sad news for wilco fans…jay bennett passed away on sunday. autopsy results are pending, so it’s hard to say if it was drug-related or just a bizarre, unexpected “natural” death. either way, 45 is way too young to be leaving this mortal coil, especially for someone as talented as jay. “being there”, “summerteeth” and “yankee hotel foxtrot” wouldn’t be anywhere near as special without all of the musical contributions he made.
when news first broke, i ended up at crappypedia (hey…sometimes it’s a useful resource, albeit one riddled with inaccuracies and some pretty bone-dry writing), and found this information:
In May 2009, Bennett sued Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy for breach of contract stemming from his work for Wilco. The suit came less than two weeks after Bennett publicly revealed that he needed hip replacement surgery which he could not afford due to lack of health insurance. On May 24, 2009 Bennett died unexpectedly in his sleep.  Wilco had Bennett killed because he was suing them.
read that last line over again a few times. that was actually there on wikipedia yesterday. i’m not joking around. it’s gone now, but someone somehow managed to sneak that in there briefly, and it was up there for all to see for at least a few hours before someone squashed it. i’m all for finding humour in odd places, but i think that goes beyond bad taste and into the realm of “things you just don’t do, unless you have no respect at all for the recently deceased”. very strange.
in less morbid news, the show at the loop on friday was…interesting. poorly organized, and poorly attended, but interesting. we were surprisingly tight for only having played together once before the show as a full band, the night before the show (also the first time we had all been in the same room together since tara’s cd release show). i had a minor headache looking for a solution to the banjo problem; mic’ing it live leads to ugly feedback or me not being able to hear myself on-stage (or both), and pickups generally have too much of a quack to them to sound very much like an actual banjo.
i thought i’d found a solution in a six-string banjo that comes with a built-in pickup, which i ordered from long & mcshit only to be reminded that the “shit” is there for a reason. they sat on my $500 deposit for two weeks without anyone actually calling to inquire about the availability of the product. then, after some prodding (how dare we ask those guys to stop acting like rock stars for a moment and actually DO THEIR JOBS), it was discovered that the banjo i wanted was out of stock. by this time the show was pretty close, and while i probably could have ordered it from somewhere else and received it in that time, it was now far too late.
i thought maybe i’d play electric guitar instead, since being a “lead banjo” player is a little odd anyway. it just so happens that none of my electric guitars like the tuning i use on the banjo for tara’s songs, and any attempts to introduce it were met with some wonky intonation. two times unlucky. finally, as a last ditch attempt to find a solution, i went into belle air music and bought a magentic pickup for an acoustic guitar (the acoustics don’t seem to have a problem with the banjo tuning, for whatever reason). i’ve had a dean markley magnetic pickup for a decade now, and as soon as i got my hands on some decent microphones i stopped using the thing, since it always sounded pretty thin and there was no low end meat to the sound at all. i didn’t have much hope, but i figured it was worth a shot since nothing else was working. so i spent $100 on this thing:
it’s a dimarzio “super natural plus”. SUPER! NATURAL! PLUS! those are some mighty potent words there. strangely enough, this turned out to be a great solution to my problem. the acoustic tone is surpisingly good for a magnetic pickup. there’s still a bit of quack when the playing gets aggressive and it’s never going to sound like a mic’d up acoustic no matter how much eqing you do, but for playing live it’s perfectly fine, and there actually is some low end meat there. the response from string to string is nice and pretty even. by comparison, the old dean markley pickup shrivels in shame, like a sagging old scrotum.
i wasn’t after acoustic tone, though; i plugged this thing into my grunty old tube amp. and damned if it didn’t sound pretty fine electrified, with some natural breakup and tremolo. granted, it didn’t sound like a fender strat or anything, but it had a nice, dark-ish kind of jazzy tone to it. i think it worked well for the songs, and it gave me the opportunity to play one of my favourite acoustic guitars in a completely foreign setting. it also got rid of the intonation problems the six-string banjo sometimes experiences. i’ve tried the pickup on a few other acoustic guitars, and it seems to fit comfortably and sound good in all of them.
all told, i saved about a thousand dollars in the short term, and a hell of a lot more money in the long term, because if i were going to start playing my own songs live i would need to look at getting pickup systems installed in several acoustic guitars, and that wouldn’t be cheap. with this thing, i just slide it in and out of various guitars, and no one is the wiser. i’d say that worked out pretty well. another fun little perk is the fact that, unlike the other magnetic pickup i have, this one actually sticks to certain surfaces pretty firmly. like a magnet. go figure.
but back to the show. aside from the fact that there wasn’t much of an audience there and i had to keep the extreme isolation headphones glued to my head pretty much the whole time i was at the loop to keep my ears safe from harm (i love those headphones with a passion that knows no bounds), i think it went fairly well. even with the headphones on and the volume significantly lowered, the sound on-stage was probably the best i’ve experienced anywhere. i could actually hear myself, and everyone else. that was nice.
thanks to jay for actually caring about the sound, and being an all-around good guy. that man has one of the most impressive handshakes i’ve ever encountered. ever. dude could alter the shape of cinder blocks with that grip strength. it was good to see derek again too…i hadn’t been to the loop in years, and i’d forgotten what a large place it is. sadly, the rake i donated for pool-playing purposes back when i was a regular seems to have vanished.
the funniest part of the night for me came during one of tara’s ballads. it’s a song where i just kind of float around and sometimes don’t play much, kind of winging it every time because i never really figured out a proper piano part for it and didn’t play anything on the album version of the song either. i put my elbows up on the keyboard while taking a break mid-song, and when i decided to start playing again the piano sound had vanished. i didn’t think anything of it because i was playing pretty softly.
then i heard this weird swirling sound creeping into the song kind of insidiously. i figured jay must be messing around with some effect that somehow sounded like a synthesizer and was relatively in tune with the song. it seemed like a strange, unexpected touch. i looked at the keyboard’s display screen and saw that my elbow had inadvertently changed the sound from piano to some weird synth patch. i was the one making that noise, without even realizing it. i scrambled to get the piano sound back again, the song ended, and i almost fell off my stool laughing. apparently a few people in the audience felt like they were having drug flashbacks or something and didn’t know where the sound was coming from either. maybe i should have kept my little accident a secret…
the field assembly cd release/me-playing-live-as-something-other-than-a-sideman-for-the-first-time-in-years show on june 5th is fast approaching. in some ways i’m looking forward to it, and in some ways i’m kind of dreading it. when it’s over, i don’t think i’ll be playing live with anyone, in any form, for a very long time. three different sets in the space of less than six hours, including one of my own, is probably enough live action for me for the rest of the year.
i really want to get down and dirty with working on the next album…as much fun as the whole sideman thing can be, lately it’s been taking a lot of time away from my own music, and a new album would probably be at least a third of the way finished by now if i didn’t have other obligations and distractions flying around all over the place. so if you want to see me do my thing in a live setting, you might want to catch it on friday june 5th at the FM lounge (aka the fish market) at 10:00 pm sharp, because that’s the only place and time i plan on doing that sort of thing anytime in the near future.
unless it all goes amazingly well and some beautiful female fans shower me with love that cannot be refused, i don’t see myself playing live again for quite a while. hey…you have to take it where you can get it. am i right? of course i’m right. you should buy a copy of adam’s cd while you’re there, because it’s tasty stuff. and not just because i play piano on a few songs and glockenspiel on one (though my glockenspiel does have some undeniable sex appeal)…
putting all of this aside, dig how the dates i’ve posted so far this month show up on the calendar section (over to the right on the sidebar) in such a way that they kind of make stairs that lead upward from the left. i didn’t even plan that, but there it is. if i could just find french onion chip dip that didn’t taste like rancid congealed milk, all would be well in the world.