Past

All Night (3)

kbsitepicsession019

(from the beginning)

Without saying as much, we knew that we didn’t want to take it any higher yet.  So after a while we unhooked the trio and let Mcshane know that we’d heard him, loved him, and now it was time to move on, because life’s just like that.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Tony had stood up and was moving, swaying rather than dancing, eyes closed and grooving.  Back in the day that’d be bourbon or h slowly killing the singer while the people paid big money to watch ‘em die.  An entire industry was born out of that criminal waste of human life.  Two centuries of business experience pleaded youthful innocence while they knowingly fed artist after artist to their own demons.  In their blissful ignorance some folks still thought those were the good old days.  Nothing but bullshit.  No, if it’s got to be a choice between alcoholic meltdown and art, I know what I choose.  Death ain’t art.  No how, no way.  To believe it is, that’s a sickness in itself.  No, when she worked Tony ran clean, always had.  And now she was takin’ it in, running it over her mind, waiting for an invitation.

Then it came.  Mcshane brought us back down, we settled, and finally he stood back exactly where he’d started, one note, jangly and dissonant, feedback only, back before the end of the world.  I felt the space coming, closed my eyes and leaned back.  If it was just me it’d be texture.  If the guys felt it too then we’d hit it together.  And that was exactly what happened.  There.  The door in.  We all held the space and waited for a heartbeat.  The lady didn’t need asking twice.

In that moment of silence you heard her breathe in, and the whole room held its breath.  Tony would do that to you.  She’d sigh, and everybody in the room would feel exactly the way she felt.  That was her art.  And that voice.

She’s nothin’ but gone…”

The words sliced into me, hard and clean.  But this wasn’t about me.  I had no idea what she was up to, but I was damned if I was gonna let my friend work with anything less than my best.  So I put it away and served it hot, Waits opened it up beside me and made it easier.  I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have standing there in that moment.  I hoped he knew.  We played it quiet and intense, let the voice set the scene.

The whole night was like that.  We were all wide open and listening hard.  Listening with your heart.  It’s a tough place to be for so long.  It feels so natural.  And so naked.  Like someone could reach in and cut out who you are and what you believe, leave you never able to hear like that again.  But this night was about trust.  And not about losing it.  These people were too good, I wasn’t going to let them down.  So we kept listening.

At one point deep into the night I realised I’d been staring at the crowd for a while, but hadn’t seen anything, I was so locked into the sound.  I came to and turned to check in with Tony to see if she wanted the turnaround one more time.  As I moved my mind caught more than my eyes, I almost stumbled as I tried to make sense of what I’d seen while keeping the groove.  I didn’t have time to register much before I locked it with Tony.  Her face told me she’d noticed a while ago, and was gently amused at watching me wake up.  Seems our friend Archer was back.

Funny how much that mattered.

We kept at it.  One long song, miles of difference from where we started.  And yet.  And yet.  There is only one song.  I guess that’s the truth.  We were well over three hours in, probably could’ve kept going, but it was starting to feel like we’d said everything there was to say for the moment.  Time to take it home.  Mcshane was playing mister wonderful like only he could.  I looked at Tony and made like I was asking the question.  She nodded.  I threw it to Waits and he picked it up.  Killer was on it immediately.  So now the game was to let Tony decide whether she wanted to finish it or leave it to the band.  Suddenly it was out of our hands.  Wonder boy hit a note hard and long, and held it, and held it some more.  Then he threw it over his shoulder.  “C’mon girl!”  He was setting it up for her to take it.  Decision made.  We brought it around again and Tony matched his note, seemed like forever.  Then she took us through one more round.

And she said nothin’!”  We rose up to feel it with her.  This was where we’d been heading all night.  Time to tell ‘em why we’re here.

But in her eyes you could see…” I wasn’t hearing the words, only the meaning.  Play to that, the rest would come.  We hit it once.  Two more lines.  There, that felt like an ending.  I tossed it over to Mcshane, he was standing in the space waiting.  He wailed and brought us in again.  We were all behind Tony but I could feel her pick up on the thought.  Drums and bass worked it onetime while I held the groove.  Mcshane again, this time in harmony with that beautiful voice.  Finally the whole band last time, one bar.  Then stop.  Wait for it.  Leave her space.  No, not yet.  Trust.  Then she took it.

Only love!” she said it, rather than sing.  Quiet enough you could hear your heart beat over top, but you didn’t dare breathe for fear of blowing it away.

I went to play a final chord, but somehow I just couldn’t, it didn’t seem right.  I looked up, Mcshane was already walking away.  Waits hung out a moment to be sure, then unstrapped his bass and moved offstage.  I set down my guitar and made off just behind Killer.  Tony was still out there hanging over the mic.  It would take her a minute to come down, but she’d be along soon enough.  The whole house was on their feet and yelling and stomping like you’d never heard.  Slowly we made our way back to the stage.  I touched Tony’s shoulder gently.  She looked up and I noticed she was crying.  Come to think of it so was I.

We all took a bow.  Then another.  The noise just didn’t stop.  Finally we left the stage.  And still they roared.  Later someone told me they’d kept at it for ten minutes.  All I knew was somehow we’d made it.

And there was no way we were doing an encore.


All Night (2)

kbsitepicsession019

(from the beginning)

I’d set up a sound that had way more nasty in it than my normal.  And a bit louder than my usual spot, too.  Wasn’t really thinking about it, but I guess I wanted the rhythm to be a little more up front tonight.  I could still haul it back easy enough, but we were starting with more edge than I’d usually supply.  I could feel Waits shift his tone around to make sense with mine.  As usual with him there was no dialling or stomping pedals, it was all in the fingers.  Man was amazing.  As usual.  We played it around twice more to settle it in.  It might not be a killer dance groove, but it sure made heads move in time.  Let’s stay here for a while, we’ve got all night.

Mcshane’s note had started to make some kind of twisted sense.  At first I wondered how he’d held it for so long, thinking maybe he’d set up some kind of recorded loop.  But no, like always he was riding bareback, nothing extra between him and his amp.  When I could spare a thought I noticed he was standing in an odd position, his back to the people, facing his amp, but not too close.  Then I got it.  Oh man, he’s playing with feedback.  He had hit the note and then stepped just close enough to his amp that his guitar began to resonate to the sound coming off the amp, which set off more guitar ringing, which set off more amp, and still more guitar.  It was a loop that could get out of control and scary loud in a heartbeat, trashing everything we’d built so far.  Took a lot of control to hold it right there.  And he did.  His amp had to be absolutely cranked to pull that off.  The man was serious.  I would have expected that sort of thing later in the night.  Much later.  But if that was where we were starting, this was going to be some time.

We rolled it around again, giving our man the volume he had to have from the rest of us so his note made sense.  He felt the support and leaned in, moving the note from jangly dissonance to something rock solid and on the money.  Then he turned away ever so slightly and the note changed colour, the low part was still there, but now there was a sheen that came out, first barely audible, then firm, and finally ringing over everything, taking on distortion as it grew, and you knew this is exactly what the end of the world would sound like.  Then just in that moment when you thought it was all going to come crashing down he pulled it out and sent us into a long blistering note of melody, then another.  And another.  Not fast, only slow and purposeful.  Inevitable.  Man had something to say, and he was gonna say it.  And you were gonna hear it.  So listen up.

We stayed in that mode for a while.  The groove evolved, but always the same.  When buddy has something to say I want to make sure he has the space to say it.  I turned towards the drums, Waits did the same, we were gonna hold this place for a while so it was time to make it rock solid.  The three of us watched one another move to make the sounds, and moved to the sounds we made ourselves.  It locked, hard.  And wonder boy made with the miraculous over top.  There was no hurry.  So we stayed there for a lifetime.  Let my man tell the tale.


All Night (1)

kbsitepicsession019I took in the scene as I made my way over.  Waits, Mcshane, Killer, Tony.  All present and accounted for.  And everyone cheerful but already starting to focus on the work ahead.  Yeah, this was sure gonna be an interesting night.  I couldn’t help but grin at the thought.  I gave the shoutout, “I hear you guys could use a decent guitar player.”

Yeah, know where we can find one?” Killer gave the traditional response.  Wasn’t exactly a lodge handshake, but it would do.  I sat down at the far side of the table to give the man enough room to work.  Always bad news to crowd a drummer.

Waits smiled in my direction, “You in shape enough for this old man?”  He was exactly a year younger than me but could pass for twentysomething.  We all knew, but I wasn’t gonna be the one to say it out loud.

Look to yourself, kidstuff.” I threw him the finger of admonition that comes naturally when you hit a certain age.  Come to think of it, that’d been a while ago. “Tonight’s a long haul, junior. And ain’t no one here been haulin’ it longer than me.  I’d be more worried about the bright lights if I was you, they’ll be the ones standin’ in front.”

Tony looked cool, already getting her head in gig mode, she just shook her head.  No worries there.  Mcshane shrugged, “We don’t have to burn heavy all night.  You guys just keep the heat on, when the moment comes we’ll know it.  Just gotta have something to say.”

That was the thing about Mcshane, a man of few words, but he always had something he could say if he wanted to.  And when he did you wanted to pay attention.  Man was an incredible talent.  Good thing he was so nice or he would have been insufferable.

We kept up the jive talk for a while, but the spaces got longer and deeper.  I’d never seen this bunch more into the zone.  We cabled up and checked it in silence aside from what needed to be said for tech.  In some circles the vibe would’ve been read as sullen anger.  It was so very cool to know this was all about being ready to do this thing we’d decided to do.

It had started off as a goofy thought that evolved into a dare, then it sat there as a real artistic thing, staring us down.  “Yeah, I think I could keep a whole night going.” It had been Tony who was brave enough to admit it first.  It would be. “As long as I had enough time to catch my thoughts once in a while.”

No, count me out.” Josie shook her head. “That sounds way too much like hard work for its own sake. I’m not into that.  I’ll come listen though.  It’d be neat to hear someone work it out for a whole night.”

Eventually it had come down to the five of us.  I really had no idea how it was going to go, what roads we’d run, or whether I’d still be standing by the end.  But this was about trust.  Trust the players.  Trust the process.  “Trust yourself.”  I hadn’t realised I’d said it out loud.

I do.” said Tony.  I didn’t know whether she was talking about me or her.  I didn’t ask.  Was good to hear, though.

We’d set it up and had things pretty comfortable.  I took a look around the joint.  Good house.  I guess word had gone around.  And a lot more musicians there than you’d usually see on a working night.  Funny though, I didn’t get the sense they were looking for the crash and burn.  I caught eyes and nodded a couple of ways.  No, felt more like brothers and sisters coming down to see what was possible.  I didn’t want to think about that too much.  I know what I’m doing on a guitar, fair enough.  But don’t make me represent the whole tribe.  There are tons of way better players than me.  More than a few of them were in the house that night.  Then again, I was the one standing there at the downbeat.  I let the thought go.  Thinking would come later.

We hadn’t planned anything.  But for some reason we found ourselves making a ragged, funky circle, facing one another, ignoring the world outside.  There would be time enough for them.  No one said a word but we all looked around and checked in.  Tony went head down, looking for all the world like she was praying.  Then she came back up and showed us she was smiling wide.  One by one we all caught it.  She was right, if we weren’t gonna enjoy this there was no sense doin’ it.  Woman is so wise.

Alright.” I said, “Who wants to play?” I had my loopiest grin on, just couldn’t help myself.  Waits was strapped into his bass, he laughed and grabbed hold of Killer’s attention.  Three notes, slow and steady, by the time he hit four my man had caught on and drums echoed the figure onetime.  Mcshane grabbed a note out of thin air, didn’t seem to make sense at first, but I knew better than to ask questions, so I hit up the space between with a rolling three-beat call.  We worked it for a few bars, and it settled into a thing, almost blue, groovy yes, but we could stay here for a while.  No worries. Tony walked over to the edge of the stage and sat down, very much present and attentive, but making it obvious she was gonna give us the space to let us walk for a bit.  So we did.


The Divine Mister B

kbsitepicsession023We had a pretty solid crew that night.  The lovely and talented wonder boy Mcshane on guitar, Waits playing bass, that’d be me holding down the rhythm on the backline, we’d managed to convince the good Doctor T to haul his leslie down so we’d have that classic piece of rotating joy with him playing the organ, and you couldn’t ask for anyone better than Josie to be working the kit woman could rock hard and stop on a dime.  Most wondrous of all sitting in on sax we had Mister Bill Lennie, Leonard to his friends.  He’d been on the road for a long stretch, finally got time off for good behaviour bought a house and settled down.  A lifetime playing because he had to to pay the bills, “and now I play when I want to.”  Which was most of the time, but every musician I knew understood the difference.

Oh yeah this was gonna be some fun.

It took a while to get everyone set up with enough room to work, but this was a cheerful bunch so eventually it sorted out, with much laughter in the meantime.  There was a buzz in the room no question.  I nodded to Josie.  Always thought it was a good thing she liked me, otherwise she’d have me for breakfast.

She grinned.  “Haven’t seen you in a while, you ever learn how to play that thing?”

“Just as bad as ever.  Happily they let me stand back here with the real musicians, so everyone thinks I know what I’m doing.”

“Your secret is safe with me.”

I laughed and turned to my amp, dialled in a sound, mellow and round, with just a hint of bite, there’d be time to step it out later, and checked in with the rest of gang.  Mcshane was ready to crank the guitar on demand, but for now our man of infinite solos was hanging out with the rest of us workin’ stiffs on the backline.  For the moment we weren’t looking to the singer neither, she was off the side and ready.  No, it was up to the divine Mister B to set the tone.  And he didn’t disappoint.  The man waited for us to pay attention, took one slow turn around the stage, finally came to stand in the centre facing us with his back to the crowd, closed his eyes for a second.  Nobody moved.  Felt like forever.  Then it came.

“Three shots, hit me!”   Bam.  Bam.  Bam.  Ain’t nothin’ like a whole band whackin’ you upside the head to get your full attention.  Leonard played a mean sax, and like tenors throughout history he made you sit up and take notice from the word.  And the word was wail.  We set up a tight groove, red hot and rolling, and the man whipped around and rocked the joint.  Two bars in and the people were howling with delight.  We’re on the move, let’s open ‘er up and see what she’ll do.  This was not gonna be an easy night, nope, long and hard, but worth every minute.

Leonard ran us through the changes twice to set the tone.  Then like a true gentleman he made perfect space for Tony and that amazing voice stepped into place, effortless and right on time.  “What you want?”  The focus was on the vocals, where it belonged for now, the man went and stood beside Mcshane so they could do the horn shots together.  “What you need?”  Sax, guitar and organ answered two times.  “What you want?”  Two more hits and we tightened up the groove even more, impossible not to move the crowd started jumping.  “Tell me!”  Sax hit it hard and wailed in the space, seamless and everyone into the shots again, two times.  We took it around the turn and rode it head down and rockin’, then came the payoff.  “What you need?”  Full stop, everybody, no count.

“Respect, yeah!!”  The people roared and we took off at full throttle.  Let there be freakin’ light.

It just wasn’t possible but somehow we kept that energy going for what seemed like forever, maybe more.  Hot grooves, wailing sax, righteous sounds.  It was a wild night.  Leonard and Tony pushing one another harder and higher.  And just when you thought there’d be a break so you could breathe Mcshane would step up to the plate and send out a solo make you scream with joy.  I remember looking up at one point seeing a houseful of happy moving to a groove supplied by a bandful of some of the finest people I’d ever had the privilege of playing with.  Yeah, I thought, I could die now and be content.

But first, maybe just a couple more tunes.

We had a pretty solid crew that night. The lovely and talented wonder boy Mcshane on guitar, Waites playing bass, that’d be me holding down the rhythm on the backline, we’d managed to convince the good Doctor T to haul his leslie down so we’d have that classic piece of rotating joy with him playing the organ, and you couldn’t ask for anyone better than Josie to be working the kit woman could rock hard and stop on a dime. Most wondrous of all sitting in on sax we had Mister Bill Lennie, Leonard to his friends. He’d been on the road for a long stretch, finally got time off for good behaviour bought a house and settled down. A lifetime playing because he had to to pay the bills, “and now I play when i want to.” Which was most of the time, but every musician I knew understood the difference.

Oh yeah this was gonna be some fun.

It took a while to get everyone set up with enough room to work, but this was a cheerful bunch so eventually it sorted out, with much laughter in the meantime. There was a buzz in the room no question. I nodded to Josie. Always thought it was a good thing she liked me, otherwise she’d have me for breakfast.

She grinned. “Haven’t seen you in a while, you ever learn how to play that thing?”

“Just as bad as ever. Happily they let me stand back here with the real musicians, so everyone thinks I know what I’m doing.”

“Your secret is safe with me.”

I laughed and turned to my amp, dialled in a sound, mellow and round, with just a hint of bite, there’d be time to step it out later, and checked in with the rest of gang. Mcshane was ready to crank the guitar on demand, but for now our man of infinite solos was hanging out with the rest of us workin’ stiffs on the backline. For the moment we weren’t looking to the singer neither, she was off the side and ready. No, it was up to the divine Mister B to set the tone. And he didn’t disappoint. The man waited for us to pay attention, took one slow turn around the stage, finally came to stand in the centre facing us with his back to the crowd, closed his eyes for a second. Nobody moved. Felt like forever. Then it came.

“Three shots, hit me!” Bam. Bam. Bam. Ain’t nothin’ like a whole band whackin’ you upside the head to get your full attention. Leonard played a mean sax, and like tenors throughout history he made you sit up and take notice from the word. And the word was wail. We set up a tight groove, red hot and rolling, and the man whipped around and rocked the joint. Two bars in and the people were howling with delight. We’re on the move, let’s open ‘er up and see what she’ll do. This was not gonna be an easy night, nope, long and hard, but worth every minute.

Leonard ran us through the changes twice to set the tone. Then like a true gentleman he made perfect space for Tony and that amazing voice stepped into place, effortless and right on time. “What you want?” The focus was on the vocals, where it belonged for now, the man went and stood beside Mcshane so they could do the horn shots together. “What you need?” Sax, guitar and organ answered two times. “What you want?” Two more hits and we tightened up the groove even more, impossible not to move the crowd started jumping. “Tell me!” Sax hit it hard and wailed in the space, seamless and everyone into the shots again, two times. We took it around the turn and rode it head down and rockin’, then came the payoff. “What you need?” Full stop, everybody, no count.

“Respect, yeah!!” The people roared and we took off at full throttle. Let there be freakin’ light.

It just wasn’t possible but somehow we kept that energy going for what seemed like forever, maybe more. Hot grooves, wailing sax, righteous sounds. It was a wild night. Leonard and Tony pushing one another harder and higher. And just when you thought there’d be a break so you could breathe Mcshane would step up to the plate and send out a solo make you scream with joy. I remember looking up at one point seeing a houseful of happy moving to a groove supplied by a bandful of some of the finest people I’d ever had the privilege of playing with. Yeah, I thought, I could die now and be content. But first, maybe just a couple more tunes.

Lines of Listening

kbsitepicsession019

(from the beginning)

1

(continued)

The lady made her way to the stage, “You guys want to do anything in particular?” We all had favourites, she was gracious enough to offer.  “What do you feel like?”

“Anything you want, girl, we are here to serve.”

“Alright,” she ran her fingers through her short hair and grabbed a mic, “round the block and we’ll see where it takes us.”

My favourite.

It was a game we played.  Set up a place or a groove or a sound and see where it takes us.  Once we’ve got a thing, or maybe before, find some words that fit a melody that makes us say yeah, that’s what this is about.  Not freestyling lines that come to mind, that’s fine, but finer was to find scraps of what someone else had laid down in another time and make it fit this here and now.  Bind that with something you were laying down yourself and see what it makes.  It’s a gift to see the line from power to the people through delta blues back to old times.  And to be able to hook it all up to your day, that was part of Tony’s gift.  And that voice.

Folks were still like dancing so we’d stay up.  I took it, “D” loud enough for Waits to catch.  He’s got good ears, this bunch was all about listening.  I set a loping groove we could lay into for a while, open enough to step out of easily.  Killer cocked his ear, making sure of the space between before saying anything, head moved twice then dip to the right and in.  We set a luxurious stride, fit for a queen.  Autonomous collective be damned, sing it for us sister.

By the time we we were done we’d hit on some old R&B, I think that was Hank Snow, a couple of scraps of Noel Coward hung around a moment of Hothouse Flowers, couldn’t help but smile at the sound of four voices on Cohen’s Alleluia, a worldbeat thing that had words I swear came out of the old border ballads, one long song ain’t none of it sounded like this when it started, veered into Neil Young, then skipped off of if I had a hammer into war what is it good for.  Now say it again, absolutely.

Nothing.

And we stopped.

Tony hung on the mic, eyes closed, then dropped her hands and stood for a beat, still.  When she finally looked up you could tell she hadn’t been here for a while, and wasn’t really taking in any of this just yet.  The room was happy and letting us know, but we just looked at one another.  When it’s real it’s like coming out of hypnosis or something, you see everything fresh, but somehow at a distance.  It gets better, but that feeling never quite goes away.

“You got one more in you, Tony?” McShane was first back on his feet.  “Won’t get any higher tonight. something to take ‘em out and we’ll get Eveready to spin tunes for a while?”

“Yeah, alright.  Something slow.”

Blues was one place we hadn’t been tonight.  Could be freeword, could be classic.  Sounded like B-flat to me, Waits must’ve agreed ’cause he hit it first, one long note solid on the bottom with a little extra grind on the top, how he ever got that much change in tone without dialling or stomping on nothing is beyond me.  I hit the notes straight, no sugar, mallet roll from the cymbals and McShane’s guitar sounds off a riff that could turn into a long rolling line, but then hangs, waiting.  Tony steps up to the mic, tilts her head to catch the mix, then starts making a sound to fill up some of the space between.  It starts low, like catching a breath, fills out enough to make a note, then slides up, not yet a word just a sound, along the climb it shifts colour and somewhere along the line it turns into something that takes on meaning, dunno where exactly but that’s the moment you know something’s gonna be said, and it continues to lift out of the midrange and higher, still soft but with enough edge so you know she means it and then, once we’re all really there, lean on it just a little more.  My man hit the drums two and.  Bass joined him on three, I came along on four, figure to leave enough space for what’s gonna happen, whatever it is I’d like to be there.  Tony brings us on down, “And she says, I don’t know what it takes…”.

She rode us through hard times, no pity just what it is, don’t know where I’m supposed to be, but it sure can’t be here.  Line built on line, no solos just rolling back to the point of it all.  McShane hovered just out of ear, building tones under the voice, leaning in for a hit or a pull-through but mostly just adding weight to what the singer had to say.  I looked out at the room, wasn’t a word that wasn’t being said by the song.  We rolled through it again, worked it up higher.  Folks responded by moving.  I could make out faces, people I knew, Sparechange at one end of the bar nodding right on.  Some other woman I didn’t know stood a little further along the bar transfixed, this was hitting home.  We came around one more time, “One thing I know,” we hit it together, tight, and stopped. “You just got to believe!”

Two short notes and we hold the last chord.  The crowd is with us and start applauding before we cut the final note.  Then it’s over.  Killer and Waits both got a quiet smile going, McShane says thanks and gets the man to roll the tunes from the cabana.  Tony’s still hung out over the mic, folks are still clapping hard, I check out the bar and there’s Sparechange.  Nobody’s noticed, but that woman standing along the bar has passed out, buddy’s caught her and he’s looking at me with a definite “now what?”.  I motion towards the greenroom, Sparechange puts his arm around the woman like she’s his long lost buddy and walks her along to bar.  I rack my guitar, step off the stage and meet him at the door, “Some guys get all the luck.”

He walked her through the door and into the small backstage area we lovingly referred to as the greenroom. “No luck here.  No alcohol either, she was drinking water.  This has all the appearances of a genuine medical condition.”  He set her down gently at one end of the couch.

Jo poked her head into the room, “She alright?”

“Not sure,” I shrugged. “X maybe, though she doesn’t look the type.  Maybe we give it a minute and see whether we need medic?  She’s breathing fine.  Make sure you know where the phone is and if she stays down we’ll get you to bring the boys downtown?”

“Done,” she disappeared around the corner back to the bar.

The band all filed into the room, Tony was the first one to say anything sensible, “Any of you guys know how to take a pulse?”

Lines of Listening

kbsitepicsession0151

McShane was spinning lines and the groove was right on.  Heads moving marked the beat, wonder boy’s amp was cranked and everything was right with the world.  When you’re laying down a thing, and people are digging it, that’s a place.  You invite people in.  If they come, you dig it.  If they don’t come, you dig it anyway.  Honour what you put together.  That’s the dance.

I’m just a rhythm player.  It’s my job to hear where the ideas are going and sketch out a place where they can grow.  Push too hard and no one can play to it.  Lay back too far and no one wants to.  Too many of your own ideas and there’s no room for melody and meaning.  Not enough inspiration and lead lines fill the space with nothing but ego and spin.

It was a good night.  We had a community of players who’d show up to put it together, a shifting cast of characters regular enough to get a take on one another, shaking it up enough to keep it fresh.  Tonight Waits was behind the bass, Killer was doing drums, I was holding down the rhythm, and McShane was standing in front of his amp cooking the tubes to make solos enough for the whole house.  And the house was eating it up.  In between the solos we were spinning the most delicious grooves.  Nothing we’d worked out, we were just head down and listening, locked like you can only get when the band trusts one another.  Good groove is about trust.

We’d been playing for an hour and change, I wasn’t loose enough yet to go the whole night, so I made the nod.  The guys picked up on it and we called a break.  McShane notified the folks, “We’re gonna walk for a while.  Tony’s here somewhere.  When we come back we’ll see if we can get her up to sing a couple.”  Tony could sing the phone book and break your heart.  The crowd roared approval.  “Hey Jo, turn on the bubble machine.”  A smile and a nod, recorded tunes took over and people made the change from input to output.  Within seconds the talk-talk was on bigtime.  I hit the side door for the alley and air.

“Hard times.” Sparechange held out a smoke.  I took it and lit, “No more than usual, you know how it is.”  I nodded around the other folks hanging out.  “You?”

“I tell you, it’s hard times, man.”  Sparechange nodded to himself, “Hard times is in the air.”  A drag, a beat, “This is hard times, man, nobody gets nothin’.”  He looked at me straight, “Ain’t nothin’ but trouble come from hard times.”

“Seen some good things done in hard times.”

“Ain’t none of it rainin’ down on me.”

“You gotta believe in something, may as well believe in bad times I suppose.”

“You got anything better?”

Another drag while I thought about it. “People, maybe.”

“That’s kinda conditional.”

Hadn’t thought about, but he was right.  “I guess people are kinda like that.  But in bad times there’s usually someone out there trying to do something good.  I could believe in what makes that happen.”

“Guilt?  That’s a hell of a thing to believe in.”

“Can’t run a band on guilt.”  I threw the butt in the can.  “But you can run a band on time.  I should go get loose and we’ll run the night.  You alright?”

“Yeah, man.  It’s what it is.”  He shrugged, “Go be with your people.”

I made my way back into the talk talk to tune up and see what we might lay down.  I suppose I can believe in a good groove.  And when it comes along I believe I’d rather play it in tune.  That’s two things I could say I believe in.  But I think Sparechange had it wrong.  I think with most folks trying to do something good in bad times there ain’t no guilt involved.  But whatever it is makes that happen, I could believe in that.  But what is that, “anti-guilt?”

“What’s that?” from Killer taking his seat behind the kit.

“Just mumbling out loud.  Almost like when I’m thinking, only without the smart bit.”

“If you sing when you play make it a vocal.”

“Not worth it really.  Was just wondering what you call that thing that makes people do good things in bad times.”

“Like when they blow the espresso machine over your solos?”

“Sparechange said it was guilt, but I don’t think so.  Was just wondering about the opposite of guilt.  And what is anti-guilt anyway?  Is that the same as innocence?”

“Oh man, you’re too weird.”

“This coming from a drummer.”

“Call.”

“The Unconvinced.”  Caring for one another as we did, professional discourtesy was a thing for a few of us.  Inventiveness was valued, rule was if you resorted to an old joke, hit a cliché or leaned on a metaphor too hard you’d get called.  Had to give it up unless you could come up with a new name for a band.  Kept things cheerful.  In reality most of us had one we’d already thought of so it didn’t slow things down much, just added to the ritual.  Me, I usually had two or three in my pocket.  I’m that kinda guy.  “And are there degrees of oppositeness?”

“That depends on what you believe.”

“And does believing in a thing make it so?  And howcome drummers never tune?”

“Depends on what you believe in.  We do it subtly so you won’t catch on.”

“Cut the smart talk, here’s the boss.”

“What smart talk?  You guys aren’t being bright on company time.”  McShane grabbed his guitar and plugged in.  “And don’t call me boss, I told you this is an autonomous collective.”

“You know they never nominate rhythm guitar players as rock gods.”  I dialled up a sound, cranked the tube a little warmer.

“Apparently they don’t have the parts,” from behind the kit.

“Watch it, you can be replaced by a bunch of loops.”

“You can’t program in the soul Brother Bee.”

“Maybe you can, but’s that’s not the game tonight.  Brother Waits has the bass.  You know how to play that thing or is it just decorative?”  Waits smiled and launched into a line, he is a never-ending source of delight.  Drums hit the beat and we circled around the figure a couple of times to set it down, sorting, feeling.  I played the texture game, teasing at notes, touching on rhythms.

Before we could settle McShane teased out the house with a scrap of melody that turned into a high long wail, a pause at the end of the line, there’s that moment where we all take a breath, I crunched the chord twice and we were off.  Settling in with solid groove, could be good, let’s keep it for a while.  This wasn’t the main event, but sure could take us there.  It’s obvious we’re going to be laying this down for a while, so folks start moving to it.  By the time I’m home enough that I can spare a moment I look up to check on McShane and see we’ve got most of the room lively up.  “Tell me how it is, brother.”  And he’s off.

Mcshane could light up a space on just two notes, he was like that.  I swear you could pick any two notes and he’d make them work, make them soar, make them sing.  Make something out of the space between them that you’d never thought of before, or maybe just something you always knew but it was good to hear it right here, right now.  And by the time he was done you’d realise that he’d said something, maybe something that you never thought of before, or maybe something you always knew but needed to hear it again, right here, right now.

But he wasn’t done yet, we were just getting started. around the bend and one long note says that we’re going to be here for a while so settle in and listen up, we tighten up the groove around the note then lay back and give the man the room he needs.  And apparently the room he needs is this room full of people right here.  He spins out a line and it feels like need, and the rhythm says gotta, just gotta, and the people feel that there’s a need.  Some start dancing, some just moving, don’t know what I need, they say, but I gotta move.  The guitar hits it again, I got a need, he says, and I gotta move.  You know it say the people, gotta, just gotta the rhythm affirms.  He slides into the line and shapes two notes that growl off of one another, need to resolve, but need to be together to make that noise right now, they wind and wrestle in the air and the dancers say gotta, just gotta, and the rhythm stands up and says yeah!  I just got to move.

It was going to be a good night.

“Tony! you out there?” wonder boy did the shout out, “We need you to take this thing somewhere.”

We were a bunch of tunes into it and showing some signs of this being a memorable night.  It’s all good, but some times are fine.  And Tony’s voice can turn a shindig into a grand affair in a heartbeat.  Let the games begin.

next