How I Became a Techie

I didn’t see a computer for the first time as a kid and feel this undeniable attraction to coding or taking it apart to upgrade. No, I became a techie through my first love and that is music.

In honor of #TechiesDay I am writing this post about how I became a techie. It did not happen in the usual route. I didn’t see a computer for the first time as a kid and feel this undeniable attraction to coding or taking it apart to upgrade. No, I became a techie through my first love and that is music.

Some people may not realize that there is a ton of technology in music. Back when electric amplifiers came along, they were very primitive. They didn’t produce much sound and one of the main complaints the Beatles had about performing live was that they couldn’t play loud enough to drown out the screaming girls. (A problem I’ve never had, unfortunately haha). A new field was born, with electronics and the love of fiddling with music gear was the key. The great companies you hear about today: Fender, Marshall, Vox, Peavy, Gibson, they all started out in the same way. Some nerd somewhere was fiddling with music equipment and discovered a way to make it sound better.

My dad grew up during this revolution and he had a great affinity for these things. I still remember the radio he built. It was awesome being able to pull the cover off and see the components. As a musician he was always fiddling with something, trying to get it to quit cutting out or boost the signal.

When I started playing guitar, I found his advice invaluable. In fact, how I became a techie was rebuilding my tube amp with my dad (see picture below). We pulled out the board and completely redid it, resoldering loose connections and replacing some of the potentiometers (pots) for the dials on the front. I took a crappy old amp that I bought for $100 and turned it into a weapon for rock.

howibecameatechnie

Time moved on and those experiences helped me decide to become an Electrical Engineer, just like my father. Even though I would probably be well served to replace this amp, I keep it around as a reminder of the time I spent with my dad working on it and learning the craft.

I learned to love computers and servers, eventually even accepting Software as part of the family. Despite this, it is music and my love for it that made me love technology and become a Techie.

I leave you with the story of one of my favorite Musical Techies of all time: Tom Sholz. He founded the rock band Boston from his basement studio. He got his masters in engineering at MIT and worked at Polaroid. He literally built most of the equipment by hand that was used to create their unique sound and recording their demo EP that got them signed. His story is is amazing and PBS did a great series on him on their website if you’re interested.

Here is one of my favorite songs of this epic first album of theirs.

Happy #TechiesDay everyone!

D

 

 

The Beatles – Beatles for Sale

In the past, I viewed this album as a let down after 3 great LPs. But, is it really?

In the past, I always viewed this album as a let down after such a great first three albums. When I was in the mood for some Beatles, I never once said “Hey, I’m in the mood for some Beatles for Sale!” But, is this album really a let down? It took me so long to finally write this post, I had the chance to listen to it about a dozen times. Each time my CD changer made a new circuit I heard it again. I think I’m finally ready to write about it and have some theories as well.

Beatles for Sale kick off with the following songs: No Reply, I’m a Loser, and Baby’s in Black. Those are good songs, but they aren’t Hard Day’s Night or Help. So right off the bat, there’s a bit of a let down because the album doesn’t have a fast, up beat tune to start it. That comes all the way down at Track 4, Rock and Roll Music, which is a cover, and brings me to my next point.

The Beatles were tired. The constant grind of touring, movie making, show appearances, and studio work for the past two years has completely wiped them out. Who can be creative when all you really want is some peace, quiet, and a good night’s sleep? To wit, half of the songs are covers, which is a bummer after Hard Day’s Night was their first album to be 100% original. This also shows in the fact that Beatles for Sale didn’t produce an A-side single, not one. They were running out of steam trying to make incredible albums as well as put out incredible singles to keep them on top of both the song and album charts.

If you look at the album release dates, they had put out FOUR albums in the past two years. That is a ridiculous amount and it reminds me of stories I’ve heard about child actors back in the 50’s and 60’s, who got hooked on drugs that they used to give them “pep” so they could perform well during their grueling film schedule. Judy Garland is a prime example. I’m sure this is no different, except (as far as I know) they didn’t use these drugs to keep them going. George Martin also had commented that they were weary during recording and it led to the melancholy tone of the sessions.

But is this really a bad album? I don’t think so. After hearing these songs several times, it just has a different feel than previous albums. John and Paul were trying to write more autobiographical songs (see wiki link above), so naturally it wouldn’t be only the sugary pop of previous releases. And musically, these are good songs. There is a great deal of unique Beatles sound in them and often the chord progressions and songs themselves don’t go where you would expect, which is nice.

Since they had to include some covers, in order to make the December 1964 deadline for the album, I’m really glad they chose the American rock and roll numbers they did. So many Americans were looking across the pond at that time to what was happening in the UK with the Beatles and other bands, but they were looking right back at us seeing the unique sound of the American south. Rock and Roll was a very unique thing and I love that they pay tribute to some of their contemporaries that maybe weren’t getting quite as much recognition or credit. Chuck Berry had a large part in inventing Rock and Roll, yet when the Beatles covered his song, it was a huge boost to his popularity as well. And rightly deserved.

As you’ll see in later posts, I have an extensive Blues collection from several different American artists. I feel like this is the true roots to all of the great rock music you heard back then and to hear the Beatles paying it tribute is right on the money in my mind.

 

I’ll Follow the Sun

You have to get deep into the album before you hit this song, but I think it’s incredible. It’s sad and beautiful, with a very positive message. I know this might be a little morbid, but someday we all will pass on. There isn’t a song I’d like played at my funeral more than this one. It points to the impact people have on your life and the fact that time and circumstances separate us all eventually, with the promise of a reunion someday. It’s wonderful and I like this more than the sugary pop songs. It has much more depth and feeling.

Eight Days a Week

Finally! Here’s what we’ve been missing, an honestly to goodness upbeat Beatles song! You have to wait until Track 8 to hear it, but it’s worth the wait. This was released in the US as a single, but not the UK. Weird. Anyways, it’s a great tune.

I LOVE the animation on this video. The 60’s just looked like a fun time to be alive. Reminds me of the Frosty the Snowman Christmas special.

 

Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby

This is one of the notorious cover songs. A fun tune by Carl Perkins, it’s totally George all the way. I’m sure the Beatles could sing this and know from experience how it goes. I like the tongue in cheek way they present it. Great way to close out the album.

 

Hope you enjoyed the post and have a great weekend full of music!

D

 

Aware Michigan – The Compilation CD

One of my dreams as a teenager was to get in a band good enough to play gigs around Michigan. To be part of “The Scene”

 

I LOVE local music. These bands that are often times just as talented as major label performers, but that you can actually see live in small venues and even talk with after their show is over.

One of my dreams as a teenager was to get in a band that was good enough to play some gigs around Michigan. The clubs we’d walk past in East Lansing when spending the day out there seemed so mysterious. I’d been to concerts before, but these were different. You were up close with the musicians and really part of the music.

Well, my dream came true back at Michigan State when a friend I’d met, Isaac VanderSchuur, had invited me to play rhythm guitar in his band, The End. This kicked off a whirlwind of rock shows across the state, late night drives home, crashing on people’s couches, and most importantly meeting other bands when playing shows together.

I was actually part of the Michigan  music scene. Once I got past the “fan boy” awe of these guys and sat down to talk with them they were actually pretty down to earth people. They liked music like me and spent a lot of their time listening to it and playing it. They worked at a music store or guitar shop usually, regular blue collar dudes. Another reason to like local bands, they’re just like you and me. Regular people.

Aware Records (from Chicago) came out with a complication CD of the most popular bands around the state from this time (1997-1998). We didn’t make the cut obviously, but it was great to see our local heroes making it big. If you are interested, they still sell this CD on their website. Really big fan of Aware and the work they do with local bands. You’d be surprised how many big acts they found when they were unknowns.

http://awarerecords.com/discography.php

Nineteen Wheels – Colorado

Track 1 on the CD: Nineteen Wheels. These guys have the most polished sound of the group and the singer has a “rock star” voice. On a side note, most of the guys in this band worked at Music Manor in south Lansing and I bought several effects pedals from them. Colorado, good song.

 

Papa Vegas – Bombshell

These guys, along with The Verve Pipe and Fat Amy were our local heroes. They were the ones that really made it big from “the scene” and were great guys to boot. Papa Vegas was from the west side of the state (Grand Rapids area), so we didn’t get to know them, but their music is incredible.

Dorothy – Morning After

Another band we didn’t get to meet, but liked their music greatly. Dorothy just rocked out. They put out an incredible CD and then just kind of faded away. Some bands do that, unfortunately.

 

Fat Amy – Bourbon

This finally brings us to Fat Amy. These were OUR GUYS. I had hung out with the guitarist Mark on several occasions, once even showing up at some friends dorm late on a sunday to surprised them with a party. So many good times with this band. The singer, Bob Guiney, ended up being the most famous of all of them. You probably know him as Bachelor Bob, from the TV show The Bachelor. Fame comes in really weird ways sometimes.

Bachelor-Bob-Guiney

The good side of this is that it rekindled an interest in his old band and they were able to make a few come backs, which was great. Really miss these guys. To me they (along with The Verve Pipe) really stood for what local music was all about. Super talented local guys who were good people just trying to make a living doing what they love.

 

There are plenty of other great songs and bands on this album. I highly recommend checking it out. And really, I encourage you to go see some local music no matter where you are. These people need your support and encouragement. You may meet some really cool people and discover some unique music you really enjoy.

Never stop listening.

D

 

 

Audio Adrenaline

So what exactly is a Christian Artist? A musician that is a Christian? Not exactly…

So what exactly is a Christian Artist? A musician that is a Christian? Not exactly… According to Christian Music radio stations, a Christian Artist is an artist that is signed to a Christian Music record label. If you’re a “secular” musician, meaning signed to one of the more popular record labels, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Christian or not. You will NOT be getting air play on the “Christian” radio stations like K-LOVE or Air1.

Sound hypocritical? Well, if you don’t believe me, here is the history of the Gospel Music Industry on Wikipedia. This quote in particular, backs up my assertion:

“Christian music is sometimes cited as a “ghetto,” meaning that the majority of artists in the industry are pigeonholed to operate solely in it. These artists are isolated from the mainstream public, to Christian media, including radio, magazines, and book stores. For many this is a conscious choice, however others, not content to stay in an isolated industry segment, attempt to “cross over” and gain acceptance in the general market.”

This speaks to a larger issue that many have talked about in the church, which is treating your church like a spiritual bomb shelter. You are huddled together, only doing business with people in your church, hanging out only with people in your church, and attending only events hosted at your church. It’s very common, especially in today’s megachurches. I’ve heard several sermons addressing this problem, reminding what Jesus asked us to do, which is to leave our comfortable spaces and go out to meet other people who most likely don’t share our beliefs and to share the gospel with them.

Getting back to music, I was part of the praise and worship band when I attended Shoreline church in Austin, TX. We would play to crowds of between 2000 and 3000 people every weekend. It was an amazing experience to perform to crowds that size that were truly into the music.

One of the bands that came through on tour of the megachurches in our area was Audio Adrenaline, the band featured here. Up until that point, much of the Christian music I’d heard didn’t really speak to me. It was slow and boring to be honest. And then in comes these guys, guitars cranked and rocking out. Finally!! I didn’t have to “settle” in my listening anymore. After that I was able to find more bands that I enjoyed, like Casting Crowns, Hillsong United, and Toby Mac, but these guys were the first to really break the K-LOVE mold.

Is it hurting bands that only stay within the Christian Music “ghetto”? I would say no, because they get a ton of promotion and captive audiences that they normally wouldn’t get. Just don’t get mad when I call U2 “The Most Successful Christian Band of All Time”, because in my mind it matters whether you believe in God, not what label you’re signed to.

Here’s my tribute to Audio Adrenaline, a band that I think is great, no matter what their label.

Worldwide

audioA_worldwide

In my opinion, the best album these guys ever put out. It just rocks from the start and continues on with great songs from there. It was recorded in several locations, so it naturally has a variety of sound throughout the recording. That makes for a more pleasurable experience to my ears.

Worldwide (title track)

 

Another great song from this album. Leaving 99. It’s about sheep, but really about us.

Lift

A solid album with a great message, but a bit of a let down after Worldwide. It does have one of my favorite songs on it, Ocean Floor. Nice message about taking your sins as far as the East is from the West. It sounds so much like Oasis, but I don’t care. Great song.

 

I only have the two albums I bought at the concert, so there could be more good music out there. It might be worth a trip to youtube to see what’s new. A musician friend of mind told me a bit about the band, that basically they’ve been swapping out band members like you’d change out parts to a car lately. Just swap out somebody and keep on truckin’. Guess that’s cool, keeping the legacy alive.

Thanks for listening. Up next is a compilation that the end of the A’s. It shows my love for a local music scene that I was a part of for 3 wonderful years.

D

 

 

Alice in Chains

Alice in Chains, Seattle’s grunge metal darlings!

I have the hardest time classifying these guys. Are they metal, grunge, rock, or what? They’re from Seattle, so you can definitely hear that influence, but they tend to use heavily distorted chord progressions that are more on the darker side. Their vocals are extremely melodic, with excellent harmonies between Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell.

I read their band history on Wikipedia, it’s pretty crazy. Definitely worth a read if you have the time. They seem to follow the whole Kurt Cobain theory of quiet > loud > quiet, except they do it by the album instead of inside a song. One thing is for sure, this band always keeps you on your toes.

I had a big block of time when I was just cranking the tunes Friday afternoon, so I made it through all their albums (that I own) in one sitting.

Facelift

aic - facelift

An incredible first album, they hit it hard, right from the start. Man in a Box was the song that put them on the map, with its great melody and signature AIC harmonies. While I still think that is by far the best song on this album, there are many other good ones, with many other styles as well. Lots of variety, ranging from metal to rock, grunge, and funk.

Sap

Alice_in_Chains_Sap

This is my favorite album by these guys. I wish this were more than just an EP, as these songs are great. It’s a perfect sing along album and I especially enjoy singing the harmonies. Anyone surprised by their success later with MTV Unplugged needs to give this a listen, it should have been obvious. The vocals melt together perfectly and the guitars sound rich and bright. Great recording.

The songs on here have some brooding sections, but it’s done in a very musical and beautiful way. Here’s my favorite track, Brother.

Dirt

Alice_In_Chains-Dirt-Frontal

If you ever need a great album to lift weights to, this is it. The guitars on this album are heavy and in your face. I think Jerry Cantrell takes things to a whole new level on this one. The album is produced with mastery, with everything sounding wonderful. There are a few songs where Layne Staley’s voice starts to sound whiney and annoying, but it’s mostly kept in check. In my opinion this gets worse the further on you go with their discography.

I got to see these guys at Lollapalooza in Milan, MI the summer this album came out. They were every bit as good live as they were in the studio. Expert musicians and performers. Even though they got a bit more popular with their next album, I feel that this was the zenith of their musical career.

Rooster is my favorite track off this album. The way the song builds to the chorus is expert level songwriting.

 

Jar of Flies

aliceinchains_jarofflies_sap

Another “quiet” album to follow the “loud” of Dirt. This one added more expanded sounds than just the acoustic guitars of Sap. This is a very good album and it’s interesting how most of their songs don’t follow the usual radio “formula” for song writing. They are a very original and creative band. You can hear more of the dissonance creeping in with this album, but since it’s not heavily distorted it doesn’t stand out quite as much. A nice listen.

Grind

aic grind

This is where I get off the Alice in Chains bus. There are some good songs on here and others that are just brutal. The dissonance of the melodies and the whiney vocals of Layne Staley are almost too much for me on this one. Instead of varying the harmonies like they did in the earlier albums they just keep the same interval for all the backing vocals. It gets old fast.

Here’s a quote from Layne Staley about his drug use and how it was progressing at this point: “Drugs used to work for me, now I’m in Hell.” Really? Like it was a big surprise how this turned out? It’s a story that’s been played over time and time again. Talented, creative people experiment with drugs. They put out some great music and then everything goes to shit, usually with them dead. Well, the expected outcome happened here. He was found dead in his apartment after an over dose. Just need to shake my head and add this to the mile high stack of cautionary tales about using drugs and what it does to you.

Great band, loads of talent and amazing song writing. Too bad it couldn’t have lasted a bit longer.

 

 

 

Aerosmith – Part 2

After making us think they were the best band on Earth, Aerosmith drops a huge stinking turd on our ears, and then redeems themselves in true rock hero fashion on the very next album.

After making us think they were the greatest band on Earth, Aerosmith drops a huge stinking turd on our ears, then redeems themselves in true rock hero fashion on the very next album.

Get a Grip

get a grip

I have tried SO HARD to like this album, forcing myself to listen to it at least a dozen times and “appreciating it”. But it just comes off flat to me every time. What made Permanent Vacation and Pump so appealing to me, is completely missing from this album. What is that, you say? Feeling, raw emotion, and desperation even.

In my opinion, Aerosmith became a parody of themselves for this recording. The mega rock star, commercial vibe is all over this baby. Steven Tyler especially is flaunting his sassy, rock star ego on top of the tracks and killing what was an otherwise excellent performance by Joe Perry. Joey Kramer, who was so great on the last two records was neutered by the producer and recording engineer. His drumming was missing that punch from previous albums.

There are a couple good songs, like Eat the Rich and Amazin, but overall this album just sounds like a record company’s best attempt at making popular radio singles. They did it, but sold their souls in the process.

I have one funny story about this album though. If you’re really into music you gravitate towards friends with that same passion. Abe Savas, who is now owner of the best record store in Kalamazoo, MI: Green Light Music, was one of my “music buddies” in college.

Every time we would hear Living on the Edge on the radio we would laugh at the break near the end, when the drums would come in with this ridiculous amount of echo. BOOM BOOM BOOM. Well, we heard someone down the hall playing this song and when it hit that part we both jumped up and down along with the beat, stomping as hard on the floor as we could. We ended up skipping the guy’s CD player and getting in trouble a bit, but we’ll always have that memory of rebelling against this ridiculous album.

Nine Lives

Aerosmith's Nine Lives

So, what do you do when you go 7 x Platinum, but had to compromise your integrity to do it? Well, if you’re Aerosmith, you break everything down, go to a new record company, and rediscover what made you great in the first place.

When my good friend Joe Bogan told me about Aerosmith’s new album and how good it was, I was skeptical to say the least. I had pretty much written them off as a band. Joe and I hosted a radio show Saturday nights on WQAC, Alma College’s radio station. At first, I didn’t want to listen to it, but he basically forced me to listen to it one night after our show over a couple beers.

Wow is all I can say.  The passion and raw emotion are back, the songs are more complete, and they totally rock. As you can see reflected in the album artwork, they experimented with some sounds from India with great success IMO.

I had a really rough time in 1996/1997. My grandfather passed away, I got rejected from all the grad schools I applied to, and went through two gut wrenching break ups back to back. You know the kind, where you totally lose all self respect and become the most pathetic human being on Earth? Well, I had a core group of friends that I leaned heavily on during this time, people who had my back no matter what. I owe it all to them for picking me up and pulling my sorry ass through it.

When I hear the song “Hole in My Soul” it always reminds me of those great friends. Joe had dedicated this song to me one night when we were on the air. Despite the tough times back then there were so many great times too and I wouldn’t have missed them for anything.

Speaking of great times, this song is quite possibly the best non-Irish drinking song of all time. Get together with old friends and just put this on repeat.

Thanks everyone for going on this trip down memory lane with me. If I’ve learned anything it’s that life has its ups and downs. Music and great friends/family are there with you through all of it. Make sure to appreciate those that are close to you.

D

Bonus Song! This is a GREAT song, but one of the most fk’ed up videos I’ve ever seen in my life.

Aerosmith – Part 1

I heard someone say once that your favorite James Bond movie is always the one that came out when you were a pubescent teenager. I’m pretty sure the same applies to music and these next two albums are it for me

I heard someone say once that your favorite James Bond movie is always the one that came out when you were a pubescent teenager. I’m pretty sure the same applies to music and these next two albums are it for me: Aerosmith Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989). Filled with songs of love gained (and lost), desire, and just rocking good party times, these never get old for me. In my mind, I always view these albums as a continuum of one great project, but for the sake of the playlist I’ll try to break them into two parts.

Permanent Vacation

Quite possibly the most complete album in my collection, this one is great start to finish. So much, that the one real single off this album, Dude Looks Like a Lady, just kind of blends into the listening experience as it rolls past. As with Pump, it’s an extremely rich production experience. It has a bunch of auxiliary instruments and sounds added in to give more depth to the music and it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t distract from the main elements.

Steven Tyler (vocals and harmonica) and Joe Perry (guitar) get most of the glory in this band, but I feel like the main driving force to this album and Pump is the drummer, Joey Kramer. He kicks off the album forcefully and doesn’t stop until it’s over. His drums are mixed perfectly with plenty of punch and just kick ass the whole way. I’m a guitarist, so it really is saying something for me to notice him over the other stars of the band.

I recommend listening to the entire album, but at very least listen to the first couple minutes and you’ll hear what I’m talking about. Joey Kramer, Aerosmith’s unsung hero.

NOTE: If you have high quality headphones or speakers, please listen on those. The crappy little laptop speakers most have will not do this justice.

Pump

What can I say about this album that I haven’t already said about Permanent Vacation? These two are extremely complex and rich. There’s a sprinkling of Native American sounds on this album, which is think is really cool and done well. I think I even heard pipes or some kind of synth among other things on Janie’s Got a Gun.

For as over produced as these albums are, they’re still raw and full of emotion, which is why I think they resonate so much with me. At their heart, they’re still solid blues rock albums that kick out the jams. You can feel the hurt in Tell Me What It Takes and longing in Angel. Even though these guys are mega rock stars, these two come from a place that’s underneath all that exterior.

Well, that’s it until next time,when I continue with more Aerosmith and a review that’s not so nice.

D