The Tale of the Tracks 

a recorded history… 

The pooka blind (a small one-nut fruit cellar) opened for mischief as a tape-free digital studio in 2012. I was open to a new personality, one with shorter hair, if I failed to make something of it. Tired of carrying around project ideas in my head for decades, I sought the freedom and inner peace only found by making them come out of the speakers. This was a relatively new ambition that Beethoven never knew. 

My generation was the one of the first to grow up fully acclimated to speakers. For us, it made a lot more sense for music to come from speakers than from a bunch of lads marching around with horns. Live music had a folksy reputation as being a truer reality than speakers but 60's radio was full of recording artists who were using speakers to create a new sonic reality of their own. Electric organs and guitars existed only in speakers. Speakers became instruments. Having recordings meant that hearing music depended on speakers and no longer depended on the spinet piano in the dining room. Aside from the space program, music recording and the so-called rock band was the greatest technological frontier of the time. Even a small portable cassette recorder with a cheap built in microphone was incredibly empowering. those were the times I was born into and rock banding was all I wanted to do. 

I met my first bandmates, Andy and Jeff, in 7th grade because we were seated near each other in class. I could see Andy drawing little stick figure guitar players in his notebook. He drew a mountain of squares and rectangles behind them. They were the amps and speakers. Andy's only ambition was to come out of guitar speakers. We hit it off. We both borrowed our sisters' acoustic guitars and I had a plastic snare drum. For Xmas in '69, Andy got an amp and I got a drum kit. That's where it all started. After nearly a year of hiding the fact that he was a bass player, Jeff joined us with his Fender Jazz bass. 

Andy's band (The Cracked Hour or The Us) sprang to life the moment the school day ended and we walked together to Andy's house for a pot of coffee with Cream, Stones, Stooges, Hendrix and some MC5. Those were cover tunes but we mostly did Andy's own riff-songs that he'd jot down in class. There was an album every day. 

We recorded a couple of times in 1970 with Frank's nice stereo cassette recorder with a pair of matched mics hanging from the ceiling (Frank and I met in sixth grade and bonded over hi-fi gear, bikes and Harlan Ellison). We could not hear the recordings then because there was no means of playback in the house. The deck would have to go to a friend's house who had speakers. Clem first appeared mid-year at school and Andy invited him over to play his parent's spinet piano. He was already an amazing player. Unfortunately, his participation depended on the availability of a piano. Organs were rarely seen except for church. 

Back then, rock bands had no place in church. The music was feared to lead children to Satan. Being in a band was considered a declaration of atheism so my parents sent me to see our church's Pastor to Youth. I must have said the right things because he told my parents that it was okay. He said our interest was music and not theology. While we did play Sympathy for thr Devil, we did not feel sympathy for the Devil. However, Mom insisted that I compensate for it by playing viola or joining the school band, neither of which ever came out of speakers. I didn't fit in and was tossed out for unsolicited syncopation. 






Our best stretch, musically speaking, was the summer of '72 at Jeff's house. We played on the patio one Saturday afternoon until the police came but we got our picture in the local paper. I sort of remember us doing some wildly inventive coffee-stoned stuff with big amps, big speakers (TB-1's) and Jeff's dad's big in-house drum kit. I say sort of remember because Frank was snooted off to Cranbrook and there was no means of recording any of it. The Jeff sessions ended when Andy's amp caught fire. 

The emergence of prog rock split Andy's blues-rock band in half. I gave up my roll as Andy's faithful drummer. Clem and I wanted to do something more ambitious and started to operate out of my place in August of '72. Andy had brought in Mark as a rhythm guitarist and I spent at least a year wooing him to join Clem and I. So far, everyone involved had been easy to be pals with music or not. Mark was different. He was my first case of falling for someone's personal musicality but without any underlying pal-ness. He could be cold and transactional but he liked playing with us. I think we grew on him over time. Fiz liked to remain uncommitted and played drums with anyone who asked. By '73, the regulars on the prog team were Mark and me and sometimes Jeff or Karen on guitars, Clem and sometimes me on piano and organ, with Fiz and sometimes Larry on drums. We did stuff off and on. It couldn't be the daily clowning of Andy's band anymore. We were in high school. Junior high seemed like a hundred years ago. 





When we weren't doing anything, I would be out canvassing for lads that I could talk into doing something. Like Andy, I became a sort of social hub because I always had something whacky to do. It usually involved recording. 





In 1976, we bought (when I say we, I mean Clem) a Dokorder four-track and a box of ten reels. That got things rolling. We could do overdubs and there was always more tape. We got a Dokorder two track for mixdowns. In July of 1977, we rented a store front on 11 Mile. It was common back then for bands to start their own studios with a plan to pay the rent by recording other bands. Ours took a different path and we were out the following summer. For the next few years, recording meant waiting for someone's parents to go away on vacation so we could set up in their house and run snakes down their laundry chute. We never wrecked the place. Not deliberately. 

We were all used to hearing ourselves play but it is completely different to hear yourself when you're not playing. Playback was like a trip to the psychiatrist. You're the patient while recording and now you're the doctor during playback. You learn the difference between what you thought you were doing and what you sound like you were doing. Playback is like looking into a mirror with no way to control your face's reflection. 

Andy did not like playbacks and preferred to leave the judgment to others. Frank had a horrible wrinkled grimace that he wore when he didn't like something and made sudden wincing squints when he really didn't like something. 

Playbacks became the root problem between Mark and me. I thought we played well together. We could read each other and keep up. Looking back, he was my favorite person to play with. Mark had lots of great ideas and we would jam on them. I had some ideas and we would jam on them. I wanted to see the jammy stuff reincarnate into another recording with thoughtful steps of refinement. When that time would come, Mark would balk at it, pick a fight with someone and storm off for a week, a month or a year. He would come back promising to learn parts and develop performable songs. When the time to do so came, off he'd go. We all assumed Mark had the nominal amount of self-command but we were wrong. I hadn't learned this yet. I should have noticed that he wasn't interested in studying and harvesting playbacks like I was. Mark stopped after one go so our stuff mostly stopped developing after one go. It was hard to let go of Mark. Not for his parents apparently. He was institutionalized for a stretch until the State of Mich cut the budgets and set him loose with no where to go. 

As an aspiring composer of things to record and playback, my best asset was Clem. He is the most talented and naturally musical person I've ever had the joy to work with. The burden of writing stuff that was worthy of him was ever-present. On the other hand, he could do anything I could dream up in five minutes and do it better in ten. He made everyone try harder just by example. I believed I was up for such composing if only I could round up two or three more lads who were at least half his equal. I thought I was three fifths on a good day. I wrote a lot of easy set-fillers for the new lads and Clem was admirably patient about it. 

Fiz was up for it though everyone knew I preferred a heavier approach. Fiz was imaginative, solid and easy to work with. Jazzy and generous. He played drums on all of the recordings for eight years. 

Eventually, even ten reels starts to feel confining. Things were getting stolen, starting with the recorders, then some of my instruments. There was no playback at all until we got a Teac 3440 four track and some bigger reels of tape. Our sound guy Frank moved into an old farm house in Troy and we moved into the basement. Mark had returned again and we were recording again until Mark became such a fussbudget that Frank barred him from the house. Two rooms with a window between them were built with a plan to make money recording other folks for reel this time. Our cards said 'Tapir City Studio'. We had four paying customers once we got things going. His roommate (another Jeff) joined another band (Slant Six) and invited them to move in. That brought Bob and his synthesizers and another Teac into the studio. 

Things were hopping. I got to record my paperwork-laden Pan project in bits and pieces while also joining Slant Six for a year or two of kinky shows at clubs in Detroit. Then there was a break-in. The control room was trashed and most of its gear was gone. Once again, the tape recorders were stolen. Spirits were crushed. 

Bob had insurance and soon, another Teac. We were house-hopping again but we mostly spared our parents by this time. Might be why they all moved far away. We recorded at Bob's mom's house and then at his brother Bill's house and eventually Bob bought one of his own. I admit I was determined to turn Bob's band into mine by bringing in Clem and Fiz. We soldiered on Mark-less and without a lead guitar player. We recorded stuff as a doubled quartet with everyone playing another instrument together in a second pass. Robin liked learning parts and filled the guitar post in '83. I was handing out paperwork for songs for In the War Zone that looked like rows of railroad tracks. We mostly rehearsed a live set and recorded the board mix onto a handful of cassettes that flipped over and over. I still have the last flip. 








In 1984, we rented an 80-8 and Neotek board for four weeks. We had one reel of half inch tape and squeezed four songs onto it at Bob's house until he missed being able to use his laundry chute. The last week was at my house for one more quick production on my own and second mixdowns onto a rented PCM recorder. 






I remember explaining the gear to my five year old daughter while the stuff was stuffed in our house. I said the sound starts on the tape and goes through the spaghetti to the gizmos and then it comes out the speakers. Then, a smaller tape is sent downtown and hopefully, the sound will come out of the little portable radio's speaker. Dad came through because all five songs came out of the radio once or twice on shows that featured local bands. 







Robin worked out well until he suddenly up and left to join the Navy. To soften the blow, he introduced us to a young virtuoso as his replacement. Paul played with us for five months. We were videotaped once but I never saw a playback. 








Mark returned again for another go that lasted a few weeks. I shoulda known better. It wasn't a sudden fling. We had negotiated for months. I told him about my big plans for In the War Zone and Beefcake Madness. He had stuff he wanted to record. I was sure he did and that it would fit in nicely. We would do his stuff after he was caught up with my stuff. Why? Because I built this bus and he's asking to get on. He said he would learn the parts. He'd be good. We're all grownups. High school was a hundred years ago. Paul had frustrated me by taking too long to learn the songs. We were on a treadmill always waiting for the new guitar player to catch up. New material awaited. Paul had earned more chance than I was giving him but I decided that Mark would get us there much more quickly. Or, I was risking everything on misplaced sentimentality. He nailed the set in two weeks. I was getting very optimistic about what we were sounding like. We started new stuff. Once the effort crossed the threshold of 'a bit demanding', Mark flaked and fled. Forward momentum came to a sudden stop and everything went flying. 

Meanwhile… All this time, Bob was letting his younger brother split up mountains of cocaine into little paper pouches on his coffee table. We weren't told about the stash that was kept in the house. I made Bob watch a C-SPAN hearing about the War on Drugs with expanded police powers. We didn't need the risk. We weren't into coke. That didn't matter when the FBI seized Bob's house and car. We had a day to evacuate the gear and find somewhere to stuff it. All of that was 1984. But this is suppose to be a technical history. 

After a dark stretch, Frank and I regrouped in '86 and talked the lads and nearly everyone I knew into doing a radio-comedy we were writing called Zug Island: An American Dream. It took two years and a thousand phone calls to see it through. Dialogue was recorded on the four track joined by piles of cassette decks cued up with backgrounds, music and sound effects. Half hour episodes were cued and mixed (after a few rehearsals) all the way through onto a VHS hifi recorder. Hifi VCRs were the poor lad's digital recorder. 

The band never regrouped. Bob finally settled his house and car with the feds after nearly two years of limbo and never being charged. He died of a sudden illness shortly after. Clem went on to work on music and instruments based on non-twelve-tone scales. Mark opted to become a homeless street-person and gained weight eating discarded leftovers from posh Royal Oak restaurants. Fiz moved across the state. Andy shot himself. Frank went to Arizona where he eventually gassed himself in his brother's garage. I had all the tape. I wanted to see what the stuff could be sliced, diced and organized into, if anything. 

Throughout this history, I would often have enough gear at home for a weekend or two to make some solo recordings and song demos for the band. With the band gone, it was more a matter of begging to borrow guitars, a keyboard or other gear for quick recording stints. My clout as the hub-guy had vanished. I had been so spoiled by that for ages. I no longer spoke for Our Great Musical Cause. Just me, the mooch. I borrowed a Simmons drum kit for a day and spent most of it trying to rustle up some drum sticks (it was a holiday). I ended up using Bob's wooden spoons. I traded tech work for studio time. I had a few productive years with a Fostex 8-track rig in the house in the '90's. I had hand-me-down computers with Windows 95 running the MIDI interface until 2010. By that time, a personal reckoning was long overdue. I had messed up my hands for playing and was busy with my new more noticeably-paid career as a LED fixture designer. Perhaps it was time to press stop. 

What was the enduring appeal of all this? A life of actual rock n roll travel was never very appealing and I certainly did not have the sight for it. While it is handy being my own tech, the gizmos are such a fuss. It's all about composing music and making it come out of speakers. Brain activity becomes air wiggles. Music heard by thinking becomes heard without thinking. That's what playback is all about. 

Tracks from this story are gathered in a collection called Shaking the Ether. Volume One appears below. Volume Two is here

Shaking the Ether Volume One

Volume One is a collection of songs, demos and improvs made with an assortment of bandmates spanning 1970 to 1984. Along with memorable solo items with Clem on piano and Hammond organ and Mark on guitar. The full story is below the track list...

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    A&E 2:57

Blue Invasions

Recorded at Quarantine Studio in 1977. Sampling effects were added in the 90's. We rented half a building in Royal Oak in '77 and '78. We wanted a place where the band could carry on the serious work of being loud without having to wait for someone's parents to go on vacation. Over time, it became a social hub, teen haven and homeless shelter. The other half was a Bible book store. Yin yang. 


Echo Duet 1 

Mark thinks fast to play rhythm and lead as various tape delays are blasted back at him through the monitors. We built a room with exposed stud walls filled with six inch fiberglass insulation. It gave the room a quiet and isolated ambiance. It looked like rows of pink elephant butts pressed against the studs. 


Disco Hulk 

Before we moved into Quarantine, most things happened at my parent's house. Film sets and radio play and band recording were the norm with a steady stream of creative friends getting involved. Including Carl, whose clay-animation film Disco Hulk was to depict a glitter ball of gamma rays turning a disco dance floor into a hellscape. This was to be its soundtrack. Carl does the vocal with Jeff on bass and Larry on drums. We played and recorded this just the once at my parent's house in 1975. Right after Dad said we had five more minutes. 


Some work, a few days ago… 

This was made in 1978 at Steve's parents house in Birmingham while they were away. The voices come from his art-vid The Ant


Mark Twelve 

Mark returned to the band once more time in '84. It lasted a few weeks before he headed off for street life. This was a draft of his twelve-string thingie. 


Black X and the Flies 

Mark and Steve came up with this strange religious number. Steve, along with Jim Beam, provides the vocals. His parents were away. Fiz plays drums and Clem plays a Vox Super-Continental. 


Runs & Jumps 

Mark and I made this sketch of what he said runs and then jumps. It was recorded in my room with Mark playing through my bass amp's crazy fuzz setting. This was also a return for for Mark. Looking back, Mark spent eleven years returning to the band. 


Echo Duet 2 

Another stretch of Mark thinking ahead as the echo follows. 


The Slash 

We didn't do this sort of stuff when the book store was open. We had a nice rapport and respected their business hours. On summer nights, we would play with the front door open. With mittens in winter. 


Uncle Claude Has Been Drinking Again

The Small Stone Phase Shifter was our new toy in '75. I asked Clem to noodle something so I could mess with it. The Estey grand piano had a bad tuning peg at middle-E. Hard to avoid. Clem had an amazing repertoire of music in his memory. Everyone's mom loved his Clair de Lune


Mushroom Cultivation 

Clem plays a nifty solo on the fabulous Yamaha CP-80 at his place while the infant mushrooms absorb and grow nearby. 


Bob, At Bill's House

Bob joined the band in '81. I had spent the previous year or so with his band with Enola Gay Porter doing kinky-rock. It was simple and silly but we did a lot of gigs. Bob brought a pile of synthesizers to the mix and a place to set up the stuff. He also provided a place for his brother to store frightening quantities of cocaine in a safe amidst the gear. He told us it was his mom's stuff. 


Sonar 1982

We made this on a four track ping pong style. The four of us played a second instrument on the second pass while hearing the first in headphones. I played bass and then guitar. Bob plays the noisy lead section on a Prophet-5. 


The Swordfight Scene 

Clem put some thought into this accompaniment for a swordfight scene. Back in '75, he had a Hammond Porta-B and a Leslie 122 that we mic'ed in a knotty pine room. There was no way to follow the cues by putting the scene on a screen. The noise of the projector was inescapable. My arm and a stop-watch handled the cues. 



A rehersal night recording from 1983. Robin on guitar. This was a happy stretch with five members (at last) a few gigs and lots of new songs. Incarcerated was Slant Six's opening number before Enola made her Entrance. 


Don't Give Me Your Future 

In 1970, we played at Andy's house everyday after school. Jeff and I were twelve. Andy was thirteen. We mostly played Andy's stuff that he composed in class. We covered Stones and Cream and Stooges and everything on Hendrix's greatest hits. Our gigs were various garages, porches and driveways and a few late night coffee houses in downtown Detroit. Andy invited Clem over to join us on piano. We played Jumping Jack Flash and Purple Haze hundreds of times from 7th to 9th grade. By the time we were fifteen, we were ready to move on to more demanding and genteel stuff. Other lads at school were just getting started with the Jumping Jack Flash part. 


dead dead dead destroyed 

I invited Andy to get it on our 8-track recording stint in '84. We knocked out a few items including this darkly upbeat number. Andy died at home as they say a few years later. 


X the Un(known)

In the early 80's, everything I wrote had a demo iation made with a small Casio keyboard and a guitar or two. Most of those demos sounded like a bathroom full of ducks. This one was never followed through or given a name. 


The Ladies Bathing 

One of the lads said this sounded like ladies bathing and we thought that was a great idea for a title. This happened in ‘78 at my parents’ house. Mark plays his cherry sunburst les paul. We had read in cream or circus that the best guitar sound came from pushing the amp hard and yanking the cone to its limits. It’s true. We buried the speaker cabinet and a microphone under every mattress, cushion and pillow in the house. I had already made the other tracks. Mark had one acquaintance pass and made one foolhardy go with headphones but could not hear them. The stereo was set as loud at it could get and rolled all the way through. There was no time for a second go and fix the house before dad got home



Be This Way 

These were the last items to be recorded at Bob's house shortly before the FBI seized the property as part of the War on Drugs at the end of 1984. We were noodling on some of Mark's stuff. He is playing a lovely SG double-neck. Mark would soon wander off from his life and walk the streets for the next thirty-six years. He died on a park bench in 2020. 


Purple Pastimes 

Andy’s band had a gig at the local VFW hall in March of '77 and we wanted to try out a live recording with our new Teac four-track. The evening included a box-lunch auction with nihilist undertones. The emcee's speech was loop fodder for years after. We filled in with a few items at the end of the night. This was just months before we moved into Quarantine where this half-structured item was recorded. 


Other Than Stone in the Lake Live 

This is part of a minimal rendition of Another Stone in the Lake. There were only a few seconds to explain the plan to Andy's bass player Paul and to Fiz who just happened to be there. He became the band's drummer until '85. I wanted to think like Mark for my version in 2013. The last bit is Mark, Clem and I on mandolin, accordion and flute doing the Closing Credits Jig in 1975. Dad liked it. 

Onward to Volume Two