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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!

30 January 2007

More Bass Players Than Knucklehead

20 January 2007
Guess where I played this weekend?

If you guessed Baha Rock Club in St. Charles, MO, then you win a great big smile from me the next time I see you! (Yes, I do occasionally smile, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.)

While it may seem like the only place we play any more, a glance at the newly-revised BenWahBob website will correct this obtuseness. Carlos has apparently been a busy little boy in the scheduling department, as there are many more dates on there already with the promise of more to come. Not to worry, kids…BWB is not going away. I, on the other hand, may be going away sooner than even I thought.

As the witching hour approached Saturday afternoon, Dawna called and informed me regretfully that she would not be going with me to Baha as originally planned, as she had familial obligations to fulfill. Bummer. I was really looking forward to spending some time with her. The weather had been taking a turn for the worse, and as much as six inches of snow was expected. Driving to St. Charles in this didn’t exactly tickle my fancy, either. As it happened, though, the snow held off until after I had arrived at the Club.

Upon loading in my gear, I was informed that there were indeed three bass players coming out to sit-in and audition with the band…very cool. They had all three arrived before we began playing at 21:00, and we all stood around in front of the stage yakking like a bunch of musicians. They all seemed like pretty decent guys.

We played the first set through with virtually no interruptions in the flow. That was a nice change of pace from our recent trend of goofing around between songs. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you consider loosing the crowd’s participation wrong. We even ended the set on time. Wow! Dale must have read my last blog…or, more likely, Chris read it to him (thanks, Chris!). Whatever was happening, or for whatever reason(s), I thought we came off a lot more professional this way.

I snuck outside – as usual – during break to call my sweetie (go ahead and make the whip-cracking noise…I’ll wait until you get it out of your system). It was cold, and the snow was coming down pretty good by that point, so I didn’t stay out there too long. It was when I went back into the Club that I realized there was quite an exceptional crowd there…not too bad for a snowy night in January. They stayed with us most of the night, too.

The second set started out normal for the first two songs, and then the auditions took over. Two of the guys played three songs each during this set. As I walked off of the stage for the first guy, Jim, the Club’s Manager, started immediately giving me grief about not playing, saying he would dock my pay at the end of the night. As the second guy went up to play, Jim feigned disbelief at me still not playing. I was standing next to the sound board talking to the crew, and getting guff from pretty much everyone. It’s nice to be so loved.

The third set went pretty much the same way, except only one bass player was left. Again, I was assaulted with verbal tirades about my alleged sloth. We did, in all of the offensive banter, find time to actually listen to the three bass players, though. The first guy was OK, but apparently mentioned some issue he has requiring a 12-step intervention program. The second guy seemed extremely uneasy on-stage, and his playing was very timid. The last guy seemed like the best of the three to all of us at the sound board. Of course, this will ultimately rest on the three guys in the band to decide.

I finished the third set, and played all of the last one, mostly to alleviate the pressure mounting in Jim’s head as he figured the amount he would be docking me (I think it was at about $20 at this point). We even played War Pigs early in the night for those who always complain about missing it at the end of the night.

During one of the breaks, when I wasn’t outside, I was standing on the stage talking with Carlos. We were approached by a couple of young ladies, one of which handed me a card. Apparently they were playing some sort of bachelorette party game that required them to fulfill the task on the card. I read the card and snickered. It said, “Get a guy to take off his shirt and flex his muscles in front of a crowd.” Now…what made her think I was the one to do this, I have no idea. I tried to engage her in a conversation aimed at revealing the aforementioned thought processes, but was getting nowhere quick. Carlos seemed to be enjoying the show, though. We negotiated back and forth for a bit, and in the end determined that shirts would only need to go up high enough to see nipples. OK…sure…why not. I lifted my Lynn Swann Pittsburgh Steelers jersey, flexed my arms, and said, “There…are you happy now?” She went away with a smile, so I guess she was. I should probably be offended that they were only interested in seeing my body, but, hey…I’m a guy. Besides, at my age, I really just don’t care.

At the end of the night, we broke down the stage, packed up our stuff, got paid (my full amount, no less), and wandered off to our respective homes. We had only received a couple of inches of snow, so the driving wasn’t too bad. My new truck has all-wheel drive, so even the slippery hills of old-town St. Charles were no problem. I did see quite a few accidents on the highway, though. Judging by the way many people were driving, that came as no surprise to me at all. One word of advice…if you drive a rear-wheel drive Mustang on I-270 with freshly packed snow and slush, don’t be so surprised when you end up smashing the front end of it into the concrete median, and don’t blame it on anyone but yourself. Most of the rest of us were doing just fine. The roads got remarkably better once I got into Illinois…which was odd, as it is usually the other way around. I drove on wet pavement from the river to St. Jacob. Even IL-4 was clean.

Unfortunately, as I write this on a Tuesday evening, I am preparing to drive Wednesday morning to the Chicago area to clean and repair an organ. I’m told they’ve had a bit of snow up there this week. Great. I guess it can’t be any worse than the 10°F it will be here in St. Louis tonight, with a wind chill well below 0°F. Thank goodness for global warming, eh?

16 January 2007

For the Benefit of Mr. Kite...er...Newman

Sunday, 14 January 2007
If it seems like it’s been awhile again since I’ve written one of these, your perception is correct. However, this time I actually haven’t been playing anywhere during that absence. BenWahBob has had some holes in the schedule of late, the biggest being this December and January. That was fine by me, though. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of “time off” now and again.

There was suppose to be a benefit show at Eddie’s in Granite City, IL involving a reunion of the original – and only – Knucklehead lineup. That was postponed due to some scheduling issues and the monster ice storm that blanketed the St. Louis area. It was rescheduled for 14 January, and so it remained. The idea was to have a benefit to help raise money for Jeff “Carson” Newman, a STL area soundman who has been twisting the knobs for many area bands since the early 1980s. Jeff has been battling cancer recently, and had a few surgeries on his face to eradicate the problem. Unfortunately, he also didn’t have any health insurance, so the bills were understandably piling up quickly. Musicians to the rescue…or at least to the assistance anyway. What better place to have a benefit than the benefit capital of the world…Eddie’s Bar & Grill in Granite City, IL.

There were about a half dozen or so bands scheduled to contribute their time for the cause. Everyone would play about a 45 minute set, giving it that “bands all day” kind of appeal. Deron Boyd, guitar player extraordinaire for Röck Böttöm, sent out the word that he would like to get the surviving members of Knucklehead (which is all four of us) back together again to do a set that day. Everyone seemed immediately interested, including me. I really enjoyed the time I played with those guys, and looked forward to feeling that magic again. Deron also mentioned that he would like to try to get Mike Ramsey, drummer for the local Rush tribute band Thunderhead, to come out and play a set of Rush with us. I was certainly all for that. The last time Rammer sat in with us in Knucklehead was a magnificent experience. We played several songs, including La Villa Strangiato. It was during that song that I was overwhelmed with goose bumps. I have played Rush songs with quite a few drummers over the years, and all of them were pretty good. But, Mike was different. He knew these songs inside and out…like you would expect from someone in a tribute band. There was a moment when I almost forgot myself as a part of the band. Realizing that I was indeed not in my living room playing along with the CD, but rather on stage playing it live with Deron and Mike gave me chills…it was that good! So, naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in that as well. It was a done deal.

As the weekend rolled along, the weather took a turn for the worse. The week leading up to it had actually been unseasonably mild (an overused weatherman euphemism). Of course, it would have to turn nasty the one weekend in the last month that I would be playing. We got kind of lucky, though, in that the bulk of the bad stuff missed us by a few miles, and all we got was a steady, cold rain…that, I can handle.

I had been informed a few days earlier that Knucklehead and the Rush thing would be going on sometime after 18:00 (that’s 6pm for those of you in Rio Linda), and I planned accordingly. I was figuring on getting there a little earlier to take in some of the other bands, but wasn’t in the mood to spend all day in what is traditionally a very smokey bar. I had been fighting a tough cold for about a week and a half, and my throat was still quite sore. I had also gotten word that Wes Stillman, singer for Ivory Tiger, was having some issues with his throat, too, and would not be performing. Wes was going to be one of the guest singers during the Rush set, as well as singing with his own band, so this changed the plans a bit. As I rolled out of the shower, my phone rang. It was Deron. Apparently his bass player Chuck Mann was having some issues with his bass rig, and Deron asked that I bring something with me…which I had planned to do anyway. I had hoped to just play on someone’s “community bass rig” in an effort to minimize what I had to move. I figured it would have been Chuck’s. Then I thought that he might need to leave early, as I know he has family obligations, and so decided to bring my small 210 combo.

As I arrived around I-know-not-what-time-but-sometime-after-18:00, Rebel Train was just getting ready to take the stage. I hadn’t seen these guys in a long time. I worked for many years with guitarist Steve Kyle, but hadn’t seen much of him since St. Louis Music shut down the STL plant. The new owners finally closed the Service center, so now Steve was working elsewhere, too. His band rocked, as usual. When they played a Skynard song, all of the rest of us standing around talking just shook our heads in defeat. How does one follow that in Granite City? They had clearly already won some nonexistent competition.

The next band up was the aforementioned Röck Böttöm. I threw my little Ampeg up on the stage for Chuck, and away they went. They pelted the crowd with the likes of Poison and Bon Jovi, hoping to sway the crowd to their dark side. It seemed to work, as the dance floor was pretty much packed the whole time they were on the stage. It was a quite effective set. They even played Krokus’ Screamin’ in the Night, which explained why that wasn’t suggested for the Knucklehead set. For about the last half of their set, I was standing against the wall directly in front of Deron’s amp…and it was screaming. He had a really nice tone happening that night. Vacuum tubes…you’ve really got to go out of your way to screw up that sound, and even Crate hadn’t accomplished that. That old Blue Voodoo was glowing…both literally and figuratively.

Next came the Rush tribute set. I jumped into setting up my keyboards and tuning my basses. I had actually brought out the old black Rickenbacker for this one. I figured, “what the heck…if we’re going to play a bunch of Rush, it should be on the Ric, eh?” I hadn’t actually used my entire keyboard setup since the last gig with Knucklehead about a year and a half earlier. Deron had informed me that they now played tuned down a half step, and asked if it would be much trouble to adjust the keyboards, as it would be much better than dealing with the issues tuning up would cause with his guitars. Not a problem, I told him. When I played with Those1Guys (who?) a few years back, we tuned down, too. So, I adjusted the tunings on Saturday when I set everything up in my living room to run through some of the songs. What I hadn’t expected was that the transpose function has only a “local” affect – it adjusts the onboard keyboard, but not any other MIDI devices connected to it…like my foot pedal controller. I didn’t have the pedals with T1G, so I had no idea. I had to go into the internal setup and adjust the master tuning. Again, not a problem.

We started out with The Spirit of Radio…naturally. As I stomped the first note on the pedals for the strings in the background, I noticed immediately that they were, oh, about a half-step too high. @#$&!!! The damned thing had reset itself to A=440 when it was turned off. NOW I remembered why I used to use the Transpose function button instead of the internal master tuning. So, I had to muddle through most of that song without those keyboard parts. We stopped briefly after that, I re-adjusted the tuning, and we were off again. The next song was Freewill, and Steve Hall, who sang Spirit, asked me if I wanted to sing it. I did, in fact, and had expressed such interest when the potential song list was circulated. Unfortunately, considering the condition of my throat that day, I didn’t want to risk it, so I asked him to please continue the fine job he was already doing. That song came off great…another one of those moments that just painted a smile across my face. We also exercised ourselves with YYZ, which is always fun, but even more so with Mike and Deron, as we pretty much nailed that one, too. These guys brought their A-game, and I was digging it. As time was running a bit short, we finished out the set with Fly By Night and Tom Sawyer…perennial crowd favorites. The reaction of those in attendance was really quite pleasing. It was quite a boost for the notoriously fragile egos that we musicians traditionally carry on our sleeves.

After that, Steve Wenos came up and joined us on drums for the much acclaimed Knucklehead reunion. We belted out The Rooster in typical KH fashion. Steve and Deron always sounded great on those harmonies, and this night was no different. Two Minutes To Midnight was always another KH favorite, and it came across with unfaded luster. It was starting to appear that we hadn’t lost that proverbial “touch,” in spite of not having played these songs together in over a year. We played Triumph’s Fight The Good Fight, and I absolutely mangled the keyboard intro (sorry, Leigh). The rest of it came off well, though. Time was running short again, and we ended up not playing several of the really cool songs that were Knucklehead hallmarks…most notably Mr. Crowley. I honestly can’t remember everything we played, but I do remember ending the set with Zebra’s Tell Me What You Want. I thought we would end with Led Zeppelin’s What Is And What Should Never Be in Jeff’s honor, as he used to sing in a Zeppelin tribute band back in the early 1980s. Alas, we did not…hazard of flying without a flight plan, I guess.

The last event of the evening was to be a Danger Kitty reunion with all of the original members (it was reunion day all around, as there was also a Jägertÿme reunion earlier in the day). Unfortunately, Chuck had indeed left early, as had every other bass player. This left, uh, let’s see…that would be me, and, uhhhh, well…me. So, why not, eh? They launched into Pour Some Sugar On Me, which I played on keyboards, then jumped into Nothin’ But A Good Time. After that, knowing full well my great disdain for all things Poison, there was an on-stage discussion concerning what other Poison songs we could do (you guys really are too good to me). We settled instead on a couple of Twisted Sister songs…as if that was any better. And on that note, the show came to a close.

It worked out to be considerably later than I had hoped to stay out on a “school night,” but I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. Besides the obvious primary motivation to help a long-time associate in need, I got to spend some time with some people that I don’t see much any more. It was a very good time, too. I also had the increasingly rare privilege to play with some of the finest musicians that the St. Louis area has to offer. That was special all by itself. My hat (or do-rag) is off to Derrick, Tom, Rob, Floyd, Steve K, Nathan, Craig, Chuck, Mike, Deron, Steve H, Steve W, Jimmy, and Rick for the great time and great music provided for all to enjoy.

Oh…and the sound and lights for the event were provided by…yes, Jeff Newman. The man is battling cancer, and still worked all weekend for Röck Böttöm, and all day Sunday, too. What a guy. I certainly can’t complain about being tired at work on Monday after a feat like that, now can I.

The drive back to St. Jacob was much shorter than I thought it would be. I stopped at McDonald’s and grabbed a burger before leaving Granite City, as I realized that I had not eaten since lunch Sunday and it was now approaching 01:30 Monday morning. I have lately been listening mostly to streaming audio at home via the internet, most notably from ProgRockRadio.com. As a result, I haven’t really been buying any new music. So, I just popped Dream Theater’s Images and Words CD into my CD player for the ride home. That’s still a great album, even 15 years later.