Friday, November 23, 2007

Tommy Alvarado!

OK, right before I got my brain cells (and ego) incinerated by Santa Fe and The Fat City Horns at Paul Purtle's insistence a little more than 2 years ago, I went to the (now defunct) jazz jam at the Hurricane Bar down on South Bermuda.

Tommy Alvarado (leading the host band that included the awesome Chris Gordon on bass and Bad Boy Joel Richman on tubs).

Yi-i-i-i-kes, man! Yoweeeee!!!!

Oh, those chops! Oh, that voice! Cat was totally, totally stunning.

And, BTW, a total gentleman, a major class act.

Tommy immediately reminded me musically somewhat of one of my musical mentors, Bobby "Ray" (Reyes, actually) of the novelty group The Hollywood Argyles ("Alley Oop"), with whom I hooked up in 1965. Photo below from 1960. That's Gary Paxton in the lower middle, Bobby Ray to his left (lower right as you view the pic).

They were all veteran road cats mostly in their early to mid 30's, I was 19. They called me "Mouser" and/or "Mouse Guy," as in Mickey Mouse player. I'd just happened to be in the right place at the right time (they'd just fired their guitar player). I'd met them out in the Chicago area the year before during my first foray on the road, and one afternoon in 1965 I was just ambling down the boardwalk in Seaside Heights NJ after The Zephyrs broke up, and bumped into the bass player, Jellyroll (monster cat, he was). Click here and scroll down to "A Blast From My Past" for the backstory on my first road band outa high school, LOL!

Well, Jellyroll remembered me, and literally collared me off to meet with Bobby and his singer-wife Tammy at the Beachcomber where they were gigging (along with "Rosco and The Little Green Men from Mars," these cats that had long dyed-green hair and wore silver lame jump suits, LOL!).

Go home and get your shit, you're goin' back out on the road, LOL.

What an experience that turned out to be. Bobby Ray played the hell out of tenor, in the old school Sam Butera mold (and, he would often get on the bar and walk all around it intermittently wailing away and stooping down to drink out of everyone's drinks, ugh. Cat could really hold his liquor.)

The cats were all so over my head musically, notwithstanding the schlocky "Alley Oop" schtick that was the waning meal ticket; e.g., I recall one day at rehearsal the other sax player we'd subsequently picked up out in Indiana (I forget his name) simply listened to Nancy Wilson's 1964 big band LP cut of "The Grass is Greener" and wrote out charts for all of us in about 20 minutes.

Joke- Q: How do you get the guitar player to Turn That Damn Thing Down? A: Put a chart in front of him.

I did my best to step up. It was a great learning experience for a young unpolished cat. Exposed me early on to the musical discipline of real pros (and to wild-livin' dudes that were shootin' up motel rooms long before it became fashionable!).

Real Pro. Two words that characterize Tommy Alvarado, y'all. Two more words: Insufficiently recognized.

Tommy's got a new solo CD in release, BTW (buy it here):

Mp3 samples page here.

OK, some additional links: Tommy's MySpace. And another. Website stuff here included his extensive rap sheet. Prior blog posts featuring Tommy, here, here, and here.

I am blessed to know this man. BTW, Tommy's now doin' the Wayne Brady Show gig at the Venetian along with Jerry.


I love these cats, LOL!

Google (and/or YouTube search) "Flight of the Conchords." Cats are funny, two young Aussie dudes. They recently landed an HBO series of the same name -- it replaced "The Sopranos."

This one is also hilarious, "Business Time."


Once again I take copyright law "Fair Use" liberties for y'all's edification:

The divine sound of silence

Britain's No Music Day offers a welcome hush over a noisy world. It can't come to America soon enough.

By Kevin Berger

Nov. 22, 2007 | One can dream. What if no music blared from airports, supermarkets, bars, department stores or restaurants? Imagine being able to sit down in your neighborhood cafe and hear your friend talk without having to parse her words through the strains of "Sweet Child o' Mine." My god, that would be something for which to give thanks. On Nov. 21, a surprisingly wide swath of Britain honored "No Music Day." Radio stations, stores, recording studios and scores of music lovers took a laudable vow of musical silence. Should No Music Day come to America tomorrow, it wouldn't be soon enough.

The day of respite was cooked up by musician and conceptual artist Bill Drummond, best known as the mad genius at the controls of the KLF, British progenitors of ambient house music. As Drummond testified in the Guardian last year, his love of music had been rattled out of him by its ubiquity. "I decided I needed a day I could set aside to listen to no music whatsoever," he wrote. "Instead, I would be thinking about what I wanted and what I didn't want from music. Not to blindly -- or should that be deafly -- consume what was on offer. A day where I could develop ideas."

Not being able to hear yourself think, or feel, or escape "Hotel California," is indeed what makes music in public places a nightmare. Your poor senses are crushed every time you step out of the house. By hammering you with pop tunes before a movie, Cineplexes manage to kill your appetite for a film. And can't we just daydream in a market's fluorescent aisles, ruminate over whether we want to prepare salmon or ravioli tonight, without having to hear "once, twice, three times a lady"?

I love the Doors, Otis Redding, the Clash, Public Enemy, Lucinda Williams and Arcade Fire as much as the next music fan. But why do bars insist on pummeling us with their songs at the decibel levels of NHRA drag races? Bars are supposed to be an oasis from work and noise, places to sort out life in conversations with friends and lovers. I don't understand why bar owners insist on undermining their storied and welcome culture with eardrum-splintering music and now panoramic TVs playing "Mission Impossible II." These days, I gauge the sound level before deciding to sit down and have a drink. One blast of "Once I had a love and it was a gas" and I'm on to the next place.

In fact, I know why music is piped into bars, markets, restaurants, department stores and Jiffy Lube waiting rooms. It's based on pop psychology and pseudoscience spouted by marketing and advertising executives. As David Owen informed us in a nifty New Yorker article last year on Muzak, "The Soundtrack of Your Life," the company for 50 years was based on a trademarked concept called Stimulus Progression, which held that "most people really were happier and more productive when there was something humming along in the background." Elevator music probably earned its name from the soothing tunes piped into early skyscrapers, designed to calm people as they rode the claustrophobic new contraptions to top floors.

In the '90s, Muzak reinvented itself with a new philosophy called audio architecture. The company sold music in public places not as a tranquilizer but as a means to enhance the shopping experience, as the marketing jargon goes. As Alvin Collins, a founder of the concept, explained to Owen, he was creating "retail theater." Muzak wasn't about soothing music anymore. "It was about selling emotion -- about finding the soundtrack that would make this store or that restaurant feel like something, rather than just being an intellectual proposition." That's why you now can't escape the Cure in Urban Outfitters or the Gipsy Kings in any Mediterranean restaurant; both are trying to match their wares to the music their target audience supposedly likes. Whether or not a particular business is a client of Muzak's, they are driven by the same concept: Retail theater is all about consumption and music is a star of the show.

That leads to a deeper reason that music in public places gets under your skin. You hear songs that once lifted your spirits employed to sell you a computer. I don't see much difference between using music to make you feel good about a dining experience and using it to sell you a car on TV.

I can easily picture the bright and musically savvy employee who came up with the idea to use Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" to promote Volkswagen's new Cabrio model. Pull an esoteric song out of rock's demimonde to show off Volkswagen's coolness to its college-crowd target. I have never been more disheartened by the use of a song in a commercial, or the response to it.

Afterward, many, including Drake's sister, said the singer, who died in 1974, an apparent suicide, benefited from the commercial because it exposed millions of people to his music. That's a pretty specious defense. One of the most extraordinary qualities about Drake's sad and lovely folk music is that it has grown in popularity over the years by being passed between friends like a tender secret. The commercial did help the Drake estate sell records but at a terrible cost to "Pink Moon." The emotionally fragile song, whose central image is a haunting metaphor for encroaching depression, is now forever bound to an automobile. It's an incredible shame and a phenomenon sadly taken for granted, even endorsed.

A few years ago the talented Moby made a splash by licensing his songs to Intel, the teen TV show "Charmed," Nokia phones and Rover SUVs, sometimes before they appeared on albums. Again, he succeeded in introducing his soulful pop grooves to a wide audience, but at the expense of having them associated with other media.

Moby and a new legion of pop fans may be puzzled that I see that association as regrettable. The artist was exploiting new avenues of distribution, and what does it matter whether you hear a song on the radio, a TV show or a commercial? The difference is that today's retail theater, designed to coerce and sell, robs music of its own visual and emotional power. I once admired Moby's album "Play" but never listen to it because of its association with the oppressive drone of consumerism. Is that the legacy a musician wants? Does the human spirit find release in a phone commercial? I can't believe that Bob Seger and John Cougar Mellencamp don't regret the choice that eternally welded their music to Chevy trucks.

The offensive Muzak philosophy that music can condition consumer behavior or create a psychic soundscape shows up in all kinds of public places. I was once talked into going to a rural spa where, after sipping tea in a Zen garden, you are placed in a tub of hot cedar chips to drain the toxins and stress from your body. I must confess I began to relax like Buddha, except for one thing. Once I was in the tub, the whispering attendant asked me if there was anything else she could get me. Yes, I said, could you please turn off the soporific New Age music? Once she did I could listen to the rain outside hitting the spa's roof, and that's when I began to sink into genuine tranquility.

I don't mean to sound crotchety. I can be sitting in a bar and smile in solidarity with the bartender who programmed the wistful and witty Mountain Goats song into the sound system. And I relish the Chopin nocturnes that my corner cafe sometimes plays in the morning. I also don't mean to raise the hoary complaint that music in public is further fraying some grand social fabric, as if life in America in 2007 is supposed to resemble a 1920s Paris salon. I'm in love with the modern world. I am.

Social critics like to bemoan the iPod, complain that society has collapsed into everybody living in their own private Idahos. But in fact listening to music on an iPod, or accumulating songs through file sharing, is a way to reclaim music from the manipulations of the marketers, to escape the claws of the behaviorists. Carving my way through the crowded city, while listening to music on my iPod, allows me to feel in touch with my surroundings. Art that doesn't manipulate is what forms real social bonds.

"We do not like to be pushed around emotionally," the avant-garde composer John Cage once said. "The purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences." I know that sounds high-minded, but it also sounds right to me. I daresay the spare piano pieces by Erik Satie and the minimalist organ works by Arvo Pärt owe their enduring popularity to how delicately they slice through our congested soundscape. They allow us to hear the hum of our own consciousness, to hear something like enlightenment.

Which brings me back to why No Music Day is wonderful and why we should launch the aural holiday in America. What it's really about is not escaping the incessant and unwanted drone of music in public. It's about learning how to listen again.


Well, my gig at PT's Gold was pretty much a bust because the weather turned so cold. Thanks to those of you who showed up to freeze your butts off with me. I was OK for about 5 tunes, then my hands got so cold I kept losing my grip on my pick.

My PA sure sounded great. I'm still learning how to get the best sound outa the XR8600 head. Below, it wasn't even breathing hard and sounded loud and clear as could be. Those are the settings from the gig, the main pot was up maybe 25%, the monitor pot maybe 20%. Channel 1 was my vocal mic. The gain on it was only up about 25%.

The unit has a lot of EFX alternatives, but you can only vary the level of EFX sends to the mains & monitors. Beyond that, the EFX setting choice is global across all 8 input channels. Still, lotta power and utility for $599.

Below, from the 'make lemonade' department. I bought one 500w par can for $49.99 at The Guitar Center, 'cuz I knew I'd otherwise be playin' in the dark. Used a tin can as a guide to cut a 2" donut hole in the middle of the gel with an X-acto knife. That way you get a "spot" and a color wash all in one.

Buy 3 of these puppies (with, say, red, blue, and magenta gels), cut spot holes in the gels of the two to be positioned 45 degree front L & R, use the other as a back wash. Done. Effective spot/color flood lighting on the cheap. It ain't rocket science.

The patio thing ain't gonna work till next spring. I think our extended autumn run of above average temps is over. Alyssa, the manager, wants me to play inside next week. We'll see. The floor layout isn't real conducive; the place is pretty compartmentailzed. Stay tuned.

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