Like most personal websites, the last post on here is, let’s see… 9 months old, talking about how I should post more.
I left Dirty Revival at the end of August. It didn’t end well, but that’s another story for another time. For now, I’ll just say that it was time, and it was definitely the right decision. My parents think I’m visibly happier these days. One project for my newfound free time is updating this site more. I’m trying to get my home studio into some kind of usable setup; for now it’s a chaotic room of keyboards and gear.
A few months back I got a proper desktop computer with some actual horsepower, something I haven’t had in close to 9 years now. After my laptop was stolen on tour with Dirty Revival a few years back, I was using the cheapest possible netbook from Best Buy, which is almost too underpowered to function. I suppose it got me by for that time.
Lately I’ve been keeping busy taking freelance gigs in town that I was unable to take before due to being on the road. The last couple weeks were utterly bananas: I spent a month filling in at Beacock Music teaching piano lessons for my friend Paul Paresa, who was on tour with Sam Densmore in Europe, and the last week overlapped with KMHD‘s fall membership drive. I’ve also been doing some work for Eclectic Sounds, run by guitarist Cameron Morgan. It’s mostly listing items for sale, taking photos, putting records in the cleaner before shipping them… That said, I’d much rather be doing that kind of work with rare LPs and effects pedals than, like, salt shakers.
Here are my upcoming shows, with Facebook links where applicable. This is all copied from my facebook page, which I try to keep updated. All are in Portland, OR unless noted otherwise.
Friday, 11/22: at AC Hotel Portland Downtown with Giancarlo Viviano and Ben and Michelle Medler, 6-8p.
Friday, 12/6: Curtis Salgado at Trails End Saloon (Oregon City, OR)
Saturday, 12/7: with Jeremy Joyce at Living Room Theaters, 8:00-11:00
Thursday, 12/12: Rules. (EP Release), Daniel Rossi’s Mess, Boreen at Bunk Bar – real excited for this one. My longtime friend (and 3 Jazz 3 Furious bandmate) Parker Hall will be singing and playing guitar instead of drumming. We’ll be playing songs he wrote for his solo project, Rules.
Saturday, 12/28: Curtis Salgado at BIlly Blues Bar (Vancouver, WA)
Tuesday, 12/31: New Years Eve with Curtis Salgado (Seattle, WA)
Well, I made my last post in December, 2017. It’s high time I made a new one. The TV show I alluded to in the last post still hasn’t aired in the US, and the production company has stopped replying to the band’s e-mails. It did air in the UK, but that’s a story for another time.
2018 saw me buying many keyboards and keeping busy with Dirty Revival. Things are still on the upward trend with them – we just signed a trial period with Nimbleslick Entertainment to handle booking. So far, so good, and it’s looking like 2019 will have us at about the same level we were at before. The band is also recording new songs, with the goal of a second full-length album. A while back I connected with John Neff on Facebook, who runs The Lab recording studios. Neff’s resume includes mixing countless films, and close collaborations with Walter Becker, with whom he owned a studio on Maui for many years, and David Lynch. We got to talking about Hammond organs, and he invited me over to play his B3. Turns out Dr. Lonnie Smith recorded an album on that organ on Maui in 1980. He even re-wired some of the presets, and John left those as-is. The Leslie needed a little love last I played it, but it was nothing that couldn’t be remedied quickly. He’s also got a Polymoog synthesizer, though it wasn’t working. His Clavinet and Rhodes have been serviced by Ken Rich, whose list of clients includes Herbie Hancock and the late George Duke. I hope to someday get my Rhodes and Clavinet to Ken for a fine-tuning, as he’s probably the best in the business. Just gotta make it coincide with a trip to LA where I can bring two really heavy keyboards, and plan a return voyage. Hopefully we can share the recordings we made at The Lab soon; they’ve been mastered and are being shopped to labels. We’re tracking a couple more songs two days from now, on February 6.
I finally got my mixing console set up in my “studio,” which is, for the most part, a room in my house filled with too much gear. The console is a 12-channel Ramsa WR-T812 that I got from Johnny Fontana when he moved away from Vancouver. I bought and traded boards with Johnny several times over the years, including my Ensoniq ESQ-1, which I eventually traded back to him with cash for his Ensoniq SQ-80. The console sounds nice, although the routing is fairly arcane and took some fiddling to figure out. For now it’s perfect for routing keyboards and an audio source (laptop, phone, etc.) into headphones for practicing. Next step is some monitors, sound-treating the room, and a proper desktop computer and interface to track audio. Well, maybe the next step is moving keyboards around so I have them all close to the board.
I bought several Hammonds and sold a few. One was an M3 I picked up in Eugene that I think wasn’t working when I got it. Dad and I replaced a tube and resoldered a couple connections on the tone generator and it was up and running again. We also added a 1/4″ line-out box, making it more desirable and sell-able. That’s my plan for two more M3s and an M2 I have. I also ended up with a chopped M2, but it’s just enough of a novelty that I might hang onto it. Same with the Model M spinet I got – Hammond’s first spinet organ, and the first to feature smooth drawbars instead of the ratchet-action kind used on consoles of that era. It doesn’t sound particularly cool or anything, but sometimes you want the spinet sound. Booker T. Jones famously used an M3 on Green Onions, and they’re wired a little differently from full-size consoles. For the most part, though, playing a Spinet feels like I’ve only got half an organ. Very little low end with the short keyboards and reduced pedalboard, and very little high end without foldback (a system of reusing tones instead of just cutting them out when they’re higher than those it can create). I also sold an A100 that Dad and I had since about 2000 or 2001 with a Leslie 122 I bought in Yakima. It was not getting played, and there were some bad memories attached to it from when Dad and I fried the upper manual trying to fix a really small problem. We had the upper manual replaced years ago, but I never felt like playing it. I’m also about to semi-permanently loan my first full-size console to Sarah Clarke, Dirty Revival’s vocalist. She’s a skilled keyboardist, and definitely reads sheet music better than I can. It’s a “B3,” kind of – A100 guts transplanted into a B2 case. It’s been sitting in my garage for too long. With it will be a Leslie 21H I picked up in Prineville, OR when the band was nearby in Bend. It wasn’t making sound, which turned out to only be a bad fuse, but I’d already ordered a rebuild kit, so I went ahead and replaced all the ancient wax-and-paper capacitors in the amp.
Other projects include repairing and upgrading the many other Hammonds and Leslies I have. After getting the capacitors replaced in my chop, I realized that it’s something I’d like to ideally do to every organ I own. There’s so much more definition to the sound. Clearer highs, clearer lows. It’s so much more expressive and a joy to play! I also plan to put some custom high-power Leslie innards into a 760 cabinet, Leslie’s tolex “pro-line” road-ready model. The 22H I got with my Model A in Garibaldi, OR had a custom solid state amplifier and a massive JBL 2482 tweeter and Gauss 15″ bass speaker. The tone isn’t right for the classic Hammond sound, but they were used in some 70s rock groups like Blue Cheer. Lately, I’ve been playing more rock with LiquidLight (I have yet to do a show with them, but everyone’s pretty busy). It’s a perfect setting to use that, where the guitarists have Marshall stacks – I’ll be able to actually keep up! I also recently bought a Vox Super Continental combo organ, another rock keyboard classic. Maybe soon I’ll take my tech up on buying his “extra” Farfisa Compact Duo. I had hoped to buy a vintage synthesizer this winter, but continued problems coordinating with the seller and his raising the price on me prevented that from happening. There are so many vintage synths I’d like to own, but many of them have completely stupid prices these days. I can’t imagine paying much more than $5000 for any electric instrument.
There’s also the piano! I never did post the full saga of how I ended up with a 100-year-old, 9-foot Steinway concert grand in my living room. Again, another time. For now I’ll just say it sounds incredible and I try to play it every day. I feel extremely guilty if I don’t.
I suppose that’s all for now. Cheers!
It’s been a good year – I amassed many new instruments and I’m still learning how to play them better! I’ll have to post a more complete story of the saga of how I wound up with my new piano – a nine-foot concert grand Steinway D made in 1915. It was at an estate sale, and I had it refurbished – it came home in July. I bought several more organs, including a “chopped” Hammond – it’s in a road-ready cabinet, and is designed to be taken out to performances. It’s still very heavy, but my technician, Matt Miles, went through it – and now it’s one of the best sounding organs I’ve ever played. It was a college graduation gift from my parents. Around Halloween, Dirty Revival went to Los Angeles to film an episode for a TV show – unfortunately, I can’t say much more than that until it’s officially announced, but it will be on a major network in January and should bring at least a couple more people to our shows in the following year!
Happy holidays, and thank you for your support!
Ben “Snacks” Turner
Well, I had a bunch of cool things typed out about our last tour, but my laptop got stolen in Chicago. All the text was on there and didn’t get backed up. I’ll try to make a post about the tour, but I’ve been working steadily since getting back into town, so we’ll see if I get to it. All things considered it was a good tour – I finally got a really cheap laptop tonight at best buy so I could do things like update this website. Got some fun shows coming up, I’ll try to post about them, but the most up-to-date calendar should be on my facebook page, http://facebook.com/bensnacksturner
Day 5: Minneapolis, MN. We were staying right by Mall of America and the hotel had a free shuttle, so what else we we gonna do? Besides, I only had one pair of pants, and after my fall at Hogan’s, there was some blood from my knee in them. There’s an amusement park in the middle of the mall, and Sarah had never been on a roller coaster, so we made that happen. SpongeBob’s Rock Bottom Plunge, $6.90 for about a minute of roller coasting… worth it. There were stores for products that I would never have imagined had their own store. Marshmallow Peeps and Friends? That happened.
At the recommendation of two unrelated Portland friends, we checked out Bunkers for some live music. Dr. Mambo’s Combo plays every Sunday and Monday. A Portland friend, Trent Baarspul, is great friends with the keyboardist, Kevin Gastonguay. Whoa, they were burning. The sound was great. Good mix and balance, and not crazy loud. Learning more about the spot and its history, it started to make sense why they were so crushing – the usual drummer is Michael Bland, drummer for Prince during the New Power Generation era (there was a (very crushing) sub when we were there). Prince used to come by Bunkers fairly often and sit in. The Combo has been doing it for years and years. It was a little smooth sometimes, but that’s not always a terrible thing. If it gets to the Kenny G level, then yeah, we have a problem – but this was just playing with a lot of polish. The biggest thing for me is when you get into those 80s keyboard patches. So many of them sound terrible to me, especially when a keyboard is trying to be a Fender Rhodes or something. Somehow Prince could make them work, though – I think if you know the sound really well, and know you want that sound because it’s appropriate, then that will make a difference. Plus Prince’s grooves were so funky it barely mattered.
Kevin uses an approach similar to mine, mostly using the staples – Hammond, clavinet, rhodes, piano. He used a few string patches at appropriate times. He plays slightly different gear from me – he runs a Nord Electro 5D through a Leslie 3300, their latest cabinet that’s designed for gigging. I think it’s around 300 Watts, built in a road-ready case with handles, and has a tube or two in the preamp. The drawbars felt nice on the 5D – some people have complained that they’re “sliders disguised as drawbars” but they felt fine. I always thought that a 3300 would be the way to go for my setup, but with it mic’d and put through the mains, it honestly didn’t sound very different from the onboard simulator on the Nords. I couldn’t tell there was a real Leslie until I got onstage and saw it. I think a vintage tube Leslie can have an edge over the newer ones; my mentor Louis Pain plays his Nord C2D through a 40 Watt model 145 and it’s not far off from the real thing at all, especially when you’re onstage next to it. Louis had a 3300 but he blew the treble driver and paid hundreds for a replacement, and he had (I think) never blown a treble driver in all his years of playing on old Leslie cabinets. He sold or traded it before long. Kevin had blown the driver too, but remembered the repair only costing about $100.
Day 6: We drove to Chicago and had the rest of that day off. It’s always wild going into a new city that you’ve never been to, and by car the approach feels more dramatic than by plane. You get a better feel for the scale of the place. We didn’t have a ton of time since we arrived in the evening, but we managed to get some real deep dish pizza – Lou Malnati’s,
at the recommendation of several people. I took it real easy and got as much sleep as I could.
Day 7: Chicago, IL. We woke up midday and looked for stuff to do before the show. I was the last up and got a donut and coffee from the place on the first floor of the hotel, Glazed and Infused, and then walked to get a hot dog at Portillo’s. I met up with Sarah and Jon at the Planetarium, where we had just enough time to see a half hour film at before they closed. It was on the theories about a ninth planet beyond Pluto. We now know Pluto is part of a much larger debris field and not very unique. The whole program started at Neptune and kept moving out – a huge distance that I still don’t think I quite wrapped my head around. They also had an old Gemini capsule in the planetarium – we didn’t have much time for the rest of the exhibits, unfortunately.
The gig was at Tonic Room, a spot known by all my Chicago musician friends. I saw the opener warming up – trio of bassist, beat/electronics guy, and MC. The bassist had a sweet pedal setup – I think three Moog pedals, the POG 2, and some other cool stuff. Before leaving for tacos, I said something like, “I’m sure you guys’ll sound great, the bar is set real high in this city.” Turns out they were a joke, and I missed it for the tacos.The MC had never performed publicly before. Everyone said he had nothing prepared and nervously flailed over “beats that weren’t even cool” for an hour. The MC started the set by saying, “I’m gonna let these guys warm up” and sat on stage, messing with his phone. Then he had a few go-to phrases about “I got ideas. I got ideas” and “gonna wake up and read a book.” We have the buyer to thank for all this – he insisted that we go with these clowns, despite having leads from established Chicago musicians. He insisted that they’d bring people out because it was their first show. Nope, that was just as bullshit as it sounded. The promoter/owner was working the bar that night, and apologized several times after the set.
I also got to see an old grade school classmate – I don’t think we’d seen each other since the last day of 5th grade! She’s going to law school in Chicago and is taking the bar in July. Fun to catch up and hear a little more about what people from our class are doing now.
I thought our set went well. It was a shorter one – sometimes those are nice, but it also means we’re going to play a lot of the same material, no extended solos. That’s a good feeling too, though. After a few days off we were all itching to play, and felt inspired by Dr. Mambo’s Combo in Minneapolis to play tight and tasteful. It’s hard to execute some of the ideas on the road onstage, so we’re thinking we’ll try to have a rehearsal at home of just myself, bass, and guitar, and we’ll play to a click. Then we can work out when fills happen and stuff; right now we can accidentally step on each other and play too busy.
Day 8: Madison, WI. Wow I had no idea how much of a Eugene, OR vibe I’d get from Madison. That place is crunchy as hell. Tons of white people with dreads. The headliner was a band of four white dudes playing reggae with hooks like “your vibe attracts your tribe,” complete with people spinning those lighted yoyo type things. The venue went from a neighborhood bar and pizzeria to a music festival full of smoke in a couple hours. I didn’t realize how thick it was onstage until I saw Chris leaning in front of the light to hear Sarah say something to him – it almost looked like he was exhaling a cigarette. Fortunately it was a short drive, and it only added a few minutes for us to stop by the house used in Home Alone (hey, something to do). I made a point to try Spotted Cow beer, which I guess is only available here in Wisconsin. It wasn’t much to write home about, it’s a decent light beer. We got up this morning (Day 9) and Terry’s buddy took us to a place called The Old Fashioned for a taste of Wisconsin. Fried cheese curds… oh my god. It was that cheesiness you get in cheetos, but it was real. Fried walleye sandwich. Definitely took a van nap. When we got to Green Bay the next night, I realized I’d forgotten my platform keyboard stand, but Terry’s friend Carley was coming to our show the next night in Stevens Point and going through Madison only added like 10 minutes to her trip, so she grabbed it for me. Phew.
I’m off on another tour with Dirty Revival. Hoping to keep better track of this one on this blog. Made a few notes on the first few days:
Day 1: Clarkston, WA. We left Portland around 10 AM. I hadn’t slept much because my sleep schedule had gotten pretty wacky right before leaving – so I slept a lot of the way there in the van. We stayed in a Motel 6 right next door to an Albertsons that had the elusive salt & vinegar wings. They were originally discovered by Jon Shaw on a Colorado tour at Safeway, and are probably the best option for deli wings, although many places don’t seem to carry them.
We played at Hogan’s, which holds a special place in the hearts of everyone else – it was the site of their first show outside Portland. It was a fun time, but if it weren’t for that memory, we probably wouldn’t have stopped there. It’s a pretty standard bar with a tiny stage that’s longer than it is wide at the back of the room. I didn’t have room to set up my newest addition, my Moog Sub 37. Because we haven’t really integrated it into the set yet, it was easy enough to just skip it. The biggest disappointment was when I managed to trip over a car stop in the parking lot and scraped up my palms and knees. It was just dark and I wasn’t looking (maybe looking at my phone? can’t remember). My fingers are fine but my palms are still a little tender four days later. It happened on last tour in Vale, CO, but I brought that one upon myself… I was trying to moonwalk on a layer of ice during load out.
I’m always trying to focus on connecting with the audience during my solos. This tour I’ve been holding off on having drinks until after the set (okay, maybe one beer before) and it’s been paying off. I feel way more in the zone while playing, and usually only have a couple goofs. I’m also trying to look up when I solo and not get too into my own zone. Taking breaks in phrasing usually gets a crowd reaction, but it’s hard to check your ego. I’m still self-conscious and want to “prove I can play” by shredding all the time. So, I’m trying to not look at my hands as much. I haven’t been vocalizing as I play (singing my solo as I’m playing it), but that almost always helps phrasing. Sometimes you gotta just play a simple riff and play it a few times.
Day 2: Missoula, MT. We returned to the Top Hat club, which had a new green room that felt very posh. It was upstairs and had some nice couches, and they sent servers to us for food, which was covered on a tab. It doesn’t take much hospitality to make us feel valued as performers! I’m trying to not go crazy on eating everything that sounds delicious on this tour, but they had this Wisconsin Burger with white cheddar sauce and bacon and fried onions that I couldn’t pass up. After that I felt like I was gonna play every song a few clicks slower. Sometime around Missoula my tonsils started to hurt – they’re doing better now, but I had to get in a few hot salt water gargles.
The set went well – we’ve fixed all the mistakes that seemed to happen every time, so the mistakes we did made were random times we drew blanks. Starting sections 4 bars ahead, forgetting to lay out, etc – but we also held it together and rolled with whatever we threw at ourselves. Because I had a chance to set up the Moog this night, I tried using it for my solo on War Pigs (usually an organ solo). I didn’t tweak the patch at sound check because it was a last-minute decision on my part, so it wasn’t quite the lead sound I wanted. The oscillators were set pretty low so I had to use the octave shift up, and even then it could have been higher. The vibrato was also a little too narrow and slow. All things considered it went fine, but I made sure to dial in and save a better patch for the next night. We were opening for Shakewell, a seven-piece funk band from Missoula. I didn’t know what to expect from their set having not checked them out, but it was pretty great! I especially liked their vocal harmonies – something we want to do more of in Dirty Revival. Evan sometimes sings small backup parts, and I’d like to do more of that as well. It adds a lot to every band. Another cool thing they did was that one of their guitarists and their singer played keyboard. The guitarist had a Roland Gaia above a Moog Sub Phatty, and the singer had a Nord Electro 2. Great sounds from both of them. I like to think I can hear the difference between an Electro 2 and 3 or later, but most of the comparisons I’ve done have been with headphones or in a practice space with no other noise. I guess it didn’t sound like a real Hammond, but it was pretty close to the later Nords, which have been close enough for my ear.
I think this was the day we listened to Kendrick Lamar’s new album, DAMN. When you’re traveling in a van for hours at a time, it’s nice to listen to an album start-to-finish. I don’t consume music this way much anymore, but I am always trying to get back in the habit of it. Some of this seems to come from a shorter attention span, what with the instagrams and the vines and twitters that the dang teens are using these days, and some of it is not allocating big chunks of time in my day for it. We try to be conscious of how we assemble our live sets, and we try to model it after how strong albums or radio sets are programmed. As for the album, it’s hard to get an impression after one listen – DAMN. has a different vibe from To Pimp a Butterfly, which I listened to countless times in my car. I’m definitely going to listen to DAMN. more and try to digest it – it had catchy elements to grab me at first listen without feeling cheap or shallow. We also listened to Mothership Connection, the classic Parliament album. I really wish I had dug into Bernie Worrell’s keyboard playing sooner. He’s such an integral part of this classic funk sound, and I missed chances to see him before he passed away. His keyboard choices are similar to mine – according to wikipedia he recorded on the album with a Hammond, grand piano, Rhodes, Clavinet, minimoog, Wurlitzer electric piano, and the only two I don’t have much experience with – an ARP Pro Soloist and ARP String Ensemble. I’m pretty sure that Nord has samples of the String Ensemble available for the Electro 3, which I should get back on – I seem to remember trying them out when I first got the Electro 3. Really I should give Bernie his own post on here – his playing totally serves the music in a way I aspire to. The note choices and tonal choices are perfect.
The next morning we visited a stop we made about a year ago, during my first tour with the band (when I was subbing). We hit Notorious P.I.G. – an awesome barbecue spot. Half order of ribs with “burnt ends,” which were a lot like pot roast, and two sides. It was crushing.
Day 3: Bozeman, MT. We played at the Filling Station. Again, not much of a club, but we had played there before and it’s money in our pocket that we’d otherwise just lose on lodging and food for the day. The crowd was better than last time, too – although that was kind of a logistics error. We were supposed to be playing an after-party for another band, but their schedule got shifted and went so far over that people were still at their show through most of our set. This time it was a solid crowd start to finish, and the sound felt really dialed in. I didn’t even have a monitor, and there were some line-of-sight issues – it was such a narrow stage that the crowd could see each of us, but I had trouble seeing cues from Terry (drums) and Jon (bass). For the most part, though, I saw what I needed to and we played our set without any issues. I also plugged the Moog into my Line 6 DL4 delay pedal, which added some depth to the sound on the solo. I bought the DL4 because it’s kind of the industry standard that I saw in everyone’s setup, but I learned later that there were some quality control problems. A lot of pros have told me that they own two or three because of how often they break, which is another $250 or so per pedal if you get them new. I had mine fixed recently (after it spent about a year broken and sitting around) and had an upgrade done by my tech where he replaced components that he thought were lower-quality. It did liven the sound up a little; before it had sometimes sounded a little muddy, a little bit like it was underwater or I was wearing earplugs. I’ve barely scratched the surface of using it as a loop station, mostly I use the old delay models. I love the analog ones that let you mess with the wow and flutter of the virtual tape. I almost bought a real tape echoplex about a month ago, but I had just come down with the flu and someone else bought it.
Day 4: a lot of driving. 11 hours or so, Bozeman to Fargo, clear across North Dakota. Really not much else to say about the drive, slept through a lot of it.
Here’s some stuff I wrote on tour and never published. It was Saturday, Feb 11.
Tonight we’re in Nederland, CO. The space we’re playing is real new – it’s called The Caribou Room. From what I understand, it’s a sound engineer’s baby that he started for fun, and wanted to do everything right. Great sound onstage. While loading in, Terry (our drummer) said, “hey Ben, you’re gonna be excited to see what’s back here.” I assumed that meant there was a Hammond organ, but didn’t want to get my hopes up. In fact, there was a Hammond and Leslie – a Model A (the first organ Hammond produced) and a “tallboy” 31h Leslie cabinet. I shouted “F*CK” and surprised one of the staff who happened to be walking through the room. Turns out it’s more or less being stored there by one of the staff, so I won’t get to play it tonight. There’s a C3 and Leslie 122 available for rental, but because it wasn’t negotiated earlier, we’d have to pay like $200 to rent it. Hopefully we’ll play here again and get it covered in the contract; the engineers made it sound like they could hook that up easily.
Last night we were in Denver at Ophelia’s. I’d never seen a club set up the way it is – two levels with the stage on the basement level and a big hole in the ground floor. People next to the balcony can look down on the stage, and above the stage is a video projection screen for anyone further back.
The most exciting part was opening for Foundation of Funk – a supergroup featuring Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste and George Porter, Jr. (bass and drums respectively) of the Meters. They tour adding different guests – for this show, it was Eddie Roberts (New Mastersounds) on guitar and John Medeski on keyboard. Far and away the best keyboard setup I’ve gotten to use yet – he had rented a B3, D6 clavinet through a fender deluxe, and Nord stage. I namedropped one of my PSU professors, David Valdez, who had played with Medeski many years ago in Boston. “Man, he was just this punk kid back when I knew him. One of those really burnin’ players.” I got a hold of Valdez on facebook: “We played a lot of gigs together. Never expected he’d end up a rock star.” Medeski was kind enough to let me use his custom wah pedal that he’d had made in Greece since I always use the onboard wah on my Nord. He warned me it was $1000 to replace. The only mishap was that I managed to make the clavinet feed back, which I didn’t know was possible. I guess it was turned up too high when I turned the wah on in preparation for a solo.
I found this track in the KMHD library maybe a year ago. I gave it a listen and the organ work blew me away. I did a cursory search online and it looked like Larry Goldings, one of my favorites, was on organ. Since getting the album and reading the liners, I’ve found that it’s actually Sam Yahel on organ (another phenomenal organist) and Larry Goldings is on Wurlitzer electric piano duty. Madeleine Peyroux is the only singer who has some of Billie Holiday’s je ne sais quois, a sort of smokiness and roughness to her voice. She has her own thing, and doesn’t try to just do a Billie impression, which is the path I’d take… trying to be “the next” anybody is almost always an act of hubris.
Sam Yahel’s work on this track is wizardry. For a few weeks, every time I visited the KMHD studio to build shows, I would listen to it, usually two or three times back to back. The Hammond organ is a very expressive instrument with such a wide variety of tone and color – and it’s kind of a shame that so many musicians (myself included) tend to set it and forget it. It’s tough to manipulate the drawbars and other controls if you’re on a jazz gig, holding down bass with your left hand – which is a great reason to get better at playing the pedals! That’s one of the coolest things about the instrument, being able to morph and transform your sound as you play. I noticed in my experimenting with the Garageband organ plugin that they have the mod wheel fade between two drawbar settings – that’s way more interesting than making it control the leslie like so many other organ clones. Anyway, because there’s bass on this recording (David Piltch), Sam Yahel is free to manipulate the organ’s settings, and does it masterfully. The entrance alone sounds like a filter sweep someone might do on a synthesizer – it’s possible something was done in post-production, but I doubt it. Following the first vocal phrase, he’s got a tone very similar to the wurlitzer with the organ’s percussion turned on. Some of the vibrato is from the leslie, but some sounds like the built-in scanner vibrato on V2 or V3, a setting I rarely use. It can sound too much like a theater organ, especially with the two-speed leslies that people usually play through. It sounds like a one-speed leslie on this recording (fast or stopped instead of fast/slow), which has an older sound to it. Often the organ sound is flutey, probably drawbars 1 and 3 or 4. Occasionally he pulls more out and it’s a dramatic shift. There’s also a great mix of legato and pad foundation followed by some stabs and staccato fills. Great dynamics, as well. I also love the sound of just one drawbar out, which is usually the sound on the fills here. It’s a kind of cold, lonesome sound. I don’t have color/tone synesthesia the way some musicians do, but Hammond organ gives me some – the flutey, single drawbar sounds are a whitish blue to me. The 1st two drawbars out sounds red, the first four or five a kind of brown; all of the drawbars out is orange.
A shout-out to Larry Goldings for playing so sparsely on wurlitzer, only doing what’s required. I consider myself more of an organist, and if someone had me on a recording session playing piano with someone else on organ, it would be hard to leave my ego at the door and just play the tune. I’d probably be trying to pull out fancy fills at every opportunity, mostly for my own reassurance that I can “actually play.” I fully respect playing tastefully – you can play all the notes you know, but the real pros can destroy all that with three perfect ones.
I went back and listened to the original recording of this tune by Anjani Thomas, Leonard Cohen’s backup singer and lover (Cohen is the co-author of the song). It’s nice, but doesn’t do it for me like Madeleine Peyroux’s version does – perhaps that’s just as an organist. It’s interesting to hear it slowed down and done in 3/4 time. It’s got kind of a lounge jazz vibe to it – not saying that pejoratively at all, it reminds me of some of my favorite Chet Baker recordings from late in his career. I think what would have made all the difference to me is having the drums play brushes instead of just beats 2 and 3 on the ride cymbal with a stick. That’s so little that I’d almost rather have no drums at all. I do love hearing a composer play their tune, though – gives you a great window into their intent.
After years of not posting on my old website, I’ve started another. I’m hoping this one doesn’t meet the same fate. It’s the same basic idea – a wordpress website that I can use as a blog to post about my projects and collect some thoughts about music. I’ve greatly enjoyed the blogs of other musicians and have needed a stronger online presence and portfolio, so here it is. I expect to be posting thoughts on albums I listen to and concerts I attend, as well as entries for when I’m on tour with different groups. You can always check out my instagram or twitter (@snacks_turner) which I try to keep interesting with gig photos. The best way to keep track of my upcoming shows is my facebook page. Maybe I’ll start a mailing list, too. I’ll probably find some way to connect my DJ work to this website as well – you can hear me on KMHD (89.1 FM in Portland), Monday through Friday at 6-7 AM when I host Jazz at Sunrise, a mellow morning program of ballads and pretty recordings. Then I’m back from 10 to noon with the AM edition of The Bridge, which dips into all the genres KMHD plays – a backbone of straight ahead jazz classics, with bits of soul jazz, latin, funk, blues, and anything hip enough to share that fits the format. We stream online at http://kmhd.org.
Alright! Now I gotta print new business cards with this site on ’em… QR codes aren’t hot anymore, are they?