It was somewhere around 1974.

I was 11 or 12 – it was Thanksgiving, and my Dad piled me and my sisters into his station wagon for the yearly trip to my uncle’s house for thanksgiving. What lay in store for me would change my life immeasurably.

When we got there – being impatient in my own shoes, I was milling around my uncle’s place, when a stack of records caught my eye, leaned up next to a record player with a pair of headphones attached.  I gingerly leafed through the covers, one by one… having a bunch of older cousins, I didn’t know who they belonged to, and I was fighting between the urge to look through them and the fear of being scolded for it – after all, they weren’t mine.

They were all fascinating.  Other than some 8-track tapes I had, I didn’t own any albums – and the covers all called to me, maybe just because they could.  Not completely mesmerized, but definitely taken, I was going through them one by one when my older cousin Chuck broke the spell I was in – dressed in a uniform, he was getting ready to leave for some kind of air force reserve duty – funny looking back, because Chuck was ANYTHING but military.  He was, unbeknownst to me at the time, a bit of a party animal.  Didn’t matter – all I knew was that Chuck was older and always cool.

He said “you can play ’em if you want.”

If I want???

Of course, it WAS Thanksgiving – and I would soon have to sit at the table and eat with the other kids, etc. – but it didn’t stop me from at least looking at the covers, one by one… gazing at the artwork…flipping them over and reading the notes on the back – intrigued by all these people who were making records – a format that I was already squarely addicted to from way earlier on.  See, at this point, music already had a tremendous hold on me, from age 4, maybe earlier.

Well – eventually, the games of caroms, the waiting and waiting and waiting for dinner, and then the dinner itself had passed, the grown-ups were talking and letting the tryptophan set in… and finally,  I got to go back to the records.

I can’t remember for sure, but I’d guess that I put on three or four, and played them (through the headphones, mind you… this was not a large apartment we were in, and it was Thanksgiving , so loud music was not going to be happening here. (not to mention the fact that Chuck’s setup was a fairly crappy little turntable with the clamp-on speakers)

I’d be the first to admit that it was the covers that were pulling me.  After all, they were pieces of art in their own right.  And it wasn’t as though album covers were completely foreign to me… we had albums in the house already, my Mom being a fan of the Beatles, Carole King, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, and many many others – and we had records in the house since I was born. But these were pieces of art, placed by the universe in this place, and at this time, apparently for the sole purpose of turning my whole world upside-down.

Because at around the fifth or sixth record, I came upon this cover:

Ziggy Stardust Album

And when I turned it over, I saw:

ziggyback

I cannot account for the attraction at the time – (It was dark – and wet…I had already found nighttime to be a compatriot in lonely preteen times…maybe that was it…) –  but there it sat.

And there, on the bottom of the back cover, it said:

ziggybackmaximum

I took the record out, and placed it on the turntable… I listened through the tracks (in those days, you listened – not just skipped…), and then it hit…

Suffragette City.

It is, even now, a tour-de-force – particularly on headphones.  It’s not just big, it’s effing huge.  To top it off, Chuck’s headphones had a mono/stereo switch, which , being the twitchy eleven I was, I was playing with as the tracks were playing – only adding to the hugeness of the track – I started keeping the track in mono until the chorus hit, then throwing it wide open…

My whole universe expanded that night.

The power of music was already familiar to me, but this wasn’t just power – it was nuclear-on-steroids.

My world was blown so wide open that even now, I can only surmise that the universe was conspiring for me – because some thirty-six years later, I can still recall the way my world was rocked.  (This from someone whose parents woke him to watch the moonwalk…. that was chump change compared to this.)

As soon as I could, I went to a record store to buy the album – and they didn’t have it.  So I bought another Bowie album.  And then another… and another.  Yes, the monkey was squarely on my back.  And yeah, of course, Bowie was a huge presence on those albums.

But…

through each and every one I bought, there was this guy:

MickRonson

Mick Ronson

His name was Mick Ronson, and he wasn’t just the balls-to-the-wall-yet-heartful guitar player on these tracks… he arranged, did piano parts, produced, did backing vocals, etc. etc.  And this was on just this handful of albums I got my hands on.  His imprint is unmistakable.

And if you already know who he is, then hopefully you know who he is.  But if you don’t, he was a HUGE influence on literally hundreds of artists.

He is listed by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

And on that first album alone – the closing guitar solo on “Moonage Daydream” is revered around the world – it’s listed as one of the top 100 guitar solos of all time in a whole bunch of places.  It soars… it dances in this poignantly melancholic way with the strings behind it.  It’s brilliant, touching and unforgettable.

And that’s just one solo.

He has a pretty incredible list of credits – which is a great list to be sure – but it doesn’t begin to touch on what he meant to people.

Fast forward…It’s 1980. I’ve lived with and been influenced by Ronson’s work (and many others, of course) for years at this point – and have been recording and arranging myself for some time.  Turns out that Mick is playing with Ian Hunter at a club called Detroit’s in Port Chester, NY.  Having never seen him before, I got two tickets, and my girlfriend and I went.  No offense to Ian, but I went to see Mick.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The show opened with a piece that was obviously meant for him – no vocals, just he and the band… and he was as brilliant live as everything I’d ever heard him do on record.

After the show, I went around to the back of the club in what I figured would be a vain attempt to meet him.  I waited, and waited… there weren’t many waiting there, which inevitably leads one to believe that you missed them already – but wait I did.

Obviously tired, and a little buzzed (a bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand), Mick walked out  about 25 minutes later.  I approached him – hoping at the very least to get an autograph.

Not only did I end up with an autograph, but he sat there and talked with me for at least ten minutes.  Ten minutes. For this 18-year-old kid from nowhere.  And for one of the very few times in my life, I got to genuinely thank someone who was such a huge musical influence to me.

But here’s the thing.

He really listened.  He wasn’t paying lip service… he was genuinely interested.  Even when the support staff was walking around freaking out because someone had messed up the rental car they were using – he sat there with me – and listened.

And when we were done.. he gave me heartfelt thanks, signed my tickets, and got Ian Hunter to do the same.  One of those tickets now rests with a very dear friend – the other is one of my most prized possessions.  Not because of the autograph… because of the experience behind it, and the very kind, extraordinarily talented man who helped this music come out of me.

In April of 1993, word came that Mick had passed away at the entirely-too-young age of 46.  I spent the early evening alone, with a drink and that amazing solo – and wept.

Not out of loss… out of gratitude.

It is for this reason that I add him here – it’s the very least I can do.

ronsonsig


Postscript: There are efforts to have Mick Ronson inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – which should have happened long ago.  Please support them:

Mick Ronson Petition
Mick Ronson Hall of Fame at Myspace
Mick Ronson Hall of Fame at Facebook

Most of the world knows, or is finding out about the passing of Les Paul.

And most are finding out for the first time what us musicians have known for a very very long time… that Les Paul singlehandedly changed the face of music forever. Among his accomplishments are that of overdubbing, multitracking, reverb and much much much much more.

There is NO way to overestimate his influence.

I grew up with recording studios in my life, and have been both overdubbing and multitracking since about age 10 – so his accomplishments have particular significance for me personally.

In the early 1980s, my father called me and said he’d be doing some backing vocal work at a “40’s in the 80’s” concert – he was backing up folks along the lines of Keely Smith – and he asked if I wanted to go. I took him up on it.

So there I was, all of 18 or 19, wandering around the cinder-block halls backstage before the concert started – and I happened past a small, dimly-fluorescent-lit room. There, with his back to me, was a lone little man moving something around in a case. I stopped and looked for a moment – and as it became clear what he was taking out of the case, it also became clear that this was Les Paul – and what he was taking out of the case was one of his “logs”.

Talking with my father a couple minutes later – I mentioned it to him, and said that it was not unlike catching a glimpse of Santa Claus – we’re talking about a legend here.

Well later on, folks were taking pictures backstage – and my Dad mentioned to Les that I wanted a picture – which he was happy to take with me:

mm&lpold

Les Paul and Mark Marshall - early 80's

Now I wasn’t hamming it up for the picture… Les would link his arm in yours, and say “now take out your air guitar…”  If the picture were wide enough, you’d see that he had his out too.

Before we left that day – I asked Les for an autograph.  Well, unbeknownst to me, my father had told him about my Santa Claus comment.  Imagine my surprise when Les handed me the autograph:

lpsanta2

I prize it to this day.

Over a decade later, I had the good fortune to meet Les once again – and this time,  just two men – no air guitars:

lp&mmnew

Both times, he was incredibly sweet.

But this was the most remarkable thing to me – besides his many many innovations, and his good cheer… here’s how much the guitar meant to him (from Wikipedia):

“In January 1948, Paul was injured in a near-fatal automobile accident in Oklahoma, which shattered his right arm and elbow. Doctors told Paul that there was no way for them to rebuild his elbow in a way that would let him regain movement, and that his arm would remain in whatever position they placed it in permanently. Paul then instructed the surgeons to set his arm at an angle that would allow him to cradle and pick the guitar. It took him a year and a half to recover.”

THAT’s how much Les loved guitar.

There’s that great line from the Bob Seger song – “all of Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks.”   No doubt – but countless numbers of them are doing it on Les Paul guitars.  And they are able to record it because of this remarkable man.

I can’t in any way mourn his passing… he led what anyone would consider a truly amazing life, and did what he loved to do right ’til the end.  He played guitar.

R.I.P.

There’s currently a web-protest going on about a law in New Zealand – the Guilt Upon Accusation law ‘Section 92A’ that calls for internet disconnection based on accusations of copyright infringement without a trial and without any evidence held up to court scrutiny. This law is due to go into effect on February 28th of this year.

Here’s an excerpt of the actual text of the law:

“An internet service provider must adopt and reasonably implement a policy that provides for termination, in appropriate circumstances, of the account with that Internet service provider of a repeat infringer.

… repeat infringer means a person who repeatedly infringes the copyright in a work by using one or more of the Internet services of the Internet service provider to do a restricted act without the consent of the copyright owner.”

I’d post the whole thing here, but not one of the protesting organizations I’ve found has actually seen fit to do that.

I understand the idea behind this protest, and think the law is silly on its face, as no ISP is going to be able to properly enforce it.

The protest itself consists of blacking out one’s twitter or facebook icon, and / or sending a letter of protest.

Typical of these kind of protests – none of these artist or listener communities is acting – approaching the lawmakers and saying “yes, we value art, but we value our freedom too.  Let’s figure out a way to jointly do both.”

But they’re sure complaining a lot.  And uploading black icons.

Problem is… as easy and as popular as it is to make the argument that this is just the greedy entertainment industry wanting to wring every possible dollar our of the poor working stiff, and using the government to do it, it’s happening for a reason. Read more

I’m a fan of Imogen Heap.

I first got hung on the song “Hide and Seek“, an extraordinary a capella piece which just made me cry every time I heard it.

Then a dear, dear friend sent me the “Details” album by Frou Frou, which is Immi Heap, partnered with Guy Sigsworth.  I was hooked.

Well, I’ve been following Immi on Twitter for a while now.  And she posted a link about audio files being up for folks to download – here’s the whole story:

“A short time ago, Imogen Heap took a few days out from making her new album to write a track that was supposed to feature at the end of a TV programme. She wrote the song and recorded all the vocals, leaving the music for the composer who was writing the rest of the score so she could get on with her much anticipated new album. For one reason or another the song wasn’t used and so the track never got completed. ”

So she uploaded the raw vocal tracks, no music – and invited people to do whatever they wanted with ’em.  It’s here – the Song that Never Was experiment.

I wasn’t going to do anything with ’em.  Really.  I have my own stuff to work on.  But I did download ‘the tracks, just ’cause I had to hear what was there.

Well…

They sat on a machine here for about 3 hours.

And I finally broke.

4 hours later, here’s what came out:

Listen


Over the ensuing 4 months or so, it became the #1 track in the series. SO very grateful.

It was a blast, and I’m thrilled with the result.  It was also great having her voice in these here monitors. 🙂

IMG_1587

xoxo,

M.

When I was about 18, I worked in a small business of about 8 employees. They refurbished leased copiers for a Minolta outlet.

I spent most of my time, winter included, in the warehouse section of the building – forklifting copiers into boxes, pouring chemical corner-forms into those boxes to hold the copiers in place, taping them up and shipping them out.

For the most part, I was in that warehouse alone.

There was an guy who worked there by the name of Jeff Stark.  (He and I met at my very first job – working for Dallas Music Industries / Sound City.) Nearly 10 years my senior, Jeff was the primary person who’d spend any time with me in that warehouse.  This lasted for about a year.

Jeff had a fascinating story.  When he was in his late teens, Jeff was in a horrible motor vehicle accident which left his face permanently disfigured.  Not mangled, mind you, but some really serious scars.  Which were probably worse before plastic surgery.  (Ever see the bully in Three O’Clock High?  Jeff looked just like him, menacing included.  But he was a sweetheart.)

As a result of this accident, Jeff got a huge insurance settlement, which was held in trust until he turned 18.

Not one for money in the first place, Jeff drove around in a Chevette.  He could have bought just about any car he wanted, but it wasn’t important to him.

Now Jeff played guitar – and had a really great rock and roll band.  And this was the ONE place Jeff spent money.  He equipped that band with the best PA and lights… because that was what was important to him. Read more