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On being a human jukebox

So, I’ve never really been in a cover band. Sure, I’ve learned a few tunes here and there for fun, and as a kid just starting out on bass, I’d plunk along with the radio or with records (yes, vinyl records). But I’ve never actually been a member of a band that played covers exclusively. And that whole “practicing” thing never appealed to me either, so I haven’t really just jammed on tunes for the sake of moving my hands, either.

Once, back when I was just out of high school, a couple of my friends and I got together a couple times to work out some covers, with the intent to “play out” (back when that was a big deal). I remember that one of the tunes was “Pour Some Sugar On Me” (hey, it was a current song at the time!) Another was “Rock and Roll All Night (and Party Every Day).” Yeah… I hated that. Aside from not being all that good at bass at the time, I really didn’t know the KISS tune (never been into KISS, myself) and it was somewhat humbling and rather annoying. I had trouble picking up the tunes, got frustrated, and certainly frustrated my friends. So it didn’t last long, and back I went to concentrating on songwriting and just having to be able to play the stuff we wrote.

In later days, I thought a cover tune or two might punch up our live show, so those of us in Ransomed Soul learned the first bit of “Carry On Wayward Son.” Realizing that with a power trio we wouldn’t be able to cover the organ parts, we ended up just doing the beginning section of the song – and then transitioning into one of our songs that happened to be in the same key. It was sorta fun, and it perked up the audience, but we really didn’t spend much time on it.

That same Kansas song showed up again in Second Story – and having a keyboard player this time around, we actually “learned” the whole song. Well, okay, we got really close – a lot of the details were played in “shorthand” rather than learning it note-by-note. But the audiences dug it and felt that it did the original song justice. I don’t know why, but we just figured it out one night at rehearsal when we didn’t feel like running our originals. Oh yeah, early on, before the band had enough material to fill a show, we also did “I Don’t Wanna Wait” by Paula Cole pretty well.

And of course, Second Story recorded a Queensrÿche song for a tribute album (which, unfortunately, was never released due to gross mismanagement at the “label” putting it out – a diversion for another day). But that track was not a dead-on cover; the band agreed that the essence of a good “tribute” track was to put our own stamp on their song rather than re-performing it like a jukebox. So again, we really spent more time re-arranging to our taste rather than playing a note-for-note cover. (The track totally kicks ass, by the way.)

I guess I’m only thinking about all of this because coming up at the end of the month is “Beardstock,” a musical/food/festivities weekend for the fans of the band Spock’s Beard. And I’ve (foolishly?) offered to play bass and sing on a fair number of tunes for a couple of impromptu “bands.” And it’s a pretty new experience for me – this time I have no choice but to figure out what so-and-so played, trying to remember the changes in prog songs I’ve never heard before… It’s certainly going to be an experience. But it’s an experience that most players have very early in their playing career – here I am, 20 years deep into playing, and I’m practically a cover song virgin! And the type of music fans at this party are going to know if I don’t play Geddy’s parts note-perfect. I guess the hardest part is going to be not worrying about that – and just enjoying the jams. And at least nowadays (unlike when I was a beginner) I’ve got the chops.

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StarF**ker Central, Part I – Tony Levin

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a number of my musical idols. Being that I’m not all that famous myself, it’s cool that so many of them are down-to-earth enough to have a conversation with a relative nobody like myself. Here, first entry in an occasional series about my brief encounters with musical “heroes.”

Tony Levin is generally considered to be a very cool, somewhat quirky guy. He’s a great bassist and an innovative musician (among other instruments, he also plays a Chapman Stick). His book “Beyond the Bass Clef” is a fun read, with gig anectdotes and studio stories – and the odd crazy invention (bass rig with capuccino machine) and oatmeal cookie recipe(!) It was during a book signing that I got to have a brief conversation with him, and I just so happened to have a fun story to tell, which he quite clearly appreciated.

As you may have read in a previous post, I own several pair of Tony’s “Funk Fingers” (small drumsticks that attach to a bassist’s fingers for a percussive sound.) Tony used them on several tunes with Peter Gabriel. In the meantime, I actually used them on two of Second Story’s more popular tunes, and as a result, if you came out to see us, you were quite likely to see them in action at least once.

A friend and regular audience member came up to me after a show one evening all excited – he told me that, the previous weekend, he had watched Peter Gabriel’s “Secret World Live” video. “And his bassist – he had those crazy drumstick thingies like you have!” I, of course, filled him in that Tony was actually the inventor of those “drumstick thingies.” As you can imagine, when I recounted that story, Tony got a nice laugh out of it.

I found him to be generous with his time, attentive to his fans, and quite friendly overall. Cool guy. And he signed my book.

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My Hoyt 6-string Fretless (Mark Gollihur Signature Model)

Yeah, you read that right – the gorgeous work of art in my hands to the right is my “signature model” bass – made entirely to my specifications by Karl Hoyt, luthier and family friend (he’s also made 3 basses for my dad). I even sent him a sketch of the body design – I wanted the extra long upper horn for balance (that’s a looooong neck with lotsa tuners on it) and a short lower horn for easy access to the upper range.

I love my bass; it has a through-body maple neck with an ebony fingerboard, and amazing side wings that are a “hippie sandwich” of wenge (an African wood with the color of chocolate-y goodness) surrounding a gooey center of mahogany. It even features an amazing hand-made bridge of solid ebony – and matching ebony knobs! The bass is truly a work of art.

The electronics are also custom-tailored for this axe; a Bartolini preamp blends the undersaddle piezo pickup for natural “acoustic” sound, while the (now quite rare) active Lane Poor magnetic soapbar pickup sits in the “sweet spot.”

This bass, which I’ve strung with LaBella Deep-Talkin’ Black Tapewound strings, sounds amazingly woody and warm – it just has this wonderful singing tone with no hint of nasal ugliness. And with its low action, the mwah that you can produce with this thing is just unstoppable.

This was the first 6-er that Karl had made, and it was also his first neck-thru, if I remember correctly. He has made quite a few very cool basses, including an acoustic-electric and a couple of electric 5-ers for my dad (1 fretted, one fretless). In fact, if you look back into my July posting archive, you’ll see a mock ad (from a “Wordless Wednesday” post) that my Dad and I did up just to break his stones. Karl’s a funny guy with a goofy sense of humor – and he makes cool basses.

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No "Brain Ripping"

As a self-released artist who has found copies of our album pirated on message forums, newsgroups, and torrent sites, I actually am caught in the middle of this argument – and while I don’t necessarily agree with the writer’s position (presumably) I thought this was pretty well-written and funny. This was passed to me by email without the original writer’s information, so if anyone knows where it came from, let me know so that I can acknowledge the author.

RIAA Declares Using Your Brain to Remember Songs is Criminal Copyright Infringement

On the heels of the RIAA’s recent decision to criminalize consumers who rip songs from albums they’ve purchased to their computers (or iPods), the association has now gone one step further and declared that “remembering songs” using your brain is criminal copyright infringement. “The brain is a recording device,” explained RIAA president Cary Sherman. “The act of listening is an unauthorized act of copying music to that recording device, and the act of recalling or remembering a song is unauthorized playback.”

The RIAA also said it would begin sending letters to tens of millions of consumers thought to be illegally remembering songs, threatening them with lawsuits if they don’t settle with the RIAA by paying monetary damages. “We will aggressively pursue all copyright infringement in order to protect our industry,” said Sherman.

In order to avoid engaging in unauthorized copyright infringement, consumers will now be required to immediately forget everything they’ve just heard — a skill already mastered by U.S. President George Bush. To aid in these memory wiping efforts, the RIAA is teaming up with Big Pharma to include free psychotropic prescription drugs with the purchase of new music albums. Consumers are advised to swallow the pills before listening to the music. The pills — similar to the amphetamines now prescribed for ADHD — block normal cognitive function, allowing consumers to enjoy the music in a more detached state without the risk of accidentally remembering any songs (and thereby violating copyright law).

Consumers caught humming their favorite songs will be charged with a more serious crime: The public performance of a copyrighted song, for which the fines can reach over $250,000 per incident. “Humming, singing and whistling songs will not be tolerated,” said Sherman. “Only listening and forgetting songs is allowed.”

Consumers attempting to circumvent the RIAA’s new memory-wiping technology by actually remembering songs will be charged with felony crimes under provisions of the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act). The Act, passed in 1998, makes it a felony crime to circumvent copyright protection technologies. The RIAA’s position is that consumers who actually use their brains while listening to music are violating the DMCA. “We would prefer that consumers stop using their brains altogether,” said Sherman.

With this decision, the RIAA now considers approximately 72% of the adult U.S. population to be criminals. Putting them all in prison for copyright infringement would cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $683 billion per year — an amount that would have to be shouldered by the remaining 28% who are not imprisoned. The RIAA believes it could cover the $683 billion tab through royalties on music sales. The problem with that? The 28% remaining adults not in prison don’t buy music albums. That means album sales would plummet to nearly zero, and the U.S. government (which is already deep in debt) would have to borrow money to pay for all the prisons. And where would the borrowed money come from? China, of course: The country where music albums are openly pirated and sold for monetary gain.

When asked whether he really wants 72% of the U.S. population to be imprisoned for ripping music CDs to their own brains, RIAA president Sherman shot back, “You don’t support criminal behavior do you? Every person who illegally remembers a song is a criminal. We can’t have criminal running free on the streets of America. It’s an issue of national security.”

NOTE: This does not yet represent the actual position of the RIAA, although from the way things are going, the association may soon adopt it. Permission is granted to make copies of this story, redistribute it, post it and e-mail it (please provide proper credit and URL) as long as you do not actually remember it because copying to your brain is now strictly prohibited. Any attempts to circumvent the memory-based copyright restrictions on this article will result in your brain imploding, causing such an extreme loss of cognitive function that your only hope for any future career will be running for public office.

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