Archive for April, 2012

(Carla Torgerson’s wall of guitars)

(John Conte, seated; Carla Torgerson on guitar; Scott Schickler on drums)

(Scott, Glenn Slater on keyboards, Leighton Beezer on guitar)

(Scott reaches for a beer)

(John and Carla)

Sunday, April 29: final day in Seattle before heading back to Philly.  I had some errands to run…returned my rental bike, shipped some unsold books back home (that will I will unload via enforced sales to my students this fall.)  Fortunately, I would not have to worry about filling my time on this day.  The Thrown Ups’ Leighton Beezer invited me to a jam session that afternoon at the home of the Walkabouts’ Carla Torgerson.

As I’ve mentioned previously in this blog (and in the book), Leighton has a very specific approach to his playing.  No songs, no practice…entirely improv.  He puts together musical ensembles, usually at the last minute, leading to un-charted experimental creative waters.  I’ve seen him play a few times, and it never ceases to amaze me.  I remember going to a Philly gig last summer featuring a band of his called Empire Vista.  Unlike past Leighton shows, however, EV sounded different.  They played hooky arrangements with defined vocals—in other words, they played songs.  “You thought they were songs?” Leighton later corrected.

I arrived at Carla’s place around 3:30 that afternoon.  Even though her home sits fairly close to I-5, it feels like the country, with a long driveway that extends maybe a hundred yards from the street.  In addition to Leighton and Carla, this collective would also feature keyboardist (and Walkabout) Glenn Slater, singer John Conte (from the Living) and drummer Scott Schickler (from Swallow, the Thrown Ups, and the Limp Richerds.)  After enjoying some lunch, we all headed to Carla’s studio.  Her space is something to behold, with a wall of acoustic and electric guitars, as well as a banjo emblazoned with a Sub Pop sticker.  (And, if you look hard enough, you’ll see a photo of the Fastbacks’ Kim Warnick with Eddie Vedder.)  The studio also includes two keyboards and a spinet piano.

Scott and Glenn sat behind their drum kit and keyboard, respectively.  Leighton stood with his guitar next to Glenn, with John seated on the bench in front of the piano.  Carla also played a second keyboard, standing near Scott.

The whole improvisational/non-verbal communication thing between musicians fascinates me.  Nobody says, “Okay, let’s start with such and such a song in B, then go back to A three times, blah blah blah.”  Instead, somebody just starts playing, Scott finds a beat, and the other players settle into a groove.

Since no one manned a bass, Glenn provided the low end parts.  John would add some soulful improvised vocals, not constantly, just when he felt the urge.  Each “song” lasted maybe 10 minutes or so, ebbing or flowing depending on what everyone felt at the moment.  At one break, Leighton mentioned how the musicians “talked” to each other through notes, or riffs…someone might hear what another player is doing and then “answer” him or her with a note combination of his/her own.  Then, the original player would hear that, and then would respond with something else.  The musicians listened to themselves and each other at the same time.  For a bad guitar player like myself, I find the experience beautiful and mystical.

I found myself watching Scott most of the time, as he either responded or drove the band with his steady, precise drumming.  He also managed to take several swigs of beer without missing a beat.  He’d lay one stick down, pick up his beer and drink, while hitting the snare and cymbal with his free hand and bass drum with his foot.  Later, after I told Scott how impressed I was with that, he mentioned how back in the day, drumming prodigy Greg Gilmore (Living, 10 Minute Warning, Mother Love Bone) would actually light a cigarette during gigs.  He would literally pick up a pack, pull out a cigarette, and ignite it without losing his place.

For the last piece, Carla switched to acoustic guitar.  At one point, she started playing a riff that began in B-Flat, I think, then would venture out and circle back to the original chord.  Leighton played his own thing, but would meet Carla back at that B-Flat each time.  Glenn then added a bass fill, and magic happened.

As the session ended, I was a little sad, but mostly it felt like the perfect way to end this trip.  I headed back home, knowing I would see my friends again soon enough.

Part 2, the Squirrels live at the Sunset Tavern, Ballard, Seattle.

(Scott McCaughey, Rob Morgan, and Tad Hutchison)

(Scott and Rob)


(Scott and Rob)

(Long time Squirrels co-pilot Joey Kline and Scott…oooh, psychedelic)

Part 1, Young Fresh Fellows, live at the Sunset Tavern, Ballard, Seattle.

(The manic Kurt Bloch.  Last night I decided he is Seattle’s Neil Young.)

(Jim Sangster)

(Scott McCaughey)

(Chuck Carroll, Tad Hutchison, and Scott)

I told my wife I would head to Seattle if any of the following bands would play/reunite: Red Dress, the U-Men, the Squirrels, and the Young Fresh Fellows.  Well, fortunately for me (and a whole lot of other people), the latter two bands gigged on one evening…last night at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard.

After my Sonic Boom signing earlier that day, I had a couple of hours to kill.  As I was stumbling around Ballard trying not to look too pathetic, I ran into writer/musician Dave O’Leary.  Dave wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called Horse Bite which came out around the same time as Strangest Tribe.  If you haven’t read it, please do.  Dave does a wonderful job taking the reader from bar to bar in Seattle, in search of permanence.  In any event, I enjoyed talking writing with Dave over a couple of beers.  Following that, I headed over to the Sunset.

The Squirrels, led by singer Rob Morgan, took the stage first. Accompanying Rob was drummer Tad Hutchison, guitarist/keyboardist Chuck Carroll, bassist Scott McCaughey, and guitarist Jim Sangster.  Rob may be the most entertaining front man you’ll ever see, so if you ever get the chance to watch him perform, put it on your must-do list.

I saw the Squirrels rehearse the night before, so this set would be an extra treat (before I forget, at rehearsal the band had been working on a song called “I Hate Getting Up in the Morning” by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates.  Rob decided to rename it “I Can’t Get It Up in the Morning” as befitting the 2012 version of the Squirrels.)  Needless to say, Rob and the guys killed…and there’s this one Johnny Kidd song they did, and I can’t find the name of it, but I totally love it…Rob, please help.  Has this dramatic riff, like DAH DAH DAH DAH-DAH DAH-DAH. (Update: it’s “Restless.”  Thanks, Rob.)

At the end of their set, the legendary Roy Loney (of the Flamin’ Groovies) joined the band for a few songs.

Between the Squirrels and the Fellows set, I said hi to some folks, including Dawn Anderson (my favorite Seattle writer); author Charles Cross, and Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, who apparently is a big Loney fan (this was of course after the Seattle Weekly decided to print my book quote where I say Mark “wasn’t cute enough.”  Ugh.)

Then the Fellows took the stage, joined by the incomparable Kurt Bloch on guitar.  The Fellows without Kurt?  Awesome.  The Fellows with Kurt?  Take “awesome” and add 5-Hour Energy.  Despite being past fifty, Kurt has more vigor than most of us put together.  I loved every minute of it of course, especially when I got to hear “Rock ‘N’ Roll Pest Control” for the second time in one day.

After the Fellows’ set, I stepped outside and chatted with Rod Moody (the Fuzz, Swallow, Deranged Diction), as well as Rob Morgan and some other folks.  Then, it hit me.  After bouncing around for three hours, I was completely spent…and I had my bed on speed dial.  So, I went home and missed out on the Roy Loney & the Longshots set.  (Yes, guys, I know I suck.)  Regardless, the show was well worth the trip.

Pics From Signing, 4/28/12

Posted: April 29, 2012 in Seattle Events

(Rob Morgan and Matt Brown)

(Rob and Scott McCaughey)

(Scott with Leighton Beezer in the foreground)

(Scott and some poser wearing a Pudz t-shirt)

So apparently the Seattle Weekly had a blurb about my signing yesterday, where it mentioned Scott McCaughey accompanying me with an acoustic set, but had nothing about the show later that evening where he would play with the Squirrels, Young Fresh Fellows, and Roy Loney.  Weird.

In any event, we had a good crowd over at Sonic Boom last night.  (Note: in addition to the Fellows and Squirrels, Scott has been in R.E.M, the Minus 5, the Baseball Project, Tired Pony, and others.  He has been on Letterman with his various bands so, needless to say, I was extremely fortunate he agreed to play.)

The Squirrels’ Rob Morgan joined Scott for the opening number (“I’ll Never Get Over You” by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, I believe.)  Following that, Scott played some Fellows songs, including an acoustic version of “Rock n Roll Pest Control” (one of my faves.)  After mixing in a new Minus 5 number, he took requests.  I of course yelled out for “Amy Grant,” and Scott happily obliged. (If you haven’t yet heard “Amy Grant,” find it and listen to it NOW.)

Attendees included the Thrown Ups’ Leighton Beezer, 3 Swimmers’ George Romansic, and the Squirrels’ Kevin Crosby.  The signing became the perfect prelude to the show to follow. (Pics of the signing coming up, as well as of the Fellows/Squirrels/Loney show.)

Breakfast With Jack Endino

Posted: April 28, 2012 in Band Shots, etc.

(Breakfast yesterday in Ballard with producer/musician Jack Endino…got a Kandi Coded record out of the deal, so now I have an excuse to get a turntable)

(Tad Hutchison and Scott McCaughey)

(Rob and Chuck Carroll)

(Chuck and Jim Sangster)

(Preacher Rob presiding)

Sorry about the long delay between posts…I’ve been, you know, “busy” (gee, that excuse isn’t overused or anything.)

Anyway, I arrived in Seattle late Thursday, getting ready for the Squirrels/Young Fresh Fellows/Roy Loney show tonight.  My friend Rob Morgan, who of course fronts the Squirrels, invited me to a practice session last night…and yeah, I have to use the word “amazing” to describe it.

I’ve never been to anything like that before, I mean, I’ve been to jam sessions, but never to a rehearsal per se.  It felt like my own private show.

I picked up Rob in Ballard and drove him to the practice space in Fremont, where the rest of the Squirrels awaited.  This version of the band, called the Mighty Mighty Squirrels, has not played together–literally–since 1984.  At that time, the Squirrels consisted of Rob fronting the Young Fresh Fellows.  (Within six months, Rob formed his own version of the Squirrels.)

So to introduce last night’s players…we have: Rob Morgan, singer and front man; Scott McCaughey, bass; Chuck Carroll, guitar and keyboards; Jim Sangster, guitar; and Tad Hutchison, drums.

As a bad semi-musician, it’s amazing for me to watch real players interact.  It seemed so effortless as they worked through various versions of covers.  The band would play through a song, and then someone would offer a suggestion…Tad might want to change his drum intro, or add a roll or something; Jim might defer to Chuck to add a solo; Rob might come up with a different finale; Scott might suggest Chuck play a different keyboard part.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to watch musicians work together like that.  For not having played together–as the Squirrels, anyway–for over 25 years, it felt so comfortable.  And they laughed and enjoyed themselves the entire time.

I got Tad, Scott, Chuck, and Jim to sign my book (Rob autographed it last fall), and then I began taking photos…and they’re coming up shortly!