Instrumental Musings…Concertone Banjo Circa 1936

CONCERTONE TENOR BANJO Circa 1936 photo by JOtwell
CONCERTONE TENOR BANJO Circa 1936 photo by JOtwell

CONCERTONE TENOR BANJO Circa 1936

A rococo gem, with opulent ornamentation, especially on the closed back, and the intricate neck carving. The neck and headstock employ a great deal of mother-of-pearl, and the purfling and inlaid detailing are exquisite.

This banjo was a gift from Bob Saporiti, senior VP for marketing for Warner Bros. Records, and found by him in the course of his international travels.

Advertisements

On The Fly…Father’s Day

Father's Day

A piece about Father’s Day, they said….a piece about fathers and sons making music together, they said….

“They” are the team at Celebelle, who keep my various balls in the air at all times, if you’ll pardon the expression, and they usually ring my creative bell with their suggestions and gentle prodding. In this instance, a proximity of dates ( June 13th., my son’s thirty-sixth birthday, and June 16th., Father’s Day) sparked their idea for a piece ( or two?). As often happens, a day or so of mulling, both figuratively and literally, can result in – well, something like this:

********************

To put it mildly, I did not have the best of relationships with my own father. Like many of his generation, in the aftermath of WW II, he found a rapidly changing playing field when it came to fatherhood. The authoritarian model, particularly in the working class, was about to be challenged as never before, and many a dad found himself in a situation where his word was no longer necessarily law, which inevitably led to confrontational relationships between fathers and sons. In the patriarchal, immigrant Irish parishes of North Liverpool, the young generation of males were restive and not prepared to settle for what their parents had been willing to accept.

Should you be interested, I go into detail about this social dynamic, particularly as it applied to me, in my book “ Mersey Me! A Liverpool Lad On The Loose In The Swingin’ 60’s”, but in the interest of brevity, my dad and I parted ways irrevocably when I gave up a Scholarship to Leeds University to follow the siren song of rock ‘n’ roll at the beginning of The Beat Boom, which hit Liverpool like a ton of bricks ( as some of you might remember).

Although my dad came from a family that numbered several musicians, professional and otherwise, over a couple of generations, he didn’t take kindly to the thought of me following in their footsteps, and did everything he could to prevent it, which doomed our interaction rather early on. I was an only child, , so he invested his own thwarted academic ambitions , heavy-handedly, in me. As far as I was concerned, I kept my end up with consistently good schoolwork, navigating the various levels of the British school system of the time with comparative ease, all the way through to University acceptance, and kept my nose clean in the hurley-burley action of the Liverpool streets into the bargain. But by 1960 I’d made up my mind as to my future direction….rather than support me, or even discuss the situation in a rational manner, the old man chose to go Cold War on my ass, which made me even more determined. Although the lure of being “a guitar player in a rock ‘n’roll band” had among it’s components the cliche elements of sex, drugs and that devil rhythm, I was in it for the love of music and playing- if it hadn’t been rock, I would probably have played jazz, as a part-timer, I suppose, but the Beat Boom and then The British Invasion, gave some of us a lifelong career in music as professionals, and as such we worked at our craft, and expanded our capabilities as we matured from beat kids to adult musicians. To me, being a working musician never precluded the thought that I would one day marry and raise a family, and while I fully enjoyed the early rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle as a carefree bachelor, by the time I’d somewhat established myself in my chosen profession I found myself ready for marriage at twenty-eight. Our first child, a daughter, was born three years later, and our son seven years after that. By the nature of the job I was an absentee daddy quite a bit when the kids were small, but the traveling aspect of the gig gradually diminished as I became more involved in song writing, studio work and then production, so I didn’t miss their growing up any more than most fathers.

To my delight they were both smart, talented and well-behaved, the latter thanks to my wife’s mothering skills, I’m sure, and neither was ever a problem child. Both showed early promise in the graphic arts, and while they were each musically inclined, my son exhibited a particular affinity for that old devil rhythm.

As a result of my bruised and bruising experience with my dad, I had promised myself two things; one, that I would always listen to my children’s opinion on matters directly concerning their education options and, two, that I would never force them into life choices that ran counter to their own aspirations. That didn’t mean that I intended to be a “hands-off” dad, rather I intended that respect and consideration would play a larger role in my interactions with them than the possible bully pulpit which parenthood can become.

The seven year age difference between them meant that I was at different stages of my own career development when each reached their various milestones. When my daughter began high school we were living in an urban environment and although I was off the road I conducted my business in the studios and publishing offices of Music Row. By contrast, as my son’s high school years got under way, we had relocated about ten miles out of town, where I built a home studio, and subsequently did the bulk of my work there. As a result he got used to seeing some of the inner workings of the music business which my daughter had not.

She possessed a good musical ear and a fine singing voice, which she ably employed in school theatricals, but was also athletic, especially at volleyball, which she played at both high school and college level. She chose to study Economics at University.

My son’s visual and graphic skills were becoming increasingly impressive, but he also had an innate sense of rhythm, so I was not surprised when he first brought up the subject of acquiring a drum kit. He had already had the chance to observe some of the best drummers and percussionists in the city when they were working in my studio, and the chance to see players like Steve Turner, Pat McInerney and Mellow Mel Owens up close was very influential on him, I’m sure. One thing I knew for certain  was that an aspiring musician will do better when possessing good equipment, and as a good drum kit doesn’t come cheap, I put two conditions on him before agreeing to getting him a kit. I wanted him to give me a written reason as to why he wanted drums, and also required that he repay what he could via odd jobs etc. towards the cost of the gear.I gave him the two months leading up to his fifteenth birthday to meet the requirements, and he did, establishing a ‘drum fund’, which showed willing, and writing his reasons for wanting the drums, the details of which I’ll keep to myself, but which were most convincing to me.

One plus about living in Music City is that the quality of instruments in the pawn shops is generally quite high, so in the weekends leading up to his birthday we trolled the hock shops together, finally finding a kit that was identical to Pat McInerney’s Premier kit in every particular, at a reasonable price. A corner of the studio was set aside for them, and Pat himself came over to set them up and do an initial tuning. After that, I left the boy pretty much to his own devices, except for letting him know when one of his “drum uncles” would be working in the studio. If it was after school he was welcome to come in and observe. Musicians are usually generous with tips and advice for aspiring players, and his “drum uncles” were just that, but it was up to him to interact and ask the questions he wanted answering. The only time I actively stuck my oar in was when his skill set was becoming quite impressive, but he was experiencing some hand problems…chapping and callousing due to a lack of formal training…so I arranged for him to take a few private lessons from my friend, the late Ian Wallace (of King Crimson fame). These involved warm-up and technique exercises, which helped sort out the incipient problems before they became detrimental. Other than that, he was on his own.

Because of my own listening proclivities, the kids had been exposed to a wide range of music, both stylistically and ethnically over the years, so they picked up on what they liked, and vice versa….I never jammed anything down their throats. My son did the usual rite of passage stuff, got a little high school band together with some pals, played some little gigs around and about, learned how to move a drum kit from place to place efficiently, all that beginner stuff, but invaluable nonetheless. When he went off to art college in Savannah his only percussion tool for the first year was a dumbek, but he had the kit thereafter, and I gather he was prone to setting up on the sands of Tybee Island for a good thrash. He met his future wife at SCAD, and after graduation they moved to Austin, where my daughter had set up shop…thence to the Bay Area, where he played in jazz-rock bands. By the time he returned to Nashville, it had been a good ten years since I’d had any musical interaction with him, although I saw him perform once while on tour with the band First Circle, and it was obvious that by then he knew what he was doing.

Both he and my daughter found their way back to Nashville in recent years and it’s been my pleasure to employ both in the studio since their return. I’ve also teamed with him occasionally in live situations as a rhythm section, and it’s a good feeling to get a righteous groove going, then turn around to see him kicking it behind the tubs.

I’m of the opinion that being a parent is the most important job you can ever have. Some of us make a hash of it, some of us get lucky and can be pleased with the results. Some of us read all the books, some of us trust our instincts. Some rule with an iron hand and view parenthood as a right, rather than as a privilege and a precious gift, and some don’t employ loving correction when it’s needed….it’s a balancing act, just like most things in life. As long as you’re up on the tightrope, keep it steady, and a happy day to ya!

The Skelly Suggests… The Wonderful World of Numbers

Numbers by JOtwell (click to buy)
Numbers by JOtwell (click to buy)

The Wonderful World of Numbers

  1. 25 or 6 to 4 – Chicago
  2. At 17 – Janis Ian
  3. 16 Candles – The Crests
  4. Hey 19 – Steely Dan
  5. One – Three Dog Night
  6. Beechwood 54789 – Marvelettes
  7. 30 Days – Chuck Berry
  8. In The Year 2525 – Zager & Evans
  9. A 1000 Stars – Kathy Young
  10. 96 Tears – ? And The Mysterians

From The Desk… SEAT OF THE PANTS JOURNALISM

A Walk Down Music Row by JOtwell (click to buy)
A Walk Down Music Row by JOtwell (click to buy)

When David Ross launched Music Row Magazine back in the day, as a hand-to-mouth mimeographed ‘zine, I helped him out from time to time. He was a pal of mine, and not too fussy about journalistic credentials, as his venture was more or less a one man operation, and he welcomed any content that might flesh his meager mag out. I was reasonably set up at the time, with a couple of rock and pop artists as production clients on major labels, an office on Elliston Place (Rokblok) that I shared with Steve Gibson and Bill Martin, and my first solely-owned publishing company. However I still had the time and youthful energy to consider other creative avenues, and had always been interested in prose writing, so when Dave suggested I could maybe contribute a feature bit from time to time, I thought it might be fun. I didn’t know how to type, and the new computer technology, into which Dave was starting to delve, scared me to death, so my only tools were legal pads, pencils, and the phone…about as low-tech. as it got, but it was mainly a giggle and a bit of a new experience- no big deal.

I did a couple of little pieces to get my feet wet, and then one day I started thinking about the various connections that The Beatles had forged with country music over time, a subject that, at that point, had largely been ignored, and I mentioned it to Dave as a possible subject, given my ties to Liverpool as Nashville’s resident Scouser, and my personal in-depth knowledge of the popularity of Country and Western music ( as it was then known over the pond) in my home town.

Any Liverpool musician was familiar with Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and the rockabilly boys-it was all American music to us, and influenced us every bit as much as the Rhythm and Blues music with which Merseybeat later became more closely identified. Ringo was a very knowledgeable fan of the genre, his solo spots with Rory Storm & The Hurricanes usually featuring his take on a country hit of the day, and he brought that repertoire with him into The Beatles. George Harrison was crazy about Chet Atkins and Carl Perkins, and John and Paul’s harmony vocal chops were already informed by the “brother act” tradition of The Everlys and Louvins, to name but a couple. Liverpool even boasted a full-bore country band, Sonny Webb and The Cascades, who had actually traveled to Nashville to cut some sides under the watchful eye of Owen Bradley at his Quonset Hut recording facility.

The magazine was starting to get a bit of a footing, largely due to Dave’s tireless hustling, and he thought it might be an appropriate time to take on a feature that had some depth and scope, while also having a solid hook to Nashville, so he told me to give it a shot.

I was already friendly with Ernie Winfrey, who had worked with Paul McCartney on several tracks during the Wings visit to Nashville in 1970, and I had a nodding acquaintance with Pete Drake, who had put together Ringo’s 1974 homage to country music, “ Beaucoups Of Blues”, also recorded in Music City. Most relevant was the fact that McCartney had just issued his post-Lennon album “ Tug Of War”, which had involved Carl Perkins’ participation in a significant way, so there was also a current reason to examine The Beatles Country Connection, which was what the piece came to be called.

As I assembled a list of my potential sources, my confidence grew that this might be something worthwhile. Getting Ernie on board was no problem, and Pete Drake proved to be quite amenable to sit for an interview, so I figured that getting Carl would be the icing on the cake. Asking around, everyone said that he was the nicest, most easygoing guy you could hope to meet, and I managed to get his home number in Jackson from somebody, so I went ahead and called-cold…stone cold, I swear. The man himself answered, and whether it was my Liverpool accent or what, he agreed to an interview, but explained that as he had no plans to be in Nashville in the immediate future, we should do it by phone.

In addition to my other journalistic shortcomings, I didn’t know how to take shorthand, so I ran over to Radio Shack and bought one of those primitive telephone microphones that could be stuck on a phone, then plugged into a cassette recorder, and prepared for the following day, when Carl allowed he’d be available after he’d mowed the yard .I called after lunch, with a 90 minute cassette loaded….I ended up using three of them, as he was not only a warm-hearted guy and a natural raconteur, but ended up covering his entire history with The Beatles, going back to the start of their career, when he’d attended a party they threw specifically for him, and the session that followed, where they cut their classic Perkins covers with him on hand to witness it. His affection for the lads seemed totally genuine, and over the course of the two and a half hour conversation he gave me a wealth of material, both old and new.(A couple of years later, I actually met Carl face to face at a rockabilly festival at The Brickyard in Indianapolis, where I was playing with Del Shannon on a bill that included The Crickets and Carl. Remembering my name and the circumstances of the interview he said to me “Heck. If I’d known you were a picker, I’d have told you more!”)

Over the following days I transcribed every word in longhand, with rising excitement, so when I met Ernie, and thereafter Pete Drake, I was well pumped. Ernie allowed me to use one of his private photos of the McCartney sessions, and I planned to use as a lead image an early picture I’d snapped at Hamburg’s Star Club of the front line in all their leathered glory.

After the Drake interview, I had a more casual conversation with Jerry Shook, a studio acquaintance of mine who’d participated on the Ringo sessions, and an equally casual chat with the legendary drummer, D.J. Fontana, who’d also been on board. I now had a mountain of yellow legal paper, which I rewrote and edited over and over before presenting the whole thing to David. From his reaction I gathered that this was maybe more than he’d been expecting, but he went at it enthusiastically, and when the magazine hit the street it was well received, and I’d like to think that the timing of the article maybe helped Music Row attain the next level of it’s development.

Seeing a prose piece of mine in print did wonders for my confidence and so my next brainwave was to suggest a feature on the legendary Quonset Hut, which resulted in an interview with Owen Bradley, and a memorable sit-down with the delightful Brenda Lee, plus a more cursory one with Grady Martin, who seemed like he had better things to be doing with his time. Mining my connections, I then tapped Brent Maher for an overview of his career, which also included a cameo print appearance by his then new discoveries,The Judds.

The magazine was experiencing a growth spurt, and David linked up with Robert K. Oermann as a contributor, who was the real thing, a bona fide wordsmith and musical historian, with all the requisite technical skills I was so sorely lacking. David suggested that my stacks of yellow legal pad scribbling were becoming a bit too time consuming for the efficient working of a burgeoning venture, so I went back to my day job, still bereft of the tech. savvy I would need down the road, when I would devote more time to authorship, but with my appetite whetted for the world of prose, having seen those early efforts seductively displayed on the printed page.

It was an eye-opening interlude for me, and probably not something that one could get away with in the much more formal setting of the industry’s current media structure. Great fun!