Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Busy Signal... Busy Signal... Busy Signal

From the Editor:

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. Truth is that I have just been too darned busy: as my chops strength has improved, I'm practicing more... sometimes 3 hours per day or more. I'm getting ready for my first solo gig in more that 20 years. It's a private party this coming Sunday.

I've had a few visits from Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo which will interest my readers. I just need to get them straight in my head and write them down, and write them down, I shall --- chiseled, as it were, by my keyboard in the digital stone of the internet. Until then, please be patient.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sorry, my bad...

From the Editor:

Sorry, oh faithful readers, that I haven't posted anything new in a few days. I've been practicing my butt off (Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo should be pleased), working on my website, and etc.

The "etc." part is the time consuming one... The necessity of handling the nuts and bolts of life can, and does, drive me nuts and makes me want to bolt for the horizon. Still, I have some news-nuggets to pass on...

My beloved wife, Ann, had to bolt for California: my stepdaughter gave birth to a pair of twins. I sometimes wonder why everyone says "a pair of twins". Isn't it implicate? At any rate, they are Hannah and Joshua, identical in every way except that one is a girl, one is a boy, and they don't look anything like each other. Fortunately, Ann bought some flight insurance which allowed her to change her flight when the doctor decided to do a C-Section a couple weeks early, otherwise we would have had to eat the $700 she originally paid for the ticket. Unfortunately, the first-flight-out-tomorrow ticket cost a whopping $2,200!! What are you going to do? It's not every day your daughter has twins. This makes six grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Yikes!

I found a website that may be of interest to you musicians. It's called Musician's, and it has to do with curing or preventing typical physical ailments suffered by stringed instrument musicians, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, "trigger" finger, etc. The website offers stretches and exercises which will help ward off such conditions and injuries. The website is authored by Dr. Jameson, who specializes in musician medicine.

And speaking of doctors, last Friday I had to go in for some minor surgery: I am prone to skin cancer, having spent all those Navy years performing out in the sun. Every six months or so, I have to go to the doctor and get a new crop of blemishes frozen off or cut out. Newsworthy for guitarists, is that while I was at the dermatologist I asked about dietary supplements to help strengthen fingernails. I use the fingernails of my right hand more than I used to now that I'm playing more classical guitar. Guitarists and ladies (and some guys) will be interested to know that the doctor recommended a supplement called Elon Matrix. It's a non-prescription once-per-day pill which can be had for around $15 for 60 pills. Just Google it.

Also, thanks to Steve Abshire who gave me the contact information, Gene Bertoncini has agreed to give me a lesson. I will be flying to Washington D.C. in late September to attend the interment of MUCS Tracy Ford's ashes (see earlier posts) at Arlington. During that trip, I will be taking a side trip to NYC to meet with Mr. Bertoncini. To say that I am looking forward to it is the understatement of the year! It will be a rare opportunity for me to pick his brain concerning arranging for solo guitar.

Speaking of solo guitar, I am working hard at learning a solo guitar repertoire of arrangements by Gene Bertoncini, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, and Joe Pass, as well as my own arrangements. My goal is to be able to perform solo (in coffee houses, jazz restaurants, etc.) in the Springfield, MO area. Oh yes, and I will be doing some wedding ceremonies --- not receptions (in line with my "no more crap" philosophy). By the way, any of you guitarists who want to hear and see some absolutely amazing stuff, check out Gene's YouTube page (link in sidebar).

Lastly, my Taylor ES72CE classical guitar arrived. It is a beautiful instrument and, with the lower action, easy to play even with harder tension strings. Speaking of the guitar, I'd best get back to practicing.

More news later...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tommy Tedesco's "Oud"

From the Editor:

After posting yesterday's episode, "Tedesco the Younger", I remembered a funny story Herb Ellis told us about Tommy Tedesco, renowned jazz guitarist and pretty much first call session guitarist in LA for many years. Herb told us that Tommy could sight read just about anything that anyone threw at him during a recording gig. Herb's story illustrates it in a humorous way:

Herb said that he and Tedesco were on a recording session for some sort of soundtrack. Herb told us that he (Herb) could read music pretty well, unlike many guitarists (including yours truly), but that Tommy could read the proverbial "fly s**t" on manuscript paper -- on many instruments. In fact, since Tommy sometimes had no idea what he would be called upon to sight read at some recording gigs, he had an employee drive a truck load of equipment to every gig: different types of guitars, banjos, mandolins, etc., so that he could unload just the right instrument for the session.

So at this particular gig, Herb was to play guitar while Tommy was to play an "Oud", a middle-eastern cousin of the lute which typically has 11 strings and no frets (to see an "Oud", click here). Tommy didn't own an Oud, nor did he have any idea what one was. He asked someone in charge what an Oud sounded like, and was told that it was kind of a twangy, buzzy sound, so he decided to use an acoustic guitar but detune it a few steps to approximate the sound.

The Oud has many different tuning systems and has no frets in order that an Oudist can play the microtonal scales of the "Maqam system", whatever that is... According to Herb, even though Tommy had a detuned guitar, he was able to successfully sight-read the score by sight-transposing the entire thing in his head. Now that's some sight-reading chops!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tedesco the Younger

This morning I got the fright of my life!

I was peacefully waking up, sipping my coffee and planning my practice day. I was curious -- but not too curious -- as to why it had been more than a week since I'd seen Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo. I glanced at my coffee mug and thought for a second that I saw something in it. "Darn mosquitoes!" I said, "Where are the bats when I need them?"

I wasn't speaking figuratively. We have a few bats living in the ceiling of our garage. We called a company called Critter Control about them because we wanted the bats to be dealt with humanely, and that's what Critter Control does. Their man came out and checked out our house, telling us that in late August, after the baby bats have flown the "coop", he can install some cone-like affairs which will allow the bats to fly out, but not allow them to fly back in.

Anyway, so I said, "Where are the bats when I need them?" and swirled the coffee in my mug, trying to see what, if anything, was in there. To my fright and surprise, a head popped out! Startled, I spilled some coffee on the floor. For a moment, I thought it was a bat, but upon closer examination, it turned out to be the tiny head of... you guessed it... Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo!

With a pop, the tiny Dracrevocsid, disappeared from the coffee mug and appeared full-sized next to me on the couch. In the process, the displaced coffee in the mug caved in on the now empty space once occupied by Dracrevocsid, and splashed in my face.

"Gotcha!" she said, dripping coffee on my couch, "I just love that joke! It always gets 'em." I took it that by "'em" she meant mere mortals like me. "Well, thank you very much," I said, "A fine way to wake me up. You should go into show biz. They need people like you in Las Vegas!" "Don't insult me," she said, "I am not a 'people'! I am a magical-mystical-musical being!" "Anyway," I said, "I was just, uh... lamenting over the fact that I hadn't seen you in over a week." "And don't patronize me," she retorted, "I get enough of that whenever I talk to the Wood-Sprites about selling me a new guitar to give to one of my clients! I can't, for the eternal life of me, figure out why they suck up to me. I mean it's not like I'm going to buy a guitar from Manny's Music in New York!"

"Actually," I sincerely lamented, "it looks like nobody is going to buy a guitar from Manny's Music anymore." And it's true. Another New York jazz shrine closes and waits for the wrecking ball. I read in the news that Manny's and other shops on the 42nd Street "Music Row" are, or will be, closing. NYC suits are buying up the property to knock down and put up another skyscraper! Just what NYC needs: another skyscraper! It's a pity. Manny's is where I bought my first "serious" guitar, a Gibson L-5, back in 1973. Manny's was bought out by Guitar Center years ago. Now all the employees there will be transferred to other Guitar Center stores in NY and New Jersey.

"Wow!" said Dracrevocsid, mostly dry now, but taking the moment to wring some coffee on my living room floor from her frock, "That is bad news. But the good news is that I've come to bestow upon you another gift! And another task to perform." "I don't know," I said, "The last couple 'gifts' you've brought me have been more like tasks to perform, and the 'tasks' you've given me sounded, well... sounded closer to being threats! And I've been meaning to ask you: where's this student apprentice you promised me?" She replied, "All in good time. Patience, young padawan. Patience is the Jedi way. Impatience can only lead to the 'Dark Side'." I stared blankly at her, so she went on, "That last part was a joke! How come nobody gets my sense of humor? However, I want you to know that I have noticed your efforts of late and, as you have been working very hard, I didn't think it necessary to pop in on you to give you any instruction (which has enabled me to spend some time with my other clients). I have also seen that you have been paying quite a lot of attention to playing your classical guitar (what is its name?) and working on learning Gene Bertoncini's harmonic style."

And it's true: I have been playing a lot of jazz on my classical Yamaha CGX171CCA guitar, and beginning to learn Gene Bertoncini's (link in side-bar) style of playing. I bought a DVD put out by Mel Bay company named Gene Bertoncini: the Art of Solo Jazz Guitar. Steve Abshire (link in side-bar) sent me Gene's cd Body and Soul, plus a few recordings with Steve and Gene playing together! Man, what a fortunate guitarist Steve is (and he sounds great on the recordings). Bertoncini's music has opened up an entirely new world for me! Particularly in the area of arranging for the guitar. He does things on the classical guitar which some of his harmonies have been in my head for a long time and I am learning an encyclopedia of new ones. I hope to be able to travel to NYC this fall to hear and see Gene play and, if I am very lucky, to get a lesson from him. I am in the process of working up a repertoire for the guitar which I can play solo. Very handy around here where there is a lack, practically speaking, of jazz bassists and drummers (the really good ones are playing 6 - 10 shows a week in Branson and have little chops or time to play other gigs). I would like to add the classical guitar to my arsenal: in my head, some tunes just sound right on electric while others sound right on classical guitar.

"But enough wool-gathering!" said Dracrevocsid, "and I know what you mean about Mr. Bertoncini. I listen to him a lot, although I must say (giggling) that when he plays a jazz club and I hide in someone's drink, the alcohol makes me a bit tipsy! However, as I said, I have come to bestow upon you, a gift! I bring... will bring to you a Taylor NS72CE classical guitar which you shall address as 'Tedesco!'"

"Tedesco?!!" I said, "Kind of a weird name for a guitar although, now that I think about it, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was a rather famous composer and performer of classical guitar, while Tommy Tedesco was a renowned jazz performer and session player (recordings you've heard: themes to Bonanza, Green Acres, and M*A*S*H, to name a few), so I guess the name does make sense after all. But see here, I've already got a classical guitar, and it's a special one because my wife Ann bought it for me."

"Oh, it's a fine guitar," she said apologetically, "And it does have some mojo on it, but it doesn't have the resonance and projection that my guitar will have, not to mention some of my magic. It will be a Taylor NS72CE ... top of the line Taylor. And I find I must apologize (not an easy thing for a Lady of a Lake to do) for the fact that it's been back-ordered." "'Back-ordered?' From Taylor??" I interjected, "I thought all your guitars were made by Wood Elves in their... I don't know... forest shop or something. What's this talk about Taylor?"

"Well, in the first place," she replied, "It's Wood-Sprites who make them. In the second place, they do make them in their workshop, but the Ladies of other Lakes have placed so many orders lately, partly due to your blog thingy, that they have run out of room in the workshop and have had to contract out with Taylor and other production guitar manufacturers for space in their workshops.Taylor , being the large and powerful company it is, agreed to let the Wood-Sprites work there, and allowed them to put as much magic as they would like on their guitars, but that they must use Taylor materials and put their logo on them. An untenable position, to say the least, but, hey, what are ya gonna do? The Master Luthiers all tell us that there will be a year or two lead-time through them, so it's either work with the manufacturers, or lose part of our client's market share. Even so, the Wood-Sprites have had to back order some guitars.

"Well..." she announced, glancing at her Rolex, pulling out her wand and preparing to disappear, "Time is money and I've got to trot. It's been nice giving you the... doing business with you..." "Wait a minute!" I interrupted, "When am I going to get this new guitar? And anyway, I'll then have two classical guitars. How shall I know how to address them?" "Cute!" she said, "Very funny. Okay then. At the Lake Ladies Orientation Course they told us to 'go with the flow' whenever possible concerning dealing with mere mortals: trust me, it just makes it easier. So you shall address the guitar you already have as 'Tedesco the Elder', and the new one as 'Tedesco the Younger'."

I thought to myself, "Geez, but I've got a lot of work to do, and somewhere in there I have to get my truck repaired from the hail damage..." "Oh, that..." she said, "I meant to tell you about that: I was running low on coin, so I had to 'borrow' that truck repair money from your bank account to pay for the guitar." "Mighty fine time to tell me about that! Anything else I can do for you? Need a loan? Would you like me to make some sandwiches for you to take with you?"

"Hilarious!" she said, "If this guitarist thing doesn't work out for you, you'll have a great career in comedy. Now get off your keister and go practice!" And with that, she disappeared.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sad News re: MUCS Tracy Ford, Part 2

I've received information that MUCS Tracy Ford's interment will take place at 1300 on September 24, 2010 at Arlington in Wasington, DC. The Naval Academy Band will play honors (far right in pix).

I intend to travel to DC to attend the ceremony. Most likely, I'll be driving since I want to take my guitar to take a lesson with Rick Whitehead (Airmen of Note alum.) while I'm there, and I'm hoping that some other playing opportunities will come up.

I encourage the members of the Sixth Fleet Band, and any others who knew Tracy to attend. She was one fine vocalist and sailor.

If you'd like more information, contact me at and I'll tell you all I know.

Best, John Derby

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Mistake of Case Identity

Back in the day... I mean way back in the day -- cases of mistaken identity were considered to be high humor by playwrights... in fact cases of mistaken identity are still considered very funny. Mistaken identity is kind of hard to make funny in a book: in order to milk the most out of the joke, the intended audience has to be able to see the obvious that the characters miss!

Shakespeare used this device in several of his plays: Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer's Night Dream, and Comedy of Errors, for instance. Rossini, Bizet, and Gilbert & Sullivan used it in opera. Alfred Hitchcock used it in North By Northwest. There's even a semi-famous episode in the sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

I'll admit that I've had a few yucks over these and other cases of mistaken identity, but what about a "mistake of case identity", i.e. mistakes on the type of case that will hold my Les Paul Supreme, a.k.a. Axecalibur? Not so durn funny!

First, we ordered the Gator flight case designed for Les Pauls... Didn't fit! We sent it back (they charged me shipping for the return to the warehouse) and ordered the SKB flight case specifically molded for the Les Paul. Also didn't fit!! You see, the problem is that the Les Paul Supreme is just a bit thicker through the body than --- ALL the other Les Pauls! That's right: the Les Paul Supreme is the only LP model Gibson makes that is a hollow-body (meaning there is airspace between the front and back of the guitar), whereas all the other Les Pauls are solid wood throughout. The hollow-body construction makes it perfect for being an all-around guitar which can play a variety of styles, including especially jazz, which requires a warmer tone. But using either of those cases would have caused big problems if I had followed my usual faster-than-light snap decisions personality and leaped before looking. Due to the thickness of the body, it would have left about 1/2" space between the back of the neck and the neck rests. If I had used it, it would have caused the neck to warp. Bad news for me, not only because it would ruin a really nice guitar, but also because Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo, would have doubtless turned me into a cockroach... or maybe even something worse: a liberal!


So now I have a problem: the case that came with the guitar (albeit a good one) is not flight-worthy. So if I go to D.C. to attend Tracy Ford's interment at Arlington in the early fall, I had planned to take my guitar to get a lesson from Rick Whitehead. Since I can't take my guitar on the airplane, I'll either have to fly without the guitar or... (scary music)... drive! These old bones don't think I can drive that far, even if I take a friend to help with the driving. So now I have decisions to make. And I don't like either choice. Aaargh!

In other news, practice is going well for my recital. I'll be playing arrangements by Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Gene Bertoncini, and Bob Roetker, as well as a couple of my own. I've been concentrating on the classical guitar pieces for the last few days. I need to transcribe them from recordings and get to work on them as they will take the most practice time to get under my fingers.

Speaking of that, I can almost feel Dracrevocsid breathing down the back of my neck. I'd better get to practicing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Operation Artistic Freedom

"Wake up, you maggot!" someone yelled. "Get your sorry [butt] out of your rack and turn to!!" yelled a familiar voice. "You've got exactly sixty seconds to get dressed, get downstairs and make me a cup of joe, recruit, or I'll make you wish you never were born!!!" yelled Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo.

I ran downstairs and made a pot of coffee while trying to figure out what in tarnation was going on. She yelled, "Get your feet on the marks, recruit, before I turn you into the worm you are!" I asked, "What marks?". "What!?" she yelled loudly. "I mean 'Sir, what marks, sir?'" "What, what!!?" she yelled even louder. "Sorry. I mean 'Ma'am, what marks, Ma'am?" She bellowed "What, what, WHAT!!?" making the dinner plates rattle on the shelves. I thought for a second, and asked, "Lady, what marks, Lady?" "That's better!" she yelled, whereupon she whupped out her wand and made two bright red feet-like silhouettes appear magically on the floor. "Those marks!" she yelled, indicating that I should stand on them, "And stand at attention!"

I couldn't help but notice that in addition to her not-much-left-to-the-imagination attire, she was wearing a Drill Sergeant's hat which perched on her head like a bird of prey, leaning forward and ready to pounce at the least provocation. I stood at attention. The only sound was the gurgling of the coffee pot. I was painfully aware that with a flick of her wand, she could turn me into something nasty if she took a mind to. Silently, she got a cup of coffee and sipped it while walking slowly around me. She looked me up and down, squinting as though she were looking at a bacteria through a microscope.

After a time, I said, "Lady, please, Lady..." I said, "All this yelling is going to wake up my wife." She replied, "Fear not, recruit! I have cast a spell upon her so that she will not hear us. Wouldn't do to have civilians interfering with musical-magical-military business!" "Forgive me, your Ladyness," I said, "I should have thought that you'd already taken care of that. But please... tell me what's going on. I haven't seen you since just after the NMA Reunion and I kinda thought you'd disappeared for good."

"What's going on, recruit, is that you are getting soft! Great Sousa's Ghost!! I give you a few day's R & R and you think I've gone for good!? Not on your harmonic device! All that went before was merely Phase One of this operation. Now get me your guitar!" which I did, wondering what this talk of "operations" was all about. I brought her Axecalibur and she yelled "Not that guitar, maggot... the one you've been playing the last few days!" So I went back to get my classical guitar, returned to my marks and held it at, uh... Present Guitar, I guess. "Hmm..." she said, closely examining my guitar, "I see that you've restrung it... and polished it! Good! Remember, recruit, that your life depends on these instruments!" whereupon she handed it back to me.

I remember having had to march, carrying a bass drum, from the Naval Academy Chapel, over to the stadium (a couple of miles, I think) and stand at attention while all the Midshipmen marched onto the field for the opening ceremonies prior to a football game. Standing there, my legs would lock up and get very stiff. When we began marching again, the first few steps were pretty excruciating. Now, in my kitchen, my old bones felt the same way without the "benefit" of the marching.

"Your Ladyness," I said, "what is this 'operation' of which you speak?" "I bring you another gift," she yelled, "'I call it... 'Operation Artistic Freedom'!" She went on to explain that "Operation Artistic Freedom", of which I was now beginning Phase Two, will be a rigorous program of organization and practice, both on the guitar and on the computer. She said I would be required to work up repertoire for a solo guitar recital and to commit the arrangements to paper on my Finale program. She said -- yelled, actually -- that this recital would be 30 to 40 minutes in length, and consist of arrangements of my own choosing (either my own or by others). She also told me that I must be the only person on stage but that I may use computer accompaniment in addition to performing some pieces solo and that I must use both my Yamaha classical guitar and Axecalibur, the Les Paul Supreme. Oh yes, and she said I must report back to her at "0-'leven-hundred hours" -- personally, I think she just threw that in for effect.

She continued yelling, "I expect you to schedule this recital at a venue of your choice for September or October of this year! I suggest you pursue utilizing the chapel at the VA Clinic and Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, as the civilians out there have done much for you, however the choice is up to you! You may consult with other guitarists, if you so desire, as long as none of them perform with you! For instance, I've spoken to Rick Whitehead who, I'm sure you are aware, was guitarist and leader of the Air Force stage band Airmen of Note, and he is willing to give you a lesson if you can travel to the Washington D.C. area!"

"NOW...," she bellowed, making the dishes rattle again and causing the neighborhood dogs to bark, "Do you understand these orders as I have given them to you???!!" Trembling, I indicated that I did. "Good...!!" she thundered, "Now PROMULGATE them!!!"

With that, she disappeared, as did the foot marks, with a loud (and impressive, I must say) "wooshing" sound, leaving me alone in my kitchen to consider my next, uh... evolution.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Rags to Polka Riches in America

It's been a quiet 4th of July for us. We went to church this morning. I wore my NMA t-shirt because it has an American flag on the back. Several other members of our little country church wore patriotic shirts, too. After church I took a nap: I'm still getting over exhaustion from the NMA Reunion road trip. Now we're watching patriotic movies. Movies like Rambo II and the Shmenge Brother's The Last Polka.

What could be more American than Rambo II, when "Sly" kicks some Viet Nam butt to free some of the American servicemen who we all know were left behind. I just wish the movie was based on fact... that someone(s) actually did go in there to free the captives.

On a much lighter note, what, I ask you, could be more American than the Shmenge brothers, Yosh and Stan? Here are two musicians from Lutonia who came to America with nothing but the clothes on their backs, a set of professional Gelkes (pickle jars), a Clarinet, and an Accordion. They had nothing but a dream... a dream to bring their own inimitable style of music to the polka-starved masses of the United States.

After watching Rambo II, I dug out my old phone book and decided to try calling Yosh Shmenge. I hadn't seen him in years. Since the Shmenge brothers retirement in the 80's they dropped off the musical map. Luckily, Yosh still had the same phone number and was happy to hear from me. After some small talk and catching up on family news, my old friend consented to a phone interview exclusively for the avid and faithful readers of my blog:

JOHN: Yosh... It's so good to talk to you again. The musical world lost two gems in its crown when you and Stan retired. What have you two been up to for the past twenty-five or so years?

YOSH: No comment... (laughing) No, I'm only kidding. You know, it's our old joke, Stan and I, to say "no comment" when the media ask us a question. But seriously, we have been enjoying our families... uh, enjoying spending time with our families and... Well you know, we stay busy. Fishing. We go fishing a lot.

JOHN: Do you ever miss the old days? The fame? The girls?

YOSH: Sure... sure, we miss the old days playing music, you know. The fame? We never did what we did for fame or money. Of course the money was nice. Let's be honest. But the money is not the whole thing, you know. It's the music. The Polka music!

JOHN: And the girls? How about the girls?

YOSH: (laughing) No... no... no, we don't miss the girls. There really weren't any girls. Those rumors about us and the Lemon Twins... they were just rumors. Bad rumors. They upset our wives. Of course, the publicity... now that was good. You know, in show business they always say that there is no such thing as "bad" publicity. In fact, we sold a lot of records because of it. I don't know who would start such a rumor. Some people in the business, you know, other polka artists, said that the rumors were started by Stan and myself. But why would we do such a thing?

JOHN: Well, we're not trying to dredge up old rumors, but it sure would be good to smash it once and for all.

YOSH: Well, I can categorically say that the Lemon Twins were never in my hotel rooms at the same time! After that, all I can say is "no comment".

JOHN: So how is your Independence Day going. Are you having fun?

YOSH: Sure, sure... We are having the fun. My wife made Raisin Surprise Balls this morning and, lucky me, I found a raisin in one of them! We had some left-over Cabbage Rolls for breakfast. Stan and his family are going to come over later for a barbecue.

JOHN: Really? What will you cook?

YOSH: More Cabbage Rolls. And then after dark we'll light some fireworks. I bought some from a friend. Oh, I know what you are thinking: it's not legal here. Well all I can say is that it helps knowing the police chief, Mark Kasprzak, he's a good friend of mine, and not a bad Gelke player in his own right. Don't tell anyone, but Stan and I are planning a surprise for the families: We still have our old Michael Jackson costumes and light sabers. We're going to give them a laser light show.

JOHN: Sounds like fun. I wish I could be there. But let me ask you...

YOSH: Sorry to cut you off, but I just wanted to say something.

JOHN: Sure. Go ahead.

YOSH: Well, it being Independence Day. Stan and myself. We know we're not originally from America. We are from Lutonia. We have the dual citizenship, so I guess that means that we are half American and half Lutonian. Either that or one of us is all American and the other is all Lutonian (laughing). But how would we decide who is which? But seriously, we were just two poor Lutonian boys when we came here. Now look at us! We have lived our dreams. And that's the best thing about America, isn't it? Whatever your dream is, you can have the freedom to work for it. And, with a little bit of luck, you can make your dreams come true. America was founded by immigrants, wasn't it. I think there should be a way for people like us to come to America. Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about the people who have political or financial reasons for immigrating. I'm talking about people like Stan and me... people who want to live the American dream.

JOHN: Thank you Yosh. I think that's the way we all feel, but it's good to hear it.

YOSH: And I would also like to say that during World War II, when the Nazis invaded Lutonia (they wanted our Gelkes, pickle jars, as there was a shortage in Germany), they almost wiped out Lutonia. Think about it: without Lutonia, there would be no cabbage; no Raisin Surprise Balls; no Gelke playing and, by the way, no Yosh and Stan Shmenge. So I would like to say thanks, and I know I am speaking for Stan, the Lemon Twins and the entire Happy Wanderers Band, too, when I say this... I would like to say thanks to all the American servicemen and women who fought in all the wars so that poor countries like Lutonia could be free.

JOHN: Thanks very much, Yosh, for that statement. As a retired Navy Musician, I...

YOSH: Oh, I don't want to forget the musicians. Being Lutonians, we can appreciate the musicians maybe more than many Americans, the music being a large part of our heritage... that and cabbage... But the musicians work hard and work even harder when there is a war. It's the musicians who keep the morale up when the war is happening, both at home and on the battlefronts. You were asking what I've been doing since retirement?

JOHN: Yes. I think my readers would like to know.

YOSH: Well, part of what I've been doing is to study the American history for my citizenship, you know. And I read that even back in the Civil War the musicians went with the troops to help with the morale. The soldiers... they had nothing! No Raisin Surprise Balls, no cabbage rolls, nothing. But they did have music to keep their spirits up. I read that at night, after the battles, the bands would entertain the troops. Sometimes the bands from both sides would entertain the other troops!

JOHN: Really?

YOSH: Yes, it's true. Look it up in the history books. There was this one time when the Confederate band had a very good coronet player. I would not be surprised to find out that he was Polish: they almost always make the best brass players. Anyway, the Union soldiers could hear him playing from the Union camp. The Union and Confederate bands would take turns playing tunes. It was like the battle of the bands, you know. And one night the trumpet player didn't play. The Union soldiers yelled, "Hey, Johnnie! We want to hear that coronet!" The Confederates replied, "He's afraid you'll ruin his horn." So they called a truce for a concert. Now that's what I call making peace!

JOHN: That's an incredible story. You say it's true?

YOSH: Yes. It's true. Look it up for yourself. Anyway, I got to go now, but I didn't want to go without first saying the thanks to America. Stan and his family will be here any minute...

JOHN: What's that loud crackling sound I hear?

YOSH: Oh... That's just the barbecue grill. It needs a little tending. Boy, those things get hot very fast!

JOHN: One more question before you go... Your records are still selling like hotcakes. You and Stan have become sort of cult icons, so to speak. Any chance that the two of you will come out of retirement?

YOSH: Well, I don't know about the "cult" thing... We gave it some thought, but in the end it turned out to be too expensive. About whether or not we will come out of retirement? All I can say is (laughing)... No comment!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Gene Bertoncini

It's not very often that I tell people to run right out and by a CD. In fact, the last time I said that was the first time I heard Quincy Jones Back on the Block about 20 years ago (if you don't have Quincy's CD, run right out...). Gene Bertoncini's Body and Soul is just such a CD! It, and other CDs are available through Amazon.

Back on the Block has just about everything going for it. Great arrangements by Quincy, George Benson, Miles, Take 6, the list goes on and on. A huge undertaking with a gazillion fantastic musicians! Gene Bertoncini's Body and Soul has... just him. Just Gene playing a nylon string guitar, but somehow it is no less amazing.

There are approximately 10 to the 11th power of stars in our galaxy. That's the number 10 followed by 11 zeroes. I whupped out my scientific calculator and, if I remembered the formula correctly, there are approximately 4.61 times 10 to the 18th power possible combinations of notes on a guitar. Yes, that's the digits 461 followed by 16 zeroes or the number:


Herb Ellis used to tease Charlie Byrd about his "cowboy chords". Still, Charlie, another master of the classical (nylon string) guitar, did alright for himself and is truly worthy of recognition as an all-time great. Gene Bertoncini uses incredible harmonies. Incredible "I wish I'd thought of that" harmonies that, owing to the guitar's user-friendly overtone structure, he can get away with nicely. Truly, if you tried the same harmonies with 6 saxophones, you'd get a mind-bending migraine after just a few minutes.

Special thanks goes to Steve Abshire (link in side bar) for introducing me to this genius' work. Gene has several CDs available. Gonna buy 'em today. Plus he has a book or two and an instructional video put out by Mel Bay. Gonna buy them, too. Don't waste any time. Buy them. Your ears will thank you.

"Who Moved My Chops?" Goes Mainline

From the Editor:

Hmm... Maybe I meant "mainstream" instead of "mainline". Anyway, up until now, my blog has centered around getting my chops back for the NMA Reunion. Now, with the reunion over and the next one a year away, "Who Moved My Chops?" will still be about getting my chops back and expanding my musical abilities, but now will chronicle my search for the perfect gig, the perfect student, etc. Along with that will come music and Navy news, reviews of CDs, concerts, local groups worthy of national recognition (yes, there are a few such groups in the Ozarks), sheet music, etc. Also, whatever meager philosophies I have and yahdee-yahdee-yah!

Yes, the fun never ends at "Who Moved My Chops?"

So check back often. There will usually be something new. Better yet, join FaceBook and request to be my friend: you'll receive a notification every time I post something new.

Friday, July 2, 2010

I Should Be Committed

Yes, I should be committed. It's what people tell me all the time. Well, this time, it seems as though I am committed. Committed to attending the next NMA Reunion in Virginia Beach, that is.

Yes, I had so much fun in San Antonio this year that I really want to go next year. Troubling me was the fact that it's going to be in Virginia Beach: too far for me to drive. So the problem was how to get my guitar there undamaged.

Herb Ellis flew all the time and he seldom had trouble with his guitar getting all busted up. He had a pretty nice case, but it was one of those regular shaped guitar cases instead of an Anvil type case. I'm frankly surprised that he didn't have any more trouble than he did, with airline gorillas tossing his guitar from monkey to monkey.

I guess I'm just a "glass half empty" sort of guy, but I automatically assume that the gorillas are just waiting for my guitar (maybe even have a flyer on their bulletin board warning them to be on the lookout for it) so that they can use it for gorilla games, games such as "Lawn Case", tarmac "Case Curling" and "Case Hockey" using the wheels of moving aircraft for goals. So I just can't imagine sending my guitar flying in less than the best case.

Since the good ol' VA has been dumping money on me lately (having recently been re-rated at a higher disability percentage), money I didn't know I had coming to me, I decided to spring for a flight case. I recall that around 1978, I sold my Gibson L-5 guitar in order to buy a flight case for my solid body (I'm still kicking myself in the butt for that one) and, amazingly, the price hasn't gone up much at all since then.

Back in the 70's an Anvil case, the only ones available, cost me around $250. The SKB case pictured (guitar not included) was only $249 the other day. In fact, there are a wide variety of flight cases available through Musician's Friend and other online stores for saxes, trumpets and other instruments with and without wheels, backpack style, hard shell under-the-aircraft styles, etc. that can be had for between $100 - $200. If you've got to fly to Virginia Beach next year, it might be well worth saving your nickels and dimes for the purchase of such a case.

I've always envied the flute/piccolo players and clarinet players who can pack their axes in a briefcase. My road/flight case is doubtless going to be a lot heavier, but it will protect Axecalibur from the airline gorillas and get it there safely. That's a good thing. Wouldn't do to piss off Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo, who gave it to me... (see earlier posts) As George H.W. Bush would say, "Wouldn't be prudent at this juncture".

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Yellow Roads of Texas

Can you spot the sign for the Doubletree Hotel? It's in there, you just have to look hard. I know it's difficult, but I'll bet you could do it if you felt like you were going to die of heat exhaustion. Man! San Antonio was hotter than a Cuban Salsa.

The trouble with the streets of San Antonio is --- well, look at that mess! It's even worse than it looks! The trouble with the streets there is that they all go one way --- the wrong way.

If you get off the freeway --- well, to begin with, you have to know where you are getting off beforehand. If you wait until you see, for instance, a Walmart, you've missed the exit you needed to take, and you can't get back there!!! You have to get off the freeway 2 or 3 miles down the road and the streets won't let you get back to where you wanted to go.

I am convinced that Texas roads are designed to make sure visitors never come back.

In the picture you can see the hotel and the roads. We were returning to the hotel and could see the hotel --- but we couldn't get there!! It was maddening! We finally got within 2 blocks of the Doubletree and could see the sign over the top of the Hobby Lobby which was more or less just across the street from the Doubletree --- or so we thought. We spent an additional 20 minutes or so going this way and that until we found our way back to the frontage road about half a mile from the hotel. And when we were leaving San Antonio, we could see the highway we were supposed to take... several times, but couldn't get there! We got on and off the highway several times in both directions, but still couldn't get there. Finally, we had to get off the highway, go 4 or 5 miles down the frontage row, turn around and get back on the highway in order to take the right exit.

I'm sure glad to be back home where there is only one road in and out of town.

Home At Last

This morning I was sleeping peacefully, visions of sugar-plums dancing in my head, when I heard a voice say, "Wake up. Wake up, you sleepy head. Get up. Get up. Get out of bed". I opened one eye and, of course, the voice belonged to Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo. So I went downstairs to make some coffee, followed by Dracrevocsid going "Shhh! Shhh! You'll wake her up!" all the way down. "You 'shh'," I said, "You sound like a trumpet player blowing his spit-valve.

We got downstairs and, after the coffee was ready and we'd both drank a cup, I asked, "Long time, no see. What words of wisdom do you have for me this morning, oh Lady of Lake Taneycomo?" She replied, "I can't get started. I could write a book... " I said, "It must be a pretty good gig... I mean just going around giving everyone advice and then splitting. It reminds me of that gig I used to have delivering singing telegrams: going to parties, busting everything up and then cutting out! Why, I remember this one time when..." She nodded and interrupted with, "Yes, yes... I'm sure it's all very interesting. But why is it that you mortals always seem to think the 'song' is you? Concerning my gig as Lady of a Lake, it's nice work if you can get it, but believe me when I say that it's not all lollipops and roses. Once you become a Lady of a Lake, the party's over! All that youthful frolicking? It don't mean a thing! If I knew then what I know now... Oy... I could write a book!"

I didn't mean to cut her off --- well, actually, I did mean to cut her off --- but I asked her what the purpose of this morning's visit was. I mean, I hadn't yet got over my case of "road lag". And I was beginning to see a pattern: I asked her if everything she was going to say to me this morning was going to have a song title in it? "... You seem to have like 'theme days'... Sometimes you make bad puns. Other days you speak in Chaucerian English..." She broke in, saying, "Am I not a Lady of a Lake??" I told her that was my point, exactly, and I asked her again if today was yet another theme day. "Maybe... Maybe not! Don't blame me. As Lady of Lake Taneycomo, I don't get around much anymore. Anyway," she went on, "no matter how I say things, I always speak to you about important things.

"What's important, you may ask? Obviously, music! And anyway, you've got me all jazzy feeling with all that music which was being played at the NMA Reunion." "You were there?" I asked, incredulous, "I thought I'd given you the slip... I mean I'm surprised you could break yourself away from your other duties, oh Lady of the Lake. I never saw you there! How did you find me?"

"Well, it wasn't easy to find you, no thanks to you!" she said. "I left you a note..." "It said 'Gone to San Antonio'... nothing more! Do you have any idea how many hotels there are in San Antonio? Well, there are a lot. And they kept throwing me out of the lobbies, saying I wasn't appropriately dressed! Imagine!" I said, "You've got to admit that your attire... well let's just say it doesn't leave much to the imagination. And anyway, how did you get down there?" "Imagination??!!" she said apparently ignoring my question, "I wasn't aware that you mortals had any of that! I often have an extremely hard time convincing musicians, especially drunken Navy musicians, that I'm not just a chemically induced hallucination. How did I get down there? A friend suggested... (You have a 'friend'? I interjected) Don't be a smart-ass! Of course I have a friend. My friend, of which I have many," she said over the top of her glasses as though daring me to object, "suggested that I take the 'A' train. (and she explained in response to my look of disbelief) It's a magical train, a lot like the one that travels to Hogwarts. It can take us Ladies of Various Lakes and other magical, mystical, musical beings literally anywhere we desire.

"So I took the 'A' train to San Antonio and finally found you at the Doubletree Airport. You didn't see me precisely because I didn't want to be seen. I hid in the ice-water dispenser in the 'small stores' where they were selling t-shirts and such. And oh, by the way, it would have been nice of you to buy me a t-shirt for future use. Maybe then I wouldn't be thrown out of so many hotel lobbies. At any rate, I hid in the ice-water dispenser (and it was quite cold, thank you very much for asking) and listened to all the jamming going on in the bar next door. I must say that you comported yourself nicely." "Comported??" I asked. "Yes, 'comported'. I could have said 'played' or 'performed' but I like to have options when I speak." "Yeah," I said, "I know... I get that a lot from my wife."

"Don't interrupt," she continued, "And I hitched a ride home with you by hiding in your wife's ubiquitous water bottle. So I've come, this morning, to say to you that, after listening to you play (there, are you satisfied now?) that I think you have what it takes to make at least a modest income playing jazz. I now give you another quest. And you should blog about it, it helps me get new clients. Your quest is to search for the right venues in which to perform good music. Oh, you can play some 'crap', as you call it, on bass, just to get your name around, but I expect you to find such a jazz venue. And I give you a time limit. Before the next NMA Annual Reunion I will expect you to find such a venue and make at least a little money playing there.

"That wasn't so difficult, now was it?" "No. Not too difficult," I admitted, "Say, do I get another gift?" "I was coming to that," she said, "My stars and gardens but you mortals are an impatient lot! I shall send you a bass guitar like no other, and you shall call it 'George'!" "George??" I asked, "Rather an odd name for a bass, isn't it?" She went on to explain, "'George' was my favorite pet catfish who sadly ended up becoming breakfast for some mortal. I was asleep at the time or I would have turned the fisherman into a great worm to give the fish in Lake Taneycomo something to chew on."

"Well," she said with a glance at her Rolex, "Time to get on with some other bits of magical, mystical, musical responsibilities. So-and-so needs a new set of strings, what-his-name has no gigs on the calendar... the list is endless." "Wait a minute," I said, "What about the bass? I mean 'George'?" "Patience, mortal," she thundered, "You shall have it well before the autumn leaves drift past your window. Time for you to practice. As for me, I've got to get out of town!" and with that, she vanished.

Keep Coming Back

From the Editor:

Another reminder to keep visiting my blog. I post something new every few days. And it just keeps getting dumber and dumber, so if you're a chowder-head, zipper-head, or numb skull like me (I'm one of my most faithful readers) you'll get more bang for your buck here than at a psychic vampire website (strangely enough, there are such things and they have lots of websites).

If you've read my blog and want still more laffs, check out Frank Mullen's blog "Navy Lyres". There is a link in the side-bar (which has been sanitized and a little paper wrapper for your protection).


TTFN, John Derby (that's Klownspeak for Ta-Ta For Now)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


From the Editor:

I'm glad to have so many new visitors. Hey, the laffs just keep rollin' in. It's like the tide: you just can't stop 'em. PLEASE subscribe via the "Follow" button on the left. You'll get automatic notices when I post a new one AND you'll boost my self-esteem. It's a win-win situation!!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

We Serve With Honor

During the NMA Reunion 2010, Frank Mullen narrated a concert band piece which was set to the words below. If your liberty card was like mine, these words were printed on the back.

Tradition, valor, and victory are the Navy’s heritage from the past. To these may be added dedication, discipline, and vigilance as the watchwords of the present and the future. At home or on distant stations we serve with pride, confident in the respect of our country, our shipmates, and our families. Our responsibilities sober us; our adversities strengthen us. Service to God and Country is our special privilege. We serve with honor.

On the Road Again 2

My passion is music. My wife Ann? Her passion is books. She loves books. She loves books a lot! She loves the books she's read and loves the ones she hasn't read just as much. She loves going to libraries... even libraries where you can't check out, or even look at any books. She has taken me to four Presidential libraries, now, and I've found out the awful truth: you can't check out any books there! "What the heck kind of library is that?" I ask her. She just sighs and says, "They're not that kind of library. They are the kind of library where scholars go to research things about Presidents." It doesn't make sense to me, but it must be true if she says so.

I've got to admit that the museum part of the George H.W. Bush Library was pretty cool. It had neat stuff in it like a tennis ball launcher he gave to Gorbachev, a gold plated putter some middle east royalty dude (aren't they all the same?) gave to him, and his old Studebaker and fishing boat. I think my favorite part was this kind of family room where it had comfortable furniture and a TV which constantly played a bunch of funny things, like Bush introducing Saturday Night Live, and Dana Carvey doing impressions.

This picture was taken in a mock-up of his Oval Office. Even though it was just a set, and the volunteer said we could, we just couldn't bring ourselves to sit in the chair: it would have felt disrespectful. Anyway, just as the volunteer snapped the picture, Axecalibur rolled into the office. After a week of reunion type stuff I was pretty brain-dead, but I thought that was kinda weird.

Today, the morning after, as we headed down the final leg of our journey, I think I found out what the deal was... Ann said that last night I fell asleep pretty quickly, and just before she fell asleep, she thought she heard someone say, "Sleep well, mere mortal, for your real journey has just begun!"

Two guesses who that voice belonged to. And that warning was a little bit ominous. I suppose I'll just have to wait and find out what the deal is with Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On the Road Again 1

We're on the road again, headed home to Springfield, MO area. We're stopping at a couple of Presidential Libraries on the way home: LBJ's in Austin, TX, and George Bush (original flavor) in College Station, TX. We're doing this for three reasons: 1) We're getting old and this is the kind of thing old people do, 2) Ann and I are really into this kind of thing because, 3) we're getting old and this is the kind of thing old people do.

Yesterday, we did LBJ's. It was underwhelming. Today we are in College Station and will visit George's which promises to be a lot more interesting. Then, after that, we'll drive as far as we can before stopping for the night. We'll still be in Texas. Dagnabbit, it's a big state!

NMA Reunion Post Post Posts 4

Here is Randy Martell. I'm sorry, but I've already forgotten his wife's name. But anyway, here he is with one of his girlfriends. I think he said he picked her up in the airport where she was selling books brought back from India by John Lennon. He was one of the best all-around trumpet players I served with at the Academy Band. Everybody followed his lead because they knew Randy knew where the arrangement was going.

NMA Rock Band

Frank Mullen showing off some of his too cool rock keyboard player moves from the 70's. Dave Whitaker on drums and vocals. I'm not sure who the rest of the geezers are.

NMA Reunion Post Post Posts 3

Hey, MU's!!! Keep visiting my page even after the reunion stuff. It's gonna be more fun than a bunch of drunk Marines!!

Here's Frank on piano. I can't tell who the other guys are, can you?

NMA Reunion Post Post Posts 2

Here's a picture of my right elbow jamming with Dave Whitaker and CJ Landry. Wow! Playing a few tunes having to cover both bass lines and chords will kick a guitar player's butt!

NMA Reunion Post Post Posts 1

The La Quinta wireless went on the fritz last night before I could post any more pictures.

I took my gear down to the lounge to play some combo. There was a full rhythm section playing, but when I got all my gear set up and turned around, they had all disappeared! Was it something I said? This seemed to happen a lot!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

NMA Reunion Post Posts 4

Here's the dance band at the dinner/dance. When these old farts swing, they're in danger of falling over completely!

NMA Reunion Post Posts 3

Here's my wife, Ann, the prettiest girl in the crowd. On the way to College Station, TX (we're here to visit the Bush Presidential Library on the way home) we thought of all the hugging going on at the reunion and we came up with a bumper sticker the NMA oughta sell:

"Hug a Navy Musician -- Maybe He'll Toot For You!"

NMA Reunion Post Posts 2

This is what Navy Musicians do best: hitting the ol' buffet line like a swarm of locusts!

NMA Reunion Post Posts 1

Here's a whole mess of old fart musicians. Don't they look confused? It's because they are not used to being the guests at a dinner/dance, rather, the band.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

NMA Reunion Day 5 pt. 7

This is the NMA Stage/Dance Band, getting down with their bad selves. At our age, it's easy to get down, it's the getting back up again that is tricky.

NMA Reunion Day 5 pt. 6

Here is the NMA Concert Band. Not bad for a bunch of old 6/8ers. As always, I am jealous of the Clarinet and Flute players who can put all their gear in a briefcase.

NMA Reunion Day 5 pt. 5

Here is Dave Whitaker, with whom I served at Navy Band San Francisco 1976-1979. Dave was, and still is, the happiest guy in the band.

NMA Reunion Day 5 pt. 4

Here is Dick Bonefant. He taught me bass drum and cymbals in the basic course back in 1972. He is still a fine drummer.

NMA Reunion Day 5 pt. 3

Here is Doyle Church, one of the many, many people to whom I owe an apology for my crappy attitude in the service. Doyle, in fact, almost sent me home from a Great Lakes tour in which I really pissed him off. Fortunately, Doyle's memory is even worse than mine and he doesn't remember those times.

NMA Reunion Day 5 pt. 2

Here is Rabbit Simmons (on left). Yes, the Rabbit Simmons. Aside from being a fantastic bass player, I'll always remember him for the story of "Freddie-In-A-Basket and the Nine Screaming Niggers"*.

Rabbit was performing in the Jacksonville Beach area when he passed a blues club which had on the Marquis: "Freddie-In-A-Basket and the Nine Screaming Niggers". He said he just had to see what that was all about, so he went into the club to check it out. When it was time for the show to begin, the drummer and bass player started playing while the horns shuffled out. They picked up their horns and began to provide some pop licks. Then, with a fanfare, the two backup singers came out carrying Freddie, who had no arms nor legs, in a basket. There was a boom mic on the floor. They put Freddie down, spun him around a couple of times, then he sat up and began to sing. According to Rabbit, "That cat was one of the best blues singers I ever heard. Think about it. He could really sing the blues."

*No racist intent is behind this story. Rabbit swears that it is true and that he only reports the name that the group chose (for some reason) and which was on the Marquis.

NMA Reunion Day 5 pt. 1

Here is Bob and Mel Leketa. Mel was a vocalist and retired as Command Masterchief of the SOM. Bob was one of the last survivors of that dying breed: accordion players. At one point, the Music Program decided to do away with the accordion billets and, since it would have been bad press to actually murder them, made them all switch over to keyboards.

I'll always remember Jim Hayward's wish, which really had more to do with clarinets than accordions: I'd like to take every clarinet in the whole world, put them in one big stack, throw an accordion on top, and light it on fire!

Sad News re: MUCS Tracy Ford

I just received word that MUCS Tracy Ford (far right) finally lost her battle with cancer and passed away at 2330 24JUN10. Tracy was without a doubt, the finest woman I had the pleasure of serving with in my entire career (no offense to any other women). I served with her in the COMSIXTHFLT Band in Naples, Italy. She was not only a very fine vocalist, but was always on time and ready to perform. She looked great, sounded great, and always quite literally carried more than her weight in gear. I will miss you, Tracy.

Word is that she will be interred at Arlington sometime in the late summer or early fall with full military honors by the Naval Academy Band, with whom she served. Contact the NAVACADBAND for specific date/time.

Friday, June 25, 2010

NMA Reunion Day 4 pt. 3

Here is a rare photograph of Frank Mullen with his wife Jo. He is wanted in four states for art fraud... that is, imitating other musicians. He is known as the Chameleon of Music. He can appear to be a pianist, guitarist, trombonist, and even the bassist of musicians. Both he and Jo are armed, legged, and considered dangerous.

NMA Reunion Day 4 pt. 2

Ann and I tried to visit the Alamo yesterday. My thinking was that Ann had never been there and therefor could not actually remember it.

Unfortunately, we never found the Alamo. Just some old decrepit building where some people had died for some reason. I asked an employee where I could find the Alamo and she just laughed at me. Can you believe it? Just laughed at me! Still, I did get a few pictures of our search for the Alamo.

NMA Reunion Day 4 pt. 1

Day 4 of the NMA reunion. Here's the guy who got me in the Navy Music Program. MUCM Ben McHorney. The 7th Fleet Band was on a tour of various ships off the coast of Viet Nam when they arrived at the USS Okinawa LPH-3 where I was stationed as a Quartermaster (QM3). I wanted to be a Navy Musician in the worst way, and I got my wish! When the band found me on the Okinawa, I was working on the bridge as a navigator and also part timing as a Chaplain's assistant.

When I first joined the Navy, I didn't really play guitar: I knew a few chords and could play Alice's Restaurant. Rather, I played violin. I had told the recruiter so and that I wanted to be an MU. He said, "Aw, sure, they'll take ya", which, of course, was a lie: the Navy didn't have any violinists.

I was Pinocchio. The recruiter was "Honest John".

Before I knew it, I was a QM on a ship off the coast of Viet Nam. I began practicing guitar because the Navy did have some of those. To make a long story short, I auditioned (Ben and Don Junker saw something in me), was accepted and was sent to the MU "A" school. After passing the basic course, I was sent to Orlando, my first band.

The thing about Ben McHorney that makes me sick is that except for the gray hair, he doesn't look any different nearly 40 years later.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

NMA Reunion Day 3

It's Thursday morning and I traded in my exhausted sleeping in for my usual up early sleep pattern, so I have a few minutes to post.

I played last night for the first time at the NMA reunion. It went pretty well, altogether. I played better than I feared I might, but not as well as I hoped I would. I've received plenty of compliments on my playing --- earned, I hope. I think part of the problem last night was that I had to pick harder than I normally would because I couldn't hear myself very well. Tonight I'll get my amp stand which will tilt it up toward me and make it easier to hear what I'm playing. All of us in the rhythm section remembered most of the changes for the tunes we played. The problem was, of course, when I remembered version A, the piano picker version B, and the bass player version C. When that happened, things got confusing and one or more of us would lay out until a quorum was decided by the others. All in all, I think it worked out pretty well.

I think the highlight of my day was talking to Frank Mullen about matters concerning the Pair-O-Clowns club (which consists of Frank and I). As Frank says, as far as he can tell, the only purpose of the Pair-O-Clowns club was/is to keep the third one out. The "third one" was MU3 Leo Keiswether, a one term drummer who now lives in Maumee, OH, who wanted to be funnee like Frank and I. It's a really long story and I might tell it someday, but not today. It was the duty of the Pair-O-Clowns club to keep the other musicians gainfully entertained during long road trips. By "gainfully entertained" I don't mean that they were entertained, rather that we afforded them the opportunity to keep Frank and I entertained!

One of the many ways we did this was to play games. Games like "Leo is...", a game the is much like the name game played at Tupperware parties since Medieval days. It went like this: Frank would say for instance, "Leo is... an ass." The then I would say, "Leo is... an ass and a bum." "True, true," Frank would say, then, "Leo is... an ass and a bum and a cross-dresser." Then I would say, "Leo is... an ass and a bum and a cross-dresser and a dunce..." and so on. As you might guess, the winner was the person who could correctly remember the longest sequence of insults. But if you guessed that, you would be wrong. Actually, the winners were both Frank and I plus Leo! Leo, you see, is one of those people who need attention so much that he will be satisfied even with negative attention. Leo thrived on the attention and laughed as much or more than Frank and I. The actual losers would be the other people in the van. Believe me, it didn't take very many rounds of "Leo is..." for the other band members to groan and beg us to stop, and of course their groans served merely to egg us on to say, "That was a good one. How about another?"

There were many such games, but perhaps the best one was the "Cigarette Lighter Game". A bit more complicated than "Leo is...", it went like this: Frank would say "Things are pretty boring right now. How about the 'Cigarette Lighter' game?" "Sure," I would say, "that sounds like fun, whereupon MU1 Phil Letcher and MUC Charlie Sweet would intone, "I hate that game!"

Try as we might to get others to join in, the game was played by Frank and I alone. Deciding which one of us would go first could last 15 minutes or more, as we "tried" to recall who went first the last time we played or, through chivalry insisting that the other go first. This was merely the warm up, the opening act, so to speak, when we "primed" the audience for the hilarity which was to come.

A word about the audience and the "playing field". In the "Cigarette Lighter Game", Frank and I would be pitted against each other, but it was neither germane nor important to decide the winner and the loser. The winners were always Frank and I, while the losers were always the audience, so it was important for us to have an audience who could consistently accept defeat with ill-grace. It was also important that the audience be a small one, captive and in close quarters so they could neither move themselves out of earshot nor remove themselves entirely from the situation. This made the game perfect for Navy Bands in long van rides to who knows where.

The "Cigarette Lighter Game" was a guessing game of sorts. Frank would take out a cigarette lighter in full view and, still in full view, would "hide" it in his hand. Then I would have to "guess" what was in his hand. I'd get three questions and then I'd have to make a guess. Questions like, is it bigger than a bread box, or is it used for counter insurgencies, or does it weigh the same as a duck? After asking the three questions I would make a guess, and it was always important to guess wrong. Guessing wrong was often difficult because, in full view, Frank had just hidden a cigarette lighter in his hand. This meant that I would have to make myself forget what was hidden in his hand. I know that, like Nether-Laughter (laughter which occurs almost entirely in another dimension and requires no laughter in this dimension to be funnee), it is a difficult concept to explain. In fact, I've never successfully been able to explain it to anyone but Frank.

So I would guess that it was... say, a llama, a space shuttle, a tuxedo, etc. and Frank would tell me that unfortunately, I was wrong, and would then "console" me. By way of making up for my crushing defeat, Frank would then say, "Okay. Let's try another round, only this time I'll guess." And so on and so forth.

Ah, but those were the days. Having no wine or roses, having no swank accommodations, we made do with WPLJ and pepperoni sticks [White Port and Lemon Juice, the poor man's whiskey sour] and often crappy barracks. Somehow we got through endless days in a van, and a blur of school gymnasiums with grace and wit. Like Johnny Appleseed, we traveled to far off destinations like Fresno, Barstow, and that entertainment destination Salt Lake City, spreading the love, so to speak, of the U.S. Navy for reasons that we knew not. Still, they were and are the Good Ol' Days, and it is truly a joy to be able to get together with the other old farts to recall them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

NMA Reunion Day 2

We made it! We're in San Antonio, TX, where everything is big, big, big!

I've only just begun and have already seen Kim Holl, Leon Harris, Doyle Church and Rabbit Simmons --- yes the Rabbit Simmons. He was bass player for the Commodores and he's the guy who asked a pesky Bay Area restaurant manager who had her live pet parrot on her shoulder, "Hey. Where'd you get the pig?" She said, "It's a parrot!!" falling right into the trap. "I was talking to the parrot," he replied. I also saw Ben "Hoss" Winters who used to play with the D.C. band Country Current. I told him I thought he had died, but obviously he hadn't. I understand that Pat Verner, past bass player for Country Current, will be checking in later today.

On the drive from Dallas to here we saw a billboard which was obviously could have been paid for by George W. Bush, however the official story is that it was paid for by a small group of businessmen who wanted to remain anonymous. It had a big ol' picture of him and the message: Miss me yet? How's that hope and change working out?"

Just time for a quick note and breakfast before the first Concert Band rehearsal. More later. The wife needs the computer.

NMA Reunion Day 1

Today's the day! We stopped in Waxahachie, TX (I've included a picture) for the night and we're just about to get back on the road for the final six or so hours to San Antonio. My wife, Ann, has been uncharacteristically quick off the block this morning and is almost ready to go, so I'll have to make this brief --- no, it won't be like my usual lugubrious diatrive... And I mean quick!

I was thinking about road trips past as we were driving down here. I was thinking about the stupid games we used to play on the road. You know, like 20 Questions, etc. What brought them to mind was that my wife and I were playing "Who Can Spot the Most Walmarts". I won, of course, at the score 6 to 1. It was just about then my wife announced that it was a stupid game and she didn't want to play anymore. Well, of course it was stupid. She was losing!

Frank Mullen used to have a game called the "Cigarette Lighter Game". I can't for the life of me remember how it went. I'll have to put our heads together and see if I can remember. If we see Charlie Sweet in San Antonio, maybe he'll help us. As far as Frank and I can remember, the only point of the game was to irritate Charlie, so he might have a better recollection than we.

Well, gotta trot. She's ready to get on the road. More later. Oh, and I think we may have given Dracrevocsid, the Lady of Lake Taneycomo, the slip. I haven't seen her since we left.

Friday, June 18, 2010

2 Days Until NMA Reunion

Here it is. Only 2 days until the NMA Reunion. Ann and I will leave tomorrow for the drive to San Antonio. If internet is available at the hotels, I'll post things to let my avid readers know what's happening. The prospect of going on the road again bound for some musical destination feels weird after all these years.

During a break from practicing yesterday, I began reminiscing about the countless number of gigs I've played over the years in cities across... well, across just about everywhere! There is a map of Europe on the wall of my man cave. It is a "cruise map": a nautical chart with lines drawn on it showing where I've been. It looks like some spider with a poor sense of direction drew a web across the face of Europe. Once, I counted the states and countries I've performed in. I've performed in 42 U.S. states that I can remember, and 16 countries. Some good gigs, some bad... while others were just plain weird! There are too many to write about here, so I thought I'd just list the best and the weirdest by category. In this episode, the weird. A performance note: This list is more entertaining if you try to imagine Rod Serling narrating it:

Meet Mr. Derby. A simple guitar player (some say very simple) whose only wish was to make good music. But Mr. Derby possessed a singular ability (some would say a curse)... Not being very firmly attached to reality, he would sometimes come "unstuck" and pass into an alternative dimension. Sometimes he would step into a bus, airplane, or van, never realizing that his next gig would be... in the Twilight Zone...

Weirdest Barbershop Quartet gig: In Orlando, a few of us (four of us to be exact) decided to sing some barbershop quartet just for fun. It was Jim Hayward, Gary Seitz, myself and, I think, Jim Richards. We sang some barbershop songs in the middle of our concerts for variety's sake. Once, while we were singing in the middle of a concert in a tent at some festival or other, the generator popped a cork and all the lights went out. The band was dead in the water, but that didn't make any difference to the quartet. While the generator was being worked on, we killed some time by singing every tune we knew as well as some we didn't know. Our mistakes only made us laugh harder, and the audience enjoyed it, too.

Weirdest Marching Band gig: Somewhere in Florida, we played a parade that was supposed to lead from one small town to another small town right next to each other. Unfortunately, "right next to each other" turned out to be miles of uninhabited orange groves. Some said it was 10 miles. I don't know, but it was at least several miles of slogging in the hot, humid climate through endless orange groves where the only audience was insects. After a while, we just quit playing and fell out of ranks to mosey to the next town, forming up only when we were almost there.

Weirdest Stage Band gig: Has to be the Swamp Cabbage Festival we played every year in Okeechobee, FL. It was a festival where people gathered from "all over" to celebrate the wonderfulness of... swamp cabbage. Here's how to cook swamp cabbage: boil the stuff. Here's how to tell when it's done: it hangs limply to your fork like over cooked spaghetti. Here's how it should taste: tasteless.

Weirdest Show Band gig: Goes to a festival my Sixth Fleet Band played in Sicily. We blew the generator during the sound check, so they hard-wired us to a pizza oven across the street, using a very thin wire which grew dangerously hot. I had to station townsfolk armed with fire extinguishers along the length of wire from the pizzeria in case it caught on fire. Fortunately, it didn't catch on fire, but during the concert, we faced the active volcano Mt. Etna and watched it erupt during the gig.

Weirdest Opera gig: A close second was Opera Memphis staging of Don Pasquale which was set as a spaghetti western, complete with real spaghetti and a life sized fiberglass horse. And the winner is a dress rehearsal of Tosca where, when the heroin throws herself off a castle wall (hey, it wouldn't be a proper opera if someone didn't die a tragic death). Unknownst to the audience (but knownst to the soprano) the stage hands, for a joke, had placed a trampoline out of sight so that when Floria tossed her bad self off the wall, she started bouncing back up again while everyone else sang their sorrow.

Weirdest Rock Band gig: Goes to my Navy Band San Francisco rock group, Nautilus, when our first gig after being formed was in the bathroom (head) of the Treasure Island brig! A rock band in close quarters surrounded on all six sides with shiny porcelain? Not a good combination!

Weirdest Bluegrass gig: Goes to the Bogus Bluegrass Boys of Navy Band Memphis. Okay, it wasn't very weird, but how many bluegrass bands do you know of who switch instruments in the middle of the gig and start playing jazz? The banjo guy would trade for a guitar, the mandolinist (me) likewise, string bass turned into electric bass, and the guitar player became the drummer. I've got to say we did a pretty dang credible job of bluegrass.

Weirdest Patriotic Opener gig: Was in Memphis when we played to open the new officer's club. The grass on the lawn hadn't had a chance to grow, yet, so the guy in charge had this great big dirt lot spray-painted green! Which would have been alright except that we were all wearing whites!

Weirdest Change of Command Ceremony gig: A tough one to call... It was either the one where the departing C.O., whose motto was, "It's not over 'till the fat lady sings" hired a fat lady to sing opera, complete with armor, helmet, and spear. Or it could have been the one where the female departing C.O. became so emotionally overwrought during her remarks that she began to cry uncontrollably, sobbing, sniffling, and embarrassing the Admiral in attendance who could hardly contain his disbelief over the theatrics.

Weirdest Civilian gig: Second place is when I was delivering singing telegrams for a company called Eastern Onion. I wore a tux with a pink ruffled shirt, and around my neck was an electric monkey which banged cymbals in time with my telegrams. But the winner in this category has to be when I played on a TV show on the USA network for the WWF... a show called Tuesday Night Titans. It was a wrestling "talk show" modeled after the Carson show in which wrestlers would be "interviewed" about past and future wrestling matches. Of course, most of the time, the interviews morphed into brawls and general mayhem. Lots of good sea stories about those gigs, but no time to recount them. It's time for....

Weirdest All-Time Group: Goes hands down to the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Something happens to symphony musicians who have been "sentenced" to years of solitary confinement in university practice rooms --- especially when they weren't wrapped too tightly to begin with! The orchestra was absolutely rife with neurosis! For instance there was a violinist who had a picture perfect bedroom which looked like it had been taken straight from a page of Better Homes and Gardens --- and to make sure it stayed that way, she slept on a cot in her closet! I swear I'm not making that up. And there was a violist (no surprise there) whom I had to reprimand for sexual harassment. While in D.C. for an audition, he presented himself at the White House and asked a nice young man wearing a business suit and an ear-piece to let him speak with President Clinton. He wouldn't tell the Secret Service man what it was about, and mind you, he was carrying his viola case (which he wouldn't let them examine). He explained that he felt only Clinton could understand his problem since they had both been falsely accused of sexual harassment! The nice young man was like, uh... sir, we are going to need you to come with us. I only found out about it when the Secret Service called me to verify the violist's employment.

Once, for a lark, I came up with fitting aggregates for the various sections. You know, like a gaggle of geese, school of fish, etc. They all have their unique personalities. Garrison Keillor once remarked at a Symphony Orchestra League convention that he used to like walking around back stage before the musicians had even taken their instruments out of their cases, and tried to guess what section they played in. He said, "... and I was surprised at how good I was at it." Anyway, to match their personalities, I came up with aggregates like a pride of trumpets, a pod of low brass, a coven of oboes, etc. The most fitting aggregate I came up with was a psych ward of violists, who are, pound for pound, the strangest section of the orchestra.

At my first rehearsal as Director of Operations for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, a bassoonist came to me and shook a chair in my face, complaining, "This chair is unacceptable!!" I said, "Pull the other one!" I thought he was kidding, but he was not. Shoot, in the Navy we were just glad when we got chairs of any kind! The musician's union argues for crazy stuff like that whenever contract negotiations are up for renewal. I know this is hard for ex-Navy musicians to believe but, for instance, they have an official thermometer and an official temperature range. If the temperature goes above or below the acceptable limits, something like 75 to 89 degrees... they just quit playing. Period. And there is an official clock at rehearsals and gigs. At a rehearsal, once the clock reaches the minute past the contracted hour, they just stop playing, put their horns in their cases and leave! I told you that you wouldn't believe it.

They have a whole bunch of rules like that. There is another rule that absolutely no sunlight is to touch their instruments. Not at all! I remember one ridiculous outside gig where I had made arrangements for a tent to be constructed for the concert. Still, when the sun started going down, a couple beams of light hit the viola section's instruments. So there I was, for the remainder of the concert, standing in front of the orchestra to the conductor's right, holding two big umbrellas up so that the sun wouldn't touch their instruments. What can I say?

I'm sure I'm forgetting some weird gigs, but I need to practice some, get our house in order, and start packing for our road trip to San Antonio. I'll try to post some sea stories about road trips while we are on the way. Until then, I leave you with words that Eva Gabor said on the very weird show Green Acres. She said, "Truce is stranger than friction, dahling."