It’s true that writers should write every day. But what if you are also a musician, like I am? Is it better to practice music one day and write the next day? Should I try to cram both things into a day also filled with a day job, exercise, the Yale Brothers Podcast, music gigs, reading and other pursuits?
I have tried both approaches, and I am beginning to realize that my writing and my music would be better served if I practiced only one of these things per day.
Of course, if I were to eliminate my day job I would have ample time to pursue both disciplines on a daily basis – but I also like to pay my bills.
Most people enjoy ticking off items on their to-do lists, but how far should a person go with this? I mean, it would be ridiculous to include bodily functions on that list, no matter how gratifying it would be to put a bold line through those activities with a Sharpie.
Can there be any deep work if you only write for 30 minutes a day? Is there a level of mastery to be attained by sitting at the piano for the same?
I suppose we take what we can get, but I am sure that devoting the proper time and attention to one of these disciplines per day will set the table for a more profound experience.
Am I wrong? I know there are plenty of you who have multiple passions.
Thanks to the march of technology, on-demand media, incessant notifications and myriad distractions, we have become fragmented. Our attention is divided at all turns and we have trouble being still, living “in the moment” – and achieving the coveted sense of flow.
Without the opportunity to drill down, the time to allow thoughts and processes to become fully formed, we find ourselves trapped in a self-imposed prison of superficiality and mediocrity.
Interesting choice for a duo consisting of a piano and a guitar. Doesn’t the recipe call for three guitars?
Early in the evening a couple of people shouted out “Freebird.” I am sure most people are joking when they shout that out at live shows because shouting out “Freebird” is a thing – so much so that a new response to the request – two middle fingers up with a “here’s two – no charge” – also became a thing.
But we did a short version of the song, complete with piano and guitar solos – and people loved it. I even did the little organ bit at the beginning before switching to piano. My brother sang.
It’s always fun trotting out songs like this – and it certainly helps when folks are surprised and tickled about it.
I also like the idea of playing snippets of other songs that people request. It helps to foster a feeling of connection and a sense of goodwill. In a setting like LuLu’s, it’s all about the experience.
Performing with Chris is always a good time. The fact that we are twins makes for an interesting vocal dynamic, and our harmonies are tight. This covers a multitude of musical sins.
Judging from the crowd at LuLu’s, I bet the season in Myrtle Beach is going to be a busy one. I only hope that common sense will reign supreme.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.