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  • Tommy Thompson

7th Movement: Honein' da Horns

Updated: Jul 5

               

“He who has not first laid his foundations

may be able with great ability to lay them afterwards,

but they will be laid with trouble to the architect

   and danger to the building.”

                                                      -- Niccolo Machiavelli


Pat and I began staying up all night writing new tunes right and left. We worked like banshees.  And since we were pretty much the only two songwriters as this point (Lou being on a bit of a temporary hiatus), Pat and I also wrote most of the horn lines for these new songs.  


The horn parts we came up with were based on notes and phrases that we’d sing to each other while playing the chords in the song.  Whatever just sorta popped into our heads, but with the vocal melodies, guitar licks and chords in mind.  We also added horns to the non-hard rock songs we'd already written like “Out the Door,’ “Beautiful Wine,” "The Word Speaks," "Stay Free Inside," and a host of our other original li’l 4-pc musical gems.

 

Also, we began the process of working into our newest & latest compositions a boatload of the new chords we were now both learning – a lot of them from the “Joe Pass Book” on jazz chord inversions n’ such.  We still didn’t have a whole lot of traditional basic music theory floatin’ ‘round our brains at this point.  I mean, even though Paul, Steve, Lou and Vinnie could already read and write musical scores, neither Pat nor I could read - much less, write - a musical score with printed notes on it.  


Uhn-uh.  


But, hell….we didn’t let this stop us from continuing to verbally throw out ideas to each other. Further refining and/or re-doing them until we finally ended up with something that we didn’t think would end up in the trash.  


And because flutes had not yet entered into any of these new compositions, we just bared down on tenor sax parts: stabs, accents, and then some longer melodic sections.  We added in harmony parts for both saxes, and then realized we should also consider adding in one or both our guitars to further expand these instrumental melodies.  And finally, we could and would also include Lou’s bass lines as an extra ingredient to our ever-expanding and mentally mesmerizing melodic potpourri.

 

Hey, I gotta tell ya, after about 2 weeks of this non-stop “Midnight-to-Dawn Madness,” Pat and I were pretty doggone pleased with ourselves, ya know?  So, we figured that we’d just call a rehearsal ASAP, run it all up the flagpole, and see if the other guys would be as impressed with our new musical perspectives as we were.

 

Brought in a couple of these new tunes to our next rehearsal and showed them to Lou and Vince first.  Then brought Paul n’ Steve’s horn parts into the mix.  Most of that went very well. Except when we got to one rather extended horn line in one of the tunes, Paul and Steve were kinda struggling to play all of the long-winded notes as we had written them. They both tried it for a few more times…and then they both just stopped playin’.  


Huh?  So the rest of us Mamas on the guitars and drums stopped playin’ as well.  


Paul & Steve chatted back n’ forth to each other for a few seconds, and then Paul turned to Pat, Lou, Vince and I and said something to the effect of: “These new horn parts are really great and all that.  But Steve and I have got one question for you guys."  


"When the hell are we supposed to breath?” 


Lou actually cracked up laughing at that one cuz he knew from experience what they were talkin’ about.  Oops!  Pat n’ I had never considered the fact that – just like a vocalist – horn players needed breaks at some point in the horn line parts so that they could grab a quick breath of air before going on.


Good to know.



        “A leader is best when people barely knows he exists;

when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say:

 we did it ourselves.”

- Lao Tzu


After that, Pat and I then began to re-approach our horn line ideas in a slightly different manner.  Oftentimes we would bring in just a basic idea for the wood winds, and then we’d let Paul and Steve make suggestions as to what might help to make the horn parts better, as well as easier for them to play without turning blue in the face.  But, always without losing the main portions of our rather never-ending horn onslaught ideas.


This was a great step forward for us. Cuz in Cookin’ Mama we’d always encouraged the idea that input from everyone in the band, would always end up being an absolute plus for everyone in the band.  


For example, Lou could suggest a rhythm guitar part, or a variation on a guitar lick. Guitarists could suggest beats and certain grooves for Vince to try.  Vince might suggest a change in the arrangement of the song.  Or a different melody or lyrics for a vocal part, even though he didn’t sing himself.  Lou might suggest a horn part (remember, he started off on clarinet and had played in school bands with all kinds of woodwind and brass instruments). And on and on it went, just like it had always gone in our past way of doing things. 

 

Hence, Paul n’ Steve were now beginning to get the idea and so they just jumped in with their two-cents along with the rest of us. That all went really well.  Now I know, dear reader, that some of you might ask: “Well….why wouldn’t it go well?”   The short answer to that query would be this.


Not all band members in all bands are always amenable

to taking suggestions from their fellow band members.  


For example, a guitar player might ask the drummer why in the hell he’s making up ideas for guitar parts?…when he’s a damn drummer.  Or why is the horn player asking the bass player to try and play a note or two that’s normally something he or she wouldn’t usually play?  Or why is the guitar player – who has no experience playing drums – telling the drummer how to hit his cans a certain way?  


                                                   Do ya see what I mean?

 

Our band was certainly not yet a group of well-experienced professional players, but one thing was certain: we always tried out every idea that any band member wanted to try.  And by doing that we did ourselves a great service. Cuz we’d oftentimes come up with parts and ideas that were totally innovative and very original in nature.  


Even wacky at times.  


Didn’t matter to us.  In our hearts and minds, this new band of ours would be firmly committed to setting our collective path towards the goal of finding a creative force which would know no bounds.



“Let yourself be drawn to the stronger pull of that which you truly love.”

                                                               -Rumi


With the road ahead now clearly delineated and marked off for us, we proceeded to learn a Baker’s Dozen of the new songs that Pat and I had been writing. The ones which included our new n’ more jazzy approach.  With horn parts all over the place.  Rehearsals went great.  The band was tight.  And so now we were once again finally ready to get out there and strut our stuff – our new stuff - for our fans.  


Unbeknownst to us, Kathy had apparently been working her tail off behind the scenes digging up gigs for our 6-pc ensemble.  And due to the popularity of the whole hippie and “Summer of Love” thang – as well as the new kinds of music that kids now listened to – we now no longer had to worry about whether or not we were sounding like “Where the Action Is.”  Nor with any of that other kinda matching-band-uniforms BS, or the rest of that whole Polo-Shirt-attire musical hooey.  


Original music is what young Bay Area audiences now wanted to hear from their bands. And they wanted them to dress like hippie bands did.  Hence, this was yet another instance when our timing for couldn’t have been better.

 

At first it was still High School dances for the most part.  Which was a good thing for us because we really did need some easy gigs early on in the process just to be out there, get our feet wet, and spit-shine our new “live” show.  


In front of real "live" people.  


Instead of just the family dog and the cat. 



Promo photo appearing in The Alameda Times Star advertising our first 6-pc gig



           “Benefits should be conferred gradually; and in that way they will taste better.”

                                                   -- Niccolo Machiavelli

 

First gig was on a Friday night in the first part of April1970 at the Encinal High School gym.  And because schools were trying to get their kids to stop fighting kids from other schools – “Hey, can’t we all just get along?” – this new spirit of brotherhood made all the difference in the world.  


Why?  


Well, normally only students enrolled in a particular school were allowed to attend dances held at that school.  Too much of a temptation for and an invitation to street brawls if ya invited the enemy from across town, don’tcha know.  But now students from any and all schools in the area were allowed to show up at any other schools’ dances.  


They were now called: “Open Dances.”  


So, even though we only had a small local following on the West End of the island at Encinal High, our East End Alameda High contingent was overflowing with fans and at an all-time high.  And a few kids from Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward and Berkeley were startin’ to trickle in as well.

 

That first show went superbly well for us.  The EHS gym was packed with already pumped up kids.  Crowd ending up loving this new horn sound thing n’ such.  And even though not all the songs were such that kids could dance to them, it didn’t matter that much to them anymore.  


These audiences now took their cue from the Fillmore. Avalon Ballroom, and Winterland crowds across the Bay.  A lot of ‘em just sat cross-legged on the floor of the gym and watched n’ listened.  Waiting for whatever substances they had imbibed or smoked earlier in the evening to thoroughly saturate ‘em thru n’ thru ‘em & kick into high gear.

 

Had a few other High School shows during this time as well.  And that was all fine n’ dandy. But we wanted more.  We wanted to do what the band had always wanted to do.  

And that was to break down the walls that had up to this time

kept us from reaching our next ‘live” gigging goal:  


Nightclubs.



©2024 Cookin' Mama



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