Played a private party the other night. Warming up the band to tour.
David Schwartz on stand-up bass, Lee Curreri on piano/keyboards and
Arno Lucas on percussion and vocals. Have never performed with Lee or Arno before,
and they were great.
Here’s the set list:
Sidewalks of Summer
I Put A Spell On You (new song I wrote with Adam Levy)
Ain’t No Sunshine
Long Drag Off A Cigarette
Just My Imagination
Danny Boy/ Romeo & Juliet in Belfast (new song on dulcimer)
Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love/ If You Want Me to Stay
Real Good Thing
Why’s Your Skin So White
Little Satellite (on dobro)
St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone. Sorry to say I wasn’t in New York for the parade. When I hear the bagpipes echoing up Fifth Avenue, I’m wasted. Don’t ask me why, it’s just built in to my genetic code. Los Angeles on St. Patrick’s Day, doesn’t really cut it. There’s no public forum. No street interaction. What would I do, drive the freeway loop drinking green beer with a bumper sticker that says ‘Honk If You’re Irish’ !?
I used to think that I was a unique individual on this planet, but over time I’ve discovered that I’m just ‘Black Irish model# 22.’ Check the following that apply; Brooding personality, check, looking for a fight at every opportunity, especially when fueled by alcohol, check, always taking the side of the underdog, check, harboring resentment against the bastards who’re trying to drag us down, check, most comfortable with the following occupations- construction worker, cop, fireman, bartender, singer of sad songs, storyteller, check. Wait, do those last two count as occupations? As my mother constantly said, ‘Lar, you’ve never worked a day in your life!’
Been reading Dan Barry’s memoir ‘Pull Me Up’- it’s a beautiful book. It might as well be my own Irish American suburban story. He’s my brother, though he doesn’t know me. I read his column in the New York Times, for inspiration before starting my day. I grew up in the most mundane of circumstance and yet my mother saw the magic in everything around us. A million stories in the molecules of every moment.
Have you heard Patty Griffin’s song, ‘Mary’? I first heard it dubbed into the documentary film, ‘The Ground Truth,’ that has some of my music in it. Patty’s song echoing behind the imagery of men returned home from war, and those who didn’t return home from war. Well, you’re not human if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye. Patty is from a town in Maine about 15 miles north of my own, one even more hardscrabble than mine. I’ve heard that she grew up in one of those big Irish families of 8 kids, and that her song ‘Mary’ is about her grandmother. Perhaps only hearsay. Either way, a song as good as that one is always ‘about’ everyone and everything.
My friend, Wendy Lands, looking good, up in Toronto working on her new album, recording four songs that we wrote together. I met Wendy when she recorded a song I wrote a lyric to, from “Wendy Lands Sings the Songs of the Pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman,” an album related to The Polanski movie “The Pianist.”
Here’s her Facebook link:
So much went into the making of my new album. It all began in New York sometime in 2000. I had written “100 lines for Buddy Holly” in my writing notebook. There was a cool record shop on Carmine Street that I would pass on my daily morning trek to Zito’s Bakery. I drooled with covetousness at the window displays. Rare albums, bootlegs, vintage vinyl etc. One day there appeared a 4 CD boxed set of Buddy Holly. What a beautiful package. I wasn’t that big of a Buddy Holly fan, but the packaging was amazing. I had to have it. When I got it home the thing that struck me the most were the demoes of Buddy singing in his New York apartment, alone with his guitar, the sound of traffic outside his window orchestrating his voice and guitar. Buddy Holly in New York with his brand new Puerto Rican bride. Like me, he was in love with New York. It’s a long way from Lubbock, and once New York pulls you in, there’s no looking back.
A lot of very diverse lives cross paths in New York. Unlike Los Angeles, in which neighborhoods are for the most part, isolated enclaves of singular racial and economic make up, New York puts you face to face with all ages, all ethnicities, all manner of human joy and dilemma. You learn a lot about yourself in the process of getting through the day. I met a guitar luthier of Dutch Indonesian descent named Flip Scipio. I’ve said in the past that a book could be written about him and now in fact a movie has been made about him. Here’s a great article about Flip:
On a visit to his shop on Staten island, I picked up an old 60’s Teisco Japanese junk guitar with a low A string on the bottom and a Bigsby whammy bar. I say junk, though after Flip gets done working on a guitar it is a mellifluous treasure. What a sound!
I shipped it back to Los Angeles upon my return there in 2001. What was I doing in LA again? I had vowed never to set foot there again in my life. Ah, well, as they say, God laughs at the plans we make. Alone in my suburban garage I set up my amps and guitars and doodled away. I opened my notebook one day, and chancing upon the “100 lines for Buddy Holly” page, Teisco guitar in hand, my “Buddy Holly” song jumped out. I turned on my DAT player and captured the butterfly. Now what? There was my boombox drum beat, Teisco guitar and vocals all mashed together as one. I’d have to re-record it all at some point when I figured out how to make my next album, or so I thought.
For sanity’s sake, I needed to get out and perform live. I got together an earlier trio of mine, with Andre Fisher on drums and David Schwartz on stand-up bass. We have a lot of history together and not many words need pass between us for the music to flow. I start playing and they know where to take it. Now and then a gig happens that you wish could be encapsulated forever. We played an ASCAP showcase at The Mint on Pico Blvd in mid-city LA. I opened the set with one of my pre-recorded collage intros and we sailed through my songs with the crowd behind us all the way. I wish I had recorded the crowd singing with me, the “yeah yeahs” from my “Buddy Holly” song The ceiling opened and we were all transported for a moment that night.
I was jacked-up after that gig. I could see taking this band into the studio and into the world ASAP. But it wasn’t meant to be. Wives and children and bills to pay, intervened. And Pro Tools. Pro Tools could be seen as Satan in digital disquise, or as a savior depending on how it’s used. In my case it saved the day. I loaded my garage DAT recordings into the computer and began adding drums, bass, percussion, vocals, additional guitars, or in some cases almost nothing at all, to the work I’d done late at night alone with my guitar in my garage.
Recording my vocals has always been a problem for me. There is a standard protocol for recording a singer. A Neuman mic and a compressor. One size fits all. But, I’m not a belter and the mood is everything in getting across the vibe of my stories.
I sang close to the mic in my garage, late at night, with no one there, and finally captured my voice the way I’d always wanted to. Most of the songs on my “Buddy Holly” album were recorded that way. Once the vocal is there, the musician’s have to cooperate with it. No more being drowned out by the drummer.
Another technological marvel is You Send It. I shipped my files to Hawaii where Micheal Ruff played inspired piano. I sent the song all around the country and put together a laptop choir for the “yeah, yeahs.” Richard Julian and Adam Levy, my friends from the New York scene and a bunch of others, all joined in on my church group.
So, what about the song itself, what am I talking about? Good question. Rhyme is the glue. It leads and I follow, the things that jump out at me, the things that keep me awake at night, the breeze off the river, the faces, the places… The Puerto Rican Day Parade, St. Patrick’s Day, the city is always celebrating something and there you are in the middle of it, feeling a part of it, whether you’re Irish or Puerto Rican, or neither. The restaurants and bars, there’s always someplace to go, 24 hours a day. I used to love Florent in the meatpacking district, late at night, all manner of bohemia still awake and hungry. Walking home in the rain from a gig at The Living Room across Prince Street, still buzzed from a show I’d done.
I remember playing a gig at a bar called Downstairs at Two Boots, a basement below a pizza parlor. We had just played for 5 nights straight and I was warmed up. The crowd was with me and sang along with no more provocation than the gesture of me dropping out and letting them pick it up. My father was there, down from Maine visiting my son who was maybe 3 years old at the time. It was the first gig of mine that he’d ever been to. It was a glorious night. Afterwards we walked over to an East Village bar and had a drink together. Walking together down Avenue C, collar against the cold, hands in our pockets, a song going through my head, while the ghosts of Buddy Holly and many others floated through the city streets. All this and more I tried to fit into my song, and hopefully I succeeded.