I spent the last few days with a group of musicians in a recording studio. This is not my ideal lifestyle in some ways. For example, I don’t exercise or sleep. On on the other hand, there’s nothing I like more than hanging out with musicians. I’m not talking about the playing, necessarily, though that part’s fun (and the whole point). Rather, I’m talking about the time between takes, when you shoot the shit, share a meal, etc. There’s nothing like a nice, long recording session or bus drive to build up a permanent connection with someone. It’s like when you were on a sports team, and forced to endure endless rigmarole – ten laps! twenty push-ups! – in order to do the thing you love.
In the past, I have forged those kinds of connections with great artists/people like Tommy West, David Hamburger, Dan Vonnegut, Billy Masters, Doug Yowell, Gerry Leonard, Mike Visceglia, Suzanne Vega, and too many songwriters to mention. If Hamburger were in this conversation, he’d bring up the doughnut shop in Brooklyn. Vonnegut would refer to the time he displayed his “dark side” – which, rest assured, is not really a dark side – at a gas station in New Jersey in the rain. Masters would say “ass stick” and we’d both crack up. Doug Yowell would almost certainly remember the restaurant at a rest stop in Oregon where the waitress had a really weird way of saying “you had the Diet Coke.” I can hear it as if it was yesterday, though it was more than ten years ago.
Here are the guys I’ve been bonding with lately:
The band in the picture was assembled by Peter Case, the producer, and Sheldon Gomberg, who owns/operates the studio. I didn’t know any of them except Peter before last Monday, and would not have hired them or even known how to get hold of them. Now, of course, I know lots of things about them, from how they take their coffee and what they like to eat to how they respond to criticism and react in a crisis.
In addition to getting to know these guys, I’ve discovered a bunch of unexpected connections. For example, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Danny Frankel (drums, far left) play with Victoria Williams’s band. Jonny Flaugher (bass. second from left) just got off the road with The Weepies – friends/colleagues from my early songwriting days in New York and environs – and also works with Dan Bern, who let me open for him on a bunch of dates in the late 90s and early 00s. Danny McGough (keyboards, center) performed in one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen: Tom Waits at the Beacon Theater on the Mule Variations tour. I don’t have any personal connections to Joseph Arthur (guitar, far right) – a well-established solo artist who happened to be in town from Brooklyn – but I feel strongly compelled to note that he is a force of nature, creativity-wise, and potentially the X Factor in this recording.
We wrap up with Danny, Jonny, Danny, and Joseph today, and move on to a new group including Marky and Kipp Lennon from Venice. These guys, I already know: I met them in the mid-90s at the new Ash Grove, when it briefly re-opened on the Santa Monica pier, and again at the Ricky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, CO a year or two later. I’ve always wanted to work with them – I don’t count sitting in with them at my own wedding as “working” – because they are two of the nicest guys slash best singers you’ll ever meet. Just ask David Crosby – that’s Mark on his left and Kipp on his right – or Roger Waters, who employed them for a few years on The Wall world tour. It ain’t bragging if it’s true!
One more thing: the sports metaphor way back in the first paragraph is apt, because this photo was taken by my old friend and basketball teammate, Danny Rothenberg, when he dropped by the studio. Danny was a quick left-handed point guard back then, but he’s a photographer now and will be contributing the cover image for the new album. We played basketball together starting in 8th grade, and endured all sorts of rigmarole, and not just of the “give me twenty” variety. Indeed, just yesterday he brought up the time I contemplated – merely contemplated! – blowing off a senior-year playoff game to attend two Grateful Dead shows at Frost Amphitheater at Stanford University. Tough choice, right? I didn’t go through with it, but it appears I’ll never hear the end of that non-incident. There was also the time our JV coach broke a clipboard in response to a smart-ass comment by our center. I could go on…