Here I am, on a road again…

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From the first time I heard Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page” I was captivated by it’s serenely melancholic verses. I have had a desire to experience life On The Road from my earliest memories. My childhood fantasy was of joining a passing carnival which to me seemed to exist in a world of eternal summer. This desire had multiplied and blossomed, fed over the years by films like La Strada, songs like Jackson Browne’s The Load Out and of course Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece.
“That book. It’s like poison.” was my good friend Johannes’s opinion. I had found a cassette of it in the glove compartment of his old Mercedes as we sped towards Documenta on the Autobhan.

This spring I got a taste of it. Our Mayflower Tour which began at Pianos in New York City, took us to; Springfield, Hartford, Becket, Lowell, Boston, Philadelphia, Fairfax, Washington DC, and Baltimore.

This was accomplished over a two week span. I loved arriving in a new town, finding a yoga studio, a cafe, a local swimming hole. I could do it endlessly. 
 
This year we also broke into college radio with the help of Twin-vision. We interviewed/performed live on WHCR Harlem, WEMF Boston, WTCC Hartford, WLFR Pomona NJ, WXCI Danbury Ct. and Radio X in Frankfurt Germany. Our latest album Manifesto ended up in rotation on nearly 50 terrestrial radio stations. I list them here for posterity; KALX, KVMR, KMUD, KCSB, CA. KDUR, KVNF CO. WPKN, WXCI, WESU, WCNI, WWUH CT. WMNF FL. KTUH HI. WEFT IL. WRFL KY. KRVS LA. WMBR, WMFO, WTCC MA. WHFC MD. WERU, WRBC, ME. WHFR MI. KAFI MN. KOPN, KKFI KDHX MO. WLFR, WDVR NJ. CHMR NL Canada. WAER NY. WOUB, WRUW OH. KRSC OK CKCU, CIUT, ON Canada. KBOO OR. WPTS, WXAC PA. KPFT TX. KZMU UT. KAOS WA. WOJB WORT, KUWS, WI.
 
Hopefully we will visit your town soon. Reach out to us on Facebook. Beckon us. Offer us food and a place to stay. We will come.

Another Milestone

LIVE  at The Bitter End NYCLIVE at The Bitter End NYC

I have neglected you. So much has happened I barely know where to begin. It’s going to have to be just the highlights.

Amos quit the band in December. That’s a loss. His voice completed The Goddess Lakshmi sound.
“What I don’t understand is why he quit the band now. Why wouldn’t you wait until the album release?” Kosi said.
“Yeah.” I said. “Especially since it is at a club called The Bitter End. It shows a considerable lack of poetic judgment.”
We had many good times together. Even though he and the first Jeff seemed to hate me by the end of it. Down in The Pink Monkey Room at The Harlem Flophouse after every gig at Paris Blues for a year and a half. I ‘ll never forget him screeching at me in an intoxicated rant about my deficiencies as a bandleader. It was my birthday.

The funny thing is that most of the recent progress we have made was because of their complaints. I was perfectly happy playing weekly gigs at PB. We were getting paid. Do you know how hard it is to get a steady paid gig in New York City? And we were playing original music.
“We have to record. We have to play in Brooklyn.” was their mantra.
“If I knew how to become famous I would do it, if only to stop your complaining.” was my rejoinder.

Now we have two albums. We have played all over Manhattan and Brooklyn. I have  cracked the code on getting bookings. I have even booked us a tour.

We played The Bitter End. That was key. Even if they have mostly shitty acts nowadays. The list of greats that have been on that stage is staggering. It is the Carnegie Hall of downtown. Put that on your resume and the bookings will come. The bookings out of town that is.

The booker turned out to be a jerk. He had approached me to play there.
“I love your music.” He told me over the phone.
We were able to name our date. I wanted a Saturday night at 8pm. I picked Valentines Day.

I had sent them a few emails looking for a gig in the past year and had gotten no reply. Then out of the blue he contacted me, wanting to book our band. He had “discovered” us on the internet.
“Should I tell him I already emailed him like three times?” I asked Kosi.
“Nah. Just let him go on believing.” She said.
He stormed onto the stage as we were setting up to play. In front of the entire audience he demanded I pay him for the advance tickets I had sold, before we began.
“Ok. No problem.”
It was forty bucks. The place was jammed. They were making money hand over fist. The other acts were excellent. Everyone was having a great time. 20 covers from us was not enough for him. He wanted more.

“Just because we are good doesn’t mean anybody likes us.” I wanted to tell him. I mean, if you are reading this you have really gone way beyond the amount of attention we normally get. Even my mother, who just learned how to cyber-stalk people, doesn’t read this. If you are reading this then I congratulate you. (unless of course you are Kosi) You are somebody different. In a world where everyone seeks sameness that is brave.

Return of the Album II

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I have begun to work on our new album. It is to be entitled Mumbo Jumbo. Last Thursday Kosi was having a rehearsal down in the Salon for her new album Pictures Of Us. To accommodate her I moved my gear up to an empty room on the top floor in the back. I really like working up here. It’s very sunny and it still is kind of cold out. So I stayed.

This time we are working backwards. I am putting down all of the rhythm guitar tracks first so I can work with the metronome. That was one thing I thought was lacking in the first album. It breathed a little too much. This way I can rehearse over and over with the pulse until it feels natural. The first tune is The Beggars Song.

When I felt comfortable with the takes I brought Jeff in to add the base line. He also had a click. Then with the rhythm guitar and bass near flawlessly on beat, Kosi sang. The result was gorgeous.

Now Amos will show up and add the drum tracks. I have an idea to record him with a Binaural mic. If you have ever heard one of those recordings you know how they put you in a room. First. I will consult with Felix. Let’s see how it goes.

Quiet please.

Last night we played on the L.E.S at Left Field. Towards the end of the set a group of young women came down the stairs. They began shrieking when they saw their friend who, from the sound of it, I gathered had been last seen on the observation deck of Tower 1 at 8a.m. on 09/11/01. They were so shrill that it threw me off. I know that’s on me. The band on the Titanic played unflinchingly until the cold Atlantic claimed them. But there it is, they threw me. So at the end of the number I mildly berated them and got a few laughs for it. Finally they shut up.

After the gig one of them pigeon holed me. A nice young lady.
“Why did you do that?” She demanded.
“Hey, no worries it’s all good.” I said trying to brush her off.
“No. Really. I want to know why. We’re paying customers you should be happy we’re here.”
So I explained it to her.
“Look. We are live performers. We are not radios. We are actually humans. We want you to have a good time. It’s OK that you talk. This isn’t a church. But you can’t scream louder than the band. It makes our job nearly impossible. We are trying to work. We are performing not just for you but for everybody here.”
“Ok.” She said. “But you hurt my friends feelings and I was feeling like you know, Mafia. But now I get it.”
“It’s OK. It’s typical for Americans. When I play overseas, even when I play on the street people are respectful. They appreciate that I am a live performer. If they don’t like what I am doing, they listen quietly before moving on. But here forget it. People don’t give a shit. My own friends don’t give a shit. It’s a cultural difference.”
She smiled at me. “Well we thought you guys were really great. Let me buy you a drink. What are you having?”
“I have a drink ticket.”
“Keep your ticket I’m buying you a drink.”
“OK. Rum and coke.”
“What kind of rum?”
“Doesn’t matter.”
“Ok. But Bacardi at least.”

After the show I took Kosi to Katz Deli. We wandered around the miracle that is New York City. Everywhere, beautiful, clean people on dirty, ugly streets. Winter was fading and maybe a hint of spring worked it’s magic on filthy, mounds of icy, grey snow. We sat not far from “where harry met sally”. Kosi beamed. She had never had a sandwich like that.
“This is a very special place.” I told her. “I’ve traveled all over the world and I never had a pastrami like this anywhere. Not even close.”

Babes in Clubland

I sent out Cds to 30 different college radio stations. Felix thought that would be a good idea. “You gotta get that college radio airplay.” A month or two later he asked me about it. “Yeah. ” I said.” I only got 3 responses, No, Maybe and We’ll see.”
But along the way I found out about EPKs. An EPK is an Electronic Press Kit. It is a page with hyperlinks to your music and your press. We have that great review from JOONBUG and Kosi had set up a Bandcamp page. Oh yeah. That was interesting.
I went to Bandcamp to set up a page for The Goddess Lakshmi. I found out that the name had already been taken. “That’s odd.” I thought. Who else has a band named The Goddess Lakshmi? Well. There is that marching band in India. I went to the page and there were my recordings and a crappy grabbed from the internet photo of the album cover. Lyrics were included with minor mistakes here and there. Who did this? Some crazy fan? I hit the contact button and wrote: “Who are you?” It was Kosi. And I thought I was going mad.
With our blog, Bandcamp page and review in place on an EPK I suddenly began to book gigs. We now have a list of NYC venues on our resume; Fat Baby, Leftfield, Parkside Lounge, Goodbye Blue Mondays, The Way Station, Silvana and Shrine. None of these gigs pay anything.
I had been against playing at these predatory bars but then a fellow musician told me. “They are all like that, even Mercury Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery and Rockwood. They don’t pay a dime. But if you book them you can use it to book tours. You make your money out of town.” And then there is this. Recently I was in Puerto Rico staying near Rincon, a very posh dot on the map. There was a flashy magazine for the area called Coqui. I called every bar, club, restaurant in that mag and only found a tiny handful of clubs that had Musica en Vivo, Live music. It made me realize what a treasure we have here in Manhattan. There must be 50 or more clubs with live music on the L.E.S. an area perhaps one tenth the size of Rincon. It is a Mecca for music in a staggering multiplicity of genres. So. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Quit while you are ahead.

Kosi, our lead singer has an album of her own which is quite excellent. She had been posting reviews for it on Facebook. I asked her how she got people to review her. She told me she just searched on the internet for bloggers that reviewed Jazz albums and asked if they would be interested. “Ok.” I thought. “Sounds like a plan.”
I had no idea of where to start. I never read reviews. Mostly, I think they are a bunch of idiotic, narcissists. I did a search and came across a beautiful piece about Lou Reed written a day or two after his demise. “That’s the kind of person I’d like to write about us.” I thought. It was on a site called JOONBUG. I googled the author and found her own site NOOdle along with her contact info. I wrote to her and she replied within 5 minutes. “Sure thing.” She says. Sight unseen. I sent her mp3s of the album, photos and biographical information. A week later we did a phone interview and shortly after that she printed this:

“The Goddess Lakshmi is a prime example of the thriving jazz and folk sounds that came together during the Harlem Renaissance with nods to the beatnik cool of the early ’60s. Harlem is the birthplace of the band and its honed musical style, most evident in the swinging notes carrying the band’s front-woman Kosi through tracks like, “I Want You For My Man”. The Goddess Lakshmi has harnessed a sound that is all their own and with a wealth of experience upon which to attribute it to…

…The new album, LOVE, is the product of one exhausting, yet rewarding journey complete with ‘cuts, scratches, and cigarette burns’. The recording and mixing process ended with a flow of sound amplified by more textural qualities: close-knit rhythm sections, soul-drenched vocals, and story-lines about love: both wanting and losing it.”
— Adrienne Bess, FULL REVIEW “What luck.” I told Lia.
“I figure you have to write to 30 of these people to get even one reply. The first one I wrote to replied. Maybe I should quit while I am ahead?”
She scrunched up her face. “How long did it take you to write to one?” She says.
“About 15 minutes, you know, finding them and then their contact info and writing something customized.”
“You should do more.”
So I did. I wrote to thirty more bloggers. I found loads of them. Pitchfork, My Old Kentucky Blog, Cruel Rhythm, Brooklyn Vegan. Along the way I set up a Bandcamp page so that reviewers would have instant access to our material. Nothing. Not a blip. I mean… “My Old Kentucky Blog?” What the fuck does that even mean? That loser couldn’t be bothered?
Anyways. Take a deep breath. One great review. One really thoughtful and intelligent and flattering review from a decent high profile site. I will take it.

Our First Album

Recording Session

Felix Reyes, Producer, Chicago House of ToneFelix Reyes, Producer, Chicago House of Tone

In January we recorded our first album. That is only stage one. I have to fly to Chicago in March to mix it with Felix. Before that I have to figure out how to get and use Pro Tools so I can at least start the edit. After the mixing it will have to be mastered. But that does not involve any learning. I send it to somebody Felix knows in Texas, along with money. 

You may remember how we met Felix. He came to The Harlem Flophouse on his way to The Midnight Ramble in Woodstock NY. He was performing there with somebody he referred to as Hook. Hook plays blues harmonica. Hook is famous or notorious, actually both. I have not met him yet.

When Felix booked the room he did a little research on its owner, me. He found out I had a band. He asked if I was playing that weekend and I was, on Sunday, which was perfect. Felix came in the afternoon and rehearsed with us.He played with us to the an almost empty bar, Paris Blues in Harlem. It was magic.

I took him around the darkened streets of Harlem on the Friday before. I showed him Bill’s place, PB and a quick stop at The Lenox Lounge. He liked how at Bill’s Place you had to stop in at a local liquor store, the kind with a thick plastic bullet proof shield engulfing the entire establishment. You bring your own brew to Bill’s. Bill only provides the music.

We kept in touch on Facebook after that. During the following summer Felix suggested coming back to The Harlem Flophouse to record the band. We worked out the dates of January 6th — 13th. 

I closed the entire house. Kosi and I went shopping and loaded up on food. Amos and she stayed for the session. We were still up in the air on bass players. At the last minute a neighbor stepped in. Craig. The other Craig, not the shitty one. 

The first Sunday was grueling. As soon as Felix arrived he and Craig went to work figuring out a setup. We had to lay down “bed tracks” for all the tunes we wanted to do. Bed Tracks are essentially the drums and bass for a given song. The rest of the band has to be there performing sotto voce and unplugged so that the rhythm section knows where they are. I had pretty ambitious plan. We ended up getting six done.

Craig flew to Vegas on Monday. I spent it with Felix recording all of the rhythm tracks. On Tuesday we started doing the vocals. One at a time we went to the mic. Luckily we have been doing these tunes for awhile and one or two takes got it. I was wiped but Kosi suggested we go back to work at 7pm and get it all done. Wednesday was me doing lead guitar in the morning. That evening Craig returned. We had all the elements for the first six. We made a group decision to move on and do bed tracks for two more pieces. Thursday was spent going through the process again. 

We were more or less done. Felix and I were certainly finished. Exhausted. Felix made bounces and I got a listen to the raw tracks. They were good. Plenty of cuts and scratches and cigarette burns but good. Special. I think it will be like the Eraserhead of music for us. You know. The David Lynch film he made for 5 grand when he was in art school. Lots of imperfections, charming, and perhaps his best work.

Pick Migration

Distortion

I have this problem with pick migration. I have about 9 picks that I have acquired over the years. A few i have even bought. Guitar teachers, music stores, friends all have contributed to my collection. The thing is that one by one they will start to disappear. Slowly they will dwindle down to one or two picks, not including the red one which I never use. Then I say to myself “I’m gonna have to buy some picks.” Once I make that decision they begin to reappear. I will find them in random places such as; in between the couch cushions, gingerly placed on a mantle or on top of the cloths-dryer.  In less than a week the entire original group will reunite.

Kosi’s Hypothisis is that they say “Damn, he gonna replace us if we don’t all get back in there.” I find that compelling. I like to believe in Animism. I also like to believe there might be some synergistic principle of physics at work.

I was explaining this to Stacey. Stacey lives in an ashram in Virginia called Yogaville. “Basically it’s a cult” she says. Probably true but mitigated by the fact that it’s charismatic founder is dead. Stacey came and played with us at Paris Blues last Sunday. She had played in and out of country bands and kirtans for decades now. The first time I ever played in front of a crowd of strangers was at a salon she hosted in her Brooklyn apartment. She also was the one to get me to sing at an open mic for the first time at Common Ground in the East Village.

The Sunday before last we had a wonderfully appreciative audience. The weather was fair and good crowd showed up. Old friends and new I like to call them. I think some radio personality used that as his sign off. The joint was full and the clapping was loud. People laughed. The band was hot. We even had some people on the verge of dancing.

On the Solstice we played at the new community garden on my block. The Lakshmi Community Garden. You can guess who the founder might be. The cedar platform we performed on is nestled in the middle of the lot right where the two buildings end. The acoustics were stellar. Music drifted up and down the block but was never loud. We played an incredible hour and a half straight without a break. We didn’t even play every song we knew. I called it The Mega-set.

Last night I was on the stoop with some friends and Larry, a blind musician was hanging with us. He lavished praise on my band. I figure you must be doing something right, when a blind man likes your music.

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Blaxplosian

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The rhythm section is like a marriage. It can take months for bass and drums to lock. And it can take years before they begin to look like each other and their dogs. That’s the advantage of scoring a pair  like Jerome and David. They have been playing together since Texas.  Texas was a long time ago.

The first time we all played together was last fall. Both Jeff and Amos had subbed out. It was like standing on the deck of a battleship. Kosi looked at me sideways across the room.
“There’s a whole lot of blackness going on here.”
“Yeah.” I said. ” It’s The Goddess Lakshmi Blaxplosian Band.”

We were reunited last Sunday. It started out a little tentatively. But by the end of the first set somebody jumped up and started dancing.  That’s what’s up.