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Who I am Who Am I (part 2) Music Is Life

Ever since I was six or seven years old, I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t an integral part of my life. Growing up as the youngest of four siblings in the sixties, I was exposed to a wide variety of music. Everything from the kiddie songs that all kids my age listened to, my parents Glen Dorsey and Benny Goodman 78’s, to all of the rock ‘n roll that my older sisters and brother listened to. I remember being something like seven years old and playing “Satisfaction” on the juke box at the local bowling alley, while all my friends were listening to “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton, or Sugar Sugar by the Archies. My half-sister, who was in her mid-teens, had all the Beatles albums, the “Easy Rider” soundtrack, all the Stones records. She had all of that amazing music that was transforming the musical landscape. The first recorded music I purchased was an eight track tape of the debut album by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1968. I freaked out at the long version of Suzy Q. The only version I had ever heard was the radio shortened version played on a.m. radio which, because we lived in a small town in northern California, usually only came on at night, and only then after playing musical antenna with the transistor radio. Fogerty’s growling voice on “I Put A Spell On You” still gives me goose bumps. I gobbled up anything I could listen to, it was like some magical mystery tour, that just blew my mind. When Zep came out with “Whole Lotta Love” in 1969 it was like rock ‘n roll grabbed my soul, and to this day it has never let go. This stuff was amazing, Sly And The Family Stone’s “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again” introduced me to funk in that same year, and I’ve loved a good funky groove ever since.

When my family moved to the bay area in 1970, it was like I died an went to music heaven. F.M. radio! KSAN in San Francisco, “The Jive 95” was IT, they played everything, it didn’t matter if the track was ten minutes long, it didn’t matter if it was some local band no one had ever heard before. The variety of what you would hear was amazing, shaping my listening and musical tastes to this day. I remember walking to school with my African American friends listening to Kool And The Gang, and The Ohio Players, boom boxes on their shoulders and the piks in their huge afros, and I thought they were just the coolest cats in town. Then I would go home and play 8-track tapes of Creedence, Zep, Sabbath and Deep Purple. If I wasn’t outside playing around or riding my bike, I was listening to something.

My sister Tomi was the first of us to pick up an instrument. My parents bought her a Silvertone acoustic guitar from the Sears catalogue. Man, you had to seriously muscle up to press the strings down on that sucker, but it was on that guitar that I learned my first riff, Creedence’s “Down On The Corner”. My brother Dave was next, he used money he earned from working at a gas station to buy an electric guitar and amp. I was so jealous! I had to have one! I begged my Dad to buy me a guitar. My first ax was purchased using S & H green stamps, which I helped my parents collect, a semi-hollow body electric that I got when I was thirteen. I conned him into buying me an amp a few months later, and I was set, I was going to be a rock ‘n roll star, get the chicks, and not be the slightly overweight extremely shy boy that I actually was.

As luck would have it, both my guitar and amp were stolen. This actually turned out to be a godsend. The insurance money paid for a new Montgomery Wards Gibson SG copy and nice little amp. This was great because the guitar had a bent neck so you could never get it in tune, and the speakers on the stolen amp were totally blown out. By this time Dave, who had always treated me the way older brothers treat their kid brothers, acquiesced and allowed me into his bedroom/sanctuary to play together. I still remember the first tune we jammed to, something we made up on the spot, in fact I still play a version of it all these years later. From that moment on, we knew he had to get a band together, and our relationship was never the same afterwards. For the next ten or so years we either had a band together or were jamming with other musicians in town, most of them were guys that heard us playing in my parents living room as loudly as we could. It never amounted to anything, we played a few parties, the cops were ALWAYS called because of the noise, and we did a few bar gigs, where we earned some respect from some of the more established players around. But we were musical snobs, we would only play original songs, we would never stoop to being a cover band, because in our line of thinking, how could a cover band ever make it? You had to do original music. Obviously, that was incredibly short sighted, and although we did have some good songs, we never had a chance. That plus the fact that none of us could sing very well, we didn’t have any kind of manager, and we had no clue how to get any work. We did have a great name though, we called ourselves “Treebeard Rox” a reference to “The lord Of The Rings” (and also this fellow that would wander the streets of P-Town with a two foot long beard, who we dubbed “Treebeard”). Finally relenting, we found a decent singer, a fantastic drummer and got a few gigs playing cover tunes at a local bar. We could only get weekday dates though, and because we all had daytime jobs, it never progressed into anything viable, but it was still a hell of a lot of fun. I remember my “Spinal Tap” moment when the bar maid asked me to turn my volume down because the restaurant across the street was complaining about the noise, “but these go up to eleven” and I cranked it up even louder. What we did mostly was practice and jam. That and a lot of drinking and dope smoking. We had a small studio we rented, where we could play as loud and as long as we wanted, until the Speed shop next door complained and got us kicked out, which spelled the end for “The Heat”, which was what we called ourselves.

The years went by and I began playing less and less as new family responsibilities took over. My son Robert was born in 1985, and I had to have a steady job, so playing music had to take a back seat. Music was still very much part of who I was, I still messed around on my guitar, but I never really looked to get back in a band, although I would have loved to do so. By this time I was a big Yes fan and had turned into even more of a musical snob. I hated country music with a passion, the whining pedal steel guitar would make me cringe. I found Yes music totally enthralling, the complex arrangements, the virtuosity of the musicians. Jon Anderson’s falsetto voice and free flowing lyrics, Steve Howe’s extraordinary guitar work, he could make a pedal steel guitar sound like nothing else in this world. Chis Squire’s revolutionary bass lines, not to mention the incomparable Rick Wakeman and his dozen or so keyboards, and Bill Bruford, and later Alan White’s impeccable percussion. These guys were so far above what bands like AC/DC were doing, which I felt at the time was boring and ridiculous in comparison.

I realized, finally that there was something I had been missing, something that I had forgotten from my youth. It was the soul of music. That’s not to say that bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Genesis, had no soul, their musical passion was exemplified by their virtuosity, going where mere mortal players could never go. I went back to my roots, mainly the Blues. By this time Stevie Ray Vaughan was blistering his way to fame, spawning a new generation of fantastic bluesers. I went back and rediscovered Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Carlos Santana. Found new heroes in Robin Ford and Tommy Castro, and came to the realization that it doesn’t really matter how technically proficient a musician is, if it doesn’t have soul, then it’s, in the words of Sammy Hagar, “just mental masturbation”. From that moment on, the only criteria I judged music by, was whether or not it was played with soul. That realization broadened my musical horizons exponentially, I could now fully appreciate all those great country pickers, like a Chet Atkins, or even a Brad Paisley. I went to a couple of Toby Keith concerts and thoroughly enjoyed myself, his bands were top notch “pros from Dover”. George Benson blew me away at a show in the Greek Theater at Berkeley. Christian rock bands like Jars Of Clay, Jennifer Knapp and The Newsboys were amazing live, powerful, soulful spiritual music.

All of this served to rekindle my passion for playing live. My family had started attending a local non-denominational evangelistic church in the late 90’s. The best part of the service was the “Worship Service” when the church band would go on before the pastor’s sermon put me to sleep. The music touched me in a way I had never felt before, I felt what could only be described as a “quickening” to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite movies “The Highlander”. I had to play this stuff, so I petitioned the worship team leader to let me in the band, and after a couple of shaky auditions I was accepted. It was at this point that I began to actually learn how to play my instrument. I’m self taught, never had a lesson in my life, and when I started there was no YouTube to show you, lick by lick, how to play. The songs and hymns were amazing, powerful pieces of music, that structurally were as good as anything out there. I learned about playing in different keys, other than the traditional blues keys of A, G and E, I learned so much about how a good song is structured, and probably most importantly how to play in a band that was not guitar oriented. Unfortunately I had to drop out of the worship team band for a number of reasons, one of which was that I was criticized for being to active on stage, that I was taking attention away from the song and putting it on myself by simply getting into the song. I told the team leader that I couldn’t help myself, when I hear a good groove, when a song grabs my soul, I can’t help but move with it. Also, I had no say over how a song should be played, my arrangement ideas which came from years and years of listening to how songs could be arranged were always dismissed. I couldn’t deal with the sort of cliquishness of the whole thing and gracefully bowed out and returned to my home studio. The next few years, that’s all I did, until I finally got up the nerve to do a Tuesday night blues jam at a local bar. You just show up with your instrument and play a couple of tunes with either the house band or other musicians who happened to show up that night. That was a totally cool experience, one that I would have kept on doing if the lockdowns hadn’t happened. The lockdowns did one good thing though. After I was laid off I noticed my neighbor three doors down loading a bunch of guitars in his truck. I went over and introduced myself to Craig Caffall and of course we started talking about music and guitars, (he has a collection of over 30 of them!). He told me that he was the guitarist for Maria Muldaur’s band that had gigs in Marin County all the time, and that he had his own recording studio in his house. Well, after It became apparent that I wasn’t going back to my old job, I offered some of my “govment cheese” (stimulus money) to do a demo for me. Thankfully he accepted and work on my five song demo should be done in a few weeks. I am amazed at how Craig is able to manipulate a digital recording and how proficient he is at getting the “pro” sound I’ve always wanted to get on record. I can’t wait until the final mix is done, hell he even made my crappy singing voice sound tolerable!

That’s the journey in a nutshell so far. One thing for sure is that I could go on and on talking about music and my musical journey. Being at home for such an extended period of time has given me the opportunity to come up with some new songs that, I think, are pretty damn good. Certainly, the best tunes I’ve ever written. My lyrics have vastly improved as well, writing songs from the heart based on personal experience. I am really looking forward to continuing this burst of creativity I’m going through now, I know I’ll never be a rock star, and I’m cool with that, but who knows maybe one of my songs might touch someone and impact their life, and that would be the coolest thing of all. Because after all MUSIC IS LIFE.


P.S. As always, I greatly appreciate any comments or suggestions regarding this piece or my site in general. As this whole thing is a step “into the great wide open” as Mr. Petty once sang, I’ll need all the help I can get. Thank you very much. Peace and love.

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