“A-Side” Tour, first couple days.

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.

Winter Tour II, Day 10

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.

Notes on Madeleine Peyroux – Blue Alert

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.

Numero Chfuggin Uno

Hello all,

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?