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Fiddlin’ Around – March, 2016

Envision/Beach signLike an insistent, chattering monkey, I am always telling folks to get out and listen to live music. Now clearly that is somewhat self-serving, since as a working musician it is always more fun for me to play when there is an audience. I want people to listen, and re-act and hopefully enjoy when the band is cooking and the muse is with us. The coolest thing about a bunch of musicians playing together live and in person is that the music will only be like that once. One time only–unique. And the audience is part of the vibe and inspiration of that particular performance. Lots of recordings are called ‘live’–so and so band ‘live’ at some venue…. Well, it is obviously a recording of a live performance, and as such, it has been altered, enhanced, and changed in subtle or sometimes drastic ways. Modern recording and mixing technology is so sophisticated now that once you have recorded something it can be manipulated in a kzillion different ways. If the singer goes out of tune for a second–isolate the track and alter the pitch. If the drummer hits a cymbal in the wrong place–isolate the track and get rid of the offensive sound. If the guitar player’s solo isn’t great, well just delete it and have him play it over again in the studio. If the violin sound sucks, add some reverb or change the tone of the instrument to something you like. My point is that no matter how true to reality a recording may be, it is still just an electronic attempt at duplicating the sound and performance and ‘feel’ of the original. Course, since we can’t travel around or live our lives with a bunch of tiny musicians in our pockets, recorded music is the next best thing.

I hear folks talking about their favorite DJs and their ‘live’ shows. Now this is a contradiction in terms that annoys the heck out of me. A DJ with a couple of turntables, a bunch of sampled rhythm, drum or bass tracks in a computer and him ranting into a mic over it all is not really a live music performance. Many artists are uncomfortable or downright pissed off that the techno guys have lifted their recorded efforts and placed them into other musical formats. A couple of years ago at Envision Festival down south of here I was invited by a musician friend of mine who was leader of a techno ‘band’ to come up onstage and play with them. There were a couple of horn players, an electronic keyboardist who mostly did ambient or weird electronic generated sounds, and my friend and another guy who manned the computers and turntables. It was interesting and a different approach to music than what I am used to. I was told where to play on their digital timeline and frankly I enjoyed the whole experience, though I don’t actually like to listen to that redundant electronic style of music. It was fun to be part of for one show, though I admit I just don’t get it. I prefer inter-acting with real, live musicians and do not consider guys who are pushing buttons and re-arranging recorded sounds on their computers to be musicians. Technicians maybe.

If you are reading this than you are probably a music lover already and perhaps you realize that there are many mental and physical benefits to be gained by listening to music or creating music. Scientist types have found that music can help calm nervousness, get rid of stress and pump up your energy level. Many athletes train to music as it helps their focus and rhythm. It can lower your blood pressure, help you recover from a stroke and music stimulates the brain to release those natural ‘feel good’ endorphins like dopamine. Schizophrenics, people with dire brain injuries and autistic patients can often be reached by music, when nothing else works. Music can ease loneliness and depression, can strengthen the immune system and helps protect the aging brain. Anybody here not needing some help with that? There are many great reasons to listen to or play music with others–it can also help people form lasting bonds and social connections, and it just plain makes you feel better about life.

One Way Out book coverI recently read “One Way Out–The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band”, and it was a fascinating look back at one of America’s greatest rock bands. They were in their early 20s when they went to NYC to record their first album, where they were supposed to lay down the basic tracks for the album in two weeks, then go back into the studio later to do any overdubs and the final mixing. Even at their young age, the band members were so tight from being on the road and playing together constantly that they recorded everything in 4 days. They got stuck on one particular song, ‘Dreams’, which was to have a guitar solo by Duane. After several attempts at recording it with the whole band, they decided to record everything but the guitar solo, which they would add later. So that’s what they did–laid down really supportive parts for Duane to play a great solo over. After several passes at it the song still wasn’t reaching its potential, so one night Duane walked in the studio, turned down the lights and sat on the floor in a corner of the studio, out of sight of the rest of the band who were gathered there. Duane picked up his slide and played along to the already recorded tracks–he had never played slide on that song before so it was uncharted territory. Thank god somebody pushed the ‘record’ button because that solo ended up being the high point of the album. Here’s what Derek Trucks had to say about that session: “Then he got to the end and started that rolling lick and built to an incredible climax. By the time he finished everybody in there was in tears. It was unbelievable. I still have a hard time listening to that solo without getting emotional. It was just magic. It’s always been that the greatest music we played was from out of nowhere, that it wasn’t practiced, planned, or discussed.” Now that’s what music is all about.

Tim Rath is a transplanted Canadian who grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, but who spent most of his playing and performing time in Vancouver and Toronto. He plays a bunch of different instruments–started on violin at age 8 and progressed to bass, drums and guitar and spent many years as a basic working musician. Tim, his wife Karen and their son Jack followed their dream to Costa Rica, where he has built an efficient and comfortable recording space called the Painted Lizard Studio, near Ojochal. When Tim isn’t playing live (he plays with Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers, the G String Cowboys, solo gigs and with a few other conglomerations around here) he is working in his studio on either his own music or a clients’ music. He has a full list of available instruments and equipment–acoustic and electric guitars, 5 string and fretless basses, percussion instruments, a full drum kit, digital keyboards, and all the do-dads that producers and sound engineers love to surround themselves with. Tim often works as the producer–helping to choose the material to record, the instrumentation involved and the style and order of recording. There are many small and large choices to make while recording, so an experienced and equipment savvy kind of guy is necessary. Tim knows all the local musicians if someone wants to add on players and his easy going nature and calm approach to recording is just what is needed, especially if the client doesn’t have a whole lot of studio experience. So, for you baby boomers who wrote a couple of songs back with their high school garage band, and you want to record them for posterity’s sake, here’s your chance! There are pro studios in San Jose, but as far as I know no one else has equal quality recording capabilities in such beautiful surroundings as The Painted Lizard. Whether you are interested in making a radio commercial or producing a song for your wedding anniversary, Tim is your guy! He can be contacted at tjfly7@me.com. He’s also very goofy and funny when the occasion requires a little lightening up….

As always, go listen to live music! If all music is good for the soul and for mental and physical well-being, then listening to or playing music live with others is its most powerful and purest form. Help support the bars and venues that help support us!

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Bob Marley

“Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.” Frank Zappa

“Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!” Oliver Wendell Holmes


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