Power Pickers
of the '60's

Musicians of the Flower Generation


Archive for August, 2011

Keith Moon: A Little More Magic, Please.

I missed Keith Moon’s birthday yesterday. Sorry. I never met
the man, but here’s a story as it was told to me by studio
guitarist/friend Dave Cohen, in 1969 or ’70.

Keith was playing on a BBC Orchestra recording (Keith Moon?!
Studio gig? BBC Ork? Yeah, right. OK, I said it was apocryphal)
when the conductor stopped the music in the middle of a rundown
and said, to the percussionist, “What can you do to give me a
little more magic?” As I heard it, Keith said, “Abracafuckin’ Dabra.”

Here’s another Brit percussionist story, I don’t remember if it was
about Keith or not, and again, hereay.

The BBC Orchestra (is there such a thing?) or some other British
recording association, was running down the charts for some legit
piece or another. At one point the music called for a GP, general
pause, an intense rest to inject extra drama into a piece with
sudden, unexpected silence.

But the percussionist somehow or other misread the chart, and,
when all the other musicians suddenly stopped playing, right in
the middle of the rest, hit the triangle, hard, like you would in
a marching band. rest.

The conductor stopped conducting, the musicians stopped playing,
and everyone just glowered at the percussionist.

He glowered back, and without missing a beat, said,
“Dinner is served.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

Ralph MacDonald v String Section

I heard a rumor from a close friend yesterday that another old friend, percussionist/songwriter/publisher Ralph MacDonald is fighting lung cancer. I have to check it out, and I will, and it will distress me if it’s true, because this is a towering musician who enriches the music world every time he hits a conga, slaps a tambourine or taps a cowbell.

I met Ralph about 40 years ago, in LA, when he was the traveling percussionist with Harry Belafonte and I was lucky enough to be in the band playing with him, et al, on the tracks of one of Harry’s many albums (vinyl days, you understand). So I have a few personal Ralph stories in my repertoire. Here’s one of them, briefly.

(This is Ralph and me at his home in Mt. Vernon, NY, July 4, 1975. Arthur Ashe is about to win at Wimbledon, and the crowd at Ralph’s is about to go wild)

Shortly after I came East to New York, in 1975, and Ralph was showing me the town, he got a call to go out to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Jersey to overlay percussion on some tracks Creed Taylor was producing of/for someone, I think it might have been Patty Austin, but it could also have been George Benson or neither of them. But when Ralph and another friend, Arthur Jenkins, and I got out to the studio Creed and Rudy told Ralph that actually they’d run out of all but one of 24 tracks and that was earmarked for (illegally) double-tracking the strings to further enlushen a sound that was already pretty rich, tho not necessarily very interesting.

They apologized to Ralph for promising him a gig when there wasn’t one, and Ralph was characteristically generous about letting them off the hook. But before he did, this is what went down:

“No problem, guys,” Ralph said, “don’t worry about it, shit happens. But I’d like to hear the track, anyway,  long as I’m here.”

Creed said fine, asked Engineer Rudy to put up the track so we could hear it in the control booth. We listened for awhile, then Ralph said, “Gimme a headset and I’ll just play along with the track in the studio. What can it hurt?”

Creed shrugged, Rudy shrugged. I guess they figured they owed him something for the trip he’d made from Manhatten to Buttfuck, NJ, and maybe they figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to humor him, since they did use him on a lot of their product. Who knew?  It would be good for the relationship, race relations, whatever.

“But you do know we’re out of tracks, Ralph,” Creed said, as Ralph was rummaging around in his percussion kit, “just so’s you don’t…” But Ralph was out of the control booth and onto the studio floor with his kit before Creed could finish. He grabbed a stool, took it to the to the center of the studio where there was a mic and a headset, put the headset on and motioned to Rudy with a twirling finger to run the tracks.

The tracks began to play, very big, lots of instruments. I don’t remember anything about them, which tells you something right there, I guess that there might not have been much to remember.

Anyway, Ralph put on the headset, perched up on the stool, seemed to listen ferociously,  like an an air traffic controller might do as he lands three or four big liners at the same time. Then, after maybe the first verse, he picks a tambourine out of the kit and starts playing it. I don’t remember what he did with it–actually, I do, but it would be too hard to try to put into words,  except maybe in a music arranging class–, but it suddenly got everyone in the control booth’s attention, like a hooker on a troop-train.  The tracks came to life. Their whole focus changed. The string and horn figures seemed to now make more sense, now, like they actually belonged in the arrangement.

The playback stopped abruptly after another verse, and Creed or Rudy or both hit the talkback. “Uh, Ralph, why don’t we try a take? It might make some sense to have it in the can in case we need it.”  For this, please read: “Shit, get this on tape, and fuck the strings.”

So they recorded Ralph and his tambourine in two takes, sent out for pizza and we all kissy-faced and talked shop or pussy or anything except the incredible show this ex-numbers-running street-ball point-guard from Harlem and his calypso rhythm tshatchki had just put on, which brought verve and soul to some tracks which were dying without them.

Ralph didn’t say anything about it on the way back home, which was in keeping with his style, but he had to be thinking something like: “MutherFUCKer!  I just took out a big bad string section a bunch o’ white guys payed good money for and now can’t use and made it look like a blindfolded layup. Kiss my ass.”

Anyway, that’s my RMD story for today, and now I have to go to an AA mtng.

Recalling the Ramblers

Got an email from dialog recordist/filmmaker Brian Miksis with a short teaser from a tape made of a bluegrass band, the Redwood Canyon Ramblers, I was in in the early ’60’s, in Berkeley, along with mandolin player Scott Hambly and banjo player Pete Berg.

Needless to say the simple existence of the tape shocked, then pleased me since the music on it was not that bad and the fidelity surprisingly good. It was apparently one of the last sets this band ever played, and was recorded at the Cabale Creamery, a cabaret in the flats of Berkeley that became the center of the folk/roots scene in the East Bay at a time when that music was gestating into what would become an important part of the Rock Revolution.

The recordist may have been Eric Thompson, a local guitarist who, incidentally, may have copped our s arrangement of “John Hardy” for a band he was, the Black Mountain Somethings (I’ll look it up later) with Jerry Garica et al. The Cabale showcased such performers as Janis Joplin, Jim Kweskin, Toni Brown (Joy of Cooking), and, I think, Jerry and others whom I’ll insert here as I think of them.

I gotta go and sheetrock my bathroom, now, but I’ll be back to elaborate on what I’ve posted here.