From the Desk…Hello, Goodbye Part 1

The Long Goodbye by JOtwell
The Long Goodbye by JOtwell

HELLO….GOODBYE Part 1

Winding up 2013 with the final project at my home studio before re-locating to the new facility, I’ve been thinking about the 27 years I’ve spent in this room, and the people who’ve left their own impressions on this homely humble space.

In time-honored fashion it was a garage when we moved out here to the ‘burbs from the thick of midtown Elliston Place- the Rock Block, where I had my publishing operation My partner at the time, Bill Martin, and I also had studio space in Berry Hill, courtesy of our silent partner and booster Bob Todrank, at his Valley Audio headquarters, so we were well equipped with state of the art analog equipment and cutting-edge digital innovations. The only snag was that we had to record “ off-hours”, which made for long nights, especially when our jingle operation started having some success.

The suburban house had a huge , unfinished lower story which opened out to a pretty glen, complete with a babbling creek, so it didn’t feel underground, and there were garages at both ends. But previous owners had made both inaccessible to cars, for reasons best known to themselves, so the space immediately suggested a studio, with one garage as the control room. Bob and Bill were amenable to utilizing the space, so we set up shop in 1986.

After a couple of years the jingle business was wearing us both out, so Bill asked me to buy him out of the studio portion. It was scary for me to take it on, particularly as Bill had always been “the engineer ” and I’d been “ the music guy”, and despite having years of studio experience on both sides of the pond, the mixing board and outboard equipment were largely a mystery to me.
I managed to secure a loan from dear Brian Williams at 3rd. National Bank, with the equipment as collateral, and bingo…..I was on my own.

To Be Continued Next Thursday January 9th 2014

Instrumental Musings…BOUZOUKI by BARDSONG

Bouzouki photo by JOtwell
Bouzouki photo by JOtwell

BOUZOUKI by BARDSONG

I designed this unique instrument, incorporating various Celtic motifs, and it was beautifully constructed by the luthiers of Bardsong. They allowed me to hand-pick the fine exotic woods from their on-site inventory, and they worked from my scale drawings.

The instrument is strung in three double courses: octave low D, octave A and octave high D, which gives it a range similar to a 12-string guitar, but with the open-fifth tuning, sitar effects are possible, in addition to the traditional bouzouki voicings.

It has full electronic capability, with two piezo pickups, and outboard tone and volume controls.

To accommodate the low D course, the neck measures 27″ from nut to bridge.

The pewter headstock escutcheon of Celtic design was a gift from noted Irish traditional singer Elizabeth Reed, after I produced one of her albums: Go raibh maithe agat, Eilis!

Instrumental Musings … Springfield EWJ-20CE

Springfield EWJ-20CE
Springfield EWJ-20CE photographed by JOtwell (click to buy)

SPRINGFIELD EWJ-20CE

Clive Gregson and I had heard rumors that there was a store in the sleepy town of Springfield, TN, that  was importing and distributing a hot line of Korean-made instruments of very high quality, so we headed up into the country one fine summers’ day to investigate. We found the store in the old town square, and there was, indeed a shop full of gorgeous guitars, acoustic basses, and mandolins, all bearing the logo “Springfield”. We were the only customers, and they seemed pleased to have two Brits in their backwater as we sat down and began trying things out. At the end of a pleasant afternoon of playing, I had test driven every acoustic bass they had, and this one just stood out, and the price was sooo right. It came with a beautiful case, too- can’t go wrong, can you?

THE AMERICANA MUSIC TRIANGLE

Americana
Americana by Janin Otwell (click to buy)

  THE AMERICANA MUSIC TRIANGLE

Today’s feature in The Tennessean on the efforts of Aubrey Preston and Jed Hilley of the Americana Music Association to solidify The Triangle as a bona fide tourist destination took me back forty years to when I arrived in the States as a true rock ‘n’roll and r’n’b disciple, determined to put down roots in the birthplace of the music which had irrevocably changed my life … the very triangle of which we now speak.

The music had already offered me some success in my native England, where I’d been part of the rock ‘n’ roll boom, then the Soul boom, but with the bloom going off the swingin’ sixties, and waning interest in the gritty, great music to which I was forever committed, I determined that I had to go where that music had emerged and continued to thrive. So, with my young American wife and three-year-old daughter in tow, I set my sights on my personal Land Of Dreams.

With my in-laws’ home in Sarasota, Florida, serving as our staging area, we arrived at Christmas-time 1972 to begin our great adventure. We bought a used Toyota station wagon with the idea of working our way by road to who knew where.  But I already had my pilgrimage planned:  from New Orleans, Congo Square and the Quarter, to the Greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia, where Little Richard had been a dish washer (that town also being the birthplace of James Brown and my beloved Otis Redding);  to Beale Street in Memphis and Highway 61, with all that those legendary roads implied; then on to West Memphis Arkansas, following the footsteps of Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins up Highway 70 via Jackson, to Nashville- just starting to stake it’s international claim as Music City, U.S.A.

Once we arrived in Davidson County, I realized that Nashville was the geographic hub of it all, in easy reach of all the key areas that embodied the roots and branches of the music that had transformed me. In 1973, Jefferson Street was still one of the great thoroughfares of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Soul, and Rock ‘n’Roll, and they welcomed this white boy (with the funny Beatles accent ) with open arms. I felt like I was home where I belonged, and even though the racial situation was still tense, especially to the sensibilities of a liberal Northern European and his Yankee wife, it just felt likethe place we were meant to be.

I had the advantage of an already-established friendship and working relationship with Buzz Cason, the pioneering producer, writer and studio owner, already a great success in the pop, soul and r’n’b genres, so I wasn’t limited to trying to make it in “straight country,” with which I couldn’t claim as much affinity as other genres thatsprang from the fertile lands of the Deep South. But Brenda Lee, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name just a few, were classic rock ‘n’rollers in my book anyway, and if Charlie Rich was classified as a country singer, then I was O.K. with country, too.

It was a time of a growing influx of out-of-towners … the Muscle Shoals and Memphis boys, the early transplants from L.A. and N.Y.C., and very soon fellow Brits such as Roger Cook, Ray Flacke, Ralph Murphy, Pat McInerney and Tony Newman, who took care of any pangs of home-sickness I might have felt, although those pangs were always few and far between!

It was inevitable that what is now being labeled as Americana should crystallize as a movement in and around the Nashville area, because all the strains that weave into Americana are from around these parts, as they’ve always been.

The resurgence of the “Americana Triangle” bodes well for the future of music in general, as our region opens its arms once more to those that play it and sing it from the heart. I feel blessed to still be around to see it happen in my beloved adopted home.

Instrumental Musings … Epiphone Les Paul Special II

Epiphone Les Paul Special 2- Artwork by JOtwell
Epiphone Les Paul Special 2- Artwork by JOtwell (click to buy)

EPIPHONE  LES PAUL SPECIAL II (Pawnshop) 

I only got this because it came as a package with an Epiphone Studio 105 amplifier, which was what I really  wanted, but this unassuming solid body has been a pleasant surprise, especially for retro-funky rhythm guitar with wah-wah. “It bite nice”, as Peter Tosh used to say.