My journey in music and the making of this album.
This is just the beginning...
It all started many decades ago on a hot July summer morning in Dimond Park, Oakland, California losing my footing, falling into the creek and fracturing my right ankle at 7 years old. The day after being treated by the family doctor my Mom brought home a record player with two 45 RPM records. They were Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel and All Shook Up/That’s When Your Heartaches Begin. Having seen Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show on our black and white television on Sunday evenings, being able to play those records anytime I wanted was pure heaven. I was in with rock & roll. In, all the way.
The rest of grammar school was just this: Listening to KYA and KEWB with wonderful diverse Top 40 with the Marvelettes, Jerry Lee Lewis, Everly Brothers, Booker T, Ray Charles, Jan and Dean, The Contours, Little Eva, Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers, Beach Boys & the Righteous Brothers. Then the mid 1960’s as the British Invasion came along with the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Them, Beatles, Pretty Things, Animals and Spencer Davis, where many of us learned the names from album covers in record booths of the American original blues giants like McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters), Elias McDaniels (Bo Diddley), Little Walter, Mance Lipscomb, Clifton Chenier, Son House and Robert Johnson.
It was during this time that my friends and I bought guitars and amps starting to cover songs from those bands and artists. In 1964 in the ninth grade, I bought a Kay guitar and small amp and started playing with some friends learning songs from the albums we were listening to. We started a band 1966 calling ourselves the Tweed Ring named after Boss Tweed a 1860’s politician & carpetbagger who defrauded the taxpayers of millions of dollars (already setting our sights high on the social stairway). We went on to play teen club dances doing some unknown Rolling Stones numbers with Chuck Berry, Blues Project and Muddy Waters songs too. We had a good strong set list and our friends had fun listening and dancing to our five piece group. My first foray into playing and loving music, and other musicians. During this time we were also taking the bus into The City seeing the Stones at the Civic Auditorium and going to the Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms that were opening with an exquisite palate of touring and local groups. We were seeing Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters with James Cotton & Otis Spann at the UC Berkeley Blues Festival taking the bus home with our minds blown. As we got our drivers licenses while listening to KDIA & KSOL we were also going to Basin Street West and seeing all of the soul and R&B acts from Little Anthony & the Imperials, The Temptations to the Four Tops to Otis Redding. It was heaven and soon came along the Summer of Love. Albums, shows, the Fillmore, Sunday concerts in Speedway Meadows and Provo Park in Berkeley. It was music all the time and I worked after high school in a record store in the MacArthur/Broadway Shopping Center – Stairway to Music.
Listening closely entirely to new stories in music that were being told and concerts were happening in music venues, on college campuses and outdoors. Never being shy I started talking to local band members who were friendly and drew me in. One of the first was Bill Champlin whose band the Sons of Champlin talked about everything we were experiencing within the psychedelic era and an inner exploration with great beats and a funky horn section. Bill, The Sons and I became friendly and with them often playing seven nights a week it was a lighthearted and an easy environment. So, the clubs became my home and the sound people, bartenders, doormen, waiters and waitresses and club folks became my running partners.
The first out of town band that I became good friends and roommates with were from Los Angeles called Harbinger. Hearing them at California College of Arts & Crafts for some reason I invited both drummers to live with us at our 6-bedroom house in the Oakland Hills without even consulting my roommates! I started to help them out and became a roadie setting up and taking care of equipment. That band eventually morphed into a new wave band called The Ironics who were a hot combo and were the first band that I managed and began making some good connections within the Bay Area music scene . We were playing the clubs in the Bay Area – Keystones, The Palms, Mabuhay Gardens, Le Disque, On Broadway, Berkeley Square and campus events as we were having our self-produced songs played on KALX at UC Berkeley. The band worked its way up to opening Bill Graham shows at the Old Waldorf & the Kabuki Theater and even had interest from A & M records. As good as they were, the band imploded and the many lessons I learned were tucked away for a couple decades as my daughter Melissa was born in 1982. I wrote an instrumental song for her called 10 – 8 celebrating her October 8th birthday that is on ‘It’s A We Thing’, my premiere recording project. My interest in music & the business of music continued and I began writing some songs and becoming a general contractor, a mediator and peer counselor. All the while staying in contact with music, producing friends and going to lots of shows. Those transferable skills would return for use in a couple decades and the desire for representing artists in ‘live’ music, working with musicians on impeccable shows continued as goals for me. And quite by surprise I was brought into professional contact again with the Sons of Champlin.
The original impression made by the message and incredible musicianship of the Sons of Champlin has always been the benchmark that I would strive toward. Having the privilege of being asked to be The Sons road manager and becoming their booking agent in 2008 reintroduced me to active immersion in the music business. In the dual position of road manager and booking agent I had the privilege of helping bring the band into a stronger financial viability and to watch the intricacies as they have always maintained the highest quality of ‘live’ performance.
I left the Sons of Champlin in 2015 and started representing phenomenal band leader, blues harmonica virtuoso Mark Hummel. Mark has been recording, touring and presenting a literal who’s who of blues musicians for the last 35 years with his trademarked Blues Harmonica Blowouts. In 2021 he will be staging his 30th Blues Harmonica Blowout featuring Charlie Musselwhite, Duke Robillard, Billy Boy Arnold and Anson Funderburgh. Mark has presented in his shows James Cotton, Bobby Rush, Lee Oscar, Magic Dick, Corky Seigel, Jerry Portnoy, John Hammond, Sugar Blue, Huey Lewis, Lazy Lester, Curtis Salgado and Jason Ricci to name a few. This was like a homecoming for me with the comfortable vibe of the early blues influenced music that inspired me to start playing guitar and to begin writing some of my own songs.
***I have always wanted to record songs that I have written with musicians that I am friends with and have worked with and/or represented. The opportunity came forth while spending time with a colleague who is a well known musician & musical director with an artist who had expressed interest in working as an agent for that artist. In conversation one day I mentioned playing guitar. He was surprised to find out that I did play and asked me, ”Do you have songs?” Answering in the affirmative we set up an appointment for me to visit him at his Berkeley studio a week later and to sit with him and play the songs that were to be recorded later becoming It’s A We Thing. Being a music teacher, he gave me an assignment to do what I had done with him with two other people. He suggested that he thought I would enjoy doing this recording project with James DePrato who is a tremendously talented guitarist, a sought-after session musician, a record producer and a very good friend. I made the first appointment with James to meet with him and play the songs for him and another appointment with Grammy winning producer/engineer and very close friend Michael Rosen. Michael and James have spent many, many hours working together on projects and we made the collective decision to start working together on the four songs that have become ‘It’s A We Thing’.
***The most significant component about who I could work with was having a personal relationship and friendship. I would need to be able to be vulnerable and be completely myself and a complete novice in terms of this process. James was the perfect partner to have as producer of the songs and extended play CD. We had spent a bunch of hours together at shows but more importantly we had spent time together with our wives, Colleen and Melissa, at our home in Chico and their home in Point Richmond. We had Thanksgiving together and floated down the Feather River and swam in pools and had meals together. I came to appreciate James as a friend and thoughtful human being with quick wit and a depth of character that attracted me to want to get to know him better. His capable guidance of me through the process of building the songs, sharing of ideas through Pro Tools and being able to learn the intricacies of the recording process was such a gift. I knew that I needed competent stewardship through the recording process and he did all of that with grace, humor and with lots of tacos, guacamole and chips. The experience not only has not only surpassed my expectations but deepened my respect and care for James.
***The same can be said for engineer Michael Rosen. Michael and I have shared a community together for a couple decades where we have become brothers. I also played the songs for him in his studio and we talked about the plan for James producing the songs. After rehearsing the songs Michael was in the studio the day of recording the basic tracks. From that day on we did overdubbing and mixing at East Bay Recorders and had a blast together with all the musicians who shared their time and skills. Michael and James have spent hundreds of hours working together and with the atmosphere of common cause and professionalism and tacos I had the chance to experience with them the fun of recording. The spiritual aspect of my relationship with Michael underpins our bond and I could imagine being taken better care of than he did with me. The personal attention and availability was wonderful and that allowed me to stretch my capabilities and comfort to new vistas musically. Without the team of Michael and James this would not have been possible. They made It’s A We Thing what you hear. I love these two guys. They made this a reality.
James and I began to meet at his Point Richmond home studio in late winter of 2019 and started playing the songs together. He immediately began sending arrangement ideas as we worked on the songs until scheduling a full band rehearsal. The recording group included two of James’ bandmates with Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express: drummer Vicente Rodriguez and bassist Kevin White. Keyboardist and vibraphone player Geoff Palmer from the Sons of Champlin rounded out the group that would be recording the basic tracks in January of 2020. We recorded those basic tracks at the Bird and Egg in Richmond, CA with studio owner and engineer Nino Moschella. The tracking went very well with excellent performances from Vicente, Kevin, Geoff and James.
Over the next couple of months we began refining and recording at Michael Rosen’s East Bay Recorders Studio in Oakland. Starting with Geoff Palmer in February we added piano and vibraphone sections to All the Strings and 10 – 8. Then Covid 19 hit. Percussion was added remotely by Danilo Lopez from his studio in Nashville. Being cautious we sheltered in place and continued remotely planning for future recording sessions. In mid-July James, Michael and I very judiciously met at East Bay Recorders with songwriter and gifted musician performer Matt Jaffe. With all of us wearing masks he recorded violin sections for All the Strings and 10 – 8. On the same day in July I did the vocal tracks for the three songs with Michael and James. I also did acoustic guitar tracks over those two days. As Covid 19 continued to color the landscape of the world in September & October we stayed on track working mostly remotely. Huey Lewis and Sons of Champlin saxophonist, flutist, flugelhornist Johnny Bamont and trumpet player Jeff Lewis and I met on Zoom and discussed horn sections for Times and 10 – 8. Johnny arranged the sections for both of the songs and they were recorded remotely. Blues harmonica virtuoso Mark Hummel came into East Bay Recorders for a session adding his impeccable skills to 10 - 8 and a yet unreleased version of 327 Malibu.
We then were able to start mixing the songs. The performances of each of the musicians were stellar and Michael, James and I had ample time to visit East Bay Recorders. There is nothing like the experience of being in a modern recording studio with an incredibly talented musician/producer and an award winning engineer/producer mixing songs that you have written and felt and seen come into themselves in a way that is a million times better than you ever thought of. And you’re in this magical process with two guys that you love and care deeply for.