Archive for the observations Category

It ain’t me, babe

Posted in observations with tags , on December 11, 2014 by dukewisdom
Can you see the real me?

Can you see the real me?

You have Googled yourself, right? If not, you really should because you might find a gem like the above. “Troy Van Horn” isn’t exactly a common name, but there seems to be a another music-scene-related version that’s not yours truly in the Kansas City area, a promoter of apparently debatable reputation. So, when he searches himself, he finds a bunch of stuff about guitar playing and, I guess, a bunch of people (justifiably or not, I have no clue) bitching about him on discussion boards. Anyway, I have no idea who “Tyger Rhames” is, but thanks for having my back!


In the attic: Observations from an unexpected jam

Posted in observations on March 27, 2011 by dukewisdom

The phrase “jam session” invokes both delight and horror in me. Impromptu musical get-togethers can be amazing and rewarding if there’s a common ground of literature or purpose, so to speak. Whether it means a group of players working through Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” or Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak,” some sort of agreement is crucial. Otherwise you might end up mired in an unending and directionless 12-bar loop (which in the hands of most is about as interesting as listening to paint dry) or with nothing at all to play.

Or so it would seem. Last night I found myself on the way to “jam” at the house of friends. And not only was the group decidedly not of the same musical background or direction, they weren’t even all musicians. Potential train wreck, I thought. But, in a sense it was an extreme instance of the fulcrum of experienced musicians and casual players that I’ve welcomed in the Association of Spacecraft Mechanics. So I was up for it.

Somewhere in the darkness I try to conjure Aynsley Dunbar, ca. Chunga's Revenge.

It turned out to be pretty refreshing and a hell of a lot of fun. For starters, I didn’t play guitar. At all. Instead, in a feat of multi-instrumentalism that would make Mike Keneally recoil in horror, I played organ and drums. I should point out that I began my musical life as a drummer around 2.8 million years ago and for quite a while I was a much better percussionist than guitarist. As for keyboard instruments, I have almost no technique but understand the relationships of notes.  So, right: My contributions to the sesh were a functional knowledge of music theory and a decades-rusty grasp of the drums. What about my partners in musical crime?

Our host Brock is, by his admission, a babe in the woods at guitar playing. He’s a thoroughly creative person and a fantastic visual artist—and a comparative noob at music (I’m certain I started playing well before he was born). He played a variety of unconventional and motivational things left-handed on a right-hand guitar flipped over, Doyle Bramhall II style. During my stint on the organ I did my best to keep an eye on what he was playing so as to compliment the goings on as I channeled my inner Agharta.

Also along was my wife Venus, who sings so well it gives me chills, but who is no veteran of free-form freak-out improv. She alternately sang odd melodies and warbled weirdness, reading text from items stuck to the wall, like a Fly era Yoko Ono. Or something. Very avant-garde, V. Nice job.

The true wild card in the mix was our friend Patrick, who as far as I know has no musical training whatsoever. He proved himself to be an earthy, visceral drummer, and probably nearly as steady as a couple I’ve seen play in bands recently. But he really hit his stride on the keyboard. Patrick—another visual artist and possessor of a Masters—surprised me. It’s my guess that an extremely studied approach to art in general served him well. Though essentially blind as to the ways of the keys, he exhibited a sense of space and balance that just worked. Who the hell knew?

This went on for maybe 90 Heineken-fueled minutes. If we’d recorded everything, I bet we could’ve sculpted an edit of which Teo Macero would  … maybe not approve, but not necessarily erase instantly.

And no one launched into “Sweet Home Chicago” even once.


Posted in gig log, observations on October 1, 2009 by dukewisdom

In a quick reprise of Further Adventures in Whiplash, I recently wound up spending another rather entertaining weekend driving hither and yon playing music.

Picking up where that episode left off, first up was another gig with Mr. Jim Stapley, this time (wait for it) at the Oklahoma State Fair. How the hell do I wind up in these situations, you might ask? I know a guy. Anyway, Jim (or “Pops,” as I like to refer to him) flew into KC from Atlanta just to experience the van ride down I-35 with “the band.” Actually, it was several hundred bucks cheaper to do it that way. But ride with us he did. Being from Tunbridge Wells, Kent UK, Jim had understandably never been to a state fair. We had a great time trying to prepare him for a variety of foods-on-a-stick and funnel cakes (to a Brit a mystery food which we took pleasure in never explaining).

In the van. Photo: Tyson Leslie

In the van. Photo: Tyson Leslie

We had a laugh pulling into the fair grounds in Oklahoma City, envisioning some “authority” peering into the vehicle containing an international and integrated collection of musicians and saying, “Well, just what in tarnation do we have here?” Luckily no grief was given. At this point.

Of course, this group isn’t really a “band” at all–we’re an assemblage of sidemen hastily assembled a few weeks earlier for what we figured was a one-off show. So, with a total of one rehearsal and one show under our collective belt, we were tasked with opening for Jackyl (we know a guy) on a large stage again. And again the set went swimmingly. It turned out to be one of those sets that felt a little “ehh” at the time, but perspective (and a few clips on YouTube) have revealed that it was pretty damn good.

We had a good time hanging around after the show for a while before heading back north. There were a couple of drinks and various items were autographed. Now, I didn’t witness it, but I’m told Jim signed a body part belonging to a woman old and/or frail enough to require a cane. Ah, youth.

Incidentally, I’m constantly amazed at the skill exhibited by all of the musicians I’m lucky enough to work with. I could never have guessed the caliber of players I’d fall in with when I was a 16 year old playing .38 Special and Greg Kihn covers in the band room in Iowa. Thanks, Fate, I dig this.

Being a hired hand is all well and good, but it left me with a strong urge to get back on stage with the boys and let it all go. In the former setting I had to pay more attention to working with a fairly unfamiliar set of players on a set of songs that had never been allowed to go through the process of new to rote to stylized. So, a Saturday night show with Federation of Horsepower in Ottawa, KS was sure to get me back inside my game.

It was a beautiful evening as I made the hour trip from home to the gig, listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash’s debut album. (Ok, I actually started out listening to In God We Trust by Stryper but it didn’t take me long to get through all the songs I actually wanted to hear.) Downtown Ottawa (don’t laugh) was absolutely packed with the remnants of a car show. Oh, this was going to be good.

FoHp at Wicked Sister's. Photo: Aaron Dement.

FoHp at Wicked Sister's. Photo: Aaron Dement. See the orb in front of my guitar? That's the spiritual manifestation of Dave Pritchard from Armored Saint.

We’re very well taken care of at Wicked Sister’s. There’s a sort of brown green room downstairs in which we were treated to beer and barbecue made by our host, Earache. And yeah, it turned out to be a pretty hellacious show too. With no time constraints we went for the kitchen sink set, including the songs Legba and Indiana. Mmmmm yeah. AND we were coaxed into a real live, not at all contrived encore for which we cranked out the one-two punch of Where Eagles Dare and London Dungeon by the Misfits.

Dating back to the August Austin trip I kind of felt like I’d been on the run for six weeks between real life and band life. It’s been a hell of a summer.

Further adventures in Whiplash

Posted in gig log, observations on September 12, 2009 by dukewisdom

News flash: Goddamn,  there is SO MUCH incredible music out there in the world! Like most people I associate with, I listen to, seek out, devour a wide range of it. Art Tatum, Art Zoyd, Art Garfunkel–it doesn’t matter to me: if I like it, I like it. Consequently, I’ve always been interested in playing in a variety of styles too. Occasionally these styles intersect, not only in actual playing, where a technique developed for one application might inform that of another–but also on the calendar. Playing multiple gigs with different bands over the span of a few days is nothing groundbreaking. But when I’m required to genre jump, I have to say it keeps me on my toes. The past week or so has been a doozy.


It’s one thing to head out to a couple of shows from home where your various gear and garb lives. It’s yet another kink, however, to have to travel to the shows from a remote location. To set the stage (ahem), I was working long, peculiar hours for my day gig at a trade show in downtown Kansas City, hence staying in a hotel near the convention center. This meant I had to take some of my junk with me when I left home a couple days prior to the shows. So I tossed some outfits (gotta have outfits) and the Fender Hot Rod Deville 410 into my car at 6:00 a.m., confident that the amp would be the heaviest thing I moved that day (it wasn’t). And away I went.

After working a couple of 10-12 hour days, it was time to head out to the first gig: The Cass County Lamenters at Holden, Missouri’s Fall Fiesta. The Lamenters specialize in old school honky tonk: songs about lying, cheating, drinking, smoking–real sad stuff. And we were made for these small town festivals where the streets are blocked off and wicked fried foods are ample. It was about an hour drive from my hotel to Holden, so I had time to switch gears, listening to a Prince compilation and Carla Bozulich’s Evangelista (good gawd, will that switch your gears …). Following the scent of funnel cakes, I navigated to the center of town and the bandstand to locate my band mates, including my angel-voiced wife.

Holden is your typical one-Casey’s-General-Store style of town. This translates to approximately 2.3 bars in the downtown area. I generally like to sample the local flavor, so to speak, but with my tight schedule that wasn’t an option. Voicing my dismay at such a predicament, I noted I could really go for a shot of Jim Beam. Not ten minutes later I was covertly handed a suspicious Coke can by our gracious host and hookup, Heather Phipps. She advised me to drink with caution. My wishes had been answered. Locating my honky tonk mojo, my comrades and I set out to spin our weepy numbers into the August night.

"Sound check," if you will.

"Sound check," if you will. You can see a grain elevator in the distance.


Bandstand! Photo: Beck Ireland.

We played some Patsy Cline. We played some Lynn Anderson. We played some Loretta Lynn. It was all very sad. Something else that was sad: the “sound man’s” idea of … everything. The only things benefiting from microphones were vocals and the upright bass. Given, those needed it, but at an outdoor show … things could’ve been better. Alas.

Fall Fiesta.

Fall Fiesta.

After loading out, visiting a mausoleum (yes, that is another story) and hanging around a bit, it was time for me to get my ass back to the city. Wending my way through Pleasant Hill, Blue Springs and a settling fog I eventually made it to I-70, downtown bound tuned into some uninterrupted raw rock on KC’s KKFI (they even played some Cretin 66!).

Friday ended late and Saturday began early–about 5:00 a.m. I had another 12 hour shift before my next show: Federation of Horsepower at the Midland Theater. Man, do we get to play some cool shows in some cool venues. I often shake my head at the opportunities I’ve been afforded. And this was another one. The historic theater has recently played host to some rock and roll shows and this evening found us opening for the barely describable Steel Panther. Here is something that has never happened before: I walked to the gig. The Midland is right around the corner from where I was staying. So I hoofed it. Here is something that rarely happens: we had a dressing room. I found great amusement in the fact that Friday I’d changed clothes in my car and Saturday there was a room of our own backstage at a legendary venue. The mind boggles sometimes. Quite often, actually.

Kriss Ward and soundman extraordinaire Paul Malinowski.

Kriss Ward and soundman extraordinaire Paul Malinowski.

We played a torrid set to warm up the house. It was quite an honor to play on this stage, a surface that has played host to untold legends (I’ve personally seen the likes of Mandy Patinkin and Elvis Costello there) … and now me.

Super intent on an F#5. Yep - same hat V was wearing Friday.

Super intent on an F#5. Yep - same hat V was wearing Friday. Photo: Slimm Adkins.

Twin Scarlett rig for maximum maximumness.

Twin Scarlett rig for maximum maximumness. Photo: Slimm Adkins.

Our set ended, as if often does, with a pile of racket and near onstage scrum during which Gregg knocked over the microphone (bulls, China shop, etc.). He was shortly thereafter informed, haughtily, that, “that was a brand new mic, man,” by a member of the sound crew. Gregg himself was not too put off, but I took it upon myself to belligerently bang into the guy with gear or body every chance I got while loading off. I don’t know what the hell gets into me sometimes. Rock and roll testosterone misdirection or something. Sorry, sound crew guy–just looking after your gear, I know.

During our set the dressing room fridge was restocked. Bud Light. Oh well. Quickly observing that this was not going to be touched, I snagged it and later set out, on foot of course, back to the hotel. So, if you were wondering, “who’s the jackass in a cowboy hat walking up 13th Street with a 12 pack of Bud Light?”–yeah, it was me.

Somewhere in there I was asked if I would be part of a pickup band backing a young vocalist from England, Jim Stapley. Sure–what the hell else did I have to do? When’s the gig? Wednesday. Huh. I was living downtown until Tuesday and Jim was to arrive in KC on Wednesday. Basically it amounted to one group practice to put together five songs in order to open for Jackyl (you heard me) at KC’s Power & Light District.

(Now, don’t even get me started on the P&L District. Ok, I’m started. I’m not a fan. A few nights prior to the Midland gig someone stopped me for trying to pass through while carrying a camera, as though I might profit greatly from snapping a photo of whatever cover band was playing outside that night. Fuck off, P&L.)

Did you hear something?

Anyway, I spent a day or two listening to the songs I was to learn and an evening in my room learning the stuff via headphones and unplugged guitar.

Cramming at the Aladdin. Note confiscated Bud Light sadly being employed.

Cramming at the Aladdin. Note confiscated Bud Light sadly being employed.

Wednesday came and rehearsal-one-and-only was smooth. Immediately following, it was off with the gear to the P&L for the gig. Federation has shared a bill with Jackyl numerous times, so I sort of felt like a dirty little whore at this show. The set went off hitchlessly and was well received.

Jammin' with Jim.

Jammin' with Jim.

When it was all said and done I’d played something like 40 different songs in three venues to maybe 6,000 people. Not a bad week for a random dude like myself. It was a thrill to take part in putting some (hopefully) great, varied music back out into the ether.


Muse Visitations

Posted in compositions, observations on June 24, 2009 by dukewisdom

Of quick turnaround and seizure of inspiration.

Recently I’ve been contributing some lyrics to songs being written for The Stigmata Brothers, an upcoming project spearheaded by friend and sometimes collaborator E. Voeks. I was originally a member of this almost-band until a schedule collision made that impossible. But I’m still excitedly co-writing what I can.

This project has been framed for a few months; there is a definite end date and specific time frame for preparation of material. And I’ve had plenty of times set aside to devote to the work: plane rides, hotel rooms and leisurely days off work were ideally to yield results. Yet other than a few abortive lines – nothing.

Then, a few weeks back I hurried in from cutting the grass. Without missing a beat, without stopping for a beer I scrambled for a notebook. I’d come up with an entire song while pushing the mower. Whew. Hurray – the floodgates had opened!

Then: nothing more.

Finally yesterday I was emailed a demo of a song with completed choruses but only placeholder mumbles for the verses. Determining that the desired goal was not, in fact, some sort of blurry Michael Stipe-ian obfuscation, I pondered what was there. In a burst of inspiration (I guess that’s what it was), like some dime store Bernie Taupin I imagined a scenario and enough verses to fill the holes which I typed up and sent back to Stigmata central. Maybe 90 minutes later I was returned an updated version of the demo with said verses plugged in. It’s kind of a fascinating way to work.

E. joked that we’d have this pressed and on shelves by 6:00 pm, Sun Records style. If I could only bottle this type of productivity …


Posted in observations, work on March 1, 2009 by dukewisdom

I’ve added the category work to echoflower. Here’s what it’s about:

As a professional instructor between 1991 and 1999 I spent considerable time concocting finger workouts for the guitar. Initially the exercises (I would hesitate to call them all etudes, as that implies a certain musicality that isn’t always present – sometimes they’re just diabolical digit twisters) were privately circulated among my students. As I started to amass a varied cache of these fledgling-frustraters, I realized I really enjoyed creating them. This eventually led to me assembling a couple method books (as yet unpublished – did I mention that echoflower is a mechanism to kick myself in the ass to complete projects?) as well as contributing to various print and online magazines from time to time.

I’ve had requests for lessons of late and am seriously considering taking on a limited number of students. This has my brain churning new ideas specific to those asking. So I’m going to compile some of the older works here and create a space for those of the future.

The pieces marked work are just that – circuit training for the hands and brain, as much for me building them as for those practicing them.

It’s a midlife crisis

Posted in observations on February 15, 2009 by dukewisdom

After creating echoflower a week ago I spent several days digging in boxes, riffling through forgotten folders, hunting high and low for material related to some of what will be the subjects of  upcoming entries. In 20+ years of playing guitar I’ve written a (still growing) stack of  music and have intermittently made a variety of “albums.” I put that in quotes because in a way it sounds a bit self-important. But, while some may only exist on CD-R in microscopic distribution, these albums, these collections of like things as well as the pages of unrecorded, unplayed notes are important to me.

I’m realizing now that this blog is a way of kicking myself in the ass to complete some long lingering projects and realize a few others. I turn 40 in a matter of days. If I left the earth tomorrow I feel that I would have made a positive impression on and contributed in some constructive way to the people I’ve known. That’s probably the most important thing one can do. In addition to that, however, I wish to leave a larger and more organized musical footprint. That’s what this is all about.

I have absolutely no interest in buying a motorcycle or having an affair. So – I think this project will be my midlife crisis. Of course, that implies I’ll only live to be 80, so I think I’ll call it a third-life crisis. Welcome to it.