I was a music major back in the dark ages…starting in 1980.
I spent two years at Los Angeles City College, or LACC. As you might expect with any music program, I took classes in music theory, harmony and piano…
For some reason – it was insufficient attention and the fact that I was not very disciplined – I never got to the point where somebody could drop a piece of music notation in front of me and I could play it on the spot.
I regret that. I should have been more devoted to the instrument. I have said before that my piano-playing style is a conglomeration of ADHD, trial-and-error and muddling through. There is much more about my piano journey HERE.
I have a great ear, though, and I can also play like hell from a chart.
But that’s not why I wanted to write this.
We also had choir and voice classes, including sight-singing (solfeggio). Somehow I was OK with that. Way more than sight-reading piano music.
Early on, the professor in charge of the choir stuck me in the tenor section.
Problem was, I couldn’t sing that high. Still can’t.
That was a mistake – so I just pretended – using falsetto or simply mouthing the words. I should have said something, but I was not exactly a self-starter back then.
In voice class, another professor named Wes Abbott knew I was struggling with the high range. I remember complaining about it to him, and he recommended a renowned throat specialist named Hans Von Leden. Some names just stick with you, and a name like his is hard to forget –
But my then girlfriend’s dad was an audiologist and I went to see a throat guy in his practice in I think West Covina or San Dimas. I don’t remember exactly what the guy did, but there was nothing inherently wrong with my throat.
My brother and I could sing high before our voices changed – and the same girlfriend’s mother seemed relieved when she met me in person, because I sounded like “a used car salesman from Van Nuys” when I called for the first time to speak to her.
Well then, I have a low voice – and I should not have been placed in the tenor section.
Which brings us to rock ‘n’ roll…
When I was growing up, a vast majority of rock singers – and pop singers for that matter – seemed to ascend into the heavens with their vocal ranges. Think about early Elton John or Billy Joel for instance. Or Robert Plant. Or the late Tony Lewis from The Outfield. They must have had a Vise-Grip attached to their nether parts…
Steve Perry, anybody?
Not me. Or my brother.
In some band lineups, we tuned down a half-step to give us a little breathing room.
And the transpose button has long been my friend.
I enjoy playing and singing Elton John songs – and I take a perverse comfort in the fact that he can no longer hit the stratosphere. But then again, at least he used to.
I’m somewhere between Tom Waits and The Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio. Somebody once said I sounded like Elvis Costello, but he can sing higher. Randy Newman, maybe.
As my brother and I progress with our podcast, we’re finding our way.
27 episodes in, I believe that we are living up to the discipline it takes to continue the process. So far, we like the 30-minute episode format. I know we have the option to go as long as we want to, but in this world of immediacy, sharply declining focus and distraction, I don’t think marathon-length episodes are the way to go.
Does anybody really listen to all three hours of, say, Joe Rogan? Do folks just pop in and out of the Experience (see what I did there) whenever the urge arises?
The bulk of our podcast has been one-on-one, in-person conversations between us – trips down memory lane about growing up in Hollywood, original music and observations about our current lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
We have included phone conversations with friends several times, and plan on doing more of that.
When we come to the end of the digital music archive, we will start to include live performances. Also, there is so much stuff on audio tape that a digitizing project is in order.
I am happy that folks say they enjoy listening to us and we are stoked that we finally got this thing going.
I cordially invite you to have a listen and let me know what you think.
My piano playing is a conglomeration of ADHD, trial-and-error and muddling through. Somebody taught me a few tricks years ago. I tried to be a music major at Los Angeles City College – but the chair of the piano department at the time, the late Dr. George Hollis, told me to my face that I had learned so many bad fingering habits that it would have been harder to try to teach me the right way.
That sucked. But at least I knew.
I run out of fingers…
Somehow, though, I believe there is still time to unlearn some of the ridiculous things I do at the keyboard. After all, I’m still alive.
But the better question is this: Will I ever do that?
That remains to be seen.
That somebody who taught me a few tricks was a guy named Gordon Mogden. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t play any better than I did as a teenager.
I am trying to find out if he’s still alive.
Gordon was an interesting man. My brother and I met him because we were pals with his girlfriend’s son. Eileen, aka L.E., stayed at the Magic Hotel in Hollywood with her son, Jeffrey in the late 1970s. L.E. worked at Wally Heider Recording, at that time one of the most renowned recording studios in Hollywood.
After hanging out with Jeffrey and getting to know L.E., we eventually met Gordon – a big, friendly guy whom we found out worked for Leon Russell at Russell’s recording complex, Paradise Studios.
Apparently, Gordon led a life immersed in music. I know he was an audio engineer. Perhaps he was also a roadie. His mantra was “more of everything,” – and when he said that to my brother and me, we knew what he meant. Hell, we were like 14, and were longing for entrée into the world of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
Gordon and L.E. were kind to us – and we became fast friends with Jeffrey, who was a couple of years younger than we were. I remember a Wally Heider company trip to Disneyland on a bus with young music workers and their families – or their squeezes. That was fun, although I remember feeling a bit of social anxiety. Thank God I had Jeffrey and Chris to run around with.
The seventies, man. Think for a minute about a bus trip with music types to “The Happiest Place on Earth” at that time, and let that sink in.
But what does any of this have to do with my piano playing…?
One evening, Gordon invited us to tag along with L.E. for a visit to Paradise Studios. I must admit I had no idea at the time who the hell Leon Russell was, but a visit with the grownups to a recording studio was something we always down for. Plus, it felt cool to be included. I don’t know if Jeffrey came with us, but L.E. was a single mom, so he likely did.
Paradise Studios was a compound on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank. More than simply a recording studio, the facility also featured a sound stage and accommodations for visiting musicians – like a small motel building. There was also a remote recording rig on the grounds.
The place was rarefied air, and we knew it.
Gordon showed us around for a bit, and then invited us to play on the stage. There was a drum kit set up as well as a Yamaha CP-80, the kind that Elton John played much of the time back then.
What? It’s OK for us to play up there? Sure!
My brother and I played a couple of songs up there, with sound booming up through the metal grating that served as the stage platform. Our nascent music never sounded better. To this day, I feel like Gordon did us a huge solid by allowing us up there. It’s something that I feel bolstered our self-confidence and gave us hope. Everybody needs that.
Did I mention that we met Leon Russell and his wife that night? We did, as he was heading into another part of his compound. I knew he was important, but I didn’t realize how important he was at the time. The fact that Elton John found him intimidating was something I only recently found out – and there’s another blog post to be written about Leon’s influence on Elton and how Elton later saved Leon’s career.
The man himself was soft-spoken. When I shook his hand, it was the classic “limp fish” handshake. I’ll never forget that.
Somehow, Chris and I found ourselves sitting in the control room with Gordon, L.E., Leon, his wife and a couple of others as they listened to a playback of a song called “Back to the Island.” Why we were listening to that track I have no idea. It’s from a 1975 album called Will O’ the Wisp. Was he remastering it for some reason?
To this day, I don’t know why we were able to be there for that. Gordon must have thought a lot of us.
He must have also thought that I needed a leg-up when it came to my piano playing, which at that point was stilted and not-so-hot. It was more utilitarian than anything else – something I could sing to with my brother as we wrote songs and learned covers.
Gordon told me that he would show me a couple of things, and I arranged to meet him at Paradise for a few one-on-ones…
I remember boogie-woogie lessons at the Roger Williams Piano School in Miami when I was like 8 – you know, a walking bass in the left hand and one-four-five pattern on top – but Gordon showed me the most important thing I had learned to date: The Blues Scale, aka the Pentatonic Scale.
So – he told me that if I could learn that scale in as many keys as possible with walking bass lines he also showed me, I’d be miles above where I was at the time…
And he was right.
Over several visits, Gordon also taught me a couple of blues turnarounds.
Forty years on, I am grateful to that man, my de facto musical mentor, for taking the time to help me out.
The twins are not fighting. It might seem like that, though. This episode covers everything from health and fitness to guitars and pencils – from CrossFit to the mountains of Southwest Virginia, Billy Preston to Paul Williams and so much more – including a cool instrumental from Chris. SHOW NOTES: 0:00 – "Airwolf Blitzer" – Instrumental by Chris Yale 1:43 – Greetings and about the instrumental / Logic Pro 2:47 – We're not fighting / Fuente Anejo 888 4:00 – Health & fitness / Chris' flip-flops / Achilles heels 5:01 – Eating seeds as a pastime activity 5:35 – Kretschmer 6:05 – Roger's son and coach / More fitness / Nutrition / Insect protein / Cricket protein / Buddy Holly's Crickets 7:45 – Roger's son competed in Fittest of the Coast / CrossFit Wando 8:52 – Riffing on CrossFit 9:23 – Coloring and hunting for Easter Eggs 9:35 – Neil Young "After the Gold Rush" 10:05 – Harry Nilsson "Without You" / Eric Carmen "All By Myself" / Celine Dion "All By Myself" / Eminem "Without Me" 11:10 – Paul Williams interviewed by Brian Koppelman 12:10 – Wytheville, VA and "The Pencil" 12:57 – Pencil quality check / Dixon Ticonderoga 13:35 – Quality and the Global Marketplace 13:30 – Quality and guitars / Chris' guitars / Quality can be found everywhwere 16:32 – Returning guitars / More guitar talk / SansAmp Acoustic Flyrig / Sansabelt pants 19:41 – Popeil Pocket Fisherman 20:45 – Recent gigs at LuLu's North Myrtle Beach / The mix / PreSonus / QSC 23:49 – "Let's unpack this" / "Let's stick a pin in this" / "Hey there" / Jen Psaki 24: 56 – Busy Myrtle Beach / Vaccine talk / Hygiene / Chemicals 26:50 – Inner Space ride at Disneyland back in the day / Billy Preston "Outta Space" 27:48 – Chris' session with Billy Preston / Joe Hicks / Roger Dollarhide / Paramount Recording Studios 29:37 – Drinking in Hollywood / Four Aces / Frolic Room / Firefly / Old Drunks / Drinking at lunch / The Old Spaghetti Factory with Mark Mulkeen / The People Tree / Gower Gulch 33:22 – BUZZ WTR / New booze versus old booze / Seltzers / White Claw / Jameson 34:08 – Roger's daughter is a Hibernophile 35:02 – Freestyling versus talking points 36:15 – 33 Episodes already / Jesus died at 33 / Elton John "21 at 33" DeBarge "All This Love" 37:20 – Happy birthday to our friend Stan Obrycki
The first time we tried this, embarrassingly enough, was in 2008, when podcasts were still gaining steam and long before they became ubiquitous. Over a period of a years, we made several more stabs at this – and then we just stopped.
Some earlier attempts went up on SoundCloud, sort-of complete but not quite actual episodes. But we had stories to tell…
And we still do. Stories about growing up in Hollywood in the late 1970s and early 1980s – a period when the town was what my brother called “beautifully grungy” – well before a Build-A-Bear Workshop appeared across from the Chinese Theater.
We lived at the foot of the Hollywood Hills at Franklin Avenue and Orange Drive, in an apartment building wedged directly in between the fabled Magic Castle and a 40-unit hotel our father managed called The Magic Hotel. The hotel is now called The Magic Castle Hotel.
At that time, not only the names of the buildings were magic. Our young lives were as magical as could be.
This podcast will be cathartic for us, and I hope the stories of twin boomers coming of age in lotus land will strike a chord with those curious enough to have a listen.
But we’re not just about looking back. Expect to hear original music in each episode and updates on what’s going on with us now in Myrtle Beach.
On the face of the title alone, you’d likely expect some sort of story about a monster that lives under Bob’s bed. Bob could be a child, and the monster could come out to introduce himself. Perhaps they become friends – or maybe the monster comes out to scare the shit out of Bob.
“Bob and the Monster” is a 2011 documentary by filmmaker Keirda Bahruth – a look at rocker and recovery advocate Bob Forrest, longtime frontman for punk outfit Thelonious Monster but perhaps best known to the general public as the shoot-from-the-hip counselor on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.
The film is the story of Forrest’s transformation from dangerously addicted indie rock star to the respected beacon of recovery he is today.
We’re talking about folks like Louis Gossett, Jr., Mackenzie Phillips, Danny Trejo, Everclear frontman Art Alexakis and many more. This year, Forrest spoke on March 5, followed by Dr. Drew Pinsky on March 12.
For the past few years, I have had the opportunity to write about the series in The Sun News, a McClatchy paper here in Myrtle Beach. This year was no exception. CLICK HERE for the February 19 story. I was able to speak with Pinsky via telephone, and Forrest got back to me with some awesome email content – thanks to King.
King has said many times that he wants to change the face of recovery – and that change is happening as more and more professional people come forward in their recoveries and make their stories known.
“It no longer has quite the stigma that it had 15 years ago as I began my journey,” he said.
He has always been gracious enough to make sure I got seats for the recovery events I covered, but this year my gig schedule conflicted with the Thursday events – and I wasn’t able to see either man’s presentation at the college. Because I am moving toward six years of sobriety, these events are important to me – and King knows this.
When I arrived, I found King, and there was Forrest – unassuming and real. From what I gathered, the crowd was made up mostly by mental health professionals – and Forrest delivered a compelling talk, not only about his struggles with addiction, but also about the problem of how to reach today’s young people who are struggling with substance abuse, a decidedly entitled demographic.
What struck me was how ardently Forrest pursued the sex-drugs-rock ‘n’ roll thing. There was a good deal of cache attached to it, especially if you were a young rock musician in Hollywood. I daresay many of us went into that lifestyle with our eyes open. Forrest himself said in “Bob and the Monster” that it was his goal to eventually shoot heroin.
Today’s dynamic is not so straightforward but every bit as deadly.
My “inspiration” was a biography of Jim Morrison called No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman. I was a happy kid. I wonder what my life would have been now if I hadn’t decided to drink and do drugs.
After Forrest’s presentation at the coffee bar, he and many of us convened for lunch at a local Mexican restaurant called El Patio in Conway. It’s good to know that there are folks who give a damn about recovery in our neck of the woods. Methodologies and approaches may vary, but hope remains that folks can and do recover.
Forrest’s advice to those in the throes of addiction is this:
“First and foremost, don’t die. Especially nowadays, with fentanyl in almost everything and tens of thousands of people dying of overdoses every year, being safe and not dying is the absolute most important thing.”
He said he had overdosed and been revived a few times and was starting to think things were not going to end well for him.
“But of course that wasn’t true at all. What I figured out is that as long as you don’t die, amazing things can happen. It takes time, but life becomes this amazing adventure. I was able to be there for my son, and I have two more small kids now. They’re my life, and they remind me what’s important. It comes down to love – and to just being here with each other. Life can be brutal and harsh, but it can also be such a beautiful, poetic experience. And it doesn’t last long. So we need to forget about all those BS trappings of ‘this car is going to make me happy’ or ‘this toy is going to make me happy.’ I think a lot of us who’ve come through recovery know that better than ‘normal’ people do. It’s relationships. It’s music. It’s nature. It’s experiences. It’s love.”
Forrest now has his own recovery center, Alo House. It is his hope that anybody who needs help knows that they are there and that they really care. Reach out by clicking the link above.
In Disney’s “The Lion King,” the shamanistic mandrill Rafiki instructed Simba to look deeply into a pool of water, revealing his father to him. Mufasa appears in a cloud, dispensing what was to me the best advice ever: “Remember who you are.”
I would like to get through this blog post without naming the source of the global pandemic currently at play. Rather, this is an opportunity to touch on a subject that might have become muddled for many boomers over time – myself included.
Seclusion offers a chance for reflection. In some cases, this reflection gives birth to an agonizing reappraisal – a reordering of priorities and beliefs and an existential reset.
THE EYES OF A CHILD
I knew who I was when I was a child. My favorite years were likely ten and 17.
“Mad Does Smell / Mad does smell / Prices raised too high
First ten cents / Now fifty / Not worth it to buy
Trashing all the Mads / In a single garbage can
Might be pretty tough / ‘Cause there’s too much to stuff…”
You get the idea.
Note that I said I was writing and submitting. As far as selling – well I might still have those rejection slips in storage. I hope so. But I loved to write. I identified with it.
I was also a voracious comic book collector and budding entrepreneur. I used to place classified ads, calling for neighborhood people to sell their old comics. My “business” name was Mr. Comix, and I bought up a lot of books on the cheap. I got more interested in keeping them than selling them.
In my late twenties, the cares of the world and my own bad decisions let to my decision to sell off my comics to Golden Apple Comics on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood – for a fraction of what they were worth. I needed to make in-arrears payment on a 1988 Harley-Davidson Sportster I had no business buying in the first place. Eventually, it got repossessed. No bike. No comics.
I don’t care about the Sportster. I still wake up with a start when the comics pop into my mind.
I was an enthusiastic ten-year-old, and the world was my oyster. I liked nothing better than writing, in no small part because my father was then a screenwriter – and he encouraged me when he saw that I had taken an interest. Dad never got the break he was looking for – but he was prolific, and I still have his screenplays.
At 17, my twin brother Chris and I had already been playing music for several years and we teamed up with a French kid named Pascal Srabian – a great, natural guitarist – and formed a trio called Yale. We played out at places like the Bla-Bla Café in Studio City and actually won a Battle of the Bands at Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip. Our dear friend Lee Newman managed us, and we were all inseparable.
Lee is busy these days running his family business, Jimmy McHugh Music. McHugh was Lee’s great-grandfather and gave the world such priceless tunes as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “I’m in the Mood for Love” and so many more. Lee is the real deal. Hollywood royalty. His other great-grandfather was Eddie Cantor. Think about that for a moment.
Sadly, Pascal was gunned down one morning in 1981 as he was about to get into his Firebird. A jealous husband found out that Pascal was sleeping with his wife. The husband fled, presumably to Mexico. I don’t think there was ever any closure.
But our late teens were heady times. Chris and I believed we would be rock stars. Unfortunately, we partied like rock stars but failed to do enough work. We had several bands in Hollywood after Yale, and our failure to launch haunts us to this day. That’s almost as painful as losing my comics.
It’s no use pining away for what might have been – and it’s never too late to correct course.
If we get in touch with our inner 10-or 17-year-old selves, we might be able to salvage some of those old hopes and dreams.
What makes you want to get up in the morning? What do you remember doing when you were a kid that lit you up like nothing else? What were you certain about? What would you be doing now if you stayed true to those nascent plans – those stirrings that urged you on?
My world centered on writing and later, music – and although I am not getting rich with either, I am happy to report that I’ve been again engaged in those things for more than a decade – and I still get lit up about it.
A byline, a show completed. There’s still a thrill attached to both.
If you worked at Motown Records, you worked for Gordy. Whether you actually saw him was beside the point. I never saw him, but a lot of mail passed through my hands on the way to him.
I found out about a mailroom opening from a friend while I was working at a hotel my dad managed in Hollywood, The Magic Hotel (now The Magic Castle Hotel). I was twenty and had worked at the hotel for several years – doing a little bit of everything but mainly front desk duties at that time. My twin brother Chris also worked at the hotel and, looking back, we had a sweet deal. In addition to our paychecks we lived rent-free in a wonderful old apartment on Franklin Avenue and Orange Drive – in between the fabled Magic Castle and the hotel.
But none of that seemed to matter. I was young, and this was Motown.
I spiffed up and went to fill out an application at what I thought of as the First Interstate Bank Building at 6255 Sunset. I met the HR boss, Brenda Johnson, and had a brief chat after I filled out my application. Memory is a funny thing. I’d like to think she hired me on the spot, but it would be safer to assume I got a call from her later.
Motown occupied three floors in that building and each floor seemed to have its own personality. Floor 16 was a bit sterile – things like personnel, accounts payable and receivable (finance), the tape library (run by an outstanding human being named Frances Maclin) and what I believe used to be called data processing – an ice-cold room that housed the computer systems. But Jobete Music, a Motown publishing arm, was also down there.
When I started, songwriter Ron Miller’s office was directly across from the mailroom. I could lean on the half-door’s counter and look at him in there if his door was open. Miller wrote many songs for Motown artists in the sixties and seventies, including the lyrics to “For Once in my Life,” – of which Stevie Wonder’s version was a monster hit.
Another memory of the 17th floor was that a young Benny Medina had an office there. Medina was A&R boss at the time, and some of his real-life experiences were the basis for NBC’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
The 18th floor was rarefied – Gordy’s executive suite, Smokey Robinson’s office and Motown Productions (MPI – headed up by Suzanne de Passe) were all there. I also remember a guy named Tony Jones, who had a management company up there, somehow connected to Motown. At that time, he represented an artist named Finis Henderson. I remember a couple of Henderson’s songs; “Skip to My Lou” and “Blame It On the Night.” Years later I saw Henderson do standup at The Comedy Store on a bill with a then-relatively unknown Dennis Miller.
I did mail runs twice a day – maybe three – on every floor with my little cart. It was also part of the job to restock the coffee stations. We were also in charge of the office supplies, which were kept in a locked storeroom inside the mailroom – and my immediate boss Reginald Dotson was over purchasing. I cross-trained in purchasing – processing purchase orders. We made a morning and an evening trip to the Hollywood post office on Wilcox. I worked with a great bunch of guys, and I will never forget them.
I was at Motown for roughly 18 months, beginning in August of 1983. Everywhere you went, it seemed like the walls breathed music. Everybody had a stereo, and most of them were in use at all times. Some examples of stuff that came out during my time there are Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” The Commodores’ “Night Shift” and Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.” Rockwell was one of the boss’ kids, Kennedy Gordy, and I suspect a favor was called in for Michael Jackson’s appearance on that record.
Jackson was long gone from Motown by the time I got there, but Jermaine was still signed. Three months before I joined the payroll, Michael debuted his Moonwalk on NBC’s “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today Forever.”
Other snippets of memory: DeBarge’s “All This Love,” Teena Marie, and the Rick James’ album, Cold Blooded.
I’m happy to be setting all of this down before the memories are lost to time. There will be more.
As another tourist season ends in Myrtle Beach, I am happy to report that I have been busy with my twin brother, Chris Yale, in our musical work as The Yale Brothers. The fact that we played more shows than last year in different venues is heartening – and I want to continue that momentum. A big “thank you” to the management of these spots – and a grateful shout-out to everybody who came out to support us.
As we mention in our bio, we’re working to recapture the spark that we ignited long ago – specifically when we were just 14 – writing, recording and performing for the first time. We made a pact to start a band on par with KISS or Aerosmith with two our best friends in Miami as we were finishing up what is now considered middle school. The plan was to secure our instruments over the summer of 1977 by hook or by crook (well, at least wheedle our parents into securing them for us) and reconvene at the beginning of ninth grade.
Chris and I planned on begging our father to buy us a drum set and a keyboard while we were visiting him for the summer in Hollywood.
Our band, with the uber-pretentious working name Iron Cross (hey, what do you want – we were 14-year-old boys), never came to fruition because of a life-changing event in our lives: We also asked our father to let us stay with him permanently, and after some intense conversations with our mother, he said yes. I plan on going more detail about those early years at a later date.
Long story short for now, Chris and I came of age in Hollywood – playing music as a duo and later in several iterations of bands there, most notably our last one there, Rogue Alley.
My brother has been on The Grand Strand since 1992, and I’ve been here since 2005. After a ten-year stint in the local classic rock cover band Sick Stooges, of which I was a founding member – I’ve been working with Chris exclusively over the past few years. The end game is to do play out even more next season and head out of town for gigs, devote some time to writing and recording – and to finally get our podcast up and running.
Two of my friends died recently. Both were excellent
musicians, and both were doing what they loved right to the end. One collapsed
onstage at Wild Wing Cafe in Myrtle Beach, and one died in his sleep.
They were roughly the same age, give or take – and I was
closing in on them.
My dear friend Tim Hobackwas also a former member of Sick Stooges, the Grand Strand-based classic rock outfit of which I was also once a part. His passing sent ripples of shock and grief across the music community here.
The other friend was Nick Walusko, a guy who was always obsessed with Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. I always found this fascination curious when we were young men in Hollywood. If there was anybody who knew all there was to know about Wilson, it was Nick. I hadn’t seen him in years, but damned if he didn’t wind up playing in Wilson’s band for many years. He was still playing guitar with Wilson when he died.
It’s tough to get my head around this – my friends dying –
and the last thing I want to do here is to go off on a self-serving existential
tangent or start lamenting the march of age. The idea here is to honor my
Let’s start with Hoback. I called him Hoback, and many of us
did. It seemed incomplete to just call him Tim.
Hoback joined Sick Stooges after the departure of bassist
Steve Panetti (yes – we called him Panetti (there is a through-line of middle
school-style last-name calling), who left to work with a band called One I
A left-handed bass player who was quick to laugh and smile
with a gravelly voice and wicked sense of humor, Hoback was from Southwest Virginia
like my girlfriend – and this was a great source of bonding between them, even
down to calling each other “bitch” when they saw each other. “Hi bitch…” “Bye,
bitch…” You had to be there. In their accents, it sounded almost like “beach.”
He was a monster bass player – just as comfortable with
classic rock as he was with R&B and funk – and he knew his theory, too.
Much of that was over my head, although I was a music major in junior college –
like, don’t tell me about, the circle of fifths and relative minors. This was a
classic rock cover band – and I wanted to party like a rock star.
Hoback did too, and so we did. Thankfully, that distracted
him from explaining a turnaround to me.
I have been sober now for more than five years – but I’d be
lying if I said I didn’t have my fun.
Hoback was a sweet soul. What confirmed it the most to me was
when he was talking to one of my neighbors about a guy they both knew in
Roanoke who had died. After a while, Hoback became overcome and started crying
midway through a sentence. I will always remember that moment. He loved his
friends. He loved me. And I loved him. And he knew it.
Nick Walusko was a sweet soul too. When we hung out with him
in Hollywood, he still lived at home with his parents, who I believe were
Russian immigrants. He was all about music – production, history and culture –
and from what I remember was not only big on the Beach Boys, but also British
Invasion bands. He too had a wicked sense of humor.
In the circle of friends he hung out with, my twin brother factored in to this much more than I did – as did other friends like Steve Kobashigawa, whom I knew since my brief days at Hollywood High. He was also, briefly, a bandmate in one incarnation of an outfit we had in Hollywood with my brother. Another friend, Darian Sahanaja, formed The Wondermints with Nick.
The Wondermints were lucky enough to have contributed to the soundtrack of “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.” And they were ultimately hired on by Brian Wilson.
Darian is Wilson’s keyboardist and musical director.
Nick wasn’t a partier, preferring lofty conversation and
music over such nonsense. Nonetheless, he had an almost pathological aversion
to the police. I never really understood why, but usually found this vaguely
entertaining. I wonder what made him feel funny about that.
But he was tolerant about the excesses of others and never
judgmental. I am sure he put friends first. Well, at least second to Brian
I hadn’t seen Nick in almost 30 years, but Chris and I got
an email from him, inviting us to Raleigh to see the Brian Wilson Pet Sounds 50th
Anniversary Show in 2016. We both declined because of our schedules, but Nick’s
last words vie email to me were, “Let’s keep in touch, please.”
We stole our dad’s ’67 Impala one night to check out the Kinks at the Universal Amphitheater a few months before the Elton show when they were out on their “Low Budget” tour. Dad is long gone now, and we never told him about that.
Anybody who knows me is aware that Elton John has been a major part of my life since I was a child – and my number one influence as a piano player. I have seen him seven or eight times.
The 1979 show was one of two early October shows at the Hollywood Bowl – part of Elton’s Back in the USSA tour supported only by percussionist Ray Cooper. I remember tripping out that the man himself was up on that stage – living and breathing – not very far away from where I was sitting in that open-air environment. It was almost too wonderful for words.
If you ever told me that I’d be watching Elton perform on his farewell tour at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, I might not have believed it. But that’s what happened earlier this month. Call it full circle for me – forty years later. And I’ll be damned if Ray Cooper wasn’t there – this time with some of the other old guard, namely guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson.
Elton played for three hours. It was surreal. The sound was excellent, and from our perch we had a clear view of the stage. We were far away, but smack dab in the middle of the mezzanine. The fact that this was to be the last time I would see him live made me savor each moment as best as my undiagnosed ADHD would allow. But I tried to be in the moment as much as possible. What a night!
This is the first installment of a series of blog posts about my recent trip to New York. More to come.