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Wow / The Story of Blues Music

March 21, 2020

Last week we were just cruising along.  It was weird when we were at the Belly Up last Sunday, and we couldn’t get toilette paper.  I was like ‘what’?  Monday and Tuesday were off, and I was just kicking around Solano Beach - deep meditations in the hot tub.  Apparently only about 2/3 of the people showed up for our sold out show there Wednesday, and Thursday morning we got word, California was shutting down shows.  We're playing that night, then flying home Friday from LAX.  The whole touring music industry - all of live entertainment, shut down for several months at least.

I texted my wife, she replied, “Damn . . .  I bought you a chicken”!  Well, I was home lickety split - the flight was empty, and I’ve been just cooking it up and, as you know if you’ve been following @jimijazzchili on Instagram, making cocktails!(Y’all saw the chicken soup there too.)  Anyhow, I got a lot of interesting booze and whatnot for Christmas and well, I guess it’s time to drink it up!

I’m really in shell shock, like so many others my income just went to zero (S cannot work either) and I can’t say I was in such good shape financially going in to all this.  I’m pretty certain that it will be at least six months before there is regular touring, and then I am quite uncertain how we will fit in to the new landscape.  This is uncharted territory indeed.

I am inspired by all the musicians taking it in stride, and maybe a bit jealous of those that have their shit together and already have their studios wired for video.  My friend Asher had a residency performance in a club here and just moved it to his studio.  There’s lots of pivoting to on-line teaching, (If you’re interested in lessons - bass, guitar, piano, recording and production, hit me with an email - jimi@jimijazzmusic.com - I can do FaceTime and I’m working on Zoom conferencing.)  G. Love has committed to daily posts with his guitar and even Jeff is posting on Insta.

Actually, I watched G’s video about ‘Blues Music’ all the way through, and I enjoyed him breaking it down like that.  Although the real star is his kid Lewis, who is just hilarious, and added some really well timed energy to the thing!  Jeff posted a real nice and detailed lesson to play his part too, so I’ll post a video later - if I can figure out how to do IGTV - and show y’all how to play the bass line.

I do remember the session where I developed the line.We were at Studio 4 in Philadelphia, though I’m not sure when exactly - perhaps early December 1993, though it might have been earlier in the year.  I think we’d been playing the song live some, but I hadn’t settle on a bass line.  Jeff’s part was based entirely on Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, and I believe they had recorded it with another bass player - Nick I think his name was, who just played the two roots, B and E, in a, like loping and sliding groove, with the octaves.  I tried that, but wasn’t really satisfied and was experimenting with different approaches to the same idea, alas for months probably as I’m apt to do.

Then suddenly we were in Philadelphia in the studio, and I still hadn’t settled into a part.  We were cutting live, all three of us, as we did for the whole first record - set up across the room from each other for a little bit of sonic isolation.  I recall it was late, and we had gotten some stuff at the session so far, but decided to try for a ‘magic take’ of Blues Music.  I think we tried a few, and nothing was really jelling.  So we decide to take a break and go upstairs (the studio was in the basement of the office building at 444 No. 3rd - sadly not there any more) and out to the parking lot to smoke.

We were standing there, Me, Garrett and our producer Dave ’Stiff’ Johnson, taking stock of our situation - generally giddy with excitement at our luck to be really making a record, but trying to maintain a serious vibe in the music.  And, I was at least, feeling heavy - maybe even nervous, with the realization that this was the most important performance of our lives . . .  make or break, that we’d have to live with these sounds forever, indelibly etched onto a major label release.

Anyway, as we were standing there, letting our minds try to get free, a homeless dude came up to us, and Stiff gave him a smoke.  We didn’t say much, he was just down on his luck, and traveling, had some kind of bag with him - probably all of his possessions.  But the vibe got thick despite the brevity and lack of words in our interaction.  He lit up the cigarette and shuffled on, and three of us just kind of looked at each other, and we felt a presence remain, the true blues, the traveler - the broken essence of man, a sole walking on alone.

We went back downstairs to the studio, and tried to let that feeling come through as we cut the song again.  I swear the baseline just came to me, the hammer on riff for the B7 and saving the slide for the second half of the phrase with the E octave.  We went to our instruments, Stiff rolled the 2” tape and we played, and the performance you hear - song number 2 on our debut, is that tape.  Gar’s vocal delivery was perfect, me and Houseman grooved, that was all that’s needed.  Our laid-back sparseness resonated perfectly, and it was one night, one of the few times back then that I felt like, “oh shit, we just might pull this off!”

Only later did I realize the riff was the opening to Led Zeppelin’s The Ocean, but I wasn't surprised - I was using a lot of my Jon Paul Jones influence at that time.  Sweet Sugar Mama was in the works, which is kind of Moby Dick.  To tell the truth Dave had me ‘punch in’ some of the octave slides in the second part of the phrase, and I’ve been experimenting with them ever since, sometimes actually playing some kind of a 7th, but it was probably a good decision to “tighten them up.”

The bridge/breakdown is all G. Love, slide in and re-phrase.  We do this thing I did a lot in those days, by ear really, which is to play a whole-tone riff over his half-step chord movement.  I have to admit I was looking at Gs insta before going “You play what?” but then recognizing the patterns we used - mostly subconsciously - several times.

Years later we started covering Walk on the Wild Side, man . . .  I remember when Chuck Treece was on tour with us and playing the 2nd bass part a couple times.  But at that time I went back and listened to Lou's masterpiece, and really grew a fondness for the genius of the two basses together, and the way they snake between each other.  Now I can hear that The Ocean riff in there - inverted - up high in the electric part, and so it is, getting old, realizing how much the young brain was just repurposing riffs and grooves, though in my case it was mostly outside of my conscious view, until of course Clemens pointed it out to me!

For a time Blues Music was the spring board for a jam for us - we would go to Donovan’s Season of the Witch or the Dead’s Fire On the Mountian.  It’s a million songs really, the two bar blues, just I7 and IV.

Well, keep the faith then, everybody keep jamming on ye’ ol’ internets.  Look for my Insta video in a bit.

Portland OR - Cooler than a sunny day should be.


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