April 21, 2012

Happy Record Store Day + a very special guest post!

It's not official unless you're celebrating with cookie cake (I was "channeling" the White Album, can't you tell? Haha) 
Today's the day! I hope you're headed out to your favorite independent record store (or five, if you're that lucky) to enjoy some good music, limited-release RSD goodies, or just browse the crates and show your support! You'll find me in rock-n-roll heaven at Cactus Records in Houston, so if you're in the area, swing by and say hi! How will YOU be celebrating RSD today? If you take pictures please share! For a list of participating stores in your area, click here.

We're concluding this countdown series with a post by the most musically-passionate person I know: my uncle George.  A VERY special thanks to him for writing this on such short notice, but I'm very glad he did, because his story is a great one. Enjoy, and happy Record Store Day everyone!
"Damn the man! Save the Empire!" -Mark, Empire Records (Image via Etsy)
When asked by my eclectic niece if I was interested in guest posting on her blog, my first reaction was to inventory my upcoming schedule and see if I had the time. When she told me that it was for Record Store Day and it concerned music and the effects on my life, let’s just say my schedule opened up. I immediately started thinking back, trying to remember the first songs that I had listened to which started me on the amazing journey of my love of music.

My first recollection was 1971 at the ripe old age of 10 years old. My family had just moved to Houston from L.A. after an earthquake that had scared the crap out of our entire family caused us to go East to get out of the Old West. I met my first friend in the Lone Star State and his name was Reed. Reed had an older sister that was a "hippie" of sorts (just because she was older than us and listened to cool music—the music that our parents didn’t particularly like/like us listening to). I remember Reed and I listening to his sister’s 45's and two records in particular really got a hold on me; Around the Bend by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Indian Nation by Paul Revere and the Raiders. Reed and I would spend hours playing records and pretending to be the artists. Little did we know that we were pioneering the art of "air guitaring".
During the next few years, I recall getting an AM radio and repeatedly wearing out the batteries while falling in love with rock-n-roll music thanks to Rare Earth, Three Dog Night, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Grand Funk Railroad, and of course, The Beatles. By the time I started junior high school, I knew that music was going to be a part of my life so I asked my folks if I could take band as my elective. Being recent transplants and all, my family was a little short on money so the answer was "Sorry son, but we cannot afford an instrument for you so you will have to take Spanish instead". There has to be a way to get into band, I thought so on the first day of school I talked to the band director about my dilemma and, unbeknownst to my parents, switched my elective from Spanish (which I already knew how to speak) to band and the public school system was gracious enough to supply me with a tuba. The tuba was the only instrument that weighed as much as I did and although it wasn’t as cool as a trumpet or trombone, it took me from a person who loved to listen to music to one who loved to play music. It didn’t take my parents long to realize that me and music were not to be messed with.

Fast forward to my freshman year of high school. While I still played in the school band, there was this lingering "non-coolness" of playing the tuba so I decided to take it to the next level: the electric bass guitar. Thanks to my tuba-playing compadre Fred Simmank, who turned me on to The Who's Quadrophenia album and the amazing bass playing of John Entwistle, there was no turning back. My dad bought me my first bass; it was a copy of Paul McCartney's violin-shaped bass made by Hoffner except that mine was made by Apollo. The only time that I wasn’t playing it was if I was at school, eating, or sleeping. I would put on my quadrophonic head phones (because we humans have four ears?) and practiced and jammed to Bad Company, Pink Floyd, Ted Nugent, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and of course Peter Frampton. When the Frampton Comes Alive album came out, that was IT for me. I was going to be a musician. People magazine did a cover story on him and when I found out he and I were the exact same height and weight, that was a sign that it was going to happen for me. Ah, the unadulterated dreams of youth.
Red & my uncle George
My sophomore year was the year that all of the practicing started to pay off for me. I bought a Fender Music Master bass from my friend Laura's older brother (Laura would play another important role in my formative years, ironically enough) and I owned my very own Peavy 100-watt head with an Allen (local Houstonian cabinet builder) 2x15" cabinet but more importantly, that is when I met Kevin "Red" McKinney in drafting class. Red turned out to be one of my greatest friends and we still hang out to this day; he is a well-known drummer of the Houston music scene. Although Red and I would be in our first real band together my senior year, my first taste of performing live was at the Skate Ranch with another one of my great friends, Charlie Sharpless, on guitar. The name of our band was Ocean Head and we didn’t have a singer but we rocked out nonetheless and even got paid $20 a person.

Red and I hit it off right off the bat. We would design and draw our stage setup in drafting class, complete with theatrics and lighting that would rival Kiss' stage show. He also would end up being part of two important events that fueled the flames for me even more: my first rock concert and my first jam with people instead of headphones.

As far as first concerts are concerned, my first one was of epic proportions: Thin Lizzy opening up for Queen at the Sam Houston Coliseum in 1976. Red and I had to buy an extra ticket for a friend named Laura (remember her?) because she had a car (Ford Pinto-notorious for catching fire if rear ended) and we needed a ride to the show. I will never forget the experience; incredible lighting and sound that you could feel in your bones. Phil Lynott blew me away with his singing and playing at the same time. Then Freddie Mercury, with his one-of-a-kind voice and showmanship. It was the most amazing thing that I had ever experienced in my life. I remember Red and I going to my house after the show and cracking up to Monty Python’s Flying Circus while quenching our "munchies", all the while trying not to wake my parents.
Olias (that's my uncle on the left)
Not long after my first concert came my first jam with real people. Again it was Red that presented the opportunity. We went to his friend Kerry's house to jam. Kerry was some years older than us and had a good job as a draftsman with an engineering firm so he had a ton of musical gear in his jam room. Red had borrowed a set of drums from our friend Mark Ballard and we played Led Zeppelin's famous Dazed and Confused and Communication Breakdown for hours on end. Music has the power of connecting us spiritually and there is nothing like that connection you share when playing music with other musicians.
The aforementioned first real band was named Olias, which was a cover band (we got the name from a Jon Andersen solo album). The reason that I refer to it as "the first real band " is because we had singers and four 45-minute sets. The band consisted of me on bass, Red on drums, Duffy and Keith on guitar, and Mario our lead singer. Mario was a great front man although he didn’t have the greatest voice, and he had a mechanical arm as he had lost his left arm right above the elbow in a car wreck. Olias played every weekend for about 6 months at Patty Lynn’s Lounge which was a local hang out for rockers at the time. We played a cool mix of tunes that included Tom Petty, ZZ Top, The Cars, Allman Brothers, Jerry Jeff Walker, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Bob Seger. Patty Lynn’s also exposed me to sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.

Sex: me making out with my girlfriend Chris and occasionally getting to second base. Drugs: me sneaking a few swigs of beer from my bandmates because even though the drinking age was 18 at the time, I was only 17 and still in high school. Rock-n-roll: see Olias above.
Eqquis live
By this time I had decided that I wanted to be a musician and playing in a cover band was cool and all but a true artist must express himself in a unique way. At the same time I noticed a change in the music that I was getting into—progressive rock. Donning my headphones again I was mesmerized by songs that took up a whole album side (15 to 18 minutes) by artists like Yes, Genesis, Brand X, and Bill Buford's solo stuff. Charlie and I got together again with friends George, Stewart, and Jeff to form the all-original band Eqquis. We got the name from a disturbing British film of the same name starring Richard Burton (I thought that the letters looked cool together).In this band I learned how to apply the things that I had learned in all those years of school band- dynamics, arrangements, emotion, and color. Eqquis eventually morphed into Peristyle and slimmed down to George on guitar, Stewart on keys, Jeff on drums, and me on bass. Peristyle was the band that finally "made it", complete with a record deal and everything.

While leaving the Almeda South movie theatre one Friday night after viewing Cruising with Al Pacino, my '72 Toyota Corolla was rear ended by someone that carried insurance. A few weeks and $500 dollar check later, Peristyle was in the studio recording our first demo tape. That demo tape made it possible for the band to do a live 4-hour radio interview on the show "Houston Musicians in Concert" hosted by the very exotic Peta (I think she was from Trinidad and she was very keen on our drummer Jeff) on our local Pacifica station KPFT. Somehow that radio show caught the attention of a producer named Jimmy Hotz (I know, Hotz—really). He had worked with Fleetwood Mac on their live shows. The next thing I knew we were recording at Rivendale Studios on a 24-track recorder with 2-inch tape, a real spring reverb, and I was in heaven. Two weeks and $50,000 later we had the masters for the two songs that would become our first 45 demo. On the "A" side was "Childsplay" and on the "B" side was the epic song that no one other than our direct friends and family experienced, "I’m out of Lies".
With our hopes set high, Jimmy proceeded to shop our singles for several months and unfortunately the only people that showed any interest was an independent label in Spain and by this time the people that had financed us were not willing to pay for a tour in Europe as their investments had not panned out as they had expected. There went my dreams of using my Spanish skills on real Spanish girls and being part of a rock band.

Most people would be devastated and although I was disappointed, my love for music was not shaken. Music is still an important part of not only my life, but most of my old bandmates are still playing as well. I have since played in several bands and am currently playing bass at my church (music connects people at a spiritual level, after all) and still jam several times a year with old and new musicians.

Looking back, I was truly blessed to have lived in the era that I did. Not only did I experience some of the best rock music that was ever created, but I have lived through the gambit of how this music is recorded and delivered to the enjoyer. From pressing vinyl to digitizing, from LP to MP3, I would not trade places with anyone. So on this Record Store Day, go out and enjoy your favorite oldies and enjoy the connection that takes you back to that fond memory.

Thank you Jessica for the opportunity, and God bless.

Thank you so much Tio for sharing your musical evolution with us! (I still can't believe you saw Queen live...at your VERY FIRST CONCERT! So jealous, haha).  

“I think it’s high time the mentors, big brothers, big sisters, parents, Guardians, and neighborhood ne’er do wells, start taking younger people That look up to them To a real record store and show them what an important part of life music really is. I trust no one who hasn’t time for music. What a shame to Leave a child, or worse, a generation orphaned from one of life’s great beauties. And to the record stores, artists, labels, dj’s, and journalists; we’re all in this together. Show respect for the tangible music that you’ve dedicated your careers and lives to, and help It from becoming nothing more than disposable digital data.” - Jack White

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You're so sweet (: Thanks friend!


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