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Memories of Riff Jam Rock

December 30, 2011

Good Morning, Mackronauts! And you too, Spamzoids!

Today is the fiftieth proper installment of Eddie Mack Avenue’s Once a Day feature. We’ve covered a lot of ground over the past few months, but one of the things we haven’t discussed is my own music.

In the 90s, when everyone who grew up through the 70s and 80s was forming grunge bands and rocking out to Black Hole Sun and Jeremy, my old high school buddies and I who had buggered off to college to become professional artists, ended up flunking out and moved back to our home town, wherein we hatched a new plan; we were going to become rock stars. Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Many famous rock stars flunked out of art school.

Originally, the idea of becoming a musician had been mine, as I had been tinkering with song lyrics for years in high school. However, it wasn’t until I burned out of art college that my old buddy Derrick decided we needed to form a band, with him on drums and our old friend Big Dave on bass. That was the core of it, really, and there were plenty of times when that was really all there was to us. However, Etcetera always tried to work as a four piece back in those days, because none of us were skilled enough to really pull off a power trio.

So of course, we started recruiting keyboard players, because I was supposed to be our guitarist. Derrick pretty quickly found Dori Downie at a local Christian Youth group called Living Rock Ministries, run by Al Craig, a bass player and vocalist who actually got to play with one of our favourite local Christian Rock bands, Silent Revolution (I almost got to sing for them at one point, but I flunked the audition for being a bit too manic and unprepared).

Dori came to us by way of Kitchener-Waterloo, where she had grown up listening to classical music and hair band rock like Bon Jovi and Whitesnake. She had been a graduate of the Recording Arts Program of Canada, and she had a Kawai K1 synthesizer, which beat my Yamaha PSR-7 all to pieces (except that I had a better piano sound, which I corrected later by programming a piano sound into the K1 to perfectly emulate my piano).

Dori had taken piano lessons and was a more skilled pianist than I, so I grudgingly made room for her in the mix, and she in turn started writing new music for the band. She fancied herself the principle composer of the band, owing to the fact that my skills as a writer hadn’t developed to the point where I could get my ideas down without help. She discovered it was faster to just let me coach her with her ideas and then do end zone runs around me with producer friends of hers who were more knowledgeable and could bette help her with her brilliant songs.

What started as a pretty fruitful relationship *ahem* ended in acrimony, and she left the band—and me—for a gentleman I now count as a good friend and musical mentor. We’re still friends, and I still think occasionally about how cool it would be to work with her again, but really, there just doesn’t seem to be much room or inclination to bring her back into the fold.

Up to this point, I was still struggling to piece together my musical ideas, but during the tense few months where Dori was drifting away from us, I started using her equipment more and more, and eventually pieced together what I refer to as the Dreamer’s Symphony, a prototypical piece of synth prog bits that I hoped to get the band to help me translate into a proper epic. This plan is still in the works.

After Dori left, I tried to get the band to close ranks into a power trio, but Derrick still had ideas, and next recruited Gary Falkins, a local aspiring guitarist who was actually a little greener than we were, but who had certain improbable bands in common with us. In time, we came to realize he was the elusive fourth member, and I found my songwriting partner.

I started teaching him what very little I knew about guitar, and he in turn took over the guitar slot while I started playing keys, running my keyboard through a slightly beat up effects unit I bought from Gary when he upgraded his gear to buy a new guitar; I still haven’t forgiven him for selling the Godin.

The band functioned as a four piece from late 1993 until summer of 1998, at which time Big Dave got married and retired from the band and secular music in general. Derrick immediately started recruiting bass players, but I found I had no taste for it, and so put the band on ice; Derrick was always the personnel director of the band, but the musical direction was my area, and I just didn’t have the heart to start over again, with Gary already gone and Dave leaving. I knew Derrick and I could function as a duo until we rebuilt, but I was tired and needed a break from the uphill climb to the starting gate. He never really forgave me for quitting when I did.

We didn’t play together again until the summer of 2006, after Gary had decided to reconvene the band in his basement. It was actually coming together relatively quickly, with me taking over Dave’s bass parts and writing new songs to emphasize my own playing style. There had been talk of trying to recruit Dave back into the band, but nobody really had the nerve to try to drag him a way from his family. I didn’t play nearly as much keyboard, but I was trying to refashion us into a power pop trio, so synths weren’t a big part of my plan until I could get the basic rhythm section working properly. Then I’d see if I could teach myself to play keys, bass and vocals all at once, Geddy Lee style. We were all severely rusty, but we spent a few months banging and plucking things, and it started to gel.

Sadly, Gary’s relationship with his wife was taking a dive, and we didn’t trust her not to damage or hock the gear, so we decamped with the plan to rent space to rehearse in. Sadly, none of us has been able to finance this, so my apartment became the de facto recording studio, which has deprived Derrick of a place to play his drums. He now tells me he’s planning on buying an electronic kit, but he’s been telling me that off and on for years. I’m still waiting.

Meanwhile, Gary and I have been recording songs together, and I’ve been trying to get Derrick involved in some capacity, though he keeps stalling. As it turns out, I’ve got plans for at least three albums in the works. So you see, I come by this fascination with music quite honestly. I’m not really a music critic no one will hire; I’m a musician who sometimes critiques albums he likes, gratis. I don’t know if I’d ever want to write a professional music column, though the idea occasionally crosses my mind when I start wondering how I’m going to pay the bills.

And that’s the big article about me and my music. I didn’t include any links for you, but all you really have to do is click the link to Etcetera Thesis Music’s blog, which should be located in the sidebar, unless I stupidly forgot to add it to links. I’ll check it after I post and make sure it’s there for you. If you’re one of those cats who reads these things the moment they’re posted, just give me a few minutes if you don’t see a link. It’ll be there in five.

And that’s a wrap. Thanks for reading, and have a great day.


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