journey through the past (how we gather around what is precious)

I’ve been so pleased with the progress made on the pureambient blog audio companion page, and I am really excited about the music that is still to come as well, discovering all this historic music is both interesting and challenging.

those were simpler times – but I’m constantly amazed by the quality of what these young people (ted holding and dave stafford, and their various friends and musical co-conspirators) accomplished. I am even more impressed by what they accomplished without the benefit of technology more complex than a teac 3340-s – the four-track reel-to-reel recorder of choice in the 1970s.  that was all we had, ted had a 3340-S when we were recording from approximately age 15 – 19, and sometime later, I ended up with a 3340S of my own, which I made many, many records on – all the way up through 1995 when I got my first pc.  so the state of the art in 1975, well, we had the four-channel deck, ted had good quality mixers, a monster power amp, and giant homemade speaker cabinets to play back through – heaven for two teenage musicians!

the next set of tracks that I am working on will again, reveal a whole new musical direction for holding & stafford, we are now going to veer away from pop, into the fascinating territory of progressive rock improv; with ted holding demonstrating that his ability on hammond organ meets or even exceeds his remarkable capacity as a vocalist or pianist – it’s really an extraordinary set.

I notice now, though, that something else begins to happen: I publish the tracks, people hear them – other people who were there, who remember Ted and his amazing voice, and his amazing songs – and those people then join in, they begin to contribute to the process – in fact just today I received a remarkable recording from joe norwood, featuring ted on a cover version of an ambrosia track – so with joe’s permission, we can very probably add that track to the pages at some point for everyone to enjoy.

this phenomena is really one of the most positive aspects of the internet, for us, uh, more mature folk, it gives us the chance to locate our oldest friends and share with them music or events from the far distant past, no matter how far apart we have become physically.

and when we run across something really special, like the original music of ted holding, well, for me, it made me sit up and notice, “this is something truly special” – so you want to share that, you want people to hear this music that means so much to you, that means a lot to you because you were part of it’s creation – but, that aside, it’s important because it is truly, truly music of quality.  it demands to be heard.

then, people who knew the music’s creator appear, and the whole experience just becomes even more enriching, moving and compelling…

when I began the audio cassette restoration project, I never dreamed for one minute that it would be anything more than digitising some cassettes, and hearing and posting on my web site, some of the music from my past.  I never dreamed it would then take on a life of it’s own, eliciting such positive responses, and also allowing me to reconnect with some of the other players who were either there at the time along with us, or folk who knew the composer later on in life – the whole thing really has surprised me, in a really positive way – it’s been fantastic.

I can’t wait to get the next batch of music processed and put up on the audio companion page, and watch and listen as this musical story unfolds, and this section, the section featuring my best friend, ted holding, has been my absolute favourite chapter so far, and I know that there are many more pieces featuring ted that will come to light and will add to this online collection of historical, archival releases.

please join us, stop by and have a listen to some of ted’s songs, and our performances of those songs – I would hope you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the songwriting, the passion and power of the vocal performances, and the obvious love that we have for the act of music.

as we then move the audio cassette restoration project into the 1980s, the audio companion page will track my own development, first, as a pianist, then, on hammond organ, up until 1988, when guitar really took over completely as my main instrument, I did a lot of really interesting work with both piano and organ, and a lot of this music has never been heard – everything from noise experiments involving a pedalboard that could make music with no guitar attached, to covers of the songs of the day, the music I loved, played on guitar, piano, organ and often, with vocals.  so really, a whole new side of dave stafford is about to be unveiled – over time.

 

when it came time to look at my back catalogue in terms of digitising the work, so, originally, I could produce physical CDs, and latterly, so I could produce portable versions of the music in MP3 form to make them available as downloads, there was absolutely no way at the time (1995) that I could go all the way back to these earliest works.

so I picked an arbitrary cutoff year, and decided that everything before 1992, I would not digitise (at the time) and most of everything after 1992 (with a few notable exceptions, such as 1994’s “worldview” cassette) I would digitise.

it was really an accident then, that my 1992 album “voices from the desert” became my “first” album – which is actually inaccurate, I had created albums on cassette in the 1980s, but since all of that material was before the arbitrary cutoff date – well, “voices” has remained as my oldest released record until now.

the cassette restoration programme, and the reel-to-reel restoration programme slated for 2014 (or sooner, if it can be managed) will aim to change all that, and I hope eventually to “meet in the middle” – as my published CD catalogue works back from the present to 1992’s “voices from the desert”, the dave stafford works to be published on the pureambient blog audio companion page will work forward from 1971 (my oldest recorded music) up to 1992, when “voices” was created”.

 

it should be noted that 1992 is just the cutoff for dave stafford “solo” works, for bindlestiff and the dozey lumps, well, the former goes back to about 1991, while the latter stretches back to 1988 – but those were exceptions to the rule, and needed to be digitised and included in the currently available back catalogue, which can be downloaded from the pureambient store.

as I noted above, good things start to happen when you share music, and I cannot be more pleased than I already am about unearthing and presenting the remarkable music of theodore landis holding, musician and friend, and I am so glad I have taken the time to clean up and present this work on the audio companion page – a labour of love, as peter hammill might say.

 

the original songs of ted holding presented here are a tribute to my friend and musical partner, and are dedicated to his memory.

 

 

journey through the past – holding & stafford

I’ve now completed the 1975 mixes of ted holding and dave stafford in the studio, and the ted holding band live at helix high school, and latterly, some 1977 ted holding band/holding and stafford mixes as well.  being already mixed; being from cassette; being 38-year old recordings; they posed some real challenges, and it took quite some time just to deal with these three quite short pop songs.

the first one, from the 1975 tape, is a cover of a song by the band chicago (before they disintegrated into one of the crappiest am radio one-hit wonder bands later on – ugh), a track called “questions 67 & 68” that ted and I both really liked, we played it often, and one day, we decided to record it properly.   this is probably the first multi track recording we ever made together, and given the very limited technology available to us, it’s really quite mature and well thought out – for two 17 year old musicians.

the track features:

part 1:

ted holding: lead vocal and upright piano – live take

dave stafford: rhythm guitar – live take

that was the standard live arrangement, so that would have been the first part recorded

part 2:

ted holding: double-tracked lead vocal and farfisa organ – overdub

part 3:

ted holding: double-speed piano solo

part 4:

ted holding: double-speed farfisa organ solo

so this quickly became more of a fun experiment, because of course we had hit on the same trick george martin used of the dual piano solo in “in my life” – playing the backing track at half-speed, playing the solo at normal speed, and then when you speed up the tape, the solo plays back at double speed – and is an octave higher.

I assume what happened here is that parts 1 and 2 were bounced to one stereo pair; resulting in a basic stereo track of piano, farfisa, rhythm guitar, and double-tracked vocal, and then onto that, on two separate channels, first the piano solo, and then amazingly, doubling the same solo on the farfisa on the one remaining empty track.

because double-speed piano was on one channel and double-speed organ on another, ted was also then able to mess about with the stereo imaging, creating a fantastical sound – a piano and organ racing along at impossible speed – a great solo, completely invented by ted (it certainly doesn’t feature on the chicago version!) – all I could do is sit back and admire the creativity, the talent, that allowed ted to envision, record and double-speed that solo – a hugely creative and successful idea.  it’s a shame that the track is otherwise so simple, but we only had the instruments we had, and clearly, this track was recorded some months before “we’ll shine” and “you’ve gone away” were – the presence of the hammond on “we’ll shine” gives that away, the presence of the farfisa on the chicago track clearly indicates it’s an older piece – possibly even recorded the year before, in 1974, but there is no way to tell, so I’ve included it with the other 1975 in studio session piece –  “we’ll shine”.

the 1977 tape (blessedly) adds to the somewhat meagre offering on the 1975 tape, adding in a third song and a remade version of “we’ll shine”, so we at least have a fairly decent representation of the three ted holding original songs currently available.

the main trick in dealing with these pre-mixed cassette versions of the tracks is removing the hiss without damaging the music.  the hum is easily enough targeted and removed, but hiss is a problem – not so much during the pieces, but at the end, during the natural fade out of the instruments.

one track in particular, a ted holding original called “we’ll shine”, gave me a lot of grief, I could make the track sound good, but the fade out was just so, so noisy – the cassette is, of course, a mix down from a reel to reel, where there were three sets of two live instrument/voice combinations, so: a lot of hiss on the source reel because of the bouncing. this meant that by the time it reached the cassette, the noise build up was pretty extreme.

yet, if I hiss reduced the whole track, it just killed it – the crisp quality of ted’s voice, the bright piano just sounded too dull, too lifeless – so I had to find another way to target just the fade out section of the song, while preserving the amazingly bright, trebly sound from the tape (I can’t believe how bright this track is after 38 years on a cassette!).

I eventually hit on a technique that worked – I’ve used a similar technique to add reverb to just the end of a song – I split the last part of the track into 11 very short sections – perhaps 3 or 4 seconds long each (well after the vocals are finished, so posing no threat to their good sound), covering perhaps 30 odd seconds of music, and then added a separate graphic equaliser to each section – and then gave each one a progressively stronger amount of reduction of the frequencies in question (4400, 4800, and 5200 Hz), so starting with a 2 db cut, then 4 db, then 6 db…eventually ending up, during the last few seconds of the song where the hiss is most severe, at minus 18 db.

this is the same process as with the reverb-adder, where you add a tiny bit, then a bit more, then a bit more, until at the very end, there is enough reverb to give the ending something to “drop” into – works great.  once you have the pieces eq’d (or reverbed) to your satisfaction, you just bounce all the split clips back into one, and you are finished!

the effect this has is quite decent; the whole track remains bright, then, as it nears the end, that brightness fades quite gradually (not suddenly as it does if you just split it into two), the track getting imperceptibly duller and duller until at the end, the hiss reduction is severe – but it makes a huge, huge difference, it’s not perfect, there is still noise, but it’s much, much better than the version without the “staggered hiss reduction” I applied.  (I’m calling this “shr” my new staggered hiss reduction technique!) – by using the staggered or gradual technique, you don’t “notice” a “sudden” change from bright to dull, it just happens pretty organically – and it works!

in listening back though to these ancient recordings, these three tracks have come out really, really well – in particular considering the age of the tapes – they sound like they were made last week. of the three tracks, “we’ll shine” is the most fully produced – and it demonstrates just how good holding & stafford could be, given time in a studio situation.

“we’ll shine” features:

part 1

ted holding: lead vocals and fender rhodes electric piano – live take

dave stafford: rhythm and lead guitar – live take

that’s probably what the first pass was, because of course this is recorded in a series of three stereo passes.

part 2

ted holding: harmony vocal 1 and hammond organ – overdub

dave stafford: facsimile bass – overdub

I am extrapolating this from the way I believe we would have done this, in conjunction with my failing memory of the session – it’s a long, long time ago now!

part 3

ted holding: harmony vocal 2 – high harmony – arp omni string synthesizer – overdub

dave stafford: harmony vocal 1 – low harmony

we both worked on the arrangement, and in particular, the vocal harmonies which were expertly mixed in stereo by ted – I love the stereo separation in this mix, and the backing vocals just sound so, so good – we worked on that for ages and ages, and then when you add in the stereo placement – you get pop vocal heaven.  ted’s one-take lead vocal is perfectly framed by three harmony vocals done as overdubs – ted doing all but one of them himself.  I am honoured to have been allowed to sing on this track, I really am, since my voice is no match for ted’s!

the first time the background vocals come in, every time I hear it, it just sends a shiver down my spine, it’s so perfect, so beautiful – probably the best single vocal harmony I’ve ever been involved in.  of course, that is mostly down to the fact that it’s 80 percent ted’s voice and you can barely hear my two low notes of harmony !!

it’s possible that there are four rather than three harmony vocals, depending if I possibly “sang as I played” on part 1 or part 2, but I can’t tell – there are certainly three at a minimum, but even so, it sounds incredibly full and rich – really stunning background vocals, that take this song to a whole new level.

the third and final track from this rather disjointed collection of tracks from 1975 is a live track, and of course, that made it much, much easier to master, because the crowd is so noisy that any noise at the beginning or end is totally masked anyway – so it was just a case of trying to optimise the sound of the band and the vocals.

this one has an expanded line up, the ted holding band, which included ted on piano and lead vocal, myself on rhythm and lead guitar (including slightly nervous solo), our friend jeff slater on bass and harmony vocal, a drummer whose name I do not recall, and strangely, the helix high school choir director on extra harmony vocal – and he adds in some very strange and wonderful harmonies during the end part of the song – and, in the special “surprise” additional coda that we played on this occasion only – we arranged this just before the show, that we would count in the track again and play just the chorus one last time – and, we didn’t tell the choir director, so he was taken completely off guard – but, he just jumped straight in and did a beautiful job of rounding out the piece.

we played this piece either two nights running or three, I don’t remember, and on the earlier nights, we just played the song “straight” – but on the third night, since the piece was going down really well with the audience (based on the first two nights’ experience) we made the decision to have this secret, surprise extra ending – and I am so, so glad that the one recording of this song happens to be the one with the extra coda – that’s a real stroke of luck.  I’m slightly hopeful that somewhere, on a reel to reel tape, that there might be other versions of “you’ve gone away” – but if that hope is in vain, then I am quite, quite happy with this one lone version – it’s a heartbreaker, it really is.

of course, if I **am** able to adapt my old TEAC 3340s to 50 hz operation – which I don’t yet know, and if the multi track masters still have sound on them, I may be able to improve on these mixes – if there are multi track versions of any of these songs – which I would happily do, this music is a huge part of my teenage years, despite it being “pop music” it means a lot to me, so I am glad to have spent the time making these mix downs presentable, and by the same token, I would happily spend more time doing the same to any multi track masters that may exist – which would give us even better versions of these songs.  so – stay tuned – an upgrade could be in the works.

I am also secretly hopeful that I can expand the number of ted holding-related tracks I have by gaining access to the reels, I believe that somewhere, there are recordings of holding and stafford playing and singing a cover of the beatles “no reply”, and I would love to present that along with the rest of the ted holding related material.  we shall see…

that would give us two covers – one by chicago, one by the beatles – and three ted holding originals – a mini album if you will

right now, the tracks featuring ted, complete tracks discounting fragments, look like this:

from 1974

froggy’s holiday (stafford / holding) – three takes

from 1975

questions 67 & 68 (lamm) – cover of a chicago song, multi track

we’ll shine (holding) – official studio version, multi track

you’ve gone away (holding) – live at helix high school with the ted holding band

from 1977

ted holding band

we’ll shine (remake) (holding) – recorded live in the studio

a variation of the ted holding band – the core band – ted & dave;  jeff slater on bass, plus special guests jim whitaker on guitar and rick corriere on congas – this is a completely different version to the original studio version recorded in 1975 – and I had no memory of this session until I heard this tape! – I had no idea that we’d remade this song with a live band!!!  this provides a really interesting glimpse into ted’s compositional thought processes – various improvements have been made to the song’s structure, even up to including an almost todd rundgren-style philadelphia whoop during the take – I think right at the end of jim’s solo.  making use of the presence of two guitarists, too, ted expanded the solo section to allow a solo from both myself and jim; the whole song has undergone a makeover.

holding & stafford

love and I can hide (three takes) – live studio run-through

the third and last of the ted holding original songs to be presented here, when I listen to the potential in these songs, I just wonder what else ted might have gone on to write…there is no mastered, mixed version of this track (at least,  not that we’ve found yet) but these live run-throughs feature some startlingly mature playing – we are 19 now, after all – and I am playing a real bass (no idea whose – I did not own a bass until I was in my late 20s or early 30s), and some of the endings especially are absolutely amazing, where ted found something amazing on the piano, while I was doing my best to be a very melodic chris squire in the high registers of the bass – and we’d reach the end, and you could feel us holding our breath, a pin-drop ending I call them, where you don’t want to make a sound lest you spoil that perfect, ringing combination of notes.  a shiver and a sigh…

 

still to come:

from 1977-1978

holding, stafford & corriere – live in the studio, instrumental prog rock improvisations – approx. 30 minutes worth

holding, stafford, corriere & morgan – live in the studio,  instrumental prog rock improvisations – approx 30 minutes worth

these are probably the first recordings that demonstrate my interest in prog rock, where I am playing lead guitar now with some degree of confidence (although with quite underpowered equipment and effects) and in conjunction with two drummers and the remarkable keyboard skill of ted holding, these recordings are a good indicator of what was to come – my brief journey into the world of progressive rock began right here.

I can’t wait to process these tapes – these sessions were enormously enjoyable, and they capture a fantastic moment in time – 19 years old, really starting to be able to play…it’s finally really happening! and the facility that ted displays on the keyboards on these prog improvs is just amazing – no matter how well I do, he is light-years ahead of me.

given how much time has passed, and the fragility of the medium of tape, I think it’s an absolute miracle that so much material from this era has survived.  I am also deeply, deeply grateful that they did survive, since my friend ted passed away in 1975, if they had not survived, his music would not have ever, ever been heard by anyone.  and after a thirty eight year silence, I am so, so happy that this beautiful music can be shared with and experienced by his surviving family and his brother and sisters.

so by chance, because I saved a bunch of old tapes that I made when I was a teenager, this music does exist – and in particular, those three ted holding original compositions – songs from the heart, all three of them love songs or songs of unrequited love – are still here with us now.  even better – in multiple versions – two different versions of “we’ll shine” – one studio, one live; one version of “you’ve gone away” – live, and three wonderful, rough versions of “love and I can hide” – live in the studio.

at the time – this is just what we did, we were musicians – ted had these songs, I was his friend and his main guitarist up until about 1978 (when ted moved on to playing with a much better guitarist than I was, joe norwood), – we had the songs, so we recorded them.  I had forgotten just how much time and effort we put in to these songs, but it’s clear from the tapes: we absolutely did; we worked really hard on these songs, we cared about them; the arrangements, the playing, the singing – we were proud of them, and ted’s skill as singer, writer, musician, producer and engineer cannot be overstated – I learned so, so much from him, he made me a better pianist, a better engineer, a better singer, a better producer – he had more talent in his little finger than I do in my whole body.

I was the guitarist, the bassist, the occasional harmony singer – the second keyboard player – and I was happy to support my friend, because even though I later went off and got heavily into progressive rock, and then ambient, and then guitar craft, looping and so on – at the time, those serious, heavy pop songs meant the world to me – and I’m so, so proud to have been such a significant part of their creation – ted accepted my contributions and assistance, we worked on the arrangements together, and I did everything in my power to make the songs succeed.

a few nights ago now, I heard both the remake of “we’ll shine” and the three live in the studio takes of “love and I can hide” for the first time since we recorded them back in 1977.

and it seemed particularly poignant, the takes of “love and I can hide” are a bit rough, ted’s voice maybe not at it’s angelic best, a little cracked, but – once the take starts, we both play as if our lives depended on it – and I am very surprised too, because I am playing a real bass, and I sound like I really mean it, I’m trying very hard to play a perfect and complimentary part to ted’s almost automatic piano playing.

I should say a word about that playing – during all these takes, on his own songs – I am constantly amazed at how mature, complex and beautiful ted’s piano (and organ, and string…) parts truly are – these do not sound like piano parts composed by a 17 or 19 year old boy, and the playing (and the songs) belie ted’s young age – this was, clearly, an old soul in the body of a teenage boy. I felt a real sympathy with ted, I could feel the real emotion in the songs (and you can absolutely hear ted’s emotion in the sound of his voice) as we played them – for that moment, we both were living the pain of unrequited love or love gone wrong – and these three fantastic ted holding original pop songs are amongst my proudest moments as a young musician.

the only song we ever truly co-wrote was our very early instrumental “froggy’s holiday” – which was really mostly my song, I had these chords, and then together, we worked out an arrangement, so it became a collaboration.  even though I did work on the details, on the arrangements and parts of the three ted holding originals, in my mind, those three songs will always be “ted’s songs” and I wouldn’t dream of taking a writing credit for any of them – they are his, his alone, and as such, I am so happy and proud to present these three beautiful, beautiful pop songs from the genius mind of a wonderful young musician, mr. ted holding.  I hope you can hear these buddy, you should be so, so incredibly proud!

holding & stafford – a remarkable institution!

happy birthday to my business partner and good, good friend, ken mistove (who shares a birthday, by sheer coincidence, with my best friend from when I was a teenager, ted holding – who is featured in today’s blog).  ted would have been 54 today.

 

so: continuing on with the cassette restoration project, last weekend, I mastered ten new tracks from a 1974 session featuring myself and pianist/vocalist ted holding, playing live in the studio.  this is, so far, the earliest “holding & stafford” session I’ve been able to locate (at least, within the cassette archives – the reels, which we are going to look at next year, are a completely different story – there could be earlier sessions there).

I am considering now, too, re-publishing some of the earliest episodes of the “journey through the past” – now that the actual music they talk about is finally becoming available – either that, or “start the story over” – probably the latter, so re-tell the story but this time, being able to link to the audio evidence, as well as any other visual media I might have from each session. this post then is new, but also a part re-telling of earlier blog entries from the “journey through the past” series.

 

here then is today’s “journey through the past”:

 

going back to this 1974 holding & stafford session, it’s a real corker, it is live to cassette – no overdubs, and it’s a very interesting glimpse into a long-forgotten time – 1974 – when prog ruled the earth, and enormous amounts of very creative bands were around – and you even can hear,  a little bit,  how they influenced us on this tape.

for equipment for this tape, what we had was so, so simple: clean guitar played through a carvin bass amp and homemade speaker cabinet (courtesy of ted) and clean, upright piano – just the basics. at age 16 there wasn’t really any money for things like guitar effects, although I did have an old arbiter fuzz face, and a used echoplex – that was it. I didn’t even own a guitar amp, I was still in my phase of playing through whatever was around, and, while ted had lots of awesome p.a. equipment, the only choice for me was the carvin bass head, through a homemade speaker cabinet, one of many, many cabinets that ted built himself!

ted had the best homemade p.a. system I’d ever seen, he had a massive power amp that got really, really loud, and he built all his own crossovers and cabinets of a bewildering variety, always, bigger speakers, better speakers – better sound.  but the tired old Carvin, which didn’t even have reverb (because it was, after all, a bass amp) was all I had – I can remember using it for years, at gigs, and so on – someone had left it at ted’s, so we just adopted it and used it – that was that!  it wasn’t until years later that I ever owned a real guitar amp. it was incredibly kind of ted to let me use it for so long, but ted was endlessly patient and generous.

anyway, this earliest-so-far holding & stafford tape starts out as a session to capture a new composition of ours, a tune that I came up with, that we both contributed to, and we do three proper takes of the track.  since it is a new tune, we barely know it, and, none of the takes capture the track properly – sadly, though, because I am not aware of any other versions of this song anywhere – these three live, early takes is probably all that there is of this song, which has the charming title “froggy’s holiday” – a piano and electric guitar instrumental by dave stafford and ted holding.

those takes are quite serious; we are both trying very hard to nail this piece (which has a very, very tricky “continuous” run at the end – which we nearly get right sometimes!). but, after take 3 is finished, we just start to “play” – and it’s very random, it was never meant to be published – it’s imperfect, we both make “mistakes” – but I went through and tried to pull out some excerpts that would make sense now, as history, not as perfect recordings, but two good friends having fun, just jamming on piano and guitar.

so we run through songs that we don’t really know; we play fragments of songs that we don’t know at all, and it’s very free, very casual jamming – the “set list” such that it is, looks like this:

froggy’s holiday – take 1

froggy’s holiday – take 2

froggy’s holiday – take 3

call it stormy monday (but tuesday’s just as bad) – excerpt 1

call it stormy monday (but tuesday’s just as bad) – excerpt 2

while my guitar gently weeps – excerpt 1

while my guitar gently weeps – excerpt 1

piano improvisation / bennie & the jets – fragment

the wall street shuffle – fragment

rikki don’t lose that number – fragment

it’s quite an emotional experience for me, hearing ted and I run through these songs, hearing ted laughing and joking and knowing that he won’t ever get to hear this tape, which is such a shame – but it’s just one of those things, the timing was wrong, it wasn’t to be…

so this unruly set of songs, none of which were ever meant to be released, have just been uploaded to the audio companion page, which is finally beginning to resemble what it is intended to be – a history of the music of dave stafford, from the earliest days up to the present.

hearing music from 1974, it really is a bit like a message from another planet – and this set is curious indeed, – ted is the accomplished vocalist, yet I sing lead vocals on the majority of the songs we play – ted only finally making an appearance, part time, as lead vocalist on “rikki don’t lose that number”.  hearing us attempting some harmony (remember, these are very rough, off the cuff renditions, not rehearsed, not planned, so some spontaneous harmony singing has mixed results – some brilliant, some not so good) warms my heart, and I do remember singing a lot with ted – I mean, my voice is no match for his, he was a million times the singer I was, but, we were not shy about singing, or self-conscious – it was part of making music, and that was what we did – made music.

it’s amazing to me too, the simplicity of our set up – for example, I had exactly two effects devices, used very sparingly indeed – the red arbiter fuzz face (which you can hear on the three takes of “froggy’s holiday”) and – I’d forgotten I even owned this until I heard these recordings – an echoplex!!! yes, the tape kind.  you can hear a little bit of echoplex during the somewhat disorganised takes of t-bone walker’s “call it stormy monday” – which we play as an instrumental for some reason.

the reason we both played this particular song, is that it was one we both knew – joe norwood, who was a big, big fan of the allman brothers – still is, in fact – taught me how to play it (and of course, I learned some good chords as a result – a great chord progression, a classic blue progression with that great G A Bm Bbm bit) and ted knew it from playing it in the band with joe – so it was something we could both play.  and it is interesting to me to hear myself playing lead guitar in earnest, just jumping in and playing solos, quite furiously sometimes – on both “while my guitar…” and “stormy monday” I take quite a few solos – and, for someone who is just 16, with less than 3 years of playing experience – I am actually quite, quite surprised by the levels of proficiency I am demonstrating on these tapes.  the guitar solos – are decent.  not, of course, to the standard of later recordings, particularly, recordings made when I was 18, 20, 22 and so on, but for age 16 – not bad at all.

for whatever reason – because he had to look at the music possibly (I am fairly certain we had books open for the beatles and the steely dan songs, in any case, as well as for our original), more than I did – I sang the most of lead vocals – on the george harrison song (and these performances in particular are remarkable – me, at age 16, singing this harrison classic confidently if imperfectly, and then ripping into quite good guitar solos – it’s strange to hear, it’s like getting to meet my 16 year-old self).  I did have to remove the recording of the bridge section of the harrison track – the vocal part defeated my limited range – but I do well with the verses and solos that remain in these excerpts.

I also sing lead vocal on the fragment of “the wall street shuffle” – but I was very glad when ted jumped in to take the lead vocal – or share lead vocal duties with me actually – on “rikki don’t lose that number” – his piano parts on this are impeccable, but his voice on the first verse is really beautiful – he loved the music of steely dan, and you can hear this even in this unrehearsed impromptu take – unfortunately, the tape runs out as I take over for the second verse, and as I sing “we could go driving on slow hand road…” that’s it, the tape ends, the session ends, and this fascinating glimpse of an impromptu improvisation session, recorded in ted’s studio 38 years ago – thirty-eight years! – is over.

I really enjoy everything on this tape, even the fragment of “bennie & the jets” – ted, being a pianist, and, it being 1974, was a huge elton john fan, and while I was not, I had no problem playing the material – we used to do the opening suite from his 1974 album “goodbye yellow brick road” live (“love lies bleeding”, including the entire opening piano piece – ted knew it, note for note – it was absolutely remarkable), we even played it at gigs – the opening piano solo then followed by “love lies bleeding” – I am not aware of any recordings of that existing unfortunately – but they may do – we have so many more tapes to sort through so I don’t rule out the existence of anything at this point. I actually enjoyed playing “love lies bleeding” – because it had a decent rhythm and lead guitar part.  it was fun – and, it’s probably elton john’s best song anyway – possibly.

and strangely, without knowing how it went, I managed to play, by ear, the odd guitar riff from “bennie” (I just pulled it out of the air in response to ted playing a fragment of the piano solo from the song) – ted could play the whole song – I didn’t know it – I remember he could play the entire piano solo note for note – which was no mean feat, because that was when elton was at his best on piano – the highest point of his career – I’m not a fan, but I do not mind the album “goodbye yellow brick road” – in fact, like almost every teenager in 1974 did – I owned the album, although I do not own it now.

my tastes ran more towards prog, or towards unusual pop bands like 10cc, and right after we play our little bit of “bennie & the jets”, I respond by playing, and singing rather badly, a very short fragment of “the wall street shuffle” – I song I had just heard on the radio, liked the riff from, and I’d learned a few of the parts – so that was my contribution to “what we were listening to” 1974-style.  I did not yet own the album, I taught myself the basic chords of the song just from hearing it on the radio – I liked it a lot, so I figured it out.  later, I bought the album – and all the 10cc albums, and then, godley & creme – but at that point, both 10cc and “the wall street shuffle” were absolutely brand new experiences to me – and yet, there I am, 16 years old, playing it like I really, really know it.  sigh.

I think it’s interesting; it is sort of like a microcosm of our styles – ted was pop, he was brilliant at pop, he could have been the next daryl hall if anyone had heard how good he was.  so the music of elton john – that was perfect for him, and he could play and imitate elton’s style with amazing accuracy.  on the other hand, I went for quirkier material, I was into 10cc, todd rundgren and todd rundgren’s utopia – slightly off the middle of the road pop leaning towards prog.  so in these two fragments (ted’s improvised solo, and fragment of “bennie and the jets” – my fragment of “the wall street shuffle”), we demonstrate our personalities – ted, the pop guy, me, the proggy guy – it’s quite revealing. it is also so strange to think that in 1974, those two songs were brand new – which is now 38 years ago.

and over the following years, ted and I went down increasingly divergent paths – he stayed more in the pop/rock arena, he played in many top 40 bands (I was only in a few comparatively) and I ended up going heavily prog, then guitar craft, then ambient – a career that could not have been more different.  despite ever-growing differences in musical taste – we remained friends.  I used to go along to watch and listen to ted play in bands with his then-brother-in-law, joe norwood.  I can remember going to many, many gigs, when ted was in different bands – always what we would call “top 40” bands, bands that played the music of the day – I remember one of his bands played “green earrings” by steely dan, which is not an easy piece to cover.  I also, occasionally, was allowed up on stage as guest guitarist, which I very much enjoyed – my own top 40 band, “slipstream” only existed for a couple of years but I followed ted’s bands for many years, even after he and I stopped working together regularly.

in fact, the infamous musical entity known originally as “ted, rick and dave” or “trd” (which I have now re-dubbed more sensibly as “holding, stafford and corriere” – we got our band variant by “borrowing” a second drummer, the drummer from ted’s then-top forty band, jennings morgan, who would join us for friday night jam sessions at ted’s house.  and those sessions literally rocked the house – two drummers, ted with his arsenal of keyboards, and myself playing electric guitar through my tape recorder (to get tape delay) – fantastic sound, fantastic fun. “holding, stafford, corriere and morgan” was even more fun than the original trio.

so it was handy that ted was in a band, I could get into clubs without paying the cover charge (I was notoriously poor in my early 20s and teen years) by “being with the band” and we had the services of jennings as second drummer, too for our “prog rock jam sessions” (which I cannot wait to master and post here) – such an amazing time to be a musician – the mid 70s, and I learned so, so much from my friend ted, and also from joe norwood (still the best unknown slide guitarist in the west), and all the other brilliant musicians I went on to work with: jim whitaker, mike & elen packard, michael dawson, and many, many others – too many to name individually.

I am very much looking forward to the next few releases on the audio companion page, this casual, live in the studio session is very interesting, but it’s not rehearsed, planned or carefully recorded – we just popped in a cassette and roughly captured what we played.  the next recordings, which include properly overdubbed recordings made using a teac 4-track reel to reel recorder, show the true brilliance of ted holding as singer, songwriter and pianist – songs of pop genius, songs that should have been hits – but, we were struggling unknowns, and it’s my great pleasure now to at least share this music with the world now, so we can hear a remarkable artist emerging, and perhaps reflect on what “might have been”.

also featuring in the upcoming recordings are not only the aforementioned trio and quartet “prog jam session” tracks, but also, an amazing live performance of one of ted holding’s most poignant, most intensely beautiful love songs – absolutely a piece of pop genius – a track called “you’ve gone away”.

this section, right now, of the audio companion is really all about my friend ted.  currently we are in the year 1974, but the work with ted will continue on through the end of the 70s and beyond.  sure, I am “the guitarist” and sometimes co-arranger of this music, or I was there to engineer and mix, but it’s really about this amazing talent, and I am so lucky that I am the guy who got to be there and hear it all, and play guitar along with ted as he did the performances of his life – and the one live track in existence will indeed demonstrate this enormous talent beyond any doubt – I was working with someone who could have been huge, had the world only listened to his amazing talent.

so while this is ostensibly a history of the music of dave stafford, there were times when dave stafford just stepped back and played a supporting role, and played that 20 second long guitar solo, so he could experience and enjoy the most remarkable pop music I’ve ever had the honour of working on in my entire life – what an experience!

hold on to your seat, holding and stafford are one thing, but ted holding live at the helix high school choir concert, with electric full band (including myself on lead guitar) – is another. studio tapes of two holding originals show a remarkably developed compositional and performance sense, far beyond our 16 years of age…following that, in an improvisational context, we will then hear ted ripping it up on the hammond organ, and the arp omni string synthesizer, playing with the speed, chops and musical skill equal to any of the prog greats – ted’s organ playing on the “holding, stafford and corriere/morgan” recordings is truly out of this world…

I can’t wait! I am really excited about these recordings… the first ones are up now if you are curious.

~~~~~ happy birthday ted (and ken!) – you are on the internet at last; and the rest of your music will be heard… ~~~~~

piano-based music

I’m mostly known for my guitar music, but, both the archival piano music that is set to appear on the dave stafford / pureambient blog audio companion page, and a series of piano recordings that will become part of the new stafford / orsi project, will change that perception, I hope – while piano hasn’t been my prime focus in more recent years, I still love to play and I think, unfortunately, that most of my piano work has gone completely unnoticed, it’s fallen off the radar (not through any fault of it’s own, as much of it was never released – but I hope to change that now).

so I really hope that by presenting some of the archival work (recorded, luckily, when I was at the height of my keyboard prowess) and some of the current work as well, that I can change this perception for the better, and show and demonstrate a better balance between guitar-based work and keyboard-based work.

there was a time when I would have spent probably double or triple the time I spend playing the guitar, playing the piano instead.  this would have been all through my teenage years, and especially from about 18 to 21 years of age (the early 1980s) – at that point in my life, I just played piano all the time.

all the practicing paid off, I had a pretty fluent piano vocabulary, with my speciality being the long arpeggio – as many as six octaves sometimes, as well as tricks such as running four octaves and then nailing a single root note at the top – and usually, hitting it with precision.  if you do exercises and scales like this often enough, you can nail them every time – it’s just getting the fingers familiar again…

I also owned and played a hammond organ for many, many years, and there are a large number of archival recordings of hammond music that I spent a lot of time composing and performing and recording, so I look forward to beginning to release some of these organ works later this year, along with many, many piano improvisations as well.  you’ll hear a side of my playing that is totally unexpected, and totally unlike the more commonly-perceived ambient loop guitarist that most listeners are familiar with.

it’s remarkable to me too, how very different a musician I was back then, with no formal training, badly-self taught originally, but as luck would have it, at age 13 I met a remarkable musician from whom I learned an enormous amount, and that musician was ted holding, who I’ve mentioned before – ted was my best friend in junior high/high school, I spent a lot of time working on music with him, making many studio recordings, live in studio recordings, and even live performance recordings – ted was the pianist, and I was the guitarist.  where ted went and played, I was there to play the guitar parts.

it just worked out that way, but for me, it was a win-win situation, because ted was the ultimate friend – a person with a talent so huge, that I was always in danger of feeling inferior, someone so skilled at piano that when I would watch and listen to him play, I would almost always say afterwards, “you have got to show me how you did that!” and I would make him show me, note by painful note if necessary, until I could play it too.

or at least, something close to it – if the piece was particularly difficult, something like “take a pebble” by emerson, lake & palmer – well, I could play the notes, but not with the clarity, assurance, confidence, speed and power that ted could.  he could figure out just about anything – I sat and watched while, by ear, he taught himself (and later, me) large chunks of genesis’ “the lamb lies down on broadway” album – including all of “anyway” and parts of “lilywhite lilith” and “the lamia” – and at that point, those were, to be honest, some of the most complex and musically developed piano parts that tony banks ever wrote – and ted could knock them off as if they were nothing – very impressive.

I still play “anyway” to this day, and when I do, I send a silent “thank you” to ted, without whom, I would not have got past the first four bars of “anyway” – a beautiful track from side 3 of “the lamb”. I’m not sure, but there is at least one take of “anyway” featuring me playing the piano part, so I hope to, fairly soon, publish that and other similar piano pieces onto the dave stafford / pureambient blog audio companion page.

the piano was such a huge part of my early life, we always had one at home, and then, as a teenager, over at ted’s place, we both played the piano and learned together – and we were like musical sponges, I would learn songs and teach them to ted, he would learn songs and then teach them to me…and our playing improved and improved – mine, somewhat less so than ted, although I did reach surprising levels of proficiency for such a young person – at 21, 22 years old, I could play piano really, really well – later though, my attention turned more to guitar, and as I moved into my 30s and 40s – I played much more guitar than keyboards.  it is only recently that I’ve begun to take a renewed interest in playing the piano; of course, having the right gear helps a lot, being able to run true piano in sonar and have an 88-key controller with semi-weighted keys.

I’m currently reviewing some of the first recordings made with the new keyboard in early february, and while in my opinion, I’m quite rusty, it’s possible that a few takes might actually be useable – I am considering publishing them anyway, even if imperfect – and if I get a better version of the same song later, I can just post it anyway, later – these piano pieces are intended to be the first entrants to pureambient’s fourth music channel on youtube, a new channel dedicated to the unknown, to any and every performance that isn’t part of my main ambient music…so hopefully, I can locate and mix a piano/vocal number to kick off this new youtube channel – ablackboxhd, named in honour of my favourite peter hammill solo album – and the first piece I plan to upload is a piece from the album, entitled “flying blind” – my own piano and vocal arrangement of it – so that seems appropriate to me.

after that, I would plan to upload many types of unusual performances that are not ambient looping guitar or guitar synth/loops – this channel will feature mostly piano music, vocal music (all the things I’m not known for at all, but that I really do) or anything outside “the norm”…whatever that is!

 

 

“the norm…the average – what is this??” – peter hammill

journey through the past – gear evolution – getting my gear together

so as a teenager, I was very, very fortunate, to have been born into the time I was, when prog rock was king and instrumental prowess was respected. to have met and worked with so many excellent musicians, to have learned from some brilliant players – and friends – jim whitaker, joe norwood, rick corierre, and my best friend and the most amazing keyboard player I’ve ever known, the late, great, amazing ted holding – may he rest in peace. to have the time to jam, learn, share to our heart’s content – and just play. all the time! what a luxury – I was very, very fortunate.

and then…life happened.  I’ve been trying to puzzle out how to describe what happened next, and it’s not simple or easy – but basically, while I’d worked an assortment of jobs starting when I was 15, when I was 20, I reached the point where I really needed to work full time – so by accident, I got myself hired on at a place where a friend of mine, jon pickerd (aka pfingsten), worked.

little did I realise then, that this would occupy the next 11 – 12 years of my life, that I would very quickly rise up through the ranks from general dogsbody to running the parts department to eventually becoming the service co-ordinator and second in command of the entire business. nor did I really realise the impact of having a full time job, what a negative impact that would have on music – well, at least an impact on how much time was available to play music.

the first thing I needed to do, was sort out my equipment. I’d bought a beautiful ibanez destroyer guitar (near exact copy of a gibson explorer) from my friend joe norwood (an amazing blues and slide guitarist) with, strangely, a customised pickguard made by none other than my friend and former band mate, mitch chavira, who often was the bass player in the same band that joe norwood and ted holding were in (joe was ted’s brother in law, and they were in many, many bands together during this time) – mitch was at the time, working for a plastics or manufacturing house, and joe had him make a special custom pickguard for the guitar, which looks much nicer than the strange, stock white pickguard that ibanez put onto the guitar originally.

I also changed the pickups, a couple of times – ending up with d’marzio pafs (patent applied for humbuckers) – which are still on the guitar today, some 34 years later 🙂

since I was now working, and had a little bit of money, I slowly started to put together some decent guitar equipment for the first time ever.  during the teenage years, I had never really owned an amp, well, for a brief period I did own a fender super eeverb, but other than that, I’d never needed one, I would usually play through ted’s carvin bass head, into one of ted’s homemade speaker cabinets.  effects were limited too, although at various times I owned a tattered second hand, but proper, arbiter red fuzz face (the same one hendrix used – of course) and the thomas organ version of the vox wah (so, a direct copy of the one hendrix used – of course) – but other than that, the only other “effect” I owned was my reel to reel tape deck with it’s “delay” switch – that I used as a guitar delay! – in the ted rick & dave (& jennings) jam sessions.

so slowly, I built up some reasonable gear.  quite quickly, I realised (partially from a lot of very, very good advice from joe norwood, who by this time was working at a series of various guitar shops – and he would let me trade gear up, it was great having a “pal” in the guitar store, I can tell you) that I didn’t really want or need a “guitar amp” – what I wanted was a clean power amp and stereo speakers.  so I bought some really good quality 12 inch celestion speakers, and two cabinets, and joe installed them for me – so I had my 2 1X12 celestion cabinets, and eventually, I was using an A/B single rack space power amp with them. (of course, fast forward to now, 2012, and I am feeling like I missed out – I want guitar amps – a fender, a marshall, a boogie, a roland jc-20…the list goes on.  when I win the lottery, I shall have at least one of each of these!).

that way, I would use devices, whether that was a preamp (I tried many, including the boogie preamp – the silver one, whose name escapes me) or multi-effects units (I had variously, a digitech dsp-128, robert fripp’s old roland gp-16 as well) until I eventually, much later, ended up with a digitech tsr-24S – a 24-bit reverb and multi-effects unit! imagine that – which was the state of the art at the time.

as time went on, I began to get delays capable of more and more delay time.  after having the dd-2 for many years, with it’s one second of delay, I set my sights on a digitech 8 second delay – at that time, that was the longest time available in a decently priced device (although I found it to be very, very expensive at the time – I think perhaps $240.00? or thereabouts) – but I eventually did get it (thanks again to joe norwood), so to suddenly go from 1 to 8 seconds of delay – wow.  and, you could even loop with it, using the special footswitches.  heaven!

now, this description of dave’s gear isn’t really following a strict timeline, nor do I have any idea what devices I got when…I just know, that a long, long series of experiments, changes, always trying different configurations, eventually I ended up with…whatever I ended up with!  I have broken the time into roughly 9-10 year “chunks” so I can have a point of reference, but after a while, it all becomes a big blur of pedals, racks and controllers 🙂

so ten, fifteen years of trying out different gear, different ideas, until I got a sound I was happy with – stereo, always, although that was mainly for my own listening pleasure – I see no point in having auto-panners, choruses, flangers, phasers, or reverbs if you can’t hear them in true stereo – no point at all.  playing guitar in stereo was rare back then – most players still used the “guitar plugged into fender or marshall or whatever” model that had been the standard for so long – but joe norwood was one of the first to have a stereo rig (with not a guitar amp in sight), and I immediately followed suit – and, joe – thank you!

I never looked back. it really was a case of searching for the right gear for the right sound, and over the long haul, as my playing evolved from regular rock guitarist into ambient loop guitarist, the gear slowly mutated with me – so I ended up, in my 30s, with – finally – some half decent equipment.  about time!

I didn’t have a lot of money, so there were a lot of things I would have liked to have tried, but never did – particularly effects, effects with mysterious and wonderful names, like “electric mistress” or “doctor q” or “memory man” – but over the period of the   “second period of gear evolution”, which I am placing very roughly at 1979 – 1988 (so, age 21 to age 30, approximately), I owned mostly boss stomp boxes at first, starting with things like the ce-2 (my first chorus, ever) and then the bf-2 (my first flanger, ever) – and at that time, in my early to mid 20s, these were like technological marvels compared to what had been available in the 70s when I was a teenager – I can remember being so, so thrilled, particularly, with the bf-2, that I plugged a microphone into it and sang bill nelson’s “uhf” into it, using the resonance control to make my voice sound like bill does on his vocal (note: I just found the tape of this, and while it doesn’t really sound like bill’s uhf…it sounds very wickedly cool – I loved that song, and now, my bf-2 could make me sound just like bill! astonishing technology.

I felt no compunctions about recording vocals through a stompbox – I didn’t know any better – and it sounded good to me!  so I just…did it. now, I probably wouldn’t do that – I would add the flanger after recording the vocal, of course, during post-processing, having recorded it “dry”.  but sometimes, not knowing that you “don’t do that” – was a great way to learn, and I achieved some remarkable sonic highs using these most primitive stompboxes to effect and treat tracks and even whole songs.

following these now-primitive modulation devices, after the chorus and the flanger, came the heavy-hitters – delays.  I went through so many delays – again, started with the most basic one, the dm-2, which did well under a second of delay – but still, a stomp box that was quality for it’s time, and eminently usable – I recorded not just my guitar, but also vocals with it…and then, a couple years later, I was thrilled when the dd-2 came out, because it boasted one full second of delay – and loop – unimaginable!  that was really impressive, and I actually had both pedals in my rig for a long, long time.

then there was the distortion side.  I tried many fuzz boxes and overdrives, and I used, variously, the boss hm2, the heavy metal pedal, and another one whose model number escapes me – maybe a dm-2…I think at one point, I may have had as many as eight boss pedals (why not?) hooked up in a long, long line – I also had a vibrato pedal, a vb-2 (of course!) and I am really not quite sure what else.  always a wah of some kind, usually, a clone of the cry baby – nothing fancy.

I did also at one point fairly early on, maybe even during the “first period of gear evolution” from 1971 – 1978 (so, from age 13 to 20, approximately), a mu-tron wah-volume, which was a very modern device, it was pretty cool.  I have no idea what happened to it! I do remember using at one very good live recording session with my friend rick corierre (of “ted, rick and dave” fame), a friend from junior high school who was an excellent drummer – we did several takes of the jimi hendrix song “drifting” which I then took home and overdubbed vocals on – such a beautiful, beautiful song.

mostly, though, I was into boss pedals, the small stomp boxes – they were relatively cheap, very durable, small, portable (although I can remember spending so many hours messing with making them powerable – making sure each power lead was exactly the required length – I almost never use batteries in effects) because back then, you could only really buy an adapter, you didn’t have products like the voodoo labs power supplies that they have now.  so many an hour was spent soldering connectors onto zip cable, and making customised extension plug strips full of adapters for pedals.

if you currently had eight pedals in your pedalboard – then you had extension strips with eight individual power supplies, each with a custom length cable to minimise hum and noise.  a nightmare to build and keep running, but I got pretty good at it in the end.

speaking of pedalboards – well, I will need to create a special edition of the blog that deals with pedalboards, because right up until 2005, when I stopped, I spent a huge amount of time, designing, re-designing, building, and re-building pedalboards.  I learned, and learned, and learned some more – what works, what doesn’t, and so on.  and slowly – the boards got better and better, the sound got better and better, and I made progress. I tended to photograph each one, so hopefully I can create a “stafford pedalboards through the ages” photo page on the audio companion page.

some of the first ones were horrible!  very primitive, I really struggled to make them work, but as I went on, eventually, I hit on a very simple but effective method of making them…in brief, a thin rectangle of plywood, spray painted black (several coats, so it would stay black as long as possible – they got beat up pretty quickly) – double-sided tape – multiple power leads from a single supply – short, custom length cables – and that was that.

so when I think of this decade, I think of slowly improving gear (and consequently, slowly evolving and improving sounds…) and a lot of hard work, designing pedalboards to handle whatever the latest technology was…routing considerations…cables, cables, cables, I used to make all my own cables so there would not be one inch of unneccesary cable in any of my boards – so that was hours of work in itself, and I became quite adept at making cables.

as time went on, better power supply options appeared, better routing options – better switching options – so it would be, ok, first, we have this a/b switch, so there can be two paths within one pedalboard – genius!  maybe one for the distortions and the modulators, and one for the reverb – or some other mixtures – like having two pedalboards on one, that you could switch back and forth between.  and then, a couple years later, another miracle product – the a/b/c switch – wow, three paths, really useful.  and for the rack mounted effects, special 3-switch digitech prorietary switches (I had two of them on my board, with 3 switches each) so I could control my rack devices from the floor…heaven.

of course, it wouldn’t be until the “third period of gear evolution” roughly 1989 – 1998 (from age 31 to 40, approximately) that we had things like dedicated MIDI pedals, when we then got complete control of rack devices, but, whatever the method, I was always the king of the pedalboard, because I wanted the flexibility of sound, and it was critical that both hands were free…

journey through the past – on the way to 21 and beyond

in trying to mentally catalogue all the bands I was in and projects I worked on during this time, it continually amazes me because I think I am done listing them, that I have listed them all, and then yet another comes to mind – of course, on the web site, I do mention “slipstream” * – a covers band I was in when I was about 20 or 21 (so, 1978 -1979) but, also in my early 20s, I was in a band with my friend michael dawson, a bassist who also plays many, many other instruments – he excels at bass, flute, sax, piano – we had met in a record store a long time ago now, both being very much into prog, so we formed this band – and it was a bit different from most of the bands i’d been in, because I picked some of the material – we played roxy music; “love is the drug” and talking heads; “psycho killer” – it was a trio, bass, guitar and drums, and is yet one more example of a band that I was in, for some period of time – and then maybe the drummer would quit, so I would move onto the next band or project…

*slipstream mark I lineup:

mike packard – guitar / lead vocals

elen maisen – lead vocals

dave stafford – lead guitar, keyboards, lead & harmony vocals

pat garrett – bass

lee walters – drums

(notes: later on, after the first year, we had a third guitarist briefly, but only for a few months – John, I believe – but the above lineup was the core group – also, elen couldn’t always rehearse and perform with us due to other commitments so she is on some recordings, and not on others).

we are hopeful that some live and studio tracks from slipstream will eventually appear on the “pureambient blog audio companion” web page which has been set up, but doesn’t yet have any audio content – we are working on that as we speak…

the dave stafford “cassette restoration project” is of course, bringing to light many, many interesting archival recordings, so once some basic cleanup is done with the digital captures from the cassettes, we will start posting samples of the music that we are speaking about here in the “journey through the past” series on the audio companion page.

I mentally consider that this “learning period” really ended when I was 20 or 21, because that was the time in my life where I had to “get serious” and get a regular day job, and of course the moment you do that, you lose a lot of time that was previously available to you to work on music.  i’d had jobs before, part time, full time, from when I was about 16 – 17 onwards, but once I was 20, I started serious work at a “real” company – and that led to not being able to practice, rehearse or perform nearly as much as I had in the prolific seven year period from 1973 – 1979.  which then, and still, now, I find very frustrating.
i still played in bands whenever I could, it just meant late nights during the week and then still having to get up and go to the day job, but luckily, when you are in your 20s, you still have enough energy to both work full time and play in a band.  or at least, sometimes I did.  so another set of bands went by, I was in a sort of hard rock band, two guitars, bass and drums, and we played a lot of material that was a bit strange for me – the who, ufo, cheap trick, things I ordinarily wouldn’t listen to or play – but that was a fun band, and we did a few good gigs in the beach area – it was based near the beach, although I have no recollection of who was in the band or what we were called!  no idea.

i also think the band with michael dawson, again, name unknown, was during this period of the early 20s…i was probably already working steadily when we met at the record store, and it was some time later that we actually started to play in a group, so I was maybe 22, 23 when we did that project.  I don’t think we ever recorded, and, similarly to pyramid, I don’t think we played any gigs (well, pyramid played gigs, but not their real, prog repertoire) and the band with michael had no repertoire except quasi-prog or things like the talking heads, so we never played any gigs at all!  but whether the band gigged or not, whether the band ever recorded or not – I learned something from each experience.  in some cases, I even ended up fronting the band – and one instance of that would be olympus, the prog band I was in.

this band was formed by an english guitarist and writer who played nylon string guitar – he had a bass player and drummer, and they brought me in to play guitar and keyboards.  but very quickly we realised that I had probably the best voice in the band, the writer/leader couldn’t really sing his own songs, so I asked him if he minded if I sang them.  he agreed (reluctantly, I think) so I would sing these songs, his lyrics, but making up my own melodies to suit whatever chord progression he had for each piece.  we had just two or three long songs that we really struggled to learn, and our drummer had a curious sense of time that made life difficult sometimes.  I remember doing a great live jam of “black magic woman” that was excellent – in fact, there were two guitarists, as well as the nylon guitar, bass and drums, so it was a good, full sound.  I did find myself in the curious position of fronting a very prog sounding band, so I adopted a singing style that was like my own weird cross between peter hammill and fish – with a california twang no doubt added in unavoidably.

i loved it.  I sang the songs with venom, I played keyboards, I played guitar solos using my new digitech dsp128, a great little unit, and we had a blast.  we worked really hard (somewhere, I have some rehearsals recorded) on our original music – and then one day, the singer just melted down.  he didn’t like the arrangements.  he didn’t like what i’d done to “his” songs, he didn’t like the way I sang them (only because he couldn’t) – he basically wanted to get rid of me, get rid of the drummer, and go back to his core three piece of nylon guitar, electric guitar and bass.  so he did.

again, as the “journey through the past” series unfolds, we hope to uncover the recordings of “olympus” and possibly present some of them on the “audio companion” page as the series continues over the new few months.

i was a little bit pissed off about the breakup of olympus in particular, because i’d invested a lot of time and sweat into this band – and then we just break up, without…you guessed it, yes, once again….ever playing a single gig.  the story of my life it would seem!  I was quite unlucky with bands, but, part of that has to be down to the essential unreliability of many musicians – (uh, no offence to anyone living or dead) let’s face it…musicians are not always the most reliable people 🙂

a few of the bands I was in lasted a year or so, slipstream managed maybe two if you count all the different versions – so at least some of the effort, the long rehearsals, lugging guitars and amps and drums about for years on end, paid off – well, not in financial terms, but in sheer enjoyment – even the worst moments, being in a cover band playing a song that you despise, for example (let’s say, an eagles or a fleetwood mac song) – can be vindicated when you get to play a song you love (let’s say, an allman brothers or a steely dan song) – and then, it’s all worthwhile – for that ten minutes or whatever it is, while you get to play the music that you love…

(for a moment, back on stage again, eyes closed, playing the guitar solos from “in memory of elizabeth reed”…)

special announcement – the pureambient blog “audio companion”

hello, this is a special announcement to formally introduce both the pureambient.com “cassette audio restoration” programme, as well as to introduce the brand new dave stafford / pureambient audio companion.

there are no audio files on the audio companion just yet, as we are just beginning to pull them off of the cassettes and catalogue them, but we’ve set up the structure of the page, and there are already some notes, photographs, and so on – we are very excited about the “audio companion” (please use the link to your right on the blog side bar to access this feature of the blog) as this will be a place where we can upload historic audio clips, recently digitised from cassettes, which will be real time examples of the projects, bands and performances dave has been describing in the “journey through the past” series of posts about the early days of his music.

at first, we will be “catching up” a bit, we’ll be presenting some of the very earliest examples of dave stafford music, as described in previous blog posts in the “journey through the past” series, and then as things proceed, we will gradually move through the various bands and cover bands that dave was in, on up into the late 80s and the beginnings of the dozey lumps and bindlestiff.  you’ll hear the struggle to learn the instrument, you’ll hear dues being paid in the form of “having to” perform songs that are not to one’s personal taste, and you’ll hear triumph when rock, prog rock and experimental music are the order of the day, evolving over time into looping, ambient and a host of other very personal musical forms.

the “cassette audio restoration” programme will also lead up to and incorporate the creation of the planned “lost” 1994 bindlestiff album, “longest”, so we are excited that we are moving towards the beginning of that ongoing virtual release – a large number of rehearsal tapes were made that year, with a lot of good music on them, none of which has ever been captured or heard since – so that’s another very exciting aspect of the “audio companion”.

of course, the official releases are all available on the pureambient store at any time, and, you can hear free audio samples of many of the same tracks on the various discography pages for each artist, but it’s our hope that by adding in another stream of rougher, “audio verite” performances captured via the medium of the cassette, that it will increase the musical richness of the standard catalogue through alternate takes, live versions, prototypes, sketches, covers of other artists, even comedy – there is absolutely going to be something for everyone both in the written word of the ongoing “journey through the past series”, but at the same time, in the songs, ideas, and realistic view of an artists’ life – the good, the bad, the ugly and the ridiculous – all presented in the finest digital sound available for free streaming or download on the  brand new “audio companion” page.

additionally, all of the tracks will receive a basic cleanup – boosting levels, removing hiss and hum, but some of the material may be presented in both it’s raw form, and in enhanced form – there is the opportunity to do something unusual here, and I could easily see myself adding new parts, or vocal harmonies, or new solos, to material I, or one of my groups, recorded back in the distant past.  it should be a lot of fun – please come along for the ride !!!

see you there…on a journey through the past

journey through the past – late teen years

it is with great fondness that I remember my teenage years, from 13 – 20, almost always in a band, and if not in a band, recording with ted or others, or hanging around with whatever band ted was in at the moment (he was always in great demand because he could both sing and play really, really well – whereas I was more into prog, so no one wanted a proggy lead guitarist for their band…which was fine with me).  occasionally, I might get up on stage with ted’s band of the moment, to play, perhaps, “fire” by jimi hendrix or something more banal, like whatever foreigner or other pop drivel they were forced to play – but, it did occasionally get me back onto a stage with an audience – always good to keep your hand in!

we really did have a fantastic time, yet, at the same time, we learned our trade, we learned to play our instruments properly, instead of just in a cursory way as it was at first – I made the first leap from age 13 – 15 – at 13, I was barely competent with chords, much less lead;  at 15, I could already play lead and had learned huge chunks of albums by hendrix, cream, zeppelin and anything you put in front of me – so by 15, I had some gained some competence as a lead guitarist.

then the next growth period would have been from 15 – 17, where I was in bands still, but at the same time, learning more about rock, blues, and the beginnings of prog, too.  the final big push would have been from 18 – 20, where prog came in full on, and I started learning king crimson on guitar and van der graaf generator on piano and vocal – a decidedly and radically different experience and repertoire from the beatles and ccr that we favoured back when I was 13.  in 5 short years, I had gone from learning the two note solo in “born on a bayou” to memorising the fripp solo from “easy money” live on usa, or the riff from crimson’s “larks’ tongues in aspic part ii”.

but, it was also, perhaps, the most remarkable five years music had known, and I was lucky enough to be there during those years – call it 1973 – 1978 very roughly speaking.

it was during 1976-1978 too, that I worked with pyramid, a band that actually dared to learn and play prog.  that was mike the drummer, mike the guitarist, and myself. although for performance purposes I was often relegated to the bass role, in rehearsal, it was always two guitars and drums, and I loved the repertoire we had – this was the band that could play all of nektar’s “remember the future” album – two 20 minute-long pieces – an entire album!  our repertoire was varied and amazing, everything from the incredibly difficult and complex “ten years gone” by led zeppelin, to “red” by king crimson (me on bass for that, although sometimes, guitar), we played a mix of rock and prog that was a blast to learn and perform.  and as far as I recall, the only gigs we played, we never played that repertoire, but instead, learned a whole new rock repertoire with weird things like “shakin’ all over”, or robin trower, “day of the eagle” and so on, for our real gigs.  so the amazing prog repertoire, that we worked on for probably a year, never was recorded, never was performed – we just played it. a real shame, because since that time, I was only in one other prog band – that lasted about five months and then collapsed.

it is amazing to me to look back now at this quite brief period, and realise just how many different bands I was in at different times, how many songs I must have learned and forgotten and relearned and forgot once again – cream’s “politician” or led zeppelin “the rover” or “one more red nightmare” by king crimson – none easy to learn, but I was so fortunate, because I do have the “ear for music”, I could usually work out any tricky riffs or problematic chord sequences that my fellow musicians might struggle with.  so we learned songs – played songs – forgot songs – learned songs for one-off gigs, and instantly forgot them again – or worse still, walked into a 3 hour gig with 20 minutes of prepared material

that’s when you learn to improvise, to stretch each song out to 20 minutes so you have enough material – to make songs up on the spot, whatever it takes to get through that commitment.  it was both frightening and challenging at the same time.  luckily, a lot of the music of the time was eminently suited to both being learned quickly and extended to any length – so a song like “southern man” by neil young – easy to learn, but, you can solo forever on those three chords, as long as you might want or need.  so that was one song that I could always bring to the table when a looming gig threatened to expose just how little real repertoire the band of the moment might have had.  very helpful to have all those songs in reserve, to be pulled out when needed.

riff-based songs are useful here too, because if need be, you could just show the band the riff on the spot, start playing it, and they would “pick it up” and just follow your lead.  that’s a fun way to learn a song – just start playing it, even when you know the band doesn’t know it – cruel, but fair – and, to their credit, most bands responded really well, and some great jams came out of that learning style too.

I even tried my hand at putting together a power trio, but it was difficult especially to find good, reliable bass players.  I did briefly, at age 20, have a little trio going – including my drummer pal rick corriere, who I’d known since junior high school – seven long years ago at that point – we played things like jimi hendrix’s “third stone from the sun” which was a great piece to improvise on.  but it never went anywhere, so I would just move onto the next jam, band or work on my own on my own piano and guitar skills.  I began too, to play the piano a lot, and a lifelong interest in the songs of peter hammill began – first due to exposure to the music of his band “van der graaf generator” but later also, his solo albums, where his thoughtful lyrics and absolutely unique voice really resonated with me personally – so I learned many, many of his songs, and I spent a few years learning, playing and singing both van der graaf generator and peter hammill songs, on the piano mostly.  somewhere, I have a piano and drum version of “still life” that I played with zappa alumni drummer tom freeman in 1990, at the “luxury yacht” session (bryan had disappeared briefly to attend to something, so I dove into the track, and tom instantly fell in with me – remarkable! – one take) – I took the raw recording of piano and drums away, and sang a vocal over it – I am hoping to find that recording and perhaps eventually release it – as well as a number of other early self-recorded versions of hammill songs.

…two of which I have just located on the dozey lumps live tape I just copied to digital, so I am starting my small collection of previously unreleased covers of peter hammill songs.

and if I find only a few…well, I may just have to re-learn some of them and play them in the here and now with my beautiful eighty-eights 🙂

journey through the past – mid-teen years – a strange diversion

journey through the past – mid-teen years  it was also during this time, around age 16, that I got involved with christian bands (quite unlikely in itself for someone heavily into led zeppelin, jimi hendrix, cream, and zz top) – but, nevertheless, I was in two of them that I can remember, one, an early one formed again by mike lewis, and then the second one, “soul benefit” when I was probably 16 going on 17 – and both of these did gig quite a bit, playing covers of larry norman, as well as several original christian songs penned by none other than the redoubtable and very flexible mike lewis. I was sort of like the token hippie in the band, the one guy who had long hair, and would still rather play “smoke on the water” than play lead guitar for his pal mike – but I did it because it was work, it was audiences, it was recognition – and occasionally, maybe, it was a tiny bit of money, too – what a concept, gigs that paid. but it was known to happen.

this phase of christian rock lasted for less than two years, off and on, and, again, two good bands with good players, particularly soul benefit, because when I started I was 16 and the bass player and drummer were “older” – 17 or 18 – so it was good to get the experience of playing with a more mature, and better than many, rhythm section. oddly enough again, I did run into the bass player from this band just a few years ago – not long before I moved from california to scotland – mitch chavira, who I learned had ended up owning a carpet company – we had a couple of good chats about these days. but, thinking back now to those formative times – I really had a great musical education, and the secular bands I was in listened to and played the music of the recent past and of the present – beatles, cream, hendrix as well as the music of the moment, zz top, van morrison, neil young (we couldn’t play zappa, it was far too complicated, and you could not learn it by ear easily) – I remember teaching jim how to play the riff from black sabbath’s “paranoid”, we played allman brothers, anything that we fancied – always music with a lot of lead guitars :-).

it was pretty amazing living in a house full of guitarists, guitars, guitar amps, and records – that was pretty much all we had! at age 16, I started spending a lot more time over at my pal ted’s house, and I really think that despite a great grounding and a lot of early experience in bands and learning songs and riffs and techniques from age 13 to 15, it was really during the years 16 – 20 (so, 1974 to 1978) that it all really started to come together. ted and I loved to play music, and we were best friends, so generally, every evening, we would work in his studio – which was a giant bedroom in his parent’s house, downstairs – and the funny thing about it was, the entrance was the window – I can remember carrying guitars and amps and effects in and out of that window continuously, for years – otherwise, you would have had to go upstairs, through the whole house, back downstairs, through the garage to get to the room – so it was just easier to use the window!

and it was a great place to play: a big, big room, and ted, as well as being a pianist, was also into pa systems, and building speaker cabinets, and he had weird and wonderful technology like “power amps” and exotic things like that, so we always had the best speakers and amplification and mixing boards to play through – all mostly unknown luxuries to me at that age.  later, we would stage elaborate  jam sessions at night (some of which, I still have on tape) with either one or two drummers, so we really had a great time in “ted’s studio”. the jamming group was called “trd” (for ted, rick and dave) or occasionally, “trdj” (for ted, rick, dave and jennings) when we had the second drummer. we would just jam, and tape the whole thing, and hope to get good bits.

we would spend hours just setting the studio up, ted was absolutely meticulous about sound and sound quality for our recordings of improvs, so we would carefully set up and mike up both drum sets. on some occasions, I played my guitar through my reel to reel deck so I could use it’s delay – I couldn’t afford effects pedals, so I used my tape deck as a primitive analog delay – that was fantastic! ted by this time had expanded his keyboard ability to take in both hammond organ and a primitive string synthesizer, the arp omni – and he was good. at the same time, music itself was changing radically – progressive rock had arrived – and ted and I shared a love of bands like genesis, elp and so on.

earlier on, when we were younger, we had recorded things like “no reply” by the beatles, or “questions 67 and 68” by chicago – but now, we were playing something that sounded more like prog, with extended organ and guitar solos atop our crazy dual drum section. I can remember learning and playing fragments of strange selections like the intro to “lilywhite lilith” by genesis – although we couldn’t quite manage the actual song! this was a time too, when I was learning a lot from ted, about the piano. he would learn things like the amazing arpeggio that powers the elp classic “take a pebble” – and I would get him to teach it to me. now that is something that I could admire, but not learn – while ted had the chops – he’d had lessons where I really didn’t – and he had an ear as well, so he could learn and figure out quite complex piano parts that I could not…so when he did, I would then get him to teach me how it went. there are still songs and bits that I play today, that ted taught me – that I could never have figured out using my ear.

pieces like “anyway” by genesis (again, from “the lamb lies down on broadway”, which was just out in 1974) or parts of “the lamia” – we both really loved “the lamb”, or the aforementioned elp part – anything he learned, I would ask him to teach me – which he patiently and very kindly  – did. so my ability to play the piano absolutely leapfrogged ahead of my ability on guitar for a while, because I was learning from one of the best – ted holding. and ted could sing – a remarkable talent, and he invariably ended up being the lead singer of any band he had anything to do with – he had the voice. but his ability as a keyboardist was often overlooked because the attention would be on the singing – which was great, but I saw him as an incredibly talented pianist, and I wanted to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could. what this meant was, that by the time I was say 18, I could play pieces on the keyboard that most people would only dream of being able to play – which was cheating, because ted had done the hard work of figuring out those difficult pieces – and then I just copied them from him. but that helped me so, so much, and from that point on, I actually was a force to be reckoned with on the piano – because with my ear, I could also improvise, adapt, alter and improve any piece I learned.

I later put this to good use in 1978 when I was in the band “slipstream” as lead guitarist and keyboardist – I could quickly learn pieces on the piano, so I learned steely dan’s “barrytown” and we played that – but at the same time, since I could improvise, I could play the keyboard with equal alacrity on “superstition” or “in memory of elizabeth reed” – a song where I had the double duty of playing the organ part and the lead guitar part, and both the organ solo and the lead solo – no mean feat for a 20 year old self taught guitarist/pianist. i could and probably will write a lot more about those formative years, particularly the years at ted’s place, where I learned so, so much, both on piano but also as a guitarist, and where also, we had a blast playing music all the time, day and night. I can remember too, ted’s dad, who sat upstairs with the tv blasting every night (because we were so loud, and directly below his feet!) who would shout down in his unique voice…”ted…telephone!”. preceeded of course, by stamping on the floor to get our attention below 🙂

ted’s parents were separated at some point during all this, but they were both wonderful and wonderfully patient with all the racket coming from that downstairs room. but I suppose it was good for them, because if we were down there playing or recording, well, then we weren’t out getting in trouble! so it was all good. we did go out, but not for trouble – one of ted and my favourite things to do was to go to julio’s, a mexican restaurant in san diego that stayed open late, we would play for three or four hours, listen back to the tapes, and then at about midnight say “julio’s”? and we’d be away – which is where I learned to love chilli rellenos and we would drink and eat far too much good food, and stay at julio’s until 2 am – talking about music, what else? – and then eventually make our way home…

journey through the past – early years continued

[…continued from the previous edition]

 

while I still lived in uganda with my family (from 1967 – 1971) we would sometimes take the train or drive across uganda, then across all of kenya (crossing the absolutely spectacular rift valley, I might add) to the seaside town of mombasa, on the indian ocean.  we stayed at a resort called coraldene, well, not quite a resort, but you had a small dwelling with a grass roof, a restaurant on a big open patio overlooking the beach and that amazing sea, and, the best part (besides the ocean itself, the coral reef, the tide pools, the surf, the sun, the sand…and the most beautiful beach in the universe) for an aspiring guitarist of 11 years of age – a live band.

this was the first live band I had ever seen, and I don’t remember much about them, except they were kenyans (since we were in kenya, that made sense) and of course, I befriended the lead guitarist, bombarding him with questions, and learning whatever I could – it’s odd, from this distance in time and space, the strange details you remember – I don’t remember the name of the band or the guitarist, but strangely, I remember the brand of all of their amps: teisco.  now, I’d been reading fender and gretsch and gibson catalogues for a couple years already, so I’d seen amps before in pictures, but never in person.  it was a wonderful feeling, standing up there inches away from the band, hearing them playing, watching the guitarist play his lead parts (I can close my eyes and still see this happening) – this was all on a large, outdoor patio, and after the band quit, there was limbo with fire (more entertainment directed at the white tourist I am afraid) but I was far more entranced with the band than anyone was…

that early exposure to live music really set me on fire, I really, really wanted an electric guitar – which I did get within the next year or so, and I really wanted to make that sound – that lead guitar sound that I’d heard george harrison make, and I was now hearing this unknown african rock band make their own sound, through what were doubtless super cheap imported from britain guitar amps, and no name electric guitars – but, it sounded great to my ears.  the only song I remember that they played, again, so strange what you remember, was their cover of “yellow river” by lou christie, which of course came out sounding more like “della reeba” when sung by a kenyan who was almost certainly pronouncing the words phonetically rather than actually knowing or understanding what those words meant – singing by rote as it were, by ear.

later, as we travelled to and from africa (we had a 3 month break back in california at the two year mid-point of our four year stay in uganda) the family went on a 4-day cruise in the mediterranean sea and again, there was a live band on board, and in this case, I befriended the drummer, who loved nothing more than to stroll around the decks at night playing his acoustic guitar – which he very kindly let me play – I taught him the rather unusual major/minor/major/minor chord sequence to bob dylan’s “lay lady lay” (which was a radio hit at the time) which he really enjoyed. that places that memory in probably late 1969, a world away in time now…

 

so at age 11 – 13, I was beginning to collaborate with other musicians, even if only on a very, very small scale – but, once we returned to california, those collaborations would expand and grow and I would end up playing in a very large number of bands between the ages of 13 and 21 – so many bands that I actually cannot put a number on it, but that was the time to be playing, when you are young and full of energy – so, play I did.

journey through the past – early years

(continuing from previous post…)

when I was 13, we returned home to san diego from our four year stint in uganda, so I arrived, electric guitar in hand, ready to conquer the world with my four chords and my ability to learn by ear.

it was not long before an ambitious bass player named mike lewis, from the junior high school I went to, included me in the line up of a band he was trying to form, which also included a young pianist with long blonde hair and an incredible talent, who later became my best friend, ted holding – a skinny drummer named mike brooks – and that was the first band I was ever in.  all four of us were at the tender age of 13, but we all loved music and loved to play music, so we tackled and learned the songs of the day – neil young, elton john, the beatles – even though I really could not play lead guitar, since I had a guitar and was willing – I became the lead guitarist.  I don’t know if this band had a name, I certainly can’t recall if it did, but it was just the first of several bands I was in – sometimes at the same time – because it seemed like everyone wanted to be in a band, and I ended up not long after, in a completely different band, one with three guitarists and no bass player (there is a photo of this group on the web site, on my artist page) – so 1971 was a pivotal year – finally putting all my self-taught guitar skills to actual work, learning just how hard it is to be in a band, but really enjoying the process – learning lots of songs, actually learning how to play a little bit of lead guitar (oh how I struggled with that at first…chords were one thing…but lead – impossible!) and generally having a fantastic time.

i can remember, in that first band, practicing at mike lewis’ house, ted at the piano with his face completely hidden by his hair, seeming to be shy but not really shy at all – in fact, he actually had a better voice than our leader, mike, who fancied himself the band’s star – bass player, guitarist and lead singer – but ted was extraordinarily talented, and his piano playing blew me away.  I began picking his brain, asking him to teach me things he played – and that process went on for the next seven or eight years.  I learned an enormous amount about the piano from ted, I really did.  I recall too, sitting with mike lewis with our acoustic guitars, because we would have sessions without the full band to learn songs to take to the band – I can remember we played neil young’s “the needle and the damage done” and we also did a lovely duet of the beatles “julia” with it’s revolving vocal…we had a blast!  mike had more than his fair share of enthusiasm which more than made up for any shortcomings he might have had as a vocalist or bass player – he could inspire and propel any band, and he formed many bands – and I was in a lot of bands with him, for about four or five years running.  strangely, many years later, I ran into mike again, who was by then, an inspector who came to the company I was working at to inspect some parts we were manufacturing for his company!  we had lunch – it was very odd to see him after so, so long – same old mike 🙂

sadly, I was not to ever have a reunion with my best and dearest friend ted, I found out recently, that he passed away quite suddenly a few years back, which saddened me greatly, as we were very close friends for many, many years, and we made a lot of great music together. and as a musician, I learned more from ted than almost any other fellow musician – in fact, the only person I learned more from (because I was fully an adult then) was robert fripp – but that again is yet another story for yet another time.

between the ages of 13 and 15, was a time of huge growth for me as a person and as a musician.  my hair grew long and I would not cut it (the style of the day, and the proud badge of a “rock musician”) and I very quickly graduated from the music of creedence, to much, much heavier music – starting with led zeppelin, who were a huge influence on me, and I can remember as I bought each zeppelin album, I would sit and play each one over and over and over, and see what I could imitate or learn.  after several months of this, I found I could play large chunks of “led zeppelin i” with a fair degree of accuracy.  occasionally, I would get to play those songs live – I can remember one instance having the opportunity, at a late night jam session, to play “communication breakdown” with one of my favourite bassists – he sang and played bass, and I got to play guitar and try to play that amazing solo.  I am sure my version was nothing as good as jimmy’s, but, it was pure joy to play zeppelin songs – with abandon.

i can remember another jam session where I was one of two guitarists and we did “little wing” by jimi hendrix, and that was like a dream come true too – I love playing hendrix, so to be able to do so with a band (instead of on my own, in my room, in rehearsal) was another cause for celebration.  I did an ok job, although being very young, of course there were all these “older” guitarists (like, 17, 18, 19 years old) that could blow me away with a feather, but I just kept going, and gradually, I acheived a modicum of ability.

at 15, I left home and moved in to a house with three other guitarists – and all we did was play guitar – sometimes all four of us at once!  I learned a lot living at that house, with another good friend of mine, jim whittaker.  jim had been my neighbour earlier on, when I was about 17 (and he was a bit older, maybe 21) and we’d played guitar together for a few years at that point – so I moved in with jim and his pals, don and darrel – and we proceeded to have the time of our lives.  there were three big dogs in the house, one of which was mine, so it was always a fun house – and we had a “guitar room” – and that was were it all happened.

so we would sit at night in the living room, and listen to the music of the day.  the two records that really knocked me out at this point in time were “tres hombres” by zz top and “apostrophe” by frank zappa.  we could not believe how good these players were, and “tres hombres” in particular got a lot of airplay.  I would say, none of us could play anything from either of those albums – so we weren’t that good yet.  we played what we were capable of – but I will tell you, it was a great place to hang out, because each of us brought something to the table – jim would teach me songs or riffs he had learned, I would teach him songs or riffs I had learned, and all four of us would play at whatever skill level we were at.

the guitar I had at this time was a fender jaguar, which became very fashionable later on, but it was a great little guitar and I really loved it.  I never, ever owned an amp (couldn’t afford one) so was always borrowing someone else’s amp (usually, jim’s, he was generous to a fault and I really owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his kindness and his unswerving friendship – he looked out for me like a little brother).  he had a few amps, so I would use one of his.  I do remember at one point I actually did own an amp, a fender super reverb, but I think it blew up or something – not sure, so I always seemed to be without my own amplification…

meanwhile, hanging out at ted’s place later on, I would always play through bass amps or whatever was lying about – I didn’t really buy my own amps, because I was often broke – until I was about 20 and needed to have one so I could play in the covers bands I was in then.

 

~ to be continued ! ~

journey through the past – earliest memories

I’ve been meaning to start this blog for a long, long time, but I have felt, until this year, that the music had to take priority – and there was a large amount of work to be done over the past few years, rebuilding the web site and all the related work, getting my back catalogue digitised and uploaded, and so on… well, I needed to finish those tasks before I could stop and take the time to work on the blog.

2012 is maybe going to be a little different, I am hoping to produce a lot of new music, on video and in the studio this year; that goes without saying, but at the same time, this blog presents an opportunity to look back at my earliest musical experiences and influences as well as the current work.

rather than try to create a sequential history, which would probably be impossible anyway, I think what will work best is if I present this historical information in certain special editions of the blog, and for lack of a better title, I’ve borrowed one of my favourite neil young song/album titles – journey through the past – to represent those historical episodes.  this is the first of many posts that will look back at my memories, experiences and influences in detail.

here we go then!

my earliest memory of music is not really a memory but something that I was told later, I had a great, great love of records and the record player as a very small child, and I could not get enough of the children’s records I had.  I was born into the vinyl era, so vinyl is what I grew up with, but even as a very, very young child (i am told) I would insist that certain records be played over and over again – once was not enough – and I still to this day do exactly the same thing: if I like a piece of music, I might well play it over and over and over, but now, as an adult, the reasons for that are more complex than pure enjoyment – sure, it is enjoyment, but now too, it’s also the undeniable fact that each time you listen to a piece of music, you hear things that you may or may not have heard the last time you listened to it.

your perception of the piece changes.  you hear nuances, you hear details maybe, by listening in headphones that you would miss if you listened on speakers (and that is an entire other conversation that we will have at some point – listening) but for me, even the most familiar music can suddenly reveal a hidden beauty or unnoticed detail on my 300th listen.  stranger things have happened…

so from a very early age, records held a particular fascination for me, and I came to regard them as a hugely important part of life, without records, without music – life would be dull indeed!

the next memory is an actual memory, and a very vivid one – I can see the room still in my mind’s eye, I can see the piano at the back…but this is where it gets a little hazy, because I don’t know how old I was, my memory says “four” but it could have been earlier or later.  one of two possibilities here: either my parents took us to see the movie “exodus”, or, they had the soundtrack.  one way or another, I had heard this music…then, I walked up to the piano, and picked out the melody of “the theme from exodus” with frightening accuracy.  the music had obviously imprinted itself on my young mind, and it obviously stuck there, because I could “hear” the melody in my head, so it was just a case of picking out the right notes, which were easy to find.  I remember struggling a little, not quite knowing how to find the notes, then, finding them and knowing I was doing it “right”…

my parents were quite shocked by that, they realised what had happened, and unfortunately, I don’t know if that happened when I was 2, 3 or 4 years of age, or possibly a little older – but strangely, I can remember that exact moment, of sitting there at the piano, hearing the piece in my head, and then finding the notes that represented the melody.  I can even remember that I had to try different notes in order to find the right sequence, but the internal memory of the piece was so strong, that it was not a problem to pick out the melody – I just worked on it until it sounded right, and that was that.

of course, it wasn’t until many, many years later, that I realised I have what they call “an ear for music”.  now that’s a strange turn of phrase if there ever was one, but I suppose it’s as good as any way to describe it…photographic memory isn’t quite right, because it’s nothing visual, so “ear” makes sense – I hear a melody, and without any lessons or training or any idea of the real mechanics of playing that melody – I can just “pick it out” of the air, using the memory of the melody as my guideline.

this was a most useful talent to have as a young teenager, because I could learn songs without having to go through the labourious process of learning the piece through convential means (like lessons, or using chord books – although I’ve used a bit of both of those over time as an adjunct to the “ear”) – I could just do it by how it sounded – I could put on a record, and play along on my guitar – and just figure out the right chords and melodies to play.

going back to the earliest times for one more moment though, I do remember playing the piano quite a bit as a very young child, I loved to play it, but my parents did not immediately give me lessons – they just let me play.  and as I grew older, I found I could pick out more complex melodies, although there is absolutely a limit to how complex a piece can be and me still be able to “pick it out” – obviously, it works with music that is simple, but for example, if you played me “toccatta & fugue in d minor” by johann sebastian back, ok, I could probably pick out a few of the melodies right enough, but I would not be able to pick out all the parts – so extreme complexity, or extreme speed, defeats the “ear” – it’s not a perfect tool by any means (i wish it was!).

later on, when I was a bit older, my parents decided to give me some piano lessons, which was a very curious experience for me.  I loved music, I loved playing the piano, but…i was not interested in the lessons.  I tried, I really did, but I just didn’t “get” the whole process. first of all, why would you want to play all those duff, boring songs that inhabit so many beginning piano books?  why would you want to play any song that you…did not know and did not love?  so that was the first hurdle, having to try to play a song I had not “heard” – was just a struggle, and even if I learned it – unrewarding, because I didn’t “know” if I was playing it right, because I had no mental “version” to compare it to.

it became clear that lessons held no interest for me, I would rather go outside and play than be forced to learn “aloha oe” or “love me tender” arranged for idiot piano.  so the lessons were abandoned, and I returned to the world of learning piano by ear. I taught myself, slowly, note by note, chord by chord, but as much as it pains me to say it, I learned far more working on my own than lessons ever taught me.

later on, as my interest shifted to the guitar, I learned all my guitar chords, including sevenths and ninths and thirteenths and flatted fifths and so on – and then went back and reverse engineered them so I could play them on the piano – so learning the guitar enabled me to vastly improve what I was teaching myself on piano – and from then on, the two reinforced each other – everything I learned on one, I would replicate on the other (as much as possible, obviously) so that had a great leapfrog effect.  I also began to work with and understand music theory, oddly enough, learned completely by understanding chords.  but I will touch on that later on in the story…

at this point, I am going to jump forward from age 2 – 4 and those early piano melodies, to age 9, when music arrived for me in a very definite form: the beatles.  as a nine year old boy, while teenage girls were screaming about how cute the beatles were, I was glued to my tv set, watching george harrison play lead guitar and sing – and trying to understand how on earth he could do that.  the beatles’ music just nailed me to the wall, it was undeniable – rock and roll, but also, beautiful melodies and amazing vocal harmony – all of it just blew me away.

so at nine, I had my first musical ambition – to be george harrison.  if I am honest, I have never really stopped wanting to be george – because he is one of the most sublime guitarists in the world – who also introduced me (and a few million other people) to indian music, and george’s influence, while not possibly audible in most of my music, is nonetheless utterly undeniable.  I thought he was the best guitarist in the world, and in some ways, I was right about that – sure, later, people like hendrix arrived, who broke down a lot of barriers and amazed people like the beatles and george – and interestingly, george learned from jimi and jimi learned from george – but, especially as a slide guitarist, in some ways, george was always the best slide player (even a cursory listen to “all things must pass” or “living in the material world” or even the “imagine” album by john lennon – because he just did what was necessary, without fuss – he got in and played his solos, and got back out again – but I can remember watching him on television and being absolutely confounded by how difficult the riffs he played were, and how on earth could he sing while playing them?  fantastic.

that was my first introduction to the division of attention exercise which was to torment me many years later in the hands of fripp! so an obsession with the music of the beatles began, at age nine, and continues to this day.  I owned four beatles albums at age 9, of course, I learned many years later that those were not the “real” beatles albums, but instead, the capitol u.s. versions – but that was ok, because that then gave me the chance as an adult, to obtain and understand the real, british catalogue – so at last, I heard those albums as intended, sequenced as intended, and so on.

the other event that occurred when I was nine was I was given my first guitar.  and I did try to play it, but without lessons and without any other guitarists to guide me or teach me, I struggled mightily with it.  I think I learned a few chords from a book, and tried to play a few songs, but I also believe that at that age, I was just not quite ready to play seriously.

another quick fast forward, and now, at age 11, I am living near mityana, uganda with my family (my parents were teaching on a special us aid program that brought modern education to east africa – and my time in uganda will need to be the subject of another blog series entirely!) – by now, I had learned the basics, a few chords – three, I think, with a few others that were just too hard to make (like b7 !) – and I could play simple songs on my acoustic.  at some point when I was either 11 or 12, I asked for and got my first electric guitar and amp – a no name semi acoustic hollow body electric, which I brought home to san diego when I was 13 and used in my first bands.

having an electric guitar, well, that made me work much harder, to try and learn the songs of the day, but my technique and ability remained fairly limited – until I finally met another guitarist, a guy called bob martin (another child of another expat american family living in uganda who lived at the same college that I stayed at during the week for school – makerere university in kampala) – and he taught me something that changed everything – he taught me my fourth chord – but not just any chord – it was e major.  which of course is maybe the single most used chord in rock music – and, it featured in many of the songs that were then popular.  bob also had all the latest records from america, which he kindly played for me – he had a brand new record called “led zeppelin ii” (so that places this at 1970, I would have been 12 years old then), as well as an album by “the guess who” – these records were mind blowing in their guitar complexity!  I was very taken with them, I remember listening with great excitement to jimmy page’s amazing riff in “living loving maid” and thinking “how is that even possible?”…

so for some reason, at age 12, learning that fourth chord, the “rock” chord, opened the real floodgates.  suddenly, I could start to learn, by ear, rock music.  no more chord books, no more learning songs that I didn’t really know but were just in a book – I could learn the music I loved!

and that was it.  if I wanted to learn it, I would just play the single over and over and over on my portable philips record player – play along on my electric or acoustic guitar, and I could learn these songs!  creedence clearwater revival was just getting big, and their songs were just right for someone of my age and experience, so along with the music of the beatles, which I had always tried to play, I could add, eventually, ccr, tenative attempts at led zeppelin songs, and a host of others, to my growing repertoire.

this is why, when I look back now, that I place two critical events at two certain times: age approximate 4 (which I suspect but cannot prove may have been as early as 2 or as late as 5) when I began playing the piano, and age 13, when I really started to play the guitar seriously (despite having a guitar since age 9, I really didn’t learn much until I was 12 or 13) – so those are definitely two musical landmarks in the musical life of dave stafford.

~ to be continued ! ~