My first CD… ever…. came in right before our Season Opener and my show with Hot Tuna at the Fur Peace Station on March 17th. At the beginning of the year as we were getting ready to head to Hawaii for our Fur Peace “On the Road” workshops I had no idea that I would have a CD out…..and how it happened was magical. The CD I’m talking about is THE MAUI TAPES, VOL. 1. So…… we’re at The Royal Lahaina doing two weeks of guitar workshops with Jorma the first week and Jorma and Chris Smither the second week. During the weekend between our sessions I had went ‘Upcountry” to stay at my friend’s house in Haiku……mile marker #15 on the Hana Highway. It was such a nice spot……I instantly felt a very relaxed spirit of aloha emanating from the spot and was thrilled about my digs for the weekend.
My friend, Mark, who so kindly let me stay in his place……was also kind enough to leave me a guitar and instructions to enjoy my stay and make myself at home. Well, it really felt like home in a very short time and I was bubbling with excitement and inner joy at my good fortune. The lay of the land was a lot different then the beach scene in Lahaina where we were staying. Being “Upcountry” meant being away from the busy city……although I’ve got to say ALL of Maui has a very laid-back vibe. The place in Haiku was in some ways just like the feeling you get right here in Meigs County Ohio…..out in the country as well…….but with a tropical setting. Lots of stars at night….not much noise aside from nature’s ongoing symphony……so I was taking it all in and loving every second of every minute. I was playing that guitar lots too. I noticed how nice the room sounded and I was in a super positive mood and I got to thinking……why not do a recording right here in the living room of my Haiku hideaway.
Vanessa stopped up over the weekend to see the place and we were all going to run out for some great fish at the Pai’a Fish Market. When she came in the house and as we were talking I told her. “Boy, this room really has a nice sound to it…..let me play you a song”. Her and Izze listened as I serenaded them with No Woman No Cry…..she said, “It is a nice sounding room”. At this point I mentioned that I was going to ask Mark to bring up some recording equipment and that I was going to do some recording …..just mostly me and my guitar…..right there in that room. As we were outside walking the grounds I fortuitously asked Vanessa to take a picture of me with the guitar, adding that who knows if this recording sounds good enough…..I might make a CD of it. We walked around the yard and she directed me to stand up on Mark’s back porch cause it looked like a great spot and the sun was also shining and casting it’s light in the perfect direction. Vanessa took a few pictures of me and as we looked them over she felt one was a great shot and she says….”I’ll email this to Kevin for your CD cover”……well, yes……that sounds like a capital idea. When I got back from Hawaii and really started to move on this project and made it over to Kevin’s to talk to him about doing a cover, he was really stoked about how nice that shot Vanessa had taken looked…..and when I got to check it out …..I had to agree. All the lighting was just as it was…..Kevin did not have to do any photo shop touch up.
After our two weeks of workshops I went back up to Haiku to stay on for another week. First day as I was playing… a new song came to me……boy, it happened fast. A simple two chord melody and words pouring out from I don’t know where. I’m thinking that I was totally inspired from just being around Jorma’s first ever Songwriting class and all the great writers in his class……let alone the Captain’s well-spring of inspiration. I felt really good about the new song and also about the process of writing a new song……and when you have a song finished……that you like……well that makes you feel good too! That was the starting point and then I started believing that maybe I could pull this all together in the short time I had and maybe I would have a CD to tell the people about at our Season Opener.
I asked Mark if he would be able to bring up his recording equipment and I told him of my plan. Mark, has become a good friend and one of his many attributes I like is his yes-we-can attitude mixed with that wonderful spirit of aloha. I also told him that I wanted this to be a roots recording session….just one mic on the table catching the music and the nice sound of the room. Just a couple days before my vacation was to come to an end, Mark came on up with everything we would need and we got to it. This recording was going to be a simple solo recording…..no overdubs, mon…..but I did ask Mark to add some nice lead guitar to several of the tracks and he sure did oblige my request.
We did most of the recording in one night. I had stopped at a road-side stand to pick up some Huli Huli Chicken (the Hawaiian style) with Kula corn and brought it back to the house. After a nice dinner and a thorough cleaning of the hands….I started playing. Most of the songs on The Maui Tapes are first takes and that is the way I wanted it to be. There are a couple that took two takes and one was a three taker. It all felt very good…..very organic. Mark came up the next day and we finished up with a couple more songs. I listened to the playback and was happy with the sound. Yes, I started feeling really positive about the whole project and the fact that I might actually pull this off.
I recorded 10 songs…..three originals and 7 of my all-time favorites. Mark dropped them all onto a disc for me and I left the island with the Maui Tapes in the bag. Once back on the mainland I started to look into how to get the CDs produced. I called my good friend, Michael Falzarano for counsel on this matter and he was a big help in so many ways in helping me turn this dream into a reality. Michael set me up with the CD replicator that the New Riders use and everything was moving forward.
The CD has no production and no overdubs and that’s how I wanted it to be ….. strictly roots! As things are progressing, but still right before I give it the final go, I started to experience some self-doubt……boy, that’s a tough thing to work through and it did strike me as funny at this stage of my life..but it was there. Well, right about this time the phone rings and it is Michael asking me how things are going. I told him that it was funny you should call right now Michael…..I’m starting to feel some doubt about finishing the project. Michael says, “what’s up?”….and I start to tell him….Well, you know I did this on the quick…..I wasn’t in a studio…..I only had one mic in the room…..I just don’t know. When I listened to the CD over and over I did notice a few pimples and I told him about that too….”I’m wondering if I’m moving too fast on this, I’ve noticed some misses and a couple dropped beats….blah, blah, blah…..you know and I’m just starting to question the whole thing.” The next few things Michael would say to me hit home and really came at just the right time…..Michael pointed out to me that some of the most cherished recordings in his and mine record collection were recorded that exact same way…….he also assured me that even if I had spent 6 months in a studio and had done take after take on a song….I would notice the same mistakes. He then gave me the best advice and the advice I needed just then….”Just do it John, just go ahead and put it out there.” THANK YOU Michael…..I come to you for advice and you gave me the best!!!
Now right after I get this much needed pep talk from Falza…..out of the blue I get an email from my treasured friend, Rabbi Shmuel. I met Shmuel up at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland one year when Jorma was up there taking part in the Janis Joplin tribute. He’s another great turn-on, courtesy of my old friend, Jorma. Here is the email Shmuel sends me:
From my college roomie —
On my first recording date I had the honor of working
with the great jazz drummer, Billy Higgins.
We were sitting in the control room, listening back
to one of the tracks we had just finished.
It sounded great: note perfect, vibrant, alive.
Then the engineer said,
“You know, the tempo sped up. The song ends faster than it began.”
And Billy said,
“So what? What do you think we are – machines?”
We are not machines
and the more we standardize
and follow instructions
the less human we become.
My job is to be more human
Yeah, I just loved it……and how did he know…….
The Rabbi didn’t even know I had done a recording or was considering making a CD, yet this email struck me like a satori …..right over the head…..If the great Billy Higgins wasn’t concerned about being perfect…..I wasn’t going to worry about a couple dropped tempos either. It was sealed and I was going to forge ahead…..fast. I gave the go-ahead and over-nighted the master.
I’m real happy with The Maui Tapes……I feel the pure joy of the music outweighs the perfection factor. I really want to send out Mahalos….thanks …..to my friend Mark in Maui for every little t’ing….to Michael for the encouragement and advice……to Vanessa for the photo and for believing…..and to my main running dude, Kevin Morgan, for putting the CD together and keeping me fired up. All in all it was just about 5 weeks from the first thought of a CD project till the day the CD arrived. I’m feeling good , thankful and blessed.