Thursday April 8 1999
Hello, hello! Been a while, been a while!
First off, increasingly I see the invention of the phrase "Everything in the world is tentative" attributed to people who aren't me, so let's fix that right away. Me!
Second off, I feel stronger and more creative now than I've ever felt in any of my lives.
The next BFD album will kill. I was thinking, AGAIN, that I'd try to keep it down to about an hour long or so, but last night I whittled the songlist down to the twenty songs which absolutely HAVE to be on there, and it'll be tight at 74 minutes. So another marathon is a-coming your way. Listening to "The Healing Game" by Van Morrison right now. Yes!
I'm not going to say "th**d off," because I've got a lot to tell you and THAT particular device will get tiresome durn quickly. (I think Giovanni Ribisi is scheduled to play Durn Quickly in "Boogie Nights 2," innee?) But the last time I Typed To You we were getting ready for the NAMM show in January. (Hey! Right when I wrote "January," Van and Georgie Fame started singing "January" like sixty times in a row in the song "Fire In The Belly" - a term which is as good as any to describe how I'm feeling, so YES this is a good album.)
So I get stuck in traffic on the way to the first gig at NAMM, a club thing for Rivera and Paul Reed Smith at The Mint. Get to the gig, oh, something like an hour and a half late. I've never missed a downbeat in my life and I feel like chewed carrots as I walk through the door, instantly I'm embraced by the concern and well-wishings of dozens of people who'd been worried, not one single evil vibe from ANYONE. I watch Doyle Dykes (sp?) do absolutely magical, unthinkably beautiful things with an acoustic guitar and my soul is soothed, then DUANE EDDY gets up to jam with him. I smile. BFD, a little trio with BB, JHS and moi, mount the stage for our first gig since the end of WNHTH 2.0 and we blast through twenty minutes of nerviness, burn a swath through the crowd, powder burns on the walls. Everyone, executives, ministers, total strangers tell me that my showing up late was MEANT TO BE, that for us to have been the first act of the night would have been the silliest thing in the world. I try pretty hard not to feel like I can do no wrong. Paul Reed Smith, who not only manufactures gitboxes but plays 'em as well, gets up with his band and I jam silly blues with him, tossing off lines oh so casual. But man do I ever feel right with a guitar in my hand these days. Postscript: Christine from Music News Network runs into a bunch of Paul Reed Smith people a couple of months later and they're still staggering slightly from their momentary contact with "that Zappa guy." Apologies for coming off all self-serving but these things make me happy and I like to share.
Couple of NAMM convention floor booth gigs for SWR over the next couple of days. We quietly rage, the three of us. REALLY good shows. Jason is flying, he never felt this at ease on the road with us, and I can tell that the year is getting off to a really good start for BFD. Ike Willis pops by with Lyle Workman, I hand Ike the mic without telling him why and we launch into "Pygmy Twylyte." "Oh, you're sneaky" says Ike, then THAT VOICE comes out of him, unbelievable. Bryan is happy, Jason is rumbling and cooking and rolling like magic streamwater, I'm just thinking that 1999 is going to be a good, good year.
Early February - off to San Francisco, Henry Kaiser meets me at the airport, we stop at a health food market before going to his beyond-beautiful home. Henry elbows me and says "ready to see the most successful composer in the world?" as we walk by John Adams first peering into a newspaper vending machine, then breezing across the street. Get to Henry's and start learning the chord changes to "Fall" by Wayne Shorter on piano as the weather outside Hanry's huge picture windows gets misty and mythic, grey clouds clinging to the moist green hillside across the way. We crank up the CD player loudly, Henry and I sit in silence while "N-Lite" plays and the weather gets yet more radiantly foreboding. The other principals start falling by - Finnish guitar god Raoul Bjorkenheim, LA new music drum avatar Alex Cline, Henry's co-conspirator behind the board Chris Muir. We go out to dinner and I ask Henry why he's not eating his tomatoes, he gets a glint in his eye and flies something away in his mind for later. We go to a cliffside and walk on the guardrail overseeing Oakland, gleefully catting about other "experimental" musicians of our experience. Go to a friend of Henry's who remembers me from when I was in Marc Bonilla's band and slathers me with kindness as he hands me his beautiful newborn baby to cuddle. I step out of the room for a sec, return to find that Henry is seated with acoustic guitar, ready to perform, the other guests are on couches lining the walls and there's one empty chair facing Henry, about four feet away from him. My seat. I settle in and Henry launches into "Meet The Flintstones," a ridiculously engaging monologue-with-guitar-accompaniment which leaves me breathless with admiration at his quickness, wit and creativity, as well as finally cluing me in decisively as to why he doesn't much care for tomatoes (the reason he'd staged the performance in the first place). Henry has recorded this piece, although I don't know on which album it appears - but hunt it down if you can, it's worth it. Although I can't imagine any performance of it being as effective as the one I witnessed.
Wake up the next morning realizing that I need to write something for that day's recording session, about five minutes before we leave I sit at the piano and this elegant ballad pours out which I name for the first person I see upon its completion, one of Henry's cats, Miso. Pissing down rain as we haul ourselves and Henry's gear to the recording studio (I'm playing only acoustic piano on the session so no gear for me! Yay), a grand old place this studio, HUGE room, wooden stuff everywhere, exactly the sort of studio we dreamed about recording in when we were kids. There we are finally joined by bass deity Michael Manring whose every note is magic, one of those guys. Before the day is through we have seventeen different pieces on tape, many in multiple takes, including a slew of improvs, the austere "Anthem" by Peter Erkine which Alex brought to the session, a very Monkish original by Raoul called "Pebbles," a jagged thing of Henry's called "Scatterbrained," my "Miso," a Coltrane medley of "Configuration" and "Joy," a Miles medley of "Fall" and "Corrado," a Zappa medley of "Filthy Habits" and "Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" (actually "EDMB" doesn't get imposed until the following day at Henry's home studio, when I double-track the "Dolphy" melody on guitars over the "Filthy Habits" vamp - quite distressingly odd and fun. I also overdub guitar on a very Trane-ish/Santana-ish improv, and do a git solo on "Miso.") During the day of basic tracks with everyone in the studio I play only piano and it is a great challenge and pleasure to attempt to provide valid contributions on that instrument all day long. Frequently I find myself inhabited by the mystery piano player who lives midway between McCoy Tyner and Alice Coltrane, and I allow this person to have their way with me. Fun.
On the day I'm to leave SF I'm picked up by Kenny Kessel, bassist for the wonderful band The Loud Family, and I end up contributing some seriously Neil Young-inspired SG to their new album before we have a marvelous lunch (during which I proselytize relentlessly about "Mr. Show") and then see the equally marvelous "Rushmore" - God, what a pleasure THAT movie is! I fly home wreathed in warm feelings about my outrageously productive and fun weekend in the Bay Area.
The following weekend I've got two more sessions, doing some final solos and guitar bits on the James LaBrie solo album (his vocals weren't on yet when I recorded my parts in late '98, now they are and there's been a request for me to fill up some more tape - no problem), and I also play on a few songs on Nigey Lennon's debut album. I think I shan't give any further details on that one, I'll let your minds flutter at will.
Also in February and March work is begun on the third Jip album, even though the second one hasn't been released yet - what can I say? Teaby likes to work, and I sure as hell like to work with Teaby. Joe Travers heads south to SD to play drums and I'm more often than not in the studio as band member rather than in the control room as producer, and before we know it we're making two albums simultaneously - the next Jip album proper, which consists of "songs," and this other thing that happens when we start improvising - see, we don't "jam," we actually improvise song structures, and as one little songlet starts to fade away somebody will start up some other thing which leads to another songlet, and one of our improv sessions usually consists of three or four of these improvised songs connected like those plastic baby toy things that have a hole on one end and a little bulbous round knob of plastic on the other, and you POP the plastic knob of one into the hole of another and chain 'em together - the way that looks is the way our improvs evolve. I casually mentioned that we became some "other" band during these episodes, not Jip, but "Heppy The Shep" or something. I should know better than to say something like that out loud, because that is of course now the name of Jip's alter ego. So I hope Brad gets the second Jip CD out soon because I can't wait for the third Jip album and the first Heppy The Shep album to hit the streets - this music makes me really happy (Travers too - you should see the grins he and I trade while we do this stuff - and it's such a pleasure to be making music with him again).
I'm also working with a woman named Tamara Vilke here in San Diego, a crazily gifted vocalist/songwriter/guitarist who is going to be very famous soon. Talk about driven, and seriously, talk about gifted - these totally involving pop tunes with incredible, soul-searching and -baring lyrics fall out of her at the rate at which most normal people produce footsteps. She's currently demoing her tunes at Ed Lucas' utterly nifty home studio (aka The Artist Currently Known As Ed, or more legendarily in the BFD lexicon Fuckin' Ed). If you need a cool place to demo stuff you should buy time at Ed's place, it really rocks. Write me if you're interested in that. Oh! Speaking of writing me, my computer at home has been out of commission for the better part of a month so my email answering frequency is even more abysmal than usual. You know what? I like it this way. I like not being distracted by email. I'm getting a lot more accomplished. So even when the computer is up again, I don't expect my email answering rate to get too much better. I'm on a roll right now and I thnk I've hit on a winning formula. But I still answer email sometimes, thank yay for the computer here at the Manor and the one at Rich Pike's (my utter home away from home in LA - oh! again, progress on Rich's album is coming along beautifully also! That thing is going to be so fabulous I can't stand it), and try to maintain contact through the newsgroup, which I love, when I can. Random Fandom doesn't seem too active these days, but if my presence is ever required there I will be there.
So somewhere in there Evan Francis (sax and flute) and Rick Musallam (guitar and vocals) were instated as official BFD members. Our gig at the Casbah in San Diego on March 10 was prior to Rick's utter readiness to perform the material so we were a four-piece, me, BB, Jason and Evan. Jeez, it was barely a month ago but so much has happened since then that specifics of the gig kind of elude me - it's a bit of a blur but I know I had a hell of a good time and the audience was not offended at all. Bryan listened to a tape of it, I think, and told me it sounded great, I think. One of the new songs, "Kedgeree," was almost premiered at that show without lyrics, but I withdrew it at the last minute and I'm VERY glad, it wasn't ready yet. Boy, it sure is ready now. Oh boy.
A couple of weeks after the Casbah was our first show at the new Baked Potato on Sunset. Our first gig with Rick Musallam, who acquitted himself with his customary quiet grace and devastating efficiency. This was the world premiere of "Ragged Ass," lyric-less 'cause they didn't exist yet. Sweet venue, and they liked us, borne out by their hiring us back instantly to begin a twice-monthly residency starting in May. The venue is also about three minutes from Rich Pike's house, which makes me REALLY happy. I love having Evan in the band - he's such an outrageously strong voice to have around, such a good feeling to point at him to solo and know that something ridiculously cool is going to happen. Rick is a totally sweet soloist as well, super-confident with amazing touch and tone. Every note sounds right. I'm envious.
Meanwhile, Jesse keeps getting more and more amazing. She's drawing the most detailed, malleable octopi these days. Love her so much. God. She's incredible.
So somewhere in there Joe Puerta calls, he wants Les Lokey, the woman he's been producing, to do some West Coast shows. Can she open for us if he gets his booking agent to book us some gigs, and can BFD be her backup band? Yeah! Ziegenhagen flies in and we have one eight-hour rehearsal with the six-piece and WOW, this is it. This is the way I've been wanting to sound on stage all along. Rich and huge and many-textured and unpredictable and varied and strange and unexpected, but everyone is listening to each other, and somehow we sound more delicate and musical than we ever did as a four-piece. A huge, huge leap forward for this band. I quick learn Les' tunes and there's a four-hour rehearsal with her, Joe, me, Marc and Jason. We'll be fine. It sounds great. Les is thrilled. So am I. Yay.
The gigs: Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Key Club in Hollywood, Borders (jasonless) in Santa Monica, Sacred Grounds in San Pedro. Too soon for me to speak about it in reliable sobriety, I'm still buzzing from the wonderfulness of it all, so wonderful. Right from note one in San Juan I knew this was a great band, and I never stop feeling that way right up to the last note in Pedro and beyond. So let me deal with the thing that always seems to come up: Q: will the next BFD album be recorded by a single lineup all the way through? A: yes. The lineup for the next BFD album is MK, BB, Jason, Ziegenziegen, Evan and Rick. Chris Opperman is going to fly in to play some trumpet too. That's the band. It's going to be the best album you ever heard. Coming soon.