Monday, March 12, 2007

At last, some activity...

Bummer that it has to start out with bad news, at least bad news to me.

Brad Delp, singer of Boston, died last Friday. He was 55 - way too young.

Let me put this in perspective from my point of view (which will take a bit of blathering, sorry). I first started playing guitar soon after we moved up to Maine in May 1976 - largely because since we were living without electricity, TV, and other modern distractions, so there wasn't a lot to do around the house, and drawing was difficult at night by kerosene lantern. So mom got me started on the guitar, and I learned a couple of Beatles songs and tinkered around making twangy noises on and off. I wasn't really that serious about it, but it was fun.

In August 1976, Boston released that legendary/infamous debut album, and "More Than A Feeling," the first single, started getting played on the radio as it climbed up the charts. I first heard the song on Kasey Kasem's "American Top 40" radio show, on my tiny little Panasonic AM/FM transistor radio that my grandparents gave me the previous Xmas. On that static-ridden AM broadcast (it may actually have been a station broadcasting from Boston, the ionospheric bounce used to make tuning in possible), on that little tiny speaker, that song reached out from 300 miles away, reached into my brain and grabbed hold with a vise-like grip that not only knocked me on my 10-year-old ass, but hasn't let go even to this day.

I'm not the only one, of course, since that album sold something like 15 MILLION copies within a year and I think is still the best-selling debut album of any band ever, and only the #2 or #3 best-selling album of all time behind Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and maybe something else. Clearly, that music grabbed a lot of people.

For some odd reason, this has made Boston a musical entity that a whole lot of people love to hate; they are held up as the very foundation and definition of the Corporate Rock Band, the template for what critics call "bland" middle-of-the-road Album Oriented Rock or Hard-Rock-Tinged-Pop or something silly like that. Music that so many millions of people like just can't be good in any way, can it? No, of course not, we're music snobs, we're Record Business People, we're Indie Rock Pete, we only like music that everyone hates. At least publicly. (We sure don't mind raking in the bucks selling it, of course, but we've got reputations to uphold.)

First, as far as the Corporate Rock Band thing is concerned, that's way, way off base. That first album was recorded almost entirely by Tom Scholz and Brad down in Tom's basement studio in Massachusetts. Here, read about it yourself. There was no producer, no A&R guy, no label oversight or input at all in the making of the music. Tom was the engineer and producer and mixer, he played most of the instruments (including some drums), did everything except sing. It's basically a super-high-quality home demo tape, a grass-roots home-made personally-crafted labor of love that became one of the best-selling, most popular collections of music ever made. Boston is a do-it-yourselfer's wet dream, the complete antithesis of "corporate rock" or "corporate anything," really. In that sense, it should be the inspiration for every musician who wants to record their music and get it out in front of people. That's the secret: learn how to make a professional-quality recording yourself, make your album yourself, make it the most brilliant thing you can do, and THEN go shop it around to record labels. If you've already finished it, you can sell it to them as-is, and keep their grubby meddling fingers off your creation. But I digress.

Well. If your opinion of me musically is negatively affected by the fact that I like Boston, and that their music has been a HUGE influence on me, then my response is: (edited for public viewing) Go #$%& Yourself. Painfully.

Shortly after I went nuts for the song, my mom gave me the "More Than A Feeling" vinyl 45 single, which I played over and over again on my battery-powered record player, until it was almost unrecognizable, as I tried to learn how to play the song on my crappy little acoustic guitar. That Xmas, my grandma bought me a copy of the full album, which I similarly demolished (I've since bought two more copies on vinyl, and I still have all three, but sadly, not the 45). Eventually we got electricity, and I got an electric guitar and bass, and I was playing drums in the school band and built a makeshift drum set... and I pretty much learned how to play all of those instruments by playing along with that record and learning the songs. Until late 1978 when I first heard Van Halen, Boston was probably the only thing I listened to.

And of course, I learned to sing every note of every vocal part, all the leads and harmonies. At 10, 11, 12 years old, I had some trouble hitting the lowest notes, but those high notes, the ones that are really Brad's signature in most people's minds, were cake. Not so easy for me now, but I can still hit his entire range when my throat is all warmed up. Yes, even that ridiculous note just before the last chorus of "More Than A Feeling." What I'm getting at is that even though I got some vocal training from my high school music teacher (Thanks Mrs. B!) and sang for years in all the various bands I was in, the entire foundation of my singing voice comes from singing along with Brad Delp and trying to match his tone and range when I was just a kid. As my vocal chords were growing and forming into their final mature shape, I was pretty much carving and molding them to the pattern of Brad's voice and singing. All that stuff was what made me want to be a musician and a rock star.

So, you can probably understand now why I'm sad that he's gone, and especially gone at such a young age. I mean, I'm 41... 55 isn't that far off, it just seems way too soon. Boston was planning a summer tour, I probably would have gone to see them; of course they've cancelled it now. Who knows if they'll ever tour again? I saw them back in 1987, which was pretty cool, but it would have been nice to see them in a smaller place now.

Apparently he was a HUUUGE Beatles fan, and had his own Beatles cover band called "Beatle Juice." That vibes with me a lot, as I grew up immersed in Beatles music - my parents both loved the Beatles, they were on the record player constantly. My middle name is Paul, after Paul McCartney (actually, his middle name is Paul too, his first name is James.) Remember, I'm kinda old; the Beatles were still together making music when I was born, and I remember when they broke up in 1969 because it was a major thing for all the adults in my life. I still love the Beatles - and TGF loves them even more than I do. So the fact that I'm connected to Brad by that music as well as his own, that's pretty cool.

I wish I'd been able to meet the guy and say thanks. :\

Ah well... R.I.P., Brad. Millions of people will remember you for a long, long, time.

In happier news...

I was inspired by my sadness to finally try to get my 12-string fixed. I emailed a local guitar wizard whom I found via Google to ask about bringing it in for a neck reset, as the action (string height above frets) had gotten really high, like 1/2", maybe more - it's supposed to be 1/16" - and the guitar was basically unplayable, which really sucked because it's kind of my "signature" guitar, and I wrote most of my songs on it. This is what he wrote back:

"Many Ovation necks are actually held in place with a bolt, not a glue joint. It may be as simple as getting inside and tightening that bolt."

A bolt. A bolt? Just a loose bolt is ruining my favorite guitar?

Yep. I felt in there, and there's a big ol' bolt that holds the neck on the body. So I put a wrench on it and tightened it up. Lo and behold, after putting strings on it and doing a truss rod adjustment, the action is now down to 1/8" - i.e., the guitar is now actually playable. Sounds better than it has in years, too - not a surprise, as with the neck joint being loose, sound wouldn't transfer properly to the body! I think it still needs some tweaking so I'm gonna tweak it some more and see if I can get it to factory spec; if not I will take it to this guitar guy for masterly fixin'.

Now, I should say that this guitar guy could have just said, "bring it in" and charged me a bunch of money just to tighten up a bolt, and told me he'd done a full neck reset, which generally costs between $300 and $600. I would have been none the wiser. But he didn't; he emailed me right back to tell me it might be a simple repair, and I had the tools to do it.

Needless to say, this guy is going to get any and all guitar-repair business I might have from here on out. I'm gonna take my Ibanez electric up to him on Saturday to get it rewired; he's certainly earned my business. The world needs more guys like him!

I spent a lot of Saturday going thru old "ideas tapes" and cutting song ideas into the computer. I have about ten of these tapes, 90-minute cassettes that I used in a small portable recorder to get any riffs or song ideas down quickly when I thought of them. I have hundreds of little bits and ideas, many of which are crap, but some of which are pretty cool. I'm culling out the cool ones and turning them into MP3s so I can listen to them in my iPod and work on them. I'm going to find a way to do some recording this year, dammit. On my next "Me Weekend" I'm gonna set up my e-drums and record, record, record a whole lot of basic drum tracks for songs that I want to get down. I got the e-drums because programming drum tracks, even with a drum machine, takes forever. I can get good enough tracks down to get to serious work in real time by actually playing the drums live. I should be able to cut 10, maybe even 20 complete songs of drums in a weekend.

Imitating Tom Scholz and Boston? You better believe it. :)

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