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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!

23 March 2006

Tastes Like Chicken

Friday, 17 March 2006
One of my co-workers at Wick’s Organ Company is Darin Meskil, guitar player for the Highland IL area band called Double Ds. He has been asking me for some time now to sit in with them for gigs when someone in the band cannot play. All of the dates about which he had previously queried had been already booked as BenWahBob dates, so it hadn’t yet happened. When he told me about a week ago that they needed a bass player for the 17th at Wings To Go in Highland IL, I checked and found that I was not booked that night and would be glad to sit in with them. He and his singer printed out set lists and burned CDs for me, and I was on my way. It is no secret that I have long been not a fan of sitting in with other bands. It is a lot of work to learn a bunch of songs just for one or two nights, and interferes with my grand design to take over the world via progressive rock music. But, what the heck, eh? It might actually be fun.

These guys have a reputation for being a party band, and always garner a large turnout for their gigs. Their set lists are a reflection of that; a nice mix of danceable party tunes ranging from Garth Brooks to Van Halen. One look at the list, though, and I was almost ill. I have always loathed country music – it’s right up there with Rap and Opera – and this list was loaded with it. But, I am a professional, and as such am capable of rising above such pettiness…at least for one night anyway. Besides, this place has some of the best hot wings I’ve ever eaten.

I went home after work, loaded my amp, and dropped it off at the bar about 15:30. They were already there setting up their gear when I arrived. I chatted a bit and left to go run some Friday night errands. Dawna came by after work and we grabbed a couple of cod sammiches from The Dew Drop Inn (no – I’m not kidding) here in St. Jacob. I headed to the gig around 20:30 and she freshened up and met me there later, as she was not planning on staying long. When I got there, the place was already getting crowded. The rest of the band had met at E.L. Flannigan’s for pre-game drinks, and were well on their way for the night.

We coasted into the first set with Take It Easy by the Eagles, and then kicked it up from there. There was definitely a party atmosphere present; we had dancers almost immediately, and they stayed on the dance floor pretty much all night. I have to admit that as much as I hate Country music, it sure does get the tails swaying. It did get a little better from time to time with tunes like SRV’s Tight Rope, Kenny Wayne Shepperd’s Deja Voodoo, the Doobie Brothers’ Long Train, Fleetwood Mac’s Oh, Well (not The Rockets’ version, though), and VH’s Ice Cream Man. I’m not suggesting that everything else was awful. As I said before, I’m just not a fan of this kind of music. That didn’t, however, keep me from having a great time. I finally got to play with Darin, and I finally got to hear his new Mesa Road King guitar amp live. We had gotten together the previous Wednesday for a quick rehearsal, but that really didn’t do it justice. That amp really sings, and he didn’t even push it hard.

We got through the night just fine, with only minor blemishes that most people don’t even notice on some of the songs. Nothing crashed and burned, so that was good. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, as did I. I don’t think I could do that all the time, but it was fun that night. I must here extend my thanks to all the guys in the band for being so kind about my playing. It wasn’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but they made me feel right at home. A special thanks goes to Matt Basler, who decided to take a vacation that weekend, allowing me the opportunity to play (even though he actually showed up that night).

I must also apologize to Jake, who is normally the bass player but decided to play guitar this night instead. I have long thought that Dale, the singer for BenWahBob, would be the first to get smacked upside the head with the giant headstock on my bass. However, Jake beat him to it. As Darin and I were playing rock star with headstocks pointed forward in classic rock star poses, Jake came up on my left to join us. With my hair thrashing around in my face, I didn’t notice him there until I quickly rose up to find the side of his face planted firmly against the back of my headstock. Ouch! That had to hurt. The expression on his face was similar to those still photos of a boxer who has just been punched squarely on the cheek. Sorry, Jake.

Of course, with a name like Double Ds, they are all about the breasts. This night was no exception. Unfortunately, the breasts that were exhibited were, unlike the rest of the night, very forgettable. There were some attractive women present. So why these were the ones offered remains a mystery to me. Oh, well…c’est la vie.

At the end of the night, I tore down my small rig, collected my compensation, thanked the band for the opportunity to play with them, and headed back to my home where Dawna was already sound asleep. I think I was listening to a CD of organ music recorded on a Wick’s instrument for the short drive home, but I cannot be certain at this point.

Saturday, 18 March 2006
This was turning into another one of those really long and busy weekends. Dawna’s youngest son Samuel was having a birthday party at a roller skating rink in Breese IL at 14:00. Since we didn’t even get up until around 10:30 (slackers!), and wanted to get over to Taussig Violin Shop in Chesterfield MO to pick up her newly re-haired violin bow, time was suddenly getting short. We opted to forgo the drive to Missouri in favor of a long late breakfast. It wouldn’t look too good if we were late for her son’s party. So we headed to Denny’s in Collinsville and stuffed ourselves silly.

Rusty’s in Edwardsville IL has become a PA gig for me since the departure Eddie Christ, the latest BWB soundman for smaller gigs like this. So after the skating party, I loaded the van and headed out. I wanted some extra time to change some speaker cable connectors during the set up, so I arrived there around 19:30. Bobby had just finished loading in his drums, and was planning on a meal in the restaurant. I set up most of the PA, with help from Bobby, changed the connectors, and pumped some Spock’s Beard through the system to test it. Surprisingly, everyone seemed to kind of like these guys. They are one of those bands who are legendary in the progressive rock community, but virtually unknown to main stream music fans. That’s too bad – they’re a really great band.

I had also planned on the early to allow myself plenty of time to enjoy some of the bar’s fine offering of chicken strips. So, after I inhaled them (I hadn’t eaten since breakfast), we launched into the standard BenWahBob paid rehearsal. For the first couple of sets, that’s exactly what it was, too. We had a small crowd, but they pretty much stayed back by the bar. After awhile, though, things started to pick up a bit. We had a nice mix of people for the rest of the night, and they seemed to be having fun. There were several groups of younger people who seemed to be “living it up.” One was a table of 20-ish young ladies who seemed to have removed any limitations on how much they would be drinking that night. At one point, they even grabbed an older woman who had been dancing with her husband and gave her the sandwich treatment, much to the enjoyment of a group at another table who were hooting loudly about it. These girls even played like naughty little pretend-lesbians on the dance floor, trying to invoke a response from the band. What they apparently didn’t realize was the fact that we’ve been doing this for a long time, and can tell real from pretend almost instantly. That’s not to say that we didn’t enjoy watching them play around, but I don’t think they got the response they were seeking. We’re hardened professionals, ladies. You’ll have to do better than that.

The night went pretty well, and was over before I knew it. We tore everything down, loaded out to our vehicles, had a productive conversation about direction and new tunes, and then headed to our respective homes. Mine, unfortunately, was empty this night, as Dawna had her eldest son for the weekend. I listened to some Kansas for the drive home, from a double CD of their “greatest hits” that I had been playing between sets, which has some really great stuff on it. After playing songs like Mustang Sally, it was a welcome decompression…kind of a cleansing of the palate.

06 March 2006

Toothless Wonders & Paganini

I’ve been taking a bit of grief lately over my inability to stay current with these blogs. Frankly, I just haven’t had the time. Sometimes, life gets in the way. Of course, the same problem still exists with my home computer modem. That doesn’t help. I think I’ll just replace the whole thing. I need an upgrade anyway. My day job has been monopolizing most of my time in the past few weeks as well. We held a digital organ seminar last week which brought together about 50 sales and service people from across the US, Canada, and even Jamaica. The preparations were grueling and time-consuming, and the seminar itself very often ran late into the evenings, including a concert at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Highland, IL where we installed one of our Royal Classic III organs to showcase its sound. I usually got home anywhere from 20:30 to 23:00. As I write this on the first Saturday of March, this is the first day off I’ve had in over two weeks. On the bright side, though, the overtime money is probably going to buy me a new computer with which I will be able to get a DSL connection and avoid the recent dial-up issues, which have slowed the process. However, enough of my whining about this.

Saturday, 25 February 2006
BenWahBob had a gig booked at a place in Wentzville, MO called The Painted Pony Saloon (a friend of Dale’s buddy’s friend’s wife’s neighbor’s dog or something - one of those deals). Images of a roadhouse with dirt floors sprang up from my familiar past. As the gig got closer, we were informed that they were in the process of changing their name to The Crazy Horse Saloon. Uhh...yah, that’s a step in the right direction. Our usual soundman Eddie Christ - former frontman for Alibi - suddenly decided that he didn’t want to run sound anymore and sold off all of his equipment. Nice. So in addition to all that was going on at work, I had to cut out early on Saturday to dig my PA out of the shed, make sure everything still worked, load it, leave early enough to set it up and troubleshoot...shades of Knucklehead all over again (at least with them I knew ahead of time and could try to plan accordingly).

I arrived at the newly dubbed Crazy Horse Saloon around 19:30. Just as I was about to begin loading in equipment, my phone rang. It was Bobby wanting to know how in the hell to get there. He had apparently taken the wrong Wentzville exit from I-70, and was somewhere in the middle of town. I tried to talk him through, but didn’t seem to be having much luck. I’m not all that familiar with that area anyway. He eventually made it as I was mostly finished with the load-in. Carlos strolled in shortly thereafter, and Dale did the LSD thing...rolling in just before we started. I had some initial trouble with the system, but nothing that the correct positioning of some mute buttons couldn’t fix. I had only used this system in its new configuration once with Knucklehead before it was shelved (or, shedded, actually), and had never developed any semblance of familiarity with it. Oh, well...live and learn.

The owner advised Dale that we were also supposed to provide music between the sets. Since the only CDs I had in my van were either obscure progressive rock bands or long-dead Baroque and Classical composers, the possibilities seemed somewhat limited. I connected a portable CD player and popped in Enchant Juggling 9 or Dropping 10. No one seemed to really care, as long as there was something playing. This lasted for the time before we started and the first break. Toward the end of the first break, Dale approached me and asked if we had something more mainstream and up-beat. I responded with an offering of either recent Dream Theater or Nicolo Paganini’s 24 Caprices for solo violin (performed by the late Michael Rabin, no less!). Short of that, he would have to find something else himself. Within mere moments, I was handed a large case of CDs that Bobby had retrieved from his truck. After a quick appraisal of the choices - mostly country music - I grudgingly settled on AC/DC (I know, Deron, I don’t want to hear about it), as this seemed the most likely to satisfy this particular crowd and not send me on a three-state killing spree. Again, no one seemed to really notice or even care. We even tried the latest Journey album with the same apathetic results. I could have just stuck with Enchant.

The sets went off without too much in the way of befuddlement. I honestly don’t remember anything really jumping out as completely awful. There were some odd moments with equipment, though. Carlos had trouble with his guitar sound pretty much all night. I think the combination of dirty AC power and unusual room acoustics played havoc with his amp and his ears. He tweaked with it most of the night, but never really found a satisfying tone. During SRV’s Pride & Joy, my bass amp suddenly stopped making any but the faintest of noises. With just a few songs to go in the last set, it had apparently decided it was done for the night. I don’t recall going too crazy with the bass solos in Born to be Wild, so there should have been plenty of notes left in it. I wiggled cables, twisted knobs, turned it off and on a few times, and even kicked it for good measure...no dice. I quickly resorted to plugging my bass directly into a PA channel, goosed a little through the monitors, and made it through the rest of the night. Naturally, at the end of the night when I plugged back into the amp to give it a listen on a quiet stage, it proceeded to work just fine. Go figure. So, I kicked it again.

I would be completely remiss in meeting the entertainment objective of this blog if I didn’t here mention something about the people who were in attendance at the Crazy Horse Saloon on this particular evening. As I was loading in equipment, I was approached by a fairly affable guy who asked what king of music we play. When I described the BWB credo, he asked if we play any country music. As I answered that we indeed would play some country music, I began immediately searching the ceiling and floor for the connection points for the chicken wire that surely must be in some nearby storage room. While everyone did actually seem friendly, there was still that air about that cast us as obviously not from ‘round them there parts. Besides the two minivans driven there by Carlos and myself, every other vehicle in the parking lot was an American made pickup truck...not a BMW or Lexus to be found for miles, I would guess. There were also several of what would have initially passed as attractive young women...initially, I say, until they flashed you a smile. I’m going to go out on a limb here and surmise that they have a bit of a meth problem in that area. You would find healthier teeth in Appalachia or London than at that bar. Some of the male patrons decided to make a play for some of the BenWahBabes, who were having none of that. They disappeared about midway through the festivities. Another really entertaining creature was a young woman who was obviously the local nutbucket, as everyone gave her a pretty wide berth on the dance floor. She must have summoned her inner whirling dervish, and needed as much room as she could get. The near-psycho look on her face when she did look up was painfully familiar to me. I think I dated one of her relatives.

The load out went pretty quickly with the small system. Even Bobby only used a small drum kit, and was out in about 20 minutes. We were paid and on the road by about 02:00. Sweet. Since I had gotten my prog fix earlier in the night, I opted for the aforementioned Paganini CD for the drive home.

An interesting note about this particular recording is the profound influence it has had on me. I stumbled across it in 1986 at the downtown St. Louis Public Library. My then-wife and I lived but two blocks from there and would frequently walk over to peruse their music selections. I found this one buried in a stack of old vinyl on a cart, took it home, and fell immediately in love with the performance. Such a combination of fire and precision in playing I had never heard before. I recorded it onto a cassette tape and returned the album. I subsequently lost the tape over the many years since then, but not before listening to it so many times that it was burned into my very soul. It had been out of print for many years, but was recently re-released on CD. I found it staring up at me out of a bin at Borders Books & Music, and took it home with me again. When I slid it into my CD player, I was immediately reminded of why this was so good. I was also reminded of the reasons for my recent dive into the murky waters of original music. It was while listening to this recording all those years ago that I heard, amidst the flurry of notes that is typical of Paganini’s compositions, the underlying melodies and progressions of these pieces. They struck me as great foundations for rock music, especially in the progressive genre of which I am so fond. So, this is the recording that planted the seeds 20 years ago for what I am doing now. Although I am basing the current project around the music of Antonio Soler, I am not lost on the Paganini influence. In fact, I made some rough multi-track recordings about 10 years ago that were based on the first eight Paganini Caprices. I have not forgotten them, and fully intend to expound upon them in the future.

Submarines and eBay

Sunday, 12 February 2006
If nothing else, things have been fairly entertaining over the last couple of weeks. Sometimes productive, sometimes frustrating, but always entertaining.

Since moving into this smaller house, I have lost my studio space. It now shares space with my bedroom as it did about 10 years ago. It’s not the best setup, but it works. One of the many things that I no longer have room for is my guitar amp half-stack. As much as I love the sound of that amp, I just simply don’t have the space for it right now. I had been looking for a while on eBay for something smaller, and had pretty much settled on the idea of a small foot pedal preamp. Wanting to stay with a tube sound, I decided on a Digitech RP7. They have some great sounding effects and, most importantly, a 12AX7 preamp vacuum tube. I found several of them over the course of a couple of weeks of looking, but every time I bid on one someone would run the price up beyond what I thought this unit was worth.

I finally got one for $150, which was the maximum I was willing to pay. It came from a place in Syracuse, NY called HugeMikesInc, an online business I assume. Somehow I ended up sending a double payment through PayPal, which they refunded to me almost immediately - like within about 30 minutes. Sweet. I like doing business with honest people, and this was going well. The package arrived about three days later and the unit looked exactly as it did in the auction photos. When I plugged it in later that evening to get a feel for what it could do for me, everything started going south. None of the six foot switches worked. Everything else seemed to work OK, but I couldn’t change channels or effects settings unless I used the small touch switches at the top. This is very difficult to accomplish when you have size 11 feet.

I took it apart a couple of days later and found that the switches were indeed worn out. Having years of experience building and repairing electronics, I knew this would be an easy fix. I went to the Digitech website, found the parts (which were about 34 cents each), and ordered them from LS Electronics in Florissant, MO...along with a new preamp tube for good measure. The next day I sent an email to the seller to let them know what I had found, and that I was not too happy about receiving something that didn’t work as advertised. I never did receive any response from them. After checking their feedback, I found that three other people recently had similar problems with no response from them. Losers. Every eBay experience I’ve had to this point has been positive. I guess it was only a matter of time until I encountered someone like this. They still haven’t left me any feedback for this transaction. Oh, well...enough about them.

On the bright side, I got the unit repaired and it is functioning as it should. I am very happy with the sounds I’m getting out of it and its ease of use. Plus, it only takes up the space of a notebook on the floor next to my recorder and keyboards.

In the midst of the dreariness around the recent death of Dixie Lee Bedoya, mother of BenWahBob guitarist Carlos Bedoya, there was another highly entertaining moment. After the memorial service for her, many people where invited back to the Bedoya home for a party to celebrate her life. They live in a nice suburb in the area of North St. Louis County known as Old Jamestown. As Dawna and I were driving to the house, we were admiring some of the nice homes in the area. One in particular had two massive multi-car garages built just away from the house. In front of one of the garages was parked an old tour bus, which of course elicited some jibes from me...complete with “rock-n-roll” hand gestures. As we passed further along and I got a look at the area between the two garage buildings, I got a glimpse of something that didn’t register in my mind for a couple of seconds. It was a small gray submarine...sitting on a low dry dock...in the yard of an upscale North St. Louis home. I say “small”...but it is actually a little bigger than the bus. I think Dawna didn’t believe me until we saw it again on the way out of the neighborhood. We actually turned around to drive by and look at it again. Amazing what you will see sometimes if you only look.

So now we get to the continuing adventures of BenWahBob. We were scheduled to play Saturday night at Baha Rock Club in St. Charles, MO, and so we did. I arrived around 20:30 already tired. I didn’t get my Saturday afternoon nap because I had spent the day helping Carlos get caught up at LS Electronics. He has a new tech working there now, and the old one left a rather substantial backlog of amps, mixers, and keyboards awaiting repair. So, we were both tired, as he had stayed long after I left and had come to the gig straight from work. Setup and sound check went quickly, and before we knew it we were starting the first set. Within the first couple of songs, we were already taking shots at Dale about his choices for the set list. He took these jests pretty well. Everyone seemed to be in a pretty good mood. We had an exceptionally good crowd for the beginning of the night, and they seemed to like what was pouring out of the PA system. Dale had brought his wireless microphone, for the first time in a long time, and actually went out amongst the natives. The dance floor was packed with attractive ladies most of the night. This is always a good sign.

I wasn’t particularly happy with my overall performance for the evening. It was quite evident that I had not played some of these songs for some time. Judging by the reactions of the other band members, they weren’t having the best night either. I won’t go so far as to say that we were awful - although I think I did use that word when talking with Bobby during teardown - but it definitely wasn’t the best night we’ve ever had. Oh, well...Jim still paid us at the end of the night, so I guess it wasn’t as bad as it seemed to me.

I had a couple of “sightings” at the end of the night as well. One young lady asked me if I played in Knucklehead, and another guy asked me about the future of that band. I wasn’t sure how to answer that one, as I have not talked with them for a while and don’t know where that stands. Another young lady said she knew Rusty Churchman and use to come see Those1Guys when we played at Stevie Ray’s just down the street from Baha. As I was tearing down my equipment, I was approached by a rather attractive young lady who wanted to know if I played in Wyle E. Huh? This is like the guy who years ago said I looked like the bass player for Iron Butterfly. As I started to tell her no, she interrupted by saying that I looked familiar. After I told her that I had been around for a long time, she told me that she was 32 and had been seeing bands in bars for a long time, too. When I remarked that she was probably too young to remember the heydays of Stages and Granny’s Rocker, her face lit up and she started gushing about how much she missed those rock bar days. She then reached over and gave me a big hug and walked away. The guys in the band razzed me a bit about it, but hey - they didn’t get a hug, did they? It’s good to be the king...even if I am getting old.

I loaded my van and headed home. I recently picked up a couple of Enchant CDs from LaserCD.com, and had Tug of War in the CD player. So, that was my soundtrack for the drive home.