May 29, 2008

Thursday Night Farmer's Market

Mike, Brandon and I played on 4th Street during Thursday's Farmer's Market. We played considerably louder than any other street band I've seen during the city-sponsored events. No one complained. In fact, we had a surprisingly large audience, and quite a bit of cash in the guitar case afterward, which we spent on beer and Mexican food. Fun!

May 7, 2008

LaSalles report

I would love to post photos and video of our gig at LaSalles on May 2, but I can't. The boss said no-no until he gets back to "fighting weight" and we can shoot some quality footage with the Butte College team. OKfinewhatever. I'll just say that the gig was a blast, and I can't wait to do it again.

May 1, 2008

Friday Night Lights - MC at LaSalles

Yes, yes, ladies and headbangers, Friday is the night! Entertainment! Peril! Luminescence! My debut in Mike Comfort. Can you tell I'm excited?

"Wait, haven't you played twice already?" you say, not missing a thing. Uh, yes. And no. Our first gig was a warm up, with a substitute bass player in a bar with a sick singer and no sound check. The second was "unplugged," with no bass or drums at all. So this gig really is the one, with a cherry on top.

We're at LaSalles, 10pm. Chico's "biggest" small club. Smallest big club, whatever. Smells delightfully of stale beer, year round. Good soundsystem. Fits a couple hundred college kids. Mike's band has a decidedly grown up set of fans, too. I have no idea how many people will be there. But there's a small herd coming for me! You guys rock!

My fingernail has about had it. 120 hours in 12 weeks evidently is enough to rub away my nail. Rock and roll, baby.

Apr 20, 2008

Café Coda, April 19

Our show was just excellent. After setting up and rewiring the stage monitors to work with my mixer, I stayed to engineer the sound for the opening act, Marquesa Versola, who has a clear, beautiful voice like Patty Griffin. The crowd grew as we set up for our turn. In attendance were my mom and dad, Heather, Bess and Olivia, aunt Susan and cousin Anna, friends Kiel and Yvonne, Ben, and Garry—thanks for coming, people!

We played 20 songs in just under two hours, and the audience kept us floating with generous applause, many of them singing along with Mike's songs. Mike introduced me as the new guy, and I got a lot of support when the fans saw that I could walk the walk AND that I was having fun doing it. In turn, I introduced my family, mentioned that my folks are going to move to Chico this year (garnering a big cheer) and played "Happy Birthday to You" for Dad's 65th.

After the show, I was surprised at the reactions of my family and friends. They were effusive. I'll have to ask them to post their comments here, but in sum, it seemed like they had not expected to enjoy themselves as much as they did. I knew Mike's songs were good and that we presented them professionally, but I was very gratified to hear their excitement.

It was a great night, and I can't wait for May 2, when the full band will rock LaSalles!

Below, an excerpt from "Another Side," shot by Heather with her Canon PowerShot camera. (L-R: Brandon, Mike, Aaron)

Apr 17, 2008

Getting ready

Two days left to practice for the Café Coda gig. I'm 95% there. Sheer repetition is all that's needed. This gig is a little unnerving because we're playing without aid of drums and bass, and the audience will be able to hear every detail. When in doubt, add reverb. Reverb is to musicians what pancake is to models—a little covers the blemishes nicely without being obvious; too much makes you look like a clown.

Apr 14, 2008

Twitcher's Lullaby

Earlier this year Twitcher, our very good pygmy bunny, died. An acoustic guitar theme that had been in my head for a year or two made a perfect requiem, and I recorded it as Twitcher's Lullaby (embedded above). Along with acoustic and electric guitars, this track features ethereal chimes made from the steel rods found in office printers and scanners, recorded with echo and then reversed.

Apr 7, 2008

First Gig: G Street Pub

Our "warm up" gig went well...especially considering the circumstances:

  • Mike got a head cold a couple of days ago, and his voice was pretty restricted
  • We played with a substitute bass player, Ryan, who hadn't played with Mike for 9 months
  • We hit the stage at 11:30 on a Sunday night
  • And...oh was my first time playing these songs live!

Despite the late hour, the Pub was full of happy college kids. Mike does a great job of talking to the audience between songs and getting the audience involved. And the songs are short and sweet, which is a plus. We only played eight or ten songs, and played them nice and loud so no one could hear my mistakes. ;)

My custom fit earplugs were wonderful! I could easily hear myself sing, even though the stage sound was crazy (no time to sound check). My POD X3 sounded great running direct to the house PA. And we had fun and smiled at each other a lot.

Got back home at 3am. Fun and exhausting!

Uh, oh. I think I broke the dress code by wearing a non-black shirt...

Apr 3, 2008


I am practicing now! Tomorrow, too. And the next day...

Apr 1, 2008

Crunch Time

Remember finals week at college? Cramming your brain so you could perform well on the tests? Well, not many of the tests had to be taken with you standing in front of an audience, playing an instrument, singing, and trying to remember two dozen new songs...

Mike booked us a warm-up gig at the G Street Pub in Davis on Sunday, April 6, at really-freaking-late o'clock. Let's call it early April 7. At this point, I have about half of the 25 songs in the play list memorized, and five days to nail the rest. Should be very...interesting...

I'll be playing with Mike's current set of musicians, except for my counterpart. Chris Holmes, the band member I'm replacing filling-in-for [I'm trying to be sensitive!] made me a video of all the songs so I could see what he's doing. Very helpful! Especially in a band with two guitars! Wish I had this weeks ago. Here is an excerpt:

So if you can get to Davis late Sunday night...and you have no job on Monday morning...come see if I can pass my test.

We couldn't all be cowboys
So some of us are clowns
Some of us are dancers on the midway
We roam from town to town
I hope that everybody can find a little flame
Me, I say my prayers, then I just light myself on fire
And I walk out on the wire once again
      &ndash Counting Crows

Mar 26, 2008

First Stage, pt.2

Piano days with Aaron at 12 years of age. Jammin' the Für Elise and Debbie Boone.

Sit up straight, dude, or you will have back problems the rest of your life...

Mar 20, 2008

Mikey likes me

On Wednesday Mike, Brandon and I rehearsed five songs I've been polishing up. Mike was very pleased with the results, and we are definitely on for our first gigs together: unplugged at Café Coda on April 19, and fully rockin' at LaSalles on May 2. Yea!

Mar 14, 2008

Second Stage: Sydney Page

In the halcyon days of the early 90s I was in art school, driving a motorcycle, and playing in an original rock band called Sydney Page. Ah, life. My roommate Chip and I wrote the songs, Chip's brother Greg played drums, Eric and later Michael played bass. We played a variety of small clubs and bars for small crowds and smaller pay. Wouldn't trade it. Enjoy this video of "Dying Day" at Niles Station in Fremont, circa 1993. One of the nicest venues we played. And that's not saying much!

Hey! I just learned a trick to view YouTube videos in high-quality format: append "&fmt=18" to the end of the URL! So here is a link to the HQ version of this video.

Mar 8, 2008

Mike Comfort

LaSalles, Chico, March 7, 2008

The crowd was large and enthusiastic last night. See my gallery. It was the first time I've seen Mike in concert. First impression? Holy #&$@, they're playing FAST! All the tempos were way faster than on CD. This concerns me, not because it makes the songs more difficult to play (in fact the opposite is true—you can be really sloppy), but because a lot of the groove is lost when you push the tempo. Isaac Hayes has groove; Sex Pistols do not. Whatever. Do Mike's fans care? No. Mike's music is very melodic, user friendly, and fun. The audience had a good time, singing along and rocking out.

Mar 7, 2008

Rock On, the book, pt.2

I just finished Rock On, and I cracked up when it mentioned me again:

Would you consider starting a band late in life? Why is the act of playing music taken with such an ambitious careerist forethought by most people? Granted, it gets kind of sad when it's people, say, Dan Kennedy's age, drunk on sensible wine at a dinner party and someone decides, "Hey, let's have a jam session and drink more wine!" But what would the crime be in forming a decent band at, for example, age thirty or forty or...? Really, is that a crime? (Last part of question is rhetorical.)

What? Hearing protection. What?!?

Just as the planet is slowly warming, we know that exposure to rock concert volume levels breaks your ears. Just ask Pete Townshend. But just as condoms can help prevent the transmission of AIDS, musicians often fail to wear them. Earplugs, I mean. Aside from the fear of being perceived as nerds, musicians hate earplugs because they make it difficult to hear themselves play, because most earplugs attenuate (reduce) higher frequencies more than mids or lows, and this is where all the important information is, especially for singers. Even the $12 "musician's earplugs" on the market don't sound that great. So I, too, hate earplugs for performing.

But because I'd like to continue recording, mixing and producing music until I'm dead, and I'd like to keep as much of my remaining hearing as possible, I'm investing $155 in something better. Today I went to Chico Hearing Aid Center and, after getting a too-intimate look at my eardrums on TV, I let Kathy squirt cold silicone goo into my ear canals. These molds she will send to a company that makes custom fit earplugs with replaceable filters that reduce sound levels 9, 15, or 25 decibels in a, hopefully, very controlled and musical way.

My new custom-fit earplugs will arrive next week. I'll let you know how they work!

Mar 6, 2008

Digging in

I have been digging in to Mike's playlist—22 songs—learning the guitar parts and finding the right sounds on the POD X3. I have notes scribbled out about which patch to use for each song, and right now it's a big confusing mess. After another week or two of practice, it will start to sink in, but right now my brain is swamped. The X3 is great, though. It can cover anything I need it to, with style.

Tomorrow night Mike plays at LaSalles at 10pm, and Heather and I are going to check out the show. (I'll post some photos from my point-and-shoot on Saturday.) I'm nervous about one minor detail...I learned from Mike that his current lead guitar player does not know I'm coming on board. So I guess I can't have that detailed conversation about his gear I was looking forward to. Oh....kay. It's always fun to join someone else's family, right?

Stay tuned!

Mar 3, 2008

The rig: in with the new

Last year I went looking for a new axe. Played a lot of guitars. Finally, I went to the Carvin showroom in Sacramento, and that's where I fell in love. In September I sold my custom Chandler electric and ordered a Carvin California Carved Top. Couldn't be happier.

When I got the gig with Mike, I knew I'd have to get a new amp. I had two guitar amps in the closet. The Roland JC-120 is a great clean amp, and I used it on stage with Sydney Page, but it's really not a good choice for rock. Too bright. The Fender Blues Junior was a nice tube amp, but I never really liked it. Sold them both on eBay.

After a blunder with a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe (buzzed like a fridge), I ended up buying a Blackheart Little Giant five-watt head and two 1x12 cabinets. Couldn't pass up the boutique touches (everything is overbuilt–extra heavy circuit board, hand wired, quality plywood cabinets) and the price: CHEAP! Really nice amp. Check them out.

Next, I traded in my trusty Line 6 POD 2.0 for the new X3 Live. This is basically a powerful computer for processing audio, packaged conveniently for operation by foot. This thing simulates a huge number of amps, cabinets and effects, allowing you to sound similar to (but not exactly like) all of your favorite guitar players.

You have to be a deep geek to master all the X3's variables (I qualify). There are WAY too many choices. And it's definitely the bleeding edge, because the engineers are feverishly patching the firmware and trying to release the software that allows you to use your computer to program the X3. But the payoff is that I can mimic every lick and trick on Mike's songs.

Which means I have everything I need to play our first gig on April 18. Now I just need a couple of dozen songs. Piece of cake.

Mar 1, 2008

Rock On, the book

Dan Kennedy's Rock On is a memoir of his job at a recording company in New York. And it's HI-larious. From the chapter So You Wanna Be a Chart-Topping Rock-and-Roll Star Embraced by Major-Label Marketing Executives and Corporate Radio, Well Listen Now to What I Say:

Lead guitarist: You should look bored, as well as skilled in Web-site development, including back-end architecture and server-side technology. You should also appear to be courting an iron deficiency in the blood. It should be unclear as to whether the iron deficiency is from long hours developing e-commerce and mobile blogging applications or touring with band.

Feb 29, 2008

Band auditions for Mike

Last Monday night Mike Comfort arranged a band audition at his house near the swamp in Chico. I showed up early and set up my PA and guitar rig. In attendance:

  • Brandon Mains, who plays guitar in Mike's existing band, and piano in Magdalena
  • Jonathan Stoyanoff, an accomplished bass player and teacher, moved to Chico two years ago after touring with Galactic
  • Tino Marrufo, a quick (!) study on drums, current band Mute Witness

While Jonathan and I had studied eight of Mike's songs and came prepared with notes, Tino hadn't heard the music at all. Not to worry. Mike just beatboxed the rhythms the way he wanted them, and Tino picked up the songs effortlessly. In fact, we sounded like a band immediately. Something about a bunch of experienced musicians playing together.

We quit after 50 minutes, happy with the results and having not attracted the police. Mike said, "You're hired," passed out his three CDs, and said we'll start playing as soon as we can learn the set.

Don't you love it when life is easy?

Hello, Craig's List calling

Craig's List is wild, wacky and wonderful. I keep my eye on the musical instruments for sale, the community announcements, the free stuff, and the musicians' posts. That's where I saw this ad:
Popular Chico band needs musicians
We have a huge following here and tons of radio airplay. We were nominated "Best New Hot AC Artist" by New Music Weekly in Los Angeles. We have been voted "Best of Chico" and "Best of Sacramento" and have recently entered the Billboard charts (AC radio). Music is original and kind of sounds like Daughtry, 3 Doors Down. Players with strong backing vox are a plus. Please be no less than Pro at what you do. This band does not take up too much time at the moment but our gigs are packed and super fun!

Turns out this is Mike Comfort, and we've heard five or more of his songs in regular rotation on the local rock stations over the past few years. Before his solo career, now three albums old, he was in Thirst. I quickly sent my resume, and an audition was scheduled.

He came over on a Monday to play. I had learned three of his songs with high-pitched harmonies to sing, right at the end of my normal range, and I'm rusty by a few months. But I was very comfortable when we played because the music is easy. We played everything though, first time, no problem.

So Mike invited me to round two, the band rehearsal the next Monday. Mike had also invited Jonathan Stoyanoff, an AMAZING (fretless) funk jazz player. I played with him once at my house when I was auditioning him for Sonopath. (We played a round of table tennis and he amazed me by totally wiping me out.) And the drummer is another pro, Tino Marrufo, I've seen in musical theater bands. This will, I tell you, be a great band.

Feb 28, 2008


Life is busy! And I can drink only so much coffee. So I'm abandoning my idea of presenting this blog in a linear fashion, and just jumping in. Over the next two months, I will post several times each week, filling in my musical story, and detailing progress in my new gig. Look forward to embarrassing photos, audio and video of teen music, college life, 90s hair band music, and musical theater. The short story is I have joined Mike Comfort's band as lead guitarist and backup singer, and hope to begin playing on stage in April. 3...2...1...

Feb 26, 2008


I took piano lessons from ages 8 to 13. I didn't like to practice much. And I didn't have much interest in music theory, either, nor sight reading. But I did have a natural ear for music, and could play very well from memory (my daughter Bess has inherited this from me). I even composed an award-winning, four hands, two pianos piece called Balrog's Lair. (It helps to have a concert pianist uncle advising you.) As all students do, I learned The Entertainer, Für Elise, Moonlight Sonata, and so on. Also some Genesis and other pop songs, notably "You Light Up My Life." Now you know my dark secret.

My folks persevered through five years of lessons, but eventually let me quit. (Later, in 1985, I called from college to thank them for the lessons—I was having a blast playing in a band. See First Stage, to come.) Then, as a junior in high school, I bought a Yamaha acoustic and discovered I was a guitarist. Why can't they tell you this from the start? I quickly picked up the basic chords, and started multitrack recording by bouncing from cassette to cassette using the cheapest of RadioShack mics. Something else they fail to tell you early is that you can become addicted to instruments and gear and end up spending far too much money on gear for the rest of your life.