Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Rock Stars and How I Met My Wife

OK, the rock stars part is a little far fetched but the story of how I met my wife (of 27 years at the time of this writing) is kind of cool and too far fetched to have been made up.

Saints and Sinners practiced at Jeff's house in Skaggsville.  I was going to Howard Community College.  Gary was going to University of Maryland.  Gary met a girl who worked at the cafeteria at UMCP.  He started chatting her up and told her he was in a band and asked if she wanted to come to a band practice.  That's how Gary was and I've never been like that.  How he could just approach girls and ask them to go places was beyond me but I'm glad he did.  She accepted.

She came to the Roost for the practice and there was a small commotion.  She knew Jeff from grade school.  She knew his whole family!  She actually lived across the field behind the Roost and down a street and had been hearing us practice but didn't know where the music was coming from.

I don't remember how many practices she came to but at some point I asked Gary if he was dating her.  He said no.  She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.  She still is.  One evening we were all sitting around and she rubbed my shoulders.  I threw out a terrible line: "What are you doing for the rest of your life".  My kids still groan at that!  I don't blame them but I was totally smitten!

I remember that soon after that Gary and maybe Jeff were going to a party at UMCP.  I asked if she wanted to go, she said yes, and we spent the evening walking around UMCP talking about whatever.  I couldn't believe that she was hanging out with me.  The next week was her birthday and I bought her roses.  They were expensive for a guy delivering pizzas.  There's a long and beautiful story that follows those events but to sum it up, Mary B has been by my side through everything and has always supported my playing music.  I'm forever thankful and grateful for that.

Thanks Gary, without you putting it all in motion I might not have ever met her.

Saints and Sinners and the Roost

I remember going to the first practice with Saints and Sinners.  Gary Mauck may have already been in the group but I don't recall.  Jeff Gover and Matt German were there though.  It was an early summer evening as I recall (probably incorrectly).  They practiced in Skaggsville at Jeff's house in an old chicken coop.  Great place to practice.  We jammed out a few songs that we collectively knew to try to get a feel for things.  I remember Jeff used to love to play Elvis Presley's "Little Sister Don't You".  We played a bunch of blues and Southern Rock.  Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Creedence, Bad Co, Foghat... 

After we hit it off pretty well and practiced a few times we were talking about getting a singer.  None of us were really lead singers so we talked about putting an ad in the paper for one.  In the mean time we decided that we would all take turns on lead until the right guy came along.  I never considered myself a singer.  As it turned out we never found a singer and I ended up singing most of the songs.  Looking back I'm glad I did because I've always loved singing in in bands.  If a singer would have come along I might not have ever stepped up to the mic.

I recall we worked pretty had on the songs that we played.  I've always been a bit too much of a perfectionist but the guys were just as interested in putting on a good show so we put in the time to make it sound right.

Jeff was a pretty social guy so I think he found most of the gigs.  We played some parties and played the coveted Main Street Festival.  I remember playing at a Battle of the Bands... it might have been in a roller skating rink or a VFW hall or something.  I got my picture in the paper with the band from that gig.  I wore a white felt hat as my stage gear.... I thought it made me look cool.

A couple of memorable gigs.  We got an "exposure" gig playing at the grand opening of the Route 95/MD 216 rest area.  Yep, we set up next to the men's room on a bright day and jammed out songs while the travelers relieved themselves.  Ah the things you do to make it big.  The other story I remember was playing a Halloween party.  I dressed like Indiana Jones and my date... well she simply looked amazing.  Too good for words.  What made the gig memorable though was that we played a set, took a break, and when we went to play the next set we couldn't find Matt.  He snuck off to make out with his date in the back of his truck.  When we told him it was time to play he told us all to get lost.  We went back to play much later than we had planned.  No one seemed to care.  One thing I was floored with was that his date was a very high-class girl named Cory Beaulet (or something close).  You would have never put her and Matt together.  Of course you would have never put me and my date together either.

There are too many stories that I know I've forgotten but I do know that we had fun, played a lot of music, learned how to be in a band, drank beer, and had the time of our lives.  A couple of important things happened during this band.  I met my wife and I started to write songs.  I still remember one of the songs.  A simple blues song that I didn't want to sing.  Matt sang it and he did a great job with it.  I liked the song but didn't feel that my voice was right for it.  Blue Skies...

Yesterday my skies were blue, today my skies are gray, yeah.
Yesterday my skies were blue, today my skies are gray, yeah.
Don't know why you had to go and take my blue skies away.

Good stuff.

Angela Instruments

I don't remember how I found this place but there was a weird little driveway on Route 1 in Laurel that had a sign that said Aerolab.  Behind that place was a house and in the basement of that house was a music store called Angela Instruments.  There's an online shop called Angela.com which may be the same place.  I remember that the guy, Steve, that owned or ran it was this cool, slick, leather-clad guy who seemed to know everything about everything; especially to an 18 year old kid.  I bought my Sun head and Cerwin Vega cabinet from him and later my Schecter guitar.  He gave me a good deal and just seemed like a generally good guy.

I remember him talking about working with the Slickee Boys in DC a bunch.  He did a lot of mail-order stuff and said that he sent gear through UPS to major acts on the road.  Once when I came in he said he had just gotten off the phone with Billy Gibson and was going to send him some gear.  True or not?  I have no way of knowing but it left an impression on me.  Regardless, Steve was a very cool guy.  Without him I don't know when I would have gotten my first real guitar.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Almost Ten Years Between Posts

Maybe one day I'll get better at keeping track of these things.  I left off with the talent show...

After the talent show some guys at school said they saw me play and wanted to know if I was interested in being in a band.  That band became Saints and Sinners.  Jeff Gover Guitar, Gary Mauck Bass, Matt German drums.  I really wasn't a lead player but they wanted me to be.  I said yes and a band was born.

Jeff was a popular guy in school.  He was on the football team.  He and his girlfriend (Beth I think) were the official high school sweethearts.  Matt was a badass.  He was one of I think 4 brothers and seemed to always be looking for a fight.  Gary and I worked together at Roy Rogers and knew each other from North Laurel.  I don't really remember how we met but we were close and he helped me a lot when my father died.

I had a total mismatch of gear.  I think I bought some stuff from a yard sale or something but I was playing through a Sun head.  I remember it had this switch that made it sound like the "Crimson and Clover" song.  I never used it but I thought it was fun.  The head was totally clean.  I had a Cervin Vega cabinet that was huge.  Terrible rig :-).  Between my mother and my jobs (I've had many) I bought a guitar from a guy named Steve Melkisethian.  Weird name, I guess that's why I remember it.  He ran a place on Route 1 called Angela Instruments.  I remember the guitar was about a thousand bucks.  More than any car I had bought up to that time.  It was a black Strat copy made by Schecter.  I loved that guitar and I still miss it.  I took it apart years ago to fix it up... It's still in pieces in my workshop.  I kept the neck so that I can build something with it.  Someday.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Under Saxed Band

I hope that some of my friends from this band find this post. At some point in my Senior year of high school I began to realize that there were musical outlets in my school, Atholton High. I got into the choir. I had a few years of theory under my belt and I really liked the harmonies. I seemed to excel as a tenor. It felt really good to belong to something and do well in it. I remember the Madrigal group. I was mesmerized by them and really wanted to be in the group but you had to be at least a second year choir member. I remember we did a music version of Robert Frost's, "The Road Less Taken". I still can remember my part and sing the tune to my kids; sometimes I play it in my acoustic set when no one's paying attention. I had a pretty deep crush on Juliet R. Nace (alto I think) too (sheepish grin). She was in the choir as well as the Madrigal group. I think I was taken by her vocal skill. I hope she still sings as God's gifts should never be hidden and she was truly gifted. I also remember Sharon Yoder. She was a soparano with the voice of an angel. I can still see and hear her in my minds eye and ear. I hope she's still playing too.

I took a guitar class as well. It was there that I found out that I was actually pretty good on the instrument. The best player in the school was Gus Strats (I was always jealous of that last name). I had found a classical nylon sting guitar in a trash dumpster (I still have it!) and used it in this class. The school provided instruments but it felt pretty cool to be able to bring a guitar to school. I was pretty shy and introverted back then. I still am in ways. I just felt like I belonged a little more when I was carrying my guitar.

There was a talent show coming up at the end of the year. I remember there was a guy named Shawn (he always wore a trenchcoat and was in theater) and an Asian guy and a handful of others who were deeply into the Blues Brother's "Briefcase Full Of Blues". They wanted to put a group together for the talent show. I was probably not their first choice but I bet Gus was already booked. As I remember it he had a prety cool band that played Rush and other great progressive music. They used to play at parties.

I was asked and I said yes. I had never played in a real band before and was completely nervous. I remember we had a handful of practices and I tried to join in on some harmonies etc. It was probably just me but I remember being a little left out. The group was a clique of friends and I was "the guitar player". Still we had a good time. I think we even tried to play a party or two to get ready for the talent show. I was a huge fan of the blues and was really happy to be playing it. That's still a favorite alum of mine. the music is timeless. I still play, "Hopeless" in my solo acoustic shows which I attribute to that album. I think I hack the Bonnie Raitt version though. I also still play "B Movie Box Car Blues". I've always been a fan of a great syncopated lick and dig the line, "... when she did what she did when she did what she did to me, made me think of you". I don't think we played either of these in our three song set in the talent show. Oh, I almost forgot. The band was called the Undersaxed band because, as those familiar with the Blues Brothers know, they had a killer horn section, "The LA Express". (Remember the band was led by Paul Schaefer of later Late Night With David Letterman fame). We couldn't find any sax players. I think we had a trumpeter though.

I played with the group for the talent show and I also played a solo acoustic version of Pink Floyd's little tune from The Wall that comes just before, "Bring the Boys Back Home". That album totally resonated with me in light of losing my Dad. In fact, my entire Senior year math class was spent not paying attention to the teacher but reciting every word from that album in my notebook. I wish I still had that book. It was kinda cool looking back at it.

As I remember it the Under Saxed Band came in second to Gus' band. I don't remember if I placed with my solo tune but it didn't matter. I had played my first gig in front of a large audience and had become a part of something bigger. Luckily in the audience that night were some people that would become dear friends and band members.

Oh, That's What Happened

The summer before my Senior year in high school was a sad time. My Father died. I'll spare the details but I can say that if you want to really mess up a seventeen year old stick him in this situation. I realized years later that the preceding few years weren't so good either with him being sick and all. We as humans have an infallible nature towards optimism. Things will always be alright. It takes the finality of death to really pull the rug out from under you.

That year in high school I really dug into my instrument. I locked myself away for hours and jammed to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, Kiss, Zeppelin, Van Halen, and anything I could get my ears on. We didn't have a lot of money in my house so I bought very few albums. When I did get to buy music it was from the cutout bin. (another fortunate event as I'll describe later). I do remember having a boom box with a tape player/recorder. It was cool because you could play your favorite station and record it. I was into the album rock stations (remember those?). I used to record and play along whenever I could. I hope my kids read this and understand just how hard it was back then to get access to music. I'm amazed with how available music is now with downloads and you tube.

The sadness was unbelievable and you really don't get a grip on how deep it is until years later. In a way I can be thankful for it now. I spent so much time just trying to make it through life and my friends and my music helped life make some sense to me. It's funny; that's still true today.

"Duuuurrr Duuuurrrrrn: I am Iron Man"

I played by myself pretty much over that year. I eventually started playing with some friends from high school. Gary Mauck and John Shober. If there were others in that basement I apologize for not remembering. I have some big holes in my memory. I remember that we all used to get together at John's house. We probably snuck in some beer (underage, I know. I wasn't an angel). We played Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and tried to play along with it. I still had my friend's father's guitar.

Techie aside here: I found out years later that this guitar was some Japanese body with a vintage Fender Mustang neck on it. The neck had such a cool feel but because the neck and body weren't matched the intonation was completely out of whack past the 5th fret. It shounded like absolute poo poo. I eventually sold that guitar to Donny Preston whom I met in automotive shop at Howard County Vocational Technical School. I hope he had fun with it.

There was more comaradarie than musicianship going on in that basement. We hung out and traded licks. It was really cool to see how the blues box fit into these songs. We all had copies of various guitar magazines and shared and traded. It was a very good time. Not really a band, just some friends. I hope you're all doing well.