Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Folks Behind the Music - Old School - The Ripple Effect

Today's spotlight is on Old School, Ripple scribe, Guitars not Guns mentor and resident legal eagle.

Start at the beginning, how did you get started with this crazy idea of writing about music?

Back in the early 1970's I was the entertainment editor for my Los Angeles  high school newspaper.  This came with three important perks - one, I received hall passes to leave classes during the school day and, as editor, was given the authority to write reporter passes; two, I could obtain passes to leave campus whenever I pleased; and three, I received free promotional concert and show tickets to almost every event in L.A.

I used the passes virtually every day to so we I could leave school to go practice with my college age bandmates (not exactly a sanctioned use of the passes). I was usually gone by 10:30 a.m., especially my senior year.  I used the free tickets to pick up girls.

My position gave me press credentials to meet and interview radio jocks, touring rockers, record company executives, actors, actresses and entertainers. I'd meet the celebrities ad write up my interviews for the paper and that is how I first started writing about music.

We're all the product of our musical past.  What's your musical history?   First album you ever bought?   First musical epiphany moment?  First album that terrified the hell out of you?
I believe the first album I bought was the Mason William Phonograph Record and that was only for the full-size poster of a Greyhound bus that came with the album.

When I was a child I was fed an eclectic mix of music.  My father has always had a knee jerk dislike for blues and rock.  He would play Stan Kenton, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Streisand, Peggy Lee, Gilbert & Sullivan, Rogers & Hammerstein, Gershwin, Flatt & Scruggs, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, June Carter  and their contemporaries, but rock music was relegated to the occasional A.M. radio tune that followed the latest Vietnam War body count.   

In 1967, we moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles and my interest in music skyrocketed.  Every street corner in the West seemed to be home to a busker playing folk or rock music.  My father started taking folk guitar lessons and so did I.  I soon bored of folk music and moved on to rock, blues and jazz guitar.

I joined my first band in 1969.  It was called "Liquid Sunshine" and we played surf music - covers of the Sufaris, Dick Dale, the Chantays, the Trashmen, and the Tornadoes - at local high schools and junior high schools.  I was only 12. No one in the band was over 14 years old. We had to have our parents get us to gigs or ride on our bicycles, while holding onto our equipment. Our drummer, Eddie, rigged up a trailer from a little red wagon as a trailer for his ten speed Schwinn so he could transport his drums.  That band broke up as I entered high school. The older members gravitated toward other projects, like teenage girls.

In high school I joined a band called Blues Grocery. The name was taken from an old store marquee sign band members came across while hiking in the then open space of Hacienda Heights.  We played all over Los Angeles and Orange County, warming up audiences for the main attraction.  In addition to playing covers of songs by Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton, The Moody Blues, Bob Dylan, The Band, Leon Russell, Sam Cooke, the Allman Brothers, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Mountain, Grand Funk Railroad, David Bowie, Johnny Winters, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Bad Company, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Roy Orbison, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Van Morrison, we wrote and performed a few of our own songs.

In high school my musical interests broadened to include jazz guitar and theatrical rock.  I fell hard for Peter Gabriel and Genesis until Gabriel left the band.  I became reverential over the guitar work of Joe Pass, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul and Barney Kessel.  These obsessions took me to a whole new level in my guitar playing and music appreciation.

Blues Grocery performed intermittently throughout my college years.  However, once college was over we all realized there was a need to support ourselves and music simply was not paying the bills. I left for law school in San Francisco; the bassist followed his estranged wife and kid to Boston, and the working band disintegrated.

During law school I played Friday and Saturday nights in improvisational jazz duets and quartets in the North Beach nightclubs, restaurants and taverns. Once law school was over my focus was on the practice of law, not on public music performance. However, I continued to play rock, jazz and blues for pleasure with a group of musicians that I met through work.

I still occasionally sit in with working bands, such as the Uninvited and the Breedloves, but spend most of my music time with foster kids and at risk youth. I teach them how to play guitar through the Guitars not Guns Music Program.  Guitars not Guns provides guitars and guitar lessons to foster kids and disadvantaged children for free as an alternative to violent and antisocial behavior. The not for profit organization serves children throughout the United States, in Canada and in the United Kingdom.  It is a grassroots, volunteer-based organization that is changing kids' lives.   Through the organization I have had the opportunity to meet, and occasionally play with, modern guitar luminaries, such as George Benson, Al Dimeola, Peter Frampton, Earl Slick, George Lynch, Joe Bonamassa, Jonny Lang, John Sebastian, Tony Catania, Duane Eddy, Yngwie Malmsteen, Coco Montoya, Pat Travers and Guthrie Govan.
My first musical epiphany occurred when I was seven years old. A neighbor's teenage daughter came over to babysit and brought her stack of 45's.  The first record she queued up was The Beatles' "Eight Days A Week" with the B-side "I Don't Want To Spoil The Party." An entire new world of music opened up to me.  Up to that point the only contemporary record I had was a 78 given to me by my parents of Frank Sinatra performing "High Hopes" and "Eating Goober Peas."

The first album to terrify me was Fly By Night by Rush.  My freshman college roommate, Bill, played electric bass, but also played Sousaphone (and practiced in our room) in the college marching band.  His Marshall Full Stack, Carvin bass and shiny Sousaphone, my Fender Super Reverb, a selection of acoustic and electric guitars, beds, dressers, desks, TV's books, vinyl records, cassettes and our two massive quadraphonic stereos, left little space in which to move in our 14' x 10' dormitory room.

Bill was in love with Rush. Every morning at 7:30 a.m. he would put on Fly By Night at full volume as a wake up call for our entire floor.  At first, it would jolt me awake.  Then, I came to expect it and enjoy it.  However, I think it was about the 100th time that he played it I finally had enough.  I was going stark raving mad.  The 101st time he queued it up I turned it into a frisbee from the six story balcony.  Bill and I were never again roommates. For the next two years my roommate was the college representative for CBS Records - but that is a whole other story.    

What's the last album to grab you by the throat and insist you listen?

Most recently it was Days Between Stations' In Extremis.  It boasts an incredible talent pool with legendary guest musicians Rick Wakeman, Tony Levin, Billy Sherwood, Colin Moulding and the late Yes band member Peter Banks . It is in part a homage to Banks and contains some of Banks' final studio performances.  It is certainly some of the most fascinating and sophisticated symphonic progressive rock I have heard in a very long time.

What do you see happening in the music scene today, good and bad?

The best part of today's music scene is consumer choice. It is now all about what the consumer likes, and no longer about what a large corporate record company conglomerate wants to sell.  Consumers can go on the internet and stream unlimited music without commercials.  They can even set up stations that will help determine the types of music they like and then offers similar new music.  All of it costs the consumer nothing!

The worst part has been the devaluation of the artists' copyrights.  Even before the shift in the consumer music delivery paradigm it was incredibly difficult to become a full time musician.  Now, with so much free music and so little paid to artists for their streamed and online content, it is virtually impossible for a band to make it on a full time basis without constantly touring and recording and, even then, the band must turn a profit on every venture to pay the bills. The business side of music is the side most musicians don't understand.  It is also the side that is most under attack by the new paradigm.

 With so many music sites, how would you describe what you do?  What's your unique take on the music and writing?

I like to think of myself as a pied piper for those music emigres set adrift by the 21st Century Music Diaspora. I try to tell readers "here's a map of where I've been, what I found worth noting and here's why."  It is up to the reader to decide whether to follow.

Illegal free downloads on your site.  Yes or no, and why?

I have a problem with the term "illegal." The offering of, and the download, may be unauthorized, but they are not per se illegal.  A copyright holder may enforce his or her copyrights by preventing the unauthorized use of the holder's copyrights and copyrighted materials, but is not required to do so.
In addition, technology has made it difficult to draw a line and the law has not kept up.  If a consumer pays for and downloads an album and then sets up a Google Group of friends to share it on line, is that illegal?  If the consumer copies the CD and gives copies to his or her friends, is that illegal? If the consumer streams the CD to his or he friends, is that a violation?  If the consumer plays the CD loudly over his stereo so people outside can hear it, is that a violation of the copyright? How about if the consumer copies the album to cassettes and gives the cassettes away?  In the last case the U.S. Supreme Court did not find a violation of the copyright law.

That being said, I do not support unauthorized downloads, especially since the legal status of unauthorized downloads is murky.  With so much great music available for free I do not understand the need to download and possess music from an unauthorized source. 

What's been your all time greatest "Find"?  That band you "discovered" before anyone else and started the word spreading?

Genesis with Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett. In 1971 I heard the song "The Musical Box" from Nursery Cryme on an underground radio station and was mesmerized.  I insisted that everyone listen to it. I impatiently awaited every Genesis album thereafter until Gabriel left the band in 1976.

 If you could write a 1,000 word essay on one song, which one would it be, and why?  What makes that song so important?

Come On In My Kitchen by Robert Johnson.  So much of blues and rock are derived from this one tune.

 Give us three bands that we need to keep our eyes out for.

The Eoff Brothers Band; The Aristocrats; Dragonsmoke

Tell us about your personal music collection.  Vinyl?  CD?  What's your prized possession?

I disposed of almost all of my vinyl collection about ten years ago.  Virtually all of my music is digitized. I simply don't have the room for vinyl or CDs.  I held on to a first edition vinyl picture disk of Groucho Marx Live At Carnegie Hall. 

What makes it all worthwhile for you?

Making my opinion known and suggesting things for others that may enhance their aural experience.

 How would your life be different if you weren't writing about music?

Probably would have less friends and acquaintances.  I would still be writing, but, it would probably be on social, legal or political issues. I would likely piss off at least half of my readers with my positions.

Ever been threatened by a band or a ravenous fan?

Dave Mustaine told me to "fuck off," does that count?

 In the end, what would you like to have accomplished, or be remembered for?

Helped others. Played fair and pursued justice. Engaged in random acts of kindness. Made life more tolerable during intolerate times. Made us laugh. Believed in the power of community, peace, love and understanding.

 Many people may not realize the hours you devote to what you do for little or no pay.  Is there a day job? If so, how do you find the balance?

In addition to my work with The Ripple Effect and Guitars not Guns I have practiced law in California since 1983. Now, I primarily represent parties in business and real estate transactions. However, for 30 years I have been a trial lawyer and have tried Civil cases throughout California.  I have also sat as a Judge pro tempore, as a mediator and as an Court appointed arbitrator.

The key to balance is to love what you do and do what you love.

What's next?  Any new projects?

I'm working on a few songs and looking for a few musicians and sound engineers to help round out the sound.  I'm building a new pedalboard.    My last kid living at home will soon be leaving the nest so we are also planning a little home remodel.  Nothing massive right now but all fun.

Finally, other than the music, what's your other burning passion?

Fly fishing!

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