Doug Lunn set me free in 1992.
I thought I knew how to do jazz-inspired improvisation in a rock context prior to then, but it was only when I placed myself in his guiding hands (in tandem with Toss Panos) that the horizon began to reveal itself.
I was honored to have Doug and Toss play on my debut album hat. in 1992, along with a number of other wonderful players. When I decided to take to the stage in support of that album, Doug and Toss were the people I chose to use, and in rehearsals in Toss’ backyard studio I saw how my songs as recorded were actually just blueprints – in their expert hands it was revealed to me just how far into the stratosphere these strange little songs could be piloted.
I had done some jamming out with my own bands in the eighties, and been involved with some pretty crazy free improv episodes during Zappa ’88, but when I got in a rehearsal room with Doug and Toss there was a palpable sensation of new ground being broken in practically every song I played with them.
Toss played with time in the most engaging way imaginable and made me feel that all rhythmic possibilities were valid. But it was Doug’s fearless harmonic underpinnings that opened my eyes, ears and sensibilities wider than I’d ever thought possible.
This song demonstrates to me what Doug’s brilliance afforded my music: “Backstage With Wilson Philips.”
This is actually the improv section from an alternate version of “We’re Rockin’ All Night With The Tangy Flavor Of Cheddar.” It delighted me to the extent that I edited it out and turned it into its own track. It’s like one long bar that shifts, stretches, contracts and congeals, then breaks down and rebuilds itself. Doug and Toss are in charge of constructing the skeleton and I’m left free to explore any avenue I desire on its bones, with utter confidence that they will not let me fall. I’m so grateful for this song because I think, more than any other single recorded example, it brings back to me the way it felt to play with these two gentlemen and have musical mysteries revealed, peeled back and solved simply by way of their example.
We did some unbelievable gigs right off the bat. The full video concert on the DVD that comes with the 2007 hat. Special Edition reissue will give you some indication.
On Dust Speck we had a little more time in the studio to experiment and I was delighted to utilize Doug more extensively in the orchestrations. He told me about the Mick Karn approach to bass recording: double-tracking the bass part with one fretless bass and one fretted bass. His work on the song “Blameless” is just so beautiful.
This was the song where a part of one of the bass tracks – just a couple of bars – was accidentally erased, and Doug made the drive from LA to San Diego without hesitation to fix it. This was back in the firmly analog days – there was no feasible way to patch in his part from another section of the performance, it had to be replayed. This act of unquestioning generosity is entirely indicative of what sort of a person Doug was. He contained such reservoirs of selflessness and giving. It’s humbling even to be inspired by him.
(It was also Doug who instantly noticed during those sessions, after Toss asked the immortal question “do we need beer for ‘Dolphins’?” [meaning, did we need to procure and consume some inspiring beverages before attempting a take on the song “Them Dolphins Is Smart”], that the initials for the phrase “Beer For Dolphins” were BFD. I decided at that instant that it needed to be my band’s name. That never would have occurred to me without Doug’s insight, which was always instantaneous and acute.)
(And I’m further reminded of other Lunn-ian inspirations that continued to yield fruit for quite literally decades to come. The weird little piece at the beginning of hat., “Your Quimby Dollars At Work” – that was never meant to be more than a little cameo, an opening gesture, not really a composition of any great import, but during a lengthy Shankar soundcheck while Doug, Toss and I were standing around for hours waiting for something to happen, Doug suggested taking that theme and slowing it wayyyyyy down. This extended variation on the theme ended up as the opening piece at countless BFD and MKB shows since, and always proved to be a great entryway into a gig, a way of blowing off the events of the day and venturing resolutely into the sacred head- and heart-space of live performance.)
Doug was a master. Not only as a bassist, although his voice on that instrument was unparalleled – he could throw down brilliantly on drums and piano and more besides, and had a compositional sense that was so confident and cool and surprising and breathtaking. Actually he was one of the best and sophisticated composers I ever had the honor to meet. I hope that more people will discover his Doug Lunn Project album. It is a tour de force.
Here’s a live arrangement of one of that album’s songs done at a recent Keneally/Bendian/Lunn gig: “Dyslexia Mango Nixon.”
Doug and I could talk for ages about Miles, Coltrane, Monk – he knew everything about this music that there was to know, and I learned so much from these discussions. It was a privilege to place myself under his tutelage – I somehow felt that he had a direct line to the source of this music. I have an especially fond memory of having played Coltrane’s “Crescent” at the Baked Potato, with Doug, Rick Musallam and Chad Wackerman. I only wish that we’d been able to do more gigs with that lineup!
In recent years it was a pleasure and an honor to work with him a lot more often, often in partnership with our brilliant friend Gregg Bendian. Here is a little segment from an idyllic afternoon spent practicing in Scott Chatfield‘s living room: “Out On The Tiles.”
In addition to the challenging and adventurous Keneally Bendian Lunn gigs we undertook, I was delighted to work with Doug and Gregg on Scambot 2. What a fantastic thing to record with Doug on an album of mine again, nearly twenty years after our last studio work on Dust Speck. He and Gregg did genius work on two of the stranger, more intricate pieces on the album (“Pretzels” and “Clipper”), but my favorite Doug moment on SB2 is his execution of some very simple lines on the latter half of “Scores Of People.”
That flowing bass tone starting at 3:27 – double-tracked in the classic Karn style – feels like a river of stars to me.
Doug was a beautiful, honorable, elegant, smart, brilliantly funny, just-cynical-enough and eminently wise man. I ache for his loved ones in the wake of his passing. I am grateful he no longer suffers. I love him so much.