Thursday, January 26, 2012

J.T. & The Rowdy Band

The Day My Les Paul Disappeared

Playing With The Rowdy Band At Hickam AFB

It's May, 1980, five months of being at Ducky's, part of Susan Luke and the White Stallion Band.  I think I said before - being in Susan Luke's band was torturous, and, the only reason they hired me was because I was no threat to anybody.  So, J.T. Cardens comes in and offers me a job in his band, he says he cannot guarantee me 5 nights a week like I'm doing at Ducky's, but that he's working on it.  At first, he said he wanted a harmonica player who also played banjo - I did both, so I was just what he was looking for.  Shortly after I got into the Rowdy Band, he decided to lose his lead guitar player, asked me if I thought I could handle that job, I said, "Yeah, of course".  So, it was J.T. on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Tom Bridges on drums, "Mohair" Lee Spells on bass, and me on sort of lead guitar.  I was still very green, and played a Les Paul - not known to be a country guitar.  J.T. would take me to his house and play all these old songs by guys like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings - all the old timers who played real, traditional county music, and a couple who were doing the country outlaw thing.  He would tell me to learn the guitar style of each guy's music, so I did.  We spent two years playing all the military clubs on Oahu, along with some festivals and private functions - working 6 & 7 nights a week, and sometimes doubles on the weekends.  Didn't take long to get a good following, as we were the only band who wasn't poisoned by the current pop sound, and we were not going to be like everybody else - claiming to be country bands, but playing 90% rock & roll.  A few months into our day, we lost Mohair, he got into a scuffle with some Samoans, and they beat him pretty bad; after that, he decided to get out of music.  Replacing him was T. Taylor.  Also a few months into our day, some wiseguy walked off with my Les Paul and my $900 Gold Star 5 string banjo when I wasn't looking.  We had a gig that day - in fact it was the one above - the top photo - right after that is when my guitar grew feet and walked away.  So, I ran home and got my Telecaster, which I'd bought a couple years earlier, but never played it before that day.  It was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time, and I've been playing Telecasters ever since.  Sure would like to have the Gibson back, though.  After about two years of making the rounds in Hawaii, J.T. called us all to his house, to ask us if we wanted to move to Nashville - saying "We're much too good a band to stay here, and much too good a band not to work in Nashville".  Little did he (or any of the rest of us) know that nobody gets paid to play in Nashville, it's where you go to try to get "discovered" - at least that's the way it was back in those days (nowdays you don't get paid to play there, AND, nobody gets discovered in that ghost town).  So, off we went, lock, stock, barrel, arms, legs, and everything else.  We took a month off to spend time with our families, then were to meet in Nashville on a certain date.  My wife at the time was 8 months pregnant, T had 4 kids (ages 8 - 16), and took an early retirement to go to Nashville with this band, and Tom got out of the Army early, all so we could make our big move.  J.T. was a retired Navy officer, his pension took good care of him and his wife.  Well, wouldn't you know it, after one short road trip to Sault St. Marie, Canada, and two weeks in Nashville, J.T. decides, "I do not want to go on stage anymore".  The rest of us were flabbergasted.  There we all were in Nashville, the middle of winter, no jobs, nobody in town hiring, T with his 4 kids, and me with my 8 month pregnant wife, none of us with a penny to our name.  T finally landed a job working on big rigs, and my wife and I went to Bryan, Texas, to stay with a friend of my wife's until we could get on our feet.  Took us 33 hours to go 700 miles in the worst blizzard you could imagine - down south where nobody was ready for it.  There was one time when we were driving on a steady downhill grade - seemingly for miles - on the ice and snow - bald tires on our old 67 Chevy Impala.  After hours and hours of crawling as slow as we could, about midnight, the car just nicely spun out into a snow filled ditch.  Nobody around, until a tow truck finally showed up.  They came over and said "25 bucks'll get ya out".  I told them I didn't have $25, but I would gladly send it as soon as we got to Texas.  Imagine our shock when they just silently drove away.  Took me about 2 hours, but I finally dug the car out.  This was in Arkansas - to this day I have a bad taste in my whole body for that place.  Anyway, drummer Tom moved back to California to stay with his mom & dad.  We all took a beating for all that happened, but in the two years I spent in that band, I learned lots of valuable stuff - the beginning of my guitar style, learning a bunch of those old country songs, how to be in a band, how to front a band (by watching J.T.) - and that there is nothing like a Telecaster if you're gonna play country music.  In spite of what happened at the end, we had lots of fun times.

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Playing Some Rowdy Bluegrass

This Is J.T. & The Rowdy Band On Stage

Leaving For Nashville

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Let's Talk Basketball For A Minute

Kaimuki High School's senior varsity basketball team in 1973, number 20, let's talk about that guy.

In the first pre-season tournament, #20 was scoring 25,29,33, and 35 points a game - and this was against the bigger ILH (private school) teams, Kaimuki was in the OIA (the public schools) division.  Number 15 was Rodney Loo, exceptional ball handler, very poor sportsman, and a very poor loser.  Well, after that first pre-season tournament, #15's dad says to 16 year old Rodney, "If you want to be the scoring champ this year, you're gonna have to keep the ball away from #20" - this was from an admission directly from #15's dad a few years after high school.  Well, #15 did a great job of doing that for the whole rest of the season.  He would hang onto the ball no matter how many defenders were on him, and when he did pass, he'd be right there demanding the ball back.  Kaimuki's coach, Stanley Taguchi, easily the worst basketball coach I've ever seen, sits by and lets all of this go on.  #15 would take wild shots - from 25 & 30 feet out, with 2 or 3 guys all over him, while his teammates would be standing under the basket all by themselves.  #15's final scoring average ended up at 21.something per game, #20's ended up being 17.5 per game.  Most of #20's points were on offensive rebounds, and ocassionally when the other guard, Bert Ayabe - would get him the ball.  Kaimuki, potentially one of the top 3 teams in the whole state - end up in 4th place in the OIA East Division.  Rodney and I could have been an unstoppable force that year, but instead, it was Rodney Loo, with the help of one of the most inept basketball coaches I've ever seen (Stanley Taguchi), who handed over game after game, putting Kaimuki in 4th place in their division, instead of being in the State Tournament.  In case you missed it, #15's name is Rodney Loo, #20 is Lee Jones, of the 1973 Kaimuki Bulldogs.

There's more, Larry Jones, #20's dad, had some enemies in that town.  The referee association that referee'd the High School games, had a grudge against him - for being outspoken on their horrid tactics while refereeing the games.  The worst thing was that they were "The most whistle happy bunch of blockheads I've ever seen" - quoted from Larry Jones' "Hawaii Sports Magazine".  The high school games - consisting of four 8 minute quarters, and a 15 minute halftime, would last two hours on average - with a whistle blown on every play.  One of their favorites was, "#20 you (that's pidgin for "you're") reaching" - REACHING???  I'm pretty sure there are no rules against "REACHING" in any rulebook that exists.  Well, #20 shows up with a new move - fake one way, fake the other way, then go back the first way - #20 leaves guys standing out there many times.  So, in order to show Larry Jones, the following week, after the referees' weekly meeting, the first time #20 uses that move, they call him for "travelling".  Ok, so, next opportunity, #20 uses the move again - travelling.  So, third time, #20 looks at the ref, and says, "Watch my right foot" - instant whistle - TECHNICAL FOUL on #20!!!  What does Kaimuki's coach do - he says, "Eh, don't use that move anymore", and puts #20 on the bench for the next few minutes.  Take THAT, Larry Jones.

So, Pisa Finai (Kahuku) scores 25 pts. per game, Rodney Loo does 21.something, I forget who was third, and Kaimuki's #20 is fourth - with 17.5 per game.  Larry Jones has his Hawaii Sports Magazine - which comes out once a month on the same day every month.  This month it happens to come out a couple of days before the main city newspapers are to publish their basketball All Star teams.  Everybody knew who was going to be on the All Star Teams.  Well, the Honolulu Star Bulletin's Sports Editor - Jim Hackleman - gets his hands on a copy of Hawaii Sports Magazine, sees the All Star Team (which is, again, the same as his), and hits the roof.  One of the sports writers at the time described the scene as Mr. Hackleman throwing stuff all over the office, and screaming, "GET LEE JONES OFF THAT F'N ALL STAR TEAM, I DON'T F'N CARE HOW YOU DO IT, JUST GET HIM OFF THAT GODDAM ALL STAR TEAM!!!"  So, they publish the results with the same other four players, but in Kaimuki's #20's spot is Floyd Jones.  Floyd is not a starting player, scoring average was 4 pts. per game, just didn't do much on the court during the season.  Same last name - to be able to explain away any "misunderstandings".  What Mr. Hackleman did has to be one of the most cowardly things I've ever seen - he wasn't going to face Larry Jones - or anybody for that matter, he was going to punish a 17 year old kid.

This was my third glaring experience with gross envy, and cowardice., and I was only 17 at the time.  I've seen many, many other times since, where it was the same ol', same ol'.  It amazes me the lengths so many will go to in order to take down a person who works at something, gets decent at it, earns his way with it, not to mention revenge.  For me, it's much easier, and actually rewarding, to work at my own thing, than to try to take somebody else down for their achievements, and what kind of person takes out his hatred for a full grwon adult on a 17 year old kid?  I guess this happens so often that there's a name for the former - the "Crab Syndrome", and the latter would be plain, old fashioned cowardice. I've wondered lots - how angry a person must be to be able to scheme - with no other intent but to bring another person down - based on one's own envy.  I'm in the middle of such a situation as I speak.  I've won some and lost some.  So far, it appears that I'm winning this one, and I have to say that I somewhat enjoy beating these people at their own game.  Not so much fun when I get beat, but well, can't win 'em all, eh?

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Sunday, January 15, 2012


SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) has been in the news lately.  Being in the music business, as well as being a songwriter, this directly affects me.  First, there has always been piracy, but from what I've seen, it does not have a negative affect on the music business.  In fact, I think it does the opposite - it helps get music out to the public.  Yes, there will always be those who only want something for free - but we will never be able to stop them.  I believe that the percentage of freeloaders is not significant enough to worry about.

What happens with these attempts at censorhip is, the real intention is not necessarily about what they purport - in this case, claiming to want to stop piracy - the real intention is to initiate being able to censor anything that a person does not approve of, and for the government to get control of whatever is being discussed.  What censorship does is put power in the wrong hands - in the hands of the snivelling and the pathetic - to get control of other people.  If you have ever been on the receiving end of the "Flagging" feature on sites such as Craigslist, you would see the real effects.  You have basement dwellers who do nothing but troll sites, looking for posts to flag - they are able to take any post they do not approve of, and make it disappear - this is precisely the intent of those who support SOPA and other attempts at censorhip.  And, that's not to mention what happens when the government gets control of something.  Plaigarism is already against the law, why not go after the people who break those laws, instead of making laws that stifle people who use the internet.  Enacting laws such as SOPA would be like saying, "Speeding is against the law, so let's shut down any and all roadways where speeding occurs" - it' absurd.

Ha, and how 'bout this one:  Craigslist is against SOPA, but they have the FLAGGING feature (which are one and the same) firmly in place at their site.  Bunch of self serving hypocrites, that Craig guy and his staff.

Should any of my music get out to the public, I would welcome it to be part of what goes on on the internet - including what is known to some as "Piracy".  From where I sit, it appears to me that "piracy" helps promote the music, and does not have any significant negative affect on sales.  My proof is this - you can download for free, any kind of music that there is, but, some sells and some doesn't.  You can get Rap and Britney Spears for free, but the stuff sells like crazy - and the reason is, SOMEBODY LIKES IT.  Now, maybe they are buying this stuff for the wrong reasons, but it's not up to me, or anybody else, to shut down the venues.  I'd be open to discuss the possibility of certain sites paying royalties - the same as radio stations and bars who must pay royalties to BMI, ASCAP, and other royalty collection organizations - so that the owners of the copyrights can get paid for use of their property.

Anyway, for me, censorship of any kind is a bad thing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Rare Exception

Back when I was new at playing, in the days of Ducky's, then J.T. And The Rowdy Band, there was a guy named Earl Hughes - he was an exceptional player, singer, and entertainer, the guy had charisma, looked good, and had a very good stage presence.  I would say he was and is the best all around country entertainer that Hawaii has ever seen.  Well, when I was at the old Pecos (before they moved to the bigger, more popular location), he came in one night, asked me if he could sit in on fiddle.  I'd heard horror stories about Earl - how he was so full of himself, how he always tried to "steal" gigs, always wanting to upstage other players, be the center of attention, and a few other less than good things.  Well, as with any guest who I know is a professional, I welcomed him on my stage, and I did what I always do - I let him to whatever he wanted, and as long as the people were ok with him, he could stay up there for the whole set.  Well, he sang a couple songs, then asked me to go ahead and sing a few, so I did.  When it was time for the leads, also as always, I would do half, and the guest would do half - sometimes me starting, sometimes the guest starting - but always with both doing a part.  He seemed to be having a good time.  After a while he asked if I did Faded Love, I said, "Yeah, but pretty badly", he said, "Well, let's try it".  So, we kicked into it, and he played harmony to my lead part - twin fiddles, and it sounded really good - in fact, with his harmony fiddle part, he made me sound better than I actually was.  Funny thing, he was up there the whole set, and never gave even the slightest hint of trying to steal the show, be the center of attention, upstage me or anybody, and he didn't talk to any management about taking any of the nights that I was working there (not that that's a bad thing - I never was of the belief that a band or musician owns a gig).  I guess it goes to show, when a guy has that kind of talent and appeal, most musicians are going to be so green with envy that they will do anything to badmouth, downplay, or straight up squash him.  Fact is, I've seen it many, many times since.

So, Earl, thanks for that, and I shake your hand for being the exceptional guitar player, fiddle player, pedal steel player, singer, and entertainer that you are.

I don't know what Earl is doing these days, I only know that he was in Alaska a few years ago, I hope he's doing well.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My First Professional "Gig".

From 1974 until 1978, I was an automatic transmission mechanic, I pulled transmissions in & out of cars, 9 hours a day, 5-1/2 days a week. It was the usual, work myself half to death for the owners, for as little pay as possible, putting up with the constant harassment and bullying, not to mention being broke all the time. So, in the fall of 78, I sold all my tools to one of the bosses – who easily took advantage of me by paying as little as possible for them, and went to San Diego Guitar Center with that money, and some that I managed to save over the last couple of months, and bought a brand new Gibson Les Paul Custom, with the red wine finish, gold hardware - it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen or heard. I forget the name of the small music store where I bought my amp, but it was a Fender Super Reverb - 60 watts, 4 10" speakers in it. They made a great pair. I also bought a Gibson SG Standard, to give to my uncle, who used to take me to my school dances at Jarrett Intermediate School in Hawaii to play in the little 9th grade band I was in. I’d Iiterally traded in my transmission tools for the guitars, amp, and a plane ticket back to Hawaii. My uncle would also take me to Palolo Housing (the projects) when was 13 and 14, to play for his family's luaus on some weekends. I talked to him on the phone, he couldn't wait to play some music with me. So, back to Hawaii I went. We got a couple other guys to play with us, but I was so new and inexperienced, that I really didn't know how to run a band, and, my singing and guitar playing were not up to par - and that is a huge understatement. So, the band lasted a few months, and that was the end of that. I worked for a tourist souvenir store for a short time, then was a resident manager at a 153 unit apartment complex for about a year.  Out of the blue, my phone rings, and it’s a guy who is in a country band at a little hole in the wall country bar out in Ewa Beach, says they need a lead guitar player.  I tell him I don’t know the first thing about country music, he says it’s no problem, just come to the audition.  Well, to my amazement, they hired me after just a couple of songs.  Looking back, I realized that the reason they hired me is because I was no threat to anybody.  I had no idea of musicians’ egos at the time, so there I was, in this band, barely being able to play, and knowing the words to one country song – Rainy Day Woman, by Waylon Jennings.  It was a five night a week job, and I was still doing the resident manager thing.  I wasn’t crazy about the seedy atmosphere in that bar – it was Ducky’s Silver Spur, but I hung in.  In fact, the night before I started, there had been a shooting – a drummer got into it with one of the locals, who pulled out a gun and shot out the drummers eye – there was still blood all over the big table right in front of the entrance.  Anyway, I played there for about five months, at which time J.T. Cardens came in and offered me a job in his band – J.T. And The Rowdy Band.  The Ducky’s job was torturous, the girl, band leader, had a fairly nasty disposition, and the bass player and drummer took an instant dislike to me.  The guitar player who I replaced will not speak to me to this day – and this was over 30 years ago.  It was mostly military guys who hung out in the place, there were fights there at least a couple times a week.  I did manage to learn a couple of things, and there were some fun moments, but I was happy to be out of what felt like a dungeon full of seedy people.  My Les Paul and Fender amp did me proud – in spite of my limited playing ability.  There was this older guy – Nick Masters, about 25 years before, he played with Bill Haley and the Comets for a few months – after the original guitar player left the band, until the band broke up.  This guy played on that “I used to play with Bill Haley and the Comets” thing to no end.  He would come in, the other guys in the band would get me to hand my guitar over to Nick, where he would play circles around me.  It didn’t bother me at the time, in fact I enjoyed listening to other guys play when they would come in.  Sometime during that five month period, I got fired from the resident manager thing, and that was the last “day job” I had until the late 90s, when I tried to get out of music.  So, Ducky’s my first real, “professional” music “gig”.  I guess I kinda got used to the bar atmosphere, because by the time I left the place, I was starting to get comfortable.  I never did drink or do any kind of drugs, but the dim light, the drunks, the people – they didn’t seem to bother me so much after the first few months – not sure if that was good or bad, but that’s the way it was.

Peti Rojo

Here's another of my recent music pieces. My little friend, the Peti Rojo, who followed me all the way from Peru to Tucson, just so I'd have a friend - this piece was for him.

Peti Rojo

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Price Of Not Being Hip & Cool

I got my first real music job - otherwise known as a "gig" in 1980.  I was uncomfortable in the bars; I was kinda apprehensive about the people who hung out in them.  Many of the musicians had this sneering look about them.  Most were not on the stages to give something, they were there to take.  I don't know why this happened, but right then I decided that I was never going to be like any of them.  I was going to do my own - not copy anybody, and I was not going to be up there with the attitude of "Everybody look at me" - I never was like that anyway.  As I was around the music world more and more, I noticed that most of them thought that imitating what was on the radio was the way to go, they all proclaimed to have their own "style", but none of them actually did - they tried to play, sing, dress, talk, and even make the same faces as their radio heroes.  This kinda made my skin crawl.  So, after the first couple of years of trying to just be able to play at all, I started to be able to look around, and began to hone into my own way of doing things.  Yes, I was influenced by certain artists - Merle Haggard, Waylon, Hank Jr., Creedence, Eagles, and later, Earl Scruggs and Ray Flacke, but I wasn't going to try to imitate any of them.  I did impressions, for fun, but the more I played in my unorthodox ways, the more I noticed that musicians absolutely hated the way I played, in fact, they hated everything I did.  I worked with this one drummer who would parrot, "You GOT to play commercial!!!".  Well, I never did, still don't, and truth is, I've paid for that a lot of the time.  Other than those 8 years or so where I worked all the time, it's been the case where copycats worked, and those with their own way worked less.  My music wasn't obscure, just not like everybody else.  I watched all the copycats get their shot at the next level, and by the time the 90s arrived, if you weren't doing everything that Nasvhille was doing, you weren't going to work much, and you certainly weren't going to get any music people to give you a second look.  The innovators who did get anywhere were the ones who managed to slip through the cracks somehow - with Nashville right behind 'em patching up the holes.  Funny thing, though, while the Nashville Sales dynasty was exclaiming about how this one was going Gold, and that one going Platinum, I was watching documentaries on some of the more obscure TV channels, with the same guys screaming bloody murder about how "units" were not selling, blaming piracy and a few other things for the dismal sales.  So, which was it, guys, selling, or not selling?  They were cranking out "artists" at headspinning speed - most of which would be here today and gone tomorrow - a glaring indicator that they were not selling.  I remember one time sending in a CD that I'd recorded - it was a Hawaiian thing, when I was living in Hawaii in the mid 90s.  There were a couple of songs that probably would have done ok on the (Hawaii) radio.  Well, I sent it to a few of the local distributors, who systematically sent them back, one who sent it back still in the cellophane wrapper.  I happened to hear the guy on a local talk radio show one day, so I called in, and amazingly, I got through.  I asked him if he was honesltly looking for new artists, and how was he doing it.  He claimed that oh yes, we are ALWAYS looking for new talent - and we do it in whatever way possible.  I then asked him why he sent my CD back to me, with the included rejection form letter saying how much they loved my music, but..., and the CD still in the wrapper.  He stammered for about a minute, then said, "Oh, we have our own machine that does the wrapping", at which time the host hung up on me.  There was another instance, in Virginia this time, I attended a "Songwriter's Seminar".  After the spiel from several music business bigwigs, they passed the wireless mic around for Q & A.  When the mic came around my way, I asked, "This question is for Mr McCarty (Gary McCarty, big time program director for one of the big FM Country radio stations on the east coast), being that record sales and requests no longer have anything to do with Billboard's #1, #2, or #10, can you tell us what does determine the "Top 40"?".  I never heard anybody stutter and stammer the way he did for about the next 3 or 4 minutes.  He never did answer my question, and the mic never came anywhere near me again.  Just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of the mass corruption of the so called music business.  I degress, sorry.  My original point was, that everybody was mimicking everybody else, and if you weren't doing that, then it was going to be a long, hard road.  From what I've seen, all the great people (not just in music, but in all walks of life) were the ones who did things their own way, they didn't care about fashion, being hip and cool, they didn't do anything resembling "commercial", they didn't follow trends, they just did what they did.  Those are, and have always been, the people I want to be among.  There are a lot less of them, but again, I so don't care about the masses of sheep - both on the sales side and the consumer side.

I continue to play the way I play.  In my recent recordings, there is nothing that sounds like anything I've ever heard.  When I upload my pieces to certain sites, there is usually the one section that asks what artists or music I sound like - I never know what to write there.  While I've consciously said that I would never be like anybody else, I think that defiant attitude was just there all along, and I instinctively just do what I do - not really thinking about "being different".  I'm sure I will continue to have difficulty getting my music past screeners and other middle men, but I can't sell out - I couldn't do it no matter how much money, fame, or whatever else is offered, or dangled in front of me.  The good thing is, the internet has opened up many new ways to get music out there, and ya know what, I happen to know that the music biz people HATE that, and that makes me happy :D .