NEWS FROM THE WOODS
By Bob Ketchum
Originally Published May 31, 2001
Recently I have been systematically going through all my studio archives of master session tapes and converting
them to CD. Many of these masters are so old that the sound quality is in danger of degradations. Some of the
original reel-to-reel masters have either been destroyed in one of the many floods we used to have in the old
studio (it's a long story) or have shredded due to the advanced age of the tapes. It has been no small feat to
archive this vast collection of studio sessions. It also amazes me that I have actually recorded this many
groups in my career! A quick count reveals that I have produced more than 150 sessions which resulted in some
form of master tape. Some job!
After three months I have finally archived almost all of the studio master tapes to CD. I am now in the midst
of converting some of my favorite tapes. These tapes are recording of jams and live recording of bands that
I once played with. There are almost more of these than the previous category. This time I have been more
select and have been archiving the tapes (mostly cassettes) chronologically. I started with my earliest
known recordings and have now reached the 1980's. Which brings me to this month's column.
Of all the bands I have played with (and I have played with some really good musicians), one particular
band really stands out in my mind. Those of you who know me might guess I am (again) talking about
"The Vipers" - my first "real" band, or possibly about "Whizz"
or "Goldrush", all of which were great bands.
But you'd be wrong. All those bands were very good and wrote some great original songs, but right now
I'm thinking about the EASIEST band to be in that I've ever played with. This band wasn't serious about
"making it big" or driven to write original compositions with the intent of a career in the music business.
THIS band played "just for fun". Now, that doesn't mean we played for free, but we just had a great time
making music together. And it was so easy that we almost never rehearsedů much like my current band
"Spilt Milk". The band I'm talking about here is "Mover".
After three months I have finally archived almost all of the studio master tapes to CD. I am now in the midst of converting some of my favorite tapes. These tapes are recording of jams and live recording of bands that I once played with. There are almost more of these than the previous category. This time I have been more select and have been archiving the tapes (mostly cassettes) chronologically. I started with my earliest known recordings and have now reached the 1980's. Which brings me to this month's column.
Of all the bands I have played with (and I have played with some really good musicians), one particular band really stands out in my mind. Those of you who know me might guess I am (again) talking about "The Vipers" - my first "real" band, or possibly about "Whizz" or "Goldrush", all of which were great bands. But you'd be wrong. All those bands were very good and wrote some great original songs, but right now I'm thinking about the EASIEST band to be in that I've ever played with. This band wasn't serious about "making it big" or driven to write original compositions with the intent of a career in the music business. THIS band played "just for fun". Now, that doesn't mean we played for free, but we just had a great time making music together. And it was so easy that we almost never rehearsedů much like my current band "Spilt Milk". The band I'm talking about here is "Mover".
The "Mover" saga began back in 1979. Two friends of mine, Steve Garner and Jim Groce were local Memphis musicians who had played together for years as a sort of Simon & Garfunkel duo. I met them through a mutual friend who lived here in the Mountain Home area. We all became fast friends and did some jamming together during the summer of '79, but nothing much came of it other than just fellowship. In the fall of 1979 I received a phone call from Memphis. It seems that Jim & Steve had been contacted by a booking agent who offered them some playing gigs along the Holiday Inn circuit between Memphis and Jackson, Mississippi. The guys needed a drummer to make the trio and they thought of me first.
I was flattered, but to be honest I had never played the club circuits before and wasn't that keen on adding that to my career at that point in my life. For years I had avoided the club circuit as I was not particularly fond of earning a living playing cover tunes every night of the week in smoke-filled bars. However I was really broke at the time so I accepted a single 10-day "trial" gig with the guys in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It went so well and we had so much fun that I continued to play more club gigs with them through the fall and winter of 1979. We even got some great Holiday Inn gigs in Matoon and Princton, Illinois which were very lucrative for the times.
By mid 1980 my studio business was picking up enough that I had to slack up on leaving town a bit. Also Jim & Steve had other interests they were developing in Memphis. But we did play a number of gigs here in Mountain Home at the local Holiday Inn. It was about this time that my old friend Wayne Littlejohn entered the picture. Wayne had played in several bands (one which I recorded live at a dance from the back of my van). I had known him for several years as his folks lived nearby in Theodosia, Missouri. He was/is a heck of a guitar player and a damned fine drummer as well which is an unusual combination, but since I also play guitar I thought adding him to the lineup might broaden our horizons in several ways. Jim and Steve thought the idea was intriguing and after a couple of rehearsals we knew we had something special happening.
With the combination of pooled talent we found that we could perform a very wide range of music genre's. Steve played electric/acoustic guitar and doubled on synth and keyboards. Jim held down the bass, and Wayne and I switched back and forth throughout the evening on drums and guitar. Each of us had done lead vocals in past bands so our vocal arrangements and especially harmonies would really shine. Our set lists were very diverse and sometimes we really astounded people who just wandered into our gig. As an example allow me to print a partial song list:
Part of the Plan - Dan Fogelberg
America - Simon & Garfunkel
Stairway To Heaven - Led Zeppelin
Give A Little Bit - Supertramp
Desperado - Eagles
Dixie Chicken - Little Feat
Nights in White Satin - Moody Blues
Day tripper - Beatles
On Broadway - George Benson
Helpless - CSN&Y
Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson
Can't You See - Marshall Tucker Band
Jesus Is Just All Right - Doobie Brothers
Breakfast in America - Supertramp
All of My Love - Led Zeppelin
Come To Papa - Bob Seger
Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' - Journey
Free Bird - Lynyrd Skynyrd
In addition we had worked up a Classic Rock and Roll medley which was 10 minutes long as well as a Beatle set which clocked in at over 20 minutes! We also did classics like "Spooky", "Walking the Dog", "I'm A Man", "Stormy Monday Blues", "The Long Run", "Knocking On Heaven's Door", "New Orleans Ladies", "Blue Suede Shoes", "Can't Get Enough", Mr. Bojangles", and the ever popular "Cocaine".
As I began listening to the old tapes I think the most amazing thing to occur to me was that I don't recall rehearsing very much - since Jim and Steve lived in Memphis and Wayne and I in Arkansas - but our arrangements were pretty tight nevertheless, and we sounded more like a band who played every night for a living.
As I continued reviewing the cassette mixes I starting thinking to myself: "Why WAS that"?
First, we all got along. Now, I've been in a number of bands, which have been together as long as 5 years and as short as 5 weeks, and so I have learned just how important it is to play with people you like. I see many musicians out there nodding their heads right now. They know that having the best guitar player in the world in your band ultimately won't work if the guy is a __________ (insert the insulting description of your choice here). This is more commonplace than you would imagine. Musicians are eccentric types at best, and there is a thin gray line between genius and madness. Many time the more talented an artist is the more difficult they are to get along with. Give me a mediocre to decent player that I get along with anytime over a hugely talented player with an equally huge ego.
Another reason is that we could cover a lot of musical ground with just a four piece group. Steve's multitalented abilities enabled him to switch seamlessly between his synth and guitars, both electric and acoustic. Wayne can cover many styles on guitar and is am excellent lead player as well as a rock solid drummer. And for me, having an "extra drummer" meant I could play out my rock fantasy as a guitar hero. Well, sort of, anyway. I know my limitation on guitar so I know how far I can go with it, but there are some songs that I actually do pretty good at. Having a great drummer behind you just makes it all that much sweeter. As for Jim on bass, nobody could touch him anyway (He ROCKS!) so we were content, and very fortunate, to have him keeping all this together musically on stage. The combination of the individual musical skills and styles represented by each of us made "Mover" so much more appealing to our audiences.
Also, each of us were pretty decent in remembering arrangements. I am not exaggerating when I say that we went literally months between gigs sometimes but whenever we got on stage - from the first note on - we always seemed to remember our previous arrangement. And that included updating the arrangement from the last time as well. If we did something new in an arrangement one night, we somehow managed to remember the change two months later at another gig. I have always prided myself on remembering arrangements. It always helps when the drummer can remember when to start and stop, y'know! But we were indeed fortunate to have all four band members with the same kind of retention. This was a critical factor as we rarely had any rehearsal time before a gig, and that might be the first we'd seen each other for a month or more. It even stretched to 7 months once when, after an extremely long hiatus, we got a gig playing at an outdoor biker festival (don't ask!) and saw each other for the first time in that long a mere hour before the performance. Talk about flying by the seat of your pants!
But, in retrospect, I think the reason we all did it was because it was just so much fun playing with each other. We had a sort of mutual admiration society for each other's talents. With the strength of knowing the other person will remember their cues and is constantly paying attention to the arrangement, we all had that added confidence in our combined abilities. Of course, it was Steve and Jim at the core of the group, for they had played together for years and their vocals were tight and beautiful. When we did, for example, a Simon & Garfunkel tune, their harmonies were so right on that Wayne and I strived to give the vocal the support they needed to make the arrangement shine. No one hogged the spotlight, but preferred to support whoever was in the spotlight at the moment.
A lot of years have come and gone since those Golden days back in the early 80's. One's memory tends to get sort of dusty in that passage of time. Most of the time the memory glosses over what actually happened and your perception of the time fools you into thinking sometimes you were better than you actually were. However, I DO have the cassette tapes of some of those glorious moments, and recording don't lie. After listening to those almost forgotten tapes I was at first impressed with how we sounded, and then amazed after recalling those times how we did so well with no rehearsals. It's funny and strange how just listening to some old recordings can spur the memory and you can actually recall specific instances and occurences.
It's GOOD to tape your band. Maybe not so much for the "now" (although that's a good idea as well) but for the "later", when you start to doubt how good you really might have been in those days gone by.
I sure miss those guys!
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