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Mackncheeze: Tell me about yourself.
Sean: My parents were in the Foreign Service. I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There is an economic and racial disparity there. The good thing about Malaysia is that it is culturally pluralist. It has a high number of Indian Hindus, a high number of ethnic Malays, a lot of which are Muslim, and a proportion of Chinese people. The Chinese people are the minority but they are the wealthy people; they own everything. They are by and large Buddhist with some Christians.
It’s a really interesting place. As far as that part of the world is concerned all these different cultures are able to get along remarkably well. It could serve as a template for a lot of places.
After that we lived in Guangzhou, which is in southern China. I had a Chinese nanny who was part of the intelligence service of the Communist Party. My parents were aware that I had a spy nanny. The apartment was bugged. My parents tell interesting stories of me telling them stories of her taking me to the home office because she still had to do the job of a nanny. My parents learned that all the other nannies called her the Major. Apparently she was a ranking official in the intelligence service.
After China, my sister was born in Colorado. She is 3 and 1/2 years younger than me. We did not live in Colorado for long. We then moved to France.
We moved back to the U.S. and I had absolutely no common ground or frame of reference with people my age. I felt completely alienated. It really led to a pretty easy transition into this disenfranchised rock and roll, early 90s Grunge thing that was going on. It was a long time living in the States before I started to feel like I had enough stuff behind me to have common ground.
When I got into Middle School I remember there being a preliminary sort of hype for the upcoming music program. It was a way to get kids thinking about what it is they wanted to play.
I really wanted to play saxophone. When I was living in Paris I had this poster of a neon saxophone in my room. I never wanted to be a bass player or guitarist or anything like that. They wanted me to play clarinet first because that’s what they tell kids who want to play saxophone. I said nope, it’s sax or nothing.
They gave me a saxophone. For a long time I thought I was going to be a successful Jazz player. I figured, “That’s how my life is going to go from this point on.”
My parents split up; my dad kept his job and his next posting was in Tokyo. My sister and I would spend six weeks at a time with him. She had befriended this Australian cover band and they were doing pretty well. Their bass player, Kerry Dunne, had an extra bass that somebody had found in a dumpster. He had decent instruments and he had no use for it. One day he asked, “Would you like this bass?” I asked, “What’s a bass?” I have a picture of the moment he gave it to me. It’s the coolest thing ever.
This was a monumental thing that happened in my life.
I went home after that trip to Japan, which was in July, and by December I remember thinking that this is going to be the course of my life. I was 13.
Mackncheeze: What did you experience as you were traveling around the world?
I have studied five languages: English, Portuguese, Indonesian and Malay, for the most part the same language, French and German.
I went to International Schools, stuff like that.
It was a cool way to grow up.
I remember being very bitter about it by the time we left France. I remember coming to the States and being happy to forget French, happy to forget the previous life. Most of my friends were kids of military families. Being a kid in a Foreign Service family is not that common.
I missed out a lot. I did not have a common cultural base with people that were my age. I remember when I moved back here everybody knew this dog by the name of Spuds Mackenzie. I was like, “What the hell is that.” I never learned how to play baseball. I didn’t learn sports.
I still don’t realize how unusual it is until someone gets me talking about it. I know that it’s different when I hear the words come out of my mouth. I value it a lot.
Most of the time it was very uncomfortable and I was not happy about it. That’s probably why after I started playing music I used to spend seven hours a day playing. I was going to school and I was too young to work so all I did outside of that was play music.
After 25 years I recently reconnected with Kerry Dunne. Because of social media I was able to find him. I hadn’t had any contact with him since the last time I was in Japan. We have become really good friends.
Mackncheeze: When you were at the Art Institute, did you study vocals? How did you learn to sing the way you do?
Rob: A mixture of church, singing by myself, with my quarter inch reel to reel, some vocal training; at the Art Institute there was a lot of recording. At that period of my life I wasn’t really into doing music. I wanted to be a producer and make albums. I had no interest in being an artist. There was no intention.
The first time I ever started singing was at a karaoke bar when I was stationed in Japan. At that time, most karaoke bars in Japan would have Elvis songs, some Beatles songs, Johnny Mathis. This is like 1988. Back then, in Japan, karaoke was cool because everything was on a LaserDisc. They all had videos.
Some of the most amazing bands I have seen were in Japan. This one band was a Zeppelin cover band. This Japanese dude looked just like Robert Plant, his hair and the whole nine yards. He was blind and he sang just like Plant. His pronunciation was spot-on. There was a part of me that was asking, “Is he really blind?” I’m just like, wow. A high energy, amazing show. I’ll never forget them.
So the cool thing was my Aunt Dee Dee knew Jay King who was the head guy of Club Nouveau. He was in the Army and he was stationed up in Anchorage. I was working at Miramar ( Abraxas Pool, The Storm, Steve Lukather ). I was doing a few projects for him that we’re not related to Miramar. It was more R&B and rap stuff and we hooked up a few times. The initial connection was through Japan. I was off and on in Japan for two years.
I was given the opportunity to go back into broadcast journalism in Japan and be a writer for the Stars and Stripes. The catch was that I needed to re-up for 2 years. This was right before the Gulf War. I didn’t go that route.
Mackncheeze: Please give me a history of being a DJ.
Rob: I started when I was in the Marine Corps. When I wasn’t in Japan, I was in Pohon Korea. That was a cold weather training, and I was also a part of the operation Team Spirit. North Korea’s leader Kim il-sung was firing missiles in protest of the American and South Korean operations occurring at that time.
So the club DJ did not show up.
Everybody knew I was a broadcast journalist and so they said, “Hey Brewer, you have to DJ.” I crawled up in this really small square cube glass enclosure. I’m sitting cross legged, the club is packed, all the heat is rising to the ceiling. I was in this tiny little room in my own world, just getting down , throwing down all the cuts, and keeping everyone happy. I did not know it at the time, but being a DJ would be something I would end up doing.
It was all turntables back then. I was having a good old time. That was back in the day, my first real experience with turntables. I got paid a bunch of free beer. I was happy, everybody else was happy.
Mackncheeze: I find it very interesting that you sing in two different bands, doing a DJ Act as well.
Rob: Being a DJ, I am my own entity. I control my own destiny, I don’t have to pay anybody else at the end of the night, I make my own decisions. Being in a band, you can not instantly take a gig. When a gig is offered you have to call everyone up and ask who is available. Many times booking agents and club Owners need to know right away.
As a DJ I’ve never had that problem; it’s just me.
Mackncheeze: You carry a light show?
Rob: Yes. I think ambience is important. Not only do I carry lights, I carry video as well. I have a philosophy that most people are pretty much wallflowers. I think they need an icebreaker to engage them to want to dance. If I can nostalgically take you to a period, or mentally put you in a happy place, have you visually see something that makes you think of someone else, makes you think of another time, it might engage you to want to dance.
Macknceeze: Have you thought about writing books on psychology?
Rob: I think it’s important to be a good DJ but I think you have to do a little bit more in order to get people to buy into what you are doing. Being a DJ, you definitely control the mood and the tempo of the Dance Floor. Technically, I’m not the greatest DJ ever, but I know what I need to do to make it work.
I do a little scratching, but I’m more into blending and overdubbing, I’m not trying to be a turntablist.
If you’re a turntablist, people are only going to your show to see you perform. If you’re a club DJ, people are going to a club to dance. It would be selfish of me to practice turntable technique to a packed dance floor of people trying to get their groove on. It’s good to show a level of skill, whether it’s taking a song and mashing it into another song, or recreating some songs. To me what’s important is creating my own brand and originality of style.
Mackncheeze: A technical question: if you were a DJ with a live band, could you take your discs, sans CDs, using correct tempo and scratch tracks into the band’s performance?
Rob: Oh yeah. Mackncheeze: There are not many DJ s that can do that.
Rob: That’s where some of my time at the Art Institute came into this. During that time I was producing and engineering. Knowing how to lay tracks properly, knowing how to piece together songs and how to orchestrate and collaborate, that was very important on my education. It’s one thing to know how to play an instrument but it’s another thing to know how to work as a team and work together.
Mackncheeze: Tell me about the two bands you are working with…
Rob: Midnight Radio Revival, that’s a band I’ve been with for 7 years. I took over the lead vocal position around for 11 years ago. We’ve mainly been doing psychedelic Rock from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. We call it Golden Age Heavy Rock. We cover about 80 or 90 songs.
Over the past year, Doug, our lead guitarist, has written some amazing stuff. We could continue playing covers, but our new focus now is to take some of this music that’s been written, and do it in a classic rock style. We want to record it and get it out. Certain clubs do not want a cover band; they want bands with original content. There are radio shows and TV shows that love to have a bands like that. They can’t do it with bands doing covers because of licensing agreements.
I think for a lot of the people who come to the shows, they’re like saying okay, what’s next? You can only do so many covers. Our next step is to record about seven or eight original songs. We will still do covers and blend in original material. That’s our next big step.
Bands are like sports teams. At the end of the day, after piecing all the music together, it becomes a collaborative effort. In order to have success it has to be a team effort. It’s funny because music is kind of oxymoronic; a lot of it is based on self oriented concepts where there is no team.
The other band is Cold As Ice. We’re a foreigner tribute band. We have only been doing Foreigner covers. Foreigner is a 7 piece band. We have been covering all the parts as a four-piece. We have some amazing folks. We did a show together last year on the 4th of July. That was the last gig we did. We got together before this whole corona virus thing happened. We pieced together a song list of what we were going to work on. All this came about and that’s where we’re at now.
I almost had the opportunity to play in an Earth Wind and Fire tribute band called Kalimba. The manager approached me and during the interview I was told they do about 70 shows a year. Most of the shows are out of state. As a cover band they’re probably doing better than most national Acts. It was good; I was practicing all of that Philip Bailey stuff. It helped increase my range. To me, any opportunity is always a fun challenge. To be acknowledged or even thought of as being a part of that is kind of cool.
I pretty much enjoy all aspects of music. I’m always keeping my ear to the ground.
Mackncheeze: So Rob, what do you personally want to say?
Rob: Rob Brewer, aka, DJ Forrest Gump, still has a lot of music in front of him. I have a lot of things yet to accomplish. I’m looking forward to doing those things.
I am Robert Brewer, son of Shirley Brewer, grandson of Lula Bell Brewer, from Seattle Washington, born and raised in West Seattle, at High Point.
Back in World War Two, High Point was subsidized government housing for military personnel, all the way into the 90s. High point is now gentrified; now it’s $500,000 plus Homes.
I come from a family where music was a very important part of our lives. My older sister, Kathy, her father, was a local music icon in radio; his name was Burl Barer. He was on KJR for a long time. He is not my dad.
My life has jumped through a lot of hoops. I have been a radio DJ, on and off, for 25 years.
Mackncheeze: Really, what stations?
Rob: KCMU 90.3, which later became KEXP, and KLSY 92.5. My first internship was at KFOX. 1250 AM. That was when I was in college. Bob Wickstrom was president of Bailey’s School of Broadcasting. He asked me if I would like to intern at KFOX. I would run from The Art Institute to KFOX to do it. I stayed there until the station went off the air.
Some of the first records I ever had were from my mom and my dad. When I was three, I remember my mom playing Sly and the Family Stone. One of my first vivid memories is hearing the song, Stand.
Mackncheeze: That’s a cool memory man. I love Sly Stone.
Rob: Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, those are really the first memories of my life. As I grew older I would listen to more and more of my mom’s and my aunt’s music.
My grandma loved Hee Haw. So I watched Hee Haw, Lawrence Welk, and a little bit of the Grand Ole Opry. The folks from my mom’s side are from Little Rock Arkansas and St. Louis Missouri, as well as the Mississippi Delta area. In my back ground there is some Creole, Native American, and a little bit of Haitian.
Mackncheeze: You got the turntables, you got the vinyl, that’s awesome, man.
Rob: My mom had these records which I have kept till today. My mom and my dad wrote on the album sleeves. I cherish those albums because I really feel like I have a connection with them. Through these pieces of vinyl, to me, that’s really the only true connection I have with my dad.
As a child, watching TV, my grandma always used to record me singing Michael Jackson songs; ABC, I Want You Back, stuff like that. I pray those recordings have been destroyed.
In recording, if you don’t get used to you the sound of your voice, you are going to have to either accept it or forget about it.
My aunt Catherine was the music collagist of our family. She was an amazing woman. Her life and music, in a weird, chronological way, went along with the albums she collected. I have all these older Fats Waller albums. I have a Quincy Jones 78 disc. It is a recording of Quincy’s band when he was stationed at Fort Lewis. My aunt would not only give me vinyl but tell me stories that went along with each one, how they were purchased, how each artist inspired her and why she liked them. My mom was into The Supremes, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix.
Mackncheeze: What influence started you performing?
Rob: I was the only boy in the house. I grew up in a house full of women; me, my mom, my grandma and my sister. If I wanted to hang out in the house I either had to be in my bedroom or I would be doing chores. My other choices were down at the gym or down at the park playing.
My mom gave me all of her vinyl. Some days, Seattle being drenched with rain, I would spend part of the day at the gym and spend afternoons and evenings listening to albums.
One day, my mom got me a quarter inch reel to reel tape deck. I started experimenting with recording. I would take my record player and record sounds, just goof around. Those were my early recordings.
Through a buddy of mine I got a body of a Gibson SG. There was a record record shop called Zobrist. Zobrist is the first place Jimi Hendrix got a guitar. I bought all my guitar components there. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I built my first guitar, a copy of a Gibson SG.
When I started going to High School I saved up some money, my mom helped me and I took guitar lessons. I took lessons at a place called The Rosewood guitar. That was in the U District. After school and in between playing basketball I would go there and learn guitar.
I was a decent athlete and I wanted to play basketball at Roosevelt. In the early and mid eighties Roosevelt was the number one team in the state. I had been going to private school most of my life; I wasn’t part of the Seattle public school system. That gave me an option to go wherever I wanted to go.
I would get out of class at 2, basketball practice would be at 5:30. A lot of times I would go to a place on the Ave called Kennelly Keys. The Rainbow was across the street. I would go and jam out on different guitars. After practice I would go back to the Rainbow and listen to bands play. The one band I enjoyed and listened to a lot was Robert Cray.
After High school I played basketball at Shoreline Community College. We weren’t good; we went 8 and 20 or 7 and 21 something like that, we were really bad. That was the first time in my life I had ever played on a losing team. It was unfortunate, we had some really, really good players who got caught up partying too hard.
I went into the Marine Corps which really was not my first choice. When I first started at Shoreline I had applied into ROTC Army officer training program. I felt like the process was taking too long . I remember one day I went across the hall to the Marine Corps and signed up. That was in 1988. The day after my mom’s birthday I shipped off to boot camp. Believe me that was an experience and a half.
I was in the Marine Corps for four years.
I had decent scores so my original job was a broadcast journalist. The Marine Corps School of Journalism is at Syracuse University. Towards the end of boot camp I had to take my school of Journalism tests. I was just trying to finish boot camp and I wasn’t ready to take all these tests. In the middle of physical training I was not able to focus; there was no chance to study. The only thing I was brushing up on was cleaning my M16.
They decided to send me to Wire and Comm School At Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Part of Comm School is that you spend three or four weeks climbing telephone poles. Most of those poles are 40 or 50 feet off the ground. The pole yard had tons of wood chips spread across the ground so if we fell 40 feet down we wouldn’t break a neck.
Mackncheeze: Did you ever fall?
Rob: Hell, yeah, I fell down many times. We were provided boots and climbing gaffs; it was never a hundred percent free fall. Poles can be really slippery, especially in the rain, especially with a lot of humidity. Where I lived in North Carolina there could be days of 90% humidity. Five, ten feet off the ground, you’re drenched in sweat.
Towards the end of my time in the military, a really good buddy of mine who has passed away, used to work at The Improv. The Improv was a comedy club that is now the Showbox.
I was doing security there. I started doing that on one of the last times I was home on leave. Larry Harris, the owner of the Improv, he used to own a couple of recording labels named Buddha and Oasis. Larry and his first cousin created a record label called Casablanca. He used to manage Kiss. Two of his other bands were Parliament and Funkadelic.
I started going to the Art Institute when I first got back. I was studying music and video production. I was inspired by one of my good friends, Russ, a super great guitar player. His group was called Bitter End. They were a heavy metal band. They were one of the last heavy metal bands pre grunge in the Seattle area. I remember seeing them on MTV when I was stationed in North Carolina. It was really cool to see my friend on National Television.
The Art Institute was one of those organizations where people would come to the school because they were infatuated with Grunge music; people seeking a musical education for not all the right reasons. For me, going into it was for all the right reasons. I knew my limits; in order to advance I knew I needed a higher level of musical education. So a combination of me going to the Art Institute and working with my friend Russ in Bitter End, and also working at The Improv , having a mentor like Larry Harris, from Casablanca, really helped me connect all the dots of entertainment. Working with Larry was not just about the whole business of music, but included the whole business of comedy and the whole business of dining.
Times were when I used to envy my married friends. But enough about my thirties. When I hit forty it was like, “What was I thinking?”
I’ve been told I would be a good father. Yeah, maybe when I cared. Now I’m selfish and jealous with my time. Life’s priorities have moved from, “I want to make time for someone,” to, “How much time is left?”
I do not live by a honey do list. It’s the, “If I don’t do it now, it won’t get done,” list.
I’m not complaining. Life is good. Life is exciting. I marvel at the timing of all going in my little world. What a blessing. Truly, my head spins at the possibilities.
Pardon me, but I sometimes forget an ordinary human being is not interested in sitting down for hour upon hour trying to perfect an imperfection. Basic nature of artistic endeavor of any sort requires lots of time spent by one’s self, working out a path of accomplishment. Social Distancing.
Wood Shedding, the old timers called it, spending hours in the back wood shed, away from the house, practicing. For me, its like, duh.
I had to learn how to conquer impatience. I always wanted to be really great but I wanted it right now. Repetitive failure inspired me to make a perpetual habit of practicing. Perfect practice makes perfect, as the adage goes; a great truth.
I have a friend who is actually a real engineer. Unlike me, he knows the inside and out of all his gear. He will unassemble a piece of equipment, replace necessary components, and reassemble. Add the fact that he is an accomplished musician, song writer and producer. The real deal.
How many times has he rotated the ten thousand hour rule?
The average person isn’t interested in these kind of commitments. I identify this as a quest for perfection. That perfect song, perfect mix, perfect rhythm section, perfect performance. All it takes is patience.
Yes, I want it right now. Why do I have to wait? Why must I fail? Why is it so hard?
In my entire life, my kids are the best thing that’s ever happened. My kids are centered and focused and on their way and they are artists. I told them if you’re not ready to go to college, don’t go to college. Their college is paid for, they don’t have to worry about it. My son said he didn’t want to go, he hates school. I said don’t go. Right now he is making wine with me. He is going to Europe with his sister and when he gets back he’ll be working harvest.
I’m a kid who grew up in the state of Washington. I’ve lived here my entire life. I have walked into pretty much all of my opportunities. I’m someone who wants to be the best human who I can possibly be. I have been able to chose from opportunities that have presented themselves. I am so lucky, so lucky.
Mackncheeze: Everyone that I talk to, who are at the top of their game, says the same thing.
Tom: We don’t make a lot of wine. It’s amazing to pull it off at 4,500 cases. We have three full-time employees. I love my staff, I have the best staff ever. They are beautiful people. They love their job.
I love all the moving parts. I get to do everything. I get to manage people, I get to work on the financial side and the marketing side.
I get up every day and get to work by 7:45 or 8. I take my dog for 45 minutes and we walk the orchards and vineyards. It’s so beautiful. I might see a four-wheeler or a tractor but there won’t be any people or cars.
I love the people I work with, the people I deal with, it’s especially about managing relationships. Life, when you throw in wine, is so much more fun. Everywhere I go I take wine and make new friends; not always but most times.
Mackncheeze: How do you draw the line between science and Alchemy?
Tom: Humans are 90% sensory-based. As winemakers, if it doesn’t smell good or taste good, people are not going to want to drink it. I just don’t pay attention to what numbers say. I have never been a proponent of scores.
I tasted wines the other day and I said to myself, it’s just not a good day to be tasting. It’s like playing music, sometimes your guitar sounds out of tune when it’s not.
Mackncheeze: Back to the science thing: What part of your career did you embrace the science of making wine?
Tom: The whole time. At this point I don’t use as much science. I’ve dialed it down to – what is it do we need to know.
Before we make a picking decision, as far as longevity of the wine goes, we are looking at the balances of our sugars and PH s. It changes every year. That’s pretty much what we look at before we pick grapes. After we pick grapes, we use chemical analysis to see if we need to make any changes. We test, we cross-flow everything, test before and after filtering. We have gotten away from using commercial yeast. We will let things ferment on their own.
We call our wines uninoculated, that’s the fairest way to state it. Most natural yeast cannot finish a fermentation of wine that is over 22 brix, the alcohol will be too high. Most natural yeast cannot handle that much alcohol.
We use an outside source for testing. We run tests at the beginning and end of fermentation. It’s nuts, every year the results come back differently. Two years ago our Merlot fermented dry with a white wine yeast. Last year we had a wine that fermented dry with a yeast we have never used before, it had never even been in the winery.
Tom : That’s technology and the applications we use.
When it comes down to picking decisions, walking in vineyards, I know what the numbers are. We’re just walking through and asking ourselves, how does the fruit taste? What are the chemical constituents of the skins and seeds? That’s the art part of what we do.
Mackncheeze: Hypothetical question: You’re a Roman winemaker two thousand years ago, with your vineyards, how would you approach wine making?
Tom: I’d have to see what kind of equipment they had. I think criterion would be the same: Does it smell good? Does it taste good? I guess I wouldn’t be worried so much about cost.
Mackncheze: You understand the history of what you’re doing. Tom: Where did Syrah come from? Mackncheeze: It would have been Persia? Tom: Legend has it the Phoenicians brought Syrah to Europe from around present day Syria.
Mackncheeze: As an entrepreneur, as an artist winemaker, what is it you would like to say?
Tom: The main thing is, I wish people were more aware of what was the last wine that they were drinking. I think about it all the time, I really do. I want wines that I make to taste like the person who made them loves their job. I see so many people in this industry, to them, it’s just a business. I want people to understand that there’s a difference between my $25 of Cabernet and my competitors $20 bottle of cab; there’s a huge difference. We truly care about what we do. We take every step to make sure that the wines are true to what they are. A customer will know where our wines are from and know how they’re produced. I saw an ad for the sale of 75,000 gallons of Cabernet. No consumer is going to know its source. That’s wine manufacturing.
Mackncheeze: Lot of that going on.
Tom: I want people to know we make our own wine. Only three people touch it. What we do is our testimony. We Care.
Mackncheeze: This has been great.
Tom: Yeah, this has been fun. I always tell people I like answering questions because it helps me to remember what I know.
Marco: ( Laughs ) Somebody crazy ( More Laughter ).
Why was Jesus a carpenter? When God had the ark of the covenant built, He made it from wood, covered with gold. I believe wood represents mankind and gold represents God’s purity covering mankind.
Why did He do that; wood covered with gold? Jesus was a carpenter. He is the gold that covers us.
I tell people, misery is a good teacher; you learn things you can’t imagine.
I come from a very rural part of Brazil. There wasn’t a lot of money. I started to make instruments because I was playing in my church.
Mackncheeze: How old were you when you started?
Marco: Fourteen. I started to play guitar. The church I played at had one really bad bass . I would take it home and bring it back before service. I tried to buy a bass with credit but didn’t have enough income. I decided I wanted to make my own.
I could not afford the instrument so out of necessity I started building basses. At that time all the good instruments were coming from other countries. Good instruments were the equivalent of buying a decent car. I had no tools, it was crazy, but I had a drill. I drew out the body on a piece of wood and then drilled out the body like a stamp. I would use a file to file out the shape.
I said to myself, “If Fender can build a bass, why not me? I’m a man just like he is? Why not?” My friends told me I was crazy, “You’re never going to make a bass better than Fender.”
So I started building one; I had no information. At that time there was no internet. I tried to figure it out.
The first basic idea is to have a truss rod. Because I had no information I had to figure out how to do things.
As a musician, if you don’t have information about music in the world, you still have the heart of a musician. You create your own music, you develop your own style.
By the time I was able to collect information on how others were doing it I had established my own style.
Hendrix played left handed on a right handed guitar. He had his own style. He had the drive to be a player; he had to figure out how to do it. A player can play exactly like another.
I used to make my pickups in Brazil. I did not have good materials. I had to push myself to make something good. I had a lot of wood but no magnets or wire.
I had to work with materials that were inferior in quality, coming up with results that worked, finding my own way to do it. By the time I moved to the USA I had established my techniques and now had materials available. With quality materials I could apply my own style.
In Brazil, I did not have tools. I had to learn to make my own tools; everything form scratch, even down to paints and lacquers.
Mackncheeze: You made your own lacquers? My Lord!
I started living in West Seattle. I could not find a job because my English wasn’t good.
Mackncheeze: How is you’re Portuguese? You’re Portuguese Good?
Marco: So, so ( Laughs ).
I ended up working construction. Very heavy outdoor work. One day one of my co-workers asked why I was so happy.
Let me explain: in Brazil work is much harder, much heavier. Here, work is much lighter. Misery is a good teacher.
Bass is a weird instrument. Bass is an instrument working with other voices in music. Look at music as a graphic. You have the four voices of basic theory. The primary job of the bass is to play the root. In a trio bass has much more freedom, but in a four piece, you have to content yourself not to overplay.
Music is about the moment.
Mackncheeze: What is it that drives you?
Marco: Being a Luthier; it’s a little crazy. For an example: you’re a drummer, what motivates you? You spend an hour after a show tearing down gear, there’s no money in that, but it’s the passion and love, that’s why you do it. Its not logical.
Building an instrument is the same because it is difficult business wise. I’m not going get rich off of this.
Working with the musicians I do, some of the ones I endorse, this is very good. Whats good is because they are real players. They are in love with what they do.
As a successful musician, to make money, generally you have to play music that other people like. It’s the same for me. First I made instruments for me. That’s where I started. Now I make instruments for others and end up tweaking the process as I go along.
Mackncheeze: What are some of your struggles?
Marco: Being a luthier is hard because being a luthier is not very different from being a musician. It’s how I divide what I’m doing for myself and what I’m doing for my clients. Basically it becomes what people can pay me. I have to down grade some guitars in order to make them approachable. The instruments I make for myself are too good.
Playing music is very complex and most people do not understand what a musician does. That’s one thing I tell my customers; they don’t understand what I do. We sell ourselves, our time, our skins, to do our job. That’s part of life. It’s part of the struggle between art and the real world. I make instruments for what people are asking for.
But every bass I make is for me. It’s hard to find the balance. That’s the difficult thing, because I want to do more.
Part of the challenge is that most amps on the market are made to work with Fenders. That’s part of the standard. I had to downgrade the quality of my pickups to adapt to the Fender standard. I can’t be too creative. But still, this is fun.
Mackncheeze: What has been the most exciting thing in your life?
Marco: Watching good musicians who play my instruments, who enjoy my work. It’s like enjoying cooking, making food for someone, food that they enjoy. They understand why you did it. It’s like serving the best wine in the world.
I kept getting better and better and better. I probably had built about fifty basses before I got it. At that point, I figured it was something I could do. People started to ask, “Could you make one for me?”
The instruments are a very complex. People have no idea because they think it is normal wood working. The basses are almost alive. Every bass is different. The one thing is-they basically communicate with the musician, the sound of the instrument, musicians feel the instrument, they kind of interface while playing. They just play different.
Mackncheeze: What are your sources of wood?
Marco: I try to be as local as possible. I have tried hundreds of different woods; woods from Brazil. Musicians are very traditional. Most guitars are expected to be made from ash or alder. I use a lot of alder. I don’t like to use ash a lot.
Leo Fender is a genius because he found a way to make a good guitar a less expensive way, what Henry Ford was to cars. Fender made a production line. He chose ash because it was easy to work.
Sometimes I use pine. For fretless basses pine sounds good. I haven’t yet made a fretted bass with pine. Pine is pretty knotty so we have a lot of waste. But it sounds good.
I have used Douglas fir and it works well. One of my favorite woods is cedar. It sounds really good.
When I moved to the United States I started working construction. I had no money but making instruments was still my hobby. I had some extra Douglas fir beams and I cut those and made some guitars. They sounded amazing.
People buy things with their eyes.
I judge a piece of wood by its feel. Musicians taste the instrument like people taste food. People don’t understand why we are so absolutely in to that because that can’t feel what we feel. We taste the sound with our ears and with our hands we feel the touch of the instrument. There is dimensionality to it.
It’s hard for me to understand a luthier who doesn’t play. I ask people, would you ask a blind guy to paint your house?
Mackncheeze: What do you want to tell people?
Marco: It’s about our relationships. Every customer becomes a friend. I make instruments but I collect friends.
Mackncheeze: This has been great. Thank you, Marco.
I remember when I dumped a cup of coffee over a hard drive recorder, AAARG! Thank God it was creamless. One week under a blow dryer cured that potential disaster. Hats off to the manufacturer for apparent musician proof design.
When on stage as a warm up band for national and international acts, my stomach would come up my throat. Problem is, it’s not fair to be comparing yourself with someone else’s success, misunderstanding the travails they are going through.
Lets not talk about relationships. Enough said.
I have spent decades failing in many endeavors. If failure is the building block of character, I should now be incredible and unshakable.
When I first started contributing to the Mackncheeze Music Blog, I thought I’d just give a few stories from the front lines of Seattle’s early 90’s heyday, or give a personal story of how music has affected my life. What I didn’t expect was that our lives would be turned upside-down in a matter of weeks, nor witness a health and economic disaster, a scale not seen in my lifetime of nearly 52 years.
While the health of ourselves, family and those around us should be first priority, we are losing much more. Because of our Governor’s mandated shut down orders, unemployment has risen sharply due to so many businesses being affected, either directly, or indirectly. For weeks to come, performances of live music, plays, musicals, ballet, art galleries, movie theaters and much more, have been cancelled.
Art and music obviously are considered “non-essential.” I’m not going to sit here and try to argue the point when people are dying by the thousands. We all need to do our part to stop the spread of this virus. However, we must remember, for our souls, art IS essential.
Many years ago, in the late 1980’s, I was working full time and going to school at night. On weekdays, I didn’t get home until 10 p.m. and was back to work mornings before 8 a.m. There was a show coming and I was a fan of this new band – Jane’s Addiction. On a week night, it was going to have Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone opening. I seriously thought about going, but decided I would just be too tired; I’d catch them next time around. You can probably guess…something like that didn’t come around again. Soundgarden went on to superstardom, Jane’s Addiction got huge and started Lollapalooza, Andrew Wood passed away and in the ashes of Mother Love Bone rose a little band you may have heard of…Pearl Jam.
Likewise, about a year or so later, a good friend had an extra weeknight ticket to see Stevie Ray Vaughn. My excuse was the same…work, school, tired, catch him next time. Three months later, Stevie died in a helicopter crash.
I decided my new mantra was going to be – “If I want to see a show, I’m going to – no excuses.” From that point on, I decided that music was too important to take for granted. It’s important to me; it is important, period!
When we come out the other side of this crisis, when clubs open up again, theaters raise curtains, touring bands start up buses and art galleries start letting you in, remember what its been like for the last month. Think on of what we’ve been missing out. Don’t take it for granted because you never know what the future holds. You could be about to witness something that happens once-in-a-lifetime, or the artist may not be around “next time” – so make your choice (only you know what is important to you). Make it with a new awareness for how fleeting our opportunities truly are. Tell the people you love, you love them. Pet your dog.
Stay safe out there and maybe I’ll see you at a show soon…when again we can share the experience together. Thanks for reading!
I’m astounded at what a comfort zone drama can be. Personally, I try to minimize conditions which allow for its growth.
Politics, avoid politics. Some folks crave ongoing bad news and having vitriol for public figures. Yes, it is deserved, but there are more interesting subjects that get my panties tied into a knot. I have no presence of mind for stupid words coming from mouths of politicos who never deserved my energy or attention.
Media is also prone to drama. From both left and right, there is constant complaining about how bad things are. I choose not ingest their “news” or commentary.
Ongoing bitching seems to abound in profusion. “So and so did this”, or, “What’s His Name is such a creep,” over and over again. For God’s sake, get away from those people; stop thinking about them.
What are the motives behind this behavior?
Why have that sort of association?
I haven’t resources for ongoing bad attitudes. My clock is ticking fast; ongoing theater is not a luxury.
A question: is First World whining a fear of unfamiliar territory and not having a willingness to escape it?
John Passerelli Has Been Local Force In The Seattle Area For Decades
Mackncheeze: My first question-who are you?
John: I have some cute answers. I consider myself to be, how do I put this, a positively charged rhythmic and melodic confluence of heart and mind. That’s my musical self, which is most of it. It’s what I have been doing my whole life. There isn’t much else except motorcycles and dogs and women and alcohol.
I’m very simple, I don’t need a lot to get by.
The last couple of years I’ve been living a bachelors life. Myself and two other room mates, musicians; they’re both bass players.
Mackncheeze: Wow, two bass players in one house.
John: I know, as long as I get the girls.
Mackncheeze: I’m glad that’s working for you. What kind of dreams or aspirations are you focused on?
John: When I was young I had very big dreams. Especially with music. When you’re good at it, and you’re in a decent band, people take notice. You would like to think you could take it to the next level. I know a lot of people who aspired to that and never achieved it and a lot of them just don’t play any longer. I could never do that.
My aspiration is not necessarily success oriented but to keep enjoying music. It pacifies me when I’m angry or down. Music, you know, is more than something to just listen to. I stick with music and I just want to keep doing it as long as I can and to keep playing with people I like; having fun, not taking it too seriously.
I’m primarily a stage performer. I’ve got a couple of albums under my belt with other bands, but my home is on stage. I feel a little less comfortable with studio work. The problem with studios is the pressure of time constraints.
As long as I can connect with people at a venue, if somebody appreciates what I’m doing, when I play I can see it in their faces. After a show, when they come to talk to me, that is some of the best payment I can get. I’m done with trying to get money from it even though I earn more now than I ever have. It keeps me from working too hard at a day job.
Its a good plan; I have always wanted to be part time employed and part time music. Life isn’t worth working yourself to the bone unless it makes you happy.
Mackncheeze: You were at the top of the Seattle Grunge scene?
John: Yeah, we were called Paisley Sin. We weren’t Grunge enough. We were a little more pop oriented, we could play different styles in one show. There were a lot of bands that made it, per se, that were more one dimensional.
We had our moment. We went down to L.A. a couple of times and met some lawyers at Capitol Records. It didn’t work out; they signed Blind Melon instead. Look it where that got ’em. Their lead singer, Shannon Hoon, overdosed on a tour bus. Everyone from Paisley Sin is still alive.
Mackncheeze: There’s a lot to be said for that.
John: Paisley Sin’s lead singer Gerry Smith and I have worked together for thirty years. I’m working with him in Sweet Emotion.
Mackncheeze: Our friend, Eric Ritts, just did NAMM as an exhibitor for Marco Bass Guitars. You’ve been to NAMM?
John: Eric’s great, I went to high school with Eric.
Yeah, it was a work thing, it was still a lot of fun. I was with THD Electronics. Andy Marshall, he’s a friend of mine, I’ve known him 30 years; I was one of his first clients.
NAMM was a lot of work. We brought our own isolation booth; they won’t let you play very loud without one. If people wanted to test one of our amps, we had a room for them. It was pretty cool; it had its own air conditioner and everything.
We shared a booth with O’Donnell Custom Guitars from Australia. Craig is a great guy. He didn’t give me a guitar, though.
Mackncheeze: You digging that Marco Telecaster?
John: I love that thing, man. There’s something I want to say about Marco Guitars. The reason I like that Telecaster so much is because there is a connection between the player and the instrument; there has to be. If it’s natural right off the bat you are ahead of the game. You’re going to be inspired by not fighting it. When I picked up that guitar, it fit me, I knew I was going to enjoy it for a long time. That’s the greatest thing. Those axes are something special and they should make more.
John: Sweet Emotion. We’re an Aerosmith Tribute Band. We had all kinds of shows booked from March on out.
A side project I have going on is called ZZ/DC. Its pretty self explanatory. We’re not doing stylistic interpretations like Hayseed Dixie; a little bit of ZZ Top and a little bit of AC/DC.
There was Guilty Pleasure; we worked hard on that band. We had two female singers and a different collection of songs; a lot of stuff I had never heard. I learned all this stuff I had never played before and it was fun.
Mackncheeze: What have been some of your biggest struggles?
John: Wow, yeah, interpersonal band member things. A band is like a relationship with four other girl friends, or what ever. I have learned not to carry grudges. Its too easy and humans are really good at it. People leave the band to start their own thing and its like, “Wait a minute, we had a good thing.” I can’t hold it against them.
Mackncheeze: Not holding a grudge is super important.
John: It takes a while to learn. Some people never learn it.
Mackncheeze: What is it that you personally want people to know?
John: That’s a rough one, man, because I really do this for myself. I just want people to know that I will do it if they will appreciate it. That’s my reason for doing it, someone getting off on it.
You got to take the negative criticism as well.
Mackncheeze: Whats your musical education?
John: I started playing trumpet in third grade. I played trumpet for eight years ending up on the Garfield High School Jazz Ensemble. We took first place in Reno two years in a row. There was a transition, there at the end, where I started playing guitar, and I let go of trumpet.
Mackncheeze: By the time you reached high school you probably had put in your first ten thousand hours?
John: Yeah. When I was 8, 9, 10 ,11, 12 and 13, I was playing in concert bands and symphony. Jazz band made it clear it would be a lot more fun. The band director told me I was one of the best sight readers he had ever seen.
When I picked up guitar, all my reading skills were put aside. I became completely ear trained.
I was sucked in by Rock n Roll: Robin Trower, Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, Rush; anything with good guitar work. I started out playing covers before moving to originals.
At first I absorbed a lot of really good styles and all that has coalesced in to a style of my own.
After High School, I briefly went to college. Pre Engineering, at Western and the University of Washington. I just wasn’t that into it. That didn’t work out, so I took some time off, and then I went to Shoreline and studied music for two years. It was fun, but I was already ahead of most people. I was a working professionally, having recorded in big time studios, had done some studio engineering. I was like the Golden boy. I knew my shit. But what I really came away with was two years of theory. I already knew what it was, I used it all the time, I could recognize all these things I was already doing.
I’m always looking to break the rules. These days I don’t take theory too seriously. I’m not very modal. I’m a Blues Guy. If it sounds good I’ll make it work.
Mackncheeze: You sing very well; did you have vocal training?
John: Nope. In fact, I played guitar for fifteen years before I started singing. It started coming easier, because I was working on original music. I didn’t have to be some one else. I’ve been working with Gerry and we are connected well. I know his nuances.
I think there is much more magic in original music, whether or not a person is a very good song writer, its something to believe in and to be more attached. The magic is when you can get four people to make a song happen on the fly. It’s inspirational. That one idea makes me do something , then the bass player joins in, then drums, pretty soon you have written a pretty cool song with out even trying. That is the magic.
Sometimes the process is not collaborative. Sometimes someone brings in a great idea and wants to try it and we do it.
The other part of magic is the spontaneous combustion. Everybody should want to do both; bring in an idea to bounce it off one another or to go off in the moment. That’s the fun; that’s when you’ve found the right people. It’s whether or not they are your friends.
I’ve gone back to just playing with my friends.
We are going to release our music, we’re just going to give it away, it doesn’t matter, we’ll put it out there and hopefully somebody likes it, ’cause that’s what its about. You’re playing music to connect; there are far too many people that play great music and nobody hears it.
Mackncheeze: Do you consider yourself a prolific song writer?
John: I haven’t written a lot of lyrics in my life, but yes, as for music, I have unused ideas from years back. There is stuff floating around that I want to do something with. Then there’s the fact that I can just noodle something into existence.
Used to be I would get my best ideas from just watching TV. You’re just so disconnected.
Mackncheeze: You’re subconscious just zeros in….
John: You’re not contrived, hardly paying attention to what you’re doing. But then you have to go, oh, wait a minute, that was cool. Then you repeat it and hold on to it and keep it. I have lost so many of those things in my life by not remembering them, not recording them.
There are some that are still there, that are awesome, and all I can say is, one of these days.
Mackncheeze: What’s another part of the song writing process?
John: I trust my ear and the theory I learned in college. Things I listen to, things that influence me. Sometimes things that are new enter me. I would never change my style but new ideas infiltrate my writing process. It’s an intuitiveness that I have.
I really just go with the flow. Some days I write, some days not; some days I feel inspired, some days not. Though I never quit. Some of my best recorded work has been in inspirational, improvised solos.
Mackncheeze: What are some of the most influential shows you have ever seen?
John: Getting back to that Blues thing, in my youth, I was really in to Southern Rock. Back in the old days I saw ZZ Top, The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special, The Allman Brothers; I cut my teeth on that. It was fun; there was a lot of guitar work . Sometimes there were three guitars, a lot of bands with two drummers.
Mackncheeze: What would you like to say?
I want to write a book someday. It’s going to be called, Why Am I Still Here?
Mackncheeze: John, this has been a great interview, man. This was really a lot of fun. Thank you.
It might seem odd that I would do a book review on a subject that we all are familiar with. I couldn’t resist. Shopping at the local bookstore, title screaming at me, I had to pick it up.
Turns out Harry G Frankfurt is a Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. His resume is filled with a Who’s Who list of schools including Rockefeller University and Yale. I had no idea this fellow was such a heavy weight. Imagine my surprise when I discovered On Bullshit had been a best seller and Professor Frankfurt had appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. I thought it was just going to be a cheeky expose on a fairly common subject.
On first examination, there are 67 very small pages. Having no understanding of the author, my first impression was that this was light weight material. I flipped through some pages just to get a feel for it’s subject matter and found my self chuckling, then laughing uproariously.
Quotations from St. Augustine, Max Black and Ludwig Wittenstein are interesting. Evidently, B.S. has been a foundation of culture through the ages.
That, my friends, is known as an “Aha” moment.
On page 57, a great observation is made: “The bullshitter is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false………..( continuing )………..He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.” That perfectly describes some relatives as well as musicians I’ve worked with. Well said Frank.
The last page is best, of which I will not reveal, but maybe we do all of us share complicity On Bullshit.
My first real understanding of digital recording actually occurred when I purchased a Roland VS 1680.
I didn’t understand crap; having spent weeks in front of my old PC, scratching my head, staring at a Cakewalk Software program I had down loaded from CD-Rom. I would execute commands and sigh in disbelief as nothing would happen. I could not wrap my head around the technology.
I broke down and visited my good and trusted friends at Seattle’s American Music.
I explained my challenges and it was suggested to me to purchase a hard drive recorder; not necessarily for ease of use, but for it’s functionality. I was warned there would be a lot of squinting involved, but with persistence would come the reward of fathoming the recording process. No truer words spoken.
I applied myself and made innumerable horrible to mediocre tracks. Thank God for my mentors, who had had decades of recording experience. I asked questions, asked them to review and critique my work, took all their suggestions to heart. After a year and a half of of diligence, eating a lot of humble pie, I started to grasp concepts and applications needed to create some decent work.
Then on to Protools. Utilizing all the previous months education, with some help from tech support, I was up and running, relatively fluent in six weeks.
I held on to that VS 1680 for many, many years. It never failed, drove like a Mack Truck, and took huge abuse. It traveled well, recorded many rehearsals and did live shows, with amazing results. It is one piece of equipment I look back on with nostalgia.
“Hey Bro’, I’ve got these tracks laid down. The song is finished, just need to pull it all together and do post-production. Can you help me?”
I cough up the usual excuses; not interested in working on someone else’s recording, not enough time for myself, too many irons in the fire…
“It’s all done, shouldn’t take much time at all.”
Alright, send me the tracks. I’ll take a listen. God, I cave easily.
The Master mix is dull, lifeless, spread with too much reverb. The individual performance tracks are clean and well recorded, others are ponged with multiple instruments. Then there are the vocals; good performance but super thin.
I’m hanging here with kind of a mess.
Recut vocals with a Neumann, using an UA LA 610 as pre amp, layering the vocals with two delays way back and a little plate verb.
Separate the ponged tracks to individual tracks; assigned a bass amp plug-in to the bass, compress and limit the track, squeezed tight and centered; EQ and compress guitar tracks; EQ keyboard tracks; Listen to each track individually, searching for audio artifacts, and, of course, finding a bunch of stuff that needed to be eliminated; assign sub mixes to everything, panning in place…
Drums, crap…great performance, but sub standard punch. Three great rim shot snares in the whole track. I created a sample of one the rim shots, cut and paste it across the mix. I replaced the kick track with my own sample cut with a vintage Bellari tube pre. Sub mixed the drums with SMACK, my favorite compressor plug-in, and light plate reverb.
Remix, remix, remix…weeks later, ready for mastering, and then we’re done.
Some days I find it hard to be inspired. When I reach a point of nothing, which can be alcohol induced, I usually plop down in front of the TV and enter a state of, “Since it’s TV time I should be eating.”
This condition usually shows up about midnight.
My basic understanding of Circadian Rhythm is quite limited. But the part I get the most is when mindlessness enters in to my brain. Which, frankly, is about midnight. If I’ve played a gig, mindlessness occurs about three in the morning.
For some reason, we humans are hard wired to be our most vacuous around bed time. Maybe its a precursor to sleepy time; maybe its precursor to sex, of which, these days, I have very little knowledge.
Mindlessness plus TV? Oh God, could I please sit here forever?
Karl Marx once said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
As a drummer, my most important function is to keep time. In the 80’s I learned how to play live with sequences, time delay, arpeggiators and click tracks.
In another band, we were recording an album, with out click, and I could not get past the fourth song. I was second guessing every beat and drum stroke and psyched myself into failure. Red Light Fever, I call it; a fear of failure so intense that I was paralyzed. A Ringer had to be hired to play my parts. To overcome Red Light Fever, I began investing in recording equipment.
I needed to learn to hear incorrect intonation. At the outset, I assumed people who performed often knew what they were doing. Years of performing does not preclude correct technique. Bad habits can be reinforced by constant repetition. Thank God for auto tune, Melodyne, or what ever piece of software we might use to overcome incorrect performances.
Questioning the inaccuracies of my playing through years of lessons and association with better players.
Reading wave files of recording sessions and discovering my kick drum leads the rest of my limbs by 6 to 10 milliseconds. Still working on this one.
Learning to hear audio artifacts whether from editing or from recording performances. People stomp feet, click their tongues and teeth, leave strings open when they shouldn’t, grunt and create all sorts noise while they record. Some of it so subtle that it won’t be heard until Mastering.
Be it as it may, just a short, non complete list of things I needed to address to achieve competency.
There’s your family, there’s your job. In your life, where is the Third place you derive your sense of community?
It used to be church, or civic clubs, some sort of lodge, maybe the library. Nowadays, Starbucks has laid claim to being a place of gathering. All I see there are people with coffee and laptop, getting some work done; social interaction is minimal.
Social media may have some claim, but I see it as being a superficial outlet. I do not consider the internet as a sane or rational forum for discussion. For me, community is derived from face to face interaction and shared interest.
For those who are musically minded, may I suggest various jam sessions and song writing groups provide A Third Place. In my own experience, I have seen close friendships develop within those “communities”. In this age of Tweets and Instagram, I believe this is super healthy association.
Aren’t most of our successes realized with the help of others?
Mackncheeze: What inspired you to become an audio engineer?
Steve: I love listening to music, that’s what got it started. When I was going to Central I didn’t have a lot of money, I always had to work, going home on weekends to teach lessons. I also had bands; to have a band you need a P.A. I had worked at Hanford, I saved my money, and so I bought a P.A.
My mom would freak out because I was always bringing home some piece of new gear……
Mackncheeze: Oh, it started early?
Steve: Very early. My mom would tell me that I could not afford another piece of gear. My response was, “It’s worth it. It’s going to help me.” She didn’t believe it. She wanted me to have a job with a health insurer.
It got to the point where I bought a bigger Yamaha Mixing Console and put it right in the middle of the family room. “Here Mom, look what I got.”
We also needed transport so I bought a van.
Mackncheeze: This is sounding familiar.
Steve: We needed a place to rehearse so I would get the house with a basement. We would have to have a demo.
Mackncheeze: How many band houses were you in?
Steve: 4 or 5, 6 or 10, I don’t know.
I bought a stereo tape deck, we would set up in the rehearsal space and then I would try to record. I had two mics, trying constantly to get the demos to sound like an album; constantly experimenting with placement. Then I bought a four track and the possibilities blew my mind. I just got hooked.
I graduated to an 8 track cassette recorder, a Tascam 688. That thing was killer; ended up recording a demo of Kristy’s and my band, Billy Moon. My former student, Bill Rieflin, drummer for R.E.M., heard a copy of that session and he thought it sounded really good. I ended up using that demo for a Disc Makers unsigned band contest. Out of 508 bands in five states we scored the highest, made it to the finals.
I love recording, love learning from it.
Mackncheeze: When did you buy your first outboard processor?
Steve: That was in 1996.
Mackncheeze: That’s 20 years of recording before you bought a compressor.
Steve: With the recording contract we had after the Disc Makers contest, I picked up 2 ADATs, and two Empirical Labs Distressors, we recorded tracks off my 16 channel Studio Master Console. The record label brought in Don Gilmore to mix the single at Stepping Stone studios, on an SSL 4000 G Plus. He spent ten and a half hours remixing our single. On play back I asked him a lot of questions, then we put up the original track and everyone was blown out. Don thought there was no reason to remix the tune.
We took that original track and remixed it in our studio, using my recently acquired knowledge from Don, two days later presenting it to our A and R person. I said to him, ” If I had a few choice pieces of gear I would be really good at this.” He told me to make a list and they would tack it on to the producers advance. That financed a lot of the really good gear I own. The mics, pre-amps and what not, including a Crane Song STC8. A lot of that gear is now on loan to Robert Lang Studios.
I am so blessed. I have put together another studio here at the Drum School. I get to record my wife, Kristy, who is an amazing singer/song writer, my band The 350’s, which are unreal, Danny Godinez and the stuff we have worked up with him. So blessed to be able to work with this caliber of people.
Mackncheeze: With all that background, how did you come up with your Physics Analogies applied to your teaching methods?
Steve: It’s more of an intuitive understanding that I represent through music and rhythm. Frequencies and vibrations; everything is vibrating. There are no real particles; there are only particles when they are observed. Everything comes from waves and waves are basically constant frequencies.
In terms of music, you make rhythms that intersect with each other and create patterns. Like a 3/4 measure against a 4/4 measure. What is interpreted as a particle isn’t actually a particle until it is measured. You can measure 2 against 3, or 3 against 4, and those patterns become drum parts. They both come from the intersection of points. The concept is metaphoric, its poetry.
I read stuff about quantum physics, which I will reread 30 times. I’ll sit down to practice and I consider how form and matter relate to music. It can be argued that the same mathematical ratios that constitute music are the same ratios that constitute form and matter. It’s how things fit together.
There are certain things people say about music, if you think about it literally, people would say it is odd. “That drummer is solid.” Yeah, right. If you touch that person you can’t penetrate their skin. “The arrangement is solid.” What does that mean? To me that means the way the song is structured, the length of the verse and the chorus, the amplitude of each part and how it relates to the other parts, and the bridge, how all this fits together mathematically is how this all comes together as a pattern, or patterns, that all have order, with a magical musical contour that makes them work.
It’s like reading a great book; how much tension is there, when, how much conflict is there, and at what part of the story.
Two notes that are an octave apart; for every vibration of the bottom of the octave, the top is vibrating twice. That’s a two to one ratio, that’s the most harmonic interval in music. In matter, what is the most abundant compound on the planet? Water: H2O, two hydrogen atoms to one oxygen atom. What’s the most abundant compound gas on the planet? Carbon Dioxide: CO2, one part carbon to two parts oxygen. In molecules, the most common have the lowest ratios.
In music, the next most harmonic ratio is the perfect fifth. That’s a 2 against 3 ratio. The next is a perfect fourth, that’s a 4 against 3 ratio. In music, there are two kinds of meter: compound meter, which are groups of threes, and simple meter based on twos and fours and eights. Odd time signatures are combinations of both. These are defined by vibrating objects. Rhythm, drum set, everything I play, I can reduce down to these patterns.
The wave form that started the whole concept for my upcoming book, Keys To The City, I play 5 against 4 against 3 against 2 simultaneously, and it creates a chord. At 59 plus BPM, the chord is an A minor 7 , 2nd inversion, 8 octaves below middle C. When you slow down chords they become rhythms. These references are to mathematical frequencies. Rhythm turns into pitch.
My system of teaching drums is to show people how to understand time as hearing rhythm in tune. The most common thing people do when trying to get their time together is to tense up and rush. Basically what they are doing is playing sharp.
As well, I introduce the concept of singing these rhythms with their voice.
I have people play and sing in a continuum, as in a wave form. Similar to tuning a guitar with out a tuner. The strings are in tune when the wobbliness goes away; the strings are vibrating in sympathy with one another because they are in tune. With drums; playing rhythms that are in sympathy with one another. I teach people how to understand, from every point of view, what it is they are doing, all based on repetition.
Steve: I’m Steve Smith. My lot in life is that 34 years ago I started the Seattle Drum School. Most people know me by that achievement and I have had a lot of help building it, including my wife, Kristy, and this amazing staff. I play the drums, I also teach drums.
Mackncheeze: What was your education?
Steve: I earned a Bachelor of Music degree and a Master of Music degree. I have studied with the best people possible. Just had a lesson with Will Kennedy of the Yellow Jackets. Soon to be having a lesson with Peter Erskine from Weather Report.
Mackncheeze: What is your impetus for the Drum School?
Steve: I started formally teaching drums at 14. It seems to be an instinct and a passion. I like to see people grow and be excited about learning.
Mackncheeze: When did you get your first drum set?
Steve: My first drum set was my brother’s, of which he grew tired. It was a 1939 Gretsch kit, a 26 inch bass drum, with calf skin heads, cigarette burns and alcohol stains. I wish I still had that kit.
I was twelve and my brother was a couple of years younger. At seven I was actually playing Hawaiian lap steel guitar. I wanted to play regular guitar but my fingers weren’t big enough. After 2 years I graduated to Spanish Guitar, which was a Lyle Electric. I played that for a couple of years.
I joined the Tri Cities Drum and Bugle Corps in 1970. I fell in love with that. They put me on tenor drum, the ninth tenor drummer out of nine. I think they wanted to get rid of me because I was so bad. The drum was super heavy and I couldn’t play.
I taught myself how to read drum music, asking the snare drummers to teach the first lines of drum cadences. I would just analyze it. I’m good at math so I was able to deduce what meant what.
I didn’t really start to play drum kit till I was 18. I had some technique because I had drum corp training but I couldn’t swing. I learned how to play everything through pure determination, commitment and drive, not understanding proper technique or metronomic time.
Mackncheeze: The Hanford story is great; could you share that?
Steve: I’ve always been intrigued by science, my senior year in high school I got involved with one class. Only eight people could get in to it. You had to work to qualify. Go to school in the morning, study science and math, government and international relations, do studies and research projects, design experiments and run them.
Mackncheeze: You were 17?
Steve: We took one other class beside the curriculum; I took grammar, composition and revue. I’m grateful for the instructor because she taught me how to write.
In the afternoon we would go out and work at Hanford’s Nuclear Research Facility. I would hang out with really smart people in Nuclear Engineering. We did fast reactor dosimetry, materials testing and analysis for parts being used in experimental breeder reactors. One of the people I worked with had taught at Purdue, I could talk to him, he actually sounded like a human, he helped explain things to me.
They hired me full time during summer. That might have continued but a cover band hired me because I was the only drummer they could find. They were very ambitious and went on a hotel tour playing lounges 6 nights a week, paying me 200 to 250 bucks a week plus room and a meal a day. That was more fun than working at Hanford.
Mackncheeze: That was a great gig back then. Today, those gigs barely exist.
Steve: My Mom and my teachers were extremely disappointed in me, fearing I was going to change into an alcoholic lounge lizard. I managed to save $700 a month for one year with the intention of going to college.
I started at Columbia Basin College, trying to play in the jazz band, but better drummers were there that actually swung, so they were nice to me and let me sing in the jazz choir. That was a blessing because I actually learned ear training and how to sing. It’s funny how circumstances can change; where you feel you are being tortured and you end up being grateful.
The next year I went to Central Washington University. It has a very strong music program. I was a music major and took math and science courses to fulfill my requirements. I remember taking a college algebra advanced course and getting 100% on all my tests. The instructor told me to not bother with the final exam because even if I had a zero score, I would still pass with an A plus. I like math, being able to figure something out to the absolute, exact, definitive answer.
My girl friend and I had broken up at the beginning of February. As The 14 th. approached, I grew ever more nostalgic of our relationship. I suppose I missed close proximity with a woman I had spent a couple of years with. Having Einstein like qualities in my thought process, I decided I would begin the reconciliation of our love on Valentine’s Day.
Chocolates, flowers and a Teddy Bear; a perfect way to convey my true sentiments.
On my way over to her house, my cell phone notifies me of a text. I pull over before looking at my phone. Eric, my bass player friend: “Dude, our drummer crapped out on our gig tonight. You available?”
What the Hell was I thinking. I threw Teddy, candy and flowers out the window, drove off, chasing my dream.
Why not drive without head lights? Isn’t that what curbs and side walks were made for? Just kind of feel your way down the street risking flat tires. For a time it seemed to partially work.
Example Number One: I spent a year traveling with a band that disregarded our booking agents parameters. The only reason we weren’t fired sooner was because the rooms we played liked us. I had a nagging concern that we were not fitting to the standards adhered to by the other acts they managed. Too much pot, not enough focus. I walked away from that one.
Example Number Two: For the longest time, without knowing my destination, I desired success in my ventures. Early twenties, on the road, missing part of my grey matter, as clueless as can be, thinking I had arrived, not understanding how lacking my associations were.
Today I see the destination; lots of water under the bridge. I now understand what I sight in the cross hairs can morph, letting the target evolve, discarding previous conceptions…Making sure whatever I seek aligns with my passion.
Back in the day, when gigs were booked by the week, we played a one month stint in small coastal town. Four live music venues, tons of bars, and some pretty good restaurants. The local industry survived on fishing. Quite a prosperous place.
In a town such as this, it was quite natural to develop close friendships with said citizens. I, and others in the band, would be invited to people’s homes, met families, shared meals; amazing hospitality.
One February night, gale force winds were pummeling the coast line; because of weather, the club was deserted. Halfway through our third set, one of the locals came in and announced that 13 men had perished that evening. Three boats had gone down.
Locals took news like this badly; a sense of sorrow and loss pervaded for weeks. I would have never been impacted as greatly on news such as this should the event have occurred in my home town.
That night has stuck with me my whole life. Life is precious, family is precious, friends are precious. I try not to forget and not take life for granted.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite true anymore for Terry Jones of Monty Python fame.
We, who “got” the Monty Python humor ( and I remember many of my friends when I was younger didn’t ) were saddened on January 21st. by the news of his passing. Now, with Graham Chapman, two of the six geniuses who were Monty Python’s Flying Circus, are gone.
One of the final scenes in “The Meaning Of Life” has Burt Bacharach singing, “It’s Christmas In Heaven”, and I hope Terry and Graham are hanging out together again, if that’s “wha’ it’s all about.”
My introduction to Monty Python changed my life.
I didn’t know I needed it, but when I found it, I realized I wasn’t alone with my weirdness and “strange” sense of humor. I had already found Benny Hill, but it wasn’t the same; Hill was more vaudeville and had less biting satire.
As the show’s run on American TV was ending, there was a marathon on PBS that I stumbled upon and I must have watched for hours – laughing uncontrollably as a piano player got his arm ripped off and a fountain of blood spewed from the socket! Good times.
The unflinching look in the mirror the Circus took led me to realize that we have to laugh at ourselves and our society in general. That may be the only way to make progress…to point out how ridiculous we really all are, coming together in agreeing…”We’re all crazy.”
This isn’t as funny as it should be, but I didn’t expect some sort of Spanish Inquisition!
RIP, Terry…and now for something completely different.
I’m stressed out. I believe I am the Cat’s Meow of players but the best of the best are not flocking to play with me. I don’t want to believe I am an average player but perhaps the proof lies in the pudding. Evidently I have an area of my brain that wants to avoid adversive outcomes.
Sounds like I’m taking an easy way out of my circumstances and rationalizing information that does not agree with my perceptions.
The fact of the matter is, if the work is not put in the outcome desired probably is not happening. Also, my associations may not be in line with my life goals. If nothing changes, nothing changes. You can’t expect different results by doing the same process over and over again; a definition of insanity.
Here’s to altering my behavior to fit my expectations.
Cheers, have another glass of Kool-Aid, Mr. Jones.
I’m not sure about you, but for me, I love looking out upon the ocean shores, looking at the expanse of the sea, peering into the horizon. My God, regardless of the weather, its so beautiful. And peaceful.
I could just sit and watch and write and let it pull me in, inspiring me.
The pounding of the waves, the smell of salt in my nostrils, the cawing of the gulls.
An escape from the city, the pressures, the BS, the people, the expectations.
Memories of driftwood fires on the beach, building driftwood forts and crab pots off the pier.
I wish I had time for a pooch. I would love to release said dog on the beach, watching Fido reign in birds that will never be caught. I almost cry, it tugs my heart so hard.
Outdoor venue, great PA, big stage, no covering on stage; open to the elements.
Its the 80’s. Our keyboard players are running Roland and Oberheim gear.
I’m running a hybrid: acoustic snare, Paiste cymbals, Pearl DRX 1 Analog Drum Kit with an Emulator sample package for the kick drum, and Roland 707 Drum Machine.
We carried our own monitor system because most venues at that time were not set up for all the electronics and our stage reinforcement needs. Lots of sequencing, arpeggiation and digital delay timing.
Half way through the show the sky opens up and drenches us. The sickening feeling of pouring water out of the Pearl Drum Pads and watching one of the keyboard players drain water from his OB-8. I can’t even imagine how the sound company felt.
Total garbage and crap. Shame on the promoter for lack of attention to detail; shame on us for taking the gig. Stupidity.
Fast forward 17 years. Outdoor festival in the desert, middle of August. I’m playing a Roland TD-10 kit, the keyboard player is using Yamaha and Korg gear. One hundred and six degrees on stage, no canvas or protection over the stage, open to the elements. Our LCD displays turn to liquid, not able to read programs. My rubber cymbals melt. Total garbage and crap. Shame on the promoter; shame on us for taking the gig. My Mama always said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Keep your eyes open. It’s not always about the next gig.
We all know them. We all run in to them. They are everywhere. I say, “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”
The socio-political landscape is full of them.
My neighborhood is full of them.
The grocery store is full of them.
The streets are full of them.
Then there is your job.
The best solution: distant yourself as much and as far away as possible. If the toxic person is a good friend then perhaps a later time to re-associate yourself with them will work out. Your survival and sanity is paramount.
Today we will look at one of my favorite tools. The Baiou’ rhythm and its modes. Baiou’ is pronounced Bayonne (The spelling? Someone kept yelling ” I’ld like a vowel, Vanna”).
You’ll need paper and pencil for this one. This is Linear Harmony as opposed to Vertical Harmony.
Draw a square and divide it into 64 symmetrical parts. Number them down the left side 1 thru 8. Number the top this way: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4, because we will be working with, you guessed it, eighth notes. The top line will be marked with dots in square 1; 2 and a half (+ of 2) and 4.
If you go to line 2 (down one), you can make the same spacing but to the right one box: + 1; 3 and + of 4. Follow this idea on lines 3 thru 8 and you will have the The Modes of Baiou’, each time moving each dot by one box. It should look like connect-the-dots.
I recently used mode number 3 as a Hi-hat pattern for the first measure of a two measure phrase, putting beat 1 at the beginning of measure two.
Feel free to make a copy of what you have drawn to take advantage of the two measure phrase. Or make a four measure model and you will be glad you did once you see the possibilities.
But lets start by making two measure examples.
Think of the odd numbered lines as resolution and the even ones as tension.
Line 6 is interresting because the two off beats would tend to make it a tension line, but it has a nice big fat 1 that makes it usable as a resolution line if you combine it with any other tension line (I tried using a pie chart but I think you can guess how that ended up).
Write a ton of your own examples.
Just for kicks, take three lines of a tension line and make the fourth a resolution line.
Take any line and make it a mirror image of itself.
Take line one and a pair of scissors and group the beats in reverse.
Lets use the example of a bass drum and a kick drum part. Lets say I decide to match each note of the bass and the kick drum. This would be an example of Rhythmic Unison.
Now lets say I decide to add kick drum only to those bass notes that need extra weight (anchoring) or extra movement (momentum). This would be an example of Rhythmic Harmony.
The point is that unison can be useful at times, but in my work, Rhythmic Harmony usually gives me more bang for the buck.
If I overdo it, a bad harmony is created; the notes do not complement each other. If I use too few notes, it may lack energy.
Must The Kick Drum Notes Always Be Married To The Bass?
If my bass line covers only a measure and a half of a two bar phrase, does that mean the bass drum has to stop?
All of this is very simple , but it is best to start from a place of total clarirty if the concept is to work.
I recently finished a composition that uses a two measure kick drum pattern like this: 1; ‘and’ of 2; 4; ‘and’ of 1, and 3 (some of you may recognize this polyrythm). The ‘feel’ or through-line of the piece was a hi-hat of eighth notes accenting downbeats 1, 2, 3, and 4. So, how did I get these patterns, hi-hat and kick drum, to connect with each other?
After trying many ideas, I noticed that opening the hat on ‘and’ of 2 and closing on beat 3 gave me what I needed. The kick drum was already giving me all the beats in question; it was just a question of a balanced connection between the two.
I could have accented those beats on the hat, but the feel I wanted would have been compromised. Better in this case to use other instruments, including the bass, to create harmony. For me, the kick drum by itself did not do it. By putting the ‘and’ of 2 on the open hi-hat, the first measure was now connecting on 1; ‘and’ of 2, and 4, thus creating enough of a Rhythmic Harmony to connect the two patterns.
It comes down to avoiding two things: overstatement and understatement, and this varies from one harmony to the next.
The grim truth; many of my artist type friends have depression running in their gene pool. It is in my family as well; seemingly prevalent in the families of creative types. One study shows entrepreneur start up founders, who are extremely creative people, revealing 50% with mental conditions and a 30 % depression rate.
The challenge with depression is that there are hundreds of markers that vary from individual to individual. With all the variables in persons affected there is incongruity in overall consensus regarding identification, diagnosis and treatment.
Many of my friends tell me that they needed to be more aware of their mental space and to keep pills and sharp objects out of reach. It’s not a joke. Those close to me have taken years to figure out triggers, medications and therapies. The path to ‘normalcy’ can be long and arduous.
Interestingly, everyone I know with Depression Symptoms are amazingly talented and brilliant people. I scratch my head in wonder. Why this curse?
The best course is to be there for them, listen with empathy, and give them a hand when they need the help. I would hope I would heed my own words.
Michael: I am my friendships and relationships. I am very blessed that my friendships are from all over the world. My glass of water, I can honestly say, is half full or close to full. I work hard to keep it that way.
Its music, or what I do to motivate myself, or sitting practicing scales, or whatever I want to accomplish.
I am well supported on the planet.
Musically, I have always been drawn to very good vocalists, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Michael McDonald. Motivationally, great jazz players. I’m like every other player; I need inspiration.
I really enjoy a great melody coupled with great vocals. I’ve always been partial to Black Music and Swing. Classic Rock, I would call a squared off sort of rhythmic structure. I have experienced those, and they really don’t do a whole lot for me. I’ve always had swing in my music, one way or another. I was born with a quarter note triplet in my blood.
I have been thinking about the bands I have been with through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and Millennials and how much they have really defined what I was doing and accomplishing. The last twenty years I have been trying to focus more on being a singer/songwriter, more of a front line approach.
I am focused on producing videos for my first album, Easy Street, and for current musical projects. Its really the task at hand.
Mackncheeze: What is Moondance?
Michael: A Van Morrison Tribute band, comprised of five really solid musicians who really enjoy Van Morrison’s music. We have great respect for Van who has been recording since the 60’s and even today is doing it at a very high level of success, which is really amazing.
Moondance captures the essence of the really great vibe of Morrison’s poetic ballads and pop tunes. We are not an orthodox tribute band; we don’t play note for note, but we certainly capture the essence, intros and hooks. We also inject solos within the arrangements, because we have accomplished people who know how to improvise.
Mackncheeze: What are your passions?
Michael: As a Berklee drummer, I would like to be playing drums in some sort of intelligent ensemble. I grew up being a drummer and vocalist, for me, those usually went hand in hand.
I just wrote a song called, Say Goodbye, looking forward to recording that. I’ve also recently written a more modern, hip-hop kind of song.
Presently I’m feeling very creative. This year, after taking a trip to Europe and visiting friends in Germany, Poland and Iceland, I had a switch come on. I can be inspired to write music by walking down the street. I’m learning how to make it tangible. Its the combination of things; the video perspective of capturing an image, learning how to listen better, conversations inspiring a lyric or a feeling, something I can visually see.
I love singing. Talk about passion. These ballads, when I sing these songs, I sing them to the bone, I feel them and I think about my own life and how the songs interact with the lyrics.
Presently, it’s an exciting, creative time. Considering the lack of sun in the Northwest, this is a good thing.
Mackncheeze: You are your sun. Whats the most exciting thing you have ever encountered ?
Michael: Helping deliver my daughter. She was born in the back seat of Volkswagen Bug. I was in the backseat with a midwife, as we were on the way to a hospital after forty two hours of labor.
My passion list would actually be long; things that actually changed my life. Moving from the east coast in ’74, ’75. Playing in front of 85,000 people at Seattle’s Bumbershoot when it was in Pioneer Square. In 1986, playing at the World Expo in Vancouver, British Columbia . Bake’s Place, Moondance, August 2019, the only band to sell out the club on a Friday night. Being debt free and a home owner; anomolous for most musicians. There are alot of successes.
My health and my music are somewhat intertwined. Right now it’s about being in the trenches and disciplining myself everyday, everyday. I’m learning that more and more.
Mackncheeze: What are your struggles?
Michael: Writer’s block, that’s been a struggle. I’m trying to write down everything: documenting, documenting, documenting.
Mackncheeze: Anything else?
Michael: I’m really thankful for all my friends. And Jasper, my Maine Coon Cat. What would we do without our cats?
Yeah, Baby. I want to keep my hearing. Entropy has decided to work against me, so I fight back.
Every practice session, every rehearsal; ear plugs. Reviewing tracks; I listen at extremely low volumes, often times in mono, mixing off my IPhone, mixing off head phones set across the room, referencing Blue Tooth speakers in close proximity.
At 10 to 15 db, I make sure I can hear every instrument, placed in proper perspective, panning in place.
Here’s an important note: at very low decimal volume, inaccuracies in performance jump out. Not only must the mix sit well at high volume, it must sit well low. High volume playback easily punches, not so much low volume.
Keeping my hearing is crucial.
Depending on the gig I may, or may not, where ear protection. At extremely high volume, yes, definitely. At lower volumes, depends.
A snare hit, even with a bundled stick, can register at 140 db., so it is best to be careful.
For two years I played next to a Marshall Stack. The result was an eardrum which would pop at the slightest high frequency sound. That took years to heal.
I marvel at my fellow players who never even consider protecting their hearing. Those cymbal crashes certainly can’t be fun, especially from the high frequency sizzle. Yikes!
I have great friends who espouse custom fit ear plugs. The cost can be prohibitive. My challenge with those kind of ear plugs is the same as reading glasses, they are easily misplaced. The cheapest hearing protection is toilet paper wadded into my ear canal. Good enough for George Jones, good enough for me.
I should not make light of this, but the fact of the matter is if you aren’t all in, you’re not all in. Hence the purpose of this blog. It could be argued I’m not all in either, because most of my income is earned outside of music. Seriously looking to change that.
All you can do is all you can do. We all face limitations, but how many of those limitations have been conceived in our own minds? Is it a road block or an excuse?
If I drink Too Much Kool Aid Will I Become This Guy?
Vodka’s not such a bad thing,
especially mixed with barbituates.
Good for the whole house.
There is a lot to said for fanaticism. The folks I know who are really doing it are truly, absolutely rabid about their chosen path. Hell or High Water; Wind, Rain or Weather, Hell Bent For Leather…What else is there? There is no choice.
I suppose this is my point: Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. Are you prepared for the process and the results of the outcome?
Is there anything we can do to help facilitate your dream?
Yeah, you got that right. It is the love of music which sustains me. The love of the people, the process and the execution. What God given talents I have been blessed with have only been the starting point; a flame that kindled. Continually feeding that fire is the process. More accomplishment, greater love, more desire for accomplishment; and the wheel turns.
What is wealth when all is said and done? What is accomplishment? That is for each one of us to decide.
I believe the money thing relates to our physical well being, with out it we don’t eat, Baby.
The accomplishment thing relates to my mental well being; when things aren’t in motion I start to vibrate.
Amen and Amen.
When I was seven I failed as a pianist. I now blame that on my instructor because kids need to be able to be kids, and he was a kid too. He was forced by his mother to teach me, and being seventeen, he had better things to do on Saturday mornings than teach the brat next door how to play piano. He hated teaching and I absorbed the hate.
I still fiddle with the piano.
Then at twelve my mates wanted to be drummers. Television taught me that girls really dig musicians. There you have it. Guilty of creating the affectations of my environment. The lessons began.
Let the humiliations continue.
By the way, the women did not care about me being a musician till I was in my twenties. Then they cared, greatly.
But that’s another story.
Till this day, all I want to be is better at my craft. The more accomplished I become, the more passion reigns in my heart. The more passion, the more desire for attainment. More turns of the wheel.
As I move through the seasons of my life and summer turns to fall, I find that the Golden Years are not so golden after all.
The junk food that I loved so much has been replaced with lettuce, celery, carrots and such, and the steaks I thought so fine now taste like old sawdust seasoned well with pine.
The golf balls I could hit with ease now fade from sight as I approach the tees, and the fly line that I could cast so neat now falls in a pile near my wobbly feet.
The rides that I would so joyfully take about the countryside has been replaced with trips to offices where doctors, dentists and chiropractors preside, and the strolls around the neighborhood with a dog along are just a memory of days so quickly gone.
The best clothes that I could afford to buy are hanging in a closet shrinking down in size, and my feet which good leather would adorn now hosts calluses, bunions and corns.
My hands which could tie flys so nice sometimes feel like chunks of ice, and the grip which I could apply force now drop spoons, knives and forks. As they are not steady and shake while I eat, I need to wear a bib just to keep myself clean and neat, when a meal is over and I can eat no more, you can safely bet there will be a mess upon the floor.
My ancient ears miss many sounds such as the doorbell ringing when company comes around, and my voice once clear and strong now loses power when I talk too long.
Things falling to the floor are an irritation beyond compare simply because I cannot bend down to pick them up from there, and trying to get an item from the cabinet shelf up high is frustrating and just not woth the try.
Good penmanship is not a forte of mine, but what happens when I sit down to write is purely asinine. Sentences wander aimlessly about the sheet and words bunch together like a flock of frightened sheep. But while lined paper solves the sentence problem, and a detailed and tedious approach to keeping words apart help matters much, I can’t help but think when I review my work that it sure looks a lot like chicken scratches in the dirt.
Sleep I much adore and will try nearly anything for more. But when bedtime comes about and my body responds to discomfort caused by bursitus, arthrits and gout, I lose good sleep just spreading gels, liniments and ointments about. Then just as I think I have control, my dear old bladder signals it is full and to the bathroom we must go.
As my balance is not too good and my legs don’t function the way they should, I use grab bars, walkers and canes to avoid falling about the house. And being equally cautious, I avoid certain recliners, rockers and couches, for if I get too close, they may entice me to sit down and then keep me there until help comes around.
My days start early in the morning when there is little doubt I can complete the tasks of my personal care while no one else is up and wandering about. These are many and include only a few of the more common, such as bathing, shaving and flossing, which I assume most male people do. When these are finished I sit down with a cup of coffee freshly perked and check to see how much time was spent in performing what was once thirty minutes of work.
Since my early childhood I have been dressing myself with ease, wearing whatever, whenever I pleased. But back then I was blessed with being flexible and didn’t realize that anything could be so difficult as putting on my clothes – that fabric sticks together like it has been painted on with glue, that buttons don’t always align with opposing buttonholes, that what I need to grip is beyond my fingertips, and that clothes can be snagged by my bigger toes. And then, when I am trying to dress and not accomplishing much, I often wonder why industry has not built a robot that can do this kind of stuff
My eyesight is not as good as I expected it to be, but what I didn’t expect was double vision and just how entertaining it can be. For if I place an object on a surface that is flat, I can play my version of the old shell game by trying to determine precisely where it is at. But I am being facetious here, for I find in this particular ailment that getting two for one is not really all that fun.
This I have saved for last as it involves my wife who has shared a great portion of my past and who now has dementia, requiring constant care and attention. As part-time caregivers deal with the most critical and difficult of these, the leftovers are the responsibilty of untrained me. While this particular phase of my life has been somewhat devestating, the results achieved for coping with it have been more than somewhat satisfying, which causes me too truly feel that I am succesfully performing the most important job with which I have ever had to deal.
The changes mentioned here have mostly happened over many years and now reflect one thing quite clear: the downsides of getting old and being old will prevent them from ever having a glitter equal to that of shiny gold.
Thanks for reading.
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