Monday, November 24, 2014

Bandmate Appreciation: Thanks Guys!

photo by Becca Sabot

With the Thanksgiving holiday around the corner I wanted to give a special thanks to my current Little Man band mates. While the band name is Little Man and could be associated with just myself, I couldn't do it with out my band mates. There is nothing like the sonic power and and energy of playing in a rock band. Drummer Sean Gilchrist and bass player Brian Herb have been a part of Little Man since 2010. They have been the longest running bass/drums band mates I have ever had. I started Little Man back in 1996 and have been lucky enough to have alot of talented musicians be a part of this band over the years to keep things going. This family, extends out to all the other musicians that have been in the band as well as fill in players, engineers and producers or anyone who has helped on an album. That's alot of people over the years!
Thank you!!!

There is that unexplainable feeling when you play with a drummer that is just right. I'll have it no other way when having a drummer play in this band and I've been grateful for playing with a good handfull of such folks over the years. Sean Gilchrist is one of them and has become a good friend and a great person to work on ideas with. We got to dig in while traveling to Chicago together to record Orbital Amusement. Driving in the van, spending long days working out parts and recording. His rock drumming style reminds me alot of Black Crows drummer Steve Gorman which I really dig. We work out parts together trying different things until I feel he's got the groove and he's been capable of coming up with so many drumming variations. Recording with him is a snap as he nails entire passes of songs in a take or two.

I first met bassist Brian Herb when I needed someone to transfer audio from analog tape to digital for the Soulful Automatic sessions. Just about the friendliest person you could meet. Brian, foremost, is also a really good drummer but he offered to play bass or drums for me when I met him if I ever needed the help. When I did need help on bass, I called him. He's great on bass! Brian has an awesome energy and stage presence and his own signature fashion style - always wearing overalls.He also built me a killer pedal board which I am forever thankful for.

photo by Becca Sabot
Us three playing together for the first time was so relaxed and right on. You get that feeling. And I know musicians know what I'm talking about but for the non musician, it's like pedaling a three person tandem bicycle or something like that. When playing a song, we communicate in a different way. Listening to each other and not just or own parts and watching for for subtle physical cues. Sometimes we'll all travel together on a jam in a particular direction just magically. It's a cool thing and that's the feeling you get when playing in a band.

Both Sean and Brian communicate with me very well, no one's egos get in the way. They come up with some cool arrangement and harmony ideas too but never get angry if things don't make the cut. They never take anything personally and want what's best for the song and the band as a whole.

Touring with them is a blast. We get along really well together like brothers. Van conversations have been both honest and hilarious. They love to seek out awesome food stops and help out with driving and tour managing. Brian is a long time tour specialist, so I feel especially at ease having him along.

These guys are great, not to mention, as you can see, they're both big guys which works well in contrast to me and the band name. That just happened of it's self in a good way! Excellent musicians and hard working guys. Being all together to record Original Face was a wonderful experience as well. Thanks for being a part of this band and helping me express the music! I appreciate you every rehearsal and every show.

photo by Charles Robinson

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Magician

This is the Build Your Own Clone Leeds Fuzz. It comes as a kit with all it's parts and a plain metal casing. You can decorate it how ever you wish. This guitar effects pedal is a clone of the Vox Superfuzz made famous by the great Pete Townshend of The Who heard on the Live At Leeds album.

Here I decoupaged a copy of one of my favorite Tarot cards The Magician (this one is from the Rider-Waite deck) on top and painted the casing yellow to match. I also replaced the stock black knobs for red ones to match the artwork. It has a switch that changes it's settings from a tighter wooly harmonic fuzz that sounds great playing two notes at once, to a wider aluminum heavy sounding fuzz. I find that the first option cuts through in a live band setting and this has got pretty good volume too. I used this sound on Little Man's song I Know Who You Are off the Original Face album. (in the video I state using it on "We Understand" but that is not the case.)

Here's a little Tarot lesson on The Magician, but first take a look at this image and see what your gut feeling is about it. Trust THAT. The Tarot is for you. It is card number 1. The number of unity. The connector of the many to the one. The Magician takes things out of thin air and makes them appear just like a songwriter takes ideas out of the ether and brings them into reality. The conscience between sub-conscience to cosmic-conscience. He has everything he needs to perform. Awareness of dreams. Captivating performer in the moment. Infinity, not of time.

From the Marseilles deck.

This is a fun hobby for me. I like to listen to my vinyl collection and work on stuff like this and them test them out and get creative with the sounds through an amp and then with the band. You can check out my other builds The Fuzzy Face, Fat Rocket and the Tube Dreamer if you're into it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Trip to the Badlands and Black Hills

I'd only heard about the Badlands but never have been. It's been a busy summer and I didn't have any days off either with work or the band so my wife and I set aside some time for a little road trip of our own. We hopped in our little car and headed West from St. Paul, MN. On interstate 90 you cannot miss the signs for Wall Drug, one of the most famous gift shops in the country. I think we counted some 40 cartoon-like signs on the 8 and a half hour trip. "Cowboy Up - Wall Drug," "5 cent Coffee at Wall Drug," "Free ice water - Wall Drug,"  and the many mile count downs to the place. The ride is pretty flat until you get further west, then you start to see some big rolling hills and acres and acres of yellow Sunflowers which was a real beautiful site to see.

Near the end of our trek across South Dakota we saw our first glimpse of "Badlands" style formations about the size of a few cars. "Oh look there's the Badlands" we joked and laughed. "There it is. Lets turn back." But then then we turned our heads to the other side of the road and saw these HUGE vast formations and we both fell silent and then "WOW!!" Really cool to see stuff like this for the first time. It is like they say about it looking like the surface of the moon or some strange sci-fi landscape. Now I was getting excited to see more. We approached the national park and had a couple hours before check-in so we drove through and walked a couple trails and fed some Prarie Dogs. Apparently they love peanuts. It got really hot here and we found it difficult to follow some of their trails as some of them were poorly marked but we found our way.

Our first night we stayed in a little cabin of our our in Wall, SD. We walked down to Wall Drug of course and spent some time there checking out all the jewelry, leather goods, shirts and knick knacks. After that, we grilled some brats and watched the sun set.

The following day was spent hiking more Badlands trails and then driving up to Hisega. We stayed at the oldest lodge in the Black Hills called the Hisega Lodge. This bed and breakfast was located right on a river in the woods. Just a gorgeous location. The owners were very kind and told us of the history of the lodge as well as some of the paranormal experiences which my wife and I were very eager to hear about. We spent the evening on the second floor front porch outside our room eating take-out and playing dominoes with the loud sound of the river just down below, waiting to see if an apparition of women in white would walk by.

Breakfast at the Hisega was amazing. Some sort of delicious peach cake and a breakfast pizza. We sat all together at one table with the other guests and got to know how everyone else's trips were going. From here we traveled north through more of the Black Hills and met up with a woman who would take us on a horseback ride for a couple hours. It was just three of us so that was pretty great.  I've been on a horse a few times and really liked the experience so I thought it would be cool out here too. Our guide Barbara was awesome. I learned about Western geological words like "Gultch," "Bench" and "Butte." She took us through the woods and up the side of this huge hill that opened up to this great overlook of the land below and also saw Deadwood in the distance. I was pretty overwhelmed looking out at this point with a really intense feeling. Some sort of spiritual "fit" to the experience and the surroundings. My horse was named Scarlet and Brigid rode a wheezing horse named Doc.

Barbara gave us some tips on were to go from there to get to Deadwood so we followed her directions on 14A through the Black Hills.

Alot of "wow"s from Brigid and I passing through here. Rivers, creeks, mountains and forests on these hilly winding roads. We stopped for an "Indian Taco" for lunch. It's basically a Native American fry bread with taco fixin's on top.

We arrived at the famous wild west city of Deadwood.

It was really cool here. Settled in a neat valley. You might know Deadwood from the TV show too. We just started watching it the night we got back from this trip. Wild Bill Hickok was killed here. Calamity Jane lived there and Seth Bullock was the sheriff. This late 1800's era town used to be home to cowboys and miners with lots of brothels, gambling and daily murders. I wore my western wear and someone asked me if I was part of the reenactment that happened 3 times a day in the streets. I think my longish hair and mustache helped on that point. Still alot of slot machine casino stuff here. We wanted to get up to the old cemetery but just didn't have enough time.
We stayed at the Bullock Hotel that Seth Bullock owned. The Bullock is also famous for being a major haunted location. Of course we had to stay there! In fact the whole city has been known as the "City of The Dead" as so many people have witnessed paranormal activity in most of it's buildings and houses.  Kitty corner from the Bullock is The Farimont Hotel which is also notably haunted (check out Dead Files and Ghost Lab TV shows). We were so lucky to get our own ghost tour at The Bullock and later after hours with Fairmont owner Bob Rousseau! Brigid and I came prepared with a video camera, EMF detectors and voice recorders.

In the Bullock we got to spend some time alone in the basement at the end of our tour. Brigid and I sat at the bar. At one point I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and Brigid got the same feeling and as this happened we got a couple good readings on our EMF detector. It was for sure an odd feeling that lasted quite a few minutes. We explored other areas but this was the most significant moment for us.

In the Farimont we walked through the building after closing time with the owner Bob. At one point, we stood on the 2nd floor in this big long open room where renovations were being made. We all heard something that sounded like a woman real quick from the next room! Both the 2nd and 3rd floors had a spooky feel to them in spots as well. I kept looking over my shoulder having the feeling that someone else was just behind me. We also hung out in a room were a woman had jumped out the window. Bob also showed us the documents of the day signed by Sol Star (partner to Seth Bullock) describing the suicide.

While in Deadwood we got our pictures taken at one of those "old west" photo places!

I felt like I wanted a steak and a whiskey in this old town so we got some food and drinks later in the evening, walked the streets and played some slot machines.

In the morning it was breakfast at Bully's at the hotel and then we got in the car and headed back. 10 hours to home. Really great time. We packed alot in! I think we might head back some day as there is so much more to see including Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument as well as some other key haunted locations.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Three States and No Brakes

The Mad-Dub-Chi Tour
Little Man headed out on a small regional tour this past weekend hitting Madison, Dubuque and Chicago, supporting the new album Original Face. It's pretty fun to hit some cool cities over a long weekend and build up more fans and sell some albums. Brian Herb and Sean Gilchrist and I hopped in Walley the Waldoch van and headed out on the road. Meanwhile Brian is in the back asking me about this window shade that has been broken for a couple days, so he took the time to take it all apart while we were in route and totally fixed it! Brian is a true problem solving engineer. I should leave something broken in the van the next time we head out so he has something to do on the drive.

Our first show was in the Madison, WI area, to a place called True Coffee.
First time there, in fact all the clubs we played this time were firsts for us. True Coffee is indeed a coffee house. They roast, brew and serve their own coffee. I was a little unsure about playing there but they say they book all kinds of music. On the bill were a couple solo acoustic acts and a teen trio. It was all ages so the audience was pretty mixed but there were alot of people at this show, so we were very happy. Super small stage for us but we did our thing and enjoyed the set. The headliner brought up his guitar student, who was only 10 years old, and he sang and played his own song and was AMAZING!! The staff was super nice there.

This show was fairly early so we headed back to the place we were staying which was Sean's sister-in-law. Really fun spending time with her, her husband and 3 young girls. That home environment is a good feeling on the road for sure. They have great place across the street from the big lake so we grabbed some beers and hung out lakeside. So nice.

Buying breakfast groceries.
After a big home made breakfast we headed for Dubuque, Iowa and rolled into the Holiday Inn. Nice place! Only two blocks from the club. We also met up with our friend Bryan who was at the show in Madison and wanted to help with gear and merch. We got some press here too so that was cool to see! For food we got a tip to have a burger at Paul's bar so after load in we walked over. This little place was full with taxidermy! All sorts of animals and it was all in these blue lit glass cases that were showcased up high. It was only 8:30pm and people were already lit here. Got bumped into by a couple people walking by and the whole bar stared at me as I sat alone waiting for the guys to return from a smoke. "Who does that guy look like to you??" one guy said and kept pointing and yelling. Johnny Depp was the first response. Uhm sorta, gotten that before so that wasn't so bad. Zappa almost always. Guys get back here already!

Back at The Lift, the show started off with a guitar and vocal duo and fair amount of folks here too. We played two sets and the crowd ended up dwindling but this one guy stood right up in front the whole night dancing.
At one point he dragged over this huge 3 foot or so log to the front and danced with it. It was just hilarious. He was having a great time and so were we!

Photo by Bryan Ludwikoski At The Lift!

After a noon check out, breakfast was at a diner a block from the hotel towards the river. "Sunshine" or something like that it was called. It was just what we needed. Good, very inexpensive food. Sean got the catfish which was deep fried and served to him whole without the fish head. After he was done, all that was left was the full fish bone skeleton and he said he felt like Heathcliff as he held it up for us to see.

At 1pm we roll on to Chicago. 20East out of Dubuque towards Chicago across Illinois is an absolute beautiful drive in the summer. Lots of big rolling green hills and farmland with cool little towns to pass through. I loved Galena, the home of Ulysses S. Grant. This river town was so civil war era looking. I was telling the guys that and then we passed U.S. Grants house and was like "see!!".

So we're driving along on the highway, and Sean was driving, and I look over and the brake light on the dash was on. "Did you hit the emergency brake by accident Sean?" I asked. "No" he replied. After pressing on the brake pedal we knew we had a problem.  - "We have no breaks!! (pause...we each looked at each other) "AAAAHHHHHHH!!!!" Deepest secrets were confessed at 70 mph. -

Well it didn't quite happen like that but it was a bit scary! We were able to exit and get to a gas station to inspect further. We needed break fluid. Bought that, put it in. But then we checked underneath and when we pressed on the brakes it sprayed out the back axle area. This was a bigger problem. Brian got on the phone right away calling service stations. Most were closed. Two were open and one of them had the part we needed and it was 15 miles away in Rockford.
We had to get there quick because they closed in an hour. We knew we could make it if we were very careful. I took the wheel and could press the brake pedal almost to the floor with hardly any resistance but enough to stop the van given plenty of space. Seat belts on and back on the highway. Never hit the brakes. Coasted onto the exit to the stop light. Three stop signals to go! Slowly and giving plenty of space between us and the car ahead, we made it to the service station. The whole brake line needed to be replaced. Staying after hours they were able to do that for us. Whew!! We were so thankful. Still going to make the show. We left them an album too. Chicago or bust!!!
Walley and me

It is so fun for me to return to Chicago because I lived there for 8 years and started Little Man there. Tonight we play The Green Room which is a part of The Abbey Pub. The Abbey's main stage was a Mexican Wrestling event. Rock and wrestling. Our openers were really good with a ripping Chicago blues sound and the headliner was and excellent Americana rock style musician Benjamin Cartel with his band. Real nice people from Brooklyn. Super songwriting skills. Our show was great too. We rocked it. Also big thanks to our Brian Herb for fixing another situation as there was no sound man here!

It felt real good to play in the city again and a group of friends of all of ours showed up to see us. Real happy to see and hang out with old friends. Afterwards we headed over to The Long Room as I know the owners Clark and Jason. It was so cool to be there again. Love stopping by after a show here. Great to catch up. After that we stayed over at my good friend Dave Cottini's place and stayed up late with more friends.
Little Man at The Green Room Pub
Great photo Deb Sonzo!!

Thanks Beth for this late night or early morning Instagram shot!
In the morning we got up pretty early and headed back up to the Twin Cities. Walley surpassed 140,000 miles on the way home! This trip was just over 1000.

My band mates are the best. They are great musicians. I love touring with them and am thankful for their friendship and that special musician band bond comradery. We could have gotten into a serious accident but made it to all our destinations safely. Thanks to all who came out and supported us on this little run. Until next time!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Making of a Bowie Costume

I've been a part of an annual David Bowie tribute at First Avenue in Minneapolis for many years. Created by 89.3 The Current's DJ Mary Lucia, the show is called Rock For Pussy as it is a benefit for feline rescue. Local artists come together to play and sing their favorite Bowie song on the big stage. I've been a part of the band as a guitarist and I also get to sing some as well. So many people come out for this show and get dressed up in their favorite era Bowie styles and lots of make-up is applied by many of them. Getting glammed up can be a good time. Bowie fans and cat lovers unite for this once a year. It's a really awesome show!

This year I wanted to recreate one of Bowie's tear away costumes as well as a suit. If you've seen his show in London at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973 towards the beginning of  Ziggy Stardust he has two people on either side of him run up and tear away his outer layer costume to reveal a new one underneath. I thought one of his Japanese capes looked really cool. I also liked his suits that were made with just one patterned fabric. In addition I liked some of the styles that his guitarist Mick Ronson wore.

I can hem my own pants (I'm not that tall so most of my pants have to be hemmed) but this was way beyond anything I could do. Plus this was way more than just finding some cool clothes at the thrift store as usual. I wanted to do something I hadn't done or worn before but I'd need help making my idea a reality. I needed to find a designer.

With some sleuthing with a few phone calls, e-mails and postings I was able to be connected with two University of Minnesota fashion design students who were up for the task. Sarah Forsythe contacted me first and she thought she could team up with classmate Lee Tran to make some costumes. We got together and I showed them the video of Bowie's tear away and we spent alot of time looking at pictures of him and glam rock fashion in general. They took my measurements and were enthusiastic about the project. We decided on a couple of ideas. A tear away cape with buttons on the front and back and a two piece suit that could zip half way with a big collar and bell bottomed pants. Now out to the fabric store.

This place we went to was HUGE! It 's called SR Harris. So much to choose from. Luckily Sarah had some ideas for where we could start. We picked out materials and designs we thought would be best. It was a visually appealing experience plus I couldn't help but touch everything I saw, stopping here and there, getting lost and loosing my place with Sarah. After quite a while we decided on a red, white and black big floral print for the cape and a green and shiny gold almost paisley pattern for the suit.

Then we met up again at my place and Lee and Sarah had me try on a basic pattern and measured and pinned me up. It took a couple of fittings to get things just so. We were able to do a test tear away at my place, other than that, my final fitting was at the show.

Test tear!

My first costume for the night was a slim fit silver pair of pants with a matching silver long sleeve shirt along with my cool maroon side zip boots (see my "Vintage SHop Hop" blog post) I had just picked up at a local vintage shop called Up Six. I got my hair poofed out in all directions and some green and silver eye make-up as well as a gold star painted on my chest by a hair styling salon that sets up shop at the show called Moxie.
After the first set I had help changing into the green and gold suit, huge suede platform boots and finally the cape.
I had asked the designers to be the tear away helpers but Sarah couldn't make the show so my wife Brigid helped with Lee. She was so excited! The song I was going to do this for was called "Star" from the Ziggy Stardust album.

I took the stage and played a couple songs on guitar with my cape on and then it was my turn at the mic. As the chomping chords of  "Star" on the piano started the song, the background singers sang "ooooh aahhhh..." and the guitar strummed it's first chords, I raised my arms to full outstretched length (which was the signal for my helpers to run towards me) to show the full cape and Lee and Brigid approached me as fast as they could from opposite sides of the stage. They grabbed the cape and tore it off me before I started to sing the song. It worked!! It was great!!!! So so fun. The audience loved it and the song went on and I had a blast with it. I felt like Bowie, Bolan, Rod Stewart and Jimmy page all at once with that two piece outfit. Rock!!

Here's the video of the tear away!

It was so cool to have an idea, see it through and have it work so well. That felt real good to me. I'm sure it did for the designers too. Sarah and Lee did a great job and it was really fun to work with them both. More photos and videos of all the performers on Facebook.

photo by Charles Robinson

photo by David Tanner

With Reed Wilkerson photo by Amy Wilkerson