September 27, 2013
Time to write.
Yeah, it’s been quite a while since I sat down and wrote something. Words, at least. I mean, other than the mundane “routine” email of course. Or the “Hey, look at me!” social media update. Dunno, there’s just things brewin’ in this ‘ol noggin’.
I can’t believe it’s Autumn already. But maybe it’s obvious with the reflection that appears to be blinding me from the most current events in my personal life. I guess like many people, by the time the end of the year rolls around, I tend to make a check list of where I’ve been and where I’m going. And then I file this under, “Procrastination”.
Currently, my face is planted on my fret board, attempting to remember 90 minutes worth of notes for the upcoming Fates Warning tour. The dates begin next week and I’m not as prepared as I usually am. But don’t weep for me, I made this bed and peed in it all by myself. Actually, I am really looking forward to the tour. It is going to really date me to point out, that I’ve been playing in Fates for 17 years. Longer than my run with Armored Saint from 82 to 92. Crazy. But I truly enjoy being around the guys in Fates. For some reason it feels so easy to be on this team. There’s no emotional baggage. I can relax and just let my inner potty mouth run the show. It’s being with the kind of people you sit around with, just shooting the shit. Talking about everything and talking about absolutely nothing at the same time. Then there’s the music. I’m really proud of my work with Fates and we’re all stoked to go out and play some tunes from the new record. This band has made me a better player.
But my mind keeps reminding me that I am escaping something. Some things are sinking in, taking hold. My old mind takes time to process. Information goes in, gets digested and gets put into the compartment that will keep it safe. Safe from harm. Safe from causing more disturbances. But is this safe? Is safety always healthy?
My nose comes up from bar 375, the part where Bobby Jarzombek throws a crazy drum chop that eliminates ALL the contestants! I’m remembering the time my wife and I went to Tuscany for a vacation. Some friends from Germany met us there for a few days, just to hang. Michael Trengert and his wife are the friends of topic. If you’ve followed my FB / Tweet ticker this week, you’ll know that Michael lost his battle with a brain tumor over the weekend. Devastated. Even though we saw this coming, it’s still hard to grasp onto. Gone.
Bar 376. Back into a groove. One night in Tuscany, we decided we’d cook dinner. So we made this crazy pasta with local mushrooms. If you know the general area of Tuscany, you’ll know that we’re in the region of the great classic Italian grape, Sangiovese. And just around the corner of us is Montepulciano. Needles to say, we were armed with the best army of the region. The reinforcement to our mushroom pasta is a case of wine from the local regiment. We demolished that night with the utmost appreciation of where we were. The air, the land, the food, the wine and the friends. I’ll never forget the early morning sunlight coming through a window and illuminating all 12 empty wine bottles, lined up on top of the fireplace mantle. Mike called them our “dead soldiers”. A hangover with a smile.
Last August Armored Saint played a benefit gig in Los Angeles to help raise money for local drummer Dave Brown from the band Sound Barrier. It was amazing to see Dave get up there and bang out several tunes. He played great, like he never missed a beat since 1983. And his attitude was beaming. But I couldn’t help notice that his thin frame and sunken features issued a note that he’d been going though chemo therapy recently to combat the colon cancer that’s invaded his body. Fuck Cancer. We helped raise money for Dave and his family to pay for medical bills. Medical Care in America? Tap, tap, tap? Hello?
In early September, Armored Saint played at the Prog Power festival in Atlanta, GA. It’s always a whirl wind doing gigs with Saint because we’re not your every day gigging band. We play once a year if we’re lucky. So, it’s rehearse for 5 days, fly out, play a gig and go home. Playing these one time shows sometimes allows a margin for error which is usually not the case when it’s just another day at the office. So, of course we had many technical problems at the gig. Almost to the point of TWO simultaneous train wrecks. But, in our true fashion of “figure it out” (we’re masters of this, not having all the cards in the deck but figuring out how to play the hand) we persevered and got through the set. After almost losing the crowd, the crowd joined our rally and together we sought to undo the roof. Either that, or you all felt sorry for us. In any case, thanks for a great night. Writing the new record is moving at a snails pace. If only I had two of me.
Back to the frets. Arms pulsing, mind counting off parts, sections. What comes next? Chorus? I’m hungry.
A week after the Atlanta show I’m off to San Francisco to play a benefit (must be a new thing for me) for guitarist Jason Becker. I went up with Pearl Aday to play an acoustic set of her tunes along with her husband, Scott Ian and guitarist/singer Jim Wilson. I’m lucky to be playing on Pearl’s new record along with the aforementioned which should be out next year. But on this occasion we’ve been asked to perform for the Jason Becker benefit show.
Of course I know Jason by name and I know a hazy detail or two about his career and life but I was meant to learn more, which I did. For those of you who don’t know, Jason was a very young, up and coming guitar player in the late 80’s. He was doing stuff at 14 years old that most guys since would have given up their left nut for. Jason was WAY ahead of the curve. He went on to become friends with guitarist Marty Friedman and they recorded a record together while still in high school. Jason ultimately was able to replace Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s band in 1990 at the tender age of 21. Jason recorded the new DLR record and soon after (and I’m talking during mixing) discovered he has Lou Gehrig’s disease (or ALS). In a nut shell, ALS destroys all the muscle tissue in your body. And we need muscle for, well…everything, living for example.
Before we played that night, a screening of the documentary Not Dead Yet was shown. The movie details the life Jason had before his illness struck him as well as the impact he’s made in the consciousness of musicians since then. The thing that struck me most was the amount of love and perseverance that his parents have for Jason. The 21 year sacrifice they’ve made to help their son maintain a happy and productive life is just awe inspiring. Also, and no less inspiring, is Jason’s attitude and perspective on his life. If he could drink water, he’d be drinking from not a (half full) glass, but an overflowing mess of a full glass! It makes you remember to not sweat the small stuff. There’s more than that in this world. I was lucky to meet Jason that night and he was kind and gracious. He’s only able to speak using his eyes as sign language along with an interpreter. I know lots of us have adversity in our lives, but Jason’s story sheds light on a disease that could use plenty more awareness and support. None of which our government is exactly handing out. Go watch this movie. Please.
Fingers moving without thought, I don’t even have to look at the fret board. I’m in a state, like a zombie shuffling towards a warm and living meal. Then I’m knocked off course whilst I curse Jim Matheos for writing such complicated segues between verses.
Michael Trengert was the head of Metal Blade Records in Europe for many years, about 15 or so to be non exact. He was instrumental in bringing the label’s perception and brand name to the consciousness of Euro Metal heads both young and old (er). He helped bring popularity to such bands as Cannibal Corpse, As I Lay Dying, Armored Saint, Unearth, Bolt Thrower, Six Feet Under and was considered by some to be the 6th member of Amon Amarth who he helped bring to America. My wife has been a work colleague with Mike all these years too. She’s pretty beat up about this needless to say. We all are.
Mike will be buried today. His body at least. I’ve been trying to have closure by immersing myself in my set list. It’s not really working though. I can’t believe I’ll never see him again. Yeah, death. It’s all about “me”. All about us. I’ll miss him. I guess I’m selfish because I feel sad that “I” won’t be able to drink another beer with him. Or listen to his loud voice making a point he truly believes in, or share in a cordial conversation over the differences and similarities between Germans and Americans, or spar in an argument over the merits of classic metal versus traditional metal. I don’t want to have to deal with it. Poor little me. But dammit Mike, this isn’t settled yet!
On business trips to Germany he’d take me out to dinner (like all my European friends/colleagues do). And being a vegetarian in Germany can be a challenge sometimes, until you discover Spaetzle. The cheese covered beer noodles that are baked in an oven. I instantly fell in love with that stringy ooze. A year later, Mike came to visit my wife and I at our home. He came into the house carrying a brown paper bag. In this paper bag was 4 large bottles of Bavarian dark beer (“because it is the best”) and a box that contained a Spaetzle machine. A cheese grater looking device used to create this mystical German noodle. That night I was a student and Mike was the teacher and he showed me how to make a “proper” Spaetzle. Lots of eggs, some flour and one large beer. “The other 3 are for drinking” he says. We had a great hang. The mild hangover and the magic Spaetzle machine were my gift. To this day I still make Spaetzle and I sure as hell get still get hangovers.
Thank you Michael for who you are.
Love the one’s you’re with. Be a good person. Respect the earth.
Nose back to 5th fret. Big stretch coming. Bar 799.
Music, music. I hear music. Music Over My Head.
August 8, 2012
Ok, so I’m definitely getting older as it now takes me 2 weeks to recover from Euro jet-lag. It used to never bother me at all much especially when returning FROM Europe. But it kicked my ass this time. Anyway, here’s a “better late than never” tour wrap up.
The Armored Saint short tour in July was really a good time. We toured with UK metal- heads Collapse, as support and quite frankly without them, we could not have done this tour. (Although, they do have some strange drinking habits which involve punch bowls). But many thanks to them for “kicking it in the Dick”!
Sonisphere France was killer. We had the good opportunity to see the show the day before we actually played. Machine Head killed it, then Faith No More took me to another place. What a great, great band. Despite the bad weather that plagued the gig, our show went killer. My only bummer was when I heard that Baroness had to cancel because of the weather.
Paris was amazing, a day off included in the price of my admission. The Parisian crowd blew us away. Even sang their great rendition of the birthday song to our own Phil Sandoval who turned 50 – somthin’……(insert reading glasses here)
Holland always does not disappoint and gave us a great time. Bang Your Head festival was great too, great to come home to Germany again. The Dong Festival was in desperate need of a week of sunshine (as well as a new name for their feastival), they day we showed up, there was acres of spongy, gooey mud about 6 inches thick. Ruined more than a couple pairs of shoes me thinks. But, none the less, the German (and Dutch) fans could care less. We had a great gig anyway. Mud Metal!
Lucerne is such a beautiful city. My first time here and hopefully not my last. My slight hangover impeded a bit on my desire to explore the city by foot (which is easily done if one has no residual alcohol restraining arms, limbs and brain synapses), but from what I saw, just beautiful. Club Shuur was one of the best places I’ve played, top notch staff there.
Was indeed a bit of a whirl wind and am very glad to be home now. Currently Saint is working on a couple of things for “before the end of the year” and there’s a few things in the JV fire as well.
More to come……
July 07, 2012
“Gonna Make It”
My wife and I are standing in line at Swan Oyster Depot on Polk St in San Francisco along with Scott Ian and our friend Matt. Thankfully, the line is not very long as we are both brimming on the edge of starvation. Luckily, Scott arrived several minutes earlier to “hold” a place in line much to the chagrin of the locals behind us. No rezzies here, you just wait your turn. Having never eaten here before, my wife and I feel reluctant to wait out the “wait”. “This could take an hour”, we thinks.
We are not only very hungry but I have to go to sound check in 10 minutes. Armored Saint was graciously asked to open one of the nights at the Metallica 30 year celebration at the famous Fillmore in San Francisco this 7th day of December. Something I won’t take lightly and something I shouldn’t be late for. I’ve just been informed that my crew has loaded in and they are waiting to take the stage. I am never going to make it.
One week earlier, Armored Saint arrives at JFK in New York for a weekend of shows in the Tri State area for the first time in 20 years (really?). It’s raining and the rush hour traffic is not being kind to us. We make our way towards Long Island where our first show is, but our GPS is having “issues” and we quickly realize that we are actually heading back towards Manhattan. Luckily the show is the following day and unless we find ourselves stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike heading south, we should make the gig.
At Swan Oyster Depot there are only about 20 seats in the place and all are located at a white tiled bar, but I mean this not in the cocktail sense. This place has been here since the early 1900’s and one could imagine that the interior looked much the same in 1917 as it does now. But this is what gives this place its genuine authority. They only serve seafood here, the kind you’d find still pulsing on a dock on ANY sea board. Fresco. Some of it is smoked in-house, some of it is boiled or poached but most of it is raw. You won’t find anything pan fried, sautéed or broiled. Step up, get your knuckles all fishy and then get out! 4 seats miraculously open up at the same time but they are separated by two’s, apart at either end of the bar. It’s the least of our worries right now. Sit!
We finished sound check at Ollie’s Point in Amityville, Long Island. All went well with the help of our support band on the triptych of shows here, Seven Witches. Without them supporting us, literally, with the use of their entire backline of amps and drums, we would not have been able to play any of these gigs. The shows go on because of them and we thank them even today. I head off to grab a grilled cheese sandwich and beer at a local pub with my Fates Warning cohort, Frank Aresti. While we recant tour potty humor, I get a message from John Bush that his flight is delayed and it’s questionable if he’ll make it to the gig. Here we go.
My wife and I find our 2 open seats at the Swan bar and we cozy up to the previous persons remnants which is basically soiled plates of “god knows what” aquatic destruction. Soon thereafter, one of the gentleman wearing a white coat takes away the dirty dishes and wipes our little square foot of counter space with a grayish wet rag. Luckily I’m sitting right in front of the 2 beers they have on tap. “I’ll have an Anchor Steam”, I quip. When in Rome. As time ticks by, our orders go in. The messages from my tour manager have stopped which is a good thing. Let sleeping dogs lie. I take a deep breath and savor the Steam.
As it turns out, we can have a lead singer this night in Long Island and John makes the hotel in time for a quick shower and heads straight to the gig. Our first of 3 shows goes off with the obligatory set of “technical” difficulties. But most of the small crowd seems satisfied. These batch of shows on the east coast are the first since 1992 and there are many who have been waiting a long time for this including us. Celebrity Radio DJ “Fingers” from WBAB, graced us with the introduction onstage for old times sake. We met him on our very first tour in 1984 and it’s always nice to complete a very wide circle. All in all, it was a fun night seeing some familiar faces and making some new friends. Next stop is Allentown, PA.
Mid-way through my beer the food starts showing up. Chowder, Dungeness Crab Cocktail, Prawns with Louie Sauce, Oysters and Smoked Salmon all arrive one on top of the other. It’s a food fight. Each plate more delectable than the last. Probably the most incredible and amazing food experience of its kind. We devoured everything. A local sitting next to us was amused by our frenzy and offered up a taste of her sea urchin when it arrived. While I consider the possibility of burp-puking a chunk of this offer during the third song of our set, the urchin lands. The spikey mass of purple-black is inverted and there are mounds of ocher yellow, tongue like strands piled high in its cavity. The spines are still moving trying to escape its already doomed demise. Thinking of keeping my duty to perform onstage, I decline the taste offer but my wife indulges and sings the slimy praise. It just doesn’t get any more fresh than this.
Saint has a day off travel to Pennsylvania so we make a day stop in the City. Contrary to popular perception, our band doesn’t hang out much, all together, anymore. So it was quite nice hanging around and murdering time all day in the Village. Did the usual stop on Bleeker and made a day of eating and drinking whenever we could. The day culminated with dinner at Villa Mosconi in the Village for some old school Italian. Good times.
As we pay our respects to the sea faring carnage, my wife gets an emergency business conference call. We grab a cab, quick like, and I drop her back at the hotel for the call, I stay with cabbie and head over to the Fillmore. We’ll meet later. Thinking I’m late, I rush over to the venue with the instructions from Jason my tour manager. My text reads, “go through Vietnamese restaurant next to venue”. Oooookay…..
Allentown was cold, especially to us west coast pussies. We looked like Randy, Ralphie’s little brother from the movie A Christmas Story. Pussy deep sea divers. We stuck out like frozen dildos. As we arrive at the venue for sound check, the promoter for the night begins his familiar sad song complete with miniature violins playing a triste. “Oh, the pre sales are low, the pre sales are low, Oh no!” My only defense is, “OK, skip the subway sandwiches on the rider, now where can I get a decent cup of coffee?” Even after all these years, I do still hate hearing those words. I mean HATE it. But luckily for us (and the promoter), our fans are procrastinators of sorts when it comes to buying concert tickets in advance. So the walk up that night exceeded both of our expectations. Allentown was a great night and a great crowd. Many people stuck around after and we had a chance to catch up and meet some new people. Some of which had driven over 10 hours to get there. Amazing stuff after 20 years. Next Stop is NY City.
As I find the Vietnamese restaurant, I sheepishly enter and a skinny woman near the kitchen door takes one look at my mini Mohawk and without a word motions me to follow her through the kitchen. Yikes! I maneuver my way through the old concrete room. It smells like week old fish and month old dishwater. There’s one of the odiferous culprits: a pair of brownish-yellow fish lying on the counter. I don’t think fish is supposed to look like that. I hurry towards the back door which leads me to some stairs up to the venue. After that horror I’m greeted by some friends I have not seen in a long time. Metallica has had some of the same crew as they did from way back, when we toured with them in 1984 and 86. Great bunch of guys. We were made very welcome from the get go, utterly accommodating. My stress level begins to fade as Metallica are still sound checking. I am not late for anything. Rob Trujillo takes a break and gives a hug. Despite the rotting fish on tonight’s Vietnamese blue plate special, everything is going to be fine.
I love Manhattan. There’s such a multi layer of life there. It’s the closest thing to a European city we have in the U.S. I admit that I’m not so sure I could live there but I sure love visiting. We’re playing The Studio at Webster Hall, a modest club just east of the Village. As I arrive for sound check I am already getting ready for the “lack of pre sales” pitch. But much to my surprise I am greeted with the new fact sheet of tonight’s tickets sales, “We’re just about at capacity. Anything you need?” he says. “How about an extra case of beer on top of our bonus fee?” I reply. Done. I set up a reserved table for my sister and mother in law who came to watch our show tonight, run through sound check and pop out the door to meet my friend Kat for dinner. I’m on a mission from God.
Metallica has chosen to embark on a monumental showcase for their 30 year anniversary. For starters, they are not playing the same song twice during the 4 sold out nights. Think about that, that’s a lot of material to learn. 4 nights and each set is about 2 hours long. I broke a sweat just thinking about it. Then, there is all this other stuff going on during the show. Other acts performing, game contests, our set, a jam at the end of the night. These poor guys were literally rehearsing right up until show time. They worked their asses off. And despite this crazy schedule, they gave us ample time to do a sound check with none other than their own long time sound man. We ripped through a song and a half then I went back to the hotel for some quiet time with my wife before the mayhem. I just got back from doing 3 east coast shows with Saint, and had been up since 6 am. I’m tired but I can’t be more tired than those guys. I try to relax but realize there’s no time for a nap. I make good use of the time left before show and head down to the hotel bar for a pre-gig beverage. That’ll wake me up.
My friend Kat and I dart through the streets in the Village in search of Otto, Mario Batali’s semi casual eatery. Since I could not commit to a dinner reservation time because of sound check, we have none, anywhere! I only have 1 and a half hours to find a restaurant, get seated, order, eat, pay the bill and walk back to the venue. And I want something good. I’ll never make it. We open the doors to Otto and the Maitre d’ announces to our hungry faces that the wait time is 1 hour. This is some of the most terrible news I’ve heard in a long time because it smells dangerously good in here! Out the door to resume the mission. We are heading to the place I really wanted to go in the first place, Mario’s Babbo only a few blocks away. But our hopes are thin as it’s 7:30 PM in New York on a Saturday night and Babbo is, well….very popular to say the least. There’s no way we’re getting in. But I’m not in New York that often so we walk. We squeeze through the door and make our way to the front bar area the way I do when I go see a King’s X concert. I want a front row seat. As we lay our resigned eyes on the mass of backs sitting on bar stools, 2 of those masses rises and departs before our very eyes. Like Locusts on fresh grass we jump the stools. We’re in. Prosecco and menus arrive, no time for head scratching. Order! Plate after plate starts coming, then something else starts coming. Food orgasms. But, shit, I’m distracted by the time on my iPhone ticking away. It’s almost time to leave and there’s still more food coming. All this coming is make me crazy. 15 minutes to stage time and we’re still sitting in these stools! Oh look, Mario Batali himself walks in and is right behind us! We geek on him. Then the messages start coming in and not the good kind of coming. “where the fuck are you?”, “dude, you’re blowing it”, “WTF!!!”. You must believe your humble narrator when he says that this is very unlike him. To be wistful with food before keeping his responsibilities. I hate letting people down, so we pay our bill and say goodbye to heaven. I haul ass back to the club via feet and dash into the dressing room. Everyone’s quietly pissed. I do a quick wardrobe change and we hit the stage 5 minutes late. Halfway through song number 3, “Nervous Man”, I begin burping those delectable garlic roasted Brussel sprouts, never mind, it’s a sold out show and this is the best dessert I’ve ever eaten. NY kicked ass.
Back at the Fillmore we’re told that Lars and James are going to introduce us tonight. We wait in the green room off stage while Lars and James recant meeting us in Los Angeles where we both started out in 1982. Some very nice things were said and then we were brought onstage by the mighty duo to hand us over to their loyal fans for the next 30 minutes. We did what we do best, play our songs faster than the studio versions, and by the ending of our set, we had made a “load” of new friends judging by their noisy faces. It’s always great playing the Bay area for us. It’s always felt like a second home and it was nice returning for a night. But more than this it was a huge honor to be playing with our long time friends. Metallica blasted though a great set which included a blistering version of “The Four Horsemen” with lead vocals courtesy of “the only singer we considered fronting our band”, John Bush. After their set, they invited the people who had played that night to jam “Seek and Destroy”. I stumbled over to side stage to see if I could “fake” my way onstage to sing back ups or something. Rob’s bass tech is standing there holding one of Rob’s Jazz Basses and is motioning in my direction to come closer. I look behind me as if he’s speaking to someone else. No one there. I point my index finger to my chest and he replies with a “of course you, you dumb ass!” look on his face. I hop up the steps and he puts the very low hung strap around me and turns up the knobs, “I’m Live”. Good thing I listened to the song on my iPod the day before. Then I went around the stage and made shapes with Rob and the boys including Jason Newsted! 3 bass players, talk about bun cakes! (sorry, couldn’t resist) The entire night had a great, fun atmosphere. It was basically a giant party and the kings of Metal were the host. It was an incredibly good time for all of us and we all salute Metallica for achieving what they have. I consider it a privilege to have been in any part in their history and friendship.
On the flight home the next morning, my wife and I are sitting across from Scott Ian and we’re all reminiscing the events from the night before. (Scott gave a great homage to Cliff Burton during the show) We’re all very tired though and getting ready for the holidays was not looking pretty. But there’s absolutely nothing for us to complain about this morning. No, nothing at all.