Archive for the Johnny HIckman Category

#48 Friends – 3 Guys Walk Into A Bar In Canoga Park. Why being backstage at a low grade music festival is like being in Iraq.

Posted in Counting Crows, Cracker, Johnny HIckman with tags on September 20, 2010 by davidclowery

Patterson Hood, Johnny Hickman and I Perform Friends.

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In february of 1998 Cracker was mixing our Gentleman’s Blues album.  Don Smith our producer engineer had just acquired a mini estate in Agoura Hills CA. It had a smallish mansion and enough land that it cost a small fortune to water and landscape.  It also had some kind of  combo 6 car garage guest house at the bottom of the driveway. Don had set up a studio in the garage/guest house so he didn’t have to drive all the way to hollywood to mix his records.  He got to be near his family and at the same time stay up all night mixing albums. I didn’t understand that so much then.  Now I do.

“Costalot”

That was Don Smith’s playful nickname for the place.

Costalot was  little bit of a shock for Cracker cause we were used to being right in the middle of Hollywood or Manhattan when we were mixing a record.  We weren’t used to being in a gated community in the far western San Fernando Valley.  We weren’t used to being in the nuevo riche suburbs with the faux mission style shopping malls, upscale restaurants and wine bars.    As detailed in a previous post Johnny and I back then enjoyed our dive bars,  our funky old man bars, and the general seediness of Hollywood and Downtown LA.

 

So one night,  must have been a weeknight and late, like 1:00 am,  Johnny Hickman,  myself and the Austrian assistant engineer decided that we need to go find a seedy bar and get a drink.  First it’s difficult to even find anything open in Agoura Hills at this hour so we head south on the 101 back into the valley.  By my recollection we probably ended up in Canoga Park.  We finally found a place that seemed to be a sports bar that may or may not have had a country music subtheme.  Certainly some pop country was on the juke box when we walked in.  And the the only other customers in the place three vaguely jock looking dudes at the bar turned and blatantly stared at us in that particular way that california rednecks stare at you.

To be fair:

1)The Austrian assistant engineer Martin Pradler  was wearing tight leather pants.

2)I was commuting out to my cabin near pioneertown on the weekends so I was probably dressed in high desert thrift store hippy cowboy threads.

3)And well Johnny has always been the metrosexual of the group.

We ordered the usual,  bourbon on the rocks and a beer.  Martin may have ordered schnapps which also probably didn’t help.  But the three locals went back to talking amongst themselves. So we lost ourselves in conversation discussing the various songs on the new album and relative merits of the mixes.

After a while i noticed that one of the locals was standing right next to me.  He wasn’t the biggest of the three and he didn’t seem overtly hostile,  yet somehow i knew something was up.  His two friends were watching intently.

“Hey man” I said.  I think I kind of tipped my beer towards him in a friendly gesture.

“Can I ask you a question?”  he said as he peered around me to get a better look at martin in his leather euro-jeans.

“sure”

“Are you guys..  are you guys queer?”

I couldn’t believe the softball the guy had tossed my way. And before I could stop myself or consider the consequences  I shot back in the most friendly manner, smiling ear to ear.

“No,  but what did you have in mind?”

His two friends just about fell out of their chairs laughing. So did the bartender.

Johnny had initially alerted me to the guys presence when he suddenly acquired a guarded serious look and  slyly palmed a glass ashtray.  (you definitely want Johnny around if there’s gonna be a bar fight). Johnny now visibly relaxed and joined in laughing.  The Austrian was the only one not laughing.  He was convinced there was still going to be an altercation.  No. When everyone laughs at you it’s over with and the guy knew it.  He slunk back to his friends. His friends had completely joined our side.  They kept yelling at him “yeah what DID you have in mind?”

I did not write the song Friends.  Johnny Hickman did.  And I’m pretty sure he was not referring to this incident specifically when he wrote these lines:

If a fight breaks out and you’re the cause of it

In some redneck bar where you been talking shit

However it very well could have been about this fateful night in Canoga Park.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

 

“it vas Terrrrrrrrefying” even his hair was frightened.

But it’s not just me that has this survival threatening smart-ass gene.  Virtually everyone in the band and crew has at one time or another done something like this. On reflection there are about a million of these incidents I could describe.  It’s something about being in a band,  being in close quarters driving around busting each others balls constantly that keeps us in this heightened state of smart-assdom. We are all always ready to pounce on the smallest opening.  There is intense competition to be the first one to the punch.  That’s why it’s funny when people attempt to heckle or make smart ass comments from the audience. They have no idea how practiced we are…

And now that I think about it not just our band.  The poor austrian Martin Pradler was also involved in a milder but similar incident with the Counting Crows.  That same year I hired Martin Pradler to help with the “This Desert Life” album.  Dan Vickery Counting Crows guitarist had taken to purposely referring to Martin as German.  This was driving Martin Crazy.

“I’m not German I’m Austrian”

“But it was once all the same country”

“no”

“Yes in World War II”

“No-No”  Martin was getting visibly flustered  ” We were invaded just like most of the european countries”

At this point Adam Duritz couldn’t stand it anymore and kind of runs out of the room in feigned terror  waving his hands above his head.

” IT VAS TERREEEFYING,  ZEY RODE IN ON BICYCLES!”

This was not only funny in a ball busting way but made a very valid historical point.  Austria was annexed by germany in 1938 when German troops-many on bicycles-rode into the country and were greeted with flowers and enthusiastic crowds. Ouch.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This trash talking and ball breaking is an important part of the band’s camaraderie.  In fact the old adage is that when people stop making fun of you,  you need to worry about getting kicked out of the band. So it is also important to acknowledge and repeat to others when you have been the victim of a particularly brilliant bit of ball busting.  It means you belong.

For instance.  I must dutifully report that  Thursday morning I was in Las Cruces New Mexico with Bugs my childhood friend and former cracker  guitar tech.  We were driving back from breakfast with our concert promoter when she pointed out a bunch of buzzards circling in the distance.  Bugs  happily chimed in:

“Oh  that’s just David’s career”.

Again all the crew guys and band members are quick this way.  Relentless training and repetition.  During the recording of Gentlemen’s Blues Bugs had gotten so good at these one liners that we started calling him Shecky Salcido after the comedian Shecky Greene.

We were all in a thrift store in Woodstock NY when a parked  car (with a dog in it) rolled down the hill and bumped into another parked car.  An older gentleman came into the thrift store and asked

“does anyone in here own a blue toyota sedan with a dog inside”

Bugs quickly fired back “That’s no dog! that’s my wife!”

We were pleasantly surprised that when we went to Iraq  the soldiers who transported us around Baghdad engaged in a very similar kind of trash talking and ball breaking.  Within our MRAP convoy  there were external and internal comms.  The external traffic  to things like helicopters or to destination bases was highly formal and proper.  The internal comms were  a profanity laden free association roast of virtually everyone and everything within view of the gunners and drivers. Iraqi women in traditional abayas became “Ninjas” and were treated with mock reverence as a lethal threat.
“Number 2 you got 3 ninjas at your 2 o’clock. Prepare for some wild monkey style”

Iraqi policemen got some of the funniest treatments. This centered on the very specific style the high ranking Iraqi policemen adopted.  Very large bushy moustache and 70’s style leather jacket. Like they’d been watching reruns of The Mod Squad. This was summed up best by one of the gunners in our convoy.

“We are training the Iraqi Army and the Paramilitaries.  Apparently the Ensenada Police Department is training the City Police”

The ball breaking included us in the band as well.  Sal with his thick NYC accent was for some reason a  particularly inviting target.  Sal also made the mistake of not buckling his 6 point harness properly when we were put in the MRAP rollover simulator.  When they flipped us upside down Sal  landed on his head with an audible thump.  This prompted the operator to ask over the intercom “Is everyone good?”

“I’m not good”  came Sals response over the intercom.

This was hilarious to the soldiers in our convoy.  We could hear them laughing  through the intercom system. If i fall and hit my head it’s tragedy, if you fall and hit your head it’s comedy. For the rest of our time in Baghdad every so ofthen someone would randomly and anonymously pop on the internal comms  with an “I’m not good.” Complete with thick NY accent.    This was later translated into latin “Salus Non Sum”,  and when we  made our official coin for the cracker tour  we included Salus Non Sum as our motto.

 

The ball breaking did not stop when we returned to the states.  St Patricks day we were playing in Myrtle Beach SC.  A typical city street festival thing. We got word that 5 or 6 of the guys from the 82nd airborne that had escorted us around Baghdad would be coming to the show.  I realized that they had only been back home in the states for a couple of weeks. I figured there would be some hard drinking that night so i put them in the VIP tent NOT backstage.  I just wanted to play it safe.  One of the soldiers was underage.  Frank took him backstage where Drivin’ n Cryin’ invited him on their bus.  This was not lost on the other soldiers.  Eventually their highest ranking NCO started bugging me to get take them all backstage.  Fair enough  I could tell at this point they were all pretty well behaved and didn’t need to worry about them.  So I led them all backstage.  At this point their sergeant looks around and says to me:

“This is backstage? Tents?  Porta-potties? Generators? Steam trays?  I can get this shit in Iraq”.

 



 

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Friends.

I’d [C] never sleep with [G] your ex-girl-[C]-friend
Even if she starts to flirt with me [G] again
Al-[F]-low me to a-[G]-pologise for my [C] slightly [Bb] wicked [F] thoughts
But [C] that’s the kind of [G7] friend that you’ve [C] got

If a fight breaks out and you’re the cause of it
In some redneck bar where you’ve been talking shit
I would not forsake you later in that parking lot
‘Cause that’s the kind of friend that you’ve got

CHORUS:
Through the [F] laughter and the tears
We go [C] stumbling through these years
A bit disfunctional [Bb] some might [G] say
But I’ve [F] got the dirt on you
Hey I got [C] plenty [Bb] on you[F] too
So I [C] pray we stay to-[G]-gether all our [C] days

When you’re on a date and you finally bring that girl home
you put a little captain beefheart on the stereo and disconnect the phone
I’ll show up drunk and ravin’, and then i’ll pass out on the spot
‘Cause that’s the kind of friend that you’ve got

REPEAT CHORUS
[Bb] [F]
Dear Lord I [C] pray we stay to-[G]-gether all our [F] days
[C]

#22 I Ride My Bike-Cracker. The Inland Empire: A Love Story.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker, Johnny HIckman, Victor Krummenacher with tags , , , , , , on August 6, 2010 by davidclowery

 

I Ride My bike- Cracker

 

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Blatant Plug:   Don’t forget to buy your Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven Campout Tickets. Only those that by advance tickets get the cool laminate.  Sept 10th and 11th Pioneertown California in the fabulous Joshua Tree region of the Inland Empire.  Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven, Gram Rabbit, The Bellrays,  Miss Derringer, J Roddy Walston and the Business, McCabe and Mrs Miller, Ashley Raines, The Dangers, Jonathan Segel, Johnny Hickman,  The Dangers  and more.

Buy tickets here.

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In early 1992 shortly before  we released the first Cracker record we went back to the Inland Empire to rehearse.  Five of the key members of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker were from the Inland Empire. John Hickman, Victor Krummenacher, Chris Molla, Davey Faragher and myself. In a way it’s the spiritual home of both bands. It was where we first learned to play  where we started our first bands and it was where most of our families still lived.

The Inland Empire? Sounds exotic. Not really.  I briefly described it in an earlier post. But let me go into a little more detail.

First the Inland Empire of California  consists of the far eastern exurbs of Los Angeles, much of the Mojave Desert, the San Bernardino Mountains and the Coachella Valley.  But what you really need to know is that the Inland Empire is to Los Angeles what New Jersey is to Manhattan.  And it is held in the same contempt.  The Inland Empire is not  “The Valley” as in valley girls.  The Valley is relatively affluent and sophisticated compared to the Inland Empire.  From here on out we refer to this area as the locals do, it’s “The IE.”

 

The IE starts as you enter the San Bernardino valley. After the long hill on I-10 past Covina. The San Bernardino valley finished a poor third when the giant postwar migration to California began.  The suburbs of the San Fernaando valley and the San Gabriel valley were preferred choices of eastern immigrants. They were also more expensive.  The San Bernardino Valley was dry semi-desert and hot as hades in the summertime.  Bucolic ranches, vineyards and citrus groves yes, but alongside industrial decay, steel mills, chemical plants, and the general detritus that surrounds all military installations.  There were at least 7 military bases there when I was growing up in the early 70’s.  So we got the poorer immigrants,  the less affluent,  a lot of southerners,  and folks fleeing the driest coldest parts of the great plains.

You continue east on I-10 and around Colton you begin to hit the barrios, and you feel that you are now in The Borderland.  That area that is neither the US nor Mexico. It covers a large areas of the southwest. Mostly along the border but it is not contiguous.  So here even 100 miles north of the border there are pockets of The Borderland. (Borderlands is a real term used in Geopolitical theory i didn’t make it up)

 


Continue further  east on I-10 and just as you go up into the San Jacinto pass you realize you have definitely left Los Angeles and are in The West. You might as well be in West Texas.  The buttes, the steeply cut dry creekbeds, the chaparral, the brushy hillsides with horses and cows scattered in the distance. Same if you head north towards Las Vegas through the Cajon Pass.

 

 

This was a wonderfully weird place to grow up. It was a place in constant transition.  But more importantly balkanized.  One moment you were driving through an abandoned industrial site the next minute you would be in a beautiful orange grove.  Fragrant and like an Eden with running water in the stone lined irrigation ditches. The ditches themselves ancient. Dug hundreds of years ago by the Spanish missionaries and the Indians.

You would exit the gates of Norton Airforce base and immediatel pass the row of strip clubs and bawdy drinking establishments,  then old postwar cinderblock houses long in decay, now barrio and part of The Borderland, then suddenly more farmland ranchland and orchards.  Here and there gleaming pockets of McMansions.  They seemed to pop up overnight like mushrooms. The new residents seemed to always be peering warily over their fences at those of us who lived in the older decaying serttlements amongst the dying vines and orange trees.

 

Every once in a while a dying orchard would be bulldozed.  Every day as young teens we stood and watched. Eventually the area was flattened into the neat outlines of streets and houses.   The day the surveyors came and planted their flags was the moment for which we were waiting. For that evening after dark we would creep out of our neighborhoods and pull up the surveyors stakes.  We didn’t know why. Something told us those were OUR groves and the surveying stakes only brought those that peered warily over their fences at us.

Our older brothers were more devious and cunning.  They would carefully move the surveying stakes a foot or so.  Wrecking the squares and rectangles. Leaving behind subtle trapezoids.

We lived in places like Okieville,  Mentone,  Greenspot, Crafton and East Highlands.  The newcomers lived in developments like Rio Vista or Hacienda Heights.  They came from Los Angeles and Orange County.  We came from dull and poor towns in the Midwest and South.

There were constant booms and busts.  I remember at least four times my parents modest lower middle class neighborhood suddenly emptying out. The cul de sacs dotted with overgrown lawns and bank repossession signs.  In the late 70’s a new development up the road failed and entire cul de sacs were empty.  But it was nothing new. It’d been going on for centuries.

The Cahuilla and Serrano came and failed. The Spanish missionaries the Mexican ranchers came and failed. Then came the Mormons who settled this area, prospered  for a time and then suddenly abandoned this godforsaken place. Railroads came and failed.  The steel mills came and failed.  the defense companies came and then failed.  Even the military bases. But each wave left a few people behind. Generally the weakest and the misfits. And this created a strange patchwork, a balkanized country.

No one is from the IE.  Your family came here usually to escape something.  To erase the past and start anew.  To quote Joan Didion:

“Here is the last stop for all those who come from somewhere else. For all those who drifted away from the cold and the past and the old ways”

(Curiously that quote I just found is in a book of her essays titled “Slouching towards Bethlehem” also a quote from The Second Coming)

The weather here is brutal.  It’s not uncommon to have temperatures in the summer of 110 or 115 degrees.  In the fall and winter brutal and strangely warm Santa Ana winds whip down through the passes at 70 miles an hour.  It is a startling experience the first time it blasts you in the face.  From may through september the mountains lock in the smog and dust from Los Angeles.  The sky and the land are often grey and a horizon can’t often be distinguished. And then there are the terrifying wildfires.  They would often blacken the sky so it was like night in the middle of the day.  A snowstorm of ash would cover the cars and sidewalks.

Pretty gim right?  Not really it was a fun and diverse place to grow up.  We rode bikes on the empty roads and abandoned places. Skateboarded in abandoned pools and reservoirs.  We shot bb guns in the citrus groves or chased the wild peacocks through the chaparral. I kissed a Mexican girl under a backyard trellis’ of bougainvilleas climbing roses, another I met secretly at night along the eucalyptus windbreaks that demarcated the ancient settlements. Yes even the plants were immigrants, and balkanized.

And it seemed that a curiously high percentage of us played music. Sometimes at night from my bedroom I could hear two or three competing bands.  There was the Tex-Mex/Norteña (or Conjunto) band a block to the north.  A latin rock ensemble to the west and 2 doors down a Steely Dan knockoff.

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In an earlier post I mentinoned the blog Rock Prosopography 101.  One of the writers of that blog has a theory that there is an inverse relationship between the vitality of a music scene and property values. In other words cheaper towns and suburban areas produce more bands and musicians (as long as they don’t become outright ghetto).

In my experience this is very true.  For when we were young teenagers and we wanted to start playing electric guitars and drum sets, we would just set up in the garage, or the family room of some sprawling rancher and play.  If our family didn’t tolerate us, there was always some old barn, empty storefront or farmhouse that some kind adult would let us use.  As we got older and more serious we often rented little spaces.  They became our little clubhouses.  One was the unused office at the front of an industrial park $50 a month in 1980.  Another was the old waiting room at an unused train station.  I think we payed $75 dollars a month for that one 1982.  And then there was always the older brother or stoner friends that had the little farm cottages in one of the semi rural areas like Devore or San Timeteo Canyon. you could stage a full on PA and blast away like you were Led Zeppelin. Johnnys band actually rented and practiced in an old bar deep in the barrio in Riverside.  They also put on their own underground shows their and a lot of the time the drummer lived there.

When I went away to college in Santa Cruz I realized what a great advantage this had been for me.  I had many cool friends. I wanted to play music with some of them cause they had such advanced tastes.  But they were always much less experienced than I.  These folks had grown up in places like San Francisco, New York City or Boston.  They just hadn’t had their hands on the equipment very often.  So when the CVB guys came to Santa Cruz we were more experienced than our peers and this seemed to give us an advantage.  (Jonathan segel grew up in Davis in the central valley and had the same advantage we did).  I also get the sense that the IE produced a fair number of hollywood studio “cats”.  I mean just check the discography of two guys that went to my high school  John Jorgensen and Davey Faragher.

So looping all the way back to the beginning of the story.  Davey Faragher, Johnny Hickman,  Josef Peters and I decided that we would meet up before some Cracker tour and rehearse for a couple days in Redlands CA in the IE.  And this is the way we did it in the IE: We didn’t rent a rehearsal space. There weren’t any.  We just called around until Johnnys brothers found some friends who had a little house out in the old sheep pastures.  They were just your usual Southern California Heschers*.  Rockers of no real denomination.  Pot-heads, harmless ne’re do wells.  We could rehearse in their converted garage/ party room as long as their friends got to come over and party and listen.  Mind you these rehearsals were in the middle of the day.  We spent a day refreshing the songs from the album.  The second day we got into this trippy jam.  I mean it had a couple really good guitar riffs and chord progressions the kind that made a traditional punk song.  But then we kept trying to get it to explode into this freak out middle sections.  Punk rock riffage into a 1969 bad acid biker jam.  It wasn’t the window pane acid jam. It was the shitty stuff that came later. the stuff cut with speed.  Angrier. Post-Altamont.     And at some point we nailed it.  We walked outside into the bright December or January sunlight,   the grass was impossibly green. ( In the IE our grass is green in the winter).  A couple of the Hescher dudes followed us out “Dude that shit was trippy”.  Yeah it was.  It was the song I Ride My Bike.

And that’s the Inland Empire. And that’s the story of I Ride My Bike. Almost.  I forgot the most important part of the story.

 

In the IE we also rode motorcycles. Small on off road bikes.  Yamaha and Honda 250 four strokes. They were ubiquitous and everywhere.  It was part of the fabric of everyday life. There was nothing like riding one of these bikes through the narrow orchard roads late at night. Especially in the summer when the only cool air in the entire IE  was trapped in those groves.  It was liberating. Especially half buzzed.  That is what this song is about.  A simple incantation to take me back to this time.  “I ride my bike, I drive my car  take me back to you”  The rest of the song isn’t really intended to describe that place and time.  But  to just evokes the general feeling.  A feeling and an energy I associate with that place.

*Heschers are sort of surburban white trash but also rockers. Despite what urban dictionaries say I believe it was a slang word originated by a small group of punkers in the IE.  And i may be able to prove it.   It believe it to be a mispronunciation of our word “Hessian”but this is for another post.

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[INTRO & BREAK:]

[Em]-[F#m]-[G]-[D]
[Em]-[F#m]-[G]-[D]
[Em]-[F#m]-[G]-[D]
[Em]-[F#m]-[G]-[D][REPEAT BREAK]

VERSE 1:
[Em] And I [F#m] ride my [G] bike [D]
[Em] And I [F#m] drive my [G] car [D]
[Em] I drive it [F#m] all a-[G]-round just to [D] take me back to [Em] you [F#m]-[G]-[D]

VERSE2:
[Em] And I [F#m] comb my [G] hair [D]
[Em] And I [F#m] wear a [G] dress [D]
[Em] I wear it [F#m] all a-[G]-round just to [D] take me back to [Em] you

CHORUS:
I ride my [A] bike, [G] take me [D] back to [Em] you
I drive my [A] car, [G] take me [D] back to [Em] you
[Bm] I ride my [F#m] bike, [C] I drive my [G] car, [D] take me to [Em] you
[Bm] I ride my [F#m] bike, [C] I drive my [G] car, [D] take me to [Em] you

REPEAT BREAK

REPEAT VERSES 1 & 2

REPEAT CHORUS
[Bm] I ride my [F#m] bike, [C] I drive my [G] car, [D] take me to [Em] you

[MIDDLE SECTION:]
[Em(Em+6 and Em7 embellishments) throughout]
This is a story about a dog, a dog
When I ride my bike
And my hair is blowing straight back
I think of you wearing that brown mohair sweater
Soft mounds of breasts underneath
Or better yet one of those spindly aluminum lawn chairs
I’m putting sun tan lotion on your long legs
A-wearing a broad rim straw hat
Pair of Mickey mouse sunglasses
Looking just like lolita
Looking just like lolita
White sheets hanging on the line
White sheets blowing in the wind
A satellite dish pointed straight up at the heavens

[G]-[A]-[C]
[Em] A satellite dish pointing stright up at the [G] heavens, Isis![A] (Isis) [C] (Isis)

[Em] Isis! [G] Isis! [A] (Isis) [C] (Isis)
[Em] (Isis) [G] Isis! [A] Isis! [C] Isis!

[Em] Isis! [G] Isis! [A] Isis![C] Isis!
[Em] Oh yeah! (Isis) [G] arrrrrrrrrr
[G#]-[A]-[A#]-[B]-[C]-[C#]-[G]-[C#]-[Eb]-[E]-[Eb]-[C]-[Eb]-[E]-[(random sliding bar chords above 12th fret)][(FADES INTO:)]
[E]

[Bm] I ride my [F#m] bike, [C] I drive my [G] car, [D] take me back to [Em] you X4

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