News From The Woods - September 17, 2007

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published September 17, 2007


"Bob's Wild Weekend"


As I was driving my way out of the town for the Labor Day weekend it suddenly occurred to me that this was the first time I have been away from my family since my son was born. That's been nine years ago. Think about it.

What kind of special occasion would it take to lure me away from my forest retreat? Well, merely one special occasion must not have been enough, because over this past Labor Day weekend I attended two reunions in two cities during the same 3-day weekend. And I went alone because school had just started and Robert had to remain in town, so Mommy stayed home with him and told me to go and have some fun. (Men - it doesn't get any better than THAT!)

Several months ago I was contacted by Randy Burden's daughter, Crystal. She was planning a surprise 50th birthday party for her dad, which would be no small feat. She made arrangements to see that he would think he was going to someone else's party to jam with friends. Everyone was sworn to secrecy. While he was being driven into town on Saturday afternoon, many of his close friends had been gathering at a local outdoor pavilion in Ft. Smith.

My mind was flooded with memories as I drove along I-540 which almost surrounds Ft. Smith. The last time I set foot in the town that I spent most of my radio career in was New Years Eve 86/87. I mixed sound for Paperkid at 57 Chevy's Club. Before that it was in 1976 that I bid farewell to Ft. Smith and returned home to Mountain Home to fulfill my recording studio dream. But from 1969 to 1976 Ft. Smith was my home. It was in Ft. Smith that I was at my peak as a disk jockey. It was Ft. Smith that I learned the art of audio engineering. It was Ft. Smith where I dabbled with concert promotion. I have a lot of history in Ft. Smith, so it was a bit creepy as I drove by exit after exit and remembering where I lived and worked and played and how it all melted together. The very first thing I saw as I crossed the river was the 4 radio towers that belonged to KWHN, my old Alma Mater. In one respect nothing seemed to have changed and in another I felt I was driving into a new city for the first time.

By the time I got to Barling, which back then was a spot in the road but now was a thriving suburb of Ft. Smith, I hardly knew where I was. Using directions given to me I found my way to the X 95.3 radio station building where Ray Miller wanted me to meet him. After a nice tour of the facility we both headed to our secret rendezvous. We arrived at the scene about 30 minutes before Randy was to be delivered so it gave us time to meet and greet so many old friends like Jai Lambert, Steve Lane, Joe Hamilton, and others. The "Paperkid" lineup was one man short as John Davies unfortunately was stuck in the recording studio working on a project. There was food and music and it was a very festive atmosphere. We got a call that they were just around the corner, so I ran and hid behind an SUV with my camcorder. As the car pulled up, Crystal moved around to the passenger door of the car where her dad was getting out with a strange puzzled look on his face. The look changed to the stare of a deer in the headlights when he glanced around and saw me standing there with the camcorder running. He knew he'd been had then.

FOR A WINDOWS MEDIA CLIP OF THE PARTY CLICK HERE.

It was such a great party. Crystal handed paper and pencils around and asked for any stories which might embarrass Randy. She got more than she bargained for! He was sufficiently red-faced after the readings. I also met up with Jimmy Atchison who was my band mate in "Rock Bottom" during the early Ft. Smith years. He still works at Sigler's Music Company and still plays guitar with all the original band mates, only instead of bars they have fellowship in church. We all talked of old times and I even dug out the lap top and showed several "Paperkid" music videos. I wound up following Randy home to his apartment and spending the night on his couch. We sat up until 4 AM before calling it quits.

The next morning I left early and managed to sneak out without waking Randy up. I needed to be in Tulsa before 11AM in order to have brunch with my three friends from the old "Whizz" days, Mel Myers, Dave Hopkins, and Eric Dennis. Oddly enough, "Whizz" was another band during the latter years of my existence in Ft. Smith. Mel and Dave (and I) were all DJ's in the River City during those times. Whenever we opened a show for one of my concerts, let's just say "the word got out"!!

After I left Ft. Smith, Mel and Dave moved to Broken Arrow, a suburb of Tulsa, and became prominent Tulsa radio personalities over the years. Eric Dennis, our other guitarist was but a mere teen during those times, and he moved into the 2nd bedroom in my house after I was single (again). We shared a lot of good times during that period. He got a job in Dallas as a video editor and was so good that eventually he got tapped by the networks. Today he works as video editor for an independent production company just outside of Washington, D.C.

Mel, Dave and Eric had set up Labor Day weekend to be a reunion in Tulsa. We have had several here at my studio in the woods, but this year the duo couldn't swing enough time off to make the party here, so Eric proposed to fly to Tulsa for the long weekend. Since we have Instant Messenger (Eric and I), I found out about the plan only minutes after they all agreed on the idea. When he told me - a light went on in my head. ("Let's see…. Ft. Smith is on the way to Tulsa…… h-m-m-m-m-m-m……. you don't suppose……..???")

I called Mel and announced my intention to bust their little party and demanded that he give me his couch. Hesitatingly, he sputtered something like… "Uh, sure…okay", before it had all sank into his head. None of them had ever had the thought that I would actually be able to take off and drive to Tulsa to join them. And truthfully, I usually don't have the time. But this time all the stars were lined up and all of a sudden we were having a full band reunion session in Tulsa!

I knew I couldn't get my drums in my Sebring convertible so I asked Mel if it would be all right if I just brought my electronic kit for the session. Of course as I said this I was thinking that it had been over five years since I had hooked it all up. Frankly I was expecting him to tell me he could borrow a kit from someone he knew there, but as it was Labor Day weekend and everyone was playing, he suggested that I bring the electronics and we'd figure out something. My Roland SPD-11 percussion pad is now considered "vintage". I replaced the rubber pads from the factory ten years ago, and my cherished KAT Kit Kat kick drum trigger died several years ago. An interesting thing about the SPD-11 is that it has four external jacks………. One for the kick, one for the snare, one for the high hat and one for the hat controller pedal. I also had the controller pedal and used the original Roland KD-7 kick trigger. I use Duaz pads for the high hat cymbals and the snare trigger, all mounted on a Roland break-down PVC stand. In essence this gives me a complete trap kit. It certainly isn't ideal for the working drummer, but a studio drummer can nudge it along so to speak. I figured if I could coax it into life perhaps we can get a 2-track stereo kit that might be workable in the mix. Little did I know what was in store for me.

Eric flew down to Tulsa on Friday night and had a pre-party party with Dave and Mel and their families I met Mel and Eric at his house right at 11AM on Saturday and unpacked my gear, and then we drove over to Dave's house - a mere 4 blocks away! What a deal! I got to finally see his wonderful and lovely wife Julie, whom I hadn't seen since the 70's. We picked right up where we left off. As a first-timer I was awestruck by the design schemes of their homes. Dave's house was exactly what you'd expect from Dave…. Low ceilings, earth tone interiors, recessed lighting, and it exuded a family vibe from every corner. The house was alive. Mel's house was … well…. Mel. The living room looked like it was built by a designer, with a high ceiling, stairs along one wall leading up to the 2nd floor, white stucco walls, modern lighting, tasteful graphics and art work used sparingly. Mel has a new puppy, and puppy hasn't quite learned the art of waiting until he goes for a walk to relieve himself yet, so Mel pretty much follows him around with a roll of paper towels. If you're out there reading this now Mel, God Love Ya'…… I've been through that three times in the past ten years.

Okay. You've had the set up, and I'm not going to bore you with the gory details of the session except for one thing. For those engineer/musicians out there who haven't already discovered this basic truth of session work, let me clue you in. And if you don't get anything else out of this article then heed this: I discovered what a joy it is to be "just" the drummer. Or "just" the anything. As the evening wore on I saw Mel, sitting there at his desk, as I do, being an engineer……………. Fussing with the software……… Establishing a MIDI connection……..mumbling when the computer program crashes. Doing all that stuff that I have been doing for the past forty years. I looked and saw…. Me. Or the back of Mel's head, which is what anyone else would be seeing in my studio for the most part. Oh, sure, I get to run over after hitting RECORD and grab up the drum sticks and swap my "engineer" hat for a "drummer" hat. But it simply isn't that easy to change instantly from right brain "technical" to left brain "creative". You musicians know exactly what I'm talking about here. For the first time in many, many years I was just being a drummer. The freedom was just exhilarating! While Mel wrestled with the technical aspects of the session I lounged on his couch and watched TV, cracked jokes with Dave and Eric, walked outside and listened to the city sounds, and bided my time like any other player with a break. I got absolutely giddy as the night wore on. I am sure at one point Mel even got tired of my horsing around, but I could not help myself. I was like a kid let loose in a candy store. Ah, the sweet freedom of "not being responsible"……

FOR A WINDOWS MEDIA VIDEO OF THE SESSION CLICK HERE.

I learned a lot during that session. For one thing I realized that MIDI can be your friend. When I hooked my Roland kit up to the MIDI input I assumed this would be a hefty chore to link everything up to his audio engine. We all use Sony's ACID Pro 6.0 software so we can interchange files and collaborate over long distances. Mel, who was used to doing MIDI drums since he isn't a drummer and his studio isn't set up to record a full drum kit, had a few surprises for me. He had software called EZDrummer. This is a virtual drum kit. You can select different drums of different sizes, change cymbals, move virtual microphones and do so many other alterations that I got dizzy at the prospects. I believe he chose a virtual version of the Ringo Starr Ludwig Super Classic kit for me. Since that is exactly the real kit I still play on, the effect on our ears was uncanny. It sounded like my kit! As I hit each pad a corresponding visual effect would take place on the on-screen drum kit, showing which instrument had been triggered. On the MIDI recording grid in ACID tiny little squares would show up on the virtual "tracks" as I hit the pads.

This was an unusual experience for me because, as a drummer, I felt I never needed the "help" of a MIDI drummer. I suppose you could say I was reluctant to enter the world of MIDI. But Mel made it look so easy that I instantly recognized the advantages. Since MIDI files are nothing more than "keystrokes" placed on a grid - in my case all the drum hits - only MIDI notes were recorded, not the actual sounds of the virtual kit. This means that later on I can select whatever kit I wish to use, depending on the software available to me. It also means I can go back and correct digital glitches caused by malfunctioning triggers, or even straighten out sloppy tom fills or change them completely. While I can do similar things with real drum tracks (moving the beat around), the ease of editing MIDI tracks can be as significant in digital recording as the UNDO button.

Although we kept pretty close to home during my stay in Tulsa, the boys did treat me to a visit to the Tulsa Guitar Center. Fortunately we ate first, as my drooling on an empty stomach is much worse than on a full stomach. They practically had to drag me out of there! I bought several pairs of ProMark drum sticks because they were so much cheaper there than locally, or even ordering from a mail order music store.

Tuesday arrived much sooner than I wanted, and I had to say my goodbyes and hit the road back home. Eric caught his flight in the morning, and probably arrived at his destination before I got home to Arkansas. The very first thing I did Wednesday morning was to pull up the session files I had brought back with me and look deeply into the drum MIDI files. It took me very little time to clean up the false triggers and move a few beats around. The end result was spectacular to say the least. I just sent the MIDI drum file back to Mel and he will fly it into the master project and *VIOLA!* we'll have the "perfect" drum track.

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