2017
06.10

Adam West – my Batman

It was announced that Adam West died last night. He was 88. I know that’s a long life but admit this one hits me hard. He was my Batman. I was born in ’66, same year the TV show came out. He’s always been a part of my life.   I don’t know a time without him.

I was lucky enough to interview him for a local childrens show in 2001. I took myself and the situation way too seriously. All three local news stations were there. I was star struck. This was Adam West from my childhood. I really just sucked the air out of the room with how seriously I treated him until he lightened the mood by just having fun. He’d learned to do that about himself by that point. A trick we could all stand to observe.

He was great. He was graceful and dignified but knew how to have fun with the whole situation, with life, with the Batman persona,….with life. My wife was so impressed with him she named our first son Adam.

I’m glad I got to meet him. I’m glad we all had him.

Meeting Adam West

2017
05.19

Image result for ringling brothers

 * (Before the age of cell phones I brought my little micro-cassette recorder and made a crude but cool recording of the circus from inside the band I played with during the next to last show on Saturday. Some of these clips are from inside the band and some are from a recording of the same show my brother did from the audience)

Greatest Show on Earth

This Sunday, May 21st, 2017 after 146 years, the “Greatest Show on Earth”,… Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is performing it’s very last show.  146 years of tradition, showmanship, acts passed down and honed through the years, families born into, and bred to do this. Now, really becoming a lost art.  Lost to the ages.  This bums me out. I’m sad to hear it.  I love the show.  I love the performers.  I love the great tradition.

With the circus closing there will no doubt be a lot of articles on the circus. But one that really needs to be written about and archived is all the musicians who toured and performed in the circus band for years.  Incredible, talented, trained and educated, mostly unrecognized, accomplished musicians.  Years and years of stories to tell through all the eras and iterations of the circus.  There’s a whole book there, I’m sure.  Somebody oughta write it.

Lotta emotions here.  But one is pride that I was part of it for 4 days.

In the summer of ’91 I was a new college graduate and a former professor of mine called me and told me he had a gig for me.  He asked if I was in shape. I had just finished my senior recital for which I’d put in 3 – 4 hours a night of practice. I was playing weddings every weekend that summer.  Sometimes two a day.  I was in shape.  He asked me again, several times. . . , “Are you in shape?”  Ringling Bros. was coming to town and he needed me to be part of the pick up band they used on the road.  I was very excited by that prospect.

I was in shape, I thought.

I’ve played over 30 years of rodeos, with 45 minute-non-stop-never-take-the horn-off-your-lip grand entries, bull riding, clown acts, bronco busting, barrel racing, steer roping and all.  And to this day the circus is still the hardest gig I ever played.

There were two groups who traveled.  The red unit and the blue unit.  They each hit different sections of the country.  I used to know which one I was playing but with time it’s gotten jumbled in my mind.  I wanna say Red.  I also used to have my check stub for the longest time and am mad at myself for not keeping up with it.

At any rate, both groups, the red and the blue of the circus bands had a core group of full time band members, consisting of a rhythm section (guitar, bass and drums) a lead trumpet and the band leader himself who was also a phenomenal trumpet player.   Through my research on this I think I’ve found his name was Keith Green.  Every player I’ve ever talked to who played that gig says the same things.  Unbelievable player.  Great leader. High note wizard.  And endurance like an iron man.  He’d come over and play the wood wind parts over their shoulder in the octave or an octave higher than them.  Just a phenom of a player.

(High note circus trumpet)

(I think this is a Gloria Estefan number.  I remember it was really exciting to hear it next to me live.)

(Wind Beneath my Wings)

Maynard Circus high notes

More Circus high notes

And even more Circus high notes

Motley Circus Dr Feel Good high notes

I wanna say the lead trumpet guy’s name was Bob.  Not sure.  He was a big Italian guy with a great head of hair and a hairline that started in the middle of his forehead.  Game Boys had just come out and he knew the book so well he could play his horn with one hand and play the Game Boy with his other hand.  Parlor trick or not you have to admit it’s impressive. I remember particularly during the second Saturday show him playing the game while he played this,…..

(I don’t know what this number was called but I call it “Circus Fingers” – maybe should call it “Game Boy Fingers”)

I believe this is the bridge to “Circus Fingers”

More “Circus Fingers” (worth hearing again – unbelievable! I mean, pretty amazing, huh? I remember my mind reeling trying to read and play this the first show. I was proud of myself for even getting close by the time my 3 days were over)

Bob was really a monster player.  I was talking trumpet pedagogy with him after the first of three shows we did on Saturday where he asked if I wanted to come to the train car he stayed in and take a lesson.  After the Wed, Thur and Friday shows my lip was pretty much hamburger.  I didn’t see how I could get anything out of a lesson or be any good to any teacher.  I politely declined.  Kind of kick myself now.  As you get older you learn to compartmentalize and make time for things – hard or not.   Things are seldom convenient and easy.  And when was I going to be able to say I saw the car the Ringling Bros. band guys stayed in again?  Won’t now.  A lesson I learned later in life is to say “Yes”.  That’s usually the right answer.  You never know what it’ll get you.  And “no” usually doesn’t get you much of anything.  These days I would have approached the whole thing differently.

(Circus Chords – Just because I think it’s cool,…and also because I’ve played in a rodeo band for years where we do something similar)

There was one rehearsal and the book they read was incredibly daunting.  As thick as as three editions of “War and Peace”.  In looking for information about this on the eve of the circus closing for good I looked up info on the web about the musicians, for which there is woefully very little found.  I’ve always wondered what became of these people?  What little I did find, I quote somebody called Wilcox96 out of Charlotte NC on the boards of trumpetherald.com forum who puts it really better than me.  He pretty much mirrors my experience and thoughts – – –

                    “doing the circus,….The book was brutal anyway… each half was like a Sears catalog’s worth of tunes…loud..rock…mixed with the Sousa gallops… The schedule? rehearsal Tuesday…show that night…then wed night…2 shows on thurs… 2 on fri… 3 on sat…2 on sun. But those guys? Bob was a monster. Got stronger by the 3rd show on sat. But just when you thought Bob was the king, Keith Green would come and stand behind the tpt section and play the gallops up an octave or 2…dbl and trpl tonguing dbl C’s, D’s… what a freak. he’d do that and walk away chuckling. It was a trip. The pay was shamefully bad…but a real experience to hang with those guys.”

There must have been a woodwind person – maybe two now that I listen to my tapes. Too many independent parts to be covered by guys town to town in a pick up band.   I don’t remember them so much though.  There was, now that I listen to my tape a keyboard guy who was very integral to the show.

The people I do remember were – the bass player. He was a red headed guy from North Texas State.  He was young and was a recent graduate who’d been on the road a year, I think.  I remember him showing me a new book on sight reading technique he was working out of which used a speed reading system that just showed note heads/no stems.   Helped you read patterns.

I don’t remember much about the drummer other than he was rock solid and held it all together.

But the guitarist, I remember! In fact most of the clips I feature on here are pretty guitar heavy because I sat right next to him. He was really an incredible musician and it seemed he could hold and lead the whole thing by himself if need be.  He had complete control of his rig and could play all kinds of styles and had many effects.  He was from the north east, I believe.  I remember him telling me he had auditioned for Cher for her video, If I could Turn Back Time. I asked if he got it. “Nah, man!  She just wanted somebody with muscles.  She didn’t want anybody who could play, man”.  He may not have been a big guy with muscles but he was an incredible player.  If you see the video – sure enough she has some Fabio looking guy with a lot of hair and muscles.  I think of him every time something about Cher comes up.   A weird connection, eh?

If I Could Talk to the Animals

Panama – guitar solo (I remember this was when a motorcycle loudly went round and round in a circle steel ball cage over our heads)

You Really Got Me

The book was ridiculous.   Every facet of your trumpet playing regimen and training came into play.  High notes.

(High notes)

Double tonguing….

Don’t remember the act we played this for….I just call it crazy circus double tonguing.

Finger technique.   And especially sight reading.

Magnificent Seven

There were those who said the elephants the circus featured were mistreated.  I’ve hear it said that the animal rights people like PETA led to the demise of Ringling.  I’ve also heard it said these elephants were treated better, got to see more of the world than most people, and had a better life than any animal in the wild.  Circus officials say the financial hit they took when elephants were removed from the act was so substantial it eventually doomed the entire enterprise.   I’m not here to argue this fact, but there was an old skit on Saturday Night Live that I reference more and more the older I get.  It was called “People Who’ve Ruined it for the Rest of Us”.  If you ever come across it I’ll let it speak for itself.

What happened to all these great musicians?  Where did they go after their tenure with the circus?  I wanna know about these guys that I just briefly met.  I heard the Ring Master of the last 18 yrs, Jonathan Lee Iverson in an interview on NPR on the drive home this afternoon.  He talked about transitioning into real life after the circus.  He said something to the effect that, although not an idyllic world,  he would miss the extraordinary people who reached for perfection and the highest heights every day.  Trying to be the best they could be in a world that’s not always that way.  I agree.  And really, he’s right.  That’s a world I’d love to live in.

Farewell Ringling Bros.

 

2016
08.29

World of Pure Imagination

Gene Wilder died today at the age of 83. A big part of my life.  The soul he put into his characters , – – especially Willie Wonka (along with Anthony Newly and Leslie Bricusse’s music) was hugely influential and important to me.

Image result for willy wonka

“We are the music makers… and we are the dreamers of dreams”

Hold your breath…..make a wish,….count to three

“Wanta change the world? There’s nothing to it. There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there you’ll be free if you truly wish to be.”

2015
05.17

It was the summer of 1980 before my 9th grade year. My mother was having the house painted and we wandered in and out of the house in the morning watching the painters and going back to the TV. Right after Family Feud there was a new talk show with a new personality who immediately caught my attention. His show had a great feel to it and the theme song (written by Michael McDonald of Doobie Bros fame) was the perfect feel for a summer morning.
This smart alecky David Letterman juxtaposed with the no cares morning show feel was a great treat to tune into. I’ve long thought I had an eye for talent and I knew this guy was something the moment I saw him. It was short lived but he quickly got his own late night show not long after.

I was there for the first episode of his new late show and kept watching almost religiously for many years after wards. Thus starting a long standing practice of not getting enough sleep for real life. Much like watching Johnny Carson this was also part of my schooling. I studied the craft and art of show business and put as much stock in this learning as I did my real studies in high school and later in college. Maybe more.

I’ll admit I haven’t really watched Letterman in 10 years or more but I’ll miss Dave. Not a lot of quality or talent left in entertainment or the world these days. And that’s not old man, sour grapes talking.

It’s true.

I’ll also miss the great Paul Shaffer and his encyclopedic knowledge of songs – – ready to go at a moments notice. I’ll miss Tom “Bones” Malone and the only other original member of that band,…bassist, the great Will Lee.

A clip from Dave’s first morning show.

Paul would play this song occasionally on the new show going to a commercial and I’d put money on the fact that I’m one of the only ones who caught it. I remember Michael McDonald coming on the show once and Paul played it with him. I remember thinking that was cool.

Here’s to the beginning of it all,….and to it coming to an end.

Here’s to David Letterman.

2014
02.06

Snow

Even though we had to go to work it was fun being out in this.  It brought to mind this.

 

2013
12.23

Haven’t done this in a while.

Maybe somebody (if anyone’s reading this) can tell me how to block all the spam I get.   But at any rate, to quote Charles Grodin in “Heaven Can Wait” (which I seem to do a lot of these days) ……I think the statement speaks for itself.

Merry Christmas, Earth, one and all.

2013
07.11

5

 

 

5 yr old

5 yr old

 

Doing this thing I don’t do very often or have time for. A personal blog.

My little one is 5 today. Such a big boy. Already older; acting and looking. Sleeping till 11:00

like a college boy.

Happy Birthday to my boy!

2012
10.06
An old friend

Grey Sky

The sky was grey on this dreary cold day in 6th grade. It actually, in a weird way was of some solace to me. It summed up loneliness, melancholy. Precursors, I guess, to depression. Life long companions I’ve learned to let go of to some extent. It was a deliciously sickly sweet, intoxicating feeling that at the time I just drank in.  It was beautiful.  I let it envelope me regularly. I had found early on, this was my personal emotion. It, he and I, were friends. Sometimes I thought maybe my best and only friend.

As I said,…it was a grey skied day. This sky would color the whole day, my whole perception of life, during the fall and winter months. Texas may be known for blazing hot weather but I believe Abilene has a private corridor of cold air from the jet stream that runs through it, or however that works, that lets you know there’s something cold up there.

It was a Friday in 6th grade. My class would go across the hall some mornings and join Mr. Wilson’s 6th grade class. It was kind of a dead time for teachers and students that they would never allow in schools today. Odd that this non structured, non instructional time is one of the moments I remember most in all my early schooling. It was, I guess in retrospect, a detoxing time from studies, and I know now, just a time to breath for the teachers. Another thing that is not allowed anymore.  I saw my sky as I looked out the window of the old style, brick, three storied school building with radiators on the wall and metal firescapes that went all the way to the ground.  We would stay in this combined class format for about an hour before lunch. Just sit and exist and watch TV while the two sixth grade teachers talked and sometimes left the room all together.  This was about 10:30 which was when “The Electric Company” came on. I was always excited to see ‘Spidey Super Stories’ on it. I would conceal my excitement from my classmates, but it was s bright part of the morning. ‘Spidey Super Stories’ were weak offerings of the character even if it was a kids show. But it was a take on my favorite character and it was on national TV. I’d take it.

After that, the channel would get changed and we’d watch “The Gong Show”. It seemed that everyone else in the room was oblivious to what was on the TV. Or that it was even on. Mr. Wilson had been in World War II. He had discipline. He had order. That was known to everyone,…so it wasn’t bedlam. But everyone was talking and it was definitely what would be called free time today. Another thing that doesn’t exist much anymore. They were all carrying on conversations and just enjoying socializing. I was not oblivious. TV was my refuge. I studied and understood what was being shown. “The Gong Show”. An odd choice to show to children. I watched the judges interacting on the show. Jamie Farr, crazy Pat McCormick, and resident ‘dirty chick’ JP Morgan, with her suggestive dress and manner, and who was regularly bleeped on camera.  Even if I couldn’t hear everything that was being said on the lone little TV and the noise of the room, I could tell it wasn’t exactly kid fair and was more adult behavior than one should see at that age, let alone in school. Again, I seemed to be the only one who noticed or was actually watching. Through all the chaos and noise there was a strange sensation of seeing through to the real prize. I have noticed throughout my life that when there is a breakdown and disorder around me I suddenly have a focus that none around me seem to possess. For whatever reason I have found I thrive in this environment. I was repulsed by most of the people I went to school with and didn’t count any of them friends. Truly. But this day I had another friend in the room in the form of Chuck Barris, his guest judges, their dirty jokes and the bad acts on display. Showbiz! And I studied it like it was the template of life.

There was a book club that we could place orders from every week. I had almost forgotten I’d put in an order the previous week. This particular day our order had come in while we were in Mr. Wilson’s class. While all the other kids were getting their Curious George books and such,…. at the bottom of the box was my order. A Dynamite Magazine with Farrah Fawcett on the cover and my Marvel Supereroes poster,… drawn by Sal Buscema. It was a big fold out poster with Captain America, Spider-Man, The Hulk and others. I knew better than to bring it out amongst the base civilians I was around. Never take anything to or out in the open at school that you want to keep in new order and one piece. I did peek a little under the table and noted it was Sal Buscema art when I noticed his big characteristic Hulk feet he drew.  Even then I was getting to the point I could identify different artists.  I had plans of putting it up on the wall in the room between our bedrooms when I got home in the adjoining room we called “The Comic Book Room”.

Among the feeling of loneliness and just existing in school everyday, as the noise and confusion of the room surrounded me, and I sat amongst the rabble I attended school with, –  I sat there with my prize, knowing that I was the only one in the school who could appreciate it’s significance; it’s superior worth. A warm glow suddenly came over me and an inexplicable feeling of,…. a kind of safe pocket of safety and warmth enclosed me. It was like drinking hot chocolate on a cold day. I have seldom felt that way again.

I don’t believe I ever placed an order through the book club again. There could never be a better selection offered than what I had already perceptively and cunningly snatched up that day. I had mined all there was from that well. I mean, what was the point?

 

Edit:  and an addition here,…because it makes me so happy to see it.  The Gong Show at it’s best (depending on how you look at it) and it reminds me of of those times…..

2012
08.16

Now, find me a 6 yr. old boy who has a birthday cake like this. In 2012.

 

I think this post speaks volumes for itself. My boy!

2012
06.14

Man out of time

I’ve long thought I was a bit of a man out of time. My interests and tastes tend to skew at least 10, 20, 30 years older than I am for a lot of things.   If nothing else I exhibit a healthy interest in the history of what was.  Of what used to be the standard.

I love, and would rather hear Mel Torme, Perry Como, Bing Crosby than most of the people performing today. I’ve also long had an appreciation for other genres from bygone eras,…movies, style, art,…etc.   So, when my boy shows interest (and I think an advanced and intuitive, understanding and appreciation) for the many, (unsolicited on my part), interests in older things; particularly things I held dearly as kid – I’m thrilled to go through this discovery with him.  There’s something to genetics, eh?   His latest obsession speaks for itself.

like father, like son

like father, like son