So “Blue Dogs” started out as half of a big band album that The Muffins were working on, but due to disagreements concerning post production work and the feeling that the tunes weren't all blending together, I decided to pull my contributions and put out a separate album.
The cover by Gonzalo Fuentes Riquelme (titled “Blue Dog”) gave me the idea for the title of the album. The moment I saw Gonzalo’s painting on Facebook, I knew I had my cover. It was strange; it was almost as if the picture ‘shouted’ out to me. At that point, there was never a question as to what the cover would be. Gonzalo, by the way, has a company called Guerrilla Graphics. Please consider him for any and all album cover artwork you may have in mind. He is very prolific and very talented, and he comes highly recommended. He's also a walking encyclopedia of everything RIO and Canterbury.
So there are 3 drummers on “Blue Dogs”: George Newhouse, Paul Sears, and me. George plays on “Canterbury Bells” and “Blind Eye”, Paul plays on “Muffin Man Redux”, and I play on the other tracks and in between.
Billy Swann plays double bass and electric bass on most everything. I play some keyboard bass in bits and pieces, but to tell you the truth, I’ve forgotten where Billy leaves off and I start.
Mark Stanley plays guitar on “Muffin Man Redux” and “Blind Eye”.
I was very fortunate to find Steve Pastena to play french horn on “Shwang Time”. I met Steve as I was just finishing up the album, “Shwang Time” being one of the last tracks I actually recorded. Steve was taking on some substitute teacher jobs at the time (he's also a piano / horn teacher and organist). He had subbed for me one day when I was out, and he left his business card. One of the things on the card said that he played french horn. WHAT?!!! He was, fortunately, a very fast study – had all of the horn lines learned and memorized from just a few listenings at his home before he came in to record. I’m hoping to do much more with Steve on the next album.
So…on to the individual tracks.
This tune came to me first as piano chords that I recorded in my Abin Sur studio. (By the way, for all you comic book nerds out there – and yes, I am one –, Abin Sur was the name of the alien who crash landed on Earth in the 60s and who, as he was dying, gave his power ring and position as intergalactic officeer to Hal Jordan, thus ushering him into comic book history as the Silver Age Green Lantern. Just sayin’.) The chords, I realized after I had recorded them, came at odd intervals – not all of them in equal chunks of 4 measures or 6 measures each. But I remember too that, as I was recording those chords, I was also hearing at the same time a melody over top of it all. (I’ve told many people over the years that sometimes these melodies / riffs often come to me as fully realized musical ideas that I can only credit to ‘The Muses’. I know I’m not alone in this.) Working as quickly as I could (those Muse melodies oftentimes have a habit of being fleeting), I went back to the beginning of the chords and overdubbed that melody in pretty much one first take. It's instances like this that make me feel that I sometimes don't compose anything, that all I'm doing is copying down what The Muses are telling me to write. Overall, the whole composition had a Canterbury feel to me. I like how it begins the album right off the bat with an in-your-face beat, no fade up into anything. The slower ending (if I may say so) reminds me of something early King Crimson would do. Maybe something from “In The Wake of Poseidon”. (Another note about 'The Muses': I heard that John Zorn once said something like that he had to learn how to get out of the way of 'The Muses' and just let them have their say. Indeed.)
I had just gotten a copy of the Duke Ellington biography by Terry Teachout, “Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington” (great read, by the way) for Christmas. It, of course, made me go out and pad my Duke Ellington CD collection. I was soon immersed in listening to everything Duke Ellington as I was also reading about his life and work. I came very quickly to the realization that the man was an American genius. That’s Duke’s real voice at the end of the track (Shhhhh…).
Muffin Man Redux
The beginning section (after the opening horns) is my take on a Charles Mingus-like riff, maybe something from the Town Hall Concert. The next part comes from a World Music influence that I am still actively discovering and nurturing. A guy at this Middle Eastern festival that my family and I go to every year let me play his doumbek, and I fell in love with it. I think bass clarinets and doumbeks were made for each other. The marching band bit is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I was brought up in the marching band culture all through high school. I’m actually one of those people who likes watching the different marching bands on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (What a nerd!) My friend, Guy Segers, from Univers Zero, heard "Muffin Man Redux" and commented that the last section, right after the marching band bit, reminded him of lost Soft Machine tracks. Incredibly high praise for a Soft Machine fan like me. “Muffin Man Redux” is also (aside from acknowledging an old child's song that has followed The Muffins throughout our career) a tip of the hat to our own ’Muffin Man’, Frank Zappa.
Lost in a Photograph
The idea here was to replace piano chords using only horns. I recorded the piano chords first and then went back and assigned a different horn to each note. I usually come up with titles of tracks after I’ve recorded them. (I also have many small notebooks I've collected over the years full of titles that I usually get from things that I'm reading at the time. I know - a little strange, huh?) This one sounded very melancholy to me, like someone looking hard at an old photograph and remembering times past.
This actually had its first life as a YouTube video (you can still see it). I was anxious to put together a little film and soundtrack that represented parts of the Civil Rights movement from the 60s. It was the 50th anniversary of the crossing of the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and it was all over the news. I got the idea to use photographs from that time (mostly from a book titled “The Civil Rights Movement” by Steven Kasher). Musically, I had been listening at the time to a band called One Shot – very Magma / Zeuhl. I’ve been influenced by that genre of music for some time. “These Castle Children” on The Muffins’ <185> is a tip-of-the-hat to Magma and that powerful style.
I had been listening to a lot of big band music, especially Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa, his drummer for many years. The opening came from an idea I had when Billy and I were at Tom’s house during our last mixing / recording session. Billy played bass, Tom played alto sax, and I played snare. We made a video of it at the time, which I will eventually embed here on the website. I then used that riff as the beginning and allowed it to naturally evolve into the subsequent sections. Each part seemed to grow effortlessly from the parts before it. Steve Pastena really padded out the brass sections with his french horn.
This originated from the second-to-last recording date at Tom’s house. It was the first recording session where we had rented a double bass for Billy to play. (I have subsequently purchased that same bass, so I’ve got it whenever Billy and I need to it to record.) Tom lost the original tracks when he lost his hard drive, so I had to re-record and modify what I already had. The melody came to me one day after I had driven around in my car listening to the piano chords. (Again, something, I felt, that came to me from The Muses – I LOVE those ladies! Hope they never stop singing to me.) A fitting ending composition for the album, I think.