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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 September 2005

End of an Era...(?)

Thursday, 08 September 2005
Gigs at Fairmount Park have always been, for me, both a blessing and a curse. They are a blessing because they are fun to play, they feed us well, we finish earlier than other gigs, and the pay is pretty good. They are a curse because they are difficult to get to so quickly after work. Fortunately, I only need to bring my bass and a small combo amp, so the load-in is minimal.

This one was scheduled to be Thursday and Friday. As there was yet another scheduling conflict for me, I was only able to play the Thursday portion. It is here that I will take the time to offer a special thanks to Mike Hirsch, bass player and design engineer at SLM Electronics, for filling in for me on many occasions including this Friday at Fairmount Park and the coming Saturday night at Rusty’s in Edwardsville IL for which there was originally a conflict as well. Thanks, Mike.

I was able to slip out of work a few minutes early on Thursday, which allowed me a bit more time to get home, load my stuff, shower, and drive back to the track with time to load in and indulge in some wonderful hot wings and pizza. It was nice to not be so rushed for a change.

Again, we put the set list through its usual paces, with no real surprises. It was honestly a pretty vanilla show, which is not necessarily a bad thing on a Thursday night. The crowd was pretty sparse this particular evening, and not exceptionally interested in what we were doing. We kind of fell into that “background music” mode right from the very beginning and pretty much stayed there. There were a few people who seemed to be actively enjoying our offerings, though. One group in particular had a woman celebrating her 80th birthday. She seemed thrilled when we dedicated Last Kiss to her. I thought it was kind of odd and a little sick to dedicate a song about dying in a car accident, but this seemed to escape the notice of just about everyone else. To each their own, I guess.

Greg, the guy to whom we answer at these gigs, told us late in the evening to go ahead and take an extra long break. It was a bit warmer than normal due to one of the air conditioning units not working at that end of the building, so we went outside and watched the race from some chairs at the side of the track. When the winning horse made its way to the winner’s circle for photos, we made our way back upstairs to resume our production of background music. Very cool. Greg has always treated us very well, and this was a fine example of that. Another fine example occurred when he told us before the eighth race that we would play one last song after that race, then be on our way home by 10:35. Sweet. We settled on Inside Out, played it, unplugged our equipment and headed for the door.

I actually ended up staying a bit later, though, as the husband-and-wife sound crew we had began asking me about the rumors that I was leaving Knucklehead. We talked a bit about that and my new stated musical direction for awhile as they were tearing down their PA, then I headed for home. I enjoyed an earlier King’s X release (Dogman) during the short trip home, as it was already in my CD player.

Friday, 09 September 2005
Knucklehead at Club 501 in Wood River IL was on the slate for this evening – and the next. It was a PA gig for me, so I had little time to dawdle after work Friday afternoon. As I still had the monster Ampeg SVT-810 Ultra speaker cabinet I had borrowed from SLME for the previous weekend at Lesterville, and the newest prototype of the SVT6PRO bass amp from Carlos, I decided to use them instead of the BA-500 combo. Of course, loading them into my minivan along with the new, larger PA rack was a trick that took some magic. It became immediately obvious that the suspension on these vans was not made for this load level either. It also became abundantly clear that the right rear tire, which I thought might be a little low on air pressure, was indeed very low. After finishing the equipment loading and requisite shower, I limped across the highway to the gas station, corrected the air pressure in all of my tires, pumped in some of that extremely overpriced fuel ($3.19/gallon), and ambled on my way.

I arrived at the club before anyone else. This is a good thing, as there would be no one else to work around as I was setting up the PA. Scrappy’s drums were already there and set up when I walked in, as he had obviously done this in advance. The load-in and set-up went pretty quickly. Deron arrived as I was testing the new mixer’s mic inputs – something I should have done weeks ago when I got it – over the strains of the aforementioned King’s X CD Dogman. He made a comment about my currently being in a King’s X mood, and I thought about the fact that I had been listening to their various CDs for a couple of weeks now. Normally, I would use a Dream Theater CD for the PA check, so I guess I could see his point. It was something of a departure. Since these guys are one of the coolest bands on the planet (if not the coolest), I didn’t mind the departure at all.

Steve showed up a little late, just as we were about to start without him. Bar time, Steve, is 10 to 15 minutes ahead of the rest of the world. For whatever reason, after discussing the option of starting out with Two Minutes to Midnight, Deron launched into Cumbersome instead...the “safe” alternative. Why, I cannot say...but there it was, and we were off. We rolled through various other moderately unobtrusive tunes until Steve announced that we were supposed to play a Skynard song for his boss. “Ill news is an ill guest!” After my dry heaves subsided, we careened into Sweet Home Alabama. I quickly noted that Steve did not have to participate in this wretched sonic soiling, as Deron sang this song. Coward. We did, however, quickly cleanse our collective palates with the aforementioned Iron Maiden tune.

The rest of the night seemed to go off with the usual Knucklehead plan – no plan at all. Oh, sure, there’s a rough outline of something that used to be known as the set list, but that is a loose guide at best. We slalom in and out of it at will throughout the night. This doesn’t make it easy to anticipate the upcoming keyboard songs, which allows me to have the settings ready, but that’s just the way it is...gives it something of an edge, I guess.

At the end of the evening’s follies, I had to tear down my PA system. Saturday night was being billed as the big annual birthday bash for DJs Tommy and T-Bone. They decided that they wanted a big PA and light show, and so hired Derrick from Jagertyme to bring in his system for the party. Normally, Steve Hall would be out of there by the time Dean Martin was finished singing the outro song. Steve Wenos usually sticks around and helps with the PA. This Friday night turned out to be “Freaky Friday” for me. Steve Wenos had school the next morning, and left for home immediately after we finished. As I was starting to tear down, Steve Hall and Deron walked by and Steve commented about how Deron had always told them that I didn’t want anyone’s help with the PA...that they would just be in the way. I replied that these had indeed been my words, more or less. Deron rolled out and Steve decided to stick around and help anyway. After several times reminding him that he didn’t have to do this, he asked me if I didn’t like the way he was wrapping my cables. Rather than saying, “well, no, actually I don’t” (everyone has their own way of wrapping cables), I decided to just let him help. I’ve always appreciated the help given by others, but I don’t expect it from anyone. His help was even more appreciated, considering his past record of bolting immediately. It was kind of odd having him there and Scrappy gone, but also rather amusing to me. He helped me load it out to my van, and even made a bit of small talk afterwards. I won’t question his motivation for doing all of this...I will only say, “Thanks, Steve.”

Saturday, 10 September 2005
This was supposed to be the big birthday bash about which I had been hearing so much lately. Tommy and T-Bone had put together a band to play the first set. I didn’t know until recently that our own Deron and Floyd the Jagertyme Drumminmachine were a part of this ensemble, too, along with the mysterious EvilAngel (more commonly known as Shana Wankel) on keyboards. Shana had asked about using my keyboards, since they were already going to be there. Sitting in on bass was Brian Tinnon, who had filled in for me with Knucklehead a few months ago, and is apparently now playing with Jagertyme. This was the first time we had met. As it turns out, Brian is every bit of the nice guy I had gleaned him to be from the emails we had exchanged in the past...not to mention a solid bass player.

Tommy approached me at the stage around 21:30 and noted that Floyd was not there yet. He asked if we could play the first set, then they would do the second set. I quickly reminded him that Steve Hall was not expecting to play the first set and would possibly not be there until 23:00 or later. When he asked if Steve would really be late like that, I replied, “Nope, he’ll be right on time!” I gathered right away that this was not the answer he was seeking. Floyd did arrive shortly after that, as did Steve. It was about that time that I noticed the lack of any keyboard player...specifically Shana. Tommy told me that she would not be playing with them, as she had some medical issues with which she was dealing. Sorry to hear that, Shana. We missed you.

The band had dubbed themselves “Push Down & Turn.” Tommy and T-Bone took turns at center stage with the various tunes. Floyd even jumped out there to sing a KISS song while Tommy took his turn behind the drums. Brian sang a few tunes as well, and they all seemed to have a good time at it. Brian seemed to dig the Ampeg bass rig, too.

Knucklehead took over for the second and third sets as scheduled. We started off with the standard Rush tune The Spirit of Radio and went from there. We rolled through a Triumph song, after which little Leigh came up to the stage and gave us all a hug...well, all except Scrappy, who complained later about his exclusion. We did a bunch of the cool songs and far too many of the less-than-cool-but-money-nonetheless songs to fill out the evening. We even had more than a few people dancing to Zebra’s Tell Me What You Want...very cool...and many singing along with Kansas’ Carry On Wayward Son...also very cool. It’s nice to see people appreciating the good stuff, too.

The end of the night saw a somewhat awkward moment. Rumors of my departure from Knucklehead had been recently confirmed by Deron on the KH website, as well as through some in-person conversations. (I will address this more fully in an upcoming blog.) As the night came to a close, we started choosing the ending songs. After the standard AC/DC You Shook Me, Deron launched into Poison’s Talk Dirty to Me. My immediate reaction – after the second bout with the dry heaves – was, “No! Not this for a last song!” Apparently Deron couldn’t abide the thought either. He commented to the audience that this would probably be it for Knucklehead, and that he wanted us to go out in style. With that he announced Black Sabbath’s War Pigs as the last song. I realize that I have lambasted this song in many past blogs...well, really the reaction to this song more than the song itself. This was different, though. About 11 years ago, during the first go-around of Knucklehead, Deron was in the middle of the guitar solo when he suddenly realized that the solo for Rush’s Working Man would fit neatly into this song. We did it, came back out into the last verse of War Pigs, then ended with the end of Working Man. It worked out flawlessly. It has been dubbed Working Pigs ever since, and has kind of been a trademark of the Knucklehead mentality (we can turn just about anything into a Rush song...or Yes...or Stanley Clarke...or...well, you get the picture). We all deemed this an acceptable end, as far as ends go anyway.

After tearing down the keyboards and bass rig, I hung around and talked awhile with Deron and Scrappy and Derrick and a few people from the bar. They were all heading over to Floyd’s house for an after-party, and I was heading home (I’m a hermit, remember). I slid into the minivan, popped King’s X into the CD player, and drove off as Deron was pulling out his “when-the-fat-lady-sings” cigar.

I realize that this signals the end of an era. I don’t want to get too sentimental about it. It is what it is. Knucklehead was the original band that, as Deron so succinctly put it all those years ago, “could turn goat-piss into gasoline”...and that was certainly true. However, the end of one thing is always the beginning of something else. What that means for the other three KnuckleDraggers, I cannot say. What that means for me, you can read all about in my next blog. I would like to extend my personal thanks to everyone who took the time to enjoy the Knucklehead experience with us. You all made it worth it to us. I also wish to thank everyone who came out this weekend and approached me with warm regards for the future...Julie, Kelly, Angie, Brad, Scott, Rob, Jeff, Roy & Carol (from the attic) and everyone else. You really are too kind. I hope you are not disappointed with the fruits it will bear.


Moonshine and Kidneys

Saturday, 03 September 2005
Every year for about the past seven or eight, BenWahBob has played Memorial Day Weekend at Bearcats Getaway on the Black River in Lesterville MO. This year was no exception, and in addition played Labor Day weekend as well. We play on the big stage on Saturday night, camp over night, then float on Sunday. It’s a long drive down there from St. Louis, but is usually worth the trip. The stage is enormous, Mike brings out his big system, and there are always large crowds.

Dawna and I had decided after Memorial Day that we would rent a small trailer the next time, and so we did. We picked up the little 4x8 U-Haul trailer first thing Saturday morning, packed all of the necessary gear (she had to remind me to grab the stage lights...again), and headed out. We all met at the usual spot in South County just off the highway, picked up a few more items at the Schnuck’s Market there, and caravanned down the road. I must say, it was nice for all four of us to all ride in one vehicle this time. With all of the equipment and camping gear in the trailer, we had plenty of room in her truck (oh, wait...sorry...it’s an SUV).

We made the traditional stop in Farmington at the Dairy Queen where we exit MO-67 onto Highway W. The service there has been less than inspiring the last few times, but we eat there anyway as it is pretty much the halfway point. We then continue on to Highway V, cut through Pilot Knob to Highway 21, and take that the rest of the way to Lesterville. We always stop at the same gas station in Pilot Knob, too, for Mike to refill his van. Since he’s hauling a trailer full of PA gear, he uses a stupid amount of gas on this trip. We decided to refill as well while we were there. The rest of the trip is winding roads through the rolling hills that are the beginnings of the Ozark Mountains. I think Dawna really enjoyed this as her first time hauling a trailer. It is a beautiful drive, though.

We arrived at the campgrounds earlier than usual and began to instantly unload and set up the equipment. Bobby was the last to arrive, as he had stopped off at a store along the way. He told us that the people at the front office were upset because none of us had stopped to check in when we arrived. We always do it this way. After eight years, you’d think they’d know us by now. It turned out that they had some new people there who didn’t know us. The women (unofficially dubbed the “BenWahBabes”) usually go to the office to check in and gather the necessary armbands and meal tickets while we finish the set-up. Not this time. They came back and told us that we had to go there in person and have them put on our armbands. There was also some issue about the number and availability of meal tickets for Dawna’s son and nephew, but we worked that out with little effort...and a little money. This was a bit aggravating, but nothing really serious.

The campgrounds were less crowded than we had expected. Apparently they had had quite a few cancellations by people who didn’t want to spend the money for gas to get there. Those who were there were no less rowdy because of it, though. We started playing around 20:00, and the party was already in full swing. Right from the start, though, we had a couple of guys trying to get around the barricade to the back of the stage to try to come up on stage. This resulted in a small disagreement between us, the two drunks, and the camp’s security personnel. An effort to close one of the openings in the fence resulted in Carlos’ wife Dawn acquiring a rather nasty cut on her leg from the edge of the fencing. She lived, though, and eventually got the bleeding to stop with the help of the other BenWahBabes.

We rolled through our sets in the usual way, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the show...in spite of some of the atrocities that we were emitting from our speakers. Carlos had brought along an updated version of the new Ampeg SVT-6PRO for me to try, and I had picked up a monster 8x10 cabinet from SLME Friday. This cabinet alone weighs about 210 pounds, but will handle the 1100 watts from this amp much easier than my 2 4x10 cabinets that we tried to use (and blew up) Memorial Day. The sound was fantastic, and I was loud as..... well, I was loud. It’s too bad this rig weighs so much. I would hate to have to haul something like that around all of the time.

At some point during the last set, some guy came up to the front of the stage – which is about eight feet high – holding a mason jar full of some odd liquid and telling me that I had to try it, all the while pointing at his head. Huh? He repeated himself several times, then chucked the jar up onto the stage right at the foot of my mic stand. It was then that I heard him say “moonshine.” Uhh...yah...right, dude. When I looked down at it a little later, I could have sworn I saw something floating in it. Upon closer examination, there were what appeared to me to be two internal organs of unknown origin (kidneys maybe?) floating in this reddish-brown liquid. Nice. At the end of the night, the guy had disappeared. So, I politely requested over the PA that whomever had tossed their kidneys up on the stage, please come back and retrieve them. I never saw him come back, but somehow the jar disappeared during teardown. I did get a picture of it lying there, though.

We tore down the equipment, moved it all to the sides of the stage, and carried our tents up to camp on the stage again. This seems to be much better than the ground. Dawna had inflated the air mattress when she set up the tent earlier, but it was now a bit flatter. We aired it up again before crashing and hoped for the best. Around 06:30, we awoke lying on the plywood floor. Ouch. We both got up, made the walk to the necessary facilities, then she whipped out her coffee machine and made fresh coffee. Soon the rest of the camp was starting to wake and was buzzing again. Some guy across the road from us was already playing a tambourine when we got up. Apparently, if the band is awake, it’s OK to party again, because the moment they saw us stirring, the loud music came on again.

We loaded the equipment off of the stage, ate breakfast, changed clothes, loaded the coolers onto the bus, and prepared for the bus-ride-from-hell to the drop point on the river. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad this time, as we had a different driver. The engine on this bus runs a bit rich, though, and every time he would let off of the accelerator, it would emit a loud backfire. Several jokes about Baghdad and hillbillies were bandied about. Dale’s lovely wife Chris chimed in with “Hey, I think we just broke the sound barrier!” and we all lost it. I thought we were just kicking up dust from the road, but I guess it was actually a vapor ring.

We arrived at the drop point completely intact this time, and put the canoes into the river. What a beautiful day it turned out to be for a float. I got to pair up with Dawna from the start this time, as the boys took a canoe to themselves. The river was in pretty good shape. Some of the people at the campgrounds had warned us that the river was low, but we really only had a few spots where we had to actually get out and drag it through. Dawna threw a couple of looks back at me each time. Yes, I know I need to loose a few pounds, and this was not the time to be reminding me of that. So that became a running gag. Every time we scraped along a shallow spot, I would apologize, saying, “sorry...that’s me.” It sucks getting fat...especially when your girlfriend is wafer-thin. We didn’t have too much trouble, though. Dawna is an excellent navigator (it’s the Cherokee in her, I’m sure). We all stopped a couple of times along the way, had lunch on a beach around the half-way point, stopped again later and played in the river for awhile, saw some incredibly huge carp in one of the deeper pools, and wound up back at the take-out point around 16:00. Everyone had a great time, and I got sunburned again.

After some parting words back at the camp, we all headed back toward our respective homes. Dawna and I decided to stop again at Dairy Queen in Farmington for dinner. If we thought the service was bad the day before, we were in for a real treat. The girl taking our order simply couldn’t get it right, the manager had to get involved and refund some of our money, the order was still wrong when we finally got it, and I was soundly ignored when I went back to the counter to advise them that the ketchup dispenser was empty. Dawna went off on the manager and got some packets of ketchup right before someone came out and filled the dispenser. None of the employees would even make eye contact with us after that. Perhaps we need to rethink this BWB tradition.

Other than that, though, it was a pretty good weekend overall. We got to play, camp, float, swim, and tease all weekend. By the time we got back to St. Jacob, I was tired and crabby and just wanted to unload the equipment and go to bed. We cleaned out the trailer, dropped it off in Highland, and went home to our real beds. I spent the day Monday back out in the sun helping Dawna mow at her farm. What can I say...I’m a glutton for punishment.