36. STEVIE WONDER
When I was working at SIR as an equipment humper and truck driver,
I had the opportunity to take Stevie Wonder up. In the freight elevator.
He had three BEAUTIFUL girls buzzing around his dreadlocked head like
bees in his bonnet. They were fussing around him and cooing the
sweetest things. I don't know if Stevie ever took LSD, but I sent him
tripping. Out of my elevator that is. I was too nervous to line the floors up
exactly. I'm sorry Stevie.
Then he was rehearsing Wonderlove, his band. I snuck in, which I
wasn't really supposed to do, but I couldn't pass up this bask in musical
greatness. I recall he was rehearsing a song with the band, perhaps one
that was to be on Songs In the Key of Life, his magnum opus (hot-stuff
incredible melody-bathed, star drenched, rhythm-laced true-to-itself
creative masterpiece) (I guess you could say I like it;)
anyway, in the middle of rehearsing a tune, he seemed to stumble
across something on his keyboard, a Rhodes, probably. So he goes, "hey,
wait a minute!", and goes over to the drummer and says, "Play this,"
and sits down at the drums and shows him this cool beat.
Then he walks over to the bass player and takes his bass, and says,
"Play this, ok?" and shows him a new bass part. Like that all around the
band, and then back to his keyboard; and lo and behold, Wonderlove was
playing a brand new Stevie Wonder song! And it was good. Talk about
creativity: it was dripping off that man that day.
I still play alot of Stevie Wonder songs at the Empire Diner on my
Friday night gigs. They're keyboard based, have melody, interesting
chords, and are as funky as I can make 'em. There's this kid from
Michigan, a bass player named Dave Carlock, who's started coming in
and he sings em great. His voice kinda slinks around the winding
melodies, and he's never missed a note. His rhythm gives me chills, and
between him and Eric Armstrong, a cross between a Ken Doll (but
beefier) and Johnny Mathis (but white), who waits tables there, we can
put quite a cabaret together there on a cold winter night. Once David
Lasley dropped in and sang "Since I Fell for You" with that soulful rasp
that graces James Taylor's records and shows; David L's from Detroit,
another Michiganite. And while we're on jams, Richie Havens was eating
at Home, on 91st and 2nd in the seventies, (four dimensional space-
time coordinates seem appropriate here...) and when I started playing
and singing (Sam Cooke's)You Send Me, he groaned, "Aw, my favorite song!",
so I got to accompany him on that then too. (I did one gig for Richie years later,
filling in for Murray Weinstock, who had been offered a jingle he
Richie had this "whatever happens is supposed to happen" zen that
made it impossible for me to make a mistake. Warm. And that VOICE!
We grew up on it, introduced by Roscoe or Scott Muni on WNEW-FM; I had
this Fisher mono receiver and enormous speaker cabinet that I had
scored at Audio Exchange, and those voices had more highs and lows in
my room through that system than I can relate to you here. (or have heard since.)
Another Jingle That Could Not Be Refused led to my meeting with
Clarence Clemmons, known as The Big Man in Springsteen's band.
Lloyd Landesman, his regular guy had to do this jingle, so I went up to
Buffalo with Clarence and his band including David Landau on guitar,
whom I had seen with Warren Zevon prior to that. David was a smart,
mystical, dare I say Kabalistic dude, and I think his bro is Bruce's
manager. I didn't get to know Clarence closely, but we were both staying
at the Sunset Marquis years later, and he said "hi" to me through the intercom
system from his cabana there. The Big Man musta been busy. Ever feel small?
The ever morphing Joe Jackson was spending time in NYC and I kept
running into him. Almost went on the road with him; he taught me this
really cool salsa piano part and offered me a very long tour, but I was
in a materialistic phase (that I have yet to recover from,) and had to
tell him no. Much later, we found ourselves at this ancient hotel in the old city
of Lyons, supposedly the culinary capital of La France. Larry Saltzman
and I had gotten him his keyboardist for that tour: Joy Askew, a British
songwriter/keyboardist who went on to play for Peter Gabriel, but has
a great solo act as well. And she's nice. A Nice Woman in Rock. Heavens!
Larry Saltzman, a talmudic guitarist, was playing with the Blue Nile
last time I looked. I say that because he plays with everyone these
days. Him and Ira Seigal: NYC guitar stalwarts. Ira once told us we were
his 21st record date of the week. And it was only THURSDAY! Others?
Jeff Mironov, David Spinozza (he was the best dancer at my Junior High School
before he played for McCartney or produced James Taylor's Walking Man), (I
finally fulfilled a personal dream and played on a record with him in '98-Joe
Pesci's "My Cousin Vinnie Sings"....Steve Love (my acid rock buddy from the sixties),
I'm such a guitar-hag. Just love em. Jeff Southworth who played the solo on Kiss on My List
for Hall and Oates, and wrote The Heartbeat of America (Today's Cheverolet)
with Robin Batteau, is another guitar magician. Quick. Deadly. Unfortunately
Jeff learned to program drums and sequence his own synthesizers (quite well...) so I
don't get to work for him any more. Amherst man.
I had this art teacher
in junior high school, Mrs. Steinmetz. She was a
gym teacher in grade school and then they put her in art. Me, I was a
total waste of time in art. Couldn't draw a straight line, couldn't draw
a realistic face, or sketch. But somehow I could draw a candle. You
know, the kind with the flame burning, wax dripping down its side, in a
candle holder that resembled a slipper with a little handle above where
the heel would be. Call it Christian-envy, I was good at that kind of
picture. One day, I did a candle in Mrs. Steinmetz' class. She took one
look at it, sitting in front of me on the desk and said, "All right, who
I said, "Me, I did."
She said, "Come on, who did this?!"
I said, "Me, I really did it."
She walked away convinced I was lying. She just wasn't prepared to
accept that a loser could do something good.
37. MAMI AND HER FRIENDS
Japanese fan-girls are really funny. There's this one, Emiko, who is
very shy, tall and thin, from Niigata, in the very north of Japan. She
gets tongue-tied when she tries to talk to me, but writes eloquent
notes. Humble like you dream a western woman would be. (I'm ducking
as I say this.) I heard from a friend of hers that she was very very ill,
but she never spoke a word of it. I wrote her a haiku:
Pure as virgin snow
Softly the mountain rises
She melts for one man
Then there's Mami. Well actually there are two Mami's but the one I'm
talkin about would just come and sit in my room at the fancy Tokyo
Hotel, which was fine by me, since it gets lonely. I'd be composing a
piece of music on my In-Room-Synth, (an Ensoniq SD-1, ASR-10, or TS-
10, depending on which tour leg), or drawing a GWOA (great work of
art- pastel crayon rubbings, water colors, irridescent markers,
rapidographs, in a Yellow Submarine Collage of my current
psychological inkblots, taken up when my knees started to go from
carrying so much synth equipment down long hotel corridors!) and there
she'd be on the floor over in the corner, reading. It was a bit tricky when
Chris Chappel or Paco, our accountant came to the door, because I
knew they'd misunderstand her presence. So I hid her. I always got the
impression from Mami that she was barely tolerating my low
intelligence, but that I amused her. Kinda like I was a dog. Mmmmmmmm.
Now Mami's a Canadian, married to Allan, with a son named after another quite
excellent guitarman, Keith Scott!
I met another very talented Nipponese (Neal Stephenson's preferred terminology,
see Cryptonomicon, his newest book...), a lady, named Rie Osakawa last year. She paints,
makes QuickTime movies, and does websites. She's a big Richie Sambora fan too.