Welcome, Blogophiles!

Welcome, Blogophiles!

Or is that Bloginators, or Blogostines? And why am I doing this?
Heck if I know. But, I'm an artist of sorts, and LOTS of artists have their own Blogs, so why not me? I get to talk about myself and show some of my occasional (and I do mean Occasional) train art. I'm also gigging regularly with a great tribute band called Close to You, which covers the Carpenters. Thanks for visiting, fellow Blogians!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Oh, Canada! Close to You goes international

The band on stage in Laguna Hills, CA
Close to You, the Carpenters tribute band I perform with was contracted a few months ago to play 3 shows in Brockville, Canada at the Brockville Arts Centre. The dates are July 18 with a matinee and evening performance on the 19th. The Arts Centre is flying us in, paying for the hotel and feeding us the whole time we're there. This is just the coolest thing I've ever done with a band! It almost feels like we're Pro-fessional

The Brockville Arts Centre is located right in Brockville, about 17 miles SW of Ottawa, in the heart of the “Thousand Islands” area on the St. Lawrence River. The newly renovated theater seats over 700 people, and has a great stage, sound system and lighting. 

Here's a link to some pics of the Arts Centre. Brockville Arts Centre photos

Attending the performance will be my lovely wife Lisa and my brother Bruce and his wife,  Nancy. I don't believe Bruce and Nancy have seen me play for over 30 years, so it will be  fun to have them in attendance.

Musser Pro Vibes

This will also be my debut with the band on vibes (for the classic Leon Russell song and Carpenters cover of “This Masquerade”). The version of “Masquerade” I'm most familiar with is guitarist/vocalist George Benson's excellent version from the 70s. That song has some great chord changes to solo through, and the whole band gets a chance to “stretch out”, so it should be fun.

I'd be remiss if I didn't include the Band's website. Close to You audio clips
You can play a sample of the music and watch a video of the group (before my time) playing live on Good Day Sacramento (at 6:30 in the morning, I might add!)

Other Canadian promoters have already shown interest and have contacted us, so if we do a good job in Brockville, there may be other contracts in the offing in Eastern Canada. Not too bad for a bunch of hosers from California, eh?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Close to You (The Band)

I left the classic rock band Train Wreck, with some regrets, last October. After a few months of drum rehab (see previous post) I answered an ad in Craigslist's Musicians section for a "pop tribute band" that was looking for a drummer with a "sense of dynamics and style who could play to a click track*. I replied with a "resume"and got a call from the singer, Michelle, who suggested I check out the band's website before deciding if I wanted to audition. When I discovered it was a Carpenters Tribute group, my first thought was, "I don't think so." It's not that I dislike the Carpenters music so much, but I've always wanted to play music by Steely Dan or the Allman Brothers, or even prog rock like the Alan Parsons Project. I just assumed drumming to Carpenters music was going to be no challenge.

Close to You at Harlow's nightclub in Sacramento, CA.

My boss (a real fan of live music) had some good advice about the subject: "Tribute bands like that are usually pretty good, and they usually play the nicer venues in the area." With that advice in mind, I set up the audition.

I was able to use their charts and click track recordings, which I downloaded from the band's website to prep for the audition. My Roland e-drums allowed me to play along to their click tracks by "mixing in" the songs into the e drum's controller. So, even though I used the charts, I didn't have to glue my eyes to them at the audition. I was able to lock in with the bass quite a bit. (Always a plus...) I felt as auditions go, it went pretty well.

My boss was right: Michelle was really good–her alto voice has a timbre not unlike Karen Carpenter's. And the other musicians were very good: they were prepared and the whole sound was tight. Upcoming gigs were clearly better than what I was used to playing–Harlow's in Sacramento; Brockville Arts Centre in Ontario, Canada; The Crocker Museum; wineries, e.g. And so I received an e mail the next day that I "got the gig"!

The more I've delved into the Carpenters' music, the more appreciative I've become of the orchestration and dynamics of not just the music in general, but of the drumming, too. The playing is very technical with a lot of attention to dynamics and nuance that you typically don't worry about when playing, for example ZZ Top. (Hey- I do like ZZ Top, however). While I've been accustomed to long lulls between songs while guitarists play with their little boxes and singers check the lyrics of the next song, Close to You packs a lot of music into 90 minutes with multiple song segues and very little banter.

So, now I'm another old dude playing old music. But it's kind of fun when you hear large numbers of people singing along to "We've Only Just Begun" and "Close to You", and the audience yelling for an encore at the end of the night. We've received a standing O at each of the gigs I've played! People are buying tickets to see us! What the heck is that about? I guess I'd gotten too used to drunks in the back of a bar yelling, "Play some AC/DC!" Those types of gigs don't appear to be on the schedule for Close to You. That suits this drummer just fine.

Close to You's website: www.carpenterstributegroup.com

* Click tracks are a computer-generated "metronome". They're usually played into a monitor track that the drummer or other musicians listen to as an aid to maintaining exact tempo. I wear in-ear headphones while performing and can get exactly the mix of instruments, vocals and click I want from our sound man. Playing to a click takes a little getting used to and can be a little daunting, but it also improves ones sense of meter (or else!). Many bands use them while recording, and quite a few use them when performing live, as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Ugly Drumlings (sic)

When it comes to drums, I have found out that older can be better. It just took a bit of time for me to realize this.

I still have my original set of Ludwig drums built in 1970. These drums had been sitting in basements and for the last 15 years, in my garage, gathering dust, getting rusty and looking Ugly. Much of the original hardware was in pretty bad shape, my cymbals were cracked and the heads sounded awful. Since I hadn't played in any bands while the kids were young, they were downright neglected.

My 1970 Ludwigs at Harlow's Nightclub in Sacramento.

When I joined an online forum for drummers (aptly named DrumForum), I started reading about how coveted these old Ludwigs were. Ludwig built these drums with maple shells in a way that gave them a sound that's been used in thousands of recordings through the years. Drummers like Ringo and Zeppelin's John Bonham, not to mention the most recorded studio drummer of all time, Hal Blaine (Carpenters, Elvis, The Beach Boys, The Monkees, The Byrds and a lot more) used the exact same drums that were sitting neglected in my garage.

When I joined the band Close to You, I knew I had to get these drums back in shape. They were, after all, the same drums used by Karen Carpenter, too. (Hers were silver sparkle; mine are blue).

It took about a month, but my ole Luddies are back in playing shape, Ugly Drumlings no more. I played my first gig with them in about 20 years last December. They sounded fantastic! I think they look great, too, but I'll let you be the judge of that.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Most Excellent Software from Hell

OR HOW TO FORCE THE RIGHT SIDE OF MY BRAIN TO FIGHT THE LEFT SIDE. Three months ago my company purchased new 3-D modeling software for me. This software, called Form-Z, is a huge leap upward and onward compared to what I had been using, but all this capability comes with a price: a VERY steep learning curve. Form-Z makes Adobe Photoshop seem like a word processor in terms of its complexity. I mean, c'mon–the manual is 2,006 pages! And then there's the tutorial manual, which is hundreds of pages, too. So I'm taking a workshop course of 3 months, which helps a lot, but basically you just have to roll up your sleeves and start using it. And did I mention that sometimes, being a right-brain artist type that this software makes my head explode?

Eventually, the company I work for will produce real finished goods based on the modeling I do in this software, including products that are injection-molded or CNC machined out of metal. But it's difficult to really visualize what these new products will look like until they're actually built. Enter the new Z Printer 3-D printer!

Model printed on a Z Corp 3-D printer.
THE Z CORP 450 3-D PRINTER–This machine takes a file exported from Form-Z and actually prints a real 3-dimensional model, in color, of the object you "built" in the software's 3-D environment. It literally prints one thin layer at a time and builds your model. It's an excellent way to get touchie-feelie with what you're planning to build without having to mold or machine your product first, at great expense. This pleases the LEFT side of my brain very much. The RIGHT side of my brain has no comment.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Train Wreck (the band)

I joined this band about 5 months ago. This has been a fun “gig” for me, and as I mentioned, the band's name is pure coincidence! Train Wreck has an established group of locales where it plays in the Sacramento area up towards El Dorado Hills and Auburn. We play a lot of classic rock, as well as the occasional tune from this century. The Train Wreckers are a good bunch of guys, and I think we're starting to sound pretty tight. Since it's been about 15 years (yikes!) since my last band, I really look forward to playing these gigs.

Playing the drums is pretty physical, and perhaps a little like running a marathon in respect to endurance. I may practice an hour 2-3 times a week, but that hasn't prepared me for playing a 4 hour gig! That's something you have to work up to, just like running distances. I've had cramps in both forearms AND my kick drum leg at various times during gigs--usually in the 3rd set. (Very difficult to play one-armed!) Perhaps this is why you don't see too many overweight drummers: it's a good workout.

Shown here is a poster I put together using an image of a French train that perhaps had an inattentive brakeman (this image is in the public domain, BTW).