Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tah Mee Kah

I have an Australian tour and recording session planned for Dec-Feb.

I also have a very good friend in LA named Frank Perricone. I never get to see Frank as often as I'd like and it has been years since we had a chance to write and record Frank and I decided to tack a week of hanging/recording at Frank's studio on the way to and from Australia. Frank kindly offered to use his SkyMiles to fly me to LA. This was great because then I only had to worry about getting myself from LA to Australia and back.

Anyway, I left Mobile this morning to begin this first leg of the trip. My mom and Leon drove me to Pensacola to catch my first flight (Pensacola to ATL).

Boarding goes easily and quickly.


The flight to Atlanta is running late (leaving me less than 30 minutes from the projected landing time and departure time to deboard, run to the escalators, get on the tram, travel to another concourse, run up the escalators there, ALL the way to the other end of the concourse and board the Atlanta to LA flight.

I'm amazed and out of breath but I arrive just in time for my flight to LAX. I'm in the second to last row. After a while a boisterous, Bronx fireball of a woman sits next to me and immediately starts telling me her life story. She has Diarrhea of the mouth with that gruffness only truly perfected by New Yorkers. She also informed me (an everyone within 10ft of us) that she needs the barf bag because she hates flying. As we begin take off she hyperventilates into the barf bag. Oh brother. After a bit of that joy, She is right back rattling off a barrage of anecdotes and commentary about life in her deep New Yorker "ghetto dialect" (as she called it) .

I think it's kinda funny so I chat her up. She tells me all sorts of stuff about her kids and virtually everything else under the sun. I try to keep up with the conversation and somewhere along the way it comes up that I am a musician. Then she asks me all about different aspects of the music industry (ie "What does a producer do?") I explain as best I can. We continue small talk about music for a good while. She then says she likes to sing from time to time with some friends (and asked if I thought her stage name "Tah Mee Kah Sanga" was a good).
I didn't but of course told her it was interesting and she should call herself whatever she liked.
She said that she tries to write too and that she usually jots down her ideas in a notebook. From that point on, she (of course) continues blabbing about totally random topics but simultaneously seemingly subconsciously doodles something on the page. At first I don't see it because im not trying to invade on her privacy but after a while it catches my eye.


I look over to see the words "birds sitting on a wire" scrawled along with a few other unrelated lines and a doodle of two telephone poles and a line of birds perched upon it.


I say , " You have to be kidding me!". Then I show her my CD and tell her the most notable song on my new album is called "Bird on a Powerline" and actually we had just released the video yesterday.

I'm astonished and she seems taken aback by it too. She said , "Wow. I must be psychic".

Her writing is just enough different that I am amazed but able to believe it to be a coincidence. Plus she just keeps jabbering so the oddity I had just seen got kinda swept under the rug.
At this point my spidey sense is tingling but I continue anyway.
The lady just crashes forward with reckless abandon from one topic to the next so its hard to do anything but respond.
This hectic conversation continues for about half the trip (2.5 hours).
In order to slow the frantic pace of talking I pull out my iPad and fire up a game of Scrabble.
This seems to slow her down slightly plus it was just a fun way to pass time.
We play a couple of full games, while she is still just spewing out information and attitude (using words like "ignant" and "trifling").

At this point I start getting pretty hungry. I realize that I have dinner plans with Frank as soon as we land at LAX, but I think I would like a snack before we arrive.

I say, "I think Im gonna ask the flight attendant for a menu"
To which the woman replies forcefully, "UH UH. We are going to eat together when we land".

I looked straight forward thinking , "Oh damn. Did she really just say that? This woman is crazy."

I would pay money to see a picture of my face at this moment because I had to look like I just got an unsuspected ice bath.

I stare out of the window trying to gather a response.

After a good bit of silence (which has been rare on this trip) she says ,"We have more in common than you know"

A cold chill runs down my spine now. This chick is now way passed innocent loud-mouthed and boisterous, she is full on crazy. She's gonna stab me. I wanted to yell "SECURRITY!"

I have this ghetto Bronx woman now insisting on eating with me (which isn't gonna happen) and she thinks she we have some destiny or connection.

She then shoves her phone in my face and I see a picture of.......

Frank in the studio.

My friend Frank in the studio I am headed towards.

Then it all floods in and I get it.

Frank got me. Frank got me good.

Frank set the whole thing up. He got my seat with his miles. It was no problem to have gotten her seat with his miles and arranged this "chance meeting".

She says "I'm Adrianne. I'm so sorry. Frank made me do it." She was obviously hoping I wasn't actually mad.

I said "Oh no. I'm kickin you and Frank's ass. Or better yet, plotting revenge."

Then it hit me...,,she's Adrianne. I don't know her but have known of her for years.

Adrianne is a very talented session singer that I had heard sing many times on recordings Frank has done. However I had never met her in person. Frank was obviously flying her out to be part of the sessions this week.

Adrianne's Ghetto slang and head snapping melted away instantly. She went from Bon Qui Qui to a normal person who happens to have a New York accent.

We used the last 1-1.5 hour of the flight laughing and actually discussing music and specific songs we will be recording this week.

Anyway, the flight arrives safely in LA. We get our bags, meet Frank (who says ,"Oh, you two have met?" With his devilish Frank grin), then we ate and called it a night.

Im not sure if the writing/recording we do this week will be Grammy worthy or not.

But if we fail to receive a Grammy for our efforts, rest assured Adrianne could easily win an Oscar for her performance on that flight.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Last Night's Wine

I am on the verge of a long trip abroad (2.5-3 months in Australia). During this time I am going to be doing some recording with my amazing friends Julz and Leeza (of the Hussy Hicks). The week before and after I am in Australia I will be doing more recording in LA with my great friend, Frank Perricone, and after I get back in the States in the early spring I will be scheduling a recording project in Muscle Shoals and yet another in Belgium. So ......I have a LOT of space for songs.

I believe it is for this reason I have been on somewhat of a tear lately. I'm finishing partial songs that have been laying around for months, I am having drastically more successful co-writing appointments, and I'm just generally feeling good about my productivity. All of these things are happening partially because I have been fortunate enough to be around a ton of inspiring song writers as of late, but more so I believe because I just work better with a deadline. When I know there is a due date my mind just kicks into overdrive. Perhaps this is a personal flaw, but it is a flaw that I recognize and therefore (when all goes well) I can use to my advantage.

As the flood of new songs comes pouring in it makes me think of excesses, and the natural ebb and flow of things.

It is with this mindset that I entered one of my recent writing sessions. This writing session was with one of my all time favorite writing buddies, Amanda Williams. Amanda is as real as it comes and she is one smart songwriter. I'm always impressed by her ability to think mechanistically and factually about the music industry one minute and then as if flipping a switch go immediately and effortlessly into creative, flowery zen type thoughts about the specific piece of music we are creating at the time.

Amanda is a rare breed. I'm proud to call her my friend and always happy with the results of our writing.

For this last writing session I brought in a strange kind of idea (musically and lyrically). (NOTE: In addition to working better with a deadline, another thing I have learned about my creative process is that if I have a piece of a song stuck in my head I had better go ahead and finish it by any means necessary because otherwise my mind will continually jump back to that one idea no matter what else I am working on. This piece of music was one of those. I call em splinters. They must be excised)

The idea was a hangover song. I kept replaying the line "Today we pay for last night's wine" in my head. And because it was a hangover song I had kind of a jarring, peculiar feeling intro chord progression. I thought this uneasiness fit well with the subject matter.

So far the idea doesn't sound too terribly strange. Well, leave it to my twisted brain.

I told Amanda, this is a hangover song idea, but not really about a hangover per se.
It was no surprise to me that Amanda was now more enthralled. She said, "Go on".

My idea was that our country and the society therein is in a hangover state in a sense. Politicians can call it economic downturn or recession, or any other myriad of expressions but what it looks like to me is a hangover. We partied fast and hard for a few centuries and we are dealing with that morning after headache now.

I envision the "upper class men" (England, Germany, France, etc) watching "the freshman" show up to the party and just indulge and indulge and indulge. The "grown folks" at the party are sipping beer and wine. We are funneling Whiskey. We have been the life of the party for a bit, but we are learning we may need to reign it in a bit before the next kegger.

Although the song depicts the miserable scene surrounding the realization that some of our actions from last night weren't necessarily the wisest, I believe there is a lighter side to this in reality.

Much like a hangover in real life, our nation may need to take a few Tylenol and drink a ton of water in order go forward, but we will go forward having learned a little something about ourselves and how to conduct ourselves at the next party.

(NOTE: We will still be the life of the party and we will always proudly drink our whiskey.....maybe just not the entire handle next time)

Anyway, enough of my babbling, here are the lyrics:

"Last Night's Wine"
 (written by Amanda Williams and Eric Erdman on 11-7-12 )

Such a mystery
How things got to be
This cacophony of grift and grind

Painful to perceive
Freedom to extreme
Is it destiny with bloodshot eyes

We had our fun
But now it's done
Today we pay for last night's wine
Today we pay for last night's wine

Teenage fantasy
What you've done to me
Responsibility nowhere to find

Like a melody
Way to high to sing
Let the chorus cut you down to size

We had our fun
But now it's done
Today we pay for last night's wine
Today we pay for last night's wine

We joined the party late
But we caught up
One's ok
Two's too much
But three's not enough

We had our fun
But now it's done
Today we pay for last night's wine
Today we pay for last night's wine

We had our fun
But now it's done
Today we pay for last night's wine
Today we pay for last night's wine

Monday, November 19, 2012

Costume Party For Words (Part 3)

In order to cleanse my mind of anything logical and get ready to create a few songs this afternoon, I used one of my goofy mental exercises. Namely, turning words inside out and making them mean something other than what they are supposed to. Here are today's results. : (By the way: I think everyone should have some fun with words sometimes. Do it and let me know of some funny definitions you come up with)

Newsstand - What reporters have to do while waiting on a story to break

Copperhead - The nickname I give the fake tan, gym rats when they have their fresh coat of orange paint (NOTE: This is a nickname I call them VERY VERY quietly)

Rosebud - your friend at the florist

Bedrock - an action that may happen after visiting your rosebud.

Rattlesnake- thieving infant

Foreground - golf course

Shortchange - switching summertime wardrobe

Lunchbox - What happens when someone tries to steal my sammich

Mailbox - How pugilistics used to be before Laila Ali and her colleagues integrated the sport

Toolbox - the next step of making the sport open to all, an all douchebags division is instated. If either gets knocked out we all win.

Sandbox - amateur impromptu bouts that could be qualified as Toolboxing at the beach (usually stemming from a volleyball dispute or a bikini clad girl)

Background - What the loser of a Tool boxing match feels.

Starfish - it used to be just a regular old fish, It gets in one Disney film and nows he's mister big shot.

Goldfish - the executive producer for the Disney film which made Starfish a Star

Teapot - what they drink in Colorado

Fireplace - shooting range

Popcorn - dad's horrible sense of humor

Sweatshirt - time to do the laundry

Oatmeal - three times a day for a horse

Meatloaf - prevented by the little blue pill

Bedspread - step one when making a bed angel

Worksheets - step two when making a bed angel

Snowflake - indecisive skier

Meatball - worst and most blunt pick up line in history

Woodpecker - I'm gonna recommend a good sanding before use

Airbag - what you get when you buy potato chips

Aircraft - indirectly what someone who makes balloon animals is doing

Airline - day one at balloon animal college

Bridegroom - now legal in a few states

Bucktoothed - eating venison

Backhoe - well….yeah

Ballplayer - come on man, not in public

Barcode - don't grope the girls, throw up on the dance floor, or pass out while ordering a drink

Battlecry - really bad for the morale of the soldiers (and your reputation)

Birthplace - vagina

Birthrate - "Mrs Jones you have a healthy baby boy, but I have to deduct a few tenths of a point for the dismount. I'll give it 8.7"

Birthright - The skill Mrs. Jones is gonna have to work on if she wants to get that score up next time

Blockbuster - most Karate demonstrations

Bobcats - man they hate it when you do that

Cardboard - after 6 hours of a poker tournament

Cheapskate - makes it hard to not fall down during the Hokie Pokie

Chickpea - squatting

Childproof - the 3rd positive pregnancy test

Clockwise - those who master time management

Downscale - goal for a Jenny Craig member

Copycat - I'm gonna eat, lay around, and lick myself…just like felix

Cookwear - I don't know. I can't find him either and we have customers waiting for lunch

Cookout - reason the cook can't be found

Crosswalk - pretty painful according to the Bible

Crossword - INRI

Downfall - I'm not really sure how else you can do it

Downplay - a pillow fight

Forecast - about the point at which I begin wondering if I will get a bite

Ghostwriter - I'm guessing uses invisible ink

Halfback - a darn good rebate

Hedgehog - Hoarder in the Lowe's landscaping department

Highlander - Denver native

High school - CU

Housekeeper - What every homeowner is when the market is down

Network - A good way to catch fish

Nightstand - a security guard's job

Outcropping - where you can find the farmer

Overbooked - that feeling you get on Exam week

Overseer - a world traveler

Pickax - The obvious choice when excavating and given the option of spoon or ax

Redwood - you should probably get that looked at

Superimpose - what some house guests do

Underdog - Earth

Undergrowth - Earth

Understand - Earth

Underwater - Earth

Underworld - thin layer of atmosphere then a bunch of space

Wasteland - putting in yet another strip mall

Wisecrack - the drug of choice for intelligent people

Workshop - the means and ends of a woman's mission in life

Sunday, November 18, 2012

How the Echo of a Star was made a * by an Ecko

 In my readings I came across a story I had forgotten. This story is however one of my favorites so I wanna recount it now to breathe a little life back into it.

   The story is of Barry Bond's record breaking home run ball. Actually the story is about the fate of the historic ball and the path it took to get where it is today.

   I am a huge baseball fan. I played lots of sports when I was younger but baseball was far and away my favorite. I played park ball, I played for my high school team, I played on days when I wasn't required to play. I loved it. There is a reason it is America's past time. It's a great sport but it some how comes along with a bit magic, and bit of history, and most importantly of all a heap of weirdness and quirkiness unlike any other sport.

 I would play in the back yard for hours with my best friend, Hanan. We would try to invent and perfect new pitches or we would turn pretend double plays. We dreamed in baseball terms. I wanted to be Wade Boggs.

The point to all this is....we were highly invested in not just our specific team or our game that day, we were invested in the concept of baseball.

I am confident we were not alone in this.

This is why the story of Barry Bonds ball always makes me smile.

Let me say from the jump, I don't hate Barry Bonds. I don't ridicule him, because I am not sure about all the circumstances surrounding his part of baseball lore. I wasn't in his shoes. But the story involving his home run ball makes me feel good about baseball. I mean it makes me feel good about the concept of baseball. It makes me have hope for tradition. Hope for tradition in general.

This is what happened: Barry Bonds had a career that is awe inspiring. There is no doubt that Barry Bonds is one of the greatest to play the sport of baseball. You would think that would make me love him since I love the sport so dearly.'d think wrongly.

Firstly Barry played for the Giants (which instantly made him an enemy to my Braves), strike one (pun intended). Additionally, he was notoriously a diva and a person hated by his teammates (this doesn't make him an enemy of baseball by itself because there are many of the baseball greats that were known to be not so cuddly. But he supposedly went to extremes. Word on the street is he insisted on having his own locker room because he didn't even want to be around his team mates before or after the game. That's pretty bad. ) So the guy's an epic asshole. There have been other baseball heroes who were assholes. I'll let that slide. But what I and many other baseball fans refused to let slide was the fact that he obviously used performance enhancing drugs as he approached the biggest record in the sports' history.

The Juicing era of baseball was a dark scourge on the face of our beloved sport. Through the many books, rumors and yes a congressional hearing we have learned that many of the players we looked up to were indeed cheating. Sure they still had to possess amazing work ethic and skill to be good at baseball. They cheated to go from good to great.

And Barry was in the very very small group of the most egregious offenders. He went from being a fit, slightly muscular guy (I'll say the Ted Williams, DiMaggio fame) to looking like a cartoon. Barry's muscles had muscles. His skull had muscles. It was freakish. The guy looked like a marvel comic character.

As I have said , he was far from being the only person juicing. It seems to have been the norm. For this reason, I don't like bashing Barry too terribly bad. However stack on the fact that he was apparently the biggest jerk he could possibly be , AND the most important of all........he was closing in on the most heralded of all records, the homerun record, and you have yourself baseball villain numero uno.

Barry Bonds, went on to surpass Hank Aaron's record(He was passing the Mobile, AL hero....yet another reason to not like Bonds) as the person to have hit the most home runs in a career EVER (Aaron had 755, Bonds hit 756.....and continued to eventually hit 762).

This is important.

This bothered me. This bothered Hanan. This bothered people like us all over the nation that are passionate about baseball. Sure there had been cheaters, as a matter of fact there had been cheaters that were the "faces of the sport" for a decade or so. But to have the person who would obviously be put into the Hall Of Fame as the Best Power Hitter to ever live be a cheater.....that was hard to swallow.

But what could be done as a fan of baseball? Nothing.

In steps fashion designer, Mark Ecko.

I don't know ANYTHING about Mark Ecko, other than the fact I've worn a couple of his shirts, and I'm guessing he likes rhinos.

But he must either be a huge baseball fan and felt wronged like the rest of us, or he must just have so much money he doesn't know what to do with it all.

Well either way, he spent a lot of his money ($752,467.00 to be exact) to purchase the historic home run ball at an online auction.
Then he let the fans decide the fate of the ball.

Ecko made an online poll and let the people who care the most about the game vote. He let the fans vote.
The options were:
  • 1) put the ball in the Hall of Fame as is
  • 2) have the ball destroyed
  • 3) have the ball shot into space
  • 4) have it permanently emblazoned with an * to denote that it shouldn't count as the actual record and THEN be put in the Hall of Fame

The fans spoke. The votes were tallied and the fans of baseball decided to add the asterisk and send it to the Hall of Fame. So that is exactly what Mark Ecko had done.
I think this decision matters for many reasons. One, (because Mark Ecko's contribution allowed it) the fans spoke their opinion of how their sport shall be viewed by future generations. It shows that the lovers of baseball thought the actions of Bonds (and all other juicers) made them a footnote in the history of baseball as opposed to the players that naturally played the sport without "cheating". And again it showed that baseball is quirky and weird even in the Hal of Fame and record books. And it also kinda slightly made a statement about being a team player.

Barry Bonds had a bout with karma and his legacy will forever be tarnished.

Now I almost feel bad about badly Bonds got treated , but the fact that a people stood together and gave the middle finger to something they disbelieved in, makes me value what's left of baseball.

The baseball fans stood together and said we do not want to be represented by people who play and act in the way Barry did. That's a huge statement and it makes me love our weird sport even more.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Jabroni Marconi and the Nobel Prize for Douche-bag-itude

I am in Nashville. I have been here for a couple days. I filmed the final scene (well the final scene involving me anyway) for the video for "I'm Through" , ate some BBQ and then I headed out to Amanda Williams and Todd Senf's house to do some writing. Amanda and I wrote a weird but very cool song entitled "Last Night's Wine".

As always, when I hang or write with Amanda I have a great time. But another inevitability involved in writing with Amanda is discussing "the business" . I cherish these talks and look forward to them almost as much as the creation process. Amanda is a highly highly knowledgable young woman, her main area of expertise is music (although she is definitely not limited to only music), AND to top it all off, she typically thinks similarly to me.

We tend to LEAN toward music topics, but it isn't strange for us to touch on Hindu Vedas, what seasons are best for growing which crops, Star Wars, home schooling, website design, and virtually ANYTHING else.

During our talks today we grazed a familiar topic for us.....Copyrights.

At first my mind focuses, as it usually does when thinking of this subject, to illegal downloads. I think of the song writer and performers who dump insane amounts of time and money into the production (or have money dumped into these productions by a third party which is rightfully expecting to get reimbursed with interest). These artists are finding it harder and harder to continue producing high quality music simply because society is refusing to pay them for their craft. The public loves the music but has devalued it. This devaluation is negatively impacting the ability to create the same quality albums as used to be made. But since we have covered this topic umpteen million times my mind quickly wanders.

My mind wanders to specific copyrights and the infringement upon them. Then it takes the next step; pondering the all time worst sonic copyright infringements.

I thought of the classic cases: Vanilla Ice snatching "Under Pressure" by Queen,  George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" being derived from "He's So Fine", Huey Lewis' "I Wanna New Drug" ripping Ray Parker Jr's "Ghostbusters", Offspring's "Why Don't You Get a Job?" being "Obla Di Obla Da" by the Beatles, the list goes on and on and on

Then my mind leapt to an entire different level. There was a sonic victim that had been stolen from so much more severely than anyone on my list. The man I was thinking of was really a meta-victim. He had been stolen from on the level of sonic transmission.

The meta-victim was Nicolai Tesla. In addition to being ripped off and under appreciated on a myriad of other situations, Tesla basically had the credit for radio broadcasting taken from him.

I can imagine the pain of John Lennon's corpse must have felt when it was rolling over in such a confined space as the airwaves of 1998-1999 were filled with these horribly bastardized version of "Ob la di, Ob la da". I'm guessing Lennon's remains were thankful for the 6 feet of Earth and the coffin lid that at least somewhat muffled the screeching vocals and horrid lyrics of the uncredited remake.

But as horrible a feeling as that must have been, I have to think it was a warm comfy bath when compared to having one steal the entire idea of radio transmission itself, as Tesla did.

Think about that. Tesla thought up the concept of broadcast. And gets little credit.

Oh I forgot to mention that Tesla also developed A/C current. This is relevant to music because even if you some how think music could eventually have been passed hand to hand via some other method than broadcast, Tesla's ideas would still be needed to provide electricity to whatever device that's reproducing the music to be heard (excluding player pianos, music boxes, and sheet music, but I'm thinking few people would want to exchange their iPod for a music box for each song they would like to hear or a folder of sheet music and an ensemble to perform said sheet music. Without Tesla it gets cumbersome to say the least).

At first Tesla wasn't at war with Marconi (the man credited with the first radio broadcast across the Atlantic Ocean, and given the moniker "Father of Radio"), as a matter of fact when Marconi was getting accolades for creating this new thing called "radio", Tesla cleverly said, "Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents."
This light hearted feeling toward the Marconi praise changed once Marconi was given the Nobel Prize in 1911 (for basically "creating" what Tesla had already devised). 

Tesla attempted to sue Marconi but Tesla was broke, Marconi and his constituents weren't broke. I therefore shouldn't need to tell you how that one ended.

Months after Tesla's death the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Tesla's patents (NOTE: the U.S. Supreme Court did this only to get back at Marconi for other lawsuits involving Marconi's patents which the U.S. had used in WWI. Tesla only gets love when it's convenient for other people, and even then it is posthumously).

So the next time I turn on the radio to a John Mayer song that musically sounds exactly like "Sexual Healing" I will still be angry on behalf of Marvin. But from here forward I will think of this broadcasting device (and any other broadcasting device) and think of its shady beginnings. I will still be angry on behalf of Marvin (and cowriter David Ritz) of course, but I will have an extra chip on my shoulder for Tesla.

He didn't have his song stole. He had the ability to play every song ever stolen. 

Nicolai Tesla, the meta-victim of sonic infringement.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mutiny Because of the Bounty: The Cobra Effect

Today as I was driving I began listening to some of my favorite podcasts. I came across one of the Freakonomics Radio podcasts that I found very interesting. It was the episode concerning "The Cobra Effect". I want to relay the general version of the story below but I also don't want to be completely ripping off the Freakonomics guys because they are great (so you can go here: for the original podcast that I found so entertaining).

As I have stated before in the blog, I am entertained by the failing of myself and others (for example, here's a post about one of my embarrassing moments: )

I guess I find them entertaining not because I believe they should be attempted or anything of the sort. I don't think they have great value in and of themselves. I figure in most of these irreversible embarrassing situations the damage has been done by the time the perpetrator even realizes there is a situation. So I guess at that point I feel like we should study the details of the situation, laugh at the comedically embarrassing elements, then take a life lesson from the aftermath (as to hopefully never repeat the same actions).

The good thing about these embarrassing situations is that they are universal. No one has to feel embarrassed alone, because we have all made glaring embarrassing mistakes at one time or another. Of course each instance has its own ingredients (which also adds to the entertainment value) but they all result in embarrassment for the perpetrator.

Well, now for the bad news. Apparently these embarrassing moments aren't simply limited to individuals. Organizations also make excruciatingly embarrassing decisions. And to take it one step further the organizations and governmental bodies that are specifically designed to fix situations sometimes make the absolute worse mistakes of this kind. I find this type thing riveting, obviously not because I love the outcome, but because I get amazed by how wrong these people and organizations predict a situation. It is like watching a train wreck. Of course it is gnarly and ugly but I can't pry my eyes away.

And that brings us to "The Cobra Effect".

There are tons of examples of "The Cobra Effect". I'll try to briefly describe 2-3, but I believe we should start with the situation that gave "The Cobra Effect" its name.

The term "The Cobra Effect" stems from the time of British rule of colonial India. The British government was concerned about the number of venomous cobra snakes. The government therefore offered a reward for every dead snake. It was told to the citizens that if they killed a snake and brought its skin to the designated area (near town hall) they would receive reward money. Initially this was a successful strategy as large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward. Eventually, however, Indians wised up and began "playing the system". The people around the outskirts of Delhi began to breed cobras. They would then kill the cobras and take the skins to the designated area and collect their reward. 
When this was realized the reward was cancelled. With the rewards no longer available, the cobra breeders immediately had no reason to continue breeding cobras. Once they had no reason to keep breeding the cobras the cobra breeders set the snakes free and the wild cobras consequently multiplied. The apparent solution for the problem made the situation much much worse.

The second example of "The Cobra Effect" causing a bad situation to become extremely worse is in Hanoi during the early 1900's.
During this time Hanoi was under French colonial rule. Well, the French have always been very proud of their lifestyle and they insist on a certain level of elegance. Unfortunately, the model French city they were trying to construct at Hanoi had a sewer system which although high tech for the time, was a breeding ground for rats. The inundation of rats made it hard to keep the French level of elegant society so something had to be done to eradicate the rats.

However the French apparently hadn't heard about the cobra problem in Delhi because the colonial regime basically repeated the error and created a bounty program that paid a reward for each rat killed. To obtain the bounty, people would provide the severed rat tail. Colonial officials, however, began noticing rats in Hanoi with no tails. The Vietnamese rat catchers would capture rats, lop off their tails, and then release them back into the sewers so that they could procreate and produce more rats, thereby increasing the rat catchers' revenue.

In addition to the streets still running rampant with tailless rats and their "soon to be tailless" offspring, there were farms for the creatures springing up around town. Exactly like the Cobras in Delhi, the rats of Hanoi became a way to make money, so the people figured out how to make more rats. This was obviously the exact opposite of the initial intention of the bounty.

I'm sure you are saying , there are thousands of stories of how governments have made mistakes hundreds of years ago. At least we learned from those silly mistakes. Well, one would think.

But in 2007 at Fort Benning in Georgia, the same exact thing happened. This time is was with pigs. 

Fort Benning was simply getting overrun with pigs. The pigs were destroying the lands and needed to be stopped. The attempted solution: bounty on pigs. If anyone killed a pig and brought the tail to the designated area, they got $40. As you would imagine, it didn't take long before there was a racket going on where some of the wiser guys on post would go to surrounding areas, pay local meat processors and butchers a small amount ($3-8 each) for some pig tails, then go trade them in for $40 each. Meanwhile not helping the actual pig infestation at all.

Here's where the Fort Benning pig problem actually qualifies as a "Cobra Effect" problem where the "solution" makes the problem worse: in addition to paying for a lot of tails from pigs that never stepped hoof on Fort Benning, they also allowed the soldiers to take scraps out of the back of the mess hall to bait the hogs. This led to fatter, healthier pigs that produced offspring at a higher rate. So instead of fixing the pig problem at Fort Benning they had actually made it worse. 

The fact that the Fort Benning case was so recent really shocked me. I thought by now we would have learned from our mistakes. 

Although I get a little chuckle thinking about the unstoppable onslaught of too many pigs, I do see where "The Cobra Effect" has had and can have severe detrimental effects on an area or our whole civilization.

For the final example let's leave the animals alone. This example also happened in recent years. And this time it was exacted by the United Nations. I'll directly quote Freakonomics here: 
"United Nations came up with a plan a few years ago to cut down on greenhouse gases. It rewarded companies with carbon credits for disposing of polluting gases, and those credits could be converted into cold, hard cash. Now, the prices were set according to how bad these things were for the environment. And one of the highest prices — one of the highest bounties, really — was for destroying a nasty gas called HFC-23, which is a byproduct of a common coolant. So what happened? Yep — companies began to produce more and more of this coolant in order of destroy more and more of the byproduct waste gas, and collect millions of dollars in the process. The other problem was that the coolant itself was also really bad for the environment."

You can obviously extrapolate from these examples and see how the same ideas/mistakes if repeated could wreak havoc.

They gave a final example of how the Endangered Species list actually qualifies as being a perpetrator of "The Cobra Effect". Basically the Endangered Species List can't just immediately put a creature on the list, there is about a 2 year waiting period (for more research , etc.). The problem here is that, if a land owner, possible developer hears that a certain species Cockatoo that is indigenous to his area may become endangered in 2 years (making his land therefore unable to be developed), he's going to immediate get to deforesting and building in order to beat the Endangered Species List to the punch. But of course surely causing said creature to become even more endangered (or possibly extinct) in the process.

So that's "The Cobra Effect". At first I was getting a good chuckle at the expense of ancient governmental mistakes but then I started realizing that it's still a mistake that is currently being made.

There is no real moral to the story I guess, it just blows my mind that we are still screwing up something that has such a horrible track record. I mean it's like falling for the "Hey, you have something on your shirt" gag for 100 years. Only instead of getting our noses bonked we are destroying significant parts of the planet or tinkering with the ecosystem in highly negative ways.

We all know that if there is a way to "beat the system" there will be folks out there smart enough to figure out how. But it is inexcusable to keep repeating the same error over and over and over. 

So let's collectively agree to not look down when the next bounty/incentive plan comes along and says "Hey, you've got something on your shirt".


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Artist Spotlight: Ben Tanner (of the Alabama Shakes)

Aritst Spotlight: Ben Tanner (of Alabama Shakes)

     During my time in Muscle Shoals I made many great friendship. I know many of them will last for a lifetime. Of all those folks, Ben Tanner has to be among the top of the list. During the time we spent writing and recording at FAME studios, I probably spent the most time with Ben. During the Nostoi sessions and virtually every other thing we recorded while in the Shoals, Ben was some how involved as either an engineer, producer, or just an extra set of qualified ears.

    In addition to being a studio whiz, Ben is a well educated guy whose just a chill guy to hang with. Many nights we would hang at Ricatoni's or Rivertown Coffee and just discuss music, or life, or ....the most absurd things we could ponder. But it was always fun.

   Well being a cool guy and a great engineer/producer isn't the end of young Tanner's list of great attributes. He is also an incredible keyboardist.

    We had Ben play on many of our recordings throughout our time in the Shoals.

   Any time we were in town and saw that Ben would be playing with this group or that group we would go check it out. He never disappointed.

   We all knew Ben was a musical genius and headed toward musical greatness, but we weren't sure which vehicle would take him there. He had played with dozens of cool bands around the Shoals area but for this reason or that reason they would never last for too long. We'd come back from the road and Ben would be playing with a great band. We'd go out of town and come back and Ben would be with a different group. We'd head to Mobile for a week, come back and Ben would be in yet another band. They were always interesting and Ben always added the perfect signature element to the style of the band (regardless of which band). They just had short shelf lives.

    It is for all these reasons that Ben joining the Alabama Shakes and their subsequent rise to world prominance made me ecstatic. This is probably the time when I can most confidently say, "The Good Guy Won. (and continues to win)"

    I have to laugh now when I think about the following story: About 6 months before they began to explode onto the charts, they headed down to Callaghan's in Mobile. Ben called me to see if we were going to be around. Of course as it worked out we were not in town because we were out somewhere playing ourselves. But I told Ben that I was close friends with the owner of the club they were going to play and I would put in a call to him. I made the call to the owner (JT) and asked him to take care of "my people" and be sure to talk to Ben because he was a close friend. Of course JT takes care of all musicians that play his place, but I thought I would warn JT anyway. Besides that's the least I could do to help out my old friend Ben and his latest bad ass band that was struggling to make it.

    Well I laugh now because that may have been the last they ever struggled. It was very very shortly after their Callaghan's performance (which was apparently great. Both JT and Ben called me to tell me they had a phenomenal time) that they were all over every media outlet in the world.

    So last year at the Hangout festival in Gulf Shores I watched Ben (along with the rest of the Alabama Shakes) absolutely rock 40,000 plus people. It was very apparent that they drew as big a crowd as any act at the entire festival (which included Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dave Matthews Band). They were remarkable. It made me proud to watch ANY Alabama based band bring the pain like that, but for it to be a kind, deserving long time friend......well I'm not gonna lie I teared up a little. It was a beautiful moment. (I mean it was 10x more emotional than watching "Rudy").

   Anyway, I hung out with Ben at the Hangout. I got to tell him how proud we all are of him. But I also got to ask him some questions.

    He is amongst my busiest of friends but because he is the most bad ass Ben Tanner, he took time out of his schedule to answer a few questions so I could put them here for your enjoyment.

    If you have been living under a rock and are unaware of the Alabama Shakes, go check them out. And if you see their keyboard player wandering the streets go buy him a drink ( I'll pay ya back).

Here's the interview:
1.- Let me start by saying I'm not sure I've ever been more proud of a friend than I am of you. And being as "the industry" has made horrible decision after horrible decision , seeing you (a highly competent artist and a genuine good soul) be recognized and successful gives me hope for music. Have you crossed paths with other artists that make you feel the same? (meaning: artists who were successful and worthy. Artists whose recent success give you hope for the future of "the industry")   
Thanks so much, Eric.  It gives me hope, too.  I first saw the Shakes (when they were simply "The Shakes") in front of 40 or 50 people, and it was one of the greatest musical moments I've experienced.  But I never thought, "They're gonna be huge", I just thought it was another great band that would probably never be heard as widely as they should be.  So to see them (us) succeed gives me hope, too.

As far as other artists, Bonnie Raitt comes to mind immediately.  We met her briefly on the David Letterman set.  On Thursdays, Letterman tapes a double show; they shoot Thursday's and Friday's shows in one day so they can take Friday off.  We were taping for Thursday, and Bonnie was there for Friday's.  After we played, I went back upstairs to our dressing room, and there was Bonnie Raitt talking to Brittany.  She was just the warmest, coolest, nicest person.  And then she was telling Brittany about this obscure female singer from Louisiana, and she starts singing a line of this song, and it clicked for me: "Oh, that's just your voice.  That's what you actually sound like."  We ran into her again in Nashville at the Americana Music Awards, and she was, again, unbelievably nice and gave a killer performance.  So hers was more a lesson of how to act.  It's like your grandmother always taught you, "Be sweet", no matter how great you (think you) are.

We've also crossed paths with a lot of the folks from that Daptone R&B scene in Brooklyn, and they're really inspiring, too.  Great musicians really committed to writing great songs and coming up with great arrangements.  We did a show with Antibolas in California, and they've got something like 12 guys on stage, but it never feels cluttered, they're all playing off each other and listening to each other.  And that whole scene came from them just making the kind of records they wanted to hear, and it eventually paid off for them, so that's a pretty hopeful story, too.

I could go on and on.  I've been fortunate to meet a lot of really talented and amazing people.

2. The Muscle Shoals area has been churning out great music and musicians for what seems like forever, but I can't help but feel there has been a renaissance there over the last few years. It seems to me like the area is bursting at the seams with talented musicians and writers in a way it hasn't in years (or possibly ever). Do you feel that's an accurate statement? 

It definitely feels like something special to me, and a lot of the older players like David Hood and Spooner Oldham say it's the most talent they've ever seen around here, so I'll take their word for it.  I also think it's only the beginning.  It feels like everyone has a lot of momentum right now.  We're all learning with every record we make, and I think the Shoals is putting out a pretty solid catalog of work right now, and I think we'll continue to challenge ourselves to make better and better records.

3. A lot of musical icons passed away this year. Are there any of our recently departed brethren that hit home with you more than others?
Definitely Levon Helm.  The Band is right up there with The Beatles and The Stones for me, and I had the pleasure of meeting Levon a few years ago.  I was at Bonnaroo with the now defunct Sons of Roswell, and Dylan Leblanc, Jay Burgess and myself were hanging backstage before Levon's set, and Levon was just standing over by himself, so I thought, I have to at least shake the man's hand.  He chatted with us for a minute, and when it came out that we were from Muscle Shoals, he just lit up.  He asked about all the session players from there, and he talked to us like we were his own grandchildren.  He was a really sweet, genuine person.  And then he put on an unbelievable show.  I just read his autobiography, "This Wheel's On Fire".  That's a really great read.

4. You have been touring a bunch. We were recently in Europe at the same time. I was in Belgium and I missed being able to see y'all in Germany and in France by a day each time. If you are anything like me, you discover new favorite spots in Europe everytime you go. Tell me some of your favorite European spots (it could be a venue , a restaurant, a park, whatever). Which European spots make Ben Tanner wish he could stay longer?

I lived in Paris for a little while after college, so I always love going back there.  This summer, we had a couple of days off in Utrecht in the Netherlands, which was a great little city.  Like a smaller, chiller version of Amsterdam.  I had a really nice time in Madrid just wandering around the city, and everything starts later there, which is more like my natural schedule.  We played the Montreux Jazz Festival this year, and we got hang out at the festival founder's chalet up in the Swiss alps.  That was pretty surreal and amazing.  Those are some highlights, but we have a pretty great time everywhere in Europe; Europe has treated us very well.

5. Now for more of the gear geek questions. Do you find that you are more of the "I have to have the new model of the best piece of gear every time it comes out" type guy or are you more of a "tried and true. I've had this keyboard since middle school" type of guy? 

In the studio, I love trying lots of different stuff, and I try to avoid too many formulas or presets. In the keyboard realm, specifically, sometimes a cheap crappy keyboard might have one cool sound on it that works perfectly for something.  But for playing live, I tend to go towards the more stable, versatile stuff.  I've been playing the same Nord Electro 2 for around 6 years now, and it's treated me really well.  For some bands I play with, I'll add a Nord Lead to that setup if I need some more synth-y or noisy sounds.

6. What is you gear setup specifically?

With the Shakes, I have a pretty sweet right now.  They recently bought a road-worthy B3 that has folding legs and fits into a road case.  So I usually have that and a Rhodes and the Nord Electro.  The Electro i normally use for just piano sounds unless the Rhodes is having issues, which happens from time to time.  So with the Shakes, it's a pretty awesome, classic setup, and it's really spoiling me.

7. I know you as a great musician but I also know you as a producer and engineer from the time I spent working with you on Ugli Stick stuff. Are you doing any engineering or producing currently? If not, do you miss it and see yourself getting back into more studio work once you are off the road a little more?

Yeah, I'm still trying to record as much as possible.  Touring so much makes it challenging, but this year, I've stayed really busy with sessions during our breaks from the road.  I've been juggling a lot of records all year, and every time it looks like it's going to slow down, something else comes along.  I had to invest  in a new laptop with Pro Tools installed so I could do at least some work on the road.  Before I got the laptop, it was like, "I'm home for a week and I have 4 different projects to work on, plus I have to do laundry before I leave again."  So the laptop has helped a lot.  Plus, there's so much downtime on the road, it's nice to have something productive to do, I can at least pull up a session and mess around with it.

8.  Give me a brief rundown on what is on slate for you for the remainder of 2012 and the beginning of 2013.

We leave for another European tour on November 1, and we're over there for a few weeks, then we have a couple of weeks off, and then we have a handful of shows in the US at the beginning of December, and then I think we're gonna be off until the end of the year.  In January we're hitting Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, which is insane.  I still haven't wrapped my mind around that.

On the recording front, I just sent off mixes to be mastered for Belle Adair's first LP, and I'm pretty excited about that.  The Bear just finished tracking their new album, and we'll probably start mixing in November and try to put it out sometime in early 2013.  Doc Dailey's new album comes out in a couple of weeks.  I'm mixing a really cool EP for a soul/R&B band from Birmingham called Saint Paul and the Broken Bones right now.  John Paul White has a little guest house behind his house that we're trying to develop into a smaller studio/mix room/writing room.  We just started moving gear in there this week, but we're pretty excited about it.