News From The Woods - December 8, 2011

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published December 8, 2011


"Christmas Jam - 2011"

Going into the Christmas Holiday this year has been a little rough. Economics has been one factor. Health has been another. There's not much I can do about the present state of our financial situation. As technology has about forced me out of business, I am more or less "reluctantly retired". Jane has been the real bread winner in recent years, and her company insurance policy is the perk that keeps on giving. Let's just say we have met our deductible early in the year and leave it at that. I am very thankful AND grateful for her insurance, more so than in all of the 15 years we've been together. I guess it comes with getting older.

I have been as healthy as a horse for all of my life, so it is a real eye opener to me to be dealing with health issues. When I turned 50 I still felt like a twenty-something. Oh sure, I'd had a few "mishaps" in my youth, the most obvious one's being the time I drove the jeep off a cliff and crushed my right hip, and then years later I got shot at a gig in Oklahoma… ALSO the right hip. The doctors told me that "someday" I'd have to reckon with the injuries from my youth. Not being used to dealing with medical or health issues in my life, I naively thought that "someday" would gradually get here and in the process I would have plenty of time for a warning for me to consider my options at some point.

Well, it didn't exactly happen that way. Oh, I've had my share of back trouble and my hip would alert me when it was time for the weather to change, but I could deal with all that. Actually, I SHOULD have been more observant when I turned 60, but I was side tracked with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, which came as a complete surprise to me. After two years of dealing with it, I finally went under the knife and took care of it. Now I am as good as new and as both operations went so smoothly, it gave me a false sense of security concerning any future maladies.

So it came a quite shock when my right hip started bothering me. At first, it was only when I twisted it a certain way, or when I accidently banged it on the side of my thigh against a solid object. I made a mental note after a month of this to pay more attention to my hip Soon I realized I did not want to jump down from an elevated platform. In my youth I could quite literally run down the broken and bouldered pathways of these Ozark mountains, leaping from one outcropping to another without giving it any thought. I've always been sure-footed, so it was a real shock to the system to now have to consider even jumping down from a 3 foot elevation at a stand still. It made me feel…….. old.

Then, about two months ago, my right hip began to ache for no reason at all. To call it "tender" would be an understatement. And as if that wasn't enough I began to have bouts of bursitis in my left shoulder. Many of you know I was recently diagnosed with Type II diabetes, so life recently has not been all fun and games. It didn't take long for me to realize that I would not be able to sit and play my drum kit for a four-hour gig, so gigging was now out of the equation as well. I still had studio session work, but it's not quite the same as playing in front of an appreciate audience.

A year or so ago, I finished producing an album of easy listening jazz with my long-time conspirator Mark Rex, who composed all the music for the album we call "If You Can't Beat 'Em" by a studio band we've named OMC, which stands for "Ozark Music Coalition". OMC seemed the right name, as the musicians that contributed to the project are all from the Ozarks. Other "locals" were Ron Miller (keyboards), Jerry Bone (bass), David Renko (sax), Gary Gazaway (trumpet) and Tom Roady (percussion). The album took almost a year to compose, record, and produce. The unusual thing about the session was that not one time did all of us sit in a room and play together. The "band" never really existed in the purest sense of the word. I always started out with a few tracks that Mark brought in from his little home studio which he had in an Airstream trailer located deep in the woods of Gamaliel. From there I put on drums; then Ron Miler and Jerry Bone would show up (never together) for their respective overdubs. Finally, David, Gary and Tom dropped in for the final "seasoning" to the mixes. But there was never a time where all of us were in the same room together. As unique and odd as that may sound, the final results are spectacular. The listener gets the distinct impression that there is a band somewhere in a room, playing it all at the same time. And that's because each player (a gifted professional in their own right) considered the other parts when it came time for them to add their tracks. It is a testament to their experience and abilities that the project sounds so spontaneous and alive.

Shortly after the recording of this album, Mark relocated to Florida in order to assist his mother in moving down to the sunshine state. In his absence, Ron began making frequent visits to the studio for us to do some jamming and composing. Over the course of the past six months he and I have embarked on yet another excursion into the session world and have recently completed a project we call "Waveform LLC". For me, this was an entirely NEW approach to experimenting with composing and recording music. In the old days of recording I was known by many as "The Blade" for my skills with a razor blade and splicing tape. I learned about splicing audio recording tape in my early days of radio broadcasting, and got quite good at it. So it did not come as any great shock that I would not make the transition over to digital production. Editing digitally is SO much easier that with analog. It's a simple operation known as "cut and paste", and I am sure most of you are well versed in that operation using text. The only difference is that I am using audio waveforms (hence, the name of our "band"). Ron and I have sequenced our labors into an alb called "It Is What it Is". Unfortunately, this project will probably get about as much attention in the national music scene as the OMC project did: none.

Today, it's all about demographics and location. Quality of music and attention to lyrics has taken a back seat to today's cookie-cutter mentality. I suppose that means Ron and I are now Dinosaurs. But… so what??? Does that mean we just stop creating? No! We can't! It is not in us as artists and musicians. We make music because it is a part of our lives. If it were JUST for the money or fame we would have quit this business thirty years ago and take jobs in the "straight world" as salesmen, factory workers, or Wal Mart greeters. People like us, and Mark, Jerry, Gary, David and many, many other musicians that have passed through the doors of my recording studio continue to play and write music because it is in our genes.

Ron and Jerry and I have for several weeks now been Facebooking back and forth about the possibility of getting together for a jam. Jerry keeps pretty busy as a contract bassist, and plays in several bands in the state in order to eek out whatever living he can using his craft. Ron plays locally on the Arkansas/Missouri State line in a bar on weekends to help make ends meet. I do just about anything I can within my realm of experience to help Jane pay the bills here. So scheduling can become a problem, but if you want to do something bad enough, you'll find a way to do it. I never said anything to Jerry or Ron about it, but I was a little hesitant due to my hip, which has been bothering me with increased frequency. I figured that I could probably do 30-40 minutes at a time if need be, so I went ahead and set up a jam session for this week. Ron lives nearby, but Jerry is an hour away, so it was pretty much his call. He had heard a few things from the "Waveform" project, that he was interested in exploring our potential as a trio in the studio. Remember, the three of us had NEVER played together.

Jerry showed up at 9 AM last Tuesday morning. Ron had to wait for a store to open in town and would come out right after that. I had the coffee on, so Jerry and I sat down and got caught up while listening to a little music. Ron and I had already set up our gear and all the mics on Monday, so where he arrived we continued our camaraderie over another cup of java before plugging in headphones.

Ron said "I haven't given ANY thought as to what we might be doing"…… my reply was… "Good! This will all be completely fresh and in its rawest form". Jerry smiled and produced a beautiful new fretless bass guitar as Ron plugged in his PRS and I did a last minute check on my kit. While Ron was tuning up I began noodling on my high hat. Within the next thirty seconds we launched into whatever came to mind, and did not stop for about 15 minutes. Jerry said "I wish we would have recorded THAT!" Ron shot me a look and smiled, knowing that I record EVERYTHING…. Especially on a jam session, because that is where the "magic ideas" come from. Jerry mentioned something like "Do you guys want to do that again and work something out"? I shook my head "no", as Ron said "All Bob needs is 8 bars of this and 8 bars of that"…. and we all laughed. Then Ron switched over to keys and began some little ditty. Jerry jumped right in and we were off again! We wound up with three jams before taking a break. I looked at my watch and 56 minutes had passed! I could hardly believe it! Ron gave me a concerned look and I exclaimed "Wow….. We just played for an hour and my hip doesn't hurt at all!"

After a few minutes of listening to some of the jam and laughing at our foibles and happenstance breaks, I saved it and set the board up for another pass. Halfway through the first jam in this set, I distinctly heard keys AND guitar in my headphones and looked up to see Ron playing a string part with one hand, and then following up with a guitar solo riff between chords. It was amazing. FOUR instruments LIVE from a trio! This adventure took about 40 minutes and yielded three more sets of ideas. Still, my hip was not bothering me, although the walk from my kit to the mixer DID give me a reminder that I had not been "miraculously healed". We took a fifteen minute break, and Jerry said "I have just enough time for another one if you want before I have to go." Ron and I needed no further prompting and headed for our stations. This time Jerry started off a nice mellow bass riff and Ron complimented it with keys while I did some cymbal flourishes. That first jam ran about 6 minutes. When we stopped, Ron impulsively said "I've got this little riff that I think we could work off of", and proceeded to play a nice piano part. After getting the feel down I stopped us and said "Okay, we need a "B" part now.... a chorus….", and the two worked around a couple of ideas until they hit something that I liked and said "There! That one!" We rehearsed it a little (totally out of character compared to our previous jamming) and then tacked it onto the verse part. Jerry said "now if we just had a bridge….." and once again the two of them fooled around with some chord changes until something clicked. Then we talked out how the three parts would fit together and in a proper song sequence. Finally, just before we ran through the arrangement I said "What if we just took off that "three chord" on the "A" part and turned that into a long intro?" And that was it! We had, from scratch, JUST written a complete arrangement in under ten minutes (of course… STILL recording all the while - just in case). NOW all we had to do was PLAY IT correctly from start to finish!

I clicked a count-off and we played it perfectly from start to finish. BOOM! A 3:45 song (no lyrics yet of course… but I had some ideas running around in my head while they worked). At the end of this recording we just sort of sat there, savoring the moment and appreciating each other's talents and experience. I laughed and said "Well! THAT was easy….." It never ceases to amaze me how, when the right combination of people get together, magic can and often DOES happen with very little effort. And THAT is part of the magic of making music. It is an expression of the human soul and spirit and once again proves that the sum of the parts usually outshines an individual talent.

I was still so pumped up from the experience that when Jerry was driving off I didn't even feel sad about it. Ron and I immediately went back downstairs and first listened to all the great ideas that bore fruit. Then we got to that last song and he said "I've got JUST enough time to put a couple of guitars on there". He packed up while I balanced the mix with the new guitar parts, and as he left he said over his shoulder, "Now Bob, I expect you to have all the lyrics done by the time I get home…" and we both had a good laugh.

But he knows me pretty well. He called when he got home and I told him I had some of the lyrics done and had already cut down one funky 13-minute jam into a 5-minute track that sounded like we had rehearsed it. He laughed and said "I knew it!" Hopefully by the time he makes another trip over here I'll have the vocals cut on the one tune.

I am thankful that my hip did not impair my ability to play the drums. As I sit here typing this today however, I am reminded that there is always a price to pay, and have started researching for a great Ortho surgeon.


**SPECIAL BONUS**

It took longer to write this column than it did for Ron and I to come up with lyrics for the song.
It is now called "Don't Want To Know About It", and you can listen to it here:
Waveform LLC - 10 Dont Want To Know About It by cedarcreststudio

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