“Keep it simple, stupid”

I first heard that phrase back in 1994, compliments of my pal and engineer-in-a-pinch Dusty Whitaker. I’d recently purchased some recording gear – the mighty and ever-faithful Ubermensch Rekorders Mobile 8-track, which I still use, by the way – and had run into one of the pitfalls that go along with having your own recording studio: you suddenly have multiple tracks of recording space (a total of 15 in my case, with a bit of legerdemain) and, well, you just can’t let them sit there, can you? All that empty tape (my gear is analog)?
Well, yeah, you can. Actually, I’d learned that lessons six years earlier in the wilds of Flower Mound, Texas at Dave Love’s Heads Up recording studio thanks to my engineer Young Steve Browne (and later, Terry Slemmons). During those long evenings and nights I also picked up a lot about mixing (thanks again, Steverino), where you really learn the meaning and value of the “less is more” approach to multi-track recording. Somewhere along the way, I’d lost sight of that axiom, but Dusty got me back on the beam and I haven’t strayed since.

“Bill’s a minimalist kind of guy.” – Fred Keith

That’s pretty much true, even when I’m recording a song that requires me to break out of the Lonesome Cowboy Mode. Granted, that doesn’t happen as much as it used to, as I no longer have access to the musicians I would prefer to work with (Brent Ball, my piano/organ guy, had a debilitating heart attack and my drummer of choice – John Horvath – lives in Indiana). Unless you’re dealing with an orchestra or a jazzy big band, the official BP line on recording is “if you can’t make a record with 8 tracks, you shouldn’t be making records.” Simple as that. Check this out:

Aretha Franklin, “Chain of Fools”, done on 8 tracks, baby. Doesn’t that sound great? “Yes, but that’s Aretha Franklin and . . .” But nothing. Sorry kids, that doesn’t obviate the truth of my contention. The simple fact is, digital recording hasn’t always been with us, nor have huge recording consoles. And just like with your car or smart phone, the more technical advancements you stuff into something, the more there is to go wrong, either on its own or due to – in the immortal words of Dr Strangelove – “human meddling”. So don’t make yourself crazy. Keep it simple, stupid, both in and out of the studio. (By Gawd, but I do love pontificating.)

* * *

 

The new album, My Brother Calls Me Ace, is still “in progress”. Due to what can most politely be described as “distractions”, I had to step away from it for a couple weeks, but as soon as I post this bit of deathless prose, it’s back into the studio. Hurrah and huzzah!

Next year’s European excursion – currently dubbed “The Chinese Fire Drill Tour” because it resembles that late-50s to late-60s bit of teenager hijinks far more than a real tour at this point – is still in search of more dates both within and on either side of its proposed 22 May to 2 July time frame. Some dates have been discussed but not confirmed, as they have to wait until the venues in question set their calendars for next year. Fingers crossed for these and more to come through. Many thanks to those who have already said “Yes, Bill, you can play here” and to those who are willing to provide an opportunity for yours truly, but have to wait a bit longer before committing to a date.

Those of you who enjoyed previously-posted excerpts from last November’s tour diary, can look forward to “Where The Kibbeling Roam: On the Road in The Netherlands” which will contain last year’s diary in its entirety as well as the complete – yes, complete – scribblings from next year’s romp, all written in my inimitable style. There will also be some “connective tissue” to tie it all together. With any luck, it will be ready by this time next year.

There are other ideas floating about, but we’ll get to them later . . . Happy October. Be seeing you, bp

 

 

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“Where The Kibbeling Roam”

Kibbeling: battered and fried cod, a true Dutch delight, a gift from on high.

By now, next year’s scheduled trip to The Netherlands is hardly a secret. An actual by-gawd tour, beginning with a house concert in The Hague on 24 May and ending in that same city on 29 June with the final evening of “THISSFest” – The Hague International Singer-Songwriter Festival which was organized by one Richard Morris, a Chicago native. Imagine that.
The tour was actually supposed to take place this year. I had a new CD – “Dreams Can Cost You Everything” – and even promotional buttons made up, blue on black, “Bill Parker – Dreams Can Cost You Everything – Tour 2013”. But in the predawn murk of 2 January I slipped on a patch of ice, breaking off a tiny piece of my (right) shoulder bone and trashing the rotator cuff. By the time I had surgery – 13 March – the newly-liberated piece of shoulder bone had shredded the muscles that were still attached to my shoulder. Ouch. Woe. Rats and double rats. After surgery, the follow-up physical therapy ran until early June, by which time I’d been laid off from my job (this last actually took place at the end of April). Because I’d had a world-class orthopedic surgeon and an equally stellar physical therapist, the shoulder and rotator cuff are fine. No, I won’t be throwing deep sideline routes with a football or the big overhand curve ball, but I could never do either of those things before the injury, so . . . I can, however, play guitar again. Hooray! and Huzzah!
But the notion of returning to The Land of Fine Chocolate, Windmills, and Wooden Shoes – among other civilized pleasures – was out for this year.

“Give out but don’t give up!”

Memphis Blues legend Furry Lewis said that to (Noted Author and Gentleman of The South) Stanley Booth, who included it in a fine magazine article, “Furry’s Blues”. I read the article in his book “Rythm Oil: A Journey Through The Music of The American South” in 1995 and have held by it ever since. It’s pretty much what I’d always done, and continue to do, but for all the words I’ve produced in several decades of songwriting, I’d never had the wherewithal to put it so eloquently.

Now. As I tap these words out, Tour 2014 is ten months away which may seem like a long time but it isn’t, really. The days will quickly become weeks which will just as quickly become months and the next thing you know, I’ll be sitting in the departure lounge at D/FW Airport, waiting to board a flight to Amsterdam. I know this because I had five months’ advance notice for last year’s trip and that was gone in the blink of an eye.
Even though this coming December will mark the 46th anniversary of my joining my first band, I don’t consider what I’m doing “following a dream”. No, The Dream was to get signed to Apple Records, re-locate to London for a while, hang out with The Beatles, record some 45’s and LP’s, get a few tours in, then return to The Calumet Region and purchase a particular house on south Hohman Avenue in Hammond, Indiana. After installing a baby grand piano to further facilitate the songwriting process, the cycle of recording and touring would begin again. All by the time I was oh, 22 or 23. That was The Dream.
Now, somewhat older and bearing the scars of experience – “honey, it ain’t the years it’s the miles” – I recall what my long-time friend and musical mentor Fred Keith once told me: “Being a musician isn’t what we do, it’s what we are. And for people like us, it’s the only game in town.”
And that, dear friends, is as close to a reason as I can give you for these things I do that no responsible adult would even consider. I mean, I’m unemployed at the moment. I’ll celebrate my 60th birthday 11 May, 2014. If I find a job in the days/weeks/months ahead, great. But on 22 May, 2014 I’ve got a plane to catch.
Would anyone who’s known me for any length of time expect anything else? I think not.

There are already dates confirmed, and I’m working on filling the remaining gaps in the itinerary as best I can. I’ll go into those a bit more “as time goes by”. I’ll also be posting them on my facebook pages as well as on my website, http://www.billparkermusic.com.

Thank you all for your continued support, those of you who read or hear of my adventures and misadventures and, rather than pass judgement, merely nod and say “Well, that’s Bill. He’s from Gold Coast, so . . .”

And, as always, thanks to David Lash for 1968. Be seeing you . . .

“Your Real Life”

(Being another excerpt from the as-yet-unpublished The Self-Help Book)

One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.”


Oscar Wilde said that many, many years ago.
Consider those words: “One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.” Does that sentiment sound at all familiar? Remind you of anyone? Hint: take a look in a mirror.
When meeting someone for the first time, once the introductions are out of the way, the first question asked is invariably “So, what do you do?” Personally, my answer is “I’m a musician.” I’ve been making music since I was thirteen years old, a full year before I started working, and while I have walked away from any number of jobs without batting the proverbial eye, to stop making music is something that’s never crossed my mind.
“Are you in a band? Is that how you make your living?”
“No.”
“So, then, what do you do? ”
What my new best friend is after is a quick and easy way for him or her to determine just where I fit into the grand scheme of things, how much respect I’m due, and if I pose any kind of threat, all of which they will deduce from what I do to pay the bills. Is it just me, or is that a more than somewhat cynical and even insulting approach to interpersonal relationships?

Imagine, if you will, a patio party on a warm summer evening. The introductions have been made and – let’s call him Ron – Ron asks his new best friend, “So, what do you do?”
“I’m the Son of God.”
“No, really: what do you do?”
“Um, well . . . some call me the son of the carpenter.”
“Really? That’s great. I’ve been thinking of adding a deck . . .”
And you know that’s how it works. He could walk across the swimming pool, restock the bar with micro-brews and demure yet surprisingly inexpensive domestic wines, and Ron would nudge the person next to him and say, “He’s a carpenter. A regular wizard with wood. Gonna build a deck for me.”
How do you define who you are? To paraphrase Louis Jordan, “Is you is or is you ain’t your job?” It’s a simple question, one which shouldn’t require any thought. You either are or you aren’t. If the answer is “yes” or if you have to think about it, skip ahead to the next chapter. There’s nothing to be done for you here for, as the venerable Swami Rheeva once said, “As swift as thought is, there are times when none is needed.”
Times are hard. Unemployment is on the rise. Jobs that pay well, that have comprehensive health benefits that won’t bleed you dry or penalize you for using them and that don’t keep you up nights worrying if you’ll be laid off the next time Wall Street flinches are getting fewer and farther between. More and more people are having to do whatever it takes to get by, regardless of their employment history, training, or education. But now let’s say you had been a local office manager for a nationwide auto insurance firm who, due to an “unfortunate but necessary restructuring,” was given the bum’s rush and now find yourself holding down a work space in a twenty-four hour call center, for a quarter of your former salary, with laughable health benefits, fielding telephone calls from raving lunatics who know only that whatever is wrong in their life is your fault. You don’t have a career, pal, all you have is a job. Do you still want to define who you are by what you do? Like I said, it’s a simple question.
So, who are you? How do you see yourself ? These are the first questions you will have to answer before making any move, so take your time.

You will notice the lack of a third question, the time-honored “How do others see you?” which has somehow managed to become more important than the other two questions combined. I can’t tell you why this should be so, simply because I don’t really know, anymore than I know why “Amazing Grace” has become a graveside staple (it certainly wasn’t when I was a kid, and I suspect it began with Mr. Spock’s burial-in-space in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Perhaps, as Swami Rheeva wrote in his celebrated monograph Why? Is A Big Question, some mysteries must ever remain mysteries.
For anyone wondering, the personal breakdown on yours truly is as follows: I’m just a guy from Gold Coast (my old neighborhood), a shameless purveyor of faded dreams and memories, both in story and song. That’s it.
It may take some time to develop or to acquire the clarity of vision and insight I’ve displayed in that self-description. Rome, as most everyone knows, wasn’t built in a day. So here’s a tip which may prove helpful: get some paper and a writing implement (pen, pencil, crayon, whatever) or plant yourself in front of your computer and make a list of who and what you are to the people in your life. Friends, family, co-workers, casual acquaintances. Take your time. Put some thought into it and be, as they say, brutally frank. When you’ve finished, take a break. Go watch some television, go for a drive, have a snack. Left-over Chinese food is always good (cold, not reheated).
When you return to your piece of paper or computer, make a (brutally frank) assessment of who and what you are or would be to yourself. Again, take your time and when you’ve finished, take a break. Another one? Yes. Brutally frank assessments can really take it out of you. Take the rest of the day off if you like, even two or three days, however long you need to put some distance between what you’ve written and the third and final step.
With steps one and two behind you, all that’s left is to compare (A) who and what you are to other people with (B) who and what you are or would be to yourself. Anything in (A) that conflicts with what’s in (B) either needs to be modified or 86’d. Isn’t that easy? It’s no big deal, nothing lifted from my doctoral thesis, merely a variation on Occam’s Razor which states that all other things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the best answer. Now, to those who would say “That’s not how it’s done! Therapy! Hugs! Blah – Blah!,” I would ask “And why the hell not?” Granted, none of the radio or television networks have me on their list of Glib And Camera-Friendly Experts and my crackerjack staff is certainly not in the middle of intense negotiations for my own show, but that doesn’t mean this three step plan couldn’t work for someone. And hey, it’s only a suggestion, so lighten up.


“Whatever works is Heaven sent. Nothing else matters.”

Swami Rheeva

 

Copyright 2013 by William Parker

An Excerpt from “The Self-Help Book”

SWAMI RHEEVA’S Image“ADDRESS TO THE APOSTATES’ WINTER COTILLION”

JANUARY 12, 1982

Let me begin by saying how impressed I am by the number of people here this evening. I was told as many as one hundred guests were expected to attend, but it appears that estimate may have been on the conservative side. On behalf of the organizers, allow me to say Welcome, one and all! The more the merrier!I must say, this demonstration of the strength of your convictions, of your willingness to tempt Fate is truly admirable. I mean, let’s face it: one well-placed lightning bolt and it’s all over. Lights out, baby! But so far, so good.

Now, you may not know this, but I get asked a lot of questions by complete and utter strangers. They just walk up to me in the street or sit next to me in the park and fire away. I’m not exactly sure why this is. Does this sort of thing happen to all men with long hair, a beard and a casual dress code? And not just any questions: they want to know what their personal chances are for salvation. Not what will the weather be like the day after tomorrow or when do we change to Daylight Saving Time, but what will happen to their immortal soul after they die?

Well, hell. What can you say?

If I tell them to go talk to their priest or rabbi or whomever they wave their hands and say, “No, no, no. I don’t go for that.” Okay. In that case, how about your bartender or barber or . . . ?

No. Come on. I’m being serious here. Don’t jerk me around.”

And it goes on and on. You’d think I had nothing better to do. You’d think they had nothing better to do. But you know, all these people are looking for help, looking for an answer, and who am I to dismiss them out of hand, to deny them whatever I have to offer, little though it may be?

I have found in these situations that it’s best not to get too esoteric. These poor unfortunates are looking for a simple answer, some gentle reassurance, not a dissertation on the nature of the Cosmos. So I tell them, “If you’ve led a good life, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Even if you haven’t, you’re probably still okay. So rest easy.”

But “Come on,” they say,”I need more than that.”

Okay,”I tell them. “Look: I don’t know, you don’t know, nobody knows. Maybe God knows, which would explain why we have that expression. So cut yourself some slack. Breathe deeply. It shall be as it shall be.”

That’s it?”

That’s it, pal.”

And then they walk away, muttering. “It shall be as it shall be. What an asshole.”

You will, I hope, excuse my French.

Another thing I get asked is, “I’ve done some bad things in my time. Am I going to Hell?” I’m not kidding. No one ever asks if there is such a place, or if Heaven exists. They just want to know who is going to be there to greet them when they end up wherever they end up. You realize, of course, such questions are outside my area of expertise. These are questions for the Great Minds of the Ages. I’m just a cheeseburger and fries kind of guy. But again, who am I to say them nay? Their spiritual needs require immediate attention, otherwise why would they ask some guy sitting on a park bench with a box of Hartz-Mountain bird seed?

So I came up with two lists. Took me about five minutes, but I think I’ve got everything pretty well covered:

Heaven (if there is such a place) will be filled with everyone you’ve ever liked or loved: friends, relatives, pets, movie stars, comedians, even your favorite ballplayers. There are no television commercials and you can eat all your favorite foods and never get fat or have a tummy ache. Not bad, eh?

Hell , on the other hand – which Herman Melville described as “an idea on an undigested apple dumpling” – is something else again. So here’s A Partial List of Those Who Are or Will Be Burning In Hell (again, provided there is such a place):

Adolf Hitler, natch, and probably Benito Mussolini, just because.

And let’s not forget Josef Stalin.

Whoever invented the so-called Colorization Process for black & white movies.

The person responsible for baseball’s Designated Hitter Rule.

No small animals, however verminous.

No children, either.

The guy who habitually takes your last smoke or your last beer.

Any producer/director who places a Shakespearean play in a contemporary setting.

Not Richard Nixon, despite popular demand.

Not Judas Iscariot, contrary to popular belief.

The author of this list, quite possibly.

Again, that’s just a partial list.

My friends, the path of the freelance mystic – a path I did not choose for myself – is not an easy one. But that, as they say, is my cross to bear, not yours.

But apostasy, now. That’s some serious stuff. I mean, you folks got cojones to spare, make no mistake.

Yahweh or the highway? No problem! And on top of that, you’ve got it together enough to get yourselves organized.

Bravo,I say. Ole!  Banzai!, even. Give yourselves a round of applause. But remember: Pride goeth before a fall, so don’t get too carried away. Keep it down, as an old saying goes, to a low roar.

We’ve had a nice dinner, some pleasant conversation, and there will be music and dancing until the cows come home, if that’s your idea of a good time. Again I say, so far, so good.

In closing, I urge you to stand firm in your convictions, if only because everyone ought to stand for something, and apostasy is as good as anything else. It has been a pleasure and an honor to speak to you this evening and I hope to do so again, as Bobby “Blue” Bland once sang, further on up the road. Until then, though, keep an eye on the sky because you just never know. Aloha.

Copyright 2013, William Parker. Photograph of Swami Rheeva, 12/12/72, by P.M. Owens