The Doobie Brothers

by SteveHulse on September 8, 2019 · 0 comments

Oh, Oooh, Listen To The Music

Once again, sitting up the other night watching AXS TV, a special about the
Doobie Brothers. And once again, memories of my musical past shot to the
surface, making me smile, blurring my eyes. I knew only one small slice of
the Doobies, but man, what a slice it was!

After I left Berklee and went on a fairly wild two-year ride with Jimmy Helms,
I landed at a recording studio about 30 minutes outside Boston… Natural
Sound. It was hidden away in a little town called Maynard, Mass, and lived
on the second story of a Woolworth store in downtown Maynard. We had
recorded Jimmy Helms’ first album there, and when Jimmy was booked for
a six-month tour of Australia and I wasn’t invited along, I landed a temporary
job with Natural Sound as an arranger/piano player. At that time Natural
Sound recorded mostly country music… that’s right, there are tons of
country bands in Western Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Natural
Sound had become the place to record, most bands rolled in, cut two songs
and had a thousand 45’s cut, that they could sell on their gigs.

But Natural Sound was more than that. They had the only Scully 8-track
recorder in New England, and had a big grand piano in the studio, which also
had room for an iso booth. With a few pieces of outboard gear and an
experienced recording engineer, they had built a name for themselves in New
England as the place to record. And… drum roll, it had the first large synthesizer
that the Arp company, located in a neighboring town, had produced. It was as
big as a small bookcase and took up one entire end of the control room. But
it was The New Thing in 1970, and though all we could coax out of it at the time
were some hums, squeeks, slides, peeps and growls, it was the hot new item,
and most of the bands around had heard about it.

I wasn’t excited about working in a studio that featured country music, but
the boss had suggested that I might learn to be a recording engineer in my
spare time. That was enough for me. I took the job and stayed there for two
years, until the studio closed. And no, it wasn’t my fault. The owner, who we
referred to as “the Angel,” got sick and decided to sell it. In its prime it recorded
several notable bands and musicians. Tom Scholz, the brain and lead
guitarist behind the band “Boston” recorded his entire album there, as a demo.
I was the assistant engineer on that project and learned a ton. Then a new
band, called Bead Game, came in to record an album for Mercury Records.
And that was when i met Skunk.

Young Skunk

Everything you might want to know about Jeff “Skunk” Baxter can be viewed
here, and it’s truly impressive. “Asymetrical Thinking In a Conventional World”
In my eyes he’s easily one of the most remarkable people of our generation.
I would say he’s pretty much a normal genius… at least as normal as those
genius-types get. A great guy, funny, playful, immensely talented and smart
beyond reason.

Skunk had already been around when he and Bead Game came to Natural
Sound. Bead Game was a good band, good enough to get Mercury
Records to send their hotshot producer, Robin McBride, to Boston to cut an
album on them. The sessions didn’t go well… McBride was a dick head who
didn’t want to be there in the first place and made everyone aware of it. The
Bead Game guys didn’t care too much… a few of them, like Skunk and the
drummer, Jimmy Hodder, had their eyes on bigger prizes. They were just
biding time ’til they moved to L.A. to get really serious about it all. The whole
mood was that they didn’t care if the album was even released, or made
any money. Good thing, too… it wasn’t, and it didn’t.

During those two weeks, though, I got to know Skunk… and he was a case.
The third session he brought in a pedal steel guitar, set it up in the front of
the studio and plugged it in to a nearby amp. I asked him what he was up to.
He said he was teaching himself to play pedal steel, that it was challenging
for him and he wanted to practice while we were setting the session up, and
show us what he’d already learned. Now just so you know, the pedal steel
is a different animal, taking a different group of skill sets than you’ll find on
any other instrument. Skunk had already mastered it, after only a few weeks!

Am embarrassed to share this, but I will. On one of their sessions, I could
hear Skunk playing a great lead on a break, but I couldn’t see him anywhere
in the studio room. So when we stopped recording I went down into the
studio to see where the hell he was. He was lying right under the control
room window on his back, with his legs straight up in the air, playing these
terrific leads! I stood there, looking at him, at his goofy grin. “You know,” i
said, “If you’d just start taking your music a little ore seriously, you might be
a really good player!”

The Original Doobies

“What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.”
Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins

Somewhere in the ’90’s i was standing in an airport line, waiting to board a
plane, when up comes Skunk, to stand with me. We start talking about
what he’s been doing, what I’ve been doing, and about the old days back
in Boston. By then he’d played with Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers and
was now doing some producing on his own. He said he loved playing with
the Doobies but decided to leave when Michael McDonald came on board.
“It became a keyboard band at that point and it wasn’t for me.”
I asked him if he missed the band. “No, and besides, it wasn’t a band…
it was a corporation.”

A young woman just ahead of us, turned and said, “Sorry, I couldn’t help
hearing your conversation. You’re both musicians, right? Are you someone
I should know?”
Skunk grimaced. “Naw, we’re just a couple of old studio rats. Right Stevie?”

Old Skunk

That’s right, Skunk. Just a couple of old studio rats. Only difference was, I
was flying to L.A. to record a jingle, and Skunk was flying to Nashville for a
TV interview. Later, after 9/11, Skunk would be flying to D.C. to consult with
some generals at the pentagon. My god it’s a weird world!

Steve Hulse


Cocktail Hour

by SteveHulse on September 2, 2019 · 1 comment

A curious phenomenon takes place in our little home, on our little island
almost every afternoon. A phenomenon that might be defined as some sort
of creeping dementia, or perhaps just a mental and emotional instability
that manifests itself as a momentary, burning desire to slip back into the past,
to temporarily recreate a better time, a better place, with music as the
beautiful bird that flies us there.

It’s weird… I’m fine, sitting in my big chair, watching the news, reading a
book, listening to music, until it’s cocktail time. Even then I’m fine, until the
middle of the second drink. Then, almost every time, i’m suddenly moved to
want to go over to the piano and play a bit. The alcohol activates something in
me that wants to play, wants to be a part of, and share some of the wonderful
old tunes I grew up with and loved as a young man. My musical memory
reaches back to the great old songs of the ’30’s and ’40’s and Betty, cozied up
on the couch across the room, can call out the name of every one! Such a
delight that we both love the same music, the same wonderful old tunes!

Some of the songs I like to play for B and me are, Where Or When, Just One
Of those Things, I Remember You, Night and Day, Do Nothing ’Til You Hear
From Me, In a Sentimental Mood, Laura, A Portrait Of Jenny, Roses And
Lollipops, If I Had You.

There are a few tunes that I play for myself, somewhat challenging pieces
(for me, anyway) that reassure me that my brain is not totally gone yet –
Tender Moments, In Your Own Sweet Way, Dolphin Dance, ‘Round Midnight,
Crystal Silence, Blue In Green, What Is There To Say, Never Let Me Go.

And it’s funny, the more I try to play like my heroes, Bill Evans, Herbie,
Keith and Wynton Kelly, the more I tend to sound like Bobby Short. I heard
Bobby in the Waldorf back in 1970. Not all that jazzy, but very classy. Now
that I think about it, I’m not very jazzy anymore, either. And in that light,
sounding like Bobby Short is probably a perfectly appropriate sound for
an evening of soft jazz and cocktails.

Bobby Short

B and I both feel that the old tunes have a heart and integrity that seem to
escape much contemporary music. Here are some lyrics that were written
in 1934. If you know the song, the music will instantly come to mind… it’s
that memorable! The Cole Porter song, I Get A Kick Out Of You.

I get no kick from Champagne
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you

Some get a kick from cocaine
I’m sure that if I took even one sniff
That would bore me terrifIcally too
Yet I get a kick out of you

I get a kick every time I see you standing there before me
I get a kick though its clear to me you obviously don’t
Adore me

I get no kick in a plane
Flying too high with some guy in the sky
Is my idea of nothing to do
Yet I get a kick out of you

Cole Porter

Pretty clever, yes? And from 1934! Over 50 artists have performed it on
records, CDs and TV since then. Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra both had
huge hits with it. Songs like this and so many others… If I Loved You, It Only
Takes A Moment…

If I Loved You – Rodgers & Hammerstein, 1945

If I loved you,
Time and again I would try to say
All I’d want you to know.
If I loved you,
Words wouldn’t come in an easy way
Round in circles I’d go!
Longin’ to tell you,
But afraid and shy,
I’d let my golden chances pass me by!
Soon you’d leave me,
Off you would go in the mist of day,
Never, never to know how I loved you
If I loved you.

Richard Rodgers

These are Broadway show tunes that became hits back then. I’m not even
talking about the pop hits of the day, which were too many to mention. B and I
heard them all the time (because we’re old, you know) on the radio, in my
parents’ bar on the jukebox, and In my case, my folks singing them together
in the car on the drive home from Butte on those countless Saturday nights.
As you can imagine, the memories come flooding back for me…
deep memories of a time gone by that we can’t replace but can at least touch momentarily through the music.

It wasn’t just the lyrics, the songs were all beautiful and memorable. I love the
songs of Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. Many of them are complex, hard
to play pieces that offer a nice challenge to musicians. Bali Ha’i, for instance.
You musicians out there, if you’re a guitarist or a pianist, try playing that number.
Pretty cool piece of business, isn’t it? Not easy, but insanely memorable. I
play it for us once in awhile, and it’s always most satisfying, sometimes bringing
with it wet eyes. Remember, our memories are attached to so many of these
old songs, and music is the second-strongest impact on our brain and memory
system, the sense of smell being the strongest. B and I know these things,
and very much enjoy our trips down memory lane!

Of course most younger people don’t like them… they think they’re corny,
dumb, too hard to learn, can’t dance to them. I would just tell them this…
try to think of how the world was when these songs were written. Between
1910 and 1950 there were two world wars, a stock market crash and an
industrial revolution! That alone should give you at least a flicker of
understanding as to how it must have been to be alive back then, how
people thought, how they felt, what mattered to them. Music then, as now,
was an indicator of the people and the times. If young people wanted to
understand their parents better, the music of the time would easily be the
quickest and most accurate way of figuring them out! Did we dance back
then? Hell yes, all the time! Did we work hard, have struggles, find love?
Of course. And we all had our favorite songs and singers, as well. Both B
and my family’s favorite was Nat King Cole.

Nat King Cole

His silky voice and his song choices meant everything to us back then, and still does… perhaps even more now. I can hear him in my head, singing “Nature Boy”

Nature Boy – “A song was written in 1947 by eden ahbez and is partly
autobiographical. It is a tribute to Ahbez’s mentor Bill Pester, who had
originally introduced him to Naturmensch and Lebensreform philosophies,
which Ahbez practiced.” Nat Cole heard it, loved it, but it was a year or so
before he gained the rights to record it.

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

As a piano player, I’m naturally a big fan of a good melody, believing that
the emotion in a song can be told by the music alone, perhaps even to a
deeper level than the lyrics can. Yet the lyrics of these wonderful tunes
have stuck in my mind over the years to the same degree that the music
has, and I could actually sing most of these tunes… if I could sing.
Thankfully I can’t, and don’t… a definite blessing for all within earshot!
What I can do, however, for my B and for me, is to begin playing a sweet
old tune that we both know, and let my memory of that song kick in. However
that magic happens, my heart takes control of my brain and the song quickly
becomes the vessel that carries us back in time to those wonderful memories
of a simpler life, a simpler place… a place where we were young, full of energy
and hope, when the road of life seemed to stretch out endlessly before us. How
strange, yet fascinating to be nearly at the end of that road now, and to be
able to revisit it all through the music of our youth. It’s a blessing we are both
grateful for, a little piece of evening solitude that sustains us in ways we
probably don’t even realize. Which reminds me, I need to ask B what
brand of vodka she puts in our drinks…

Steve Hulse

{ 1 comment }

Passion: To Have Or Have Not

by SteveHulse August 27, 2019

Passion: What is it? Why is it? Why do some people have it, and some simply don’t? What’s the deal with passion, anyway? Why is it so elusive for some, and so motivating and inspirational for others? Passion, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, […]

Read the full article →

You Just Never Know

by SteveHulse August 12, 2019

Life Is That Strange It was a cold winter’s evening in a small town in the Rockies. The year was 1959, and television was still fairly new to this small community. But in a tiny, two-room apartment in the back of Hickey’s Motel in Ennis, Montana, a 15 year-old boy was sitting on the floor […]

Read the full article →

The Sound And The Fury

by SteveHulse August 7, 2019

Back out on the North Sound on my trusty Aimless. It’s quiet, peaceful, as if everything else in the rest of this mad, mad world isn’t really happening. Blue sky, puffy white clouds, very slight breeze, water a deep blue with barely a riffle. The Olympic Mountains and Peninsula behind me, the beautiful Cascades and […]

Read the full article →

A Sweet Slice Of Life

by SteveHulse August 1, 2019

  Doppler So many strange and wonderful things happened to me in my 35-year career, that I have to pick and choose carefully, with thought as to what would interest other people, what could I share that might give them a new insight on the music biz, or the career of a composer, or jazz […]

Read the full article →

There Is No Write Or Wrong

by SteveHulse July 25, 2019

I attended one writing class in my life. And the main theme of the class, that evening was, of course, “Write what you know.” Excellent advise for a beginning writer, or for any writer, for that matter. There was other scattered info that night, such as finding our “voice,” which person to write in, how […]

Read the full article →

From An Oldster To A Youngster: A Rant

by SteveHulse July 6, 2019

Over the span of our lifetime, our perception of life changes… about many things. How we view our fellow man is often dictated by our preferences and prejudices, ideas we have that were formed by our family, our teachers and our culture. Each generation of youngsters finds new and different hair styles, clothing and language […]

Read the full article →

Politics: A New Solution

by SteveHulse June 12, 2019

My blog has never been a political forum… until now. Desperate times call for desperate measures, even if those desperate measures happen to take the form of a little fun in the face of impending doom. So let’s have a bit of fun, okay, before the next news cycle…                                         —————————————— I’ve been trying for […]

Read the full article →

Lightly Touching Greatness IV

by SteveHulse June 9, 2019

We had flown up to Boulder, Colorado, to record some backing vocals at North Star Studio in Boulder. James was wanting to spread his production money around as much as possible, so he’d have studio “friends” when he later went on his own. Those sessions were okay, nothing big, and I spent the afternoons at […]

Read the full article →