Sunday, August 07, 2005

Satchmo & Other Spare Parts

About a month ago, a mysterious e-mail appeared in one of my 27 inboxes; it was an evite for a party at the Jersey Shore, something about a Tiki bar party. It mentioned the specifics -- August 6th, the location, and the attire -- and not much else.

Knowing where I've been, I am not unused to getting weird, obscure party invites. Invariably, I've gone out, met friends of friends, handed out business cards and e-mail addresses, and two months later I'm on the mailing list for party invites, openings, premieres and gallery functions. So I didn't pay particular attention to this specific invite.

However, as with most online communities to which I have prominent or fringe membership, slowly the details began to emerge: I had been (and recently, have been) spending a lot of time in one particular chatroom, and the party was being thrown by a friend of a friend of mine. Since my other half was scheduled to be in San Fran that weekend, I didn't pay much attention: most of the attendees of the party were single and looking to hook up, and as much as that can be fun, the idea of random, casual, lustful sex with a beautiful woman doesn't interest me -- all I want is my other half (wink wink). So the party invite loomed quietly on the back burner. In the meantime, I did my thing.

A couple weeks ago, I got a call from a friend I've known for over ten years. He had worked at Electric Ladyland (the studio Jimi Hendrix built) when some college friends and I were all NYC residents and jamming together on weekends, and he used to sneak us in to catch the random celeb sighting (Keith Richards, Jack Bruce, et al). After awhile we began showing up after midnight with instruments and a few hours to waste, and if the studio was empty we'd be quietly ushered into a vacant space and allowed to wail for awhile. 5AM, bleary-eyed, half-drunk, reeking of all kinds of smoke and sweat, we'd put together six or seven songs, lay them down on DAT, abscond with our booty, our instruments and our contact, get some food at a diner nearby on University Place, and still manage to wake up on Monday morning, 24 hours later.

Since then, most of the members of this loose-knit jam company went elsewhere -- one went to Japan for a "day-job" (working in finance and making shitloads of money), another to New Jersey and then Miami, and yet others to Cali and beyond. We keep in touch but it's not the same; but every time I hear "White Room" I think back to those late-night sessions.

Back to the present: my friend Eric called me a couple weeks ago and left a strange message, noting that he knew it had been awhile since we'd talked but he was at another major studio -- one he knew my firm had done work for in the past -- and thought I might want to stop in on August 5th and 6th, as a guy was coming in he knew I'd want to meet.

When I called him back he let me know Joe Satriani was coming in to lay down some tracks and to prep for an upcoming album. Since 1987 I've been blown away by everything Joe has done so it certainly didn't take me long to call him up and let him know I'd be there. Without a moment's hesitation I accepted the offer, despite the cryptic e-mail evite I'd received long ago.

Last night, I ventured -- despite having some sort of stomach virus happening -- to the studio, guitar in hand, minus my digicam, and sat in with about a dozen people, mostly record company exec-types -- a lot of suits and ties, cell-phones, and quasi-interest in Joe's new material. I watched as he and his band ran through an hour behind the glass, then he came out, did the pleasantries with the suits, and hit the bathroom as the procession exited the premises. That left me, a few other hangers-on, his wife and his son, and the engineers. He came back into the main area and my friend introduced us; I was pretty much a babbling idiot, although I think I made a few jokes here and there because he laughed in my direction.

At some point, he looked down to see a Fender hardcase at my side and asked what I had with me. I smiled and just said "Here, lemme show you" and produced my first electric, a 1996 Strat Plus Deluxe -- tobacco-burst, locking keys, rosewood fretboard and lace sensors. He told me to take it out and plug in -- at which time I nearly soiled my shorts (from excitement, not the stomach thing) -- and for the next 45 or so minutes, I tried to keep up with a guitarist who I'd consider to be a virtuoso. Another of my guitar heros, Eric Clapton, is steeped in the blues, and I can play 80% of his stuff; Joe Satriani, however, is so fluid and talented on guitar it's almost as if he's above any one particular school of study. Any member of the list of guys I believe redefined the electric guitar -- Les Paul, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, and Joe Satriani -- are guys who took a known genre and turned it on its side. Satch, as he is called, didn't merely take it to another level: he took the guitar and flung it into a new dimension.

By the time we'd wrapped up, it was about 2; I played with he and his band on "Red House," "White Room" and "Sunshine of Your Love," and managed a decent solo on White Room (and got a "nice solo Boogie" from The Man). Otherwise I just did my best to keep up and tried to stay the hell out of the way. The studio was plenty big, but standing next to a guy who's maybe 140 pounds, skinny and bald, and hearing the sonic, epic cascade of sound he is able to create, was, literally, awesome. I also met his wife and his son, briefly, but by then I was in a state of euphoria I've seldom achieved. I thanked him and his band for letting me sit in and apologized if I wasn't up to their level and offered to leave my guitar with them if they believed I was unqualified to use it. He smiled and said "Hold onto it -- bring it with you next time." Another near-miss on the soil-shorts.

I thanked my friend Eric, who gave me a ride uptown; we were both invited by the mini-entourage to go get some dinner -- at 2AM -- with Satch and his crew, but my head was swimming and my stomach was doing backflips and I opted not to push it. Besides, I was tired and elated and spent and running on pure adrenaline. The only less-than-great thing about it was not having Kaia with me; Satch isn't her cup of tea, but I think she would have gotten off seeing me in the same space with him (and wailing away on guitar). Eric told me he took some pictures with a disposable he keeps in the studio, so when the roll is developed he'll get me some of the shots, but as much as I'll look forward to seeing those photographs, I'm just glad for the experience and am waiting by the phone for my next late-night trip to the world of Satchmo.

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