Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Spending The Holidays With Fred

If you're reading this, then I would presume you, like the rest of us, have survived the Mayan Apocalypse, and something far worse - shopping for Christmas presents. I've been surviving as well, though as usual, it's never been easy. And I even have a Fred Phelps Award winner for you. But before we get to that poor soul, let's recap, shall we?

For me, today is the last day of a roughly five-and-a-half week run. Originally, there were to be four gigs on the run, but it got cut to three. Steppen Stonz started its run at the Atlantis, playing the Monday-through-Saturday shift. The bandhouse is a little better than it used to be, with the televisions in the house now receiving HDTV signals with the help of digital signal converters. It's not cable or DirecTV, but at least I can watch Zomboo.

From there, the plan was to take a week off, then play a weekend at Casino Fandango. And this is where things began to go off the rails. I set up the old pop-up trailer behind my stepdaughter's place in Sun Valley, fired up the propane heater, and did my best to stay warm, and keep from getting too bored. I didn't really have good Internet access while I was there, because for some weird reason I couldn't get this poor old laptop of mine to connect to their router - even with the password to it - though my 360 was able to connect to it. I actually have to take my computer in their house and physically connect it to their modem to get online, and since there weren't any empty outlets nearby, I was running on batteries only, which gave me about an hour to get things done before I had to shut down and take the laptop back to my trailer to plug in. This would be a minor problem compared to what came next.

I'm pretty sure that it was the Wednesday of that week off when I got a phone call from a very pissed-off Mike. Our keyboard player Miguel had chosen to quit. And he couldn't even be a man about it and tell Mike to his face - he sent him a text message with a link the the band's website that announced his resignation. from the group. And it turns out that he wasn't doing it of his own free will. But I'll explain later, when I announce the latest recipient of the Fred Phelps Award.

We had to scramble to find a replacement, and we were only able to secure one just a few days before we took the stage at the Fandango. The guy we'd brought on to sub for Miguel when he went on his honeymoon was unavailable due to prior commitments. And the permanent replacement wouldn't be available until after New Year's because he had to scramble to renew his health insurance before the end of the year, which involved several appointments that took him right up around Christmas to finish up.

The irony is that Miguel actually sent the temporary replacement in our direction. His name is Alex - don't have a last name for him yet - and he knew Miguel when they worked together at Maytan Music Center here in Reno. He's a multi-instrumentalist and a music student here at UNR who also has an original band somewhere here in town, but mostly what he does with us is run sound for us through his laptop. He'd lost his job just recently, and was more than happy to come in and cover for us without really any clue as to what we played. And thankfully, Merrell, the soundtech (and entertainment director) at the Fandango, was cool with the emergency sub we had to employ, and we got through that gig with few problems, other than having to explain Miguel's absence. A lot.

Things didn't get any better after the Fandango, as we learned that the next gig in line had been cancelled. According to our agent, the owner of the Carson Valley Inn had requested that a country band play this weekend, because a big food drive was scheduled to take place that weekend, and the people who were in charge of this drive wanted a country band to play that weekend. By the way, our agent runs a country band. Read into that whatever you want to, but the truth is that this turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. Allow me to explain. Y'see, the CVI is a three-night gig. At first our agent offered us another three-nighter at the CVI in late January, then a few days later offered us the option to take a six-night run at the Atlantis that week instead. Add that to what we'd wind up getting offered to us by the folks at John Ascuaga's Nugget - playing an extra two days (Christmas night and tonight, the 26th) in addition to our winter-schedule three-nighter - and suddenly those three nights we lost turned into eight nights in total. So in the end, we'll actually make more money than we'd originally planned. I have no problem with that, and neither do any of the other guys. But the downside was that I'd miss Christmas with my family back home. I'd been looking forward to it, but Joy had warned me that I'd probably be working Christmas one way or another. Damn that woman's intuition. I'm used to spending Christmas alone, but it still sucks nevertheless.

Now I know that I've left you hanging on a couple of things. So here come the big announcements. First off, the new keyboard player. It's Calvin. As in Calvin Sims, my old boss in Powerlight. He hasn't been busy for quite a while, and was more than willing to come on board. And it actually makes perfect sense. He's known Mike and Arthur for nearly a quarter-century now, knows their material, and how to run sound. And he still has functioning mini-disc players and the equipment to equalize and level out the sequences. Not to mention that he still lives in Tacoma, and I can either pick him up on my way to Reno and he can help offset fuel costs for the trip, or I can park my truck in Tacoma and ride with him while helping pay for his gas for the trip. Either way, it's a win-win situation for all of us.

And now for the Fred Phelps Award recipient. Y'see, it turns out that Miguel didn't just quit the band. He quit pretty much everything that defined him as a person. At the same time he'd bailed on us, he also announced that he was quitting the two church bands he played in. And he quit teaching at Maytan. And he sold his car. And last but not least, he gave away - gave away! - his gear. What could possibly have gotten him to do such a reckless, ridiculously stupid thing?


His wife made him do all of that. I've joked with our friends that she basically grabbed him by his huevos and said "ay cabron, you're staying home with me from now on." And like a good little puppy, he did exactly what his wife told him to do. He just gave up. Walked away from pretty much everything that defined him as a person. Walked away from a lot of people who depended on him, because his wife 'didn't want him out at night.' Are you kidding? Miguel may be a naive little fucker, but he isn't stupid. He knows how to stay out of trouble far better than most people can at that age. But apparently his wife can't trust him, or anyone else for that matter. I'd joked with friends that I thought Miguel was a virgin, saving himself for marriage. Those friends thought I was being cruel - and in hindsight, perhaps I was - but I'd always said that I found it honorable in a quaint sort of way. His faith is his guide, and always has been, and I considered it to be an admirable quality.

But in my opinion it's also proven to be his undoing, because a stronger, more experienced man would've stood up to his wife and tried to hold his ground, or at least get her to accept that he had commitments to honor before he could walk away from us. Had he done that, there wouldn't have nearly been as much angst for the rest of us to endure, and we would've wished him well in his future endeavors and hoped that he'd remain friends with us. But Miguel has proven to be nothing more than a pussy-whipped little coward with his actions. And Mike, Arthur and myself all agree that Miguel's marriage isn't going to end well. We hope that he decides to take his brain, spine and balls back from her and either put her in her place or just dump her altogether. But I doubt that will happen. She wants him to make a mommy out of her, and fast, and eventually he'll wake up one day and realize just how much he threw away to make one person happy. I don't foresee a happy ending for him. In fact, if anything I see this relationship eventually coming to a violent end somewhere down the road, when he comes to the realization that she made him give up so much for her selfish wants and needs, and that mental stress breaks him - which it will eventually.

So with that, I give you the latest recipient of the Fred Phelps Award for The Dumbest Humanoid On The Planet - Veronica Arredondo. How many lives has her distrust affected? How many will it affect? And will it come back to bite her in the ass in the future? I'm sure that it will. So congratulations on your award, Veronica. And may your God have mercy on your soul.


UPDATE [Jan 31, 2013]: It turns out that Calvin is not going to be able to join Steppen Stonz at this time, perhaps not ever. As I write this, he's back home in Spartanburg, SC, taking care of some family buisness involving his daughter. He was two days away from joining us in Reno when his ex-wife called him and basically begged him to come to Spartanburg to help his daughter out of some situation, what it is I don't know, and don't really want to know. He had to cancel on Mike and Arthur on two days' notice, and they didn't take it all that well. I can't really blame them, but on the other hand they don't have families of their own, choosing the life of the eternal bachelor in order to avoid conflicts between family and business. Not a bad decision in and of itself, but it renders them pretty much incapable of understanding that players with wives and kids (such as yours truly) might have problems with those wives and children that supersede the needs of the group. I've asked Mike and Arthur to at least keep Calivin in their thoughts, but they consider him to be 'untrustworthy' now, and for the time being Alex will continue to play keys and twiddle knobs for us - not to mention collect fan mail from a collection of adoring women. Now if only those adoring women weren't uglier than sin and quite possibly mentally defective as well.....

UPDATE [March 28, 2013]: Alex Kaufman.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Days Of Future Past: Three Inches of Blood, Huntress, Hookers, Envirusment, Knightfall @ The Alley, Sparks, NV – Dec. 13, 2012

It's nine days until the latest end-of-the-world scenario is supposed to play itself out, but to me it's just another Thursday night. Had this been the Thursday, December 13th I'd originally planned, I wouldn't be writing this article. Instead, I'd be climbing into bed in my hotel room at the Carson Valley Inn after finishing my first night of a three-night run there with Steppen Stonz. But a last-minute cancellation gave me the weekend off, so I had some time to kill. I'd actually planned on seeing this show ten days earlier up at Whiskey Dick's in South Lake Tahoe, but a combination of weather and unforeseen expenses had kept me from that show, so now that I had the time and money available to me, I decided to get my rock on.

Walking in about an hour early, I hung out with the show's promoter, who also happens to be a friend of mine, and helped my homey Jeremy Orris (now drumming for Envirusment) load in his gear. The show got off to a late start – albeit by only a few minutes – and first on stage was Knightfall. I'd seen this band once before a few years ago while Joy and I still lived in Reno, and I knew their drummer as well from when he'd sold me a boatload of gear while working at the local Guitar Center. Their music is very nice – kinda symphonic, a wee bit of prog in their take on metal, and considering that this was the band's first show in nearly a year, and from what I'd heard, they'd only had three days of rehearsal prior to the show. Despite that, they sounded excellent, and had grown quite a bit since the last time I'd heard them.

Next up was Envirusment, the band Jeremy had joined over the summer. I'd met the guys since, even sat in on a rehearsal at the band's invitation to critique them. So I was familiar enough with their music, even if I didn't even really know the names of the song's themselves. I was just tickled that the band looked at me as an equal if not better, even though what I do with either of my cover bands is a million miles away from what they do as original artists.

But while he wasn't in a foul mood, Jeremy wasn't a happy camper tonight. He'd blown a tire on his SUV while at work – he's the Metal Mailman of South Lake Tahoe – and since his rig is an all-wheel-drive Subaru, that means all four tires have to be replaced. And then there was the split head on his kick drum. While fortunately he uses a double-layer head on his kick drum, it's only a matter of time before he breaks both layers, and there's another fifty to sixty bucks down the drain. On the whole, Envirusment's set was good, but the instrumental mix felt a little muddy to me, though the singer's air-raid vocals cut through everything like a hot knife through through butter.

With the local bands done, up came the bands of the “Long Live Heavy Metal West Coast Tour.” For the record, “Long Live Heavy Metal” is the title of Three Inches of Blood's latest album. We'll get to them in a minute. The first of these bands, third overall, was a bands I had never heard of before, Hookers. I believe that they're from Kentucky, but I shall have to confirm that later. Their set was a staccato blast of one short, concise song after the other, reminiscent of the 'crossover' bands of the 80's like early Suicidal Tendencies, Sacred Reich, and Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. The thing that got me about the band was their drummer's kit – very modern Mapex toms and snare, but an ancient Ludwig kick drum with no spurs on it. The only thing that drummer had to keep his kick drum in place was the gig-rug the house provided, which has a small reinforced lip on one side, the function of which is to keep kick drums from wandering away. And the way their drummer was playing, if that rug wouldn't have been there, that drum would've been watching the show at the cabaret in the nearby John Ascuaga's Nugget by the end of their set. Let's just say that their drummer was just as much of an animal on his equipment as his bandmates were on theirs.

The last of the support bands was also the band that had, in my opinion, something to prove to me. Highland Park, CA's Huntress have been heavily promoted since landing a record deal, and most of that promotion, and the controversy I'd been reading about on music forums around the internet, focused largely on lead singer Jill Janus. Endless harping about her vocal talents, promotional shots in revealing outfits have led a lot of people to brand Janus and her bandmates as knock-offs of another similar-looking band, In This Moment, whose singer's penchant for wearing clothes onstage that show off her not-inconsiderable assets has come at the cost of a lot of snickering from more traditional metal fans. I actually saw Ms. Janus wandering around in the alley behind the club shortly after I'd made my own entrance. Very hot she is, but also quite thin (by the way – if you're reading this, I totally dug the giant Immortal patch on your jacket, Jill – fuck yeah!). And she looked pretty stressed out, so I chose to not approach her and thank her for bringing her band to Reno.

Sometimes it's not a bad idea to buy into the press clippings. Janus is a fucking banshee of a singer. It's almost kinda hard to imagine such a powerful voice coming from her. But she had the crowd in the palm of her hand from the minute she took the stage, and front-and-center was Envirusment's singer Stephen, in full fanboy mode, singing along to all of her songs – she even handed him the mic at one point, let him take a line. Probably the highlight of the night for him. Huntress' music territory was an homage to the more occult-themed bands of the 80's, with the most obvious influences were Danish black-metal progenitors Mercyful Fate, and the subsequent solo career of that band's lead singer, King Diamond. And I also noticed the small pentacle-and-moons necklace Janus wore onstage – I'd assumed from the band's lyrical and visual themes that someone in the group was a Pagan. Now I'm all but absolutely sure that Janus is a Pagan of some sort. After the show I called Joy to tell her about the show, and mentioned that I thought she might like Huntress. And after I told her about Janus' necklace, and that I was pretty fucking sure that she was a Pagan, Joy told me she'd give them a listen.

A quick digression for a moment. I've always seemed to notice that female-fronted bands have more loyal and passionate followings at the shows I go to. This was something I noticed at the very first show I ever went to here in Reno, the “Revolver Magazine's Hottest Chicks In Metal Tour” in the summer of 2007. Four bands, all with female lead or co-lead singers – Stolen Babies (a band that I absolutely adore), Savannah, GA sludge-merchants Kylesa, and Dutch symphonic-metallers Within Temptation, with Italian goth-metallers Lacuna Coil headlining. That show was quite an experience for me, because it gave me a full understanding of Stolen Babies' completely unique style of music – what they themselves call 'cabaret-metal' – and showed me just how good a frontwoman Lacuna Coil's Cristina Scabbia is. That woman really knows how to work an audience, how to make a person feel like you're the only person in the room that she's singing to. But what struck me most was the reception for Within Temptation. Here's a band that I had never heard of before learning about the tour, and that as far as I knew was making their first (and to date only) appearance in Reno. And when the band came out, singer Sharon den Adel received flowers from several fanboys (and a few fangirls) before putting on an act that I could only describe as 'Stevie Nicks gone metal', although what I remember most is the band's keyboard player clearly faking it – pretending to play along to the band's sequences. I could clearly see the man's hands not moving in time with any particular line of music that I was hearing. To be quite honest, this guy shouldn't even have been on stage – hell, he shouldn't have even come into the country in the first place. Okay, that wasn't exactly 'quick'. On to the headliners!

The headliners were, of course, Vancouver, BC's Three Inches of Blood. Their supercharged take on traditional metal – imagine if Judas Priest were kids today, not forty years ago – has been something I've liked pretty much from the get-go, and their themes of glorious battle and love of all things Metal in nature almost remind me of the Viking Metal subgenre led by Swedish stalwarts Amon Amarth. And the band had recently received a substantial upgrade in the form of renowned bassist Byron Stroud joining the group after a stint with cyber-metal pioneers Fear Factory. Stroud's Vancouver roots run pretty deep, as he was also the bassist in Devin Townsend's Strapping Young Lad and the side-projects Zimmer's Hole and Tenet with SYL guitarist Jed Simon and drummer-for-everybody Gene Hoglan. 3IOB's roughly eighty-minute set was a total blast, and the band played their best known songs as well as deeper album cuts, and even threw in a couple of curveballs in the form of suddenly sliding into a section of “Heaven and Hell” from Dio-era Black Sabbath, and not one but two quick Rush tributes, paying homage to the latest inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by throwing snippets from “By-Tor And The Snow Dog” and “Tom Sawyer” into their songs. All in all, they played a thoroughly enjoyable set, and the show as a whole was a blast. Too bad that so few people came to see it.

I'm not entirely sure if a lot of people knew that this show was coming. Whenever I buy tickets for a show in Reno, I usually get them at my favorite record store there, Recycled Records. But when I went to get a ticket for this show, two problems presented themselves. The first was like this – where the fuck did they go? A few years back they'd consolidated their two stores into one, located in a strip mall at the intersection of Moana and Kietzke Lanes. But their business suffered as construction tore up the intersection – Moana Lane was widened from South Virginia Street to US-395/I-580, and a completely new freeway interchange put into place. So the store's owners threw up the white flag and moved once again just recently to a new location in Reno's MidTown district, on the 800 block of South Virginia Street. And apparently, not a lot of people knew about the move to these new digs, because local promoters suddenly weren't showing up with show ticket for them to sell. And apparently The Alley was among those who didn't know, for when I asked if they'd had tickets for this show, they just looked at me funny. They'd never even heard that this show was coming to town, so of course they didn't have any tickets for the show. I told them that it was no big deal, since I knew the promoter and I figured that he'd have a ticket stashed away for me. They asked me who the promoter was, and when I told them that it was my buddy Josh Lease's Borndead Productions that was promoting the show, they perked right up and told me that they liked him – in their words, he was one of the few promoters in town that really seemed to care about getting the word out about shows and getting tickets sold. I later found out that Josh was only kinda-sorta promoting the show, and that The Alley was doing most of the work themselves. Which suddenly explains a lot.

But I don't want to end this post on a down note. It was a great show, and I had a great time, and I discovered a few new bands that I will have to explore in greater depth in the days to come. And as always, you shoulda been there.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Why 'Signals' Is My Favorite Rush Album

This came from a post I left at Blabbermouth on the 30th anniversary of my favorite Rush album. Another post had suggested that the guitars on the album had been overdubbed. I think that the poster assumed that Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson were both playing keyboards throughout the album, then Alex went back and added his guitars. The poster was actually right - sort of. Here's what I posted in response, along with a later follow-up.

Uh, the guitars weren't 'overdubbed', not at least in the way you're thinking. Y'see, back in the day, Moog made these wonderful things called Taurus pedals. Basically, it was organ footboard (think Ray Manzarek of The Doors, playing bass with his feet while playing the keyboard 'lead' with his hands) that worked as a synthesizer. In the days before MIDI sequences, Geddy and Alex both had Taurus pedals in their rigs (and I'm pretty sure that Geddy still uses a modern version to this day) to play single-note keyboard lines with their feet while they played guitar/bass/keyboards with their hands. Which basically meant that three guys could play five parts live. Which they did. Well.

If you listened carefully, you could often hear what Rush was themselves listening to in their music. And Signals was clearly influenced by Kraftwerk, and also by Gary Numan. That cold, isolated, mechanically precise sound pervades every track of the album from start to finish. 'Subdivisions' was the song that latched itself into my very soul, a indictment of sterile, manicured urban sprawl that to this day still sends chills down my spine and makes me stop whatever I'm doing to listen to it in utter silence.

There simply isn't a bad track on the album, which is a watershed moment for the band. This was the last album that Terry Brown produced for them, as well as the last album before MIDI-capable (digital) synthesizers became the norm and the old analog synths were swept aside. Signals was a preview of what was to come for the next decade for the band, though thankfully they kicked the habit eventually. Not that any of the synth-heavy albums of that era sucked. IMHO Rush has yet to make a bad album.

My personal favorite song from Signals is the one song on the album that's never been played live, and that would be 'Losing It'. Ben Mink's cameo on electric violin is jaw-dropping. Trying to play it on guitar would would probably be the stuff of nightmares. And Neil's tale of loss and regret even then made the twelve-year-old me sad, because I knew even then that someday I would be the faded, injured dancer, that someday I would be the suicidal writer, each trying desperately to recapture the fire of youth one last time. Powerful stuff, that.

Overall, while Moving Pictures was much, much more successful commercially (and justifiably so), I think this album was far more influential than many might think. Listen to Signals end-to-end, and eventually you'll realize just how much this album influenced future generations. I hear this album's influence every time I listen to Fear Factory, Rammstein, even Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. That fusion of hard-rock riffs and icy synthwork laid the template for new generations of bands to follow in the decades to come.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Where Has All The Time Gone - Again?

I know, I need to be more..... oh, what's the word? Oh, hell. I need to get off my lazy ass and talk about shit on a more regular basis. The problem is that after spending week after week on the road, and never being home for any significant amount of time, you just get kind of numb, I guess. I was on the road for eight weeks, then home for two, then back down for one week (that turned into two – more on that later), then home for another two weeks, then back on the road for another five weeks to close out the calendar year. All the while constantly setting up, tearing down, checking, rechecking, rehearsing, performing.... One band or another, always working. At least, that's what it feels like to me.

Steppen Stonz continues to be the workhorse I ride back and forth across the highways of the West. Seven gigs in eight weeks. That used to be the norm, but not any more. As the economy of Northern Nevada has sunk into the toilet over the last few years, the bands were the first to suffer, and suffered the worst. I know way too many people that are way too good at what they do, and they're not working nearly enough, if at all. I almost feel kinda guilty, working as much as I do, but don't cry for me, Argentina. Most of my money goes straight into my gas tank. How my poor old pickup is still holding together is beyond me. But I get where I need to, and do the job right – or at least reasonably so.

But I still have the chance to have some fun on the road. During my eight-week run over August, September and October, I was still able to see some shows, instead of being part of the show. My homey Josh Lease books shows in and around Reno and Sacramento, and I caught two of his shows – up-and-comers Gypsyhawk in a tiny tavern in MidTown Reno, and death-metal OG's Obituary at The Alley in Sparks. I found a few good CD's here and there to add to my collection. I could even eat out once in a blue moon. But most of the time it was the usual – setting up, tearing down, playing, or just hunkering down in whatever motel room or my old pop-up trailer behind my stepdaughter's place in Sun Valley. It gets to be a grind after a while.

Coming home is nice, even if only for a while. Flowers For The Living, the tribute band for Ron DeFrang, is moving along nicely, although the likelihood of playing a gig in Ron's home town of Albany, Oregon is likely long gone now. The best scenario for this project is a tribute show for Ron in Port Angeles or Sequim before too long – as I write this, we only have two weeks to put some sort of show together before I head back down for four shows in five weeks, culminating with coming home on Christmas Eve. The band is moving along nicely enough that we may try to continue on after Ron passes on, though doing so would likely spell the end of working with Eddie Perez for the time being.

Wait a minute, you're asking yourself – what about right now? What the hell are you doing in Reno right now? Well, I had a four-nighter in Sparks at John Ascuaga's Nugget with Steppen Stonz that just happened to coincide with my wife's birthday. So I packed up her things – which take up a lot of space in my truck – and shuffled on down. Since it hadn't been a while since my old bandleader had called me up to make a liquor run for him, I figured I'd give him a call. Well, he didn't need any liquor this time around, but he'd wind up calling me back later on. The gig went well enough itself, and Joy didn't have any major medical problems during the stay.

We decided to stick around Reno for a few more days, so we could spend Halloween with the kids, then head home on the first of November. Just as we were getting ready to pack up and head for home, Calvin called up and asked me if I was still in Reno. When I answered in the affirmative, he asked me if I could sit in with Powerlight for a private gig they would be playing the next night. One promise of $150 later, I was down for it.

Looking back, I could see why it was a good idea to get away from them in the first place. Old Gordon Lockard on guitar – as completely unprofessional as ever. He had plenty of time to gorge himself at the dinner the hosts (which shall remain nameless) provided us, so much so that one of our tablemates – the man who'd chosen this band to play for his company in the first place – asked Joy and I if this was the way he normally ate. But he didn't have enough time to change into his stage clothes, and he played the gig in sweats and Ugg Boots, while I was in the suit I normally wear on stage. I don't even know if Gordon was wearing underwear on stage – that's a tendency of his, something I found out the hard way. What was seen cannot be unseen. I don't know how Calvin and Jackie put up with him, especially when I know how many good players between Seattle and Reno going without work. Guys who email me with pleas – yes, pleas – for work.

And Lord, I was rusty. While I'd played Calvin's sequences for twelve years, it had been over three years since I played to them last. At least I didn't have to bring my own gear this time around, as Calvin brought down a Roland TD-12 electric kit for me to use and abuse. Turns out that I didn't have much time to do either – we played for less than an hour before the party called it a night. They all had to go to work in the morning, I guess. I thought that I'd played terrible, but the party seemed to love it, and hoped we'd be able to play for their next party next year. Well, that's up to Calvin, and I really doubt if I'll be involved next year. The dynamic is just unhealthy. Mike and Arthur can be shits every once in a while (like anyone else – myself included), but on the whole the dynamic within Steppen Stonz is just so much more healthy.

And I'm glad that tonight is the night the clocks 'fall back' as Daylight Savings Time draws to a close. I could use the extra hour of sleep before I hit the road in the morning. Joy has doctor's appointments damn near every day next week, and she can't afford to skip any of them. So early to bed, early to rise and all that. Time to go break down the trailer once and for all, then get some rest. I've got a 5:30am alarm and 6:00am departure set for the morning.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I Can Understand Completely

This was a comment I made on a thread at Blabbermouth, about Soulfly drummer David Kinkade's decision to leave the group and retire from music:

Hell, I've been through just as much if not more. I'm 43. I've been married to the same wonderful woman for eighteen years, with fifteen of those being a professional drummer and vocalist, with 98% of that on cover-band and cabaret circuits in the western US. We couldn't have kids together, so I helped raise her three kids from her first marriage, and have been a doting grandfather to four wonderful grandchildren.

I've missed every major holiday you can think of a dozen times or more in my fifteen years on the road. As of this moment I'm scheduled to have Christmas off (driving home from Nevada on Christmas Eve) for the first time in five or six years. There are few feelings worse than being alone on Christmas Day, folks. I've missed countless birthdays, graduations, and other milestones in the lives of my loved ones. But I keep going. Why?

Hope. Hope that a better-paying gig is in my future. Hope that I can travel less and work more. In some ways, hope is all I have left, and if I lost hope I know I'd be in trouble - the kind that ends with a funeral. I have hope, plus something else very special - the unquestioned love of a woman who completely understands my drive, my compulsion, my obsession to succeed in the field of my choice no matter the cost. The irony is that now I support her when she used to support me. And now my music gives her the inspiration and strength she might not have had otherwise to fight a phalanx of severe illnesses, such as sarcoidosis, COPD, fibromyalgia, severe kidney disease, and a whole lot more.

It's clear to me that David Kinkade reached his burnout point, where he just looked at his life and thought 'what the fuck have I done to myself?' he assessed his situation, and made the decision that's best for him. I've been there - many times. But since I don't really have any skills to fall back on (though being an touring, self-sustaining musician gives you a surprisingly large skill-set), I just move forward. Eventually, I know there will come a time when I just can't move forward any longer. But hope and love give me the courage to keep moving.

David, I wish you the best of luck in whatever future endeavors you have. But know this - the odds are that nothing you'll ever do professionally for the rest of your life will equal what you've already accomplished. Be proud of those accomplishments. And don't just walk away from your kit - you'll never really be able to. Eventually, you'll find yourself longing for the the rehearsal room, the stage, even the road. But you'll be smarter about it the next time that urge hits - just jam with a few friends here and there, or find (or start) a band that just plays around your hometown once in a while, that's more for fun than for a living. Learning to balance the love of music with the need to have a real life is a tricky thing, and in time you'll figure out that balance. But now you need to rest your mind, your body, and your soul, then build the foundations you'll need for the next stage of your life's journey.

Best of luck, David. We'll see you on the flipside sooner or later.

And he will be back eventually - that's just the nature of the beast. Music is an addiction to me, as it is to most working musicians, even if they'd never personally admit it. Fortunately, my habit feeds me as much as I feed it. But now I need to write a little more. Things always stay the same in my life - weird.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Where The Hell Have I Been Again?

It takes discipline to write a blog on a regular basis, and you might have noticed by now that this is something I haven't had much of as of late. So here's an update as to what I've been up to:

I'm in week seven of an eight-week, seven-gig run in Reno that started in mid-August at Casino Fandango, and will end.... somewhere else. Some of you might already know. I'd tell you, but I'd have to kill you. Right at this moment I'm killing time in my old trailer in Sun Valley while waiting to head up to Carson City for another weekender at the Fandango, our second visit on this run, followed by my third gig in eight weeks at that place that I can't mention to bring this run to a close. Impressions so far?

Fuck, it's hot.

Fuck, I'm tired.

I want to go home.

I had some good ribs at the Best of the West Rib Cook-Off in Sparks while we played at John Ascuaga's Nugget that week.

Gypsyhawk are a pretty cool band. Check out this song here. I saw them in a tiny little bar in Reno a few weeks back, and it was a raucous show to say the least. Thanks to my homey Josh Lease and Borndead Productions for bringing them to town before they got too big to play here. Tonight I'm checking out another show Josh is promoting - death-metal OGs Obituary down at The Alley in Sparks.

Fuck, it's hot.

Fuck, I'm tired.

I want to go home.

I finally paid off what I owed on my storage unit here in Reno. Muchas gracias to the Barkmans over at ABC Mini Storage for putting up with us. Now I can actually put my crap away and not leave it sitting in the back of my truck on my days off and gigs where I don't need my gear! Here's hoping that Joy and I can keep it up this time around.

Fuck, it's hot.

Fuck, I'm tired.

I want to go home.

Even going home won't be much respite, though. My band in PA (Willis) is pretty much dead now, after Eddie Perez lost most of his gear in a fire, when the RV he and his wife were staying in exploded. Thankfully, they're both okay. Gear is replaceable - lives aren't. But this has led to an interesting opportunity, if only a one-shot opportunity at that. As you may have read before, Ron DeFrang, lead guitarist from my days in Dirty Joe, is dying of cancer. However, he wants to play one last show before heading off to the void, down in Albany, OR where most of his family still lives. He and John Eddy were supposed to be heading down to Albany this past weekend to check out venues for a de facto memorial show, and I told them that I was interested in joining, so long as it fits my schedule. They agreed to check on finding a venue (and guaranteeing me some money) for the weekend of October 19th & 20th. I borrowed a quote from Buddy Rich about holding a memorial for Gene Krupa before he died for the project's name:

Flowers For The Living.

Not too shabby if I say so myself. Here's hoping that John and I can pull it off, and here's hoping Ron can actually make it there - John has raised doubts about Ron's health, but he also hopes that Ron can pull this off. It would be nice to have one good party before he shakes off this mortal coil.

Fuck, it's hot.

Fuck, I'm tired.

I want to go home.

But first, a shower. Then maybe get my grub on at Genghis Grill before I head for The Alley tonight - but not before I check my bank balance.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Little Bit More Death Than I Can Handle

It's been a rough summer for me. But I should be grateful that I'm alive. I just found out a few days ago that my dear friend Dave Herzer passed away, onstage up at Lake Tahoe, from a massive heart attack. It's just so fucking hard trying to put into words how you feel about a guy who you really only know one part of. I mean, I knew Dave the drummer, but I never really got to know Dave away from music. But then again, we're musicians. And for working musicians like us, music is all-encompassing - an obsession, really. Dave was a fun guy to be around. A really excellent drummer, a good singer, a sushi fanatic. Between him and my pal Mark Twohey, they were in my opinion the best drummers on the circuit, far better than me. I always felt like a plowhorse, and Dave a thoroughbred, when I saw him play.

And our paths have crossed and converged more than a few times. In the summer of 2009, just before I first filled in on drums for Steppen Stonz, and two months before I would join them full-time, I had all but joined Tracy Bing's band. Tracy is the pint-sized dynamo of a singer and leader of a band with three faces, depending on the type of gig they're playing. For most gigs it's the standard classic-rock of the Tracy Bing Band. For shows where a Fifties vibe is needed, she morphs them into Tracy & The Kingpins (which is probably what they're playing under right now at Hot August Nights in Reno). And they hit the rodeo circuit with a male singer in tow under the moniker Ricky & The Redstreaks. And no matter the name or style, they've always managed to stay busy. Tracy had yet to formally invite me to join, but the interview and grooming process was well underway. She had explained to me what she was looking for, and I guess that I'd given her the answers she was looking for. But Mike and Arthur would beat her to the punch by just a few days. I was packing up and getting ready to drive to that fill-in gig in California when she called me and asked me if I was available for a weekender elsewhere in California. To this day, I feel like I let her down, and that I still owe her an apology, even though I know I've apologized plenty of times since then. Eventually, Dave took that seat that I'd left wanting. Dave even covered for me on a few occasions at the Atlantis - Mike and Arthur loved his playing, though they told me that they'd wished he'd play a little closer to the sequence than he did.

But Dave died doing what he loved - playing, entertaining. I will grieve for his wife and his children, but I'll also grieve for his most beloved: Marsha. for those of you who knew Dave, you know what I'm talking about. For those who don't, allow me to explain. "Marsha" is a snare drum. A very, very expensive Brady Drums snare from Australia. Seriously, this one snare drum alone cost more than what I paid for the kit you see me play PLUS a fair chunk of the cymbals and hardware. And Marsha was his pride and joy. And very rarely would he let other drummers use it. I think it was at Hot August Nights in 2010 when he let me play with Marsha. We wound up sharing my kit that week, because Tracy & The Kingpins were playing a special early shift at the Nugget while Steppen Stonz played their regular evening hours. And Dave decided that while he would play my kit (which makes the transition from one band to the next soooooo much easier), he couldn't live without Marsha, but graciously decided that I should be allowed to enjoy Marsha's delights as well. To be totally honest, I felt in that moment that he truly accepted me as a colleague in the circuit. And by the way, Marsha was fucking awesome. So much better than the Sixties-vintage Ludwig student snare that I use to this day.

Rest in peace, Dave - I'll miss you.

I've just had to deal with a little more death than I can handle this summer. I mean, I knew that my grandfather would go sooner or later - he was 96, after all - but even then it was a totally wrenching, draining experience at his memorial. I just wasn't ready to lose anyone else. Joy and I have been pretty depressed ever since we'd heard of Dave's passing, and to this day I still have a hard time believing it happened - almost as though I expect Dave to post 'Fooled you!' on his Facebook page any day now. But I know that's not gonna happen. I need to celebrate my friend's life, and do the best I can to honor his memory.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Winding Up

I leave for Nevada again in about sixteen hours or so. I figure a departure time of about 1am will get me to the Nugget in Sparks by mid-afternoon, and give me time to settle in to my hotel room and take a nap before setting up and sound-checking. I'm feeling anxious, getting wound up for a brief two-week run, this weekend at the Nugget, then the next at the Carson Valley Inn. Then another two weeks at home, followed by a seven-week, six-gig run that will (at least as far as I know) really wind up my schedule for the year. After September, I'll only have four gigs in Nevada for the rest of the year (one in October, during the weekend of Joy's birthday, then three weeks in mid-December, coming home on Christmas Eve). Of course, that's always subject to change.

I think that ought to be on my tombstone:

Here Lies Joe Franklin

February 7, 1969 - xxxxxxxx xx, xxxx

(dates subject to change)

I know, I'm being morbid. But at least it's a silly kind of morbid. Hey, I'm the one going through sleep deprivation while trying to come up with some deep thoughts. Well, I need to go get my set broken down and packed up for the trip. I won't let myself go to bed until around noon, so that a good rest will mean waking up around 8 or 9pm tonight. That poor old body clock of mine - it's pretty much just a puddle on the floor by now.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Goodbyes, Continuances, And The Simple Joys Of Playing By Yourself

It's been barely two weeks since my last post, but it feels like an eternity. So where the fuck have I been? Well first off, I'm home from my latest extended run to Reno with Steppen Stonz. While it's always fun, it does get to be a grind after a while. But spending time with my grandbabies - I know, they're eight and seven, and their cousins Soren and Sascha are five and three, but Cody and Ellie will always be my grandbabies, the closest I'll ever get to actually having children of my own - tends to make it all worthwhile. And a quick shout-out goes to my favorite new sit-down restaurant, Genghis Grill. There are two of them in the Reno/Sparks area - one in Spanish Springs, just east across the ridgeline from Michelle and Bill's place in Sun Valley, with the other in the far south of the Truckee Meadows, down in Damonte Ranch. Genghis Grill is Mongolian Grill, where you select your proteins, vegetables, and sauces of choice - piling the first two into a small bowl, packing as much in as you can, with the sauces going into smaller cups you take to the grillmaster, who stir-fries the lot together, working his way around the 6' wide circular grill, then piles your order into a bowl packed with a carb of your choice (rice, pasta, or tortillas) to be sent to your table. I love this stuff, and they love me right back. After my first visit, I signed up for their frequent-visit 'Khan's Klub' card, and it's rewarded me handsomely - one free meal and a second at reduced price. If only there was a Genghis Grill anywhere close to Port Angeles. The two Reno locations are the only ones west of the Colorado River. And after that, the next closest locations are are in Denver and Phoenix. I have some limits on how far I'll drive for a good dinner.

NOTE: My all-time favorite fast-food chain is Chipotle Mexican Grill, where fast food meets the Slow Food Movement in a truly unique way - I can't recommend this place enough. By all means - stop reading this and go find the nearest Chipotle and order a burrito with their carnitas - while Chipotle is vegan-freindly, their slow-braised pork would make the most hardened vegan weep with joy. It's that good - so get going, already! I can wait for you to get back. Oh, and you're welcome.

And while I was hot-and-eager to get back to Port Angeles, I couldn't stay long - which was a bit depressing. I wanted to get back into the groove with Willis, but family comes first. Last Saturday (June 23rd), we laid my grandfather to rest at the Mountain View Cemetery in Tacoma. It was a good chance to visit with family members I hadn't seen in a long time, and I was pleasantly surprised by their reactions to our arrival at the service. Y'see, while I'd made it clear on my Facebook account that I was going to be there come hell or high water, I guess that most of my family had written me off as a no-show, because let's face it - I'm a professional musician, my schedule isn't written in ink, it's written in water during a hurricane. My cousin Briana was the first to see us pull in, and while she was already tearing up for obvious reasons, she cried just a little harder - tears of joy this time (no pun intended) when she saw us emerge from my truck. Ther service was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with my father's side of my family. And it got me to thinking - I know, thinking isn't much good for me any more.

My cousins all have good lives. Of my generation of the Franklin family, I'm the only one without a good job. Uncle Dickie's sons (Brian and Jimmy) are firemen in and around Tacoma like their dad was, while his daughter Jennifer is a teacher in California. Aunt Suzie's son Josh is in the Army, stationed in Hawai'i - the lucky bastard. Aunt Anna's kids are in engineering (Briana) and tech (Michael). My sister works for the hospital here in Port Angeles, in the admittance office - I usually see her when Joy needs to go to the ER. Me? I'm still the dreamer, I guess.

I have no regrets about the path I chose, but I know that my family still looks at me in askance occasionally - as in "what the fuck is wrong with you?" I could've been an engineer myself - I was fascinated by airplanes when I was a kid, and I still am. When I was maybe nine or ten, I got the chance to take a summer-school course for gifted kids about aviation engineering, held at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. I remember loving every minute of it, but later Gifted classes back home in Port Angeles pretty much wiped that taste out of my mouth - I quit the gifted-student classes in middle school immediately after learning that while I would spend the enitre school day in these special classes, I was then expected to go back to the 'regular' home-room class I was assigned to (that I would otherwise not be a part of whatsoever) and get all my homework from that class on top of  the work in the Gifted class - some fucking gift!

I lost interest in school after that, and never really got excited about classes until I got out of high school and into college up at Peninsula College, where I got my Associate's Degree (in that old standby, Liberal Arts) in 1989. A third year at PC followed at my own expense when I wasn't accepted to any of the State Universities here in Washington, and I almost took a fourth when I wasn't accepted to any State University again, other than a provisional admittance to Central Washington University, that would've only allowed me to enroll in January 1991, when I got accepted to Washington State University (damn right I'm a Coug) at pretty much the last minute - late July of 1990, to be exact. This late date of acceptance meant that I wasn't able to get financial aid - the pool of money available to needy students like myself was already long gone. My parents arranged a bank loan for me, but in hindsight I never should've gone, and just taken that fourth year at PC and tried again when there was more financial aid available. I had some good times there, as I've mentioned in past posts, but while I'm still proud to be a Coug I just wasn't ready. Maybe I never was.

Okay, I got way off on a tangent there. As I'd said before, I was really looking forward to rehearsing with Willis, it just never really got off the ground this weekend just past. Seven weeks between rehearsals is way too long. I'm just grateful that Eddie, Tom, and John are as understanding as they are. But the usual schedule just didn't happen. Our normal Friday evening rehearsal was scrapped because Tom was going to have to work all weekend in Port Orchard, but Eddie had found a guy who could possibly be the lead singer this band could really use, and wanted to get some sort of rehearsal/audition in. He tried to arrange space for us in the garage of the RV park he lives in now, out in Carlsborg. But circumstances that I won't bother to discuss canned it, and our otherwise-normal rehearsal space is unavailable, again for reasons I won't discuss.

After this, Eddie told me that rehearsals for this weekend were scrapped, but on Sunday at about four in the afternoon, just as Joy and I were heading to Wal-Mart, Eddie called again and said that practice was on again, now at John's place. John lives with his brother, and his brother is a drummer himself, so at least I didn't have to bring my gear. Our old pal Ron DeFrang filled in for Tom, and I got to meet this new singer. And meeting this guy once again showed how small the circle of working musicians is in Puget Sound. I don't remember his last name, the first was Shane, and he knew us through my old friends Just Dirt. And yet another crazy occurrence between Eddie and myself came up in conversation. I mentioned the time I'd spent playing with Backstreet Romance, with Rocky Holbrook (who's on my shit list in perpetuity) and Loriann Davis (who Joy and I still absolutely adore), and Eddie told me he'd done a spell with them as well. What the fuck - we've been crossing paths (albeit unaware of the other) for almost two decades now, playing in the same bands at different times!

Anyhoo, this practice shouldn't have happened. Why, you ask? Well, this Shane fellow just wasn't up to it - albeit not for lack of talent. He's diabetic, it turns out. And he'd ridden his bike the ten or so miles from Port Angeles to Carlsborg. And he did so far earlier than was scheduled, so he spent most of the day riding around Carlsborg waiting for rehearsal to start. And did I mention that he's diabetic? And that he hadn't eaten all day? By the time rehearsal finally rolled around (and someone finally decided to tell me about it - at the absolute last fucking second), Shane was a mess, and nearly passed out while trying to sing. But I did notice the talent. Eddie wouldn't have even given him the time of day otherwise. But Joy seemed to notice something else - and she won't tell me what it is. And then there was Ron. And Ron is as Ron does - he doesn't know the material Willis plays, and we wound up just jamming the stuff we played together in Dirty Joe, most of which Eddie doesn't know. Ron tried to play some of our stuff, but he just doesn't know it that well. After rehearsal, Eddie, John and I talked about it for a while. We figured we could get some extra time in during the week and get back up to speed for when Tom came back. And we'll keep inviting Ron to come by for the occasional rehearsal, if only to comfort the dying. I've already been to one too many funerals this year for my tastes. But Ron only has a few more months left, and as Buddy Rich once said of his dying friend Gene Krupa, one should give flowers to the living.

But there is one advantage to this sort of slap-dash rehearsal: I don't need to bring my gear. My kit is set up in the basement, and I find myself with the chance to just..... play. Just go down to the basement, turn on my mp3 player, put my earbuds in, pick a song, and play. That's how I taught myself to play the kit, after all. I found myself playing this 80's chestnut. Or was it a 70's chestnut? Whatever decade it was, it was Jefferson Starship's "Find Your Way Back". Then I rolled into "No Way Out" from Stone Temple Pilots - a song that I think will work its way into Willis' playlist. At least if I have anything to say about it.

And I found myself actually having fun playing! I could just woodshed for a while, no pressure, no drama, no worries. No playing quietly to avoid the wrath of casino managers, no Motown. Now if only my thumb hadn't started to go numb while I was playing. Gotta go buy some new gloves when I head back down to Nevada again in a few weeks.....

Oh well. I need to go get some sleep. Get some rest, then go back down to the basement in the morning - well, morning by my standards, anyway.

Cheers, y'all.

Friday, June 15, 2012

On My Own Mortality

(Post originally written on June 12, 2012)

I sit here in my hotel room, really the front room of the bandhouse of the Atlantis, and I face a major crossroads. A few days ago – Thursday, to be exact – I received word that my paternal grandfather Richard J. Franklin had passed away. He'd lived a very full ninety-six years, and was only a few months away from celebrating his ninety-seventh. He was the last of my grandparents to pass, the first to go being my maternal grandfather, passing on my seventh birthday after a long struggle with emphysema. Both of my grandmothers died in a haze of Alzheimer's-related dementia, scarcely cognizant of the world around them. I do consider myself blessed that Grandpa Dick lived a long and healthy life, even recovering from the loss of his wife and finding a new love, who my family embraced with open arms. He lived long enough to meet Joy, her children, and even our first two grandchildren.

But what I found myself totally unprepared for was that loss, the finality of it. An entire generation of my life, gone. I mean, I'm fully aware of the concept of mortality, don't get me wrong. I have vague memories of my great-grandfather, all we ever called him was 'G.G.'. He passed away before I was really understanding of the concept of death. I remember my friend Shannon Allen, her mother and mine were (and still are) best of friends. She was hit and killed by a careless driver not more than a block from my house in Port Angeles. I wasn't there, I didn't see it happen. But I remember the whole family in tears, while I shed none – why?

I remember Grandpa Forrest. Frail, rattling, wheezing, his smoking habit having gotten the best of him in the end. Grandma Gen, scarcely able to remember her own name by the time Grandpa Dick sent her to a Lutheran nursing home. To this day I still regret that I never went to visit her, even though I know why I chose not to – I wanted to remember her as she had been, before the disease robbed her of her memories, her thoughts, her self, fingers flying in random patterns – cursing in the sign language she'd taught for years, rather than out loud. Grandma Jennie, stubborn and independent to the last, but then too losing her memories, thoughts and self. But I didn't cry for them either – why?

It's not like I'd ever been taught not to cry. I'd always been taught to express myself, good bad or otherwise. But at the same time, I've always found myself holding in those emotions, even when all those around me were letting them out. But I actually found myself able to let something out, even though it was hardly public – alone in my stepdaughter's house in Sun Valley, just north of Reno. And today I learned that Grandpa's funeral will be a week from Saturday in Tacoma, and that I'll be able to attend. I hope that I will finally be able to cry.

I think that I need to take stock of my life. By no means am I successful. Hell, I moved back in with my mother and stepfather two-plus years ago, although it wasn't because I wanted to. Between being laid off from work and my wife's declining health, going home was the best thing to do. I have no children of my own, but Joy's three kids accepted me well enough. And I've been a part of the lives of my stepdaughter's two children pretty much from birth. Cody is eight now, a rambunctious pile of energy, only marginally constrained by a mild form of Asperger's disease (a form of autism) and a speech impediment, while his sister Elizabeth – Ellie – is a tiny, bird-bright seven-year-old, already the princess-in-training. And I can already see a sort of Lenny-and-George dynamic forming between them – Ellie the brains, Cody the muscle. I have two bands that I play in, one here in Nevada, the other back home in Washington. The band here in Nevada, the singers have been working together for forty years now, and they act like an old married couple. The band in Washington is still in development, but there are already positive signs. I've had a reasonably successful marriage, eighteen years and still going strong despite Joy's poor health. We're lovers, best friends, partners in crime and in business. To be quite honest, I think she may be the only person in this world who completely gets me, totally understands me and all my weirdness.

The other night – in fact, it was just Sunday night – I was playing video games with Cody. Well, I was doing the playing, he just wanted to watch me run through 'Fable II' on his mother and stepfather's Xbox 360. He snuggled up next to me, put his head on my arm as I slew bandits and hobbes (the game's version of goblins, or orcs, or whatever), then eventually fell asleep. Just having lost the last of my grandparents, I felt warm and comfortable with my grandson, my little buddy at my side, and Ellie just a few feet away, also quietly asleep. I want to be a good grandparent for them, like mine were for me. I want them to remember the good times we shared as fondly as I do the times I spent with mine when I was a little boy. Whenn I'm gone, I want them to remember their 'papa' as fondly as I remember my grandmas and grandpas.

But that leads to the final problem for me. I've still yet to lose my fear of dying. I know that it's inevitable, that we all go sooner or later. But it terrifies me. And especially the lifestyle I lead – always on the road, eating shitty food, always driving from one place to another, never home for any length of time. If life were fair, let alone perfect, I'd die quietly in Joy's arms, slipping into the abyss embraced by the woman I love and cherish. But I'm always afraid that I'll die in some hotel room, alone and unnoticed until far too late for help to arrive. But I also know that this fear isn't reasonable, nor would succumbing to it be any fair to those I work with. Therefore, I need to confront my fears, look death in the eye and see it for what it is. But I'm way too much of a chickenshit to do anything particularly death-defying or even mildly dangerous. So what the fuck do I do?

I carry on, that's what I do. I shoulder my burden, complete the task at hand, then go home to the one I love, where I'm truly comfortable, even though I get squirrely soon enough and long for the open road. I understand the inevitable, but I'd still rather not deal with it. I still have a life to live, after all. I don't see a need to be morbidly afraid of dying – but what's difficult is truly embracing that thought. I hope I can someday, and just live as gracefully as I can before going off the the great beyond.

Goodbye, grandpa. May you rest in peace.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Boom And Bust

Nothing's ever easy - that's a lesson I learn at least once every few weeks.

Take this weekend past. Steppen Stonz had a good weekend up at Boomtown in Verdi. Nothing spectacular, but solid. This time around, we had steady crowds both nights, a lot of our regulars. We got good tips again, averageing out to about $20 a man for the weekend. We got lots of good remarks from casino management, and I was asked by the suits when we'd be back. I honestly wouldn't know that - as I told one pit boss, that was information way above my pay grade.

But getting ready to play Saturday night, I noticed something that could only be considered a bad omen. While I was checking my pads and triggers, making sure that all my connections were sure and they were all registering with their module, I saw two gentlemen walking about the casino floor, one taking copious amounts of pictures of the cabaret area with a cellphone, while the other talked about putting things here and there. These gentlemen clearly fit the profile of people who were about to purchase the place, confirming what Mikey had said the night before over breakfast at the Denny's inside Boomtown, that the casino was about to be sold to new owners.

Ownership changes in casinos never bode well for bands here in Northern Nevada. The last time Boomtown changed hands (to its current owners), among the first things they did was to not only cancel all live entertainment, but to tear out the previous cabaret, and move the sportsbook into its place. That said, they did rectify that (IMO) mistake, and while the cabaret area is only portable staging and flooring, it's still in a good location with good sound and lights. The truth is that this happens all over the area, as new owners suddenly realize that casinos require a lot of capital, and seemingly the first thing to get cut from the budget to save money is live entertainment. And the process has been ongoing for decades now. Back in the old days, the largest casinos had live orchestras, and the musicians were unionized, and the union was strong. But as the first generation of casino operators gave way to corporate owners from far away, the union was broken, and smaller bands took the place of the orchestras. Now the bands are being replaced by DJ's and karaoke hosts - if anything at all. I look around, and see how few people on the circuit are even my age, let alone younger than me (Miguel notwithstanding), and I wonder sometimes if I'm the last of my generation.

And sometimes I wonder about the newest generation of casino owners. The phrase I keep hearing over and over is 'Vegas-style'. 'Vegas-style gaming'. 'Vegas-style attractions'. There's just one problem with 'Vegas-style':

This isn't Las Vegas.

The biggest difference? Here in Reno, you don't have to stay inside because of 120-degree heat. Even when the temperatures hit triple-digits here, there's a nice cool river to play in. There's a nice cool lake just a short drive away that's usually a good ten to twenty degrees cooler than the Truckee Meadows. Then there's the audience itself. More gamblers here are older, and they generally don't respond well to late-night 'party pits' where the dealers are pretty girls in sexy costumes that dance as much as they deal blackjack. Not a lot of younger people (as in my age and younger) gamble that much here, there are just a lot of other things to do here than just stay indoors and gamble. Don't get me wrong - I'd love to be a part of those 'Vegas-style attractions'. That'd mean stable, longer-running shows that pay better, right?

Oh well.

And karma being the bitch that it is, I got back to Sun Valley to resume living in my trailer for a few weeks of personal business (and maybe a fill-in gig this weekend - who knows?) before going home, and I promptly left my truck's headlights on. And only came to realize this about ten hours later. I got my truck jump-started, but the battery is weaker than a sick kitten, even with the solar trickle-charger I have. Hopefully, Michelle and Bill's friend Frank will come through with the battery charger Michelle says he has.

Like I said before, nothing's ever easy. And more often than not, I'm no help making it any easier.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cakes And Confusion

And coffee. I pulled up the page to start writing this post, then realized I was caffeine-deficient, and wanting of a hot beverage. While I'm not this bad:

I could still use some coffee right now. I like my coffee the way I like my women: pale, sweet and acidic.

It's been a weird couple of weeks recently. I almost feel like I stumbled into a Gabriel Iglesias concert because Steppen Stonz have been bombarded with cakes. Allow me to explain, right after I get my coffee from my little coffeemaker......


Okay, better now. Y'see, Mike and Arthur are almost exactly the same age. As in Arthur is four days older than Mike. Arthur was born on May 7th, and Mike on the 11th. And their birthdays, as you might have guessed by now, have fallen during this current run of gigs. And in an ironic twist, our new keyboardist Miguel, well.... his birthday was May 15th. With three-fourths of the band having birthdays within eight days of each other, that can only lead to one thing. Cake, and lots of it. During the first two weeks of the run at CVI and John Ascuaga's Nugget, we received no less than six cakes from our loyal fans. It was wonderful and horrible at the same time. Wonderful because we have such good fans, and horrible because I think we all gained five or ten pounds each from all that cake!

And since then, I've been camped out in our old pop-up trailer, stashed behind Michelle's place up in Sun Valley (often only half-jokingly referred to as 'The World's Largest Trailer Park' or 'The World's Largest Halfway House' or more succinctly as 'The Toilet Bowl') while we run through a few weekenders, first at Casino Fandango, then up at Boomtown up in Verdi. I then have a few weeks off in Reno to conduct some other business before I can head for home for a few weeks.

But what about the 'confusion' you mentioned in the title?

Well, that started the night before last, and is continuing apace. I was inside Michelle's house playing Oblivion on their Xbox 360 (mine was physically repaired, but it's still not working right - I think I may have to reformat my 360's hard drive when I get home, but not before I get a second opinion on it), when I started to hear what I thought was rain on the roof. Turns out that I was only partially right - it was a hailstorm instead, rapidly followed by thunder and lightning, then about an inch of snow! And more snow came in the next day as well, when I encountered near-whiteout conditions driving up to Carson City to set up at the Fandango!

I lived here for three years, so you'd think that I'd be aware of these late-spring storms that come in and totally fuck everything up around here. But no! Hell, this happened last year as well, when Joy and I encountered a sudden whiteout-condition snowstorm up above Eagle Lake, about a half-hour north of Susanville, CA - on June 1st! I should know better, but I never seem to be ready or prepared for this time of year, just waiting for the desert heat to come. And it will by the middle of next week, as the usual high-desert summer kicks in with daytime high temperatures in the 90's. As it was, with the sudden snow (and then lots of standing water when it melted), I wound up having to replace both pair of shoes that I'd brought with me. One pair, that I'd originally thought would just be my regular sneakers, wound up looking and feeling so good onstage that I decided to use them as my drumming shoes, which forced me (no really, it did) to buy a second pair of cheap sneaks at Wal-Mart on the way back to Reno. And how much did I spend? Well, let's just say less than $30 for both pair of shoes - I really am a cheap bastard.

Well, the coffee's kicking in now, so I'd better cut this short. I hear the porcelain god calling my name. A lot.

Later, taters!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Do You Ever Forget..... happens to me." - Ron White

Another long journey is in the books, and I'm in my hotel room at the Carson Valley Inn again. Before I go to set up and soundcheck, I take a quick mental inventory of my things and find out what I forgot at home. Joy always tells me to make checklists, and while I know I should, I kinda resent that idea. To me, it's kinda like surrendering to my wife's habit of micromanaging (which after her years as a bureaucrat, will likely never fully disappear). But I should start using a checklist. She does have my best interests in mind, after all.

But the fog of war, as Clausewitz described it, is all-powerful. I always manage to forget something, no matter how often I check and recheck things manually. This time around, I forgot my mp3 player. It's nice to have it when I go for a walk, and very useful to kill time while setting up and tearing down. But its' headphones are the most useful for me, as those are used every night onstage, as I use them for my monitors, coming up from my little mixing board. So much better than a big clunky speaker right next to me that can be awfully loud onstage because I absolutely need to hear it over my drums.

But I'm not that worried. I have the Sennheiser over-the-ear-headphone that I use for my computer, they'll do. I prefer in-ear monitoring, but big 'phones are better than nothing at all. That's why I bought them in the first place. But they never fit right on my head, over the Sennheiser headset mic that's finally getting repaired by my old pal Leo at Strait Music in Port Angeles. So I went to earbuds, and the rest is history.

And I need to buy some rice for my foodbox. A small sewing kit, because the front button on my camouflage shorts popped off at a bathroom stall in the Guitar Center in Tacoma. And I seem to have only brought three pair of socks - I coulda sworn I'd thrown more into my duffel bag....

It never ends, does it?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Comment From A Reader

Here's a letter from a gentleman named Clint:

You sure are not very careful about what you say about other people.  Especially people you used to consider as "friends"!  Then again, if you take into consideration all of your writings then you don't seem to have a friend in this world.  For one thing, you talk about the drugs that they do.  That is nobody's business but their own.  If you're going to put everything they do out in the street then you had better find a safe place to suck your thumb.  You're lucky that you don't know me or my name cause you would probably say a lot of very bad things about me that doesn't concern you or any of your non-friends.  Then you would have to watch your back and hope I'm in a good enough mood to just write it off cause if I was to end up in a very different frame of mind regarding the things you said about me then you would end up a very broken man.  Trust me.  Roger is a very close friend of mine and the way you talk not just about him, but also about his mother, and putting a drumstick in her eye.  You are a very big piece of shit, asshole.  Now why don't you go on your website and talk shit about the guy that sent you this email.  I'm looking forward to reading your unprofessional comments about your feelings on people like me or Roger.  Please write more so I'll have something to think about.

Your future nightmare!!!

Dear Clint,

You don't know me, and I don't know you either. But let me tell you what I do know: I've never meant to hurt, insult or belittle Roger Mallicott. But this is a FACT: the man needs help. Right now, he's out there somewhere in a lot of pain. He's lost a lot of friends. Most of the people I work with no longer have anything to do with him. I occasionally see his van around town, he's never driving it. I hope he's okay. I have never tried to harm him in any way. In fact, I tried very hard to help him. The reason he asked me to join his band was of my professionalism, because he hoped that I would be able to move the group to a higher level.  But it didn't work out that way. The sad thing is that it's plain to see that he's in a downward spiral. If you're as good a friend of his as you claim to be, you'd agree with me. I saw it within only a short while of getting to know him - and I know why he is where he is. I'm sure you know as well. I do hope that he's able to find help. He genuinely needs it. And while I had very little experience with his mother, I got the impression that she didn't like me, or any of the other guys in the band. In so many words, she gave us a very negative vibe. And Roger told me himself that he wasn't happy to have her around. So I don't really like her all that much. Big deal. It's my opinion and mine only, and like most people I get angry at people who - in my opinion - try to prevent me from achieving my goals.

Now as for me, it's my life - and it's my blog. In fact, I have two of them. And I'll write about whatever I want to write about on either one of them, and while I try not to step on any toes in general, I do not, and will not, sugar-coat anything about anyone, myself included. And I have no problem with calling people on their bullshit. Or their drug use. I'm a professional musician, Clint. And I have little tolerance for people who spend time getting high when they should be practicing. I don't drink, smoke, or do drugs - I know, sounds odd, doesn't it? I'd rather play than get high, drunk, whatever. I was hired to be a bandleader. That means whipping a group of individuals into shape and making them into a tight, cohesive unit. And it didn't happen, likely because the people I tried to lead, did not want to be led. You know the old line, 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.' To varying degrees, they didn't want to become what I thought they were capable of being, and I found that very, very disappointing. And I chose to make my disappointment known.

Now as for you. Your letter comes perilously close to making a threat - in fact, you are threatening me. Do you know that threatening someone is a crime? Here's a link that should enlighten you:

Clint, I'm not going to talk smack about you, since you're right, after all - I don't know you and I likely never will. I'm sorry if that disappoints you. And I'm genuinely sorry if I offended you with my honest feelings and opinions about those I work with. I'm glad we had this chance to talk about things. But I've moved on, and so should you. I'm done with Roger, I'm done with this, and I'm done with you. If you decide to continue to harass me, I will send copies of any correspondence of yours to the Port Angeles Police Department.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Snake

Remember how I mentioned in the last post about how our old pal Jay Reid expressed his dislike to Eddie about how I was hired to play drums for Willis instead of him? In case you forgot, he described me as such:

"That poser who plays in Reno."

Yet in a twist of fate worthy of The Twilight Zone, I logged on to my Facebook page, and there was a friend request waiting for me. And who was it from, you ask?

None other than our old pal Jay Reid.

Jay, if you're reading this, ask yourself this: Why try to be nice to me to my face when you've dissed me when I'm not around? And on top of it, the truth is that you barely know me, and you certainly don't know my wife. It's true that I don't really know that many players here on the Olympic Peninsula, but that's a fault of never really playing here all that much. My connections are in Tacoma, Seattle, Portland, Reno, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles.... need I go any further?

You're probably more talented than I am, I'll give you that. But I'm a professional. I'm the first one to arrive, and the last one to leave. I do my job - I don't overplay, or act like a rock star and just expect things to be handed to me. I work my ass off, and I'll just leave it at that. But I will indulge myself a bit, and be an ass for a moment. Here's what you're missing:

I'll post some video when I can get a more stable connection.

Goodbye Jay, you just don't matter any more.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Post #100: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Car.....

This was just after the rehearsal with Willis on Saturday. Eddie and I were bullshitting with Joy, when I just off-handedly mentioned that if they needed a drummer while I was away, there was one just about three miles that-a-way, as I pointed to the east. Joy wasn't sure who I was talking about, but Eddie did. And what he said next kinda surprised me: that this particular drummer wasn't happy that Eddie had chosen me over him, and didn't think that much of me, referring to me (to Eddie) as 'that poser who plays in Reno'.

Well, if you haven't already figured it out by now, we're talking about our old pal Jay Reid, who briefly played with me in Dirty Joe, and his disinterest in working with the group led to me going back behind the kit to be the singing drummer instead of merely being the singer. To be totally honest with you, Jay's a good drummer, but he's also an asshole with a massive ego, who can't be bothered to put in the work necessary to make a good band work right. Apparently, he didn't think he'd even have to audition for Willis, that he was just going to get the gig because he was Jay Reid.

And Eddie already knew this, which was why I had the gig from the moment I had voiced an interest in it. The audition/rehearsal on Friday was pretty much a formality. Eddie and Jay have been friends and bandmates for thirty years now, but Eddie won't work with him ever again because of Jay's very bad habits, such as the aforementioned lack of punctuality for rehearsals and gigs, and his desire to just play in his mobile home instead. I also learned a few things about Jay that I didn't know before - mostly that he'd had a tumor removed from his brain several years ago, and that had affected him in several physical and psychological ways.

I wanted to feel some sort of sympathy for the guy, but I couldn't. Up until that day, I didn't think that Jay had harbored some sort of ill will towards me before, and had chalked up his departure from Dirty Joe to his known disinterest in driving back and forth from Agnew to Roger's place up at Laird's Corner for rehearsals. He'd even tried to friend me on Facebook, but I wasn't really interested in being friends with him after disrespecting my band like he did.

But enough about him. Eddie and I had a nice conversation yesterday, talking about adding material to the repertoire for me to sing lead on, confirming rehearsals for next weekend, and setting up a regular rehearsal schedule that would be copacetic with my schedule with Steppen Stonz. Eddie wants me to commit full-time to Willis, but understands that I'm not going anywhere without something to fall back on. Which means there would have to be a lot of guaranteed gigs for Willis lined up before I'd even think of switching bands. That said, if some of Mike and Arthur's plans come to fruition in the near future, Steppen Stonz might need a fifth member. And seeing how Eddie was geeking out over a Roland guitar-synth controller John has - playing the saxophone riff to "Careless Whisper" by Wham! over and over again with the synth's saxophone patch - that kind of versatility could come in very handy down in Reno and points elsewhere.....

Oh, and as you may have noted from the title of this post, this is the 100th post of my insane ramblings on this blog. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my brain droppings, and trust me on this - there's a whole fuck of a lot more to come, I ain't dead yet! Here's to the past hundred posts, and to the next hundred!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

We're What He Was Talking About

Well, I can finally say this:

Dirty Joe is dead. As in doornail. As in 'stick a fork in it, it's done'. And the next evolutionary step is already looking good.

I gave John Eddy a call a few days ago, to see if we could get together, get a rehearsal in, and maybe scrounge up a gig. It took a few days for him to get back to me, but it turns out that he'd got one better than that - an old friend of ours was coming home, and looking for a drummer and bassist for his band.

His name is Eddie Perez, and he goes back quite a ways up here on the Peninsula. And oddly enough, it took him moving to Tacoma and signing on with Powerlight for for us to meet. He didn't last all that long with Powerlight, but then again who does? In hindsight, my decade and change with the group must make me some sort of freak. Eddie and I have remained friends, and recent phone conversations revealed that he'd even done a stint with Steppen Stonz. And it turns out that Eddie has a blues/rock band called Willis (you were wondering about the title of this post, weren't you?), and he and his fellow guitarist Tommy were in need of a rhythm section. John was covering the bass just fine, but they needed a drummer with a little more..... oomph.

Talking to Eddie yesterday didn't really end on a high point though, as he really wanted a drummer that could commit full-time, though he knew I'd never really be able to due to my own commitments. And as a by-the-way sort of thing, I did mention that Mike and Arthur could potentially be in need a guitarist in the future. Here we were, each of us trying to poach each other out of their B-gigs for our A-gigs! But we agreed to get together and jam if the space could be arranged.

It took a while for me to get Joy up and moving, then load my gear up, then get to this garage out in Agnew, then set up. You know the drill. Along with John, Eddie and Tommy, Ron showed up. He looked okay. Well, as okay as you can be for a man in his (terminal) condition. He didn't play as much he normally would have. He looked a little out of his depth at times, sand said as much. And to be quite honest, he was tired. I can tell that the chemotherapy is taking a toll on him, but he wants to keep playing. He doesn't want to go quietly, that's for damn sure.

We didn't really have as much time as we would've like to play, but we seemed to groove well together - they really liked my groove when we played Pink Floyd's "Money", and were even more impressed when I told them that I'd never played the song before. And "Money" isn't an easy song to play, starting off in 7/4, and moving through a swinging solo section in 6/8 before going back to 7/4. We rolled through a few other songs, with me mostly learning the way Eddie and Tommy did things and hacking my way through the proverbial jungle. We maybe played for only about two hours, but there was a definite vibe between the four of us, as the small group of friends and family noticed that we were pretty tight, even though this was the first time I'd played with Eddie in the better part of a decade, and the first time I'd even laid eyes on Tommy. And I think they were pleasantly surprised that I called a second rehearsal for tomorrow afternoon.

And I'd better get some sleep now, because I have a busy day tomorrow. First the rehearsal, then taking Joy down to the local skating rink to see my sister's roller-derby club Port Scandalous play for the first time since she assembled the club a few years ago.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Triggering A Reaction

I've kinda been at war with myself these last few weeks, not really sure how I wanted to talk about the last few weeks. Should I be nice, or should I be myself. I think enough time has passed that now I can be myself. And being myself means being pissed off.

Remember how I was going to buy another Xbox 360 through Craigslist? Well, I kinda wish I hadn't. Because the little shithead sold me a lemon that died after a grand total of two hours' use, and refused to take it back. I advised him that knowingly selling damaged goods is a misdemeanor under Nevada state law (NRS 205.380, to be precise), and the little prick threatened to sue me for slander. Well, the little fuckwad hasn't carried out his threat, so I have a few more cards to play on him. Like checking in with the local police about the possibility of having been sold stolen goods without my knowledge. But in the meantime I have a far worse thing for him - the Fred Phelps Award, to 'Martin L.', for his unmitigated gall (and my naivete) for knowingly selling damaged (and possibly stolen) goods. May the deity of your choice have mercy upon your soul, because your ass is mine, and I have no intention of being merciful.

And now that I was in a foul, angry, depressing mood, I made my way up to Carson City for a week at the Station. And things just didn't get any better. I came in to set-up to find that Mike and Arthur had finally given Cliff his walking papers. And they informed me that, how shall we say........ complaints had been made about Cliff, the kind that can't be ignored. We all agreed that while he was a fine man, he just wasn't doing his job very well, and that he needed to go. He made the same mistakes, over and over again, and never really learned his parts, despite his frequent practicing. In some ways, Cliff had been reminding me a lot of Gordy Lockard, Powerlight's guitarist at the time of my departure, albeit better-dressed and nowhere near as loco en la cabeza.

Cliff's replacement is a 26-year-old Hispanic kid named Miguel (sorry, can't quite remember the last name). He's already made a tremendous impact upon the band in just a few days. First off, he took all of Mike and Arthur's sequences and moved them onto his MacBook - no more fucking Mini-Discs! He's also offered to run the sequences through professional-level mixing software, to clean them up and balance them out. Oh, and he plays live. Damn near every song. Miguel is also a piano teacher, with a great natural ear for music, and was picking up songs practically through osmosis. In three days at the Station, he played more (and better) than Cliff did in four years with the band.

But that Friday night turned out to be a real downer. Already caught in the middle of good friends arguing with one another, Mikey hit me with a doubleshot of bad news - that our next gig on the schedule (the following weekend at CVI) had been 'postponed', and that our next gig at the Station would be two nights only, and following gigs there would remain two-nighters for the foreseeable future. But there was something of a silver lining. Mike and Arthur agreed to my request for a raise of $10 - 20/night, and allowed me the option to skip two-night gigs that were isolated on the schedule (meaning there isn't another gig on the weekend before or after). Which means that I won't be back in Nevada for another month or so. I was also promised that the CVI gig would be rescheduled as soon as it was possible for it to be. I sure hope it's soon.

So here I am now, back in Port Angeles. Despite losing $300 worth of work - not to mention tickets to see Fishbone on the 25th - I wasn't too broken up. As shitty as the run had been, the 'postponement' at CVI meant I could go home a week sooner, and be with Joy. Now I have several weeks off, and the opportunity to see if Ron and John are up to any good. Who knows, maybe I can work out a gig for the local band - it won't be called Dirty Joe any more, that's for damn sure - and make a little money so I can get back to Nevada in May......

I could use a break to the positive right about now.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Complaint, Relief, Revelation

Today is the last day of my four-day run at John Ascuaga's Nugget here in Sparks. And I've come to a bit of a revelation while I've been here. In simple terms, everything I do, everything I say - in the end, it's all bullshit.

I just haven't been in that good a mood since I got here. I can mask my feelings somewhat when I'm around the guys, when I'm around my friends, but I can't hide from myself. So I dive into myself, search for the source of my moodiness, and do what I can to excise the proverbial tumor before it metastasizes and becomes something much worse. And that exercise is usually good enough to bring me back around. And I know what it was that set me off. That said, I shouldn't really use a cancer analogy to describe my feelings when the source of my angst is the death of a friend of mine from cancer. Well, he wasn't a really close friend, he was more of a professional acquaintance. But he was a damn good drummer here in Reno, and among the first people I met when I first started. He was a real character, but then again he was a professional musician - that pretty much made him a character by extension. I knew that he'd been sick for some time, but I'd noticed that a lot of friends of mine were posting pictures of him on their Facebook pages when I checked my phone. I called Joy, and asked her to check Facebook when she was able to to figure out what was going on. She called me and confirmed that my friend had passed away while I was at a rest area just outside Susanville. Even though we weren't particularly close, I had to just sit in my car at the rest area and cry a little. While I know that there were a lot of people who'd lost much, much more than I did, the circuit dogs here in Reno are a closely-knit group, and drummers even more so. The loss to our community is hitting us hard. But we'll celebrate our lost brother and move on with him in our hearts for all time.

Rest in peace, Gary. I wish I'd gotten to know you better.

And now on to the more mundane elements of my life's work.

I think my right foot is cursed. In the last year or so, I've probably blown up five kick-drum triggers. Some through my own clumsiness - like when I ripped the trigger's cord out of the sensor itself while tearing down - while the last trigger literally exploded at my feet during our last Friday night at the Fandango. Joy and I decided that I need to move up to a sturdier trigger after that night, so I purchased a ddrum Red Shot trigger the next day. However, in my haste to purchase, I didn't really read the instructions all that well, and found that I needed a slightly longer lug screw to properly attach the trigger to the rim of my bass drum. I wound up having to secure to trigger to the rim with duct tape, but it worked. For all of ten hours. This most recent Friday night, here at the Nugget, I noticed that the trigger wasn't working just as we were taking the stage. With no time to effect repairs, I played the first set without a kick drum. Then I spent the following break switching out cords, hoping that it was a bad connection. No luck. I removed the trigger from the rim and examined it closely, and found that the trigger's ground wire had come undone - broken off cleanly from the point where it had been originally soldered into place. I was able to field-repair it somewhat, stripping away the wire's cover and shoving the bare wire back into place, and securing it with more duct tape before taping the trigger back into place. But the trigger was mortally wounded, and was only registering about half the hits it received.

Saturday saw me going back and forth between Guitar Center (where the trigger was returned and replaced at no expense and with no questions asked - thank you Joy, for badgering me into spending the extra five bucks for an extended-protection plan), and Bizarre Guitar, where their drum tech was able to find me the lug screw I needed to mount the trigger properly. And last night was the first night that my kick drum sounded right in weeks.

But I was still grumpy, and still grieving a bit. And in a plot twist right out of the Twilight Zone, the guy who had been posting status updates for Gary during the last few months for him was playing on the other side of the casino in the Trader Dick's lounge with his acoustic combo. We talked for a while, traded remembrances and war stories, and shared our grief at the loss of a friend and colleague.

Now if only I hadn't taken out my grumpiness on Joy later that night when she called. She didn't deserve for me to lash out at her. I think I owe her a bouquet of flowers or something because I was being a shithead unnecessarily. I should be happy that I have a wife who puts up with me being gone for so long, when I really should be at home to take care of her. I should be happy that I have a band that puts up with my weirdness. I should be happy that I have friends that like me for who I am, for family that accepts me for who I am. It could all be taken away from my at any minute, and one day it will be. I should be happy for what I have.

Thank you Gary, for helping me to appreciate what I have. Rest in peace, brother. We'll all miss you.