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'...TIME FLIES LIKE AN ARROW. FRUIT FLIES LIKE A BANANA...'

Groucho Marx

Most musicians have a plentiful supply of colourful tales from their time on the road - here are a few of mine...

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AWOL Bass Player

In the eighties I worked as a producer for WEA International, based in Bangkok, Thailand. I had arranged through Pete Brigsfish, a drummer I had worked with some years earlier, to use his band to record an album in the UK, with a Thai artist. The band included the brilliant 17 year old Tony Franklin on fretless bass...

In December 1984 I arrived back in the UK, which was experiencing sub-zero weather. We met up at a freezing rehearsal space in the centre of Birmingham. Tony's basses were there, but no Tony. Pete explained, somewhat sheepishly that Tony had recently left them to join another band ! He introduced me to his replacement, a rather tired-looking 40 something blues bassist...

I wasn't happy at this unexpected turn of events. I really loved Tony's playing and thought it would add a lot to the album. So who was Tony now playing with, I demanded to know. Pete told me...

Tony Franklin had just joined Jimmy Page and Paul Rogers in their new band The Firm!

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The Mercurial Guitarist

Some months later I had arranged to master the album at The Townhouse Studios in Goldhawk Road, London. Arriving on time I could see through the plate glass doors that the previous clients were running over time. One of them had his back to me, was dressed in black and had long greying hair.

He turned around and seemed somehow vaguely familiar..?

Suddenly I realised who they were - Jimmy Page and Paul Rogers ! They were putting the finishing touches to the debut single from The Firm album.

Later when Jimmy came out he apologised for keeping me waiting. I replied that he had caused me rather a lot of trouble recently ! That certainly got his attention. I explained that I'd had to record an album without bass player Tony Franklin after he'd accepted the gig with The Firm...

We talked for some time. He came across as very easy going and down to earth, as interested in what I was up to in Bangkok as I was in The Firm.

Certainly not the bad-tempered mercurial guitarist of rock legend...

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A Consummate Display

I've been an avid reader of Guitar Player magazine over the years.

During the late eighties I read an article about the American jazz rock guitarist Scott Henderson. Scott mentioned how he and his bass player were writing tunes on their Macs over the internet. At the time I thought this was very pretentious...

In the early nineties I got a gig playing support to Scott's band Tribal Tech in Philadelphia. Arriving to set my gear up I was disarmed by how friendly Scott and his band all were. They jokingly suggested I might play through Scott's state-of-the-art Bob Bradshaw amp and effects rig!

During the gig Scott Henderson played brilliantly, with excellent tone and wonderful technique. After the first set he jumped off the front of the stage into the audience and hung out at the bar with friends. He returned for the second set by the same route.

After a well-deserved encore Scott again jumped off the stage, returning to his friends at the bar. In short one of the most consummate displays of jazz rock guitar playing I have ever experienced.

And certainly the least pretentious performer I've ever met.

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Missing A Legend

I was fortunate in the early nineties to work with the excellent rock publicist Ginny Buckley. She had worked with many top rock and pop acts throughout the seventies and eighties, including Van Halen and Michael Jackson. Ginny is married to a leading American tour manager...

Early one evening her husband called and invited us to a show in north-eastern Pennsylvania. He said we could watch the gig backstage, but that we were not to make eye contact with the band or try to talk to them!

I thought frankly that this was somewhat precious and declined the offer of going to the gig. Some time later the troubled Kurt Cobain sadly took his own life.

I realised then I had missed a unique chance to see the legendary Nirvana up close...

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The Total Pro

I forget who turned me on to New York bass player Mike Stanzilas, certainly he came highly recommended...

Two days before the gig I spent a couple of hours at Mike's apartment on 105th Street running down the tunes. The gig was in Asbury Park, supporting Bob Dylan's son's band The Wallflowers...

The venue was full and the atmosphere absolutely manic. The promoter wanted us to go on later than we had agreed. This was not possible as Mike had to leave in time to get back for a late gig in NYC.

Finally the promoter relented and told us to be on stage and ready to play in two minutes. Setting up a stereo Marshall set-up with numerous effects and a mess of cables is not easy in the dark!

With the promoter shouting 'Go! Go! Go!', I knelt over my pedals and frantically tuned my strat. Standing up I counted the first tune off. Mike and regular drummer Joe Bellia did not play a wrong note the whole set...

Afterwards I paid Mike before he rushed back to New York for his second gig that night !

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A Night in Newark

I'm reminded of a night in Newark, New Jersey in the early nineties. I was with my then manager and we went to this heavy rock venue to check out a band there was a lot of 'buzz' about.

Things hadn't started off well. After parking his car we'd been walking to the venue through a disused industrial area. A cop car came screaming up to the intersection ahead of us with it's siren blaring and lights blazing.

The cop lept out and tried to offer reassurance, 'don't worry buddy, we're just lookin' for someone with a gun.' I felt a lot better for knowing that!

The venue was extraordinary to this Brit, there must have been a thousand New Jersey rockers/rockettes there all dressed in blues jeans, boots and leathers. Everyone behaved impeccably, none of the drunken yobbishness you routinely get here in UK.

After about five support acts and in the early hours we got to the headline act. The already deafening PA was turned up a few more notches and the band kicked off their set with a slow 85 - 90 BPM heavy rock groove. The drums sounded monstrous, the enormous kick simply playing on 1 and 3, while the huge cracking snare just played the unadorned backbeat.

What made this extraordinary to watch was that the drummer was throwing his right hand stick up high in the air above his head and catching it flawlessly each time to continue playing 2 and 4 on the snare. This continued for a number of minutes. He didn't miss it once !!! He seemed to be staring straight ahead and he gave the impression he was unconcerned about catching the stick. The effect was mesmerising !

Sadly the rest of the show was pretty forgettable and we left the venue just as dawn was was breaking. But Newark had a sting in the tail waiting.

Outside the club were several police cars with cops leaning up against them chatting. One of the cops was a woman and she was drop-dead georgeous, a real Italianate beauty. She looked like a beautiful actress in a movie, playing a cop. I fell in love on the spot !

A bizarre end to a surreal night...

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Van the Man 1

I was signed to the Swiss indie label Top in the late eighties. Mick Cox, a former Van Morrison sideman was also with Top and we occasionally used to hang out and have a few beers at a pub near the label offices in Camden.

He told me an amusing story about a guitarist who desperately wanted to play with Van Morrison. After several months he was finally offered an audition. He made enquiries and was told that Van's favourite guitarist was BB King.

Buying as many BB King CDs as he could lay his hands on, the guitarist studied BB's style and mastered many of his signature licks. At last the day of the audition came around and he was able to play with BB King-inspired passion...

He didn't get the gig.

Distraught he inquired why and was told that Van Morrison had thought that he sounded too much like BB King !

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Van the (nice) Man 2

In addition to having considerable artistic mystique, Van Morrison has always had a fearsome ruputation as a live performer.

The town where I used to live in Herefordshire for many years used to run an arts festival that always booked Van as one of the headline acts. One year my then girlfriend and I decided to buy tickets to see him...

Van was doing two shows that evening and we had tickets for the second show. There was an noticable air of excitement amongst the audience as we finally filed into the large marquee. Aside from seeing a living legend live there was also the possibility we might witness some superstar temper-tantrum pyrotechnics !

The evening in fact turned out quite differently - Van was in a great mood, obviously enjoying his singing and even chatting with the audience between songs.

Finally he came to the front of the stage and asked if anyone had any requests. He then proceeded to sing the tunes we asked to hear!

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A Lifeline for Vinnie

Vinnie Colaiuta is in my opinion the greatest living drummer on the planet. I am an enormous fan of his work.

He and I have some 'history'...

I took my son Tim (a drummer) to see Vinnie live at a drum show in Glasgow in the mid nineties...

Vinnie explained he had just spent the past month programming drums on a computer, for Sting's new album - a bit like freakin' asking Van Gogh or Matisse to paint your garden fence IMHO.

He apologised in advance for being 'rusty'.

He then sat down at his beautifully tuned custom black Yamaha kit and proceeded to play an outstanding solo improv for about 30 mins or so, leaving the entire audience spellbound.

When the applause finally died down he came to the front of the stage, lit a cigarette and asked if anyone had any questions...

There was a long pregnant, embarrassing silence, not one of the 500 plus drummers present would dare say a word.

So I (a freakin' guitar player) thought I'd throw the poor guy a lifeline...

'So Vinnie, where do you see drumming going over the next 20 years ?', I asked.

Vinnie drags on his cigarette and thinks for a moment, 'I dunno. Next question...'

At this point 500 plus drummers are all turning in their seats to get a look at the dumb asshole who had asked Vinnie the stupid question...

(me !!!)

Never again - last time I try to help a room full of drummers get along : )

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Funny how THEY always get PAID...

Some years ago I was involved in an independent lable. Bringing in several artists I'd previously worked with and my studio/production skills (or the lack of them !) was my side of the deal.

A partner invested around $ 50,000.00 (it was a SMALL indie alright !!!).

After nearly 2 years of effort I was shown a breakdown detailing how around $ 40,000.00 of the original investment had been spent. I was shocked, the only expenditure on the creative aspects of the project was $ 1,600.00 in session fees paid to musicians.

Of course the book keeper/accountant/part-time office coordinators etc. etc. all got paid !

That said being the producer was still the COOLEST job and will always be so...

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Main Pic (C) 2011 Russell Lewis Photography - used by permission