Session Man: Guitar Player Wayne Perkins

This incredible article keeps disappearing from the internet and having to be tracked down again. Sometimes you can find it here. I’m posting it here so I can always find it:


Wayne Perkins on Bob Marley, “Hand Of Fate” and auditioning for the Stones

Session Man

How many people do you know who almost joined The Rolling Stones? That experience is just one of many that comprise the unusual musical odyssey of Birmingham guitarist Wayne Perkins.

By Ed Reynolds
October 29, 2009

In 1973, Island Records released Catch a Fire, the major-label debut of Jamaican band The Wailers, featuring a then-unknown Bob Marley. The album includes the reggae classics “Concrete Jungle” and “Stir It Up.” Few music fans are aware, however, that those songs’ memorable guitar parts (on one of the first albums that helped turn reggae into a worldwide sensation) were played by Birmingham guitar virtuoso Wayne Perkins. Decades later, on a recent afternoon at his Center Point home, Perkins recalls his memory of the session.

The Wailers had recorded the album’s basic tracks in Jamaica a year earlier. Marley took the tapes to London where he supervised overdubs suggested by Island Records president Chris Blackwell to flesh out the Wailers’ barebones sound into something more palatable for American and European audiences. Blackwell brought in Perkins and John “Rabbit” Bundrick, veteran session player and current keyboardist for The Who, to add riffs that went officially uncredited until the album was re-released in a “deluxe edition” in 2001 (the set features both the widely known mix as well as the original Wailers version).

“Chris Blackwell came to Muscle Shoals to record Jim Capaldi’s Oh How We Danced. Paul Kossoff, Free’s guitar player, was there. [Steve] Winwood was there, and all of us became buddies,” says Perkins, who was doing session work at Muscle Shoals Sound at the time. While at the studio, Blackwell heard the band Smith Perkins Smith that Perkins had formed with brothers Tim and Steve Smith, from Homewood. Impressed, Blackwell signed the group and took them to Europe to launch the band’s career. “The first date we ever played was at the Cavern Club in Liverpool,” recalls Perkins. “We were living out our rock ‘n’ roll dream a little bit.” Smith Perkins Smith were soon touring Europe opening for Free, Uriah Heep, Fairport Convention, and Mott the Hoople, among other groups.

In the documentary Bob Marley & the Wailers: Catch a Fire (one in a series covering classic albums), Chris Blackwell says that the Wailers’ record was “enhanced [with overdubs and other elements atypical of reggae] to try and reach a rock market. What I was trying to merge [reggae] into was more of a sort of hypnotic-type feel with a kind of wah-wah [guitar] feel and different sorts of guitar going all the way through, and make it much less a reggae rhythm and more of a sort of drifting feel. . . . It’s particularly distinctive because of Wayne Perkins’ playing . . . this is the sound that started the album. ‘Concrete Jungle’ introduced Bob Marley and the Wailers to the world.”

Perkins continues: “We were in the middle of working on a Smith Perkins Smith album in London, and I ran into Blackwell on the spiral staircase at Island Records. He said that he had some reggae music that he wanted me to try to play on. I really wasn’t familiar with hardcore reggae. He wanted me to ‘do that Southern rock guitar thing, or whatever you do.’ So I met Marley, but just briefly. I didn’t know any of these guys. And the first thing I noticed when I walked downstairs was that the basement was in a fog. Lots of [marijuana] smoke. It was too funny. I tried to get down to business.”

With guitar in hand, waiting to begin recording his part, Perkins requested an explanation of how to approach this music with which he was unfamiliar. “Blackwell explained that the bass drum, sock cymbal, and the snare [drum] are on the one and three [beats]. He told me to ignore the bass guitar because it was more of a lead instrument [as opposed to a bass’s typical role as a rhythm instrument]. It’s great music, but it’s kinda weird in that everything feels like it’s being played backwards. ‘Concrete Jungle’ was the very first thing that I was handed. That was the most out-of-character bass part I’d ever heard. But because the keyboards and the guitars stay locked together doing what they’re doing all through the song, that was sorta my saving grace. I thought I could follow the song, but I still didn’t know what I was going to do on guitar. So I started doodling on the front of it, and I told the sound engineer to start over about halfway through it. Then I started picking up a little something here and there. I nailed that guitar solo down on the second or third take, I think. It was a gift from God, because I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing. And then Marley came into the recording room. He was cartwheeling, man, he couldn’t get over what had just happened to his song, he was so excited. I couldn’t understand a damn thing he was saying. And he was cramming this huge joint down my throat and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He got me real, real high.”

Meeting the Muscle Shoals Sound

Though Perkins was only 21 when he played on Catch a Fire, he already had several years of professional studio experience under his belt. He was 15 when he recorded with producer Emory Gordy in Atlanta in the mid-1960s. By age 16, Perkins had dropped out of high school to play music for a living. In 1969, the 18-year-old Perkins moved to Muscle Shoals to work at a studio called Quinvy’s for $100 a week. A year later, he took over lead guitar chores at Muscle Shoals Sound (MSS) when session guitarist, songwriter, and soul singer Eddie Hinton quit to pursue a career as a recording artist. “Eddie told me, ‘I’m leaving here. You want this gig? Duane’s gone and he ain’t coming back. He’s busy,'” Perkins recalls. (Duane Allman played lead guitar on sessions in Muscle Shoals in the late 1960s before forming the Allman Brothers Band.)

Perkins says he will never forget his “job interview” at Muscle Shoals Sound. “I went in to talk to Jimmy Johnson [Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section guitarist and MSS sound engineer]. He handed me a stack of records about two feet tall, and it’s albums of all these different players, all the greatest guitar players,” says Perkins. “Johnson said, ‘I tell you what. You want this job? You want to be one of us? I don’t want to be sitting in the control room with [Atlantic Records executives] Ahmet Ertegun or Jerry Wexler and ask you to give me a little something more like a Cornell Dupree lick or a little more ‘Duane Allman kind of blues’ in style, and you not be able to do so. Any kind of guitar lick I ask you for, I don’t want to see any kind of doubt on your face. You just nod your head and go on with it. Don’t embarrass me in front of Ahmet or Wexler because these guys are our bread and butter.’ So I went home and took about two weeks and consumed that stack of records. And I got the gig.”

Perkins recalls an after-hours Joe Cocker session at MSS when the studio’s regular musicians and staff had gone home. “I walked into the recording room with my bass, I’m thumping around. It was me and [drummer] Jim Keltner and Cocker. Everybody’s sitting around high as a kite, didn’t know what to do. They’d been that way all week, hadn’t gotten anything done. And Cocker’s sitting back there rolling these long joints with hash and grass, and apparently something else that I wasn’t aware of. They’re sitting back there in the recording room not doing anything, and then I go back there to check on them and they handed me this joint and I took a couple of hits off of it. I started thumping on my bass and both of my hands started going numb. I went over and laid down on the couch, and I woke up the next morning with the bass still strapped on me. And it’s almost time for a Ronnie Milsap session. Somebody said to me, ‘You better get some coffee.'”

Around the World with Leon Russell

Perkins’ work on the Wailers’ Catch a Fire caught the ears of several prominent names in the music industry, including the Rolling Stones and Leon Russell, with whom Perkins had worked at MSS for the album Leon Russell and the Shelter People. “After Blackwell signed us and got us to England, we started on our second album and got halfway through it, then he stopped it,” Perkins says. Smith Perkins Smith soon broke up. The guitarist returned to the States in 1973 and within a few weeks Leon Russell called to offer him the lead guitar spot in his legendary backing band. “There was a first-class airline ticket to Tulsa waiting for me, and the tour was starting within weeks,” Perkins recalls. “Leon picked me up in this Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud in Tulsa with a couple of chicks, and we go out for steaks bigger than our heads. He told me I had less than a week to learn the Leon Live album, a three-record set. So I said, ‘That ain’t a hell of a lot of time, Leon.’ I didn’t sleep for three or four days. I listened to that album over and over. But thanks to Leon, I got to see the world. With Smith Perkins Smith I had lived in England, toured Europe, and all that. But Russell took me to Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Indonesia, Hong Kong; it was just unbelievable. Great times. I’d done more before I hit age 25 than most people will ever dream of. For my money, that was the best band I ever played with.”

After a world tour, Russell disbanded the Shelter People. His next backing group was comprised of fellow Oklahomans The Gap Band. “We went out to this place called the Rose Room in Tulsa and there was The Gap Band. And they were kicking ass, the whole place was going crazy,” Perkins says. “So we picked The Gap Band up, but Leon kept the Shelter People drummer—Chuck Blackwell—and me, because Chuck knew where all the changes were, and Leon was always one to throw changes and stuff at you that nobody in the band had ever heard before. We went from first-class airline tickets with the Shelter People to a bus with The Gap Band. Leon wanted to go out and get funky, put his cowboy hat on.”

“Wayne picks up a guitar and does stuff with his fingers that other people can’t do, and they couldn’t do if they worked on it all their lives.” —Boutwell Studios’ Mark Harrelson

It was Russell who coined the nickname bestowed on the Muscle Shoals Sound house band. “Leon came up with the term ‘The Swampers’ for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section when he recorded there. [The Swampers were immortalized in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”] Shortly after that, Ronnie Van Zant and them were in Muscle Shoals recording Skynyrd’s first album and I had a copy of Leon’s album [where he mentioned the Muscle Shoals Swampers in the liner notes]. I showed it to Ronnie. Leon had a song on there called “Home Sweet Oklahoma,” which is where Ronnie got the idea for ‘Sweet Home Alabama.'”

Joni Mitchell and a Pink Paisley Guitar

Perkins went to Los Angeles around 1973 to visit Jackson Browne and ended up at A&M studios, where Joni Mitchell was recording her masterpiece Court and Spark. “Yeah, that was a real special thing for me. I stopped in at A&M where Joni was cutting,” recalls Perkins, who also had a romantic fling with Mitchell. Mitchell was recording in a studio across the hall from Browne. “Joni came out of her studio and I said hello and we started talking,” he remembers. “She asked if I wanted to hear what she was working on. Joni and I hit it off. Oh boy, did we ever hit it off!”

“So the next day I went to see her at the place she was sharing with David Geffen over in Beverly Hills—this big, huge mansion. Geffen lived in one half and she lived in the other. I ended up going into the studio with her a couple of nights. I was watching Tom [Scott] overdub instrumental parts on ‘Car on a Hill’ when Joni asked me, ‘Do you hear anything on this?’ I did, but all my gear was with Leon. So we got her band’s equipment but the guitar wouldn’t stay in tune on the bottom three strings, so I told her this wasn’t going to work like I wanted it to. I pointed to this huge anvil guitar case in the studio that had ‘James Burton’ [Elvis Presley’s guitar player in the 1970s] written on the side of it. It’s 3 a.m. Joni was hesitant to mess with it. But I flipped the case open and there was that pink paisley Telecaster [Burton’s signature guitar]. I told her, ‘Here’s what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna do some city sounds like you want.’ So I took Burton’s Telecaster and I overdubbed the slide parts on “Car on a Hill” on James Burton’s guitar. When I put the guitar back in the case, I folded the damn strap different than the way I found it, so he’d know somebody had messed with it [laughs].”

Like a Rolling Stone

Guitarist Eric Clapton, with whom Perkins had been hanging out in Jamaica while Clapton was preparing to record There’s One in Every Crowd, contacted the Rolling Stones to arrange an audition for Perkins after Stones guitarist Mick Taylor quit in 1974. “I stayed in Kingston with Clapton for a month or two,” Perkins says. “One morning at the breakfast table Eric said, ‘Did you hear that Mick Taylor quit the Stones?’ And I said, ‘Naww, have they found anybody to take his place?’ Eric said he didn’t think they had, so I said, ‘Well, hell, put in a phone call for me.’ So Clapton called Jagger and told him, ‘Yeah, this boy Perkins can play some guitar.’ So Eric—and Leon Russell—were my references to get to the Stones.” Months earlier, Perkins had played bass on Stones bassist Bill Wyman’s solo debut, Monkey Grip.

Keith Richards, a reggae fanatic, was familiar with Perkins’ work on Catch a Fire. “Far as I know, I was the last one to audition for the Stones job. They had rented a theater in Rotterdam. I basically got off the plane and walked into the audition room,” recalls Perkins. “Keith was sitting on a couch with Bill Wyman. And there was a spotlight in the middle of the room. I set my guitars down and was just standing there, and they’re all looking up at me. I had never met them before. I was standing there in that spotlight. It was kind of understood that that’s where I was supposed to stand because nobody offered a chair. I was talking to Keith when suddenly Jagger and Charlie Watts came up behind me, and they both stood right next to me, really close. Mick and Charlie were looking straight ahead, they wouldn’t even look at me. I looked to each side and both of them are staring straight ahead like they’re posing for an album cover. Then they walked off without saying a word. They put me in the center of this portrait thing that they were doing, like a lineup. They wanted to see if I looked like a Rolling Stone, and I hadn’t even played a note for ’em yet.”

It is now known that Perkins was competing with Jeff Beck and Peter Frampton, among others, for the job. The Stones eventually chose Ron Wood.

Perkins’ audition impressed the Stones enough that he was invited to play on the sessions that would become the Black and Blue album. “We started out cold on ‘Hand of Fate’ one night. We were just kind of starting from scratch with something that Keith had a musical idea about,” Perkins says. “He had the basic track down, but he didn’t have a bridge, or what they call ‘a middle-eight.’ I was playing a counter-guitar part to Keith, and I started doing this Motown lick that goes along to what he’s playing. And so we’re cooking along there, and Mick’s walking around the room with a tambourine, and he’d go stand in the corner and shake that damn tambourine. And he’s singing to himself, and he’s off in his own world trying to figure out what’s what. The whole thing sounded real rough, too. It kinda just sucked. [Perkins is not the first musician to comment on the Stones’ lack of musical finesse.] It was like the worst garage band I’d ever heard in my life. Then the engineer turned on the red light [to begin recording] and it’s like somebody reached out with a magic wand and went, ‘Bing!’ And all of a sudden, it’s the Stones! Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Perkins lived with Richards and his longtime girlfriend Anita Pallenberg for a month or so in a cottage behind the London home of Ron Wood (who was still a member of The Faces at the time). Richards treated Perkins as the new band member. “We started hangin’ out and having a big ol’ time. We got along great,” says Perkins. “But when Mick came into the picture . . . If I was with Mick, it was all right. If I was with Keith, it was all right. But when the two of them got together, I seemed to automatically fall under a microscope without even trying. Keith and Mick were still going at it over me, because I was under the impression from Keith that I was already in the band. Keith was teaching me their songs and gave me two cassettes of about 60 songs that included what the Stones might play on their 1975 tour. While we were in Germany, they had these two rooms and on the walls were [designs] of different stage setups and they were asking me my opinion of which stage I liked. We cut ‘Memory Motel’ from scratch like we did ‘Hand of Fate.’ Keith was on Fender Rhodes, Mick was on grand piano, and I was in some soundbooth with an acoustic guitar and I overdubbed electric guitar later. And then I overdubbed some slide on ‘Fool to Cry.’ We cut like 10 tracks that were just jamming, and then later on they turned this into some stuff, and a couple of those ended up on Tattoo You.” 1981’s Tattoo You, though presented at the time as an album of new songs, was actually cobbled together from unreleased songs recorded from 1973 to 1975. Perkins plays the jaw-dropping guitar solo on “Worried About You.”

Sweet Home Alabama

In 1975, closer to home, Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Ed King had quit the band in the middle of a tour. They continued as a two-guitar act for a year but wanted to return to a three-guitar lineup. “Lynyrd Skynyrd offered me the job, but something didn’t feel right to me,” says Perkins. “I turned them down in December ’76 and the plane crash was in October ’77. I think about that one from time to time. Ronnie [Van Zant] was one of my best friends. I knew all the guys in the band, and I would have made a ton of money. And God knows, fate could have changed and that crash might not have happened.”

One day Perkins went to hear his brother Dale’s band, Alabama Power. “They had a great band and no songs,” he says. “They had the vehicle and I had the gasoline. I had the connections in Hollywood after all these years.” Perkins says that lawyers for the Alabama Power Company were not pleased with the band’s name, so the group changed it to Crimson Tide. “I much preferred the name Alabama Power to Crimson Tide because that’s sacrilege, to me. Crimson Tide is a great name but [the University of Alabama] was already using it.” Crimson Tide released two albums on Capitol Records, the self-titled Crimson Tide in 1978 and Reckless Love in 1979, the latter produced by Donald “Duck” Dunn, bassist for Booker T. and the MGs, with the MGs’ Steve Cropper contributing guitar parts. Crimson Tide became the house band at the Crossroads Club in Roebuck for a couple of years in the late ’70s, where well-known acts such as Yes, Joe Cocker, or Rick Derringer, if they had performed elsewhere in town that day, often showed up to sit in. “That’s one thing about the Crossroads Club. You never knew who would show up,” Perkins says. Crimson Tide split up in 1979. Perkins later released a pair of solo CDs, Mendo Hotel in 1995 and Ramblin’ Heart in 2005, as well as having his songs included on soundtracks for several films and TV shows.

An Impressive Résumé

The wide range of musicians that Perkins has worked with is impressive. In addition to the aforementioned acts, his credits include work with Albert King, the Everly Brothers, Michael Bolton, Millie Jackson, John Prine, Delbert McClinton, Jerry Jeff Walker, Roger McGuinn, Levon Helm, Bobby Womack, and the Oak Ridge Boys, among others.

Mark Harrelson, co-owner of Birmingham’s Boutwell Studios, first met Perkins in the late 1970s. “Wayne’s been a part of more big time things [musically] than anybody else in Birmingham that I can think of,” Harrelson says. “To be part of that Marley thing, and then to even have a shot at being part the Stones is something that nobody else around here can even come close to. Wayne is first and foremost a player, when you break it right down. He’s a good singer and good songwriter, and he’s had a hand at making some good decisions about production and things like that, too. But the first thing that Wayne does—to me—that is better than anything else that he does is to pick up a guitar and do stuff with his fingers that other people can’t do, and they couldn’t do if they worked on it all their lives. When he went to Muscle Shoals he was a kid, and yet the first time they turned him loose on a session, everybody went, ‘Wow, this kid can really play.'”

“For my money, the best times I’ve had musically interacting with Wayne is when I told him, ‘I need you to play from here to here,’ and he just does something absolutely phenomenal to fill up that space. He’s fabulous at it. Wayne was always fearless at coming up with new ideas and just really nailing stuff.”

Recent Years

In the late 1990s, Perkins began suffering from poor health. Some days, his headaches are almost unbearable, yet he remains determined to forge ahead. Several years ago, he got his I.D. card that officially recognizes his heritage as a native America Indian, and he continues to play bass on occasion with his good friend Lonnie Mack. He’s also working on a new CD. “I’ve been one of the most blessed people you’ll ever run into in your life. And fortunate,” Perkins surmises with an engaging grin.

He’s one of the music industry’s great unheralded guitar players, often receiving no credit on records to which he has made contributions. His confidence has never waned. “I did have to work for it, and when I’m thrown in the damn shark tank [in a studio or on stage] I can swim and I can do battle, or whatever. I can hang,” he admits. “It was a lot of hard work, but the stuff just kept coming. I did everything I wanted to do, including playing with the biggest rock band in the world. If I had joined [The Rolling Stones], by now I’d probably be a dead millionaire.”

Well, if it wasn’t dead before, it’s room temp now

you may have been wondering why this space has largely gone dark lately. I dunno, now that’s it’s fashionable to think the President is an idiot, I just don’t have the burning need to do political blogging. I have been debating continuing to just blog personal stuff- my entrance into the world of audio engineering has been sudden and deep. My first session as assistant engineer I ended up tuning drums, setting mics, playing instruments, writing lyrics, actually performing vocals (in Spanish!) on the track and actually writing the chorus. For a rap song. No shit.

I told the producer “Next I am gonna drag the infield and warm up the relief pitchers…”

Additionally, today, comes the rather disturbing possibility that the monkey brigade has caused TWO friends of mine to lose their jobs working for the Edwards campaign.

This is fucking ridiculous. You don’t need me to tell you that. Michelle Malkin just needs to give up all pretense and run around screaming “But *I’m* the prettiest one! Where’s my Presidential candidate job?”

I hate to say it, but i have had it. Lately, I read my brother’s entries at Firedoglake, devour whatever TBogg and Norbizness have served up because they make me laugh, skim Atrios (the white liberal middle class CNN… thank you Chuck D…) check in with SteveAudio because he’s my hero, and Josh Marshall’s front page, and fuck it, that’s it. After that it’s off to the Moparts forum to talk about old cars and how to make them go faster. I am just totally burnt out on angry political people and their blogs. That includes me, by the way.
I hope you folks that had become regular readers understand. I need to become a recording engineer. That’s my new ambition, so I got homework to do. I am taking on loads of extra work to throw money in the bank to buy microphones. It’s eating my time, believe me.

I do miss hearing from you guys. I will probably start leaving occasional recording diaries here for everyone’s edification and entertainment, but I don’t know if I will ever go back to political blogging every day. You guys are just gonna have to carry the water for me.

The Dart, by the way, is running like a dream.

Oh, yeah, rockers…. check this out!

step one: confirm the problem before finding a solution

I knew that when I got to Europe, I was going to need cymbals. Backline companies over there have decided that cymbals are a bad bet, since they’re 1. the part of a drumset most likely to break, and 2. outrageously expensive in the UK. The cymbals I use for Music Hates You are massive, heaaaavy manhole cover-like cymbals. The Low Lows need brighter, lighter, more responsive cymbals that will make a sound when hit by with brushes.

I couldn’t afford to buy a whole other set of cymbals for just one tour, so I set about the process of borrowing cymbals. Funny thing, people weren’t all that keen on loaning me their bronze. Maybe it’s because they’ve seen my cymbal-smashing playing with Music Hates You…. BUT I assure you, The Low Lows are a whole different approach to playing drums.

Still, no offers.

Kim at Monotreme contacted me in the middle of all of this running around and asked if I might looking into buying a set of cymbals for the label while I am still in the States, since, as I mentioned, cymbals are outrageously expensive in the UK. That way, Monotreme will have cymbals for other bands to use when they come over from the US.

I checked Guitar Center’s prices and looked into some other options, but the best, by far, was the deal we could get from this guy:

Nick Amoroso.

Nick supplies backline kits to a lot of drummers in LA, and has a sterling reputation. He also has a private email list he sends out with a bunch of used gear on it which is for sale at very, very good prices. A friend forwarded it to me, I picked out what seemed like the PERFECT set of cymbals for The Low Lows, and then sent all of that info to Kim at Monotreme. She paid Nick and, since time was short, I had him ship everything to my folks’ house in DC.

The box arrived 24 hours later. I love this guy.

My plan was to fashion some sort of duct tape handle and carry the box of cymbals onto the plane, since I am allowed one laptop case and one carryon.

However, when I got in last night and saw the cymbal box that Nick sent, I realized that, with packing materials, it was way, way too big to carry on. I knew that the largest cymbal would be 20″ across, but packing materials and the box added several inches to its width. There was no way I was going to be able to carry it on. I didn’t even open the box to look at the cymbals, I was so tired and concerned… I fell asleep mulling over the issue.

Then, probably because of the cumulative fatigue of yesterday’s five hour flight delay and being exhausted by my general anxiety at flying, I slept deeply and much later than I meant to this morning. I woke up in a panic, realizing that I only had a few hours to go and grab a cymbal bag so I could carry the cymbals on.

I called the nearest music store that I could find in the Yellow Pages, and they said that they had a cymbal bag. We drove over there in the horrible DC traffic which was typically stop and go and crappy. Since we had several things to do today, like pick up our race packets for the marathon tomorrow, the time wasted in traffic was pretty stressful. I mean, the clock was ticking on all the shit that we had to do today…

So, we get to the music store… and… no cymbal bag. It was some a suburban band instrument store and they didn’t know that they didn’t have it until we got there. Typical sort of “Give an answer on the phone, then check to see if the answer was correct later” scenario.

So, they give us terrible TERRIBLE and vague directions to Guitar Center. It takes us an hour to get there in traffic. More stop and go, more crappy. We get there, and I spend precious dollars that I was going to spend in the UK (where EVERYTHING is expensive), and I grab a cymbal bag.

It was nice enough. Kind of cheap, but something that will work. Then we spend an hour hacking our way back across town to my folks’ place, where I open the box full of cymbals for the first time…. and… Nick, saint that he is, has shipped the cymbals with a really nice Zildjian cymbal bag. Honestly, the nicest one I have ever seen.

Is this whole trip going to be like this?

health and travel update

“It’s allergies… don’t go get antibiotics… you’ve just got Fall allergies.”

Please don’t say this to me ever again.  You know who you are.  In less than 48 hours, the antibiotics cleared up my “allergies” almost completely, also arresting the progress of the bronchitis and whatever other nastiness was happening in my chest.  I realize that antibiotics should not be passed out like party favors, etc etc, but when one has been sick for three weeks to a month, it’s time to see what modern medicine can do.
My passport is due here on the 18th or so.
Parker from the Low Lows is calling me saying “Come to New York City, we’re having a blast and we have some down time so you could get in a few practices.”  This is, I believe, what the metaphor of the “Sirens’ Call” was created to describe.   I have so much to do here, and also so little money right now.

I am kinda worried about what incidental expenses are going to be like in the UK.  What with the exchange rate doing what it’s doing in reaction to the Madness of King George.

Let’s see….

Last time I was in London, a meal in a restaurant was averaging about £9.00 GBP (and that was nothing spectacular), and with the current exchange rate that comes to about $17.00 USD for a burger and some beans.  That’s before tip and whatever it cost to get there via train or cab.

Aheh.  Oh, shit.

Well, there’s always the Old Stand-bys.

A Little Bit About the Low Lows

the band with whom I am going to Europe is The Low Lows, and here is a brief excerpt from an email I sent SteveAudio last week when I got the news that I was onboard:

melancholy rock band the Low Lows have asked me to be their drummer on their upcoming European tour. I will be “On the Continent” for a month playing very Velvet Underground-ish beats behind their sort of Sparklehorse-y melodic drone. It’s interesting- it’s a HUGE step away from MHY… their music calls for the Moe Tucker sort of rumble and bash, but even MORE austere… a style I am referring to as “LESS Tucker.”

There is also an element of a battered existentialist cowboy ethos to tracks like “Miss November,” “Tigers” and “Five Ways.”

I am going to email Parker and ask if I can post a couple of songs here so that you folks can get a little taste.

The problem of cymbals

So, yes, I have been rushing around trying to get ready for this trip. I got my passport mailed off, and also got the news that I will be better served by bringing my own cymbals. This is a problem on two levels- one is that the cymbals for Music Hates You are massive plates of bronze- the sort of thing that could double as a shield if one got into a dustup while drinking at Medieval Times. However, much of the Low Lows material is played with brushes. This is one step up from breathing hard on the drums. Striking a massive heavy cymbal with a brush is a fart in a hurricane. No sound shall emerge. This is bad.

Additionally, all of these massive cymbals, I am a bit ashamed to admit, are broken. Life’s tough when you’re a Music Hates You cymbal. Really tough. When a cymbal breaks, whatever magic symmetry that makes the ringing crash of a cymbal possible is interrupted. I don’t know exactly what the physics are, but I can certainly hear it the second a cymbal goes. Suddenly the tone goes from warm and bright and majestic to the disheartening “tank tank tank” of someone bashing a serving platter with a spoon. It’s depressing.

So, new cymbals must be begged, borrowed, stolen or, god forbid, purchased at retail price. (this last one is the least likely option… because that would involve spending MONEY, which is in short supply around here, let me assure you.) Then I have to check them as baggage- a proposition that seems nearly certain to end in tears.

I am hoping, HOPING that the Bosphorus cymbal company comes through with some kind of deal for me to endorse their fine products.

more adventures in the life of a record

Music Hates You went to the Slayer concert at Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheatre last night to pass out postcards announcing the release of our new record. We handed out 1000 of them. (That’s all I could afford to print. It wasn’t cheap.)

This sounds fairly simple on its face, but if we sort of unpack this process as an event, it becomes kind of interesting and more complex.

Promoting our band is humbling- sure, we believe in the band the way that most folks believe in going to work or working their farms or going to church- but it was a challenge to confront a thousand complete strangers (esp at a Slayer show… bear in mind that this is a subculture that reinforces antisocial behavior) and say “I am in a band called Music Hates You and we just released an album called ‘Send More Paramedics’,” over and over and over…. and in this band, I am the verbose and extroverted one. Noah, for all his onstage fury and bravado, is an intensely private person. Zach is actually kind of a shy guy, and very sensitive to The Snub. There was a possibility that last night could have ended badly- if one asshole had torn up a postcard, thrown it over his shoulder and said something snotty, we would have been in a brawl- fat lips, broken noses and ‘Hello, officer!’

Fortunately, it went well. This is the work that we do.

Increasingly, I am seeing all of what Music Hates You does through the lens of class. I am a late comer to this party. These guys have been washing dishes, roofing houses and trying to push this thing over since late 2001. Once I was tapped to join the band, I was made aware of several long-standing conflicts the band had with some of the local music establishment. You can see it alluded to in this interview:

When you were first getting started, I remember there being some tension between your band and what some might call “the establishment” of Athens: Flagpole, certain clubs, etc. How or why did that come about and how or why has it eased?
Noah Ray
We spray-painted some shit. People freaked out. Works every time.

When I joined the band, there were certain clubs we couldn’t play, some beef with the college radio station and some rumors and innuendo about issues with the local music press. All of this old animosity was hanging around like a bad smell.

Yes, Music Hates You did spray-paint some private property and some public property- and they took every copy of the local alternative weekly out of every box in town and spray-stenciled “MUSIC HATES YOU” in the center page of every one of them, then put them back in their boxes. Some of this stuff was obnoxious. Some of it was genius. Mostly it was the kind of thing where folks would go “Ha! Those pricks! Whatever!” and be done with it. I mean, it’s rock and roll, not a cotillion. Holding a grudge against a punk band for doing punk stuff is kinda, y’know, a bit silly.

But with MHY, in some cases, the animosity lingers to this day. I ran into it firsthand at the college radio station. Upon much reflection, I don’t think it’s simply a matter of MHY not adopting the proper posture when approaching The Throne as a punk/metal band. I think it’s as much that in a college town, where the vast majority of the people who are the Tastemakers are upper-middle class collegiates, it’s that MHY are aspirants from the wrong caste.

This sort of sniffy disdain for what we do is, I think, rooted in more than just aesthetics, though I am perfectly happy to annoy college radio effetes on whatever grounds it takes to put a burr in their panties. More than that, I think that it’s the fact that a band made of up guys who wash dishes or paint houses or fix cars might dare to believe in what we do passionately enough to promote it by any means necessary.

Self promotion? Tres louche, ¿non? “Isn’t there someone that one can PAY to do that sort of work? How disreputable!”

Metal is essentially working class music. Paul Westerberg once famously said (I am paraphrasing here because I can’t find the quote online) “Middle class kids make the best rock music. Working class kids try too hard.” I see what he’s getting it. It’s sort of like the William Butler Yeats quote: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.” Taken out of context, that’s Pavement in a nutshell. It’s hard to work the ironic disdain tip when one is standing in a surging tide of Slayer fans handing out postcards as fast as possible saying “I THINK YOU’D LIKE MY BAND!”

But, like I said, it’s the work that we do, and what propels us is what lies beyond failure. We can’t take this casually and hope that someone decides we’re cool enough to sell ten thousand records that record store clerks will horde. After all, we’re not the sort of people who can fall back on grad school. Option B is the Void. Jail. Alcoholism. Crime. Institutionalization. Oblivion.

So, last night I watched my band hitch up their jeans, brace themselves for the inevitable humbling, and wade into a sea of people saying “Check us out. Here’s our MySpace page. Here’s our website. You can listen to our music there. We hope you enjoy it, because we want to be your favorite band.”

Because we do. I’m not ashamed of that.

Does this podium make me look fat?

Actually, the podium looks like half a million free minutes of AOL.

(photo by Spotted)

That’s me yammering on about what an honor and a privilege it is for Music Hates You to be selected as the 2006 Flagpole Music Awards Best Punk/Hardcore band.

from l-r:
Noah- vocals and guitar. Hidden behind him is Big Andy from The Dumps. Then Forest, Bass player for MHY. Craig Lieske, presenter and guitar player from Garbage Island. The right leg and wrist you see is Jeff from The Dumps, then some guy, and far right is Zaxx from Music Hates You. Who knows what I was yapping about, actually? Might have been anything.

There are more photos from the Flagpole Music Awards here.

Trying to push it over

One member of my band had to work Friday night, so we had no gig and really no way that we could practice unless it was between one and four am. Noah had to be up a on roof the next day (we’re all working six and seven day weeks right now in preparation for getting out on the road), so that wasn’t practical for him.

The other three of us decided to take the leftover promotional cds that we had, which numbered about 30, and drive to Conyers and give them away. Conyers is one of those satellite suburban towns where upper middle class people move so that they can work in Atlanta and have kids away from the less seemly influences of downtown Atlanta. Of course, the kids crave those unseemly influences like fish crave water.

So… enter Music Hates You.

We drove down to Conyers after doing a little research on MySpace- I did a google search [conyers punk metal] and got a couple of MySpace users’ profiles. I emailed them and said “We’re coming. Where do the kids hang out?”

They wrote back and told me Starbucks, Taco Bell and the surrounding parking lots. We drove down there and found them right where they said they’d be. We gave away every CD we had, and made some new friends. It was cool. We should do this in every little town like Conyers around the ATL- Peachtree City, Kennesaw (where it’s illegal NOT to own a gun),

Kennesaw has the nickname of “Gun Town, USA” due to a city ordinance passed in 1982 [Sec 34-1a] that requires every head of household to maintain a firearm with ammunition.

Griffin, Doraville, Madison, Covington, etc, etc….

These kids hang out in parking lots, because there’s nothing else to do. In Griffin they call them Fender Lizards. We’re going to go and recruit them by giving them free music. I don’t see how this can fail….

We’re gonna make a ring around Atlanta like Sherman…