Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Under a Gypsy Wizard's Spell (Repost from Peregrine's Prattle)

[This entry was original published on my other blog, Peregrine's Prattle on the 29th of October, 2009. It's more than worthy of republishing here!]
When you’re a serious musician—touring and recording—and the roaring rollercoaster is in full swing it’s pretty hard to find the time amidst the chaos to keep a journal. You might want to, but it just doesn’t happen. That’s how it was for me in most of my travels. All kinds of exciting things are occurring around you. To stop and write about them might kill the vibe and take you away from the wild, woolly and/or wacky scene. Case in point being the recording of the second Falcon album, Die Wontcha, back in October 2006. I just barely scratched the surface in a long-ass interview with Chris Barnes (not the Cookie Monster growler) of Hellridemusic.com. Hell, a blow-by-blow account of the Destiny’s End tour with Nevermore and Iced Earth back in 1999 would’ve been interesting too. No dice. I was far too consumed by the coaster to budge. I’m not into name dropping and all that fake nonsense, but think it’s not a bad idea to set memories down for future retread—or to share with like-minded folks who are curious about the rock ’n’ roll circus. Likewise, I wanted to take the time out to recall the late, great Dickie Peterson, bassist and gravel-throated vocalist extraordinaire!
I like to be prepared when I cut an album. I did a lot of pre-production in L.A. before me and Greg Lindstrom flew to Pennsylvania for a few days to rehearse with drummer Darin McCloskey—followed by recording at Chris “Kozwald” Kozlowski’s Polar Bear Lair in Middletown, Maryland. We all did our share of homework so we’d be ready. I threw vocals on top of guitar-only rough demos on my 8-track and practiced the riffage whenever possible. Those are things you can be ready for and plan out. I left 90 some-odd percent of my guitar solos for on-the-spot improv, ’cause I didn’t want to kill the spontaneity. Anyhow, some things you can plan out—trip itineraries or what-have-you—some things you can’t.

Falcon breaks from rehearsal in Glen Mills, PA

Falcon riffin' and rollin' at the Polar Bear Lair, Oct. '06 - Photo by Cameron Davidson

If someone had told me when I first started playing guitar that someday I’d record an album at the same studio as Blue Cheer and room and hang out with my heroes for about a week I’d have said, “Get the fuck outta here!” That’s not something you can predict. But it happened nonetheless. If the job of sound engineering for Blue Cheer live and in the studio fell in Chris Kozlowski’s lap, the same goes for my meeting up with the loudest band in the known universe. I can’t say I believe in fate, but I think sometimes you can get slight push towards some pretty weird coincidences. There’s a wheel of whirling personalities in your life, and sometimes you make some unexpected connections. I have Darin McCloskey to thank for introducing me to Chris Kozlowski, the perfect dude to engineer Falcon. And subsequently “Kozwald” for my meeting Blue Cheer.
Falcon & Pale Divine drummer Darin McCloskey - Photo by Cameron Davidson

I was probably about 12 when I first heard Blue Cheer. Before I had the dough to plunk down on tapes or vinyl—pinched off my dad’s bureau when he wasn’t looking or later worked for—I had my choice of a few L.A. radio stations: KLOS, KMET or KNAC. I could barely pull in KNAC, and I spent hours jerry-rigging a jumble of wires and booster contraptions to boost the signal enough to hear bands like Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Deep Purple and the like. Blue Cheer’s rendition of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” came over the airwaves one weekend morning. I knew the original. It might’ve even been almost passable to my incredibly un-hip dad if he caught me digging on Eddie Cochran. Blue Cheer was anything but acceptable though! Heavy rock ’n’ metal was my saviour from the overall dreary and depressing atmosphere of school and home. Hearing those loud, squealing blasts of Leigh Stephens’ Gibson SG though a Fuzz Face stompbox and a wall of Marshalls, the rumbling of Dickie Peterson’s P-Bass through an equally large mound of British valves—and his signature shriek—not to mention the cannon blast of Paul Whaley’s drums—transported me by time machine out of my dull existence into another era. I’m a nostalgic bastard, a sucker for bygone times when things were more human, real and analog. I may have veered off into more modern metal territory, but I always came back to Blue Cheer and their late 1960s era of dark, bluesy downer rock. I didn’t get my hands on a copies of Vincebus Eruptum and Outside Inside until a bit later, but that first taste of the Cheer had me frantically combing record stores.
Fast forward to October 2006. It’s the day after Falcon finished recording basic tracks (rhythm guitar, bass and drums) for Die Wontcha. Greg Lindstrom wrapped up his few guitar solos and keyboard overdubs and had to fly home early, leaving me to finish off the rest of my guitar tracks and vocals by myself. While Darin would drop in on the first day of mixing, it was my task to complete Die Wontcha. Not that I was daunted. Hell no! More like elated! Greg and Darin had already contributed their parts to make sure Die Wontcha had a bedrock-solid backbone. We collectively made it work without over-thinking anything. In one and a half days the basic tracks were “in the can.” Record timing for us or anybody else. I was stoked. I’d only have a wider grin on my face because of what was to follow.

 L: Me and the '76 Lester Deluxe, R: Greg Lindstrom thumpin' his Jazz Bass
Falcon in the Polar Bear Lair control room with Chris Kozlowski at the helm - 3 photos above by Cameron Davidson


Andrew “Duck” MacDonald (guitar) was the first member of Blue Cheer to show up at the Polar Bear Lair. He arrived while I was knee-deep in solo overdubs. We were introduced during one of my breaks, but he spent most of his time getting settled in and chilling out downstairs. Upstairs in the attic—the control room—I programmed punch-in points on the tape remote control and laid down leads from the gut over the top of raw riffs. After a long day of soloing it was time to give the cows on the dairy farm next door a respite from the raucous reckoning of massive tube amps. A blaring pair of Orange 4x12” cabs is a beautiful thing, but not exactly what you’d expect next to a pasture.



Givin' the Laney Supergroup 60 a pat on the 'ead outside the Slave's Quarters

While I was soloing, Chris got some real-world work and rest done. Chris joined me and Duck for some chatter in the out-building we use for recording basic tracks. A few beers in the “Slaves’ Quarters” became several. It goes without saying that Chris Kozlowski is a nut for beer paraphernalia. Signs, steins, trays, bottles, glasses and all sorts of curios riddle the inside and outside of the Polar Bear Lair. After an hour or two of banter Chris bailed. Duck and I blabbed on over a few more beers, long after midnight. Even though we’d just met that day, there was an instant camaraderie between me and Duck. Two veterans of the heavy metal psychic wars trading trench tales. Of course Duck has a few years on me, and I totally respected that fact. I was a keen listener.

“So, that was you belting out those tasty licks before, eh?” Duck asked.
“Yup, thanks, man.”
“I can tell you dig Leslie West a lot,” he said.
“Yeah, big fan of Mountain and Leslie. Great phat tone and phrasing. I interviewed him once, but he wasn’t very personable. Worst interview ever, actually.”
“Don’t get me wrong, great player, but I’m not surprised,” Duck replied. “He was kind of a real dick to us. Sucker punched Dickie backstage when we gigged with him. I tell him how to fix his hemorrhoids, and he turns around and belts my bassist!”
“Ugh, I’m  really not impressed.”
Duck was talking about the events that led up to his joining Blue Cheer, and he mentioned “I played on the Combat Records ‘all-star’ metal album Thrasher, and that’s when I met Dickie Peterson.”
“Totally!” I replied. “You probably met the singer from my old band Destiny’s End, James Rivera. He sang ‘She Likes It Rough’ on Thrasher.”
That led us down the path of talking about surviving the music industry—dealing with band members on hardcore drugs. After all, Duck has nearly two decades more under his belt more than I do. Duck remarked that he was handling most of Blue Cheer’s business affairs.
“Whaley’s [Paul Whaley, drums] coming in tomorrow,” Duck added. “Fresh outta rehab. Dickie, he’s been clean a long time. He’ll be here in a coupla days.”
“Yeah, I kinda heard,” I said. Chris and pal Dave Szulkin, Bloodfarmers guitarist, has introduced me to Paul Whaley at the Blue Cheer gig at the Galaxy Theater in Costa Mesa a few months before.
When I said goodbye to Chris and crew in July 2006, I had no idea I’d be seeing the Blue Cheer guys again come October. They were traveling in the same size van as I had toured in with Destiny’s End while on the road with Iced Earth and Nevermore back in May/June 1999. This legendary band had come a long way, but they had no delusions of grandeur. Their hearts were in the music, and they played wherever there were Blue Cheer fans rabid for the raw, loud and physical rock experience.
“Yeah, Dickie knows that story. He’s cleaned up a lot, and he’s humble ya know? He’s lived out of his car and been a school janitor in Germany.”
“Whoa,” I answered, taking it all in. I’m always fascinated how my fellow musicians, especially my heroes, stay afloat and survive in the big, bad mean music biz.
Duck didn’t have to travel more than a step to crash out for the night, while crept through the cold, into the main Polar Bear residence, a house built in the 1870s. I was out like a light and up early.
The next day I began tracking vocals, and we were meant to pick up drummer Paul Whaley. As if things weren’t already simultaneously ragin’, it just so happens that Cactus was playing in nearby Springfield, Virginia, at Jaxx—where my old band Destiny’s End had played on tour with Iced Earth and Nevermore back in early June 1999. Cactus recorded a few killer LPs in the ’70s before parting ways, and I never thought I’d ever see them live. Their tour didn’t include the west coast, but lo and behold I managed to sneak the Virginia gig into the Die Wontcha sessions. Paul Whaley met us at Jaxx.
 Right away I could tell Paul was still pretty “switched on” and that to a certain extent “Kozwald” and the boys were going to have their hands full on the road. I knew they’d be in for their share of fun, but might face some frustration. That it’d be a challenge keeping Paul on the wagon following his recent trip to rehab. At the same time, I was just awestruck—surrounded by heavy rock legends and friends alike. We were joined immediately by my old pal Cameron Davidson (infamous for his early Pentagram photos), as well as Kelly Carmichael (guitar), J.D. Williams (vocals) and Adam Heinzman (bass) from Internal Void, one of my fave Maryland area bands of all-time. Marty Swaney, bassist of the Death Row-era lineup of Pentagram was even on hand. Cactus, despite having lost their original singer Rusty Day to a drug-deal gone bad, set the stage on fire that October night at Jaxx. I was dumbfounded and wore a wide grin long after the last notes flowed out of guitarist Jim McCarty’s Les Paul. A photo of me sharing a beer and a laugh with the Internal Void chaps is all the evidence you’ll need. I felt fortunate as hell to add Cactus to the long list of early ’70s bands I’ve witnessed on stage. That ain’t easy, ’cause, as you well know, “I’m a throwback, baby! Born too late!”


Adam Heinzman, me, J.D. Williams & Kelly Carmichael at Jaxx 
 
I continued vocal duties the next day, ODing on water and occasionally slathering some honey on a spoon to keep my throat in shape. I burned the candle and pushed myself to unleash the best performances possible. My voice and health didn’t suffer. Things were going better than simply according to plan. Dickie Peterson arrived then, making the Blue Cheer lineup complete at the Polar Bear Lair. Rather than getting down to business, the Cheer boys went out to stock up on food. We moved an extra bed into the living room for Dickie. My roommates were cool and hospitable, telling me there was tons of food for all.
I completed vocals and a last few overdubs—an ARP analog synth on the mellow bridge of “Falcon” and a Vibroslap on the same song. Chris had some tinkering to do with the board and some muting, so I took the opportunity to make some phone calls. Blue Cheer was rehearsing in the “Slave’s Quarters,” and you could hear them literally almost tearing the roof off the joint with their massive volume.
I rang up pals Scott Carlson and Dave James in L.A., holding up my cell phone to the door, exclaiming, “Man, check it out, Blue Cheer is rehearsing ‘Doctor Please!’”
I think Paul Whaley knew what I was up to, because when the band took a breather he ran up to me outside like he was going to shake my hand and instead grabbed me by the nuts and squeezed. “Ow! Not the balls, Paul, not the balls!” While I enjoyed hangin’ out in close confines with my music idols, that was more than a little too close for comfort. Okay, so I’m not homophobic, and I know Paul was clownin’. Dickie and Duck got a good laugh out of it to boot.

Me and Dickie Peterson backstage at the Key Club, Hollyweird - July '06

Mixing was meant to take two days, but here is where we hit a bad snag. The wrench was thrown into the works when none of Chris’ analog 2-track tape decks were working properly. The closest we came to a functioning unit was still phasing slightly once or twice during a song. Drummer Darin drove down from PA to hang out and mix for half the day, but we ended up not accomplishing anything. It was awesome to hang with Darin again, both of us very satisfied with all aspects of the Die Wontcha sessions. While we were worried about getting the mix finished before I left for L.A., we knew we’d get things sorted out. Both Darin and I were stoked to be around our Blue Cheer heroes, and when Darin had to go back to Pennsylvania the gracious heavy rock behemoths bade him farewell. Dickie Peterson even hugged him just before he jumped in his car.
The technical difficulties were weighing down on my head, and I went outside to call the airline to see about an itinerary change on my return flight. Though it was costly I altered the reservation, then called my office manager and pal Linda Fougere to tell her I wasn’t going to be back on schedule. I knew that I was going to be leaving my job and country behind shortly after returning to L.A., so work was the last thing on my mind. Music was oozing out of every pore of my body in Maryland, and I felt more focused than I’d been in ages. Job? Hell, all I could think about was finishing up the album I’d put every inch of my heart and soul into.
Chris and I worked like mad trying to get the songs mixed, but it seemed like every time we’d finish finish a track I’d hear a spot in the playback where the tape phased or dropped out. It happened intermittently and not on every song. We worked late into the night. The next morning Paul Whaley—as if to apologize for the nut-clamp clowning incident—cooked me some breakfast. Eggs ’n’ bacon fried to order by the devastatingly dangerous drummer. I’ve been around plenty of bands in my time—on tour, on the town, wherever—and been treated like dirt by some of my fave artists in the metal scene. But I can’t stress how surprisingly cool Blue Cheer were to me.
And, yes, why would I even think about the ol’ porn graphic design biz back in “Silicone Valley” when I was hanging out with Blue Cheer? Well, I did, but only for a moment to add a personal spin on one of Dickie’s funny anecdotes. Dickie told his fine-feathered friends at the Polar Bear Lair about a Cheer chickie who asked him to check to see if her recent breast enlargement felt okay or not!? I couldn’t resist adding that a starlet who worked for one of Sampson West’s clients had asked an employee or two to test her refurbished rack out for a moment once at the orifice—I mean office in Reseda. All part of the hippie-dippy communing downstairs in the Polar Bear Lair while I waited for Kozwald to tinker with switching gear around in the control room.
Duck MacDonald popped up to the control room for a visit while Chris and I were listening back to the tune “Falcon” and figuring out any necessary moves to make on the board. He sat down, really digging on the track, nodding his head in approval. When the mellow bridge with clean guitar and analog synth came in Duck got a big smile on his face. “Aww... a little moment of post-coital bliss,” he chuckled and grabbed my shoulder. We burst out laughing like old pals.
Aside from the goofy stories downstairs, Dickie Peterson and I sat down for an amazing chat about the music biz while hardly anyone else was around. No tape recorder running, no interview bullshit, just a road dog lifer reflecting on music to a younger traveler. Dickie was talking about how he was very up-front with his bandmates about doing stuff outside of Blue Cheer when there was down-time, playing solo gigs in the Bay Area or whatever. Dickie had already impressed me when he pointed to the cooler of beers backstage at the Key Club in Hollywood and said, “Man, you can have ’em. I don’t drink that stuff anymore.” He pulled no punches this time when he told me how he was just completely out of it for several years in the ’70s because of his smack addiction. “I want to keep busy with music, ya know, play in front of people,” Dickie told me. He knew the Blue Cheer dudes understood that he wasn’t cheapening his respect for them by playing gigs with his other musician pals.
 “When I was on all that junk,” Dickie told me straight, “ the music started to suffer. Now I’m busier than ever.”
As if I didn’t already know, Dickie was quick to tell me to stay away from anything heavier than weed. I told him that seeing all these heroes die—and two personal friends of mine—was enough to keep me away from that scene.

Paul Whaley, me, Duck MacDonald & Dickie Peterson in the Lair

When Duck and Paul re-entered the room a photo was snapped of me with the Blue Cheer triumvirate in the living room at the Polar Bear Lair. A memory etched into my brain for life, not to mention an image preserved to show just how mindblowingly momentous the trip to record Die Wontcha was. Here was the band responsible for the birth pangs of heavy metal. A far cry from the usual egomaniacal wankers you might encounter on the Sunset Strip in Hollyweird.
Kelly Carmichael from Internal Void showed up at the  gathering to celebrate the kick-off of Blue Cheer’s tour on my last day in Maryland. Mixing was nearly complete. A couple of songs had glitches on them, but I knew Chris would be able to fix them without much trouble. I didn’t sweat the small stuff, and I was more than happy to see the Blue Cheer guys receiving Chris’ full attention for a while. After all, he was a huge part of keeping their show on the road. I was sad to go, but left Middletown on a high-note. Hugs ’n’ handshakes all around, and Kozwald came out to the rental car with me to bid me bon voyage—a couple of minutes turned into nearly a half hour. I didn’t want to be late for my flight, but we couldn’t stop flapping our gums.
As I cruised down the rural Maryland turnpike, a bit of melancholy reflected in the green hills outside the window. I could only dream of Falcon joining Dickie, Duck and Paul on the road. Australia was calling, and I had only a month to clear a few decades of crap out of L.A. At the same time I was overwhelmed by joy—satisfied with cutting a killer album and spending time with the loudest rawkin’ band in the universe, Blue Cheer.


Gypsy Ball (Dickie Peterson & Leigh Stephens)

The gypsy wizard, he rattled
His broken, tattered tambourine
And asked for me to share with him
In this timeless dream.
OW!
Lost in the dazzling fascination
I caught myself touching my imagination
And holding the sights I'd never known
And hearing the sounds I'd not yet been shown.
Toms and trinkets made of green to make us all see.
Tainted jewels and diamond rings and other things.
OW!
Lost in a maze of liquid smoke
I thought my brains were gonna choke
Holding the sights I could not tell
Under a gypsy wizard's spell