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Saturday, January 30, 2010

My Buddy Guy story

Three years ago I got the chance to interview Buddy Guy. I spent an hour talking with him at his club and it's probably the highlight of my professional career. At the time I was editor of The Naperville Sun, and the entertainment editor said she'd run the story if I wrote it. So I called down to his club and talked to a publicist and arranged an interview.
For years it seems, the stories would pop up during Buddy's January shows that his club Legends was closing, because Columbia College owned the land and wanted to expand its campus. When I went down to talk to him in late 2006 it was no different. We went upstairs to a lounge and had a great conversation. I'd ask questions but I think he'd heard them all before in different ways so when he'd answer he'd end up talking about something completely different. Which is fine when you're Buddy Guy! Usually he'd get into telling a story and it was great hearing it, even if he had told it a million times before, like when he was managing a club in Joliet and Sonny Boy Williamson was drinking all night but would still get up and play no problem.
So since I was there in a professional capacity it didn't feel right asking to have my picture taken with Buddy but I wish I had. He did autograph a book for me, a biography someone had written about 10 years earlier that was out of print by then. When I got up to leave he opened this little minfridge and pulled out a Mason jar with clear liquid--it was Kentucky moonshine. We did a shot together and it was great stuff, very smooth! I felt on top of the world. My article ran a few weeks later, got picked up by the Sun-Times (sort of--I think they just assigned someone to write it) but it touched off the usual round of buzz that Buddy's might be closing.
This year it looks like he's finally really going to make the move a block north on Wabash. I'm going to the show tonight and it should be very special--the last time Buddy plays a January show at the location where his club has been for 20 years.
Tonight will be special for another reason. A group of Slowiks has been going down to a Buddy January show for many, many years now. Frank typically organizes the expedition. Anyway, our brother Jim was at the show a year ago. Jim died suddenly about a month later. That show at Buddy's was the last time I saw him. I miss you, Jim.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Now, a word about the recordings. They're pretty raw. There are no effects on the guitar or the vocals. Not so much as reverb. There are exceptions. My friend Hound Dog made some nice recordings over the years ("Coming Back for More" is my favorite). But the true solo stuff I do, it's usually just been me, some crappy mics and some lousy analog tape gear over the years in some basement somewhere.
Now you may ask yourself, why would I want to work this way? Well, it's not that I want to. If I could, I'd have a kick ass guitar amp with effects pedals and a full keyboard setup and a really nice sound board with cool digital effects and the latest, greatest recording equipment.
The deal is, over the years, I've had to pay bills, put food on the table, braces on the kids' teeth, that sort of thing. I haven't really had money to spend on expensive studio gear. But I have acquired a good Gibson electric guitar, a nice drum kit, some OK mics and my bass gear. This winter I borrowed a nice digital Fostex portable 16-track from Rich, and had a lot of fun with it. I recorded four new songs and new versions of about eight older tunes before the project kinda stalled out.
So, what your hear on ReverbNation are those recordings, plus some stuff from the vault.


OK, if you're reading this, you have to consider this one piece of the puzzle, one part of the bigger picture. I started this blog in tandem with a bunch of originals I'm posting on ReverbNation. You can find a bunch of my songs on there and download them for free. You can also find me by searching my name on Facebook, Twitter and iTunes.
If you listen to my music, you'll hear a lot of demos. Mostly it's me playing all the instruments. That's because mostly what I'm doing is getting the songs out of my head and onto tape. I'm no virtuoso, and no George Martin, either. If I had my way, I'd jam with a bunch of good friends who were really good musicians and we'd play a bunch of my songs and make a really good recording of them in a nice studio someday. But I've found it's not so easy finding the right group of people to make music with, let along your own music at that. Everyone has different ideas about material so you look for common ground. I don't try to push my originals onto the other band members too hard. I'll maybe introduce a new song once in a while and if it goes over well I'll know it right away. If it doesn't, I probably won't try again for a while.
Still, I write all these songs. I don't even really try to write anymore. I read this interview with Joni Mitchell several years ago where she said, "There's enough songs in the world," and that stuck with me. Many years ago I played acoustic guitar a bunch and wrote several songs a year. Nowadays I'll get the itch every few years and just start playing guitar and pretty soon I've got a batch of about four songs.
For me, the music always comes first, then lyrics. That's why it's called music, duh. Usually I'll get a tune in my head and be humming a verse or refrain for a while before I even pick up an instrument and attempt to play anything. A song typically evolves over days, weeks, months or years for me. I'll have a snippet, but I'm lazy. It takes work to finish a song. To some extent you gotta be either very brave or nuts to be a songwriter, because you can't help but relate a whole bunch of personal thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I try to disguise what I'm saying with clever workplay. Sometimes I think I'm being poetic. Sometimes I'm telling a story. Sometimes it's just nonsense.
The bottom line is, I don't care what anybody thinks. I mean, I do. I want you to like my music. I take constructive criticism well. But I write songs because I have fun doing it. And part of me feels like I have to do it. I pretty much know when a song is good and when it's crap--I can tell the difference usually. And I think I've written some pretty good songs. So these recordings I'm posting on ReverbNation, remember, are just the best versions of my songs that I can play on my own, all by myself. They're like pencil sketches, and you have to imagine what they'd be like as oil paintings. Did I tell you there'd be work on your part? If you want to bail, now's your chance.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Well, that takes us up to 2000. In February that year I got a call from Chuck, who was looking for a bass player and drummer to join him and George Joch, a singer/harp player. George had started the Big Eddy Springs Blues Band some years before, in 1993, with some friends at Argonne. Well, I called Ron and he and I started playing with George and Chuck and we hit it off right away. I really loved the material like "Spoonful" and "Sittin' on Top of the World," plus a bunch of other standards that George turned me onto. And I loved the fact he played harp. I hadn't been in a band with a harp player since Dave McGranahan jammed with Suspended Animation in 1982! Early on Dave Jacque made an excellent recording of us, a demo I still enjoy listening to. A couple years later, in about 2003, Chuck thought it would be good to fill out the sound by adding a keyboardist, so I called up Rich and he was in. Rich was already playing with one or two other bands at the time but Big Eddy has never really had a rigorous touring schedule so it worked out. In late 2008 Ron was dealing with some health issues and had to give up drumming for a while, so Chuck brought in his friend, Frank Glorioso. Ron did one last gig with us, my sister Liz's wedding in May 2009, when Frank and George were out of town. That was a great show! It was nice to do a final show with Ron and Chuck's brother-in-law Dennis helped us out on harp and it was fun playing for so many family members and friends in a really good blues band.
Well, good to get all that history out of the way. Now I can talk about the blues and music and hopefully the context will make a little sense!

The '90s: GBP, Suspended II and more

OK, so after a while Nobody Knows just sort of fell apart. After that in the early '90s I played in a band with Paul again. He was friends with this guy Nick who somehow came into possession of a studio in LaGrange, Area 3, that was behind a religious book store. There was another guitarist Sean and a drummer, and Ray was around. The DJ Kevin Matthews did some recording there. We didn't play any gigs but we made some cool recordings, including a couple of my originals, and it was fun hanging around the place. One night I passed out there and they locked the back studio door so I had to go out through the Christian book store in front, and you could tell the book shop owner wasn't happy. That band, called Scarlet Faith, only lasted a couple months.
Later I played bass in a band with another concrete guy, Lance, and his wife, Linda Rose. We played every weekend, Friday and Saturday night, and the pace was too much for me, since Hannah was very little at the time. I realized I couldn't handle playing every weekend night until 2 then going out for breakfast and getting home around 4. I quit after 6 months or so. We played country rock, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Eagles--decent enough music but they didn't want anything to do with my originals and I only got to sing one song a night and they told me what it would be: "Tequila Sunrise."
After that I was in a couple of bands with Ron at the same time. The first was a new version of Suspended Animation, without Paul. It wasn't the same and I really wasn't into it. The new guy John was just learning guitar and wasn't very good and I didn't have the patience for that. He was a nice enough guy though. I give Rich a lot of credit because he booked us a lot of gigs during this time. We played all over, from Elmhurst way up north to the Lake Bluff area and even in the city. Rich was in a very creative period and wrote some cool songs like "Piano Head" and "Peanut Butter and Jam," and Ray was still recording us whenever he could, so that was cool. The band was also playing some of my originals too, like "Sand Castles." Rich leased this unfinished office space in Hillside where we rehearsed. We played gigs to make enough to cover the rent.
The other band I was playing with at this time was originally called Pegasus, then the George Barnes Project, after the guitarist. This was a great, loud, rockin' band. Ron just sang and didn't have to drum and loved being out front. I was having a great time playing bass, and we did some of my originals like "Excited" and "New Way Home." The drummer Bob was a wild man. It took us a while to get some gigs and once we finally did it all suddenly fell apart. My friend Hound Dog made a great recording of us, and I have some old tapes Ray made from this era. As you can see in the picture it was pretty crazy!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nobody Knows 1986-1992

Somehow around 1986 I ended up with Paul again and he introduced me to these brothers, Bill and John Moll from Westmont. Bill played guitar and John played drums. Sometimes Ron played drums with us. We played in the Moll's basement. My good friend Dave Kent was in the group, too, as a guitarist. We called ourselves Nobody Knows. We played popular music by REM, John Mellencamp, Joe Jackson, BoDeans, and some songs we wrote. We got out and had fun playing gigs, too. Like this Battle of the Bands in Western Springs, at the Flyer's Den at Lewis University, and some other places over the years. Not a lot, but enough to keep it interesting. Eventually Paul left and we weren't nearly as good without him because I ended up doing nearly all the singing. I'm OK, I can sing some songs, but I wasn't a good lead singer in a band. But we lasted together a good long while and even did some recording together at a new studio Phil Bonnet had up in Hoffman Estates called Solid Sound. We recorded "Blue Eyed Girl," a song I wrote and made a video of for a project in college. You can watch the video here: Anyway those were good times and we had a lot of fun together wearing tie-dye T-shirts and playing horseshoes and going to Grateful Dead shows and other concerts. Trippy, man.

Suspended Animation 1981-1984

OK, I'll try not to jump around so much. I'll just talk about the first band--Suspended Animation. Your first band is like your first fuck--you never forget it. I had a great time imagining we would be rock stars. I thought we were going to be like Pink Floyd because Paul was a very creative Syd Barrett-like figure and Rich could make any weird sound on his keyboards and we played a lot of original music. And Ray, our sound guy, recorded a lot of rehearsals and gigs on cassette tapes. I loved listening to those. Not long ago he gave me a box of old tapes and I went through it but I had copies of most of the stuff already. I remember the first gig we played, with Dave McGranahan, who sang with us for a while and played harp. It was at a place in Hodgkins called the Family Tree, or something like that. I remember we had a decent turnout but we ran out of material. We huddled in the men's room and decided we could fake our way through Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy" (I'm a Man), so we did. We played a few other places, like this club called the Showcase in Lyons, and some parties.
For a short time in high school a second keyboardist named Bill Small played with us. We went into the studio once, a place called Old Plank Studios in Naperville, and recorded four songs with the late great producer Phil Bonnett. Back then just finding someplace to rehearse was a challenge. We eventually ended up in the basement of a friend, Tom Weber, whose Mom didn't mind us playing there. I went out with his sister Mary for a while. We had a good thing going but you know how it goes. Musicians get tired of each other, especially at that age. I remember times when I was a complete asshole. One time I remember we were playing in Ron's living room and Paul had invited Miro to play keyboards and I just didn't want anything to do with that and I went over and unplugged him from the PA! (Sorry, Miro.) Anyway I left the group to play with these other guys, these brothers Chris and Mike Schullo, I think their name was. We called ourselves The Intruders. We didn't play any gigs and that lasted only a summer. By this time I was in college and I met Chuck Pelkie and played in a little band with him for a few months, but we didn't play any gigs either. While I was gone Paul's girlfriend Maggie Callahan joined the group and Rich played bass parts on his keyboard. Several years later, in 1988, Rich, Ron and me got together with a different guitarist, John Callabrese, and played together again as Suspended Animation (II). More on that later.

Why I play the bass

I'm back! Got the dog out just in time. Anyway, I was talking about Suspended Animation, the first band I joined, with Rich and Ron, back in high school. It's easier to tell the story chronologically, by starting at the beginning. It was important to my dad that all of us kids have some musical training. I'm the youngest of 12. In fact, the same nun, Sister Carl, taught all 12 of us piano at the Sisters of St. Joseph in LaGrange Park! How's that for a story? Anyway before I was able to take piano I had to take violin for many years. I didn't like it. It was the Suzuki method which is supposed to be real good but I only got through like one book and you're supposed to do a book every year. The teacher, Sister Ricardo, was nice enough. Violin just wasn't my thing. Piano was alright. I learned enough. But what I really wanted to play was guitar. So when I was about 15 I bought a used acoustic guitar at a garage sale and went to the library to get a book on how to play and started teaching myself. That's when I discovered the guitar I bought was a 12-string. Boy, nothing like making it harder on yourself, huh? I must have gotten a normal six-string right after that because I remember taking guitar lessons from the music teacher at my grade school, Penny Michor. She was a great music teacher. I mean, I was a couple years out of grade school at this point, but I remember walking to her house to take lessons. One time I was walking and a guy in a van stopped and asked if I needed a ride. When you're 15, you're like, "Sure!" He said he was a roadie for Styx, which was very possible, because J.Y. lived in the neighborhood, or his ex-wife did, or something like that. J.Y. was the stepdad of one of the girls at school who was dating Paul, the leader of Suspended Animation. But I digress. I was going to St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago at this time, 1979-81. Looking back it was alright but at the time I hated it. Long commute for a white boy from the suburbs. I begged to go to LTHS and finally my parents let me. I was happy because LT had a great radio station, still does, and I got to be a DJ right away. By senior year I was program director and morning show co-host with Phil Shrock. Good times. Anyway at the radio station, WLTL, I met guys like Rich and Paul and Ray Hood, and somehow I got asked to jam with them. They had a bass player, Tom, so I started as guitarist. I had picked up a Les Paul-copy electric guitar that I loved to play in front of the mirror and pretend I was Pete Townshend. Actually I wasn't that good. I remember summer of '81 as the first time I jammed with a band, it was in my parent's garage, and I played "House of the Rising Sun." Well, Tom left the group, so I switched to bass. I was working in restaurants so I had money. I bought my Ibanez way back then from this guy Bill Woodward, who I thought was a pretty talented individual; he was really into Paul McCartney. Anyway, that's how I started playing bass. I still play guitar some but I'm still just OK. I can fake rhythm alright I guess but I've never learned to play lead. More on guitar playing in the next post. See ya!

Big Eddy and Me

Hey, there. I'm Ted and I've finally started a blog. I'm a married father of two who writes and records songs for fun and plays bass. That's me in the picture with the big upright, with the Big Eddy Springs Blues Band. I've been playing with them for 10 years now. Well, I should say I started playing with Chuck the guitarist and George (Eddy) the singer/harp player 10 years ago. At the time I brought along my friend Ron to play drums. He had to give it up about a year ago, and that's when Frank started playing drums with us. I've know Rich the keyboardist since we were juniors at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange in the summer of 1981, when I started playing in a band with him called Suspended Animation. Rich joined Big Eddy Springs in what, 2003 or 2004, I'm not sure. But he's great to have aboard and we have a lot of fun playing Chicago blues music by the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and all those great artists. We played a gig last weekend at a VFW hall in Joliet, IL, where I live. We packed the place. There had to be more than 100 people there. It was great. The upright was giving me problems so I had to play the electric, my Ibanez. The upright has two pickups, and it seemed like the main one wasn't working, so I couldn't get enough volume and had to set it down. I sure love playing that thing though. Only I don't practice on it. I only feel like playing it with the band. Well the dog's gotta go out so I'll write more later. Bye.