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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!

29 June 2005

Making Memories...again

Friday, 17 June 2005
Knucklehead was booked at Eddie’s in Granite City, IL for what was possibly the last time. There has been some squabbling between us and the management there about the pay rate we receive. As one of the best drawing bands, we are also the lowest paid. We pay our soundman more for one night than the individual band cuts are for the entire weekend. So, this time we decided to go in with my small PA and give them the same thing we give smaller bars that only pay this low rate. As it turned out, we got quite a few compliments on our sound. It turns out that people liked it better when we weren’t as loud. They said it sounded clearer, even over near the bar area. Hmmm…guess we should have been doing this the whole time.

Another difference this weekend was the lack of Scrappy on drums. He had planned a fishing trip up north for this weekend, so we had substitute drummers for this gig. Friday was Kevin Kalka. We had played with him while still in high school and a few years beyond, but it had been about 16 years since we had played together in Kulprit, Nassty, and then Kid Curious – the precursor to Saturn Cats. We were all a little unsteady at first, but as the night wore on we started to catch a groove. It was, admittedly, a bit odd playing with Kevin again. We are all different players now, and the old chemistry was altered by time. But, it worked out just fine. He had done a stand-up job learning many of the harder tunes in less than a week. Thanks, Kev.

Saturday, 18 June 2005
Round two of the Eddie’s-going-away-party was to feature Mike Ramsey on drums. Mike is the former drummer for Ivory Tiger and, more importantly, the Rush tribute band Thunderhead. He brought out his “big” kit, which made it a challenge to mic everything with my small setup. But we found a way to do it, and it worked out exceptionally well. Needless to say, Deron and I were really looking forward to this night. I had bought a MIDI foot controller for my keyboards a few weeks earlier, but hadn’t really had the time to work it into my routine. I decided to bring it out anyway, if nothing else than for the Rush that we were sure to do. I also broke out the old ’73 Rickenbacker that I hadn’t played in almost 2 years since I got the Fishbone 6-string bass. After playing that bass exclusively for about 20 years, playing it again was like putting on an old pair of jeans.

We started the night with Rush’s La Villa Strangiato as our sound check. What a way to start! Mike, too, had done an outstanding job learning some of our “cool” songs like the Iron Maiden, Kansas, and Zebra stuff. Of course, we started off the second set with the usual Spirit of Radio, then launched into a bunch of other Rush songs like Freewill, Tom Sawyer, and Limelight. It’s spine-tingling to play that stuff with guys who really know it. My personal thanks to Mike and Deron for the thrills that night (Steve did a great job on the vocals, too).

I think I may have set a new record tearing down and loading the equipment that night. It wasn’t so bad coming back for it the next day when I lived just five blocks away. 20 miles is a different story altogether. Plus, Deron had been talking about Waffle House. Inspirations abounded. By the time we arrived at Aweful House, Roy and Carol (from the attic) were already there, as was Wes from Ivory Tiger. Mike and his lovely wife joined us, too. The laughs were nonstop as we all took turns ripping into each other. Carol even made the comment that she had never seen me so animated. Oops…..busted having fun in public. Sorry, Carol…I promise not to let it happen again. Just forget you saw that.

I didn’t get home until after the first light of day Sunday morning. Just as I got on the highway to head back to St. Jacob, my phone rang. It was Deron – he had run out of gas just down the street from Aweful House. What a retro weekend this was! Kevin Kalka on drums, Deron running out of gas on Chain of Rocks Road…all I needed was a bottle of Jack and a psycho girlfriend and it would have been complete. I think I’ll take a pass on that last part.

16 June 2005

Brushes with Mortality

Saturday, 11 June 2005
Knucklehead played at Baha Rock Club in Old Town St. Charles, MO. As we arrived there, the staff was busy cleaning up after a flood that came washing throughthe back door and out the front from water that ran down the hill on its way to the Missouri River after a couple of severe storms had rolled through town. To top that, two of the air conditioning units were not functioning. I was sweating like a pig before I had even finished setting up my gear. Once the stage lights came on, the problem was amplified almost beyond belief. However, being the true professionals that we are, we persevered and the show went on as planned. Even the crowd stuck with us most of the night.
The end of the night saw us whipping out oddities such as Pantera's Walk, which was ironically requested by a young, attractive female, not the slew of dudes crowded around the front of the stage asking for heavy stuff. Odd, indeed.
Sunday, 12 June 2005
Knucklehead was scheduled to perform at a benefit for the sister of one of the bartenders at Eddie's in Granite City who had been diagnosed with cancer and was having some difficulty with her medical bills. We were playing with other stalwarts of the Eastside rock scene like Jagertyme and Ivory Tiger. Unfortunately, one of the other bands scheduled for that day had backed out a few days earlier because their bass player didn't like the time slot in which they were scheduled. How sad for him. This, of course, changed everything for everyone else. We were suppose to play at 18:00 for one hour. It was rescheduled for one hour and twenty minutes starting at 18:10. We took the stage around 20:00. It was kind of a drag about the time thing, but it was for a good cause, so I kept the whining to a minimum.
Alice Clark's battle to overcome cancer is, of course, inspirational. Which reminded me of my own brush with mortality earlier in the week. I had taken half-a-day off from my day job to have some new kitchen appliances delivered. After they were delivered and installed, I decided to make a pizza...something I haven't done for quite awhile. I went to the store in Highland, picked up the requisit ingredients, and headed home. Just as I was leaving Highland on old US-40, a tanker truck coming into town blew a tire and lost control. I suddenly found myself in a barrage of smoke and rubber, swerving to avoid an out-of-control truck with nowhere to go on a two-lane road. As I saw the front of the truck pointing right at me, and the tank trailer starting to jack-knife in my direction, I found myself not only an observer but also a participant in a life-and-death situation over which I had absolutely no control. I hadn't felt this out-of-control since I wrecked my BMW motorcycle in 1991. Forces were in motion that I could not influence. Even if I could, there wouldn't have been time. How that truck missed me -- and the pickup truck behind me, too -- is still a mystery to me. I can only give the proper kudos to the driver of that rig for regaining control enough to not hit anyone and not wreck himself.
It did have a profound affect on my mindset, though. Brushes with ones own mortality will do that, you know. As a practicing martial artist for over 20 years, training to face death at every turn, even this was an eye-opener. I can tell you that even though it wasn't my best attempt ever, that pizza sure did taste good that afternoon. The air smelled fresher. The water tasted purer. The new Dream Theater CD Octavarium (released last Tuesday) was the best music I'd ever heard. Even the nasty storm that rolled through that evening was...well, inspiring. You never really realize just how good life really is until you are faced with having it no longer.
Knucklehead will be at Eddie's in Granite City this coming weekend. We'll have a couple of special guests on drums, as Scrappy is out of town on a fishing trip. Try to catch both nights, as they are sure to be as different as...well, night and day.

05 June 2005

Pass the Grey Poupon, Muffy

Saturday, 04 June 2005
BenWahBob was booked to play a private party for a friend of our singer, Dale. It was at Incline Village, a golf community/country club about five miles north of Foristell, MO. I had to work Saturday morning at 06:00, then go straight there from work that afternoon. Needless to say, this would make for a long day. I left work around 14:00 and arrived at the clubhouse just as the other band members were beginning to unload equipment. We had decided to use our drummer Bobby’s PA for this gig, since the pay wasn’t worth hiring someone to do it for us. This was one of those gigs where we cut someone a good deal on the price because they knew a member of the band. Big mistake. With just a week left before the gig, the details started changing at an alarming pace. Time schedules, load-in, set list changes, song requests... This was becoming more of a pain than it was worth.

Anyway...Bobby has a trailer with all of his PA equipment in it. So, he backed up to the pool area and we loaded in the gear. Since we didn’t need to start setting up until about 17:00, we had some time to kill. Bobby and Carlos suggested we all pile into Bobby’s truck to listen to some CDs. Uhh...OK, why not. This turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Apparently, the gig last weekend at the Black River was recorded from the mixing board. Carlos had taken the best tracks from the whole night and mixed them onto two CDs for potential demo use. The sound quality of these recordings was surprisingly good. I shouldn’t be so surprised, though. I have worked quite a bit with the soundman Mike Stevenson in the past. He always makes us sound great. This time the stage was so big and the outdoor venue so open that everything was coming through the PA, with no stage volume issues. It was the perfect scenario for recording. We listened to most of the remixed tracks, then Carlos gave us all copies of the two CDs, along with copies of the entire uncut show, for us to review on our own.

We began to set up our stuff next to the pool around 17:00. Immediately we noticed that power was going to be a potential problem. This turned out to be just the case. After we finally found someone to turn on the power to the building from which we were tapping, we had to reset the ground fault breakers several times. Not good. Whoever wired this place didn’t seem to have a clue what they were doing.

Once we got that out of the way, and figured out the clusterf--k someone left in Bobby’s PA rack, we actually had a pretty easy time. We played for three hours, with breaks every hour for raffles and giveaways, and we were done. We even enjoyed the catered dinner before we played. We tore down the equipment in record time and were out of there by 23:30. I must add, though, the difficulty in forcing myself not to jump into the swimming pool before I left. I kept telling myself that the long drive back to St. Jacob would be no more enjoyable in wet clothes. Logic won out... this time anyway. So, I listened to the BWB CDs during the drive home and considered pulling over once or twice to take a nap. It had indeed been a long day.

Next weekend I will be playing with Knucklehead Saturday night at Baha Rock Club on Main Street in St. Charles, MO, then again Sunday afternoon at Eddie’s in Granite City, IL for a cancer patient benefit with Jagertyme, Ivory Tiger, and several other bands. There should be plenty of blog fodder from that weekend.

01 June 2005


Saturday, 28 May 2005
Every year at Memorial Day, BenWahBob takes a trip down to Lesterville, MO to play at a place called Bearcats Getaway. It’s a campground on the Black River with a huge stage where they have bands on the weekends all summer long. BWB plays there every Memorial Day weekend. It’s a blast.

Dawna went with me again this year, and brought along her oldest son Derek and her nephew Austin as well. After packing the equipment and camping gear in my van, it became readily obvious that we would not be fitting four people in there. So, being the trooper that she is, Dawna decided that she would drive, too. We met up with the rest of the band at our usual spot in South STL County and caravanned down the road, stopping in Farmington for out traditional lunch at Dairy Queen.

We stopped again later in Pilot Knob for Mike (our soundman) to refuel. There is a gas station/sporting goods store there that is a convenient place for him to stop for gas. A couple of us decided to go in this time to look around. The sign next to the road says they have over 1900 guns inside...and they weren’t kidding. I’ve been to gun shows that didn’t have this much selection. Bobby and I walked through the place in awe. We went back outside to find some idiot crying about not being able to get his truck and trailer away from the pumps because we had the audacity to park in the marked parking spaces at the end of the lot. He had apparently said to Mike that he couldn’t get out because of these two assholes parked in front of him. Mike said he looked around at our cars and said, “Hey, I know those assholes.” When I came back out to move my van, he didn’t seem to have anything to say to me. Curious...

We arrived at the campground around 13:30, set up our equipment immediately, and tested everything. Mike brings out his monster system for this gig, so sound check is always a good idea. Carlos had brought along the latest/greatest version of the Ampeg SVT6PRO bass amp he’s been developing. He had wanted me to use an 810 cabinet to really push it, but since I don’t have one of those refrigerators, I brought two 410s instead. They have the same speakers as the 810s, so I figured we were OK. About five minutes into the testing, Carlos started cranking in some heavy 30Hz signal on the parametric EQ. There was suddenly a nasty farting/buzzing noise coming from my speakers. After a bit of checking, we determined that one of the speakers had given up the ghost. “Slain By Ampeg!” The old advertising slogan was brought to life once again. So I got to play all night with a buzzing speaker.

The gig went pretty well, as it usually does. Dale lost some words early in the first set, but after that we were off to the races. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. The last set was mostly reserved for the Black Sabbath tribute we had been developing over the past month or so. We started out with Behind the Wall of Sleep/Bassically/NIB, slid into I Don’t Know (yes, I know, that’s Ozzy, but what the heck), whipped out Paranoid, and closed it with War Pigs. Needless to say, it was a big hit.

We were suppose to end the night with KISS Rock-N-Roll All Night, or at least that’s what I heard. Suddenly Bobby starts into the drum beat for Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. Huh? Dale started to sing it, then looked at me. Uhhh...OK. I used to sing this with Those1Guys. So that was the end of the night. A bit odd, but an end nonetheless.

The weather held out for us on Sunday this year. It was my third year down there and I hadn’t been able to float the first two years because of inclement weather. This year worked out, though. Most of the rest of the band left before the float for various reasons, but Dawna and I were able to get a few of the BWB guests to stay and float with us. We loaded onto one of the school buses they use to take people to the drop-off point. The driver was just plain crazy. If you’re familiar with the Night Bus in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, then you have some idea of the ride we endured. Even if the float were a disaster, this would have been worth it.

They dropped us off about seven miles up river, gave us our canoes, and off we went. I started out with Austin in my canoe. He’s 11 years old and this was his first float. After some initial mistakes that put us into a few trees and rock outcroppings, he started to get the hang of it. We all pulled over and switched up partners a little way down river, and I ended up with Dawna in my canoe. Sweet! She’s mostly Cherokee, so she was instantly dubbed Little Hiawatha (although I guess Pocahontas would have been more appropriate, but I couldn't get that Bugs Bunny cartoon out of my head). There are so many entertaining and just downright hilarious stories to tell about that trip that it would take volumes to relate them all. Suffice it to say, it was a great day for a float, and we really enjoyed ourselves. The boys had a blast, as did everyone else. We arrived back at the Bearcats beach around 17:00, showered, packed our stuff, and headed back home exhausted.

I spent the rest of my weekend packing and moving...not nearly as entertaining, I assure you.

Next weekend I’ll be playing a private party at a country club near Troy, MO with BWB. I don’t know what kind of stories this will provide, but I’m sure to get something out of it.