News From The Woods - April, 1993

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published April, 1993


"The Arkie Goes To California - PART ONE"


Saturday, February 20, 1993 - 7 pm. Well, here I am winging my way to California. My mission: to find out if the music business is ready for the Arkansas music scene.

Welcome aboard flight 721 (have a fruit plate, Mr. Ketchum). The "free" in-flight movie is "Bodyguard" with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. Of course it costs $4 for headphones (would you like to hear the movie as well, sir?). I decline as I'm getting pretty good at lip reading these days. Besides, I got just as much out of the movie if I had heard it too.

My original morning flight got me bumped to a later afternoon schedule, but my luggage did catch the earlier flight. I sure hope my bags are waiting for me in Los Angeles!

My four-hour flight gave me plenty of time to reflect on this business trip. I have spent the last four months contacting specific record companies with the hope of garnering some interest in Arkansas writers and performers. A total of 17 record labels received a 90-minute cassette sampler of Arkansas music recorded here at Cedar Crest Studio.

Believe me, you can't just walk into a record company from off the street and get an appointment. You also can't "sell" yourself without some kind of representation. Fortunately I have had an established music publishing company since 1972, so I had a "legitimate" reason to contact these labels. Of course, all the contacts in the world won't get you a deal, but it's a good place to start, by meeting people and establishing contacts.

Since Arkansas doesn't have a happening music scene like Seattle or North Carolina, we don't get a lot of visits from record company A&R personnel. Therefore I have decided to take Mohammed to the mountain. And now here I am fastening my seat belt for landing at LAX.

I was met at the airport by Wayne Littlejohn, former guitarist for Mover, a band I played with 13 years ago. Wayne has been living in LA for the past ten years and invited me to stay with him during the LA portion of my California visit. He lives in Huntington Beach (location of the original "surfer dudes"). Huntington is about an hour from Hollywood, so it is still close enough to use as a base of operations, but without all the hassle and traffic.

Since I couldn't start making my business call until Monday, we decided to spend Sunday driving up the coastline to Hollywood and the Sunset Strip. We visited the Queen Mary (now a hotel), saw a few "Hollyweirdos," drove through Beverly Hills, and headed down the Sunset Strip. It took all day and everybody must have decided to do the same thing as the weather was so nice and the skies were all cleared off thanks to the recent rains.

We returned to Huntington about 8pm, exhausted and ready to crash out in front of the tube. As a last minute thought I remembered my promise to my aunt and uncle from St. Louis. I have a cousin I haven't seen in 15 years and he has been living in LA the past couple of years. Aunt 'n' Unk help keep the family together by writing to everyone about everyone else. I knew through correspondence from them that Cousin Scott Jones was an active musician in California and they asked me to call him upon my arrival to say "Hi." So I thought I'd get it over with.

As it turned out, Scott is very active in the local music scene and was at the time I called about to go to the studio to do mixes of his latest band, Vision. Scott asked if we wanted to meet him at the studio, located back up in Los Angeles. Although I didn't relish the thought of venturing back into traffic toward LA, I must admit that I was curious when Scott told me that it was a 32-track digital project. That meant the "big time." Then when he told me that the studio they were working in was Skywalker Sound, I practically wet myself! You see, not everyone gets to visit a George Lucas facility and I recognized a gift from the music gods when I saw it!

What an experience! The most expensive and sought-after toys in the business were everywhere. After all, "Mister Star Wars" can afford whatever he wants. I could have stayed all night watching them tweak the mix. Vision was very good and sounds a lot like Yes. Scott is the lead vocalist and was pretty much calling the shots with the Skywalker engineer. They have been working on the project for the past six months. The Skywalker Sound engineer apparently took a liking to the band and assisted them in completing their album. He works with them in late nights on weekends. Scott tells me that they have declined playing anything for any record people yet until they have completed the final mixes. Scott and I vowed to stay more in touch with each other in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a release by Vision on a major label in 1993. If you're a Yes or Journey fan, you won't be disappointed.

Week number two in California was spent in and around the San Francisco area, hanging out and getting some much need R & R with buddy Dan Kramer in Sunnyvale. Dan is a resident tech-head in the engineering labs of Media Vision, a Silicon Valley company that manufactures fully integrated multimedia component systems for personal computers. Dan also is recognized, however, as an expert on and collector of vintage pinball machines. He owns some 40 machines himself, and is one of the vary few collectors who still maintains machines for public use. On my first night in San Francisco, Dan arranged a pinball party at a local pub so I could meet some of his friends. One of Dan's friends is Rick Stetta, the man "Sports Illustrated" calls "the best pinball player in the world." To quote The Who, "he sure plays a mean pinball" and I got quite a pinball education, not to mention I played with a lot of exotic and one-of-a-kind machines.

I also got to cruise San Jose with Dan in his cherry 1951 Hudson Super 6. He owns four Hudsons in varying stages of restoration. Dan is also a record collector and he enabled me to bring home a musical souvenir of my trip. I picked up two vintage 78 rpm records that I intend to frame and display here in the studio. One is Rick Nelson's "Be Bop Baby" on Imperial Records and the other is a mint 78 copy of Little Richard's "Rip It Up" on Specialty Reocrds. They both play great and the labels are like new.

While in 'Frisco we visited the USS Constitution, Chinatown, Alcatraz, and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I videotaped the San Francisco sunset on the ocean from the famous Cliff House. It was a great way to top off the trip!

I had a wonderful vacation (my first in seven years) that was entirely too short, but have already laid plans for a return trip.

Next issue: What I Learned From The Music Business By Going To California!


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