I was in a weird state of mind Monday night when I was trying to go to sleep. I just had this feeling like I was going to die. Oddly enough this happens to me occasionally, but I never die. The unfortunate side is that when I wake up I find out someone I know has died.
When I get up in the mornings I shower, eat my breakfast and look at the news and FaceBook to see who screwed up while I was sleeping. Tuesday morning was a bit different. I started to see post after post about a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in over 25 years. Jon Torres had died. Most of you will probably say so what? People die every day. Jon was a bit different. I knew Jon years ago when we were both just a couple of punk ass kids who wanted to be rockstars and tour the world. Cranking our guitars up to 11 like we were invincible and there was no tomorrow.
Well, like most of us we got older. Jon did better in the rockstar department than I did. I first saw him playing in a new band an old singer of ours started called Thunderhead. Jon just had this kind of angry look on stage because he was hungry to make it. Thunderhead got much if any press, but it was a stepping stone for Jon. He moved on to playing with a huge amount of bands in the San Francisco thrash scene. Heathen, Lääz Rockit [a band so heavy they needed two umlauts!], Ulysses Siren, Warning SF, Angel Witch, Slough Feg…did I leave any out?
Jon was known to everyone in the San Francisco thrash scene. He supported all the other bands by being at the shows. He would switch off between being a guitarist to a bassist if a band on the scene needed one. He was an understated guy in person, but on stage he was always a solid player. Jon was one of those guys who was just thrash metal to the core. My heart goes out to all his bandmates and friends over the years for his loss.
I was never much of a conspiracy theorist, but sometimes something happens that you just have to say, WTF?!?. The latest started one day when I was cleaning out my cabinet in my recording studio and came across some CD’s that didn’t have any labels on them. This was unfortunately normal for me several years ago and I started to pop them in and try and identify them. I came across a song I had forgotten about from back around 2001 that started with a strange call I received and that’s where this story begins.
I need to give you a little bit of background so you can understand the head space I was in then. While I had been in a band that played around the city and I was always hanging out in the local clubs that was in the 80’s and early 90’s. After I got married, while I was still a musician I wasn’t playing live or in a band. Hell, my band broke up in 1985 before the local scene really started to get big actually.
I still had lots of friends in the industry that I’d be in touch with and occasionally I’d get a call to help them out with a recording they were doing. I wasn’t really on the pulse of what was going on anymore. I actually didn’t know that several of the bands that I liked from the 80’s were still together and releasing albums until recently.
This is where it starts to get interesting. I got a call one weekend from a friend of a friend. He told me that he was recording a band at the Record Plant and their guitarist got in a car accident and they were burning studio time. I hadn’t really played with a band in almost 15 years at this point aside from some small side gigs in a studio and I was told that this was pretty much all it was. I was suggested because they needed someone who played like guitarist X. I have to use an X here because I don’t really have enough to go on so I can’t name the guitarist, but I figured it was some sort of cover band or a band covering one of X’s songs and I was pretty much known for being able to play like this guitarist because, well he was kind of my idol in the 80’s. I said, let me grab my guitar and find some extra strings and I’ll be right over. Don’t worry we’ve got everything you need just come right now.
I didn’t think much at the time, but I drove over there and was handed a guitar that I noodled around with for a few minutes. Mind you this was a guitar very similar to the guitarist’s I was supposed to be emulating so I figure wow, they weren’t kidding. It was actually the same brand guitar I played. I started to adjust the tone on the amp to get it to where I thought it needed to be and I was told, don’t touch it, we’ve got his tone dialed in.
OK they had everything figured out, no problem, I just chalked it up to being professional. The bass player and drummer where there, but they had pretty much recorded most of what they needed except they needed more guitar. I jammed on the song a couple of times with the band and then we went straight to recording. It was only a couple of takes and then I went back and re-recorded the rhythm parts. They liked what I did and told me that it was perfect and no one would know that their guitarist missed the session. Cool. I was supposed to get paid $250 for the job and they ended up giving me $500 and asking me not to tell anyone I covered for their guitarist.
I actually knew so little about the band that I didn’t know the name of the guitarist, let alone the band and just figured I was getting paid to play guitar and I headed home with my money. Time spent about three hours total.
It was fun being in a big studio one more time in my life and playing the CD they sent me on this day reminded me of that time. So much so that I decided to post it to some friends in a sort of, remember back when sort of thing. It was when I got a call from a friend I hadn’t talked to in years that the story got interesting.
It turns out that somewhere around this time he was one of a few people called to see if they knew anyone who could play like this guitarist. It turns out the guitarist had fallen on hard times and had well, gone missing during the recording and they needed someone to cover for him. I honestly didn’t even know this guitarist was still recording and thought he was just another guy who’d show up for a guest gig here and there and that was it. Now this was only one song I played and like I said it was an in/out kind of thing so who knows how far this could have gone. There could have been several guitarists called in and they just picked from what they liked the best. I found the album that the song could have been released on and I have to say that it does sound like me to a certain extent. Well, me sounding like him. The worst part is that it was 12 years ago so I can’t say for sure. I notice things that are different between the two, but the singer [who I never met] sounds exactly the same. That’s one of the problems when you’re doing a cover tune is that people try to sound exactly like the original. I did have a bit of a habit of overplaying a bit and there were signs that what I played were there, but that was also based on a few changes the band I was playing with had added to the song. On top of that the song was originally recorded in the 70’s so even bands from the 70’s update their sound a bit over the years.
It all comes down to the question of was it me being asked to cover the part of one of my idol guitarists who couldn’t make the session or was it a band doing a cover of said guitarist? I can’t say for sure. I definitely can sound like him because he was a big influence on me, but the whole idea of me being him on his record is just too hard to imagine. Probably the worst part is that if it was me, I’ll never get recognized for it because no one would ever be able to admit it was me.
My wife and I watched a TV show last night on a metal concert called Sonisphere in Knebworth England. I have to say while the show was decent we noticed a trend in the advertising during commercial breaks – erectile dysfunction, beds to reduce back pain, pills to make you feel young again and home insurance. Wow. Heavy Metal shows will soon have Depends advertising on them or maybe Metallica’s next tour will be sponsored by Preparation H or Metamucil.
Yes, the metal bands from the 80’s and 90’s are all approaching their 50’s and 60’s in age, but there are still a few in their late 30’s. Some have fared better than others. San Francisco was the epicenter to thrash metal in the 80’s and early 90’s before grunge pushed them underground. We had Metalica, Testament, Death Angel, Exodus, Laaz Rockit and that’s just off the top of my head. Apologies to my buds who I left out. Bands from out of town found San Francisco a must stop place to play. The Record Vault was where every metal band had to put in an appearance.
When out of town bands lost a member they usually turned to the San Francisco bands to find a replacement. Now we’re relegated to VH1 Classic. Classic rock was what you referred to bands who stopped recording albums and performed only reunion tours. The Rolling Stones first reunion tour was in 1975. That today is Classic Rock, not Slayer or Metallica.
I have noticed a few changes over the years in metal’s appearance and part of that has to do with the grunge movement. As the metal heads get older and their hair starts to thin, if you cut your long hair then you must grow facial hair. If you still have thinning long hair then you grow a goatee. If you shave your head then you need a ridiculous amount of facial hair [Scott Ian, Kerry King] Lemmy of Mötorhead is the only exception because he’s had the mutton chops and mustache since he was born. He eats nothing but red meat and potatoes and downs a fifth of Jack Daniels a day and his liver is still in perfect health and he doesn’t look a day older than he did in the 80’s.
If you have gray hair you either dye it [Joey Belladonna] or wear a beanie. Not the propeller head beanies, but a black one preferably with a skull and crossbones on it. Sadly there are few metal bands left in the San Francisco Bay Area. We have Metallica that’s usually off touring somewhere just like Death Angel who at least puts in a showing at the Haight Street Fair [special note, Will and Ted of Death Angel were in a band called Warfare D.C. I used to manage and the pre-Death Angel reunion group when they were the Organization I recorded their demo so I have to give them special props].
Heavy metal isn’t dead, but it isn’t growing the way it was pre-21st century. It’s mostly the same bands from the old days reforming. If you want to find new metal bands you have to look to Europe or more specifically Finland for new blood. That’s how things started with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the 80’s so maybe by 2020 we’ll see something new pop up in the states and specifically San Francisco. We have lost a few from back in the day, but in most cases it’s not been from drugs, but cancer or some other failure of a body part. Yep, we’re getting older, but the advertisers don’t have to remind us every day.
I should have realized that it was posted on April 1st, but I didn’t take notice when I read an article on Metallica breaking up. I got punked. Metallica is one of the biggest metal bands and for them to break up would be huge. Sure, they don’t please everyone anymore. I still like the earlier albums, but then again, I used to roadie for them back in their club days.
No one has confirmed it was an April Fool’s joke, but I’m pretty certain at this point it is. I haven’t had any contact with any of the guys in years so I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure it’s a joke. The actual story from ultimate-guitar.com stated the following:
Despite the recent talks of a new album and 3D movie, Metallica’s James Hetfield has officially announced that Metallica, the world’s biggest heavy metal band, has called it quits.
In an official statement from Hetfield on behalf of the entire group, Hetfield revealed the factors that contributed to this surprising decision: “We’ve been doing this for 30 years. At a certain point, we all realized we wanted to explore new territories musically. The project with Lou Reed [”Lulu”] seemed to awaken a desire to move onto new musical horizons. It’s come to that time; we can’t be Metallica anymore. But fear not, you’ll be hearing new music from each of us in the future.”
Plans for said musical projects from each band member remain speculative; however, each member of Metallica has announced tentative plans for what’s in store for them musically in the coming months.
Hetfield, admittedly inspired by his onstage reunion with former Metallica guitarist, Dave Mustaine, has expressed desire to start a new group with the Megadeth frontman. Commenting on this, Dave Mustaine says, “I’ll have to think about it.” No word yet on who would fill in the bass and drum slots. Hetfield has admitted to having a strong respect for keyboardist **** from Children of Bodom, which could be a possibility.
Lars Ulrich, when asked what he plans to do, expressed desires to work alongside Marylin Manson. “I’ve been drawn more to the artistic side of heavy metal – with a guy like Manson, I think I’ll be satisfied artistically. We’ve gotten together a few times and thrown some ideas around.”
Bassist Robert Trujillo has issued some rather undiplomatic statements, calling Lars a “tool” and Hetfield a “control freak.” Trujillo plans on returning to his previous band, Suicidal Tendencies.
This news comes as a surprise to fans eager to hear the follow up to their 2008 return-to-form album, “Death Magnetic.” Although the ill-fated album with the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed seemed to foreshadow a mid-life crisis for the metal giants.
However, Lou Reed still remains in the Metallica circle; it is rumored that Metallica lead guitarist, Kirk Hammet, will team up with Reed for a concept album that explores the dynamic range of his favorite electric guitar effect- the wah pedal. “The wah pedal is pure expression, much like Lou Reed’s voice. Everything on the album – percussion, vocals, guitars, bass – will go through a wah pedal.”
We at UG are certainly surprised to hear of this news. Metallica will always be remembered as one of the most influential metal bands of all time. This is quite the way to begin the month of April…
Now I didn’t even know they made an album with Lou Reed and after checking it out on iTunes, I have to say that would have been an better April Fool’s joke. It just proved that Lou Reed is completely tone deaf. Death Magnetic was recorded too loud to the point that the whole album is distorted. I’m not really pissed about being punked by the announcement, only feeling dumb that I didn’t catch that it was posted on April 1st.
I woke up yesterday morning to find out that Ronnie Montrose had died of prostate cancer. It was a sad day for me because he was yet another person who helped me learn to play guitar. I had been taking lessons for about six months from my first teacher Alex Bendahan at Tree Frog Music and I new the chords, but I couldn’t wrap my head around guitar solos. There was one song that at the time was stuck in my head, Matriarch by Ronnie Montrose and I wanted to learn the guitar solo and Alex was trying to teach it to me. I just happened to be lucky that day because Ronnie walked into the store.
We had small amps in the tiny rooms where we were taught, but they were loud enough to carry across the small store that we were taught in. Alex would have me bring in tapes of songs I wanted to learn and he would teach me the songs by listening to them and figuring out the chords. Ronnie heard us getting to the solo part and walked back and pulled the curtain back on the room. I was frustrated with the fact that I just couldn’t understand how to play the solo. I knew the scales and everything, but I couldn’t put the two together.
Ronnie after pulling back the curtain said to me, you have to feel the solo then let it out. He took my guitar from me and started playing the solo along with the tape I had brought in.He wasn’t playing the exact same solo, but it still fit with the song. The exact notes didn’t matter, but he put his soul into it and then it clicked in my head. He handed the guitar back to me and said, now you try it. Alex’s band was fairly well know at the time so he knew Ronnie and just laughed at the whole thing and told me there would be an additional charge for today’s lesson. Alex rewound the tape and and I played along until the solo and just stopped thinking and a solo came out of me.
Ronnie was a good man and a great guitarist who was under appreciated. Sure everyone knows him for Rock Candy which was probably one of the heaviest song of the 70’s and gave Sammy Hagar his claim to fame. Years later my band lost a bass player who had an offer to join Gamma, Ronnie’s new incarnation of a band that later spun off to the Davy Pattison band after he left. It was kind of ironic that the guy who taught me how to play a guitar solo later stole one of my band mates. I guess you have to pay up at some point.
I couldn’t find a video of Matriarch on YouTube so you’ll have to do with Sammy and Ronnie playing Bad Motor Scooter:
It was 1981 and a friend of mine was having her 21st birthday. I was at the party and met the older sister of an old friend of mine I hadn’t seen in a few years. She had too much to drink and I helped her get home in the Mission District. It was late so I crashed there that night. It turns out that this was going to be one of those nights I’d remember for the rest of my life or at least the next day would be the most memorable.
We woke up somewhere around 10 am that Sunday morning and there I was in the Mission. My Mother always told me to be careful and stay away from the Mission because if you looked at someone the wrong way they’d stab you. My Mom was big into playing into stereotypes. My friend wanted to get something to eat so we walked outside and started walking down the street and I see this guy sitting out on the front steps of his house noodling around on a Les Paul guitar. We stopped for a few seconds to listen and then he stopped and looked up at us. It was Carlos Santana.
Things suddenly became very real for me. I usually had only seen him at a free concert in the park, but here I’m standing right in front of him sitting outside his house on a sunny day in the Mission just playing his guitar for no one but himself.
What chu looking at? He said with a smile.
All I could say was that he was one of the people that made me want to learn how to play guitar.
Yeah? Then show me what you can do. As he handed his guitar to me.
Oh crap. I’ve just been asked to play guitar for Carlos Santana, I’m 19 years old and I’ve only been playing guitar for about four years. I took the guitar and pic from his hands and realized that this was the first time I had held a Les Paul in my hands and didn’t realize how heavy they were. Maybe it was nerves, but the guitar felt like it was made out of lead. I sat down and took a deep breath and play the first thing that came into my head. The opening guitar solo of Black Magic Woman. I didn’t really have a style of guitar playing at 19 I was usually just trying to learn other people’s songs. I handed the guitar back to Carlos after I finished and he smiled at me.
OK, you can play the song, but can you write the song?
Not yet, but I’m working on it.
Get back to me when you’re a song writer.
Those few words stuck with me. It got me into expressing myself through music and actually writing my own music. I think I’ve done pretty good at it. I never could get back to Carlos and he doesn’t live in the Mission anymore, but here’s hoping that this will get to him and he’ll hear a bit of his influence in my playing while still having my own sound. This is off my new album Exile In The Sunset and is the eighth track All Alone
I just received my proof copy today of my new album and it looks great. Since I’ve approved it you can now purchase the album on iTunes or on CD now.
If you click on the final artwork picture to the left it will take you to the page where you can purchase a CD version. If you’re in San Francisco and can attend one of the meet ups I will personally autograph it for you.
There are two special tracks on the CD that I did to pay tribute to two people who have influenced me. Track 11 is called Satching with the Alien and is a tribute to my old guitar teacher you may have heard of before, Joe Satriani. The other is track 12, The Power and the Glory which is a tribute to Yngwie Malmsteen since he showed me how I could combine my classical music training with hard rock guitar.
This was a fun album to record and I think I’m getting better at playing all the instruments myself. There is more cohesiveness on this album than my last from three years ago and I like the fact that everything has clicked into place. While it might be another three years before my next album those of you who don’t know me know that I also compose and perform classical music. If you go to iTunes and drop my name into the search engine you’ll find a few more of my older albums there that have a bit of a Danny Elfman nod to them. Not Oingo Boingo Danny Elfman, but more Beetlejuice Danny Elfman.
In case you’re a bit on the lazy side and don’t want to scroll down on the side bar I’ve included the media player in here so you can try before you buy as I like to say. You can hear all the tracks and with a click or two you can purchase the ones you like from iTunes, but for the full CD be sure to click on the picture to take you to the page. I’d like to thank my old friend Derrold who gave me the idea for the title. While the title sounds nice it’s really a reference to the Sunset District of San Francisco which can on some days be almost as inhospitable as Antarctica, but I will always love it here.