Ghost Songs

This afternoon I fell into the deep and dark sleep of the the hungover, only to awaken to a cold grey and white grave like early evening.  It looked as much like a dream outside, and a far more nefarious one, than the dream I had just been having on my couch.  Realizing that my dog had not been walked I put on my headphones and headed out the door.  I put on the last two songs from Bash and Pop’s album Friday Night is Killing Me.  Those songs would be Tiny Pieces and First Steps.

What an album!  It is one of those albums that I discovered in a used CD store some years back that has never completely left the rotation.  And yet it is an album so few people know about.  I wonder how many people even own that album?  It was Tommy Stinson’s first album after the breakup of The Replacements.  It is full of loose disheveled rock n roll.  The playing is simply fantastic, especially the guitar playing.  It has so many cool little guitar parts delivered with a ton of feel.  The production is organic and inviting.  It really is one of those great lost rock n roll gems, like if the Faces had some record out there that had escaped release.  It’s not music that will change the world, but it is a record that always manages to change my mood when I am listening to it.  I imagine it does that for other people that have discovered its charms.

It’s funny how the things that can mean so much to us, like dreams, are things that so many other people will never ever know.  How many great albums are out there that we will never hear?  Even more, how many great songs were written that have been lost to the sands of time?   Unlike many other types of art that must be rendered in physical form in the doing, usually songs that make it record often leave behind many other ones that never will.  Shadows and spirits of sound that a songwriter may deliver in their living room, that are swept aside as the times change.  Ghost songs.  Not the songs of the dead, but the songs of the deceased emotion.

Maybe that organization of sound was developed into something better.  A lot of times it is just a numbers game.  You only get the financing to make so many records.  At the time you choose what you think are your best songs, although it can be very hard to judge your own work.  You record them, in a process where so many things can be lost in translation.  Then out of all of the recordings that are made only so many of them find an audience, often having nothing to do with the works validity.  Even for the most popular of artists it can sometimes be a losing game.

Friday Night is Killing Me is one of those records that at least got made, but has been largely forgotten.  It makes no difference, other than maybe in the financial bearing of its creators.  They made something great.  They took a chance and dreamed.  Even if they are few and far between, there are still people out there like me whose souls are warmed by it on a grim afternoon, as if we had suddenly stumbled upon the hearth of a friendly fire after a great storm.

One day you’re stumblin’ around
The next you’re thinkin’ of the town
And the friends that you thought would always be
With old friends come those greetings
That your eyes won’t be meeting
Though your insides want to embrace
You hardly recognize the face
With Chicago round the corner
Baby takes her first step today

Bash and Pop First Steps

Recording Ted Hawkins Baby

I’ve been busy playing shows and recording the last few days, so I haven’t been posting a lot.  Today I had simply one of the most amazing musical experiences that I’ve ever had, and probably ever will.  I got to record with Elizabeth Hawkins and Tina Hawkins, the late great Ted Hawkins’s widow and daughter.  I’m not a religious person, but to quote Kurt Vonnegut, a secular humanist, “The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.”  It was that kind of day.

Right now there is a Ted Hawkins tribute record being put together.  The Shinyribs band is the house band for anyone that doesn’t bring their own musicians in.  Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell is one of the producers.

There is something indescribable when family sings together.  Hearing a mother and daughter sing their husband/dad’s song was extraordinary.  These two sang like angels.  It had that kind of purity and heart that you hear on 1960’s girl group records.  I felt, listening back to them, that I temporarily took a trip outside of space and time.  This was timeless music, as it was pure emotion.  Keith, Kev, and I tracked in one room live, with the two women singing live in the other room.  Let me tell you, it was easy to play well while you were hearing those two songbirds in your headphones.  (We recorded the song above.  The video above is a brief live clip of Ted Hawkins.  There is a recorded band version of this song that we based our arrangement on today.  I should also mention that Elizabeth Hawkins sang with Ted Hawkins on his records and also helped to arrange some of the material.)

There is so much more I could say, but the proof will be in the recording when it is finally available.  Often when you record something you have no idea how the final product will turn out.  However, today was one of those days when you just felt lucky to be there.

P.S.  If you haven’t heard Hawkins’s Watch Your Step album, it is a must buy.  I’ve never heard anyone that didn’t like it.  HIs other records are fantastic too, especially Happy Hour, but Watch Your Step is a front to back masterpiece.

The Importance of Panning

The Importance of Panning

The above article is about how bands are mixed on record.  I think it is simple enough to follow that even someone that doesn’t understand recording could get something out of it.

I have mentioned that I am obsessed with AC/DC lately.  One of the things that I love about their records is the simplicity.  I especially love the sound of their guitars and the way that they are mixed.  All of AC/DC’s records feature the brothers Malcolm and Angus Young.  (Malcolm Young just retired, but he is on all of the band’s records except their soon to be released new record.)  On AC/DC records there are very few recorded tracks that the band can’t play live.  When you listen to their records you hear a band mixed like you were seeing them live.  When you see AC/DC live Malcolm’s amps are on stage left and Angus Young’s amps are on stage right.  When you listen to their music on a stereo or headphones you therefor hear Malcolm’s guitar on the left ear or speaker, and Angus’s guitar on the right.  Angus later adds his solos and they are mixed mostly in the middle or only slightly off to one side.

When something is only on one side or the other, or more on one side than the other, this is called panning.  When things were recorded in mono everything was equal in both speakers.  Stereo allows you split what instrument is on what speaker or side of your headphones.  This helps with clarity as everything is not fighting for the same space.

However, like with AC/DC, it can actually make a record more interesting as well.  You can listen to one of their records and tell what each brother is playing and how their guitars compliment each other.  I used AC/DC as an example not only because they are featured in the above article, nor because I am really enjoying them right now, but their mixes are really a simple and clear way to understand panning.  Listen to one of their songs sometime on headphones, and notice how each headphone features a different guitar that is complimenting the other one.  You will realize how well constructed the guitar parts.

If you have even the slightest interest in how a group of musicians can create something that is more than the sum of its parts, these kinds of records are a great place to start.

Some Thoughts On Recording

I was in the studio all day cutting a track for the upcoming tribute album to the late great Ted Hawkins.  There is no place I would rather be then the studio.  Today it was a crack commando unit backing up the singer of the Turnpike Troubadours, Evan Felker.  We knew the song we were going to do, and the key, but aside from that the arrangement was born in the studio.  It was pretty old school in that for basic tracks we just jammed until something sounded right, with Kevin Russell, who is producing, guiding our ship when we would get too far out.  It also never hurts to have an engineer like Stuart Sullivan running the technical side of things.  It was a good mix of thought and feeling today.  Never allowing the conscious mind to get in the way, but just enough thought so that the song ebbed and flowed in just the right way.

I like to do my homework before recording.  I like to know the chord changes so I’m not learning the song on the spot and wasting other people’s time.  I like to have a couple ideas stockpiled in my back pocket in case things hit a rut.  However, I am always happy to go another direction and land somewhere unexpected.    A song is like a frame.  There are certain boundaries that it dictates.  However, in that frame there are a lot of different ways that you can color it.  It is good to have a place to start from, but to not be afraid to throw everything out the window as new ideas present themselves.

When I am doing a session where I am just the bass player, I try to listen to the other musicians and be complimentary to what is going on.  I try to find that balance between giving someone what they want and making sure what I do is unique and interesting in some way.  I never want to take the focus off what is most important in the song, yet I don’t want to just deliver meat and potatoes, unless that is what is called for.  Sometimes you will find that the stock thing is what works, but I usually feel that arrangements are helped when everyone is adding a little bit of their personality to them.  The way that session players in places like Nashville play is just atrocious to me.  They may be technically amazing, but there is no soul.  I’d literally rather hear an electronic dance record by someone that knows how to make them than that shit.

So that’s what I did today, and what I’m thinking about.  I’m about to dive back into Ken Burns’s Civil War series.  Now for something completely different…

Let There Be Rock

Was listening to the album Let There Be Rock by AC/DC all day.  It is an absolutely fantastic rock n roll album.  I have no idea how the album was recorded, but it sounds like an album recorded by a band live in a room while rolling some fat tape.  It may seem simple to some, but the playing, writing, and recording are tremendous.  Every groove is deep in the pocket.  The guitars sound like snarling dogs.  The lyrics are funny and witty and delivered for maximum effect by Bon Scott.  There aren’t many overdubs that couldn’t be performed live, a guitar part here and there.  I love records like this, that sound like an actual band.  A great deal of the magic is from the way the musicians interact with each other.  This is primal physical stuff.  At the same time there is more sophistication going on in the arrangements then appears.  This can be seen in the way there are long pauses on the title track, and then all of a sudden the band explodes back into the song.  That’s not amateur hour there.  Angus Young’s lead work sounds like he is taking the paint off of an entire countryside of barns.  There is a reason that every one from metal bands to Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye love this band.  They are the very best at what they do.  The title track, which may be my favorite AC/DC song will be posted above.  It’s also one of my favorite rock videos.

Shows, Shows, Shows

This is a rundown of this week’s Shinyribs show, as well as current upcoming solo gigs.

Shinyribs this week (All Texas):

Thursday – Fort Worth – Capital Bar – 9pm – Free Show
Friday – Lubbock – The Blue Light – 11pm
Saturday – Roscoe – The Lumberyard – 8pm

Kev will also be playing at the Volcano in Houston tonight at 8pm I believe.  This is a solo show and I will not be making it.

Get more info at:

http://shinyribs.org/shows.html

Solo gigs on the books are at Strange Brew in ATX:

November 5th – 6pm – with Kacy Crowley
December 21st – 4pm – with Kacy Crowley

Basically the gigs with Kacy are song swaps, although my partner in crime, Alex Moralez, comes out and plays drums, and I will play bass when Kacy is singing.  I am working on building a solo website, but it will probably take a little time as I am pretty busy between gigs and working on a campaign to get public transportation passed in Austin.  I love Austin, but the traffic here is pretty hellish.  If we could fix that it would be a huge step forward.  We are trying to get the first major step in public transportation passed this November, but all the usual people are fighting it.  The city is supposed to double in size by 2040, so if we don’t do something now it is going to only get worse.

So anyway, at some point I will build a website, and I should have footage of the TV show I did coming to me so that y’all can here what my solo material sounds like.  I hope to make an album at some point next year, as soon as possible.  Working on getting more solo gigs which I will hopefully announce soon.

in the future when all’s well…

Jefferson

The Misfits Halloween

In honor of October and the approaching holiday, I thought I would post this song from the Misfits, one of my favorite punk bands.  A great deal of The Misfits work sounds like it was recorded in a trash can.  However, I view this as actually adding properly to the atmosphere of their work as their lyrics often deal with B-horror movie themes.  Their recordings also have never dated because of this.  A great deal of the time, although there are exceptions like U2’s Achtung Baby, music that is recorded with the latest technology dates the fastest.  Meanwhile, music that sounds primitive often never dates.  I am talking strictly from a recording perspective.  The Misfits were always one of the best punk bands to me because they had a singer with a truly great voice in Glenn Danzig.  The music could be very aggressive at times, but sometimes, although he could scream with the best of them, he would croon, which created a great juxtaposition.  They are one of the bands I listened to as a teenager that has never gone out of rotation in my record collection.