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Just because you miss a few notes every time you sing doesn’t mean you can’t be a singer and a very successful singer to boot. If you listen to the judges on American Idol praising some of the contestants they believe can become big stars, you might hear them say, “You were a little pitchy in a couple of spots. But that’s OK, because I believed your performance.” What they’re really saying is, “You look like a star, and you move like a star and don’t worry about your notes, because we can fix that in the studio. We’ve got machines that can tune you up.”
Years ago, back in 1989, I had gospel singer Andrae Crouch demonstrate for me the magical pitch correcting power of synthesizers. He was also showing how the synthesizers can provide the voices of singers who aren’t at the concert and hit the notes for stars who may be to breathless from dancing to sing their full songs. This was just after Andrae and his choir had provided the background vocals for Madonna’s hit record, “Like A Prayer.”
To put the synthesizer to the full test I had Andrae record me saying four words, that’s right speaking not singing the words. Now this was pushing the machines to the limit but he made a song out of it, even if it wasn’t very musical on my part. This was before auto tuning came along to regularly turn people’s speeches into songs. I thought this story had been lost to history and the tapes erased, but I found it last night. And now with almost all records going through pitch correction before they are released it seemed timely to show how for many singers today, being close to on key is good enough. Music and horseshoes, points for being close, who would have thought.
And the first shall be last… to paraphrase. This was the 1st tune the guys laid down at the recording session I was filming last spring and it’s the last one I have left to post. They used the old Freddy King tune, “The Stumble” as a kind of warm up. It worked because they were hot by the end, Hadley Hockensmith guitar, Phil Driscoll keys & trumpet, Bill Maxwell drums, Michiko Hill piano, and Pee Wee Hill bass.
Once again, just as on all the other songs from this session, the guys were playing with their ears, not their eyes, since there were no charts to work from. It was a great day in the studio with some soulful blues tracks laid down. My only regret is that there weren’t more tunes recorded, meaning there are no songs to post from that day. However this was so good, I have no choice but to try and convince everyone to get together again soon and make some more music. Hopefully they all enjoyed playing together as much as we like listening to them.
Musically it’s a short journey from blues to gospel, or as some might say from Saturday night to Sunday morning. They’re both, when good, music you feel deep in your soul, which gives voice to the emotions you sometimes can’t find your own words to express. This connection between the musical genres is fully evident when some of my musician friends in LA recorded a version of Bob Dylan’s, “Serve Somebody,” for me last year.
They had shown up as a favor to me, to lay down some blues songs I could record on video. I’ve called it Boyd’s Blue Adventure session, but it was really up to the guys to play whatever they wanted. One tune, which I posted previously, called, “Case of the Blues” was made up on the spot, but all were done without any written score to keep them on the same page. Instead they were on the same wave-length musically, and that connection is what made all the songs that day work so well.
Phil Driscoll couldn’t resist the opportunity of having these great musicians in his studio to take the blues over to the Gospel side with, “Serve Somebody.” Phil is on keyboards, trumpet and vocals: with Hadley Hockensmith guitar; Bill Maxwell drums, Greg Mathieson organ; Michiko Hill piano; and Pee Wee Hill bass.
The band had just finished making up a song out of nothing, out of thin air. Where there had been total silence suddenly there was music, good music, a tune than engaged you, had you feeling the beat and moving your body. It sounded like a song that had been crafted and perfected over time, and yet it had been created on the spot in one take, even though when it began no one had any idea where it would go or how it would end.
Bill Maxwell the drummer said to Abraham Laboriel the bass player, who had shown up only minutes earlier in time for this last song of the session, “Let’s do a slow blues number. Abe you start us off.” With those words as his only guide Abe began a little improv riff on the base. A few bars later, Greg Mathieson added some organ, then Bill started laying down the rhythm and Hadley Hockensmith began layering in a very soulful guitar. Finally, right on cue, Phil Driscoll began to sing, mashing up lyrics from two or three songs and making up a few of his own. Later in the song Phil would add more texture to the music with his trumpet.
I call this number, “Case of the Blues”, based on some of the lyrics, but as Greg said when they finished, “It’s called the blues, but when you play like this it leaves you smiling and happy and feeling great. Case of the Blues does all that and more; it also left me feeling amazed at the talent of my friends and what they can instantly create from nothing.
I used to joke, “I have the greatest job in the world, but it does have a dark side.” Then I would explain, “I’ve also been bitten, scratched and pooped on by one of every creature at your local zoo.” I was only half kidding, because there is a price the body pays for having too much fun.
While recovering from my third knee surgery I was thinking about some of the fun I’ve had in doing a job my wife describes as, “summer camp for adults.” This year I celebrate twenty years of working at National Geographic, or twenty years of getting paid to go to summer camp as Betty calls it. It has been filled with multiple adventures of a lifetime, and how many of those should one person be allowed to have in one lifetime? Clearly I’ve enjoyed more than my share.
I was also reflecting on some of the costs of that fun. In addition to the three knee surgeries, I’ve had rotator cuff surgery on both shoulders, a foot surgery, a dislocated elbow, fractured pelvis, scapula, great toe, and fractured ribs twice, a lower back injury, a few stiches on occasion, numerous bites, scrapes, and cuts, as well as a variety of infections.
No wonder my orthopedist, David Johnson, calls me his annuity. He really is a good doctor and he’s worked miracles with this beat up old body. He also has a good sense of humor and reviews some of my MRI’s and surgery films for a little musical history of a few of my adventures in the field that have led to adventures in hospitals and recovery rooms.
The music is a blues song, appropriately titled, “Hurts Me Too.” I previously posted a video I shot showing my friends Bill Maxwell, Hadley Hockensmith, Phil Driscoll, Michiko Hill, and Pee Wee Hill recording this song, but now I’ve added video showing highlights of several of the adventures which ended up hurting me too.
You Don’t Know Me. Did you ever say that to someone who was giving you a hard time about your life? It’s a familiar response to criticism usually uttered in anger. But when Texas songwriter Cindy Walker teamed up with Eddy Arnold to turn those words into a song, it gave the phrase a completely different feeling and meaning. You Don’t Know Me, became an aching, haunting, cry of unfulfilled love. It also became a hit song for Eddy Arnold, Ray Charles, and many other performers.
This version was one of the songs my friends recorded for me in LA last spring when they kindly agreed to show up and play some blues for my cameras at Phil Driscoll’s recording studio. There were no rehearsals, no music, and nothing was planned in advance. They just showed up and started jamming. The results were amazing, like they had been playing together for years.
For You Don’t Know Me, it’s Phill on vocals and piano, Bill Maxwell on drums, Hadley Hockensmith on guitar, Michiko Hill on organ and Pee Wee Hill on bass. Enjoy!
If you like the blues, here’s a little Christmas gift for you. I shot this last spring, but just put it together. It features some of my friends, Hadley Hockensmith guitar, Bill Maxwell drums, Phil Driscoll vocal and trumpet, Michiko Hill organ, and Pee Wee Hill bass who did me a big favor by recording some music for me at Phil Driscoll’s studio. These guys are so good this is their only take of, “Hurts Me Too”, and they nailed it. I’m using the music on my radio show and cutting video of a few of my adventures to some of the songs. I’ll post more of the music in the coming weeks but for now enjoy this blues classic.
I think this is a first, Andrae Crouch playing the blues. Recently when Andrae and the original Disciples got together for an informal reunion, I was there with cameras to capture this reuniting of one of the most influential groups in contemporary gosel music. Two of the band members from the heyday of the disciples were also there, Bill Maxwell on drums and Hadley Hockensmith on guitar. I first heard Bill & Hadley when we were all still teenagers. I was in college in Oklahoma City, and considered going to hear the guys in “The Third Avenue Blues Band,” an essential component of my course work.
As a favor to me, they agreed to do a couple of impromptu blues numbers after we finished recording the Disciples songs. Great bass player and friend Abraham Laboriel was there to add his magic to the mix. Bili Thetford did the singing and Andrae, as best as we can remember, played keyboards on a blues jam for the first time ever. Without a rehearsal here are the guys doing their version of, “Going to Chicago”
When I was getting ready to workout earlier today, the first thing I did was look for the right music to get me through the session. I not only wanted something with enough energy to get me working hard, but also something played with both emotion and skill, something so good I would get caught up in the music and forget about the the clock and how hard I was breathing. I finally settled on two concert videos, Leon Russell and Buddy Guy. No surprise there. These days I seem to be going back to the music I started with, Blues based Rock and straight up Blues.
There’s a touch of gospel flavor in that music as well. Years ago I was talking to the old blues artist Sippy Wallace about the difference between the blues and gospel. We had just filmed her singing in a Detroit nightclub on Saturday night and then filmed her playing the organ and leading the choir on Sunday morning in her church, and she said, “Blues and Gospel are the same music, the only difference is on Saturday night I’m singing ‘Oh Baby’, and on Sunday I’m singing ‘Oh Jesus’.”
Well the music worked for my exercise session, because it took my mind off how out of shape I am and got me to thinking about all the great musicians I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and see in concert over the years. I’m still friends with three of the first musicians I met when we were all teenagers. They were part of a band called “The Third Avenue Blues Band” and I think two of the guys weren’t even old enough to legally be in the bar were they were playing. I know for sure it was against the rules of my school for me to be there.
Those three guys later became part of a jazz group called Koinonia. I used to go hear them all the time at the Baked Potato in LA. Their music especially appealed to me because it was often a blues based jazz. I found this old clip of Koinonia playing at Montreux in 1984. They were doing a cover of the Albert Collins song, “Sno-Cone.” Enjoy