Sunday, 2 April 2017

'73 Deluxe

I found it on Craigslist. A 1973 Fender Deluxe Reverb, all original and in good condition. I emailed, said I was interested, asked a couple of questions that showed I was a serious buyer. We talked on the phone and I arranged to drive over to Connecticut to take a look at it.

Amplifiers are a gamble - at least they are for me. Some guitar players plug into anything and as long as it’s distorted they’re perfectly happy. I’ve never been like that. If I have to I’ll work with whatever amplifier I’m given but I prefer to use my own. The sound has to be fairly clean, I need to be able to turn the amp up without it breaking up into a fuzzy mush. I need volume, displacement and definition.

Amy says I’ve been chasing the sound ever since she’s known me. She’s right. Imagine a cello without a body, just a neck that went all the way down to the tail piece - you wouldn’t be able to hear it. The body is the amplification. Without it you might say that the instrument was incomplete. Now take an electric guitar - without the amplifier it’s barely audible, so the way I see it the amplifier is an important part of the instrument.

I drove through torrential rain, mostly in the dark. The house was a bungalow. A large middle-aged man answered the door and showed me into a living room. Blue grey carpet, four seater settee, grubby white vinyl armchair, pick-up winding machine and bobins of thin copper wire on the floor, Fender Deluxe Reverb where the coffee table might usually be. This man lived alone.

I plugged my guitar into it and it sounded ok - it would obviously need some work but the price was very reasonable and I figured that even if it wasn’t right for me I’d definitely get my money back so we struck up a deal and I drove back to Catskill through more rain, the proud owner of a ’73 Deluxe.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A Trip to Florida and Down a Rabbit Hole

Everything comes in fits and starts. I'd love to be one of those people who writes regularly. I used to be but I'm not anymore. So when I do start writing there's always a backlog, a need to explain myself and all the things that have and haven't been happening and how they got in the way, impeded my progress and led to the backlog that so badly needs explaining.
I don't write on a regular basis because I haven't got the time, and that's why I don't do most things, there just isn't time to do them.

The recording process (photo by Jenny Tubbs-Barbato)
Today I was recording which is nothing new - I've been recording everyday since Christmas apart from the days when I was playing in Boston with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (three nights at the House Of Blues between Christmas and New Year), playing the bass for Amy or doing my own tour down to Florida and back. 

Playing the bass with Amy (photo by John Stribley)
And here's the backlog/log jam I was talking about. I was talking about having too much to do but I think I wanted to talk about recording but I got derailed by all the other things I was doing.
Let's start with the touring. That's if anyone's still interested.
I met a promoter from Miami last year after a fairly horrific forty-five minute set at the Tropical Heatwave festival in Tampa, Florida. He asked me if I'd like to do a tour in Florida. I almost said no. I'd just played a set in front of a braying pack of frat boys pouring beer over each other and comparing penis sizes so I wasn't that keen, but it occurred to me that Florida is warm during the winter so I said yes, as long as I could do it it in February.
By some miracle it came about though it was moved to the first week in March to coincide with an offer to play at the Savannah Stopover Festival.
Sometime in late December or early February I realised I was committed to a tour that started in Miami on March 2nd. Miami is one thousand three hundred and ninety miles from my house and I had to drive because I hate flying with guitars and merchandise and playing with borrowed amplifiers, and I know from bitter experience that by the time you've finished with car hire and extra baggage the tour's going to cost more than it pays.
So I panicked and found a couple of shows to play on the way down - Ashland Tea & Coffee in Ashland, Virginia, and The Pilot Light in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Somewhere dull near Winston Salem, North Carolina
I had two days to drive from Knoxville to Miami but there were storms and the bulbs went out in both my headlights so instead of driving half the night and stopping halfway in a cheap hotel in Gainesville or somewhere I stayed with friends in Atlanta and set off very early in the morning.
It took fourteen hours to get to Miami. I stopped along the way, desperate for coffee and some of that famous Florida orange juice, but the coffee on the long road that passes through Florida was just hot black liquid and the orange juice was Sunny D, so I did without either.
I arrived in time for the soundcheck just as the good coffee place on the corner was turning out its lights.


I'm not going to give an account of each of the shows, that would be tedious and anyway I can't remember the details now. They went very well. There were a lot of people (apart from in Miami which was somewhat under attended) and the audiences appeared to be fifty percent female.

Somewhere near Durham in North Carolina I started to type notes into my laptop whenever I got the chance. And that's what the rest of this post is going to be:

Starbucks off I-80 near Durham, North Carolina. Plastic surgery clinic next door, PF Chang concrete horse opposite. I’m sitting at a table by the window. On the other side of the glass, outside, a man and woman are having a meeting. She’s silently talking too much, selling herself. Big white teeth, aviator shades, earnest facial expressions. Building air sculptures with expansive hand gestures. I can’t see the man, he’s hidden behind a sign depicting a delicious Starbuck’s Coconut Milk Mocha Machiato: Starbuck’s Machiato, delicious new ways to love it
The music stopped and now it’s started again. It could be the same song that was playing before. White, soulful and easy on the ear. Words fail the singer, or the songwriter, and the lyric lapses into mmm mmmmm aha… denoting a very high level soul. Now it’s a lady singer, very soulful: whoa yeah, ahmmm stro-o-ong, whoa oh whoaaa whoah yeah….
Two men in polo shirts. Polo shirts tucked into plastic belted Chinos. They meet outside, shake hands. One of them comes inside to order the coffees. The other sits at a table outside. He looks as though he’s suffering from trapped wind. A mid-morning procession, ponytails, beards, phones on belt clips, big wallets in back pockets, spectacles that say I’m interesting, please notice me. 

The hotel room. This is the loneliest part. I usually check in around two o’clock in the morning. I drag myself and my minimal luggage to the elevator and along deserted, close-carpeted hallways. There’s never anyone around and that’s probably a good thing but I find it creepy and I try not to think about The Shining. 
They’re mostly the same - you walk in and the bathroom is on the right, except when it’s on the left. I usually ask for a room with one or two queen size beds but usually it’s one king size - a seven foot square slab of mattress. A raised dais, and altar to orgiastic sex, or more likely a place where two very overweight people, and possibly a dog, can snore and sweat the night away. It’s better not to think about it. 
In the more upmarket hotels the bed will often be covered with a decorative display of cushions and bolsters. There’s never enough space to put them so they end up piled on the armchair which is good because the armchair looks as though it might be inviting someone to sit in it and I worry that some recalcitrant and malignant spirit will do just that and watch me while I sleep. 
Once denuded of decorative pillows the bed looks even more expansive. The pillows are often ridiculously small, four of them lined up, looking like loaves of processed white bread and not taking up enough space, so that the bed has an unmade appearance. 
Sometimes there are only three pillows and I think it’s in case a threesome has been planned and the third wheel is going to stay the night. Or the extra pillow is to place under the lady’s bottom to effect deeper penetration. Sexual frustration and a lurid imagination play havoc in the middle of the night.
I don’t want to sleep, I don’t want to get into the bed. Sleeping alone on the edge of a king size bed is a heart-wrenchingly lonely experience. I delay the moment when I have to balance my head on one of the loaves of bread, switch off the light, and try to imagine I’m somewhere else while the light on the overhead smoke detector blinks on and off in a random pattern designed, no doubt, to not induce a fit in an epileptic insomniac.


View from hotel room window with gas station and Waffle House

I wake up too early. I’m vibrating slightly. 
Unable to go back to sleep, unwilling to stay where I am but unable to move. Think positive thoughts. Draw back the curtain and greet the view - the roof of the Carousel Ballroom, the Caribou Conference Center, the Cumberland Convention Center... some such nonsense. Ventilators and extraction ducts from the Sysco supplied kitchen. 
Double glazing and a high elevation make it hard to tell what the weather is like. You can see the world from here but you’re not connected to it. 
I get myself together and leave as quickly as possible. 

Onstage. Don’t think about it, don’t pre-plan too much. I’m capable of playing the exact same set for twenty nights in a row but it’s never the same. It goes how it wants to go, as long as I let it, as long as I don’t get in the way. 

Sometimes I think I’m trying to hard, pushing the pace, working at the top of the dynamic, compensating for a lack of something in me, or the audience, or in the sound. The amplifier gets pushed into overload too soon and I have to tell myself to back off, relax, turn down. 

Ideas come into my head and get in the way of reading the audience - these people don’t like me, they’re disappointed, they’re wishing I’d play different songs, they think I’m too old, too loud, too quiet, too harsh… I go down a rabbit hole into a world of self-loathing and paranoia. 
If these people dislike me so much why don’t they leave? 
But they don’t leave, they stare at me with expressionless faces, they’re taking it all in , it’s an internal thing. Their faces are blank. I can’t tell how they’re feeling until the applause comes.
I don’t want to be an applause whore.
A couple of people leave. I see them go. They probably have a bus to catch or a babysitter, but for an instant I’m immeasurerably hurt by their desertion. I take it personally. 
Sometimes I get deep into the music and forget the audience are there. I don’t look at the audience most of the time because it’s scary to see a crowd of people staring back at me. I  often can’t see them anyway because it’s too dark, and as I’m playing I become increasingly convinced that everyone has left and I’m playing to an empty room. Then I stop and the applause happens and it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.
Most of the time I’m concentrating - riding the rhythms of words on the rhythms of the guitar, constantly slipping, adjusting, slipping back in and wondering if I’ve slipped a beat, wondering how it works, pushing the wonder out of my mind. 
Out of my mind and riding the crest of some rising feedback, taming the guitar at dangerous decibel levels through two fuzz boxes and a delay pedal, the tubes in the amplifier compressing the sound as notes and harmonics jostle for space in a sonic bottleneck, the speaker under duress, moving so much air that I can feel the draught from the cone.


Thursday, 22 December 2016

Sideman


Apart from the odd gig here and there I've never been a sideman but that's all changed now - I've just finished a ten date UK tour playing bass and guitar for my wife, Amy Rigby. Originally I offered to come over and drive her around as she's not confident about driving on the other side of the road and on the other side of the car and has limited experience of cars with manual gearboxes. I rather fancied myself in the role of Parker, Lady Penelope's chauffeur in Thunderbirds, I got myself all togged up in a grey suit, silk scarf, peaked cap and kid gloves. It was lost on Amy - she'd never heard of Thunderbirds until Lindsay Hutton spotted the resemblance up in Scotland and we subjected her to a classic episode involving The Shadows.



She said of course I'd have to play on a few songs. It made sense - we've always had fun touring together, and we'd just done a run of shows in the US as a three piece with Doug Wygal on drums and me on bass, so I knew the tunes.
It's been interesting - there's a whole world of paranoia and malcontentment hitherto unknown to me. I've gained a new perspective, an understanding of what makes the hired gun tick and why they can be such a drag to work with.
There's very little responsibility - I soon learned that if anyone asks you a question the answer is I don't know, which mutates into don't ask me, I'm only the bass player. A certain sulkiness sets in - you're not the star of the show and ideally no one's going to notice you or even remember you were there, lurking in the shadows, plucking out random bass notes. The star of the show turns and asks - can you play on this song now? and you say 'Mmm hmm, I can do that' with a tacit I can play anything you like as long as you're paying me.
You hang around before the show. The star is edgy, concentrating, preparing herself. All you have to do is walk out, pick up the bass and play it. You don't even have to get change - not much sweat involved out there in the shadows. So you leave in the same clothes you were wearing when you walked in.
There's not much to do so you stay out of the way of the star and chat with whoever happens to be around. The affable sideman. This must be the root of the oft-told story - the band were really nice, a great bunch of blokes, but she/he was a stuck-up cow/bastard.
It's obvious to me now that dressing rooms are furnished with cans of beers in an attempt to keep the band from cluttering up the bar before the show. I don't drink but I still found myself doing a fair amount of pre-show bar cluttering. It's not good for the mystique. The alternative is to sit and wait in the cramped backstage with the crampy star of the show. I understand now just how this tedium can lead to the drawing of a penis on the dressing room wall. Not that I ever succumbed to this activity. I understand though - this is the kind of existence that could turn a man into a moron.
To counteract the moron effect, sidemen have lame discussions about Proust, the Middle East, the latest Scorsese film... this often degenerates into an inquiry into the state of the drummers bowels or the lead guitar player's latest sexual conquest. And then it's back to drawing penises.
The set list arrives - she's taken out the one with the good bass line, my moment in the spotlight. A gentle enquiry: Er, you're not doing this one tonight...?
'No' comes the terse reply, 'not feeling it'
Self doubt creeps in:
Is it my fault?
Am I not playing well enough?
What am doing here?
Am I adding anything to this?
And paranoia:
They're loving her and wondering why the hell I'm here. Last night, just last night a guy was telling her how great it is that she's doing a solo show. A SOLO show. Everybody loves her. No one ever mentions my bass playing. 
There's a reason for that...
It's worse when there's a band and you don't know them very well:
The rest of the band think I'm crap. They think I'm only here because I'm married to the star...
The audience are obviously thinking exactly the same...
And the more it goes like this the worse the playing gets.

It wasn't at all bad in actual fact. Amy and I have toured and played together for years and we're well aware of each others insecurities and idiosyncrasies. We also know that whatever we're doing, whether we're playing together as Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, or she's backing me, or I'm backing her, we're on the same team. We make mistakes, amps get turned up too loud, then turned down too quiet, we play wrong chords, forget bits, but we never give each other a hard time about these things. We help each other through - that's what bands are supposed to do.
I was still surprised after one show on this tour when she told me that she'd felt convinced in the middle of the set that most of the audience were there because they'd heard I was playing. If that had been the case, and I'm sure it wasn't, she would have completely eclipsed me with her performance anyway.
She played some of the songs alone, and as there was no backstage at a lot of the venues I had to figure out somewhere to be. I didn't want to stand around cluttering the place up and diverting attention away from Amy, and neither did I want to step off the stage into the audience and risk having someone try and engage me in conversation, so I came up with the solution of sitting on a chair to the side of the stage and calmly listening.
It was a great place to be. Listening intently, enjoying every moment, and ready to spring up and get to work on the guitar or bass (with just that hint of sideman begrudgement of course...) It worked well, but towards the end of the tour I was complimented on my listening pose, and on the second to last night someone in the audience commented loudly when I took my scarf off as I sat there between songs:
'He's just taken his scarf off!'
I was getting too good at it.

And every night when she got to the line in Cynically Yours - and plus you claim to love my ass... I tried not to nod my head too enthusiastically. A sideman must remain a gentleman at all times.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A Word From The Cunt That Created The Product

I received an email the other day from someone I'd never heard of at Demon/Edsel Records:

Hello,
I hope this email finds you well.
I work for Demon Music Group and we will be reissuing the three Wreckless Eric CDs on the 9th September.
 I was hoping you would be able to post a picture/link and some info re the releases (which I can provide) on your facebook page please to let the fans know?
I look forward to hearing from you.
With thanks,
Lidia

I wanted to reply:

Thank you very fucking much for telling me about this release - are you people always so fucking rude to the artists whose work you’re peddling?

But I didn't - I took control of myself and asked which three Wreckless Eric CDs she might be talking about, as there are rather a lot of them.

Turns out it's the first three: Wreckless Eric, The Wonderful World Of... and Big Smash - and only on CD though they might consider a vinyl release later in the year. I wish then luck with that - CD sales are at an all time low. Still, it might be nice if they sent me a box or two to sell at shows, give away to the family, or just to have in the archive. I'm wondering what the chances are - I'm still waiting for Union Square to send me a copy of the last Stiff Records reissue of my catalogue.

I could get quite upset about this kind of thing. No could about it in fact - I do, I get very fucking upset. Nice people - they really know how to treat the cunt that created their product. But there's nothing I can do about it so there's no sense in dwelling on it for too long because it's a waste of energy. Instead I tried to concentrate on what I can do to capitalise on the situation.

For the past few years I've been putting off re-editing my autobiography, A Dysfunctional Success, with a view to making it available as an ebook, and eventually a new print edition.
It's a good time for it to come out again with these latest reissues. You can buy my first three albums and read some of the background, not that I celebrated the hallowed Stiff Records - I think they've already done enough of that themselves.

The book is about being a child in the late fifties and early sixties, about growing up in middle-class suburban England, about not fitting in and searching for some sort of identity. It's about my haphazard and all too sudden rise to fleeting stardom in the seventies and what happened when it all went wrong - squalor, poverty, Thatcher's Britain in the 1980s. It's a pop biography by virtue of being written by a minor pop star but it's a million miles from the smarmy world of pop success. It's a testament to my own personal success - how I survived, came out intact and was even able to write a book about it!

Here are a couple of extracts:
extract 1
extract 2

It took me a couple of years because I moved house three times, possibly in attempts to escape from the writing. It was hard work. Twelve years later I think I might have worked even harder to make it available as an ebook. Now I'm working on another print edition, and if I still have a mind left having achieved that I might even write another book.

I've learned an awful lot about formatting in the past couple of weeks. I crawled over the manuscript, correcting mistakes that went un-noticed in the original edition, and created a lovingly handcrafted digital ebook thing. I cursed at Kindle and Smashwords and I-Books, and at my own inability to understand complicated instructions, but it looks like I've finally done. It’ll be available on September 4th from Amazon or iBooks.

I know some people hate the whole Kindle/i-reader thing - I resisted for years until I realised I could go on tour without dragging a whole library of rapidly disintegrating books along with me. Same goes for the i-pod - I'd love to take my entire album collection with me when I leave home for three months at a time but it isn't very practical. Especially on aeroplanes.

When I’ve got over the shock of publishing my first ebook I’ll get to work on the print edition. In the meantime you can pre-order the ebook and have it automatically delivered to your device at the stroke of one minute past midnight on the morning of Sunday 4th September. I’m not sure that there’s any incentive for you to pre-order except to help boost me into the bestseller lists - and of course that’s going to happen - but I’d be obliged if you would. You’ll be part of the making of my very own dysfunctional success and for that I’ll be grateful. That’s your incentive! Here are the relevent links:

Kindle:

i-book:

And because I'm not churlish, and because even though they may not be my products they're my albums, here's a link to the Demon/Edsel reissues:

Wreckless Eric: http://amzn.to/2arbSVd
Wonderful World Of Wreckless Eric: http://amzn.to/2aY4UM5
Big Smash: http://amzn.to/2aNNY9i