Storytime with Lynyrd Skynyrd

Jumped in the truck the other day and caught Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ on the radio. Very 80’s moment, I know.

It’s a shame that this has become the cliché/parody of itself that it is now, but maybe that’s precisely because it remains one of the baddest jams out there.

When I was working with a band in the mid-90’s we played some shows in Florida and happened to be staying at the same hotel as that era’s lineup of Skynyrd as they spent a week preparing to go on tour. We met a few of the guys by the pool and they were downright awesome. Shared all kinds of tales from the road, plane crash stories – the full nine.

I mean, these guys were rock legend at this point. We were just some young alt-rock wannabes – they didn’t even have to give us the time of day. But not at all. They were very humble, encouraging and I think even a bit proud (they’d every right to be) of the longevity they’d enjoyed, especially in light of all the ups and downs they’d experienced as a band of brothers.

It was a rather silly scene – I remember stepping away for a minute and coming back to see my friends all sitting on the ground, legs crossed, in a circle, around a lounge chair where Leon Wilkeson was perched, telling tales. It looked – for a minute – like storytime at school. Bizarre.

Then they took us to a local – ahem – ‘Gentlemen’s Establishment’.

What I remember of it was an amazing time, and what I’ve forgotten was probably even better.

Epilogue: In what was the most amazing move yet, they invited us to hang backstage during their show that was coming up in 2 days, but the agonizing truth is that we had a flight out booked before then. We scrambled to get it changed, but couldn’t and in vain tried to find some alternate method of getting home, but alas, couldn’t. The guitarist for the band hosting us down there had offered to drive us back to DC, but there was 6 of us and gear and all he had was a 2 door hatchback. So. Close.

The Sound of Sound City Studios

When it comes to music recording and studios I’m a total geek. Half the reason I read liner notes is to find out where, how and by whom something was recorded. I wanna know how things were miked. Where the instruments were set up. What gear was used. Who pushed the faders. All that. I wanna know what video games the band played in the lounge and what sub shop next door they ordered take out from. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about everything from legendary studios to personal artists’ basement setups. I still couldn’t record my way out a paper bag mind you – I have no actual technical skills – but I get off on reading about the process and am a huge believer in the notion that the character, physical characteristics, vibe – and the ghosts – that imbue a place can have a huge influence on the recording undertaken therein.

Dave Grohl is in the process of making a documentary about the legendary but unsung Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, CA. Tucked away in an unassuming warehouse park, Sound City has hosted Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Nirvana (yes, for THAT record), Metallica, Tom Petty, Elton John, Cheap Trick, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Crowes, Tool, and even more artists that will have you saying, “No way, THEM too?”

I’m eager to see this movie. VERY eager.

From what I’ve seen and heard via press, promotion and teaser clips of the movie, the one resonating thread that runs through what all the artists have said is that there was a special combination of The Room at Sound City and The Board that made the magic.

The Room is the A Room. The stories go that even derelict floor tiles have never been replaced for fear that the overall sound would be effected. From the Sound City Website:

World Famous Drum Sound. Many stories in our archives revolve around the drummers. Wrecking Crew studio drummer, Hal Blaine, drove his Rolls Royce into the studio through the roll-up doors. Studio drummer and Toto member, Jeff Pocaro, insisted that you only had to set up the drums in order to get a good drum sound. When asked to guest drum on a Nine Inch Nails recording, Dave Grohl’s replied: “I’ll do it if you record at Sound City.” Recording engineer (and Sound City Alum), Greg Fidelman, recorded kick drum sounds at each of the large recording studios in Los Angeles. Based on a side-by-side, blind taste test of the drum samples, the members of Metallica chose Sound City to record their 2007 Death Magnetic album.

The Board is a custom Neve 8028 Console – considered to be one of the finest recording consoles ever constructed, by anyone, anywhere. From rollingstone.com:

…Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Butch Vig and Trent Reznor discuss the studio, which was built 1972, and its pièce de résistance: the Neve 8028, one of the best analog recording consoles on the market.

“It’s tube driven, it’s analog,” explains John Fogerty. “The bass sounds better, the human voice sounds better.”

Adds producer and Garbage drummer Butch Vig, “The Neve has incredible character, probably too much character.”

Dave was obviously taken with his experiences at Sound City as well as it’s storied lineage to such extent that he’s embarked on an ambitious project to – in essence – pay tribute – to this veritable ‘Church of Rock’ via his documentary. He was so taken in fact that some years back, he bought the hallowed Neve console.

And moved it to his Studio 606.

Does that make sense?

I don’t know the whole story of the sale and the studio (perhaps it will be in the movie, perhaps there is a reason for the sale happening the way it did) but isn’t that only half the piece to the puzzle? Isn’t that like peanut butter with no jelly? Tater with no tots? Captain with no Tennille?

I’ve got nothing but respect for Dave, but I just gotta wonder. Breaking up those two elements – doesn’t that just run sort of counter to everything that the movie project is about?

Kill Your Music Collection – The Reformation of A Music Pirate.

If you follow the music industry/world at all, you may have heard about the NPR/David Lowery back and forth, if not, here’s a quick lowdown.

An NPR DJ, Emily White posted a blog entry about her large – and relatively unpaid for – music library which sparked a lot of discussion. Dave Lowery (someone I have tremendous respect for as a songwriter and musician) heightened my respect for him by penning a very eloquent and well thought out response. It’s long, but if you’re a fan of music at all I suggest you take in the whole thing.

In response to that, another musician I’m a fan of, Matthew Good,  wrote this, which is also very thought provoking.

All of that reading – which I suggest you do, got me thinking.

There was a time period – when I was young and single and had the metabolism to eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – that I spent what most would probably consider an obscene amount of money buying music.

I’d get my weekly paycheck and troll the used CD stores (I mostly bought used, but some new too) and spend hours ‘clicking’ (such a wonderful sound) through the racks of CDs looking for treasure.

I had an anywhere from 10 to 20 CD a week habit. I’d keep some of them, sell others back that I didn’t like – to feed the monkey.

When the technology started to become available, I’d burn copies of CDs from friends if they had something I liked. Sometimes it was only until I could get a hold of the actual release, sometimes not. I was always an ‘album’ guy, digging the packaging and liner notes as much as the tunes almost.

I rationalized that – though it was piracy – it was the 90’s equivalent of making cassette copies back in the day, either from other cassettes or vinyl. To me it wasn’t a very big deal and the recording industry seemed to have survived that.

Initially, when it became pretty easy to download anything you wanted for free on the internet, I shunned it. I was a bit of a purist. I had a lot of friends who were musicians and it didn’t seem right. But gradually, economic reality seeped in and I cheated here and there for stuff I really wanted, but maybe couldn’t afford or didn’t want to wait for.

Eventually, like any junkie, I fell into the full-fledged habit. It became ridiculously easy to download entire back-catalogues or discographies of artists I was interested in. I sometimes justified it in the case of some artists I’d never heard of by telling myself I just wanted to ‘try ’em out’ and make sure I liked the stuff before I bought it. At some point, even if I liked it, I just stopped getting around to buying.

I’m somewhat ashamed to say I amassed a huge collection of music. Silly part is, some of it, I’d never even get around to listening to. I’d download volumes of stuff just ’cause it was available with an ‘I’ll check that out later’ attitude, and many times forget I’d even downloaded it. New releases too. I’d grab stuff before it was out – leaked prior to release dates (how infuriating that must be to an artist, I’d think) – and sometimes feel a pang of remorse, but the monkey didn’t.

Reading Dave’s article something struck me:

The fundamental shift in principals and morality is about who gets to control and exploit the work of an artist. The accepted norm for hudreds of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time. (Since the works that are are almost invariably the subject of these discussions are popular culture of one type or another, the duration of the copyright term is pretty much irrelevant for an ethical discussion.) By allowing the artist to treat his/her work as actual property, the artist can decide how to monetize his or her work. This system has worked very well for fans and artists. Now we are being asked to undo this not because we think this is a bad or unfair way to compensate artists but simply because it is technologically possible for corporations or individuals to exploit artists work without their permission on a massive scale and globally. We are being asked to continue to let these companies violate the law without being punished or prosecuted. We are being asked to change our morality and principals to match what I think are immoral and unethical business models.

What the corporate backed Free Culture movement is asking us to do is analogous to changing our morality and principles to allow the equivalent of looting. Say there is a neighborhood in your local big city. Let’s call it The ‘Net. In this neighborhood there are record stores. Because of some antiquated laws, The ‘Net was never assigned a police force. So in this neighborhood people simply loot all the products from the shelves of the record store. People know it’s wrong, but they do it because they know they will rarely be punished for doing so. What the commercial Free Culture movement (see the “hybrid economy”) is saying is that instead of putting a police force in this neighborhood we should simply change our values and morality to accept this behavior. We should change our morality and ethics to accept looting because it is simply possible to get away with it.  And nothing says freedom like getting away with it, right?

I’ll in no way lay the blame on corporations or ‘Free Culture’. I accept full blame myself. Reading the article, what I realized is that it really isn’t an economic or intellectual rights issue (well, it is sorta both as well), but for me, it’s an ethics issue.

Over time, I’d changed my own definition of what was morally right with regards to this issue. I’d sorta adapted it to suit my own situation. Sure, I felt enriched and expanded because I felt worlds of new artistry was available to me that I didn’t readily have access to before, but I realized I’d compromised my own ethics. That made me feel kind of sick.

I still count amongst my friends many musicians garnering various levels of success. How could I support their work, while directly undermining the livelihood of others? Had I become that hypocritical just for the sake of saving a buck?

One of the more candid artists out there, Matthew Good, routinely discusses the realities of his life in his blog, trying to juggle the economics of touring and recording budgets while raising a family and running a household – just like I am. His music, in addition to being his art, is his livelihood, just like my job is for me. How would I feel if one day he could no longer make music commercially because it simply wouldn’t pay the bills? Would that be partly my fault? How sadly ironic would that be?

After a couple of days of introspection, I went home the other day and deleted everything I’d downloaded illegally or hadn’t paid for. I know that this won’t ‘undo’ anything and I’m not looking for any sort of ‘pat on the back’. I just wanted to start with a clean slate.

I wanted to get back to where I started in music – supporting and valuing it vs. ‘collecting’ it. I felt bad about devaluing what these artists produce by stealing it. I realized the  hypocrisy I was engendering by trying to promote right and the higher road in so many other aspects of life and not this.

The value has to be restored in what these artists give us. We have to reshift our thinking back. I’m starting now. It really is a simple matter of choice.

Like many other things in life, just because we can get away with it, doesn’t mean we should.

The Travel Playlist

I recently took a family vacation to California and in addition to packing and making sure everyone’s assorted stuffed animals were in tow, I did the most important thing; stock the iPod with music.

This will be boring to some (most?) but to music geeks like me it’s a big deal, especially when you consider that I had to allot a sizeable chunk of my hard drive space to Cars2, and Looney Tunes videos as fall backs for when the kids simply came unhinged during the trip.

Tough decisions had to be made. Henceforth is the playlist you get:

  • 21st Century Breakdown – Green Day
  • A Different Kind of Truth – Van Halen
  • Acme – John Spencer Blues Explosion
  • Aenima – Tool
  • Albatross- Big Wreck
  • Angel Dust – Faith No More
  • Below the Belt – Danko Jones
  • Black Love – The Afghan Whigs
  • Caution – Hot Water Music
  • Choice of Weapon – The Cult
  • Collider – Sam Roberts Band
  • The Darcys – The Darcys
  • El Camino – The Black Keys
  • Electric – The Cult
  • Fantastic Planet – Failure
  • Feast or Famine – Chuck Ragan
  • Garage D’Or – Cracker
  • Gypsy Punks – Gogol Bordello
  • Harmonicraft – Torche
  • Heaven is Whenever – The Hold Steady
  • Irresistable Bliss – Soul Coughing
  • J5 – Jurassic 5
  • Jackson Square – Arkells
  • Kensington Heights – The Constantines
  • Life’s Rich Pageant – REM
  • Lights of Endangered Species – Matthew Good
  • Like Swimming – Morphine
  • Live at Leeds – The Who
  • Love and Sound – Garrett Mason
  • Morning View – Incubus
  • Move Like This – The Cars
  • Nice, Nice, Very Nice – Dan Mangan
  • Only a Lad – Oingo Boingo
  • Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin
  • The Edges of Twilight – The Tea Party
  • The Shack Up Sessions – Ross Neilsen
  • Short Bus – Filter
  • Sky Blue Sky – Wilco
  • Snakes and Arrows – Rush
  • Superunknown – Soundgarden
  • Unplugged – Alice in Chains
  • Up to Here – The Tragically Hip
  • Wasting Light – The Foo Fighters
  • White Album – The Beatles
  • With Teeth – Nine Inch Nails

Of course I may have watched some Looney Toons as well.

I just saw Led Zeppelin.

Well, the next best thing actually.

Kiers Marketing where I work sponsored the Classic Albums Live show at The Fredericton Playhouse tonight so I got to go for free. For the uninitiated, this is a group of guys who travel around performing classic rock records in their entirety, note for note. Tonight’s platter du jour was a classic for sure, Led Zeppelin III.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. I knew they weren’t ‘impersonators’ per se, I knew the lead singer wouldn’t be a shirtless, bellbottomed goldilocks that Robert Plant was, but I was also unsure of exactly what it would sound like.

Well, I tell you right now it was fucking awesome.

These guys came out and nailed it. It was unreal. Every note, every nuance, even the fuckups and false starts and ambient recording noise from the recording. All there. And talk about consumate musicians. Holy. Shit.

It sounds strange to gush so much about what is essentially a cover band, but I feel like it’s insulting to call these guys that. I have heard these tunes for years both on record and in many cases with various levels of proficiency by other musicians and cover bands, but to go there and hear and feel it live, and perfect totally blew me away.

They came out and proceeded to rip through the album Led Zeppelin III like they’d written it. All the power. All the emotion. All the skills. Right. Effin. THERE. It was nuts. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, but ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ was absolutely transcendent and gave me the chills.

I didn’t realize going in that there would be an intermission and then they were gonna come back and do a greatest hits set. Holy bonus.

Somehow, it was even better. Every lick I’d heard over the years was captured. I ended up laughing out loud and giddy in amazement of the display of guitar prowess. The guitar player nailed every Jimmy Page lick. The bow work, the Theremin. EVERYTHING. Did I mention that it was unreal?

So in closing, if you have the chance to check ’em out, I’d, uh, say, do so at whatever cost. WHATEVER COST. And thanks fellas, for the amazing show.

The lead singer closed by thanking the audience ‘for loving rock music’. Man, when you guys play it like that, how could you not.

Set list:

Set 1: Led Zeppelin III
Immigrant Song
Friends
Celebration Day
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Out on the Tiles
Gallows Pole
Tangerine
That’s the Way
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Hats Off to (Roy) Harper

Set 2: (I think this was all of ’em, not 100% sure of the sequencing)
Whole Lotta Love
Dazed and Confused – yep with the full blown bow/theramin solo
The Song Remains the Same
Lemon Song – KILLER.
Moby Dick – yep, with the monster drum solo
Heartbreaker/Livin’ Lovin’ Maid
Communication Breakdown

Encore:
Rock and Roll
How Many More Times – probably my fave of the whole night.