Saturday, July 28, 2012


I am one of those lucky folks who actually enjoys their job. I'm lucky to have it, and I've always felt that way. It's what I've wanted to do since I was a kid, and for all those years along the way when my inability to process the logic of higher math like trig and calculus and even geometry led teachers and counselors to attempt to steer me into the vocational auto mechanics program and away from a college bound curriculum.

My day job, my career, has nothing to do with music, which I'm fixin' to do some talking about.  There are other types of work I'd like to do. I'd like to be a newsman, for instance, or a writer of books. I'm a little old for the former, and haven't been able to focus enough on long term writing for both fiction and non-fiction ideas I've had going for years.

I wouldn't mind being a gun shop owner, particularly specializing in revolvers and 1911's. Sure, you'd sell glocks and AR's and quality AK's and such, but I'd like to focus on doing some buying of certain used revolvers that I know have a high return on them. Plus, revolvers are sort of a dying breed. Yeah, you see a lot of low end Rossi and Taurus and Smith and Wesson offerings, and some very decent Ruger offerings, but the exciting days of the great Smith and Wesson and Colt revolvers is mostly gone. This is a venture I am considering very seriously for the immediate future.

At one time, I wouldn't have minded being a vintage guitar and/or drum shop owner, but having friends who have been both very successful and not so successful in the music retail business, I'm glad I didn't venture there, despite having some really offers from some really good folks to join them.

In hindsight, I wish I had taken that auto mechanics program, or the HVAC program, because I still would have gone to college and done fine and then law school and done fine but I'd have some great skills for fun (auto mechanic) or for home betterment (HVAC). Just having those HVAC skills would have saved me tens of thousands of dollars over the last 30 plus years and would have allowed me to rescue my parents when their multiple units at their house crashed during hot times.  Thankfully, we've always had great AC guys to fix our stuff quickly.

 I hope no one is discouraged by negativity they may get from their high school counselors or teachers and don't let that stop them for reaching for their dreams.

The teachers and counselors also told me I'd never be a rock and roll star or a successful musician, despite my positions in the top school bands and many UIL awards I won for various kinds of drumming and percussive instrument playin'. They was right! But despite them, I went on and until somewhat recently, was performing on a regular basis with many different bands, mostly of the Texas blues variety, and I've played all over the state and on several occasions with a semi-famous band in N'walins.

Not that I was going around saying I was going to be a rock and roll star, but within four months of beginning the school band program in the 6th grade, I had a band of my own practicing at my house during the christmas holidays. And we were not that bad. Piano/organ. Guitar. Drums. Trumpet. Sax. Clarinet (?). We thought we were the next Jackson 5 or Osmonds, playing songs like Greensleeves and House of the Rising Sun, with our own arrangements.

And so after that band, it was band after band after band and so on. In high school I sometimes played dances with bands I was in and was making decent cash for being a high school student playing church dances and school dances while still under 16.

My first good band was one in the 9th grade, featuring the fellow I mentioned later in this post named The Virtuoso on guitar. Like me, he could read music, whereas most of the other rock band musicians in high school could not. He was a monster then, and could play Hendrix then at age 14 better than many of the so-called current famous guitarists can play Hendrix now after many years of playing. The Virtuoso  has some kind of musical photographic memory that once he's played something, or even sight read the music if there is a score or sheet music or lead sheet or chart, he'll never forget it.

In our high school band, he could play any song current or past from the radio or non-radio archives at the drop of a hat, note for note and from start to finish. Obviously, being in a band with a guy like this who has a great ear and a phenomenal memory has big advantages for the lesser talented like me and the other folks in the band.

It was great fun.

Somehow I always knew I'd never be a famous musician, or at least someone who was making money playing music without being famous like backing or touring or studio musicians. By my early 20's,  I knew I was good enough as a drummer to work as a touring guy and was better than some of the folks I saw working with famous touring acts back then, but the chops of most of the studio musicians I saw were WAY beyond anything I'd ever be capable of.

I even toyed with going to music school after college, as a break before going to law school. Again, I should have done that year long drumming program out at PIT in Hollywood back in the early 80's, when as a single man I could haved lived fairly cheaply, it was "pre-crack" everywhere and although still ultra sleezy and somewhat crimey in the Hollywood Blvd. address where PIT, or the Percussion Institute of Technology, a part of the then infant Musician's Institute, it was doable and I would have lived through it.

Many famous musicians came up through the programs at MI, with GIT (Guitar), BIT (Bass) and the drumming program providing not only education on other instruments but meeting those cats and forming bands with them for school and for playing out on the town. The instructors back then at the drum school were some of the biggest names in the music business, the studio guys that had done hundreds of hit songs and played with all the big artists.

Famous drummer Joe Porcaro was big in the PIT program, in fact, I auditioned in front of him. He was kind, recommended a bunch of rudiments for me to hone in on before I began the program, told me where I was deficient and good but said my time was great despite my manhandling of some of the fairly difficult snare drum material.

The audition music was absolutely crazy with time signatures all over the place, and although I've always been a good sight reader for snare and other percussion instruments like the mallets and tympani, my drum set sight reading skills have alway been poor. Give me time to make my own charts using the much easier Nashville System for the drum set and I'm good to go, but sight reading tradition drum set music always nutted me up.

So Joe Porcaro was kind to me and was cool. A bunch of his studio musician contemporaries like famed guitarist Tommy Tedesco also taught there. Most of their names now escape me but in those pre-digital and pre-computerized music making times, these guys were the shi-zizz as far as cats like me were concerned. These guys were the real talent you heard on records with the biggies.

I met a bunch of the folks who played on the Steely Dan albums when hanging out at MI and evaluating their school and got to watch various ones doing all kinds of jamming and recording there. It's incredible, awe inspiring and instructive to watch this caliber of musician perform, and I can still remember sitting on the carpets of the performance rooms because the place was packed watching these legends mezmerize with their music.

So it was a hugely stimulating environment with these guys with incredible musical chops and imagination teaching you. And mostly, they did a pretty damn good job of teaching "how to make better art", which is hard to do.

Joe Porcaro's son, the late Jeff Pocaro, a famous studio drummer in his own right and drummer for Toto, was also involved in the school, as were other Toto members, who were also big time studio cats in LA. I made several visits there in 1983 and 1984 trying to convince myself to gut it up and go for the gusto, and would stand in awe in the halls as all the drummers and guitarists and bassists who were in my record collections were talking to me as an equal.

My old songwriting buddy and foil Mikey Ray was desperate to attend the GIT guitar school there, and was really wanting me to go to PIT. At the time, of course, my folks thought it an extremely foolish venture, fearing I'd get sidetracked from going to law school and get involved with some California woman and get hitched or pregnant or any of the things that can happen to a young man on his own, and certainly the then girlfriend (sort of a Kate Gosslin personality type) was absolutely against it. I wussed out and didn't go, but again, I did enjoy the several trips out there hanging with all kinds of musicians and seeing all kinds of acts and actually learning quite a bit during "sample" classes I attended.

Poor Mikey Ray was devastated that I wouldn't go, and even offered to pay for some of the costs like rent and tuition as he was from a somewhat monied family and had some kind of trust fund. He's a real nice guy and very generous and wasn't talking loan but gift. I had to decline his very kind offer.

He just didn't have the wherewithall to move to a strange place by himself, he wanted a support system there, and I can see that. That wasn't my issue, I would have had no problem at that time moving to a new place. I had done it the year before for a year and made tons of friends right away and a full social system going within a week. That's always been my story in new environments.

So it would have been a classic time to attend MI, and it's probably one of the few semi-regrets I have that I didn't at least attend the 12 week summer program that they then offered. The high school friend The Virtuoso who has been a monster guitarist since the first moment he touched six strings did go out to the MI school in LA at that time and went through the full GIT program and became a teacher there at MI for a very long time thereafter and has written several highly acclaimed instruction books on blues guitar playing.

When not teaching or playing around LA or Texas with medium famous artists of the past and present, The Virtuoso is sometimes on tour with various acts of all kinds, again, mostly the medium famous kind.  He's the only one out of all the folks I know who makes money at music, and even he supplements his income with a side business having nothing to do with music.  

Back in the day though, in the 80's and 90's, The Virtuoso was playing with lots of top named people and doing lots of tours with "the big acts" and making very good union scale.

Back then, I thought the tuition was significant but now it is seemingly paltry and a total bargain for a 12 month intensive musical education program that certainly would have turned me into a far superior drummer than what I am, particularly in terms of chops. I think it was something like $2,500 for a whole year. Yeah, nowadays, although that's still A LOT of money, it doesn't seem so daunting an amount. They had student loans, and at that time I had already worked my way through college with no college student loans. Once through with the school, I could've paid that back in a few months. I wonder what their tuition is nowadays, some 29 years later?

Of course, to attend MI for a year, you had to cover your own rent and food and any other expenses. Since MI had no student housing,  you could live in scummy Hollywood close to the school if you had no car (not for me as I had a ride, but many there did not, thus needing to live close), but plentiful and pretty cheap apartments in the Valley were close by and the hodgepodge of rental guest houses and garage apartments all over West LA and The Valley and even Silver Lake and other nearby areas were going for like $350 or $400 back then. Places a drummer could live and play his drums, at least at reasonable hours and maybe even rehearse some bands at a reasonable volume) without going to jail.

Some people might not think those were cheap prices for 30 years ago, but really it's what similar places were going for in Houston back then. And back then (not now) the prices I found when scouting places in LA were mostly not offensive to me. Of course, I wasn't looking in Bel Air or Beverly Hills or Malibu but there were plenty of decent areas not too far from the school, which was in a 2 or 3 floor building on Hollywood  Blvd. with an annex somewhere within a block or two back towards the Hollywood Hills, which were immediately behind the school.  The Hills, not the sign.

And back then especially in LA, like in Houston, it's location, location, location. Being in a decent area is imperative in towns like that, and although both Houston and LA share the problems of bad areas near great areas, it was possible to stay away from high crime areas and still not have to spend a fortune for rent back then in those days when I was 'a rentin'.

So I've enjoyed making an incredible amount of music over the years, with a ton of different musicians and bands some long term and some transitory. Some just happened for a few songs on a stage somewhere by chance, where guest musicians of great talent in Austin or Houston jump onstage and really light things on fire.

There were times when the often meager income of a working local musician  came in really handy and saved the day, back in student times, and there was at least one band I played with for a couple of years back in the late 80's where I always came home with over $100 bucks in my pocket, and usually closer to $200. The band leader would work the often large crowd with that tip jar and it was one of those rare bands that had lots of followers that would throw down bigtime with the money in appreciation of our "art". It was fun times.

I haven't ever really had any bad times as a musician. There were a couple of abrasive personalities and mental cases who I met over the years, and certainly an awful lot of "I'm gonna make it this year to the bigtime" attitudes but those are easy to say adios to if spotted immediately or if it's a one off gig, once the commitment is over.

I've even paid other drummers on two occasions to do gigs with troublesome  fellows in bands. I hired friends who were underworked union drummer guys needing some income on the side with the advent of the digital age some 25 years ago when studio, tv and movie scoring work began drying up for some.

In one instance, I could do no right. I was filling in for the band's regular drummer, who was filling in for the lead singer who was out or gone or something. We had a gig at a town outside of Houston where a major music band's guitar tech had just bought a ranch and was having a house warming party and was paying the band a large amount of money to come to the country and play for the crowd.

The bassist, Scott, did not like me. Not one bit at all. The guitarist, Wesley, went to college with me and we had a music theory class together and had started doing fill in gigs with each other. Wesley was fine with my playing. He thought it marvelous and had no issues. Scott the bassist was Wesley's childhood friend, and Wesley explained after several of Scott's histronic episodes of complaints directed at me that Scott had a rough childhood and a rough life BUT WAS NOW SOBER and in more control of his temper.

Wow. His temper was pretty bad. You would've thought we were rehearsing for a gig at the White House or an audition for a major label with the vigor with which he was directed his venom at me.

Too fast. Too slow. Too loud. Too quiet. Too cymbally. Not enough cymbals. Not the right kind of cymbals. You're rushing. You're dragging. What song are you playing? I can hear your bass drum pedal squeaking (true that, a Ludwig Speed King notorious can hear Bonham with the same pedal and same squeak on one commercial Zeppelin cut, I forget which one). I want you to play louder but not too loud. Maybe a little on the quieter side of loud.

This was the constant barrage I was getting. We were playing cover tunes of the day, the early 80's, and some popular classic rock standards that we all knew. I had heard all the songs a million times on FM radio, and most I had played, so it wasn't that big a deal to play them  with about 95% correctness, which was acceptable to me under the circumstances.

But the bassist Scott wanted uber perfection. And frankly, he was a horrid bassist. Sloppy. Lots of notes being fretted badly and his volume was like an earthquake on a richter scale, up and down, up and down. He was self-taught, couldn't read music and by that point, I'd be playing music and taking lessons and playing in bands for some 12 or so years, so his criticism didn't attack my self-worth or self-esteem...I knew I was a mediocre drummer but that I was SOLIDLY mediocre, meaning I could cover note for note pretty much anything on FM radio in the early 80's. Wasn't a lot of fancy drumming going on back then for the most part. Pretty easy stuff.

But as I am far from perfect in so many areas, and as in my personal spectre, so I am in drumming. Garage Band on the Mac laptop is great because I can dub over my mistakes and crappy guitar, keys and bass playing. If I can play a few ONE measure segments correctly, I can copy that into a basic blues or rock song or even something symphonic.

So after a horrific gig with lots of shouting and rock starring by Scott the bassist, I didn't want to do the two follow up very well paid gigs that were the next weekend. Instead, I hired my good friend Venus (not his real name), a far better drummer than I (and I mean FAR better) who was an actual professional union drummer for big time folks, and I had Venus do the gigs for me and it cost me $50 bucks (I did and do have a real job and Venus did not and was not a well to do fellow) extra per gig in addition to the gig pay to get Venus to tolerate Scott for two gigs. And it was money very well spent. And back then, $50 bucks was some actual cash you could do something with.

The first time Scott railed at Venus, by the way, led Venus to hum a drumstick at him, hitting Scott in his sizeable gut. Venus was a pretty big fellow, not one that many would choose to go to fist city with, and Scott wisely shut his mouth apparently after the drumstick surprise. I'll note that Venus hummed the drumstick by sort of sliding it across a cymbal as if crashing it and then launching said stick in the direction you want. It's quite accurate with a little practice and rock stars do it all the time when hurling sticks into the crowds at big rock shows, or least those rock shows back in the day that I saw.

Whereas in the olden days, you needed bands or at least orchestras to play the music for movies, tv shows and to back recording artists, it can now be done by as little as one person with  the right electronic based gear, and sound like an roomful of musicians. Mark Mothersbaugh (?) is a good example of this with his soundtrack work, and the various hip hop and R&B producers who have come and gone over the years using these same computer based music making gear

High school taught some stuff but college taught it over again and since I could write fairly well long before I hit high school, I wish I was a better car mechanic or could keep my own Texas monster sized  AC/HVAC system functioning at top capability and with ultra high performance. AT ALL TIMES FROM MAY TO OCTOBER!

So had I taken that car mechanic vocational program, I might be more likely to have a 71 Z-28 in midnight blue as a project car in my garage or perhaps one of those huge old Chevy 1950's 4x4 trucks that are super wide and look so very nice when restored or enhanced. I could still work on major systems in restoring a car, but the innards of a non-wankel engine always cause me problems.

I worked for a year as an auto-mechanic on Wankel engines, and they were much simpler to rebuild. During that time, I rebuild many, many carborators and became familiar with how they function. Likewise, with braking and steering and suspensions systems, I think I know a bit more than the average joe.

But I'd know a heck of a lot more had I taken that auto vocational class. One of my friends who was and to some extent still is a rebel without a cause took the auto vocational program the counselors beat him over the head with and ended up owning a HUGE and very successful luxury car repair facility.  The school folks were not trying to help him by diverting him into a vocational track, but were trying to get his horrid grades out of the system for school stat purposes. He was dragging the average way down, as I did in trig and calc.

Auto mechanicing is a long way from being a musician, but they both kind of merge together because of the vapid predictions about me (and my interests in cars and music) of those high school counselors and teachers who mostly seemed a bit on the tight-arsed side.  They predicted doom and gloom for more than one of my friends who have been very successful in their respective fields.

I've got tons of band stories. Many funny. Some sad. Probably a lot of them are boring and only interesting to me so I'll try to do some self-editing here before  throwing it out there.


  1. Greetings fellow math deficient person! My math problems short-circuited a career in Astronomy or one of the other sciences.

    Ever thought about writing and selling music articles? I've been selling sustainable living articles for almost 10 yrs. You have style, an engaging voice, and seem to have your grammar and mechanics down pat. If you have a gift for music and writing, combine them.

    Find a writers group. Hubby and I belong to Brazos Writers, a 60 mile drive one way to B/CS, but invaluable contacts, knowledge and experience. Open readings are held every other month, and we bring in 10 min. of work to read and get critique if wanted. we've learned a lot! great workshops and social contact with other writers.Hubby and I formed a mini-online critique group with a few like souls, and do editing and critique through e-mails, which has been useful.

    I could see this post as an article minus the non-music related thoughts. If you have more stories, especially funny or sad, they just might sell!

  2. Trhanks Helene! I tried to send an email but my new computer doesn't have an email editor set up and the wife is not here to solve the problem right now so send me an email at so I can respond to you and yours.