seemed fitting, since the guitar player’s name is Carlos, si? We had taken our gear there the night before to load in with less crowd hassles. As I was standing around on the back parking lot talking with Dale and our soundman, Mike Stevenson, wondering where in the hell Carlos and Bobby were, they were sitting inside drinking margaritas wondering where in the hell we were. We worked it out after about half an hour, and loaded in the euipment.

We played Thursday night on a mezzanine overlooking the entire restaurant/bar. It was a bit cramped up there, but at least we were away from the drunks. The place was packed with youngsters (they’re all youngsters to me these days) partying like they didn’t have to go to work the next day. I remember those days... The atmosphere was quite festive, and everyone seemed to have a good time...well, everyone except Mike, who had an “incident” with his trailer while trying to park it. He made Carlos swear he would never call him again for one of these gigs.

Friday, 06 May 2005
The party celebrating the Battle of Puebla (not Mexican independence as some incorrectly assume) continued the following night at the Chevy’s mexican restaurant in the St. Louis Mills shopping mall. (If you’ve never been there, this mall is freaking HUGE!) We played on a stage erected outside at the end if the patio area. It was rather small. They said it was 10’x12’. I estimated it more like 8’x12’...at the most. Bobby had to set up his drums in one corner, and Carlos set up his guitar rig in the other, which, with the stairs coming up in the middle back, left me nowhere to put my bass amp. So I crammed it into the front corner next to Bobby’s drums, and stood sideways all night with cymbals crashing in my left ear.

This night was a little different than the previous. I guess everyone got there fill of partying the night before, because the place was dead all night. We had in our contract an additional hour at the end of the night if necessary. Needless to say, it wasn’t necessary. Mike had a better night, though. Load-in was much easier – right from the curb next to the patio. The manager came out during sound check to tell us that we were rattling the glassware on the shelves inside. Later in the evening, a waitress told us that he was sitting in his office – which was just the other side if the wall from the PA – holding on to everything and keeping the plugs for the computer and security systems from shaking out of the sockets on the wall. This news pleased Mike immensely, as he was heard saying, “My work here is done.” He just sat there and grinned the rest of the night. Well, except when we butchered a song we don’t play much, and he popped off over the monitors with “You really sliced that one deli-thin!” Uhh, yah.....thanks, Mike.

We stuck around at the end of the night to help Mike load out the PA. Then Carlos and I stood around for awhile in front of the NASCAR Speed Park shooting the bull about I-don’t-remember-what. I stopped off at White Castle on the way home for some of their fine cuisine, and didn’t get home until after 02:00 Saturday morning.

Saturday, 07 May 2005
Rusty’s in Edwardsville, IL was the venue for BenWahBob on this night. We have traditionally not had a good go at this place. This night was little exception. I rolled in a little early to get set up with plenty of time left to eat. Rusty’s has exceptionally good food, and I planned to partake of some. Unfortunately, I blew most of my spare time talking with the soundman. I knew Mike wasn’t going to do it, but wasn’t sure of the arrangements otherwise. I thought we might be doing it ourselves, but Mike set us up with a buddy of his. It turns out that it was Paul Finch, who was a sound tester in the Final Assembly Department at St. Louis Music when I started there. Some of the stories about Paul were legend at that place – some I even witnessed for myself (I’ll never forget the giant shrimp platter in the test booth). After initial introductions – I didn’t even recognize him at first because he has since shaved his head – we shot the bull for quite awhile, reliving old stories and talking about old co-workers.

I suddenly realized that I needed to eat. I also realized that I had forgotten to stop at the bank on the way there. So, off to the nearest ATM I went. When I got back, I settled on the chicken strips and fries; not particularly glamorous, considering it would be my last real meal for the next two weeks. My pushing of maximum density lately has prompted me to re-enter the Atkins diet Induction Phase this Sunday. So, no more carbs for two weeks. The lack of Dr. Pepper is going to kill me.

I finished my meal with just enough time to wash my hands, check the tuning on my bass, and start playing the first set. We started into the same sets we had played the two previous nights, and decided that later we would do some stuff we didn’t normally get to play. This was probably a mistake. We were...well...we were awful this night. Carlos and I both noticed the progression from night to night of us getting steadily worse. We were messing up simple stuff; forgetting where we were in songs, forgetting parts.....we looked and sounded like rank amateurs. Sad.

The crowd – and I use that term loosely – was sparse at best. There were some younger groups there early in the evening, but after midnight it was pretty much dead. The lack of crowd feedback two nights in a row was starting to wear on us, not to mention just playing three night in a row when we’re use to playing only twice a month. We even began at one point to bicker over tempo issues. We were like an old married couple.

Fortunately, the night did seem to go by pretty quickly, and was over before I realized it was already 02:00. A quick tear-down of my small rig and light trees and I was out of there. No Waffle House or McDonald’s this time. It was now Sunday morning...time to start eating fat and protein. I decided to just go to bed and eat something greasy in the morning.

Next weekend is another three-nighter, with Fairmount Park Ultra Thursdays (BWB) and Club 501 in Wood River, IL (KH) Friday and Saturday. It’s starting to feel like I’m back in Those1Guys again. Oh, well...maybe I can use the money from this month to buy a Chapman Stick.....maybe.

01 May 2005

The Old Meeting The New

Saturday, 30 April 2005
I played this weekend with Knucklehead at Baha Rock Club in St. Charles, MO. This has long been one of my favorite places to play for several reasons: nice stage, nice light show, good crowds, familiar faces, good pay, and great management. This weekend was no exception.

I arrived a little later than I would have preferred, around 20:15. Everyone else was already set up.....well, everyone except the singer, who strolled in about 5 minutes after start time (LSD). Shortly into the first set, I started to have some problems with my amp (a recurring theme). I had brought along my SVT-CL head to use as a back-up, as Carlos Bedoya was suppose to be bringing out the latest version of the SVT-6PRO prototype for me to try (the last one had some issues). Well, he didn’t make it out, so this old didn’t get to meet new. I remembered suddenly why I hadn’t been using that amp...there was a connection problem on the input jack. So, I wiggled on it for the better part of the evening trying to get a good signal. I think I finally won the battle somewhere near the end of the third set. Very frustrating.

Old and new did get to meet in the girlfriend arena. Debbie (aka “Cupcake”) came out for the first time in awhile. She’s an ex-girlfriend of mine from the St. Louis Music days, and still a very good friend. Dawna came out later after tending to some family business. She and I have been dating for about a year-and-a-half now, and has heard me speak of Debbie on numerous occasions but never had the opportunity to meet her until this night. Bucking the conventional wisdom about past and present girlfriends getting together, they seemed to get along just fine – even sharing in the destruction of Debbie’s Jagermeister cherry! At the end of the night, Cupcake needed a ride home (she doesn’t drive when she’s drinking). Rather than calling a cab, Dawna offered to give her a ride home(!). Apparently she didn’t dump her in a ditch anywhere, because Cupcake called me Sunday afternoon to sing the praises of my wonderful girlfriend Dawna and say thanks for the ride. She also vowed to never again drink Jagermeister (yah...right...whatever).

After standing in the street for far too long talking with Scrappy and his lovely wife Jane (and their as-yet unborn child), Dawna and I headed back to Illinois. She called me just before we crossed the river citing thirst and a bladder issue. We stopped at Hardees, but the lobby was closed. So we went across the street to Waffle House and ended up having breakfast. A couple of severely drunken teenage girls came in behind us. They were mildly amusing at first, as one had her clothes on inside-out and kept walking into walls, but soon became an irritation with their ill manners. Just as we were finishing our breakfast, in strolled Deron and Katrina fresh from Eddie’s. Shortly behind them came Kelly and Brad from Jagertyme, who had been playing at Eddie’s this weekend. They enjoyed the drunk show, too. Katrina even choked several times from laughing while trying to eat. We soon paid our tabs and left Kelly and Brad on their own. More entertainment than humans should be allowed.

Next weekend is Cinco de Mayo. I’ll be playing Thursday, Friday, and Saturday with BenWahBob at the South County Casa Gallardo, St. Louis Mills Chevy’s, and Rusty’s in Edwardsville respectively. Should provide some nice fodder for next week’s blog, si?