- Tommy Thompson
7th Movement: "Groovin' on da Jazz"
Updated: Jan 25
OK. It’s “Time Machine” time again.
We are now leaving the year 2008 & “Freddy’s Last Pitchers of Beer Era.”
The dial on our contraption has been set back in time to January, 1970.
"Conventional is the enemy of Interesting.”
-- Sherlock Holmes via Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Besides listening to all of the horn bands already listed earlier in our story, Pat and I had now also discovered a new band that grabbed our ears and hearts: The Allman Brothers Band. When their album “Live at the Fillmore East” first came out, it was lickety-split down to Tempo Music with cash in-hand.
Cruised back up to Pat's house. Slapped that bad boy right on the ol’ turntable, fired up a joint, and sat back…and tried to keep from drooling. Man, what the hell was this? Yoo-Hoo! Us 2 Mamas both simply inhaled & ingested this entire li’l musical gem by the ABB over n’ over n’ over again.
We loved the 2 guitar harmony parts provided by Duane Allman & Dickey Betts. Ditto the Bass parts & harmonies provided by Barry Oakley. The two-drummers thing was something we’d already been exposed to via “The Grateful Dead.” But, these 2 cats with The ABB were simply on a different planet. Butch Trucks and Johnny "Jaimo" Johnson did tons of poly-rhythmic grooves that worked off of each other - as well as the other instruments - in a way that we had not yet ever heard.
Then there was Gregg Allman. Man, what a voice. We had now found another cat who sung his ass off sorta like our local hero, Bill Champlin. Plus, his Hammond Organ parts and tone were superlative.
You gotta remember, folks, that in 1970 there were no CDs. Or Cassette tapes. Or even 8-track tape decks around yet. These songs from that album were all on vinyl records. And, as such, due to our non-stop adherence and listening to the sounds produced by the ABB, we literally wore out our fist copy of the record. True dat, ‘Panky. Had to go and fork out the cash for a second copy of the album from Tempo Music.
Hey. Howard n’ Jane n’ Howie who ran the place deserved at least our business
along with our respect n’ love, right?
So, we then turned-on our other 4 Mamas to the ABB as well. The feeling was mutual all down the line. These southern-boy ABB guys had most definitely created their own unique sound. A one-of-a-kind musical miasma. And one that combined Rock, Blues, Country and Jazz into one single kettle that mixed-well together. Percolating to the boiling point all at the same time.
However, as it turned out, it was a’gonna be Pat n’ I who started the ball rollin’ when it came to incorporating some of these new kinds of ideas into our upcoming original musical compositions. We had just begun down that creative path, when one other revelatory moment fell right into our laps.
Earlier on all us Mamas had already listened to albums by “The Don Ellis Electric Orchestra.” We were absolutely blown away by the Jazz-meets-Crunch approach that this band had. Don Ellis was now amplifying his Trumpet by miking it up & then playing it thru a guitar amp. As well as adding in effects units like Echo, Reverb, Fuzz tone, and even a Wah-Wah pedal.
But, we wanted more than just listenin' to their records. We wanted to go see some of these horn bands - other than just The Sons - perform in a “live’ setting, as well. And since we Mamas always kept an eye on the local music calendars for The Fillmore, Winterland, and The Avalon Ballroom, we saw that Don and the boys were soon gonna be doin’ a show at The Fillmore West-Carousel Ballroom. We had to go.
This is yet another one of those times, dear reader, when my memory is a wee bit lacking in precise details. So, I’m not completely sure which of us 6 ruffians made the trek over to SF to experience this band. What I do know, however, is that I was one of ‘em. And Vince was another.
“In order for my music to work, it has to sound....frantic."
The night for the show arrived and we got there early in order to get a good vantage point from which to watch and hear the show. Seating? Hah! These joints didn’t have seating. Well, except for Winterland which had both seats and floor space. But, for most of these shows back then at those venues? Except for the few bar stools and tables surrounding the actual bar area, And the few crumbling sofas around the edges of the dance floor. Most of the audience members just sat their collective asses down on the floor in front of the stage, and did that ol’ cross-legged Eastern Zen Meditation thang.
Or stood in the back and mingled n' cruised around the edges of the hall.
Looking for some kind of elixir to buy, barter for, or bogart in on.
The band we had come to see, “The Don Ellis Electric Orchestra,” finally came out onstage and started their set. Really powerful stuff. Incredible energy and sheer force inside their material. And to hear it in a “live” setting? It only made it better. The band was doing all of that same poly-rhythmic stuff like we had already heard with the Allman fellers. Except this shit was on steroids.
But, then came this one particular tune.
A tune and an experience which would become our bands' newest & latest
Don was standing close up to his microphone, and so we were able to hear him when he counted off the tempo and time signature for the next song. Went something like this:
“1 – 2 – 3 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 3 –
1 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 2.“
He then repeated the whole damn thing again. And then the entire band came crashing in right on-time and with a passion and a fury. Like ol’ Don had just been a’doin’ sum’tin simple like the countdown for New Year’s Eve. What in tarnation was this madness? I tried my best to follow this never-heard-before-by-me time signature. I really did. But, I just couldn’t ever find the down beat for the ONE. You know? The ONE. The beginning for the start of the next measure. I mean, this wasn’t exactly toe-tappin’ dance music, dig?
I looked over at Vince…and just stared at him open-mouthed. He had his eyes closed, and his body was moving in-time to the rhythm with a smile on his face. And with his mouth he was counting off the number of beats per measure. I waited for the tune to end and then asked him: “What in the hell time signature was that?” He smiled back and gently reminded me that he had grown up studying the Buddy Rich Book of drum rudiments. And poly-rhythms. And about a dozen other things that I had no idea what in hell they meant.
Then he said: “That tune there is in 27/8 time.” 27/8 time? Oh yeah, like that really helps me out. “How in the hell do you do that,” I yelled back. "How do you count that kind of stuff?" He said he’d explain it all to me in simple terms on the ride home. Where we could both hear each other clearly.
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct,
or more uncertain in its success,
than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
-- Niccolo Machiavelli
For the sake of saving time - and without boring y’all with the details as to how Vinnie was able to explain this 27/8 insanity to me - suffice it to say that I was now practicing counting beats and measures in my head while I was playing. It’s a good habit to develop for a musician. At any age. And the sooner, the better, for one’s career going forward in time (no pun intended).
So, Vince came out to Rockwell with me the next day and explained to Pat the same stuff he had run by me in re jazz time signatures. Pat, having started off on drums, took to this a lot quicker than I had. Damn know-it-all. Sheesh! Hence, the only thing left to do now was come up with a song that would fit into one of these newer time signature thingamabobs.
Pat and I chatted back and forth for a while, and then we had it: we’d take a song we had already written. Completely demolish it. Re-arrange it Add to it. And then use whatever it was we ended up with to attain this new sound.
The song we focused on was one that Lou and I had written a year or so earlier:
“Feel Good” had a bouncy kinda beat to it which folks liked cuz they could dance to it. It was in what’s known as a 4/4 time signature. Meaning that there were four beats to every measure (the top “4” in the time signature). And that each of those 4 beats would be played as a quarter note (the bottom “4” in the time signature).
But hell, there just t’ain’t ‘nuff time to get into any basic music theory explanation here…so y’all are justa gonna have to take my word for it. It was a simple tune with a simple straight-ahead dance beat. Nothin’ new n' fancy here, k?
So then fellers, what new n’ fancy time signature can we apply to this already-written,
yet now demolished & ready to be re-built, tune? Hmmm...
On “Live at The Fillmore East,” the Allman Brothers had two instrumental tunes that Pat and I both really dug. “Hot ‘Lanta.” And, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” But, the other tune we really liked was “Whippin’ Post.” Why? Well, that song was written in an 11/8 time signature. But, then it switched to 6/8 time for the first part of the verses. And then to a half-time version of that same 6/8 feel for the chorus. And then back again to the 11/8 part.
Confused? Don’t worry. So was I. Guess we were all gonna have to pony-up a bit more in our minds in order to get comfortable with all of this new time signature craziness.
We brought in Vince n' Lou and started shooting ideas around for “Feel Good.” But, even with Vince’s knowledge of different types of jazz time signatures…nothing was working. It was a mess. Complete shit storm.
...right when we were coming up to the end of one of the chorus sections of “Feel Good,” Lou raised his guitar up and then signaled for a complete STOP. Bam! OK. We all stopped. And then we all stood there waiting for what, if anything, was to follow.
Lou waited a breath, and then he broke into this very cool bass line. Which I really dug, but couldn’t quite figure out what it was or where it was going. Vince and Pat on the other hand fell right into it. Rather than doing anything to de-rail this train, I just sorta chucka-chucka-ed along until I could find a part that would fit in with what the other 3 Mamas were puttin’ out.
Turned out that ol’ Louie had overheard us chattin’ about that whole 11/8 thang in “Whippin’ Post.” And so he had spent some time on his own coming up with this particular bass line. Which was in 11/8 time itself. Whoppee! "Tres Coolio,” my brother!
After that initial bass line had been beaten to death, other new parts just started flowing out from all of us. The musical ideas were coming out of everywhere and everyone. Hell, you could've closed your eyes, covered your ears, thrown a stick, and hit a winner.
Oh yeah, we had to stop a lot just in order to explain and then try out all of these new ideas being manifested amongst the players in the room. But, that was okey-dokey. Cuz it seemed like once the coolest part had been brought out and into the light by one or the other of us? Everyone seemed to just immediately agree and see it as being the best part for the song. Oftentimes without any verbal communication. And without anyone’s ego ever getting in the way or being stepped on.
We’d just all smile when the right part had been presented -
and gone out on the track for a successful test drive.
We brought in Paul and Steve for their input. Great idea. Horn players just hear stuff that most of us other non-woodwind folks simply don’t. And so by one or two more of these song demolition and rebuilding sessions, we 6 Mamas had ourselves a spankin’ brand-new version of one of our old songs. One that now contained a large number of different time signatures within it. And which all worked together to create a whole that was bigger than the sum of its parts.
“Feel Good“ started off, as always, in 4/4 time. Then it went to 11/8. Then to a few measures of 6/8 with a nice melodic horn line. Then back to 11/8 with poly-rhythms thrown in courtesy of Paul's and Steve's horn stabs, as well as Pat’s and my rhythm guitar parts. In addition, horn or guitar solos went over the top of all the 11/8 sections. And back & forth it went between the 11/8 and the 6/8 sections.
And then…we did this de-crescendo volume thing – while at the same time gradually slowing the beat down more n' more n' more - until the song went into this entirely new part with a very mellow, hippie-trippy feel to it. (Think: “Ducks on a Pond.”) That, in turn, led to a part with a gradual volume build up. A quickening of the tempo. And - ”Hallelujah” – finally back again once more into the original 4/4 groove. All the way to the ending.
Kiss my lips n' spank my bottom! To say that we were pumped up would be a gross understatement. We were ecstatic. “Feel Good” had become our first “Opus.” And, I suppose that I could quite possibly be able to say that musically we were finally beginning to think outside the box.
Except for this one fact. Back then - as I have mentioned before -
many of us had not yet attained very much traditional music theory.
Hence, we didn’t even know that there was a box.
So, for us 6 very hungry - and still wantin’ more - Cookin’ Mamas?
It was now:
“No Problem, Matey! Damn the Music Theory Torpedoes and Full Speed Ahead!”
“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it is not open.” ― Frank Zappa
Next up on the agenda was writing yet another Cookin’ Mama musical conbobulation.
And - very much like “Feel Good” had ended up turning out - we wanted it to be a very long piece of music. Containing many different kinds of parts. With various textures within it. Textures which would be provided from our now ever-widening selection of musical instruments within the band.
But at the same time - unlike “Feel Good” - a tune which would contain more of a melodic nature all the way thru it. A melodic symphony, if you will. Jazz-Rock in nature, but with just a dash of “Night at the Pops” sprinkled in for flavor.
And so, for this piece of as-of-yet-unwritten-music, we all figured it was pert near ‘bout high time for Paul and Steve to break out their flutes. As well as their selection of saxes: tenors and altos. But, “Feel Good” was largely an instrumental tune with limited vocals.
So we now wanted to write a tune with lots of vocals in it. Around it. And all thru it. While still incorporating some of the time signature, mood changes, and slow-down/speed-up goodies from "Feel Good."
Wow! Great idea, guys. That’s a real mouthful. So, how n’ where are y’all gonna start this whole mess?
Well, how’s ‘bout using as a starting point that li’l ol’ thing Putt n' Twick used to call:
“The Pretty Chord”…hmm?
“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
- Louisa May Alcott
As mentioned earlier in this tale, Pat n’ I had already developed the habit (or perhaps I should say “addiction”) of stayin’ up all night writing songs together. This was always done at Rockwell down in our rehearsal room basement. It was an absolutely inspiring environment in which to create original music. That’s mostly cuz it was at a time of night when there were no other distractions around us. Everyone else in the house was asleep.
So, we’d turn off the few white lights in the basement. Put on all the colored ceiling and lamp lights. Crank up the “black light” n’ “lava lamp.” Fire up a joint. Bust out our acoustic guitars. Or the electrics minus any amps. And get down to the bidness at hand. Which was sharin’ musical ideas back n’ forth, up n’ down, and all around our collective brains. Until just before or after the sun peaked over the horizon.
And since Pat n’ I had both been studying and learning a bunch of new chords. Ones that had more than just a major or minor triad in them. We started this particular songwriting session off by going back and forth between just two chords: Gmaj7 and Cmaj7. But – truth be told – we had both just recently learned the real musical names for those chords.
Before then, we had always called any Major 7th chord: “The Pretty Chord.” (cute…huh?)
So just like in writing sessions in the past, we would sing vocal and instrumental melodies to each other over the chords were planning on using in the tune. But, now we had a new wrinkle to add to our songwriting technique. It was our new secret weapon:
The implementation of the “Mighty Wollensak Mono Tape Recorder.”
Yep. We were now putting on a blank tape at the start of our idea sharing sessions,
and just letting it run.
If we wanted to check out something we thought might not completely stink? We’d just stop Ol’ Wolly. Rewind her back up to about where we thought our latest nugget of genius was located on the tape. Push playback. And sit back and see if what was there was actually something we wanted to keep. But, even if we didn’t like an idea right at that very moment? We still always kept everything…so that we could re-listen again the next day with new and un-stoned ears. As well as play it for the other guys in the band so they could comment on it.
Went from going back & forth between those two major 7th chords into a chorus section using different mellow chords. And then back again into another verse. Which was, once again as in “Feel Good,” a kind of a variation on “Ducks on a Pond.”
But, now we needed lyrics to go along with the melodies that we’d laid claim to. We wanted this song to be both sweet and mellow. Real “Hippie Christian 101” stuff. So, we turned to our bibles and started finding the kinds of verbal sentiments that we wanted to project.
“The Sons” had a long masterpiece of their own called: “The Children’s Suite.”
So, with that title already firmly entrenched in the back of our minds,
we called our new creation:
“The Love Suite.”
"What’s another word for Thesaurus?”
-- Steven Wright
We began our search for these types of heart-warming and peace providing lyrics in a rather discombobulated state. I, myself - though usually pretty handy when it came to writing papers for school work at St. Mary’s and such - had nonetheless always struggled with song lyrics. Everything just sounded too rhymey…or simply too matter of fact. I hadn’t yet learned how to paint a verbal picture using phrases and metaphors to get my point across.
However, Pat was already light years ahead of me on this kinda stuff. Good thing, too. He was just a natural at turning a phrase in such a way that it communicated more emotion and mood for a song than any of the traditional words within “The King’s English” would've.
So, we once again strove on together, helping each other out in order to find those phrases which would express the thoughts in our hearts. But in a way so that they would not sound too corny or mamby-pamby. Hey, we didn’t want to go down in history as being known as the guys who gave “Tony Orlando and Dawn” all their lyrical ideas. True dat, Gershwin.
“Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”
-- Proverbs 16:24
Hence, just like with the melodies and the chords and the guitar and horn licks, we’d bounce words and lyrical phrases off of each other until something actually moved us emotionally. “The Love Suite” (at least the first part) was supposed to be almost like a lullaby. A tune that would mesmerize the listener with images of love, peace, forgiveness, and lots of other emotions that we had discovered from our readings in the Bible and elsewhere.
Here’s a short sampling of the lyrics that we ended up deciding to use in that opening lullaby section of “The Love Suite.”
“We have found all the beautiful things, life can bring,
?With all of this goodness, now we can sing,
???The Word has taught us, how to love, (The sound of The Word has taught us love)???
???With grace and forgiveness, from above.”
The thought fear, has left our minds,
We have put all those feelings behind,
The Word says Love,
And that’s what we’re singing of…”
Yeah, yeah….I know. Sounds a li’l bit hokey written out like that, hmm? But - and ya gotta trust me on this one, dear reader – with the chords and the flute parts in the background? Hey, them there words actually made sense for the mood that we were trying to create in that first part of the song.
“There is telepathy between hearts.”
Pat and I had also recently discovered another very fun and silly way of communicating with each other. Right when one guy was starting to say something about a new idea for a song, the other guy would end up saying the same exact thing, using the same exact words, at the exact same time. Kinda like a form of musical telepathy. Then, our body language would follow along in the same fashion.
Made these long songwriting sessions even more enjoyable than whatever other levels of fun we had already attained. It was absolutely a gas. We ended up calling it: “Twinning.” Twinning, as such, could happen at any time - right out of the blue - and then one of us would usually say: “We just ‘twinned’.” Or, we’d both say it together at the same time. Way cool.
Back to writing the rest of “The Love Suite.”
After this mellow-yellow, “Ducks on a Pond” section had run its course, we then we came up with some other chords for a second, much more up-tempo part for the song. And the main horn line that we ended up singing to each other for that section just put a huge smile onto our collective faces. And once we were at point? Oh man, the other parts simply came flying out of the wood work.
Albeit – in this case – the already beataen-up wood paneling in our basement laboratory.
So, it was now time to bring the other 4 Mamas up to speed on this new “Opus” of ours.
“Being in the same room with people and creating something together is a good thing.”
-- Robin Williams
As per our usual approach to learning a newly completed composition, Pat and I started off with showing the new song to our rhythm section: Vince & Lou. And, as usual, that didn’t take very long at all. Their levels of musicianship and mental hard drive memory gigabytes were awesome to behold.
So, it was now onto adding in Paul and Steve on both flutes, as well as tenor saxes. Having learned the hard way from earlier experiences, we now gave our two woodwinders the basics of what we’d written in re horn lines. And then we let them arrange ‘em in a way that made the most sense to their more superior knowledge of how woodwind parts should and could sound. As before, this moved along swimmingly.
And before we knew it, we had ourselves a brand-new symphonic-type piece of original music to play for our fans at “live” shows.
At this point, it was once again time for us to take stock of what we’d already accomplished – and figure out what our next goal was. So far we’d broken into the nightclub scene. Check. We’d written a crazy-wild-ride, mostly instrumental tune a la our “Don Ellis” experience: "Feel Good." Check. And now, we'd added in yet another “Opus,” only this time with lyrics all over the place: "The Love Suite." Check.
So, what’s up next on the wish list menu, fellas?
Up to this time the only way in which we had been able to hear our songs was via “The Mighty Wollensak Mono Tape Recorder.” Nice enough for a glimpse of what we’d created. But – truth be told – not exactly resembling anything in the ballpark of a “High Quality Recording.”
So what we now wanted to hear was our music recorded professionally. In a real recording studio. With a real Producer. And a real Engineer. And with a finished product that would allow us to finally hear what our music could truly sound like – when it was recorded and mixed professionally and properly.
Great. Sounds wonderful, guys.
However, from which damn hole are y’all thinkin’ of pullin’ out this li’l gem? Hmm?
Read on, dear reader…read on….
Maybe just one-spliff-too-many "Mamas"
L - R: Lou, Paul, Steve, Vince, Tommy, Pat