Wednesday, May 10, 2006

down in flames

Subject: guitarist - Rock Bottom

Friday and Saturday nights, May 5th & 6th

Mingo’s, Granite City, IL


We returned to Mingo’s for our third weekend in six weeks or so. That’s a lot of shows in one place in a short amount of time, but we were very comfortable there. It’s becoming a second home of sorts. Steve and I play cards there on Wednesday’s now, and with all the gigs, we’re becoming regulars, I suppose. Each and every show, as the word spreads, the crowds are growing more and more substantial, and filled with familiar faces.

Friday night wasn’t much different than any other night. Same old, same old was the word of the day, for the most part. My rig seems to be running fine now that I’ve corrected the shorts in Violet’s jack and implemented the new tuner, which works swimmingly. So, the Fate’s have decided to deal me my punishment by breaking strings. I broke a third string in my third successive performance! I forgot to mention it last blog, because it’s just one of those things: break one, swap guitars, move on. But, each of the last three shows, I snapped one off; twice on Violet, once on Black. Hi ho.

Now, when I break a string on Black, I can usually finish the song, as it’s a standard tailpiece. None of the other strings are affected. When a string breaks on Violet, this releases tension on the Floyd Rose tailpiece, throwing the remaining 5 strings hopelessly out of tune. That’s the nature of the beast! I broke it towards the end of the first set, and this pushed tunes like Screaming In The Night and Bark At The Moon into later sets, as they are impossible to perform on Black without the Floyd Rose tremolo system.

Past that, it was business as usual on Stage Left. I did actually manage to piece together a set list for the first few sets as I’d started work on a master list before the show, and surprisingly Boozie had done the same, producing a master list of his own. Looks like we’re all on the same page. Chuck had called me before the show, and we talked over new songs to try to work into the set. With the expedience of glacial movement, we’re finally attempting to add songs to the list. This is no one’s fault; we’re all pretty busy outside of RB. I’m as guilty as anyone.

New songs on deck tonight were Shinedown’s I Dare You, Rock City Angel’s Deep Inside My Heart, Foreigner’s Hot Blooded, Warrant’s Down Boys, and Sex Slave’s Thank You Lord For Jack Daniel’s. Some are old songs, some are new. Obviously the most ambitious of the group is I Dare You, one that Steve was looking forward to singing. I was anxious to here if we could fill it out, as it’s really a two guitar song.

Hot Blooded is an old tune we played back in Nassty in 1986, but I quickly learned after giving it a listen that I’d been playing it in the wrong key completely all these years! I’d played it in A, as I never actually learned the song. It’s one of those “I’ve heard it a billion times on K-SHE, let’s roll” tunes that I pulled off the cuff and Paul Joseph just winged along with me, and the opening riff is a cinch when played in A, Open position, if you will. I took it for granted that’s how it was written.

As I learned (through a heads up from Chuck) it’s actually in G! Now, this is 3rd position, for you guitar-philes out there, or played from the 3rd fret, and makes the little riff a bit trickier to perform. At least more uncomfortable. But, there is a very large difference for Steve to sing a song in G than a song in A, and that explains why I never thought Steve sounded much like Lou Graham! Of course, the simple back beat filled the dance floor as we’d intended, and I liked Steve’s voice in G much more than in A, because it just seemed to sound right, finally! Perhaps I should take more time to actually learn what keys these damn songs are in, anyway….

I found the perfect mix to introduce I Dare You, right after our slower songs of Every Rose and I Remember You. I thought that would be a perfect dynamic crescendo, and it did fit nicely. All in all, I was pleased with its overall finish, given that we had no practice with each other whatsoever, and the odd nature of the song. It’s not a typical 80’s big hair song. But, it certainly does show off Steve range and talents well, letting him open up and belt one out. As we polish it up, I think it’s going to surprise people.

Deep Inside My Heart was pushed off the set list tonight as Chuck only cares to sing one song a set, if that (“dude, I’ll blow a vein in my head!”), and we went with The Four Horsemen’s (I’ll take “Hor Semen” for 100, Alex!) Rockin’ Is My Business. This one comes from the old Rock Bottom, and Chuck had some requests for it last weekend, so it found its way back in this weekend. I’m tired of Cold Gin, and I never was a big Kiss fan anyway. I’m more West Coast than East Coast, I suppose. Hell, I’m more North Coast! Canadian bands like Rush, Triumph, April Wine: those are my 70’s bands.

Both worked sets seemed to flow very smoothly, and I was very pleased with how air tight the sets came off. Very professional. When we first joined the band, we had our share of “dead air” between songs as we scrambled to figure out what was next that we all knew. It was also a criticism of Steve’s before I joined, and he’d hoped we could tighten it up as we did in Knucklehead, where we’d run series of songs together in a seemless mix to keep a flow, often with each song running in keys or to neighboring keys, which I’d crafted, to keep the whole set flowing together aurally. What I noticed about this arrangement down the line was there’s very little room to allow people to clap and scream, very little interaction. So, now I try to craft them into series of songs with breaks to allow me to change guitars, talk to the crowd, and let them yell “WOOOO! SKYNARD!!!”

Down Boys found its way into the third set, and was less than memorable. Just another old 80’s retread. Lonely Is The Night made another appearance, and it was certainly one of our more successful attempts. While we didn’t have a prepared list for the third set, I had a strong idea of what songs to play (whatever was left!), and I figured it would run very smoothly for a strong finish for the night.

Well, somewhere along the way, the inmates took over the asylum, and Chuck and Craig began to pick the songs, overriding my choices. Now, I had a mixed reaction to this.

Firstly, this is a team sport. I’m not “Captain of the Elevator, and I say we stop on every floor!” Whatever songs they want to play, I’m more than willing to accommodate. I’m there to drink beer, have a good time, and entertain everyone. These guys are my buds, and we all share a love of great rock n roll in common, and the whole magic of this is bringing that to life with them.

However, I do have a strong vision of what our “business model” is, and how we can maximize our performance, entertain the masses, and keep bar owners smiling. There is a secret to that success, and it is this: get the women dancing, get the atmosphere rocking, and everyone will think you’re the greatest thing since the invention of sliced bread.

The trick to that formula, as I’ve come to learn, is the last couple sets of the night should be your strongest, as that’s when people get drunker, and more loosened up. Rock Bottom seems to have a good showing early, as most bands I’ve played in the first set was a little more than a warm up. But, so much the better; that’s an earlier chance to work these people up into a frenzy, and leave them thinking “God Damn, they kick ass!”

But, that’s not what happened. Just when we’d won this crowd over, and had them in the palm of our hands, we veered off our course, and began to indulge in amusing ourselves, and this disappointed me. I kept trying to lead into Man In The Box, the biggest money song since You Shook Me (All Night Long), but the other guys would have no part of it. We played a series of shaky songs which culminated in Rocket Queen, which was a complete abortion. Now, I love Rocket Queen, and as Boozie said, it’s a treat just to hear Steve sing it, he kicks so much ass on it. But it needs work, and we crashed and burned on it, plus it just seemed to kill the mood. This last set was the set to send everyone out the door screaming “you rock!”

Instead, the crowd was let off the hook, and they began to take their leave. Seeing the damage done, I just sat back, and let them take over and fully indulge themselves. There wasn’t any point in either a): melting down and insisting they play money songs, or b): salvage the night putting this runaway train back on track. I just chalked it up to alcohol and boredom, and made a mental note to try to explain my “business model”, or at least make a third set for everyone to follow.

It wasn’t a complete catastrophe mind you. Those that stayed had a good time, and we finished the night strong. I was just disappointed because I knew how much stronger the night should have finished, and we’d fizzled out. Hey, it’s Mingo’s, it’s not Madison Square Garden. No big deal.

Thank You Lord For Jack Daniel’s was actually a whole lot of fun. Chuck had been slated to sing this one, but he wasn’t comfortable yet singing and playing it, so Steve stepped up and did it. I can tell that Steve was kind of secretly wanting to do this one, as I think he really likes it, but he also knows Chuck will sound good on it, it’s Chuck’s kind of song. I get to throw those harmonies in, and for me, that makes the whole tune. It’s a keeper!

After the show, I sat at the bar, and Chuck approached me.

“Hey, sorry dude, that was uncool.” he said trying to apologize for how things ran amok.

“Naw, don’t worry about it,” I told him. “We’re here to have fun. It wasn’t any one person’s fault. We just got carried away.”

At least Chuck got it, and I knew that we were on the same page. While we do this for fun, our success is more dictated by the crowd’s reaction than our enjoyment. I knew Chuck understood.

I sat finishing my beer, winding down from the show. The new songs went well, and the scripted first two sets felt very strong, so there were many positives to draw on. Lori, the bartender (who used to live next door to my Grandmother, small world) asked if I wanted a shot.

“Can you make a Dr. Pepper shooter?” I asked.

“What’s in it?”

I explained the concoction, and she nodded, and turned to the shelf of liquor reaching for bottles. My taste buds began to salivate. At last! A Flaming Dr. Pepper shooter! It had been 14 years since I’d had one, it seemed. Bobby Rolens gathered us at the bar one night at a Baywolfe show, and cranked the first round out, and it quickly became a very potent favorite with us all. Especially me! A trademark of Granny’s.

I showed her how it’s done, and within moments, the Bacardi 151 was burning that familiar blue flame across a shot of Amaretto, and I quickly dunked it in the beer, and slammed it down.

Sweet nectar! Floods of memories rushed back to me as that familiar sickly sweet taste of Dr. Pepper created by the odd mix of liquors coalesced across my taste buds. I could close my eyes and just imagine the stained oak and glowing red neon of the Granny’s Rocker bar where I’d pounded so many Dr. Pepper shooters before. The camaraderie, the companions, the sounds of the bar, the long nights of carefree partying and celebrating life all washed over me again as though it were only yesterday, all with the taste of a simple drink.

As that warm glow faded back into my memory, I thought to myself, and I think I said it out loud: “Honey, I’m home!”


Saturday afternoon, I found myself back at the ball diamond, this time in Fenton, watching my oldest daughter’s softball team pound their opponents mercilessly. They’d lost a championship game a few weekends ago exposing a chink in their armor, and since that time, the coaches have whipped them into shape, focusing on defense, and pushing the girls not to take things lightly and expect their pitcher to strike out every batter. Even though they almost always do!

I ducked out early from the 8PM game (they were winning 17-0 after three innings) to return to Mingo’s and finish up the weekend. Peaches texted me that her kids went camping so she had a night free, and wanted to make an appearance, if only for an hour or so. Great, I said. Old buddy Dave S. called to check in, and when I told him we were playing a scant 5 blocks from his house, he was all over it.

When I arrived at Mingo’s, I saw a whole host of familiar faces. T-Bone and DJ Tommy showed up, as well as poker friends and Eddie’s faces. T-Bone said he was looking for a new poker game to get involved in. We’ll see if he shows up Wednesday night!

I promptly started off the night with a round of Flaming Dr. Pepper Shooters to set the mood, and all was good! Steve wouldn’t do one with me, but Chuck did, and several others. This place is quickly becoming a favorite of mine!

We dusted off the sets from the night before, and plowed through them again. I managed to get through the first set without breaking a string, a first in the last four shows. The flow of the sets felt strong, and it was good to get Screaming In The Night and Bark At The Moon back into the first set, which puts a nice finish on it. I did substitute Deep Inside My Heart for Rockin’ Is My Business, and I personally like it better. But, we’ll switch it up as our mood suits us.

Peaches texted me again saying she’s running late, give her 20 minutes. I told her take her time. No hurry. Hey, if she shows up, she shows up. I’m not put out. I popped another Flaming Dr. Pepper, and I was good to go!

The second set, usually our strongest, wasn’t a disappointment. We packed the dance floor, and everyone seemed to be playing well. I Dare You had a stronger showing tonight. I didn’t talk to any of the guys about it, but I liked it. Peaches did show up, and she gave me my own private dances off to the side of the stage, although sometimes she’d venture out front with the crowd. But most of the night, she was right there for me.

The break between the third set seemed to chase out some of the crowd, as several of our friends slipped out. My MCS partner Bill wandered in after a party at our associate’s, and that prompted another round of Flaming Dr. Peppers! I think I introduced Peaches to the Flaming Dr. Pepper as well. Bill told me later some guy said “what was that you were drinking”, which prompted another round after I went on stage. Bill said he could barely stand up after that!

We fired off the third set, and they boys seemed to let me rudder the ship, and I thought it was a strong set. It had a good flow. No Rocket Queen tonight! I don’t really remember all that we did. The Flaming Dr. Pepper’s certainly had my buzz going, and I pretty much just played to Peaches off to the side, enjoying the “scenery”. She’s a slender brunette in her late twenties, bright, blue eyes, wearing tight jeans and a low cut blouse, and she likes to dance, so it’s hard to take my eyes off her. It had been more than an hour, and she hadn’t left yet. Lucky me! Guess it was worth staying a bit longer for.

Well, upon further review, I do remember a couple things. We had a request for Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild, as we’re playing a big biker rally in Poplar Bluff around Labor Day, so it’s one we have to put in our stable. Chuck doesn’t know it per se, but we had a special guest, the bass player from The Alley, I believe. He and the singer were around for the first set, and mentioned they’d be leaving, but it seems they’d returned. I didn’t catch his name, and the Dr. Pepper’s erased it even if I did.

As he approached, Boozie began to tap YYZ on the drums. Bad move! I naturally couldn’t help myself, like throwing a dog a bone, and we were quickly heading for another Rocket Queen train wreck moment in the third set! Of course, the Dr. Pepper’s also erased any care I had regarding train wrecks, and Boozie and I proceeded to play YYZ, sans bass guitar.

Which wasn’t actually all true, the cat who came up in the middle of the song to sit in just kind of played along, and although he didn’t know the killer Geddy Lee bass runs (hey, he’s not Paul J. Smith, for Christ’s sakes!), he followed along with the basic structure of the song, throwing the low end down so it sounded somewhat cohesive. While embarrassed that I allowed it to happen, in fact I encouraged it, I did nail the fucking solo, I want you to know…

Born To Be Wild got us back to reality, and the train wobbled back onto the tracks, which saved the day. Perhaps if Paul Joseph does ever make it out to a show, YYZ and a couple other Rush tunes may rear their ugly heads again. Probably not the third set, though. That’s past Paul’s bed time!

We did manage to work in Pour Some Sugar, a killer money song, and I was very pleased. That one always sells, and is perfect for our genre. Thank You Lord made its second appearance, and was even better than the first.

After the show, most of the gang, Boozie and his wife, Chuck, some friends, Peaches and I wound down the night back by the stage, finishing our beers. Chuck will sneak some in with a cooler, and I take it the manager that night didn’t take kindly to that. It is illegal, actually, although I admit it’s pretty minor. Chuck wasn’t amused at the manager’s objections, so we’ll keep an eye out on what develops there.

Chuck invited us all back to his place for an after party, and Peaches turned to me excitedly and asked “can we go?”

“Uh, sure!” So much for staying for an hour, huh Peaches? Looks like you’re staying the night!

She and I went back to Chuck’s apartment for a nightcap, where we drank, smoked, and watched a Motley Crue DVD. Just a very relaxed, casual time. Peaches knew Chuck’s family, particularly his brother, and they caught up on old times. I just kind of sat back, listened to the stories, drifted in and out of the conversation, and cozied up to Peaches, who leaned back against my chest, resting her hands on my knee. On occasion, I’d turn my attention to the Crue DVD (Tommy Lee spooks the shit out of me in this one, he’s lost it!). Other times, I’d just take in having a sweet little piece of arm candy like her snuggled by my side. Refreshing!

Around daybreak after the DVD ended, we let Chuck get to bed. I took her back to her car at waiting at Mingo’s after she declined crashing at my place. We hung out for a time, and spent our first time together alone, but the front seat of my Durango in a parking lot at sunrise was hardly romantic! We’re not high school kids anymore! And God only knows what random drunk would wander by the streets of downtown Granite at 5:30 AM peeking in.

Still, it was a warm, wonderful ending to an enjoyable evening as Peaches took her leave, her virtue still intact, as it were {wink}. “I’m still a little bit old-fashioned,” she told me. She even called to tell me she made it home ok, and what a wonderful time she had. So, her sexy southern drawl was the last thing I heard before I drifted off to sleep. Maybe, just a little bit, I did feel like I was still in high school, in a giddy kind of way.