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Music

On any given day, you will find me randomly humming, beatboxing or singing parts of a song that somehow crept into my subconscious. The annoying part for those around me is that it’s just a snippet – and that snippet is repeated on a semi-regular endless loop.

But it has to come out – and it doesn’t matter where I am. I mean, I can stop myself if I am at a funeral or a wedding – or an otherwise important meeting where I don’t want people to see how I really am. But those moments are, thankfully, few and far between – so I basically do this with impunity. Even at work.

But I have recently made a personal observation – and it hit me out of nowhere…

When I am going through some sort of mental or emotional issue – or if something is weighing on my mind or I am uncomfortable – it’s like a switch goes on and the singing ramps up. That realization hit me out of the blue, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t true.

It’s like a car in neutral.

I have already said I do this anyway, but it’s more intense in these cases – like sending up a flare or a mayday call.

My brother has a really cool song called “In Distress.”

I believe the endless-loop-singing stops if I make a decision or take action. I will be on the lookout for evidence of this.

But – what about the singing when all is well?

Sorry not sorry. That ain’t gonna stop.

What do you do to cope?

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AJ Case is a man of many hats, but those hats dovetail: He’s a Myrtle Beach-based singer/songwriter, musician, rapper and entrepreneur. Depending upon whom you ask, you might get different answers. Perhaps it’s somebody who laid down tracks at his now shuttered iT Recording & Mastering Studios in Surfside Beach, a venue owner who booked him for a solo acoustic gig or a tourist who got up to sing at one of his karaoke promotions in the area. Or it could be a music industry type drilling down on Case’s songwriting, recording, deejaying or vocal skills.

In every case, though, you will likely hear about the kind of guy he is – soft-spoken, sincere and always professional.

But trying to pigeonhole him would be a mistake.

Case is a familiar face on the Grand Strand, in the role of DJ or heading up karaoke shows. He has showcased his songs at spots like House of Blues Myrtle Beach, Klocker’s Tavern and The Boathouse. He said his uncle, the late Bill Pinkney – a founding member of The Drifters – taught him about the music business.

He recently released his third album. “Running In Place” (or “R.I.P.”), an acoustic guitar-driven live band hip-hop project.

In addition to the live band approach, Case covers his struggle with depression brought on by divorce and the loss of key people in his life in rapid succession – in what he called the worst week of his life.

But this album has proven cathartic for him. Much of is an ode to the woman he loves, Ruth Ann Millar, something he says goes against the grain of traditional rap.

He started writing this album years ago – and much of it was first presented in 2012’s “Dead at 32.” But he had no idea what he was in for personally and emotionally.

“At that time, I didn’t realize that I was writing my current situation. I feel like a reeled myself into it all,” he said.

The past two years have been an emotional roller coaster, beginning with what he calls “the week from hell.” He lost his mother, an uncle and an aunt – plus he went through a divorce.

Case fell into a deep depression.

Things got so bad that he wouldn’t even answer the door to his studio to let people come in and record.

“I’d never been to a point in my life where I was that low,” he said. “I hit rock bottom and pulled out a damn shovel.”

Picking up a pen was the last thing on his mind, but one day out of sheer desperation he started writing a song about his mother – and although he didn’t finish that actual song, this gave him the impetus to keep going. After he got started again in earnest, the process took about a year.

The finished product stands at eight tracks, including a duet with his friend Adam Wittenburg on “Halfway Home.”

“Halfway Home”

Some live performance audio was spliced into a new version of “Lifted.”

“We took actual audio footage from shows like Bayfest and Summer Jam – just basically hung mics out over the audience – and I didn’t want it to sound like the original version. We wanted to do this with a live band, but I wasn’t used to recording guitars yet because I was just a pure rapper at that point.”

But the acoustic live band concept gelled for “Running In Place”

Long before this, Case played out live as a solo artist – on an acoustic guitar – so that he could showcase his material and travel light.

Image may contain: 1 person, playing a musical instrument and guitar
AJ Case

But Case said the material on “RIP” – including “Waiting on You” – goes against the grain of traditional rap.

“It’s kind of weird to explain. I hear some of the stuff that everybody else is rapping about, and it’s pretty much the same thing everybody has been rapping about: cars, women, money, how good I am or ‘listen to my lyrical skills’ – and I feel disappointed sometimes because I’m not talking about any of that shit. I’m mostly talking about one woman that I love. That’s it.”

Case contends that in the rap world in general, it’s not really cool to be in love with one woman.

“It’s not really cool to write a whole album about one woman. It’s a different type of world – and that’s where I felt like I was, man – I don’t know if I actually fit in here anymore. I think I’ve grown out of it.”

We mentioned that Case’s uncle taught him about the music business, but it was his late sister who made it fun.

In the song, “Nothing,” Case memorializes his sister.

“I had a guitar in my room when I was younger, but I never really messed with it. She would come in and say, ‘Oh – pick up the guitar. Let’s play…”

Those moments got Case to the point where he wanted to play music with his uncle and learn more.

“Until then, that guitar was just a brick in the corner of my bedroom.”

But “Nothing” is poignant and can really tug at your heart strings.

“My sister was a drug addict, and she was aware that she had problems and issues. She would always tell me that she felt like she never did anything with her life – like, she would go to her grave having literally done nothing but drugs. I wrote that song sitting beside her hospital bed before she died.”

He will always remember his sister’s silly way of dancing (she was not good at it) – and he regrets not getting up on the floor when she wanted to dance with him in public.

The COVID-19 lockdown helped to put thus project into high gear.

“Either make something of yourself – figure out a way to make something of yourself in this – or let it swallow you whole, you know?”

For more info about AJ Case, click HERE.

Leon Russell by Thomas Copi

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.

Mogden via Twitter

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…?

Gordon was a monster piano player. I once heard and watched him play Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and was blown away.

But this was after he changed my life…

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.

And one more thing…

The piano Gordon taught me on was the very same piano Leon Russell used in The Concert For Bangladesh.

For more stories, check out The Yale Brothers Podcast. We’re having fun with it.

After years of hemming and hawing; after false starts and heaping helpings of procrastination, my brother and I finally launched our podcast…

Episode 22 – "Casey King: Recovery in a Virtual World" Yale Brothers Podcast

Casey King is all about changing the face of recovery. Casey's a physics professor at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach, and through his work with the Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series aims to reduce the stigma society places on those in recovery. He has been sober since 2005. In 2008, he founded and launched the series – a popular event that has included a growing “Who’s Who” of featured celebrity speakers – from actors to rock stars to medical professionals and many more. The series also features presentations and panels including college students, recovery advocates and spokespersons from local recovery groups, rounding out a lecture series that shines as a beacon of hope for those still struggling with addiction and a lamp on the path of those on their recovery journeys. The program is set to continue this year in a virtual setting on the Zoom platform, beginning on January 28 and continuing every Thursday until February 18. SHOW NOTES 0:00 – "Seeing's Believing" by Chris Yale 4:05 – About the song. From Chris' album "Well Enough Alone" 4:35 – Introducing Casey King Louis Gossett, Jr. / Mackenzie Phillips / Danny Trejo / Art Alexakis / Bob Forrest/ Dr. Drew Pinsky 8:10 – Overview of series 8:40 – About Casey 9:18 – Trajectory of series 14:21 -Jeff VanVonderen / Meredith Baxter / Candy Finnigan / Ken Seeley 18:23 – Booking Louis Gossett, Jr / The Gary Stromberg connection 20:09 – Danny Trejo's appearance was the most well-attended on-campus event in HGTC history. 22:00 – Degrees of separation 22:39 – Local recovery and advocacy groups: Lighthouse Care Center / Shoreline Behavioral Health Services / FAVOR Grand Strand – Faces and Voices of Recovery / Grand Strand Health 23:35 – COVID-19 / Series to go virtual 24:30 – Virtual recovery meetings paved the way for this year's series. 25:30 – "World Home Group" – Scotland, Australia, Berlin, Ireland, Tenerife 26:21 – Speaker reveal LINK / Casey King and Coastal Carolina University's Wes Fondren   26:50 – This year's speakers: Craig T. Nelson / Keith A. Somers / Carnie Wilson / Gary Stromberg / Paul Williams Click HERE for series details and access. It's free and you can be anonymous if you wish. 34:42 – Changing the Face of Recovery 36:00 – Casey's advice for those still struggling To reach out to Casey, call or text (843)450-6482
  1. Episode 22 – "Casey King: Recovery in a Virtual World"
  2. Episode 21 – "What's the Matter with Your Eyes, Boys?"
  3. Episode 20 – "I Was a Punk Before You"
  4. Episode 19 – "Emotional Support Chihuahuas?"
  5. Episode 18 – "Roger That?"

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.

Still 12

What is old?

Photo Work: Brendan Wright

I’m 56, so I guess that depends. To a teenager, I’d be ancient.

I don’t feel much different than I ever have, and God knows I act like the perennial 12-year-old – albeit with the weight of decidedly adult stresses and the consequences of the decisions I have made over decades bearing down on me – contributing to what might be a low-level but persistent depression called dysthymia.

But is that it, really? Dysthymia is defined as a mild, chronic depression – less severe and with fewer symptoms than major depression. And it can continue for years.

If you know me, you’d hopefully see a positive and upbeat person. That’s true, too. We humans are complicated. Every new day brings a chance for new vistas of opportunity and renewed hope.

If I were to experience a sea change in my finances, I suspect I’d be even more upbeat. It’s not money that is the root of all evil, after all – just the love of money…

My mother’s first husband, I have been told, had something to say about this – a riff on the old quote about having been poor and having been rich, and rich was better: “I’d rather cry myself to sleep on a silk pillow,”

I always found that to be amusing.

But a good friend of mine told me that he went to a high school reunion, and many of his peers who had made the “right” decisions – perhaps pursuing “The American Dream” by finishing college, dutifully working a solid career path, marrying and raising a family, saving for retirement and buying a home – perhaps enjoying the finer things in life – looked old, played out and decidedly unhappy.

Why?

Of course, many others are completely happy and fulfilled.

Still others peaked in high school. You know the ones.

I have zig-zagged my way across the country, worked jobs that make no sense on a linear resume, and have lived in major cities and rural areas. I have been addicted to drugs and alcohol, and I need to get over my fear about giving voice to this, because there is a lot of ground to cover.

I was a single parent for many years and have been sober for nearly six years.

But for more than a decade, I have been fortunate enough to be engaged in the things I love, namely writing and music. Sure, the paychecks could be vastly improved – but I am happy to be writing, playing and singing.

Without a doubt, I am most grateful for the relationship I enjoy with my twins – a son and daughter, now 26. I don’t know if I could have gone on if not for the absolution they seem to have granted me. They love me and I them, forever and always.

So far, I have none of the aches and pains that many other men complain about after 30. I am as inflexible as I have always been, and I have been doing my part to make sure I exercise and stretch. I hope I have been given some sort of cosmic dispensation; that because I am attempting to take care of myself, the universe is responding in kind.

My reflection in the mirror – this 56-year-old man looking back at me – betrays a still-youthful twinkle in the eye, the corners of his mouth ready to curl upward into a smile – the laugh lines growing deeper with each passing day.

The other night, I watched a film called “Bob and the Monster.”

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.

Not quite.

“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.

I decided to put this film into my queue after talking to my friend Casey King, a physics professor at Horry-Georgetown Technical College here in the Grand Strand area. King is also the organizer and founder of the college’s long-running Addiction and Recovery Lecture Series – which for 12 years has featured an impressive roster of celebrity speakers, most of whom have overcome the burden of addiction.

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.

I was happy when he told me about a talk Forrest was to give at the C3 Coffee Bar in Conway (right up the road from Myrtle Beach), presented by Lighthouse Behavioral Health Hospital. I’d be there with bells on.

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.

Do You Remember?

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.

“OK boomer…”

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.

At ten, I was already writing and submitting short stories to periodicals like Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. I remember once submitting a song parody to Mad Magazine based on “Jingle Bells” that went something like this…

“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.

When I was a kid – I ran around to many of the bookstores in Hollywood that offered scads of used comics at very reasonable prices. Places like Bennett’s (Collector’s Bookstore), Cherokee Books and Bond Street Books.

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.

HEADY TIMES

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.

Photo: Calisphere

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.

20/20 HINDSIGHT

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.

Maybe I’ll buy a comic book.

Image result for 6255 Sunset Blvd Hollywood
6255 Sunset Blvd.

I worked for Berry Gordy in the early eighties.

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.

The mailroom was on the 17th floor, surrounded by creatives – Promotions, A&R, International, Publicity and much more, including the offices of then-president Jay Lasker, who was also president of ABC-Dunhill Records in its glory days of The Grass Roots and Three Dog Night.

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.

Image result for benny Medina and will smith

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.

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Photo: City of Myrtle Beach

Last week, I had the opportunity to play a very interesting and serendipitous show with my brother at a really cool venue in the heart of Myrtle Beach.

The Historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot is a landmark brick structure that was built in 1937 and for 30 years welcomed both passenger and freight trains to the area. It later belonged to a beverage distributor and almost fell victim to the wrecking ball until the community went ballistic.  After painstaking restoration, it opened in its current beautiful state in 2004 and is now rented out for events.

 I officiated a wedding there not long ago, and was also on hand for the inaugural CreateSouth conference there more than a decade ago. I also played a fundraiser there with Sick Stooges, a cover band that I co-founded and played in for ten years.

Sick Stooges at the Train Depot (the longhair on the right is yours truly)

This wonderful setting is also home to the South by Southeast Music Feast – a regular gathering hosted by a nonprofit called South by Southeast (SXSE), which provides assistance and support to local music education programs. The organization is all about helping young people offset the costs associated with this – and as their website says – “to help young people in their pursuit of all the joys of music.”

South by Southeast was founded by Jeff Roberts, a guy I was happy to meet when I moved here. Sadly, he passed away in 2009. Ask anybody who came into contact with him, Jeff was the fountainhead from which a torrent of musical knowledge sprung. He owned a couple of longstanding independent record shops here, and one of his isms was, “You gotta hear this…” He was irreplaceable.

Roberts’ son, Hunter, was at the event. That was a full-circle situation if ever there was one.

Jeff invited us to play an opening slot at the music feast on the bill with Dangermuffin years ago – and we did 30 minutes of Chris’ original music – much like we did this time.

In October, The Yale Brothers did a fundraiser called Wicked Wishes at the Wicked Tuna in Murrells Inlet to benefit Make-A-Wish South Carolina. We were glad to see that our old friend Seth Funderburk was running sound for the event. Seth is an entrepreneur in his own right, with several businesses in operation as I type this. He’s also an organizer for the Waccamaw Getaway Festival and the IrieSun Reggae Festival. He’s also been involved with SXSE for as long as I have known him.

Fun fact: Funderburk and Roberts went way back – and Funderburk worked in his youth for Roberts at his first shop, Sounds Familiar Records.

When we finished our set at Wicked Wished, Seth invited us to play the SXSE show. We were excited about the prospect.

The idea of playing only originals was appealing, and the serendipitous part of this was the fact that we would be opening for a duo called Admiral Radio, made up of Becca Smith and Coty Hoover – both of whom attended College of Charleston and both of whom know my daughter, Taylor, through our friend Clyde Moser, who studied there as well. Admiral Radio recently played a series of shows in New York – and Taylor and Clyde saw them there. This in itself is cool, but the fact that we randomly got invited to play with them here is proof that this is indeed a very small world.

The Yale Brothers Photo: Tami Sluss Ashley

The vibe at a SXSE event is refreshing; the people come to actually listen to the music offered – and this coupled with a preshow potluck and New South Brewing‘s Chris Barnes set up at the back of the room with beer and wine makes for a welcoming experience for the musicians as well as the audience.

WAVE 104.1 radio personality and program director Scott Mann, our brother from another mother, introduced us in a way that solidified that point – and off we went. It was gratifying to feel the love from the folks in attendance, who responded enthusiastically to each song.

Admiral Radio delivered a great first set with originals and thoughtful covers. Their harmonies were ethereal and stirring. These two are seasoned pros, and it was an honor to share the bill with them. I am sure their second set was great, too.

It’s always nice to play a show in the presence of like-minded people, to reconnect with friends and to make new ones.

For more about SXSE, click HERE.

The Yale Brothers with Admiral Radio / Photo: Seth Funderburk
Roger Yale with Scott Mann and Seth Funderburk / Photo: Chris Yale

Seth Funderburk, Roger Yale, Don Colton, Chris Yale at the Tuna Shak in Murrells Inlet

Last week, The Yale Brothers played a series of shows along the Grand Strand – a 60-mile stretch of coastline in my neck of the woods sometimes lovingly (I hope) referred to as “The Redneck Riviera.” We started at House of Blues Myrtle Beach, which is technically in North Myrtle Beach within a retail, dining and entertainment complex known as Barefoot Landing. The next night found us at our twice-a-month booking at LuLu’s North Myrtle Beach – also at Barefoot Landing and one of three sprawling eateries owned by Jimmy Buffett’s “crazy sista” Lucy Buffett.

The next day, we headed out to The Wicked Tuna in Murrells Inlet – more than 30 miles south. We played the inaugural Wicked Wishes event to benefit Make-A-Wish South Carolina – and later moved across the parking lot to the Tuna Shak, where we closed out the evening.

What made these three gigs special for us – besides doing our part for a great cause on Saturday – was that we got the chance to see old friends, meet new ones and hang out with other members of the music community. Gigs don’t usually happen that way.

Thursday’s stint at House of Blues was the first of our fall restaurant shows there. We’ll be doing every Thursday through December fifth in the early evening. We enjoy the positive vibe and the camaraderie from House of Blues staff, and we’re happy to call many of them our friends. And it’s always a bonus to see our brother for life, sound man Bill Allen. Fortunately, he was mixing on the deck for the Rich Johnson Band. Met Rich for the first time – and said hello to Mark Billings – another House of Blues sound man and friend, who was on the other side of things, playing drums for Rich.

Bill Allen Doing His Thing – House of Blues Deck, Myrtle Beach

It’s always great to return to LuLu’s for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that the venue has its own PA in place – so it’s frontline-only at this colorful and happy spot on the Intracoastal Waterway. Over our engagement, we met some really wonderful and positive people – and reconnected with our friend Travis Ladd, who runs the retail side there. LuLu’s is in the process of building out an expanded retail space, which will benefit the business in a couple of ways; more room for merch and additional dining space.

Channeling Elton at LuLu’s North Myrtle Beach

Just across the way is the Crooked Hammock Brewery Stage – an open-air spot boasting a rotating lineup of local bands. Competitive spirit aside (we have a running gag that LuLu’s should turn their sound up to 11 to overpower what’s coming from across the street), it was a real treat to discover that Sunburst Radio was that night’s offering.

Sunburst Radio is made up of guitarist Ed Dennis (a longtime friend and Chris’ former bandmate), Ken Thomas (another longtime friend and drummer), Kim DeCosta (keyboards) and Terry Cohen (bass).  The band plays a mindful selection of FM radio hits with some surprises along the way – including a great rendition of Split Enz’s “I Got You,” which the band reprised in their last set because he knew Chris loved the tune.

We scurried back and forth from our spot to their spot to try to catch a song, and vice-versa. In the midst of this frenetic activity, we also caught up with more friends.

The Myrtle Beach area is funny that way. Despite the millions of tourists coming to visit during “the season,” you’re bound to run into people you know – especially out and about in the fall and winter.

WICKED WISHES

Wicked Wishes was the first full-blown event on the Grand Strand for Make-A-Wish South Carolina, and although we were slated to play for an hour at one o’clock, we stayed for the duration. The event was a organized by the folks at The Wicked Tuna, Banton Media, Sandpiper Entertainment, iHeart Media Myrtle Beach, Sweetwater Brewing Company, Tito’s Handmake Vodka and more.

In all, the benefit raised more than $18,000 to help grant life-changing wishes to critically ill children.

We had fun sharing the bill with the Kevin Nichols Band and the Jebb Mac Band, and I was happy to know that our old friend Seth Funderburk was on board, running sound for the event. Seth is a renaissance man and is an organizer for both the Waccmaw Getaway Festival and the IrieSun Reggae Festival. He’s also part of the South by Southeast Music Feast – a charitable organization dedicated to providing music education for young people.

Adam Dellinger from GATOR 107.9 was emceeing. He has been very supportive of The Yale Brothers, and it’s always great to see him.

Got to reconnect with Phil Jackson of Surf Dreams Foundation and sax player extraordinaire Don Colton.

Thanks to Hayley Himmelein at Banton Media for thinking of us. It was great to see her, along with Tyler Caldwell and their son, Kai, who is growing like a weed.

Finally a grateful shout-out to BJ Craven of Sandpiper Entertainment for securing our spot as well as for the after-party gig at the Tuna Shak.

What a memorable three days in the life!