“Musicians are in no way responsible for anything.”
“True Art is Always Free!”
– John Bartles
Related to the usual contents of this blog only inasmuch as I pay the maintenance fees regardless, a brief historical post firmly rooted in the “There’s a fine line between ‘Once upon a time’ and ‘You’re not going to believe this” category of entries. Sunday, March 4 2007 marked the most nontraditional collaboration of my musical career (it takes me that long to get information together. People who request anything from me by email probably already know this) with the recording of “John Bartless Presents Topless and Bottomless,” a title sure to artificially increase my Technorati rank.
The kit. Click for a larger version.
Bartles sighting. Click for a larger version.
How: The Metropolis Book Shoppe in North Syracuse had an am amazing run of free jazz and noise artists (Tone Collector, MoHa!, Jeff Arnal and Gordon Beeferman, Tatsuya Nakatani, just to name a few), from which I have a nice collection of autographed CDs of music none but a lucky handful will ever hear. At a few of those gigs appeared the John Bartles of which I blog. When the same 6 people comprise the majority of the audience at all the shows, you get to know everyone. Bartles never travels without a box full of some small selection of his complete works. At the time the jazz shows started, he said he was up to 64 total CDs over a 30-odd year span which, having now 25 or so in my collection with expectations of more in the mail on any random day, I unbelievably believe to be a reasonable count.
Who: John and I share a similar quirkiness (thanks Deepak) he’s had the benefit of honing far longer than I, which means the exchange of corny-to-off-color jokes ended only once we were back in our cars, much to the relief of the other participants. The extent to which Bartles’ music is nontraditional is reflected in his performance venues. This had become apparent to myself upon the usual google search, where most of the relevant John Bartles links direct one to Dr. Demento playlists. That, clearly, was the virtual handshake on his offer to have me come out and record. If the iconoclastic screwball that did for The Ogden Edsl Wahalia Blues Ensemble Mondo Bizzario Band (“Dead Puppies”), Barnes & Barnes (“Fish Heads”) and Napoleon XIV (“They’re Coming To Take Me Away (Ho Ho Ha Ha He He To The Funny Farm)”) what Beavis and Butthead did for Rob Zombie thought the work of John Bartles was air-worthy, that’s enough for me. Any of the circa-1990 to 1994 Jamesville-DeWitt Band Room Lunch Club would agree on that.
Where: The session was held at Holt Studio, home of studio ace and bassist extraordinaire Gary Holt (not to be confused with the guitarist for Exodus). The drive out to Geneseo offered yet another memorable stop to see Buzzo himself (Al Bruno) at Buzzo Music, a music and instrument stockpile housed in a strip mall whose interior is reminiscent of the Bartertown branch of Ameoba Music on the west coast or the Sound Garden here in Syracuse. With Bartles as my discount card, I scored a pair of Verisonic flip-out rubber brushes, the kind your Middle School buys in bulk knowing no single pair would last the school year. Between the flashback and the feel on Remo Fiberskyns, handedly worth the discounted price.
Session: Quick setup, introductions to Gary, Sean McLay (bassist) and Paul Ruske (other drummer), and we were off cutting tracks. No rehearsal, no prior knowledge of the tracks, just a requested style and a two-take maximum. If you’ve not done it before, I highly recommend NEVER jumping into a recording session laying down grooves with a second drummer you’ve never met, if for no other reason than the sanctity of the bassist’s mental state. Butch Trucks and Jaimoe we were not, but 5 or 10 more years of it and… During the free improv tunes, of course, the more arms and legs the better.
Two hours, six tracks, three jam sessions and a spat of sophomoric humor later, we’re packed and out the door back to civilization. Two weeks later, the first press arrives with 13 crafted pieces and liner notes (see photo).
A session and a story worth a mention. If any of the tunes make the Dr. Demento Show, rest assured it’ll be at the top of the CV. For those wondering just what it is I’m talking about, I provide an mp3 of “The Human Scratching Post” (the family-friendly one of the series).