It was supposed to be a joke.
It turned out, however, to be the closest thing that the three of us involved had ever gotten to musical acceptance by John Q. Public.
I also learned a really valuable lesson about the nature of music itself.
I had moved down to Houston with the hopes of finding new musical challenges and opportunities to shred on bass guitar that were unavailable to me in the anus of Texas (also known as the panhandle). I figured that nothing would motivate me to practice and improve more than moving to a big city with a ton of other bassists who probably play circles around me. This was, of course, before I learned that there is a massive shortage of bass players around here. I ran into a guy named Ajax in a bar by chance, ended up hooking up with Wolfeblitzer, and that is probably how I met quite a few of you in the Houston scene back then. I suppose, looking back on it, if a stranger in a bar wants to hire a bass player that he has never even heard or heard of, that maybe it should have tipped me off that this is not the Mecca of bassists I had thought it would be.
But I loved Houston from the moment I set foot here.
My friend Heath moved down here too with hopes of launching a nice career as a vocalist for a modern rock ensemble.
The apartment I leased at the time was one of those right off FM 1960 close to I-45. You know the kind of place that will rent to anyone that has not raped or murdered anybody in the last few weeks.
There was a bar right around the corner called The Fountainhead, and every Thursday night they had an open jam.
The amazing idea came to me that we should crash the open jam.
Heath had a decent acoustic guitar, but thankfully I had a garbage one from a pawn shop. If this guitar would have been a woman, it would have been the “Fuck it, its two in the morning and a mouth is a mouth, I’ll take her home and just leave the lights out” kind. It sucked. Not in a good way. More like a dry-humping the waffle iron kind of way. I almost could tune it.
We had a friend named Charles that had been playing bass for a very short amount of time. He was down for the joke. We never bothered to find a drummer because…well, why?
Anyway, to make a short story longer, Heath wrote some folky chord progressions, and I decided to make some lyrics and sing. I had never sung for anything before. Neither for my supper, nor for a band. Especially for a band. Fortunately this was not a band, it was, or at least was intended to be, a joke.
They say to sing about the stuff in your heart. I could not get a good song together about blood and pacemaker wires, so instead I wrote about a prom date that was really a squid.
I called it “Squid Bitch.”
Heath put on a nice harmony, and I sang the verse in the style of a really old man that had smoked longer than he had not and bordered on severe dementia. Words cannot really describe what I did on the chorus. I suppose it was singing. Kind of.
We worked really hard on it that afternoon. Hell, I think we spent a whole two hours on it and another couple of songs that were just as retarded. That evening we went to the open jam and signed up, visions of being chased from the bar by annoyed and angry “real” musicians danced in our heads. Or at least my head. I like that sort of thing.
We signed up and waited.
Open Jams, if you have never attended one, are the musical equivalent to speed dating. Everybody gets three songs or fifteen minutes. This is the place where you go to hone your craft. This is also, to many a folks’ horror, the place people go because no other place will give them a gig. The upside is that no matter how fucked up the sonic assault on your eardrums is “Dump Consumption” will be gone in fifteen minutes and your world will know peace once again.
It’s like Russian roulette for your brain except that when you were getting a beer some sorry ass-basket loaded bullets into five of the six chambers.
We had every intention of loading the sixth bullet into the gun for these people.
When it was our turn, we sauntered up to the front (there was not a stage here). This is when I met a really great bassist and friend of mine named Bobby Fikes. Poor Mr. Fikes, who had never seen me in his life, had the honor of trying to put a pick-up onto my piece of crap acoustic guitar so people could hear it. You could tell that he was really, really impressed by my choice in top notch gear by the way he furrowed his eyebrows to the point that I think they actually touched one another.
This was going great.
I strummed a chord. The sound was, without a doubt, a sound. Somewhere, deep in his grave, the inventor of the guitar cried a silent tear of shame from his cold, dead skull in response to this amazing moment.
Our time had come. We played our set. We poured our heart and souls into Squid Bitch. I never really did take a squid to prom (unless you count the odor, but that really is another tale all to itself) but you sure as fuck would have thought I did by my performance.
When we finished, I was prepared for the fallout and the gnashing of teeth by all the real musicians in response to our “musical tragedy.”
Bobby Fikes looked at me for a moment and all I could think to myself was “O.K. Here we go.”
He opened his mouth and said “Dude. You need a record deal.”
What in the fuck.
He wanted us to come back next week and so we did. We wrote more songs and people would pack the bar to see them. Sometimes we would just stay up there for 45 minutes and play a whole damn set of this crap.
The scary thing was that people would sing along. I would write new songs like “Farma Sutra” or “Necrokleptabeastapyraphiliaphobia (the fear of stealing dead, burning animals to hump) but it would be hard to play them because so many people had requests. I had never before, and have never since, seen so many people sing along to something I had created.
This struck me as tragic in a way. I spent years of my life learning to play double sixteenth/eight note patterns at 250 beats per minute with my fingers on a bass guitar, and I get noticed for singing a song called “Where’s My Pants.” I did not even use my bass for this. And Heath, the actual singer, was singing back-up. It was all backwards.
And that is when I learned something really important about music. If you have a groove, and a good melody, people are going to like your music. You may be able to sweep arpeggios at 300 BPM, but if the average person cannot bob their head, shake their ass, or hum along, then it does not matter how many fucks they may have in their fuck-bag, they are not going to give you any of them.
People liked the stupid songs we wrote because they were catchy, fun and memorable.
The comedy band did not last forever. Heath’s girl moved away, and he followed her. Charles and I had a falling out. I started playing with Six Minute Century. Time moved on, but to this day people will still come up to me and talk about “Squid Bitch.”
I try to take the lessons of that experiment with me in my “serious” acts. Music over athleticism. Put that lick in there only if it makes sense. Song over skill. Melody over technique. If it sounds good, it is good. And for the love of Froktar, remember that just because it is hard it is not good. It is only impressive.
Amazing skill and technique touches the mind. Amazing music touches the soul.
Amazing musicians touch both.
Amazing groupies touch…oh…never mind.
To all my brothers and sisters in music out there in the Houston scene, and other places as well, keep the music in your music and you can’t lose.
Best wishes from the trenches,