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.

Where It All Really Began

Erin Brott. That's where it all started. Erin moved in across the street from me. I saw him a couple of times on the bus to school but we never really talked. Then one day I was walking into the apartment complex where my friends and I always used to play. I had to walk past his house to get there. I heard a huge sound coming from the house. Van Halen. It was LOUD! But there was something different. I was drawn to the house by this wall of sound. That's when I caught a glimpse of Erin in the basement of the house. He was playing alog with the album (ya, remember those?). He motioned for me to come in, so in I went. I said, "I had no idea that you played". He was a very laid back guy. He just smiled and said, "I play a little". With that he ripped into another Van Halen tune playing all of Eddie's licks not for note. I had never seen anything like it.

Over that summer, I think it was the summer of my Junior year in high school, we became friends. He introduced me to Guitar player magazine and Tabulature. I had never seen this stuff. He explained how it all worked and that that's how he had learned how to play. I asked him if he could show me some things and he introduced me to the "Blues Box". Man, that was the beginning. I'm getting a little chill just thinking about it now. Here was this simple little tool that transformed me from air guitarist to real guitarist. I think the fact that I had years of music theory helped me to gain traction pretty quickly. That year was spent woodshedding in my house and trying to get my head around this new find. I wasn't very good but at last I had a starting point; a way of actually playing the guitar.

Erin, wherever you are, I owe you thanks for getting me started.

I'm not sure why we stopped hanging out but that was so many years ago.

In The Beginning

I was born in England to a military family and moved to the states at the age of one. I grew up in Laurel, MD. I played piano and organ (ya, the kind with the pedals and two keyboards) for eight years. I also played in school band. During this time I knew that I loved music but hadn't really found my muse. I was also a big time listener of music. I remember having the radio on all night with the music just filtering into my head. I also had a little transistor radio and I used to sit under a mimosa tree next to my neighbors house just listening for hours.

I stopped the piano lessons; probably because of my growing lack of interest. I remember finding a guitar in my friend Jerry's house. It belonged to his father who no longer played it. I don't remember how but I ended up having the guitar. I can still remember how magical it seemed. I used to listen to KISS Alive II (still an all time favorite) and playing air guitar for hours with that thing hanging from a rope off of my shoulder. I used to know every solo, every lick, every clap shout and whistle on that album. I wasn't interested in learning how to play the thing. It just looked and felt so cool.

Next Post: Where it all really began.