Thursday, May 21, 2020

Under The Influence: Rio

I'm not big on subjective lists.  So, coming up with the 10 albums that influenced your musical tastes is a chore.  Probably because it is personal and that you only heard an album if you bought it, borrowed it or copied it.  Things changed by the 1990s and since -- as you can just go to YouTube, Spotify or any other service to hear full albums.  So, a lot of it depends on what you got your hands on or what song on the radio made you part with money you made on your newspaper route.  Then there is the parental effect...they control the stereo in the car, so you listen to what they do.  Paul Harvey was a standard in Dad's car while Mom was more Pop radio with hints of country.  So what singles you heard would determine if you were interested in getting a whole album.

Duran Duran's 1982 sophomore effort, Rio, had a long simmering inspiration as I was affected by the singles and MTV domination as almost everyone else was.  "Hungry Like The Wolf," "Rio" and "Save A Prayer" were huge.  Later in junior high school, my friend Phil would make cassette copies from his rather vast collection for me.  He was a Duran Duran fan among other acts.  So, I played my copy of Rio over and over.  But one song, "The Chauffeur," specifically hit me as otherworldly.  That pan flute sound hooks you while the keyboard and bass take you elsewhere.  "New Religion," "My Own Way," "Last Chance On The Stairway," "Lonely In Your Nightmare" and "Hold Back The Rain" were great songs as well and got played on my little stereo enough to almost feel like singles.

Rio as well as the follow-up albums, Seven And The Ragged Tiger and Notorious, made me want to play music...form a band.  I'm not going to list those endeavors here but how can I not name an album that led me towards performing which led to journalism and all that you've seen here.  Only saw them perform once but it was well worth it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Under The Influence: Alpha

During the 5-year run of Talking 80s Music, I mentioned 1983 and how important that year was musically to me.  I've had a long-standing belief that a lot of the influence on your music choices come from a young age... as early as 12.  (I'd still love to see a research paper on it.)  I specifically remember being at a friend's house (her name was Princess) for a birthday party and, prior to the party, they had MTV on.  I recall 2 specific songs from that day, "Puttin' On The Ritz" from Taco and "Don't Cry" from Asia.  One got me into modern Jazz covers and the other put arena rock on the musical map for me.  I still have this on vinyl in a box in my closet.  Such a beautiful cover created by Roger Dean.

There is something upbeat and optimistic about "Don't Cry" that also touches on that inner white knight in me.  I also found myself endeared to the emotional "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes."  So many good moments on here like "Last To Know," "The Heat Goes On," "Never In A Million Years" and "My Own Time (I'll Do What I Want)" but this is probably the first album that I wanted to hear in order.  The singles were great but I really liked the balance in energy from song to song.  The production and use of keyboards to enhance the landscape of the music impressed my young mind.  I definitely believe this led me into the rest of their catalog, Styx, Journey, Foreigner, The Alan Parsons Project and Rush.  This almost didn't make it here but a lot of albums are going to miss this list.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Under The Influence: The Size Of Food

Do you think anyone actually stole the book titled Steal This Book just because of the title on the cover?  Do you think anyone has been inspired to buy an album because of the cover?  Well, I can answer the last one as a big, "YES!"  I mean just look at the cover of Jean-Paul Sartre Experience's 1989 album, The Size Of Food.  Crazy, right!  From a distance it looks like an eye but closer up has that thermal imaging photo of people reaching out to the center of a circle bringing the last person towards them.  Or are they ostracizing someone with their hands pushing that person away.  Or, the zombies got to the last human.  Amazing what a perspective change can do to an image.  But this photo led me to one of the albums that inspired my musical tastes.

Beyond that surface, this is a heartfelt psychedelic trip.  It's hard to describe the journey the band take us on here as some of these songs dabble in creepy, damaged, haunting, melancholy and vulnerable.  "Inside And Out" has a romantic undercurrent with a chorus of, "Baby, it's your heart that I'm after."  Creepy, I guess, if you are taking it as literal.  One gem that I catch myself singing often is "Shadows" which hits the melancholy and dark vibe.  (Maybe a psychedelic song for goths.)  Remember that boat ride during Charlie & The Chocolate Factory?  Well, that's the feel of "Get My Point."  The guitars drive several of the songs here -- songs that have inspired me to look outside the mainstream and into genres I might not otherwise sample.  Definitely an album that needs a few listens...especially if you are staying in on a rainy day.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Under The Influence: Greatest Hits Volume 1

I'm a stickler for the rules provided me for challenges and this one said nothing about 'best of' collections.  This was difficult enough as I really dislike making definitive lists like this, but I am thankful that I don't have to rank them.  Anyhow, this was possibly among the first couple cassettes I ever owned.  I think there were 3 purchased tapes -- one yet to be listed and a Star Wars Christmas -- as well as several recordings off of the radio.  I pulled Mom aside this week to ask her why she bought me this collection.  She said that she just thought they were good songs.  You can't get more to the point than that.  It was derided as a collection at the time as Linda Ronstadt was just hitting her stride and seemed to be too soon to release a retrospective.  More than 7 million have sold in the U.S. alone which, to me, means they were wrong.

Ronstadt's recordings set a high bar for female vocalists for me.  I believe that is reflected in my crates of CDs as I have leaned towards the bluesy pipes of an Alison Moyet and fewer songbirds like Linda.  I would also note the early part of Ronstadt's career was stylistically in flux.  Hear the banjo and fiddle on "Love Is A Rose"?  Well, the b-side to that was the Pop/Dance hit "Heat Wave" which is also on here.  (After 1984, I couldn't hear "Heat Wave" without "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" invading in my head.)  Then you have the R&B influence on "You're No Good."  "Different Drum" and "Long, Long Time" will always be peak moments on this collection.  So many great renditions of classic songs here as well.  What I'd like to really say is that, if an artist or album is going to make an impression on you and influence your musical tastes, it needs to fill a void or surpass a prior favorite.  This one did.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Under The Influence: Johnny Diesel & The Injectors

Staring at me right now is a 7-piece set of Hohner Piedmont Blues harmonicas on my DVD shelf in my office.  I really do need to spend some time with them soon.  You see, I had a cheap little harmonica that I would carry in my black leather jacket during high school.  Now, I could barely play a blues riff on it but I loved it.  During that time, I had a rotation of cassettes for my VW in a storage case usually under the passenger seat.  1989's eponymous debut Johnny Diesel & The Injectors would become my blues fix.  I caught a video for, "Don't Need Love," their first single from the album on MTV late at night and was drawn in.  This album would send me off to shop later for Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Eric Clapton and the Robert Cray Band.

The album has my favorite rendition of "Since I Fell For You" on it as well as a few other standards.  But, the originals like "Don't Need Love," "Cry In Shame," "Fire Without A Flame," "Lookin' For Love" and "Soul Revival" kept me going back.  Mark Lizotte is still one of the most underrated guitarists out there to this day.  He makes his instrument cry all over this album.  The sax really holds its own on these tracks while the rhythm section is solid.  I'm probably going to listen to it again, right now.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Under The Influence: The Closer You Get

Ever seen those musician trees that show this one band and how it's connected via a branch to this other band, someone from that band left and formed another band and another forming a cluster within a genre?  Well, I see my musical inspirations in clusters.  My appreciation and love for Country music started right here with Alabama's 1983 album, The Closer You Get.  Without it, I don't know if my passion for deep emotional songwriting, group harmonies and a hint of twang would be where it is.  Willie Nelson, Restless Heart, The Zac Brown Band, Exile, Lonestar and so many others would just be names.

How could you not get lost in a song like "Dixieland Delight?"  It saunters along starting simple, adding layers and layers, then picks up its pace until it's a gallop and becomes a party.  Then there are songs like "She Put The Sad In All Of His Songs" and "Lady Down On Love" that play the heartstrings expertly.  The pacing and production of the title track also was a perfect song to lure me over from the Pop and Rock side of things.  There are some great moments on the album which is why I do have to credit The Closer You Get for being that bridge that led me to Nashville...and Alabama.  As a matter of fact, I was lucky enough to be in attendance at their performance in Las Vegas on October 10, 1998, which was filmed for the live DVD, 41 Number One Hits.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Under The Influence: Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse

Remember me mentioning 'found sounds'?  Well, that's what leads us here to Skinny Puppy's 1986 album, Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse.  This had to be here as it made a big influence on my music purchases and enjoyment.  This was the kind of music that when I was my worst moods, I would turn off the lights, lay down, close my eyes and escape into -- knowing that life really was better when you returned from the journey.  I remember hearing some tracks at a friend's house and at that time I would listen to KUNV's program Difficult Listening which would challenge the brain a bit.  So, back to found sounds, Skinny Puppy has a way of taking it to a different level by including movie lines, guitars, vocalist Ogre's abrasive spoken-word poetry and sampled sounds all on top a layer of synth.

The progression of the band's career musically is worth hearing.  But M:TPI is one of their big steps forward.  Too many great moments here to list from opener "One Time One Place," the stunning "Love.," "Deep Down Trauma Hounds," "200 Years," "Chainsaw," "Addiction" and much more.  This album may not be for everyone but I believe musically and in life we have poles.  We have markers that set boundaries and Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse set a flag further out on my musical landscape than any other.  It made it easier to describe acts like Ministry, Throbbing Gristle and Nine Inch Nails.  So, if you are looking to expand your borders... take a journey.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Under The Influence: Some Great Reward

I specifically remember the video for "People Are People" first appearing on local UHF music channel KRLR 21.  At that time it was branded as Las Vegas' Vusic (video music) Channel.  Yes, if for some reason you didn't have MTV for a time, you had KRLR.  So the video first appearing was my first introduction to industrial 'found sounds.'  I was lucky enough to discuss the topic with Andrew McCluskey of OMD during a Talking 80s Music episode several years ago.  Some Great Reward was also an introduction into the impressive songwriting of Martin L. Gore.  It barely beat out the less experimental but much more endearing Music For The Masses but if the list is about inspiring me musically...this one earned it.

Depeche Mode's 1984 album was a 9 song journey through love, faith, BDSM, equality, change and desire.  I remember sitting in the back seat of a friend Julee's car and hearing "Blasphemous Rumours" and thinking the line "I think that dog's got a sick sense of humor" was insane but maybe a quizzical blurb.  My misunderstanding, funny as it was, brought me closer to the song which examines faith in controversial moments.  "Somebody" is probably one of the most beautiful presentations of one's hopes for a future relationship...which is why it is used at many weddings.  I could actually go through each track on this album and how they affected me but it's something you should do yourself if you haven't.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Under The Influence: Shout At The Devil

Not my first experience with the genre of heavy metal, but Motley Crue's 1983 sophomore album, Shout At The Devil, was an important step for me.  Personally, it was a strange time as I received a copy of it from a beautiful girl who meant a lot to me.  I believe she was also the first girl I ever kissed, but we aren't going to out her here as she has and created an amazing life and family since.  It was a gift around a time that I was changing schools and my parents had divorced.

I still can visualize the moment after school on the day that I put the cassette into the stereo and cranked it up (because it starts so softly.)  I also remember racing to the volume knob to turn it down seconds later.  The intro "In The Beginning" is epic and very dystopian.  It's funny to see this in context as I just posted about the Beatles and this includes a great cover of their "Helter Skelter." It could be the teenage angst, family issues and emotional issues that most of the songs made a connection.  The singles were solid and each song made you want to sing along... well except the instrumental for obvious reasons.

I believe that because it didn't come with lyrics, photos and all the promotional fixings that imagery was overlooked on my part.  As I am usually focused on lyricism, the words meant less to me because I wasn't reading along during my first listen. 

The album still takes me back to a time in my life full of change.  Shout At The Devil may not have led me to the occult but led me towards other albums and artists.  I think metal guitar has a purpose and I felt it first here on an album full of rebellion, energy and passion.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Under The Influence: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

I decided to use the blog to expand upon the intentionally vague Facebook posts about the top 10 albums that influenced my musical tastes.  Just the covers are posted there but I figure context is pretty important and why not rant a little on them.

The early 1980s in Las Vegas were an interesting time for radio as we had stations regularly playing older music.  I believe a lot of this could be due to the 1981 release of the "Stars On 45 Medley" single which started with a few other songs ("Venus" and "Sugar, Sugar") which lead into The Beatles songs ("No Reply," "I'll Be Back," "Drive My Car," "Do You Want To Know A Secret," "We Can Work It Out," "I Should Have Known Better," "Nowhere Man" and "You're Going To Lose That Girl.")  The following year, The Beatles would be behind the release of  "The Beatles' Movie Medley," which would include "Magical Mystery Tour," "All You Need Is Love," "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "I Should Have Known Better, " "A Hard Day's Night," "Ticket To Ride" and "Get Back."  This resurgence also saw two reissued singles, "Love Me Do" in 1982 and "Twist And Shout" in 1986 (mostly due to the success of Ferris Bueller's Day Off.)  So, amidst the embers of disco and emerging New Wave was something retro and different.

The song "Nowhere Man" from Stars On 45 stuck in my head.  I don't know why but I would even harmonize with a friend in elementary schoold singing the song and a few others.  But, it is funny that I only knew the snippet that was from the medley.  But my interest in the songs and the Beatles' music would later inspire my mother to pick up a copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hears Club Band on cassette for me.  I delved deep into the 1967 creation until the wheels on the cartridge seized and tape spewed everywhere.

I am a true believer in music challenging the listener's ear.  My 3 listens rule definitely applied here but I think the pop sections reel you back in for more.  The stylistic range of the album is as wide as the subject matter and vocal styles.  I think this really this opened me up to accepting a lot of different sonic templates which you will see on this list.  That's what an influence is, isn't it?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Idle Hands During Lockdown

 When you have a lot of time on your hands, it's amazing how relaxing it can be.  When you are forced to have that time on your hands, there is a surge of energy and need to be doing something.  Sometimes that's not a bad thing.  It's natural.  I liken it to being dumped.  When you aren't the one ending the relationship, it's as if that was the most important relationship of your life.  When you end it yourself, you move on knowing you made that decision.

During the podcasting years, I got into the technical side of things and started looking at voice over work.  A friend set up The Voice Actors Studio in town and I even stopped by for an introduction class but timing never worked.  Going to bed at 6pm wasn't going to work with that.  But, I have that free time now.  And love the classes.  Experiencing a lot but the first thing that went through my head doing this was that I needed a professional area to do it.

So I brainstormed with the wife.  Do we go temporary or permanent?  Temporary might work but we would have to break it down often to keep it from being unsightly.  Permanent...well, we aren't going anywhere and if we were to do it, we could use a closet.  So, we looked at the office.  It's a 10x10 room with an almost rectangular closet that was just storing a lot of my CDs in boxes.  I wish I had a photo of it before we started.  It had that set of generic white sliding doors on a rail.  So that had to come out.  (I put them in the garage just in case my partner in crime had a change of heart.)  The white painted area is the closet space but it wasn't big enough to move my arms without hitting the walls.  After the doors and the slide rails came out we decided to bump it out about a foot and cut the carpet to not hinder the walls due to go up.

It's around now that you look at it and think, "Oh, crap, what did I do."  I guess people feel like that during the initial markings of ink as someone gets their first tattoo.  It isn't going to be the same but maybe it will be functional and worth the effort.

Home Depot fell in love with me.  (I'm expecting a Valentine's Day card in the future.)  I went shopping like I had a purpose.  Because, well I did.  At any moment, I felt like I'd get a call from work telling me that I needed to go back and momentum would be lost.  And, knowing me.  I could let this linger and take longer than it needed if I stopped.  I built off of the existing studs that framed the closet.  I decided to leave the structure as unblemished as possible.  I used tap screws on the 2x4s to tie it to the foundation and from there boxed everything in.  I then set the door in place and framed around that.

At this point, I recognized that I didn't have power in there.  It would be a good thing to have if I'm going to be in there for awhile.  It is Las Vegas and there is no A/C going in there either.  To rectify that, I bought a USB connected super silent fan that I could turn on inbetween recordings or during breaks.  I decided to create a hole in the wall to the left of the door to run an extension cord through that was tied to a light switch.

I am going to skip the drywall photo as it doesn't do much to tell the story.  I did decide to put a dual-pane plexiglass window above the door to allow extra light in.  Here, drywall and some very cool R13 thermafiber fire and sound guard plus mineral wool insulation were installed. We taped, used joint compound and textured the whole thing before painting.  If you look to the bottom left you can see that extension cord I mentioned earlier going through the wall.  It leads to a power supply with that extra USB outlet for the fan.

The other notable difference here is the addition of the acoustic foam.  Looking into it can be a huge rabbit hole.  I went a little crazy here.  As a matter of fact, I had extra that I gave to a friend and still had more that I stored.  So, when I say crazy, I mean overboard.  I would later discover that using moving blankets to line the interior walls and then putting the acoustic foam over it took too much of the sound depth away.  It is a mix of 1 inch and 2 inch thick pieces and a few corner pieces that you can't see too well here.

In the end, my shelf fit really well just to the left of the door and it really didn't steal too much room in the office.  The window above came out nicely.  I am pleased with the structural work but I know that I need to adjust some things for recording.  I got a call from a friend to do an audition for a project.  After recording it, I felt the bass was missing and it was a little hollow.  When I get time, I will pull some of those pieces away and fine tune things.

I was pretty shocked by the positive reaction to the project.  Kerry liked it.  She thought it was the right size and location for it and I think she enjoyed us both doing a project together.  We are a great team.  There are quite a few projects yet to come but I'm good with this one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Happy Unexpected Returns

I was thinking about it today that it has been almost 28 years since I wrapped up a semester in Reno before heading back to Las Vegas.  It was also when my grandfather Gilliam passed away.  My return home was a rerouting to a small community on North Dakota's Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation called St. John.  The only time I remembered being there before was 1984 for the town's 100th anniversary.

Why is this coming to mind now during the great self-quarantining?  Well... I am sitting in an airport getting ready to go back.  Right now I'm asking myself when the appropriate time to put a mask on is.  Only 3 airplane rides there and a long drive back.  Hoping to get back in time for my anniversary.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Bella: The Best Trouble We Ever Had

There is a vulnerability and a selflessness to being a good dog owner.  The last time I had been given responsibility of a dog was about 1983-84.  Max was a Great Dane and his death from parvovirus destroyed me as a kid.  Partially because I thought his getting into a stick of butter I dropped killed him.  Yes, the things that go through a 12 or 13 year old brain can be crazy.  My wife had a similar feeling but in a different way, her dog died in her arms as she waited in a vet's office.  Those things can scar you and make you not want to let another canine into your heart.

About 12 years ago, things changed.  I had a very odd scheduled shift that left the wife at home alone at night.  We decided to get David a dog for his 10th birthday.  I still remember buying a video camera just before we went shopping to record the occasion.  That tape is still in the recorder and I had plans to try to get it converted to digital for the future.  I don't know if I can now.  Anyhow, she sat between Kerry and David on the way home as we discussed names.  David didn't have any ideas, turned to his mother and asked, "What do you think?"  Kerry was really into the Twilight book series and told him she liked Bella.  And it was done.  We welcomed a little puggle named Bella home.

I suggest avoiding using cat laser pointers to play with your new puppies.  She loved it, but I think it may have led to her becoming the high energy dog she was.  Bella did her normal puppy teething and ruined several shoes and the dining room table chairs.  She learned that if she jumped high enough, she could get anything she wanted.  At one point, it was her dog food...which was a massive bag that she polished off.  The 2 bags of chocolate chips she downed made the wife believe we lost our dog but it was just one of many sleepless nights over things she'd ingest.  (Anti-fungal cream was just perplexing.)  Aside from that, she was a very smart dog.  But I would teasingly say that she was a good dog when she was tired or sleeping.

The addition of her "sister," Tulip, was meant to ease separation anxiety and balance things out.  It may have.  If anything, I think Bella taught Tulip some bad habits.  We recorded a few videos of their interactions.  Feel free to look for the Bella And Tulip Show on YouTube.  Part of that was because of their food obsession (seems to be a puggle thing) and sneakiness.  The two would do something I would call "parallel puggling" where they would nap parallel with each other all around the house.

We gave Bella a lot of massages after we brought her home to deal with some anxiousness.  She had a lot of trust in us.  Early mornings, she would spend what we would call "Mama Time" with Kerry by sitting on the edge of the bed with her and stare into her eyes while being pet.  Often, we would watch T.V. and she would hop up on the sofa and push her back into my wife's armpit to sit with us.  She would also run maniacally through the house doing laps when she got excited.  She would hop on my chest as I did workouts in the living room.  Imagine doing sit-ups or bench press with a dog on your chest.  She also had a weird love for my morning breath...nobody else, just mine.

We would have to "Bella-proof" the house before we leave to go anywhere.  Kitchen trash would have to be turned around, stuffed in and sometimes a weight put on top.  Doors to bathrooms would have to be shut.  Toilet paper rolls would have to be reversed, or we would find the paper winding down the hallway and under the dining table.  She was very ballsy.

2 years ago, she was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor on her left arm.  It was going to be biopsied but our doctor felt that it was a bigger risk to try removing it as it could aggravate it and spread since it seemed attached to either bone or muscle.  So she was put on a regime of Benadryl and acid reducer.  A round of steroids shrunk it down.

Last week, that tumor swelled up.  It started with a limp.  (Tulip started sympathy limping a day or two later.)  We took her into see the vet.  Another round of steroids and painkillers were the plan.  The limp got worse the next day as the whole leg started to swell up and wouldn't touch the ground as she walked.  I was in denial, thinking the steroids just hadn't kicked in yet.  It spread to her chest shortly afterward.  Fear was building in us as we knew this wasn't getting better.  Tulip kept wanting to check on Bella as she wasn't used to her laying down all the time.  The cry of pain as Tulip stepped on her leg several times would wake us from our numb thoughts.  We would spend Saturday and Sunday morning keeping Tulip away from her.

It was as we were watching church that I decided that we needed to know when the pain is too much for her.  A few searches really gave me some clarity and reading one to Kerry, she said, "Are you ready to take her in?"  We bawled.  I've cried more over this dog than the passing of any relative and feel like I have dishonored them.  She went peacefully and it will be a roller coaster of tears and sighs for a while.  The house is really quiet as Tulip is still looking around the house for her "sister."  We have started turning toilet paper rolls around, leaving doors open and leaving burritos unattended on tables.

I still get choked up talking about Bella.  Making your heart vulnerable is important in any relationship and I wouldn't be who I am without letting that little brown scamp into my life.  It's just going to take a long time to adjust.