Milk Crate Blues

I have penned down a recap of my journey and what inspired me to follow my passion for music. I hope to keep expanding my repertoire as I continue down the Highway.

I do not remember that much detail about my childhood up until I was in the 7th grade. It was traumatic in many ways. I remember a few bits and pieces but not much else. However, I do remember finding solace in classic films from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s when I was a kid and through my adolescence. Film was probably the first medium that first exposed me to the world of swing, jazz and blues because I did have a fondness for the old song and dance musicals. Somewhere along the way I developed a desire to learn to play the saxophone which I began in grammar school around the 4th or 5th grade. Unfortunately, my study of the sax did not last more than about a year. There was simply too much chaos in my family life. My father died when he was 32 years old and I was 9 years old. I don’t remember my father because my parents divorced when I was very small and my mother was already on her 4th marriage by the time he died. I do remember her telling me that he died and not feeling anything. C’est la vie.

Milk Crate Blues
Milk Crate Blues

I continued to find refuge in old Hollywood films while my childhood interests segued into sports. My musical interests were re-kindled right after high school while I listened to rock ‘n’ roll, prog rock, jazz, and pop music. I attempted to take classical guitar lessons from an acquaintance I met at the Presbyterian Church I was attending in Glendale, CA. At that time in my life I was a very enthusiastic evangelical Christian. That too has changed. My classical guitar studies at that time also did not last very long as I got distracted while I was a student at UCLA where I studied philosophy and theatre arts. After graduating in 1983 I began taking formal acting classes at a workshop located at The Complex in Hollywood, CA. I was fortunate to study under Matt Chait, who was an acting professor at UCLA and also ran the workshop. Anecdotally, my future vocal coach, the amazing Gloria Bennett, taught from her studio which was located at The Complex. I did not know Gloria at the time I was studying theatre. She became my vocal coach 15 years later.

I spent a few years studying acting and theatre arts and was lucky to eventually co-star in 2 feature films that had theatrical releases in the 80’s. The films were terrible, but the experience of being paid to be on set working with a full production crew and cast was priceless. (I’m not going to mention the titles of the films, but they were low-budget horror flicks that were very forgettable). I also did not like my own work in the films. Those experiences taught me the hard way that good writing is critical for a good film. The same can be said for songwriting. A catchy hook or melody is great but lyrics are important too.

In my mid 20’s I got married for the first time and my acting career basically was over. Although I admit that I have at times over the years yearned to get back involved in theatre in some fashion. My marriage resulted in me entering the corporate business world in 1987 and working in a cubicle for over 7 years. It was a very stifling environment and I began to crave some sort of artistic expression again. It was during my last 4 years in the cubicle when I began to pursue my musical interests with single-mindedness.

There has always been something about the Blues that resonated within me. It might have originated because I was a huge Elvis and Little Richard fan as a boy, as well as other early rock ‘n’ roll pioneers, and still am. In the late 80’s I decided that I wanted to learn blues harmonica and met a musician/singer/songwriter named Laurie Melanson. She had recently moved from Boston to LA to pursue her music career and was teaching in the LA area. Laurie was a very good musician and an excellent teacher. After my first harp lesson I was instantly hooked. Studying and playing Blues became an all-consuming passion for me from that moment and continues to this day. I couldn’t get enough of the early pioneers of the Blues from Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson (I & II), James Cotton, Elmore James, Albert King, Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, Rev. Gary Davis, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Howlin’ Wolf, Paul Butterfield, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Etta James, and on and on.

There were so many other influences, both in and outside of the Blues genre that also heavily influenced me. Playing Blues harp also instilled in me a desire to pick up the guitar again, which I did while studying with Laurie. I decided to enhance my understanding of music and took a couple music theory courses at Pasadena City College, and also began studying classical guitar with Scott Tennant of the LA Guitar Quartet in the early 90’s. Scott was also an instructor at USC at the time. Studying with Scott was humbling and although I loved, and still love, classical guitar I decided I better stick to my initial inclinations and focus on Blues and Folk music. Besides, I was not blessed with the guitar chops to accomplish anything that would satisfy anyone, including myself.

In 1993 I was blessed with my wonderful daughter although my marriage did not last thru 1994. The divorce and partial separation from my daughter (my ex and I agreed to joint custody) caused me indescribable anguish. We were all fortunate enough to make it through and everyone is living a good life. It was during this time period that I also read, The Most Southern Place On Earth by James C. Cobb. It is about the Mississippi Delta and the roots of regional identity. It is an academic treatise, very dense, but worthwhile to read in order to gain a better understanding of what happened after Reconstruction in the deep South. Highly recommended.

I was fully immersing myself in the Blues at that time and I ended up traveling to Mississippi in June 1994. I was invited down by an old friend and musician who became an attorney and was clerking for Judge William H. Barbour, Jr. in Jackson, MI. That trip to Mississippi literally changed my life. Driving through the state up to Oxford to visit the Blues Library at Ole Miss (ironic isn’t it?) and the estate of William Faulkner was trippy. We continued our journey up through the state to Memphis, TN to visit Graceland, Sun Records, Beale Street, and the Lorraine Motel which is a part of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. I loved Memphis. From Memphis we cruised all the way down Highway 61 to Vicksburg, MI. We tried to stop in as many little towns as we could to visit the locations where many of my Blues heroes were either born, worked, or lived during the early part of the 20th century. My friend and I were also invited by museum staff to perform a few blues tunes for the locals at the Clarksdale Blues Museum when we stopped in town (see corresponding photo). It was a very cool experience and we ended up befriending a young man who was gracious enough to escort us to the cabin where Muddy Waters spent his childhood. It is my understanding that the cabin was eventually relocated some years later. (see corresponding photo).

When I returned to LA all I could think about was devoting myself full-time to music, as much as practically possible. I also had to keep in mind that I had a daughter to raise and support with the corresponding financial obligations. In addition, I tried to be as good a father as I could be although I had no role models that I could fall back on.

I left the corporate world after my divorce and trip to Mississippi in 1994, and I spent a lot of time playing music and camping in Joshua Tree National Park. I must have camped in J-Tree over 25 times during the mid and late 90’s. I eventually decided that I would try audio engineering as an alternate source of income, since it was unrealistic to think of earning an income being a musician. I subsequently enrolled in a 900-hour audio engineering course at the now defunct Los Angeles Recording Workshop in 1998 and completed the training. It is my understanding that LARW merged with the Los Angeles Film School a few years after I graduated. I interned at a few recording studios around LA, including the Local 47 Musicians Union, which was fun, challenging and stressful.

Engineering at studios is incredibly competitive and requires a nearly 24-hour commitment, as does most production work in LA. I distinctly remember a young engineer at a well-known studio telling me that he had not bought groceries in a year because he was basically living at the studio. Yeah…that was not going to work for me being in my 30’s and having a young daughter to raise, etc. However, I did end up working in post-production at a start-up called DES (Digital Editing Solutions-now defunct) when analog was initially being converted into digital formats. That gig didn’t last too long either due to the Dot Com collapse around the year 2000. I distinctly remember working on digitizing a PJ Harvey video for Warner Bros. one day, and around 11am being called into the conference room where it was announced that half of the existing staff was to be escorted out of the building before noon, by security, of course. The company was non-existent 6 months later. So much for my stock options.

Also, in the mid-90’s I began collaborating with a wonderful poet/singer/songwriter named Jennifer Stivers. She is the lead singer and principal songwriter on many of the DYVE recordings listed on this site. I met Jennifer through my harmonica teacher, Laurie, as they were creating music and performing together in LA in the early 90’s in a duo under the name of “Johnny”. Jennifer and I would end up working together, along with other musicians, for many years in LA. Our collaboration lasted for over a decade. However, our material was not very blues-oriented, although I tried to add some of that blues flavor with my harmonica contributions. Although most of my musical energy during this period was devoted to DYVE, I did continue to explore blues on my own when time allowed. I must also mention that our bass player, Randy Kimbley, was a valuable contributor to our songwriting and was a former band mate of Jennifer’s from a prior punk rock band they were both members of in the 80’s.

Around the same time that Jennifer and I began working together in the 90’s I made a commitment to working on the most intimate musical instrument, the voice. I haphazardly became acquainted with Gloria Bennett, who I mentioned earlier, and discovered that she was still teaching at The Complex in Hollywood, CA where I studied acting 15 years earlier. Synchronicity or Coincidence? Gloria was simply the most gracious, honest, loving, and intense coach that I have ever met. I have always struggled with the sound of my own voice, however, I have made peace with it, and Gloria was essential with her critiques and encouragement. She simply would not let me quit. Gloria was only about 5 feet tall and in her 70’s when I studied with her, but whenever I got discouraged and ready to give up she would say to me, “Do I need to get the strap!!” I really loved Gloria and was saddened to discover that she died in 2013 at the age of 92. She was a gem and I cherished her. I still have the recordings of a few of our vocal sessions in my library. Gloria taught voice for more than 40 years to many world-class musicians such as Exene Cervenka, Axel Rose, Keb Mo, Anthony Kiedis, Dexter Holland, Vince Neal, etc. I recommend buying her book, Breaking Through: From Rock to Opera, the Basic Technique of Voice. Rest in Peace Gloria…

It was around the same time that I was studying voice that I started taking more guitar lessons with another under-appreciated and truly exceptional and talented guitarist/bodhisattva by the name of Richard Peikoff. I wanted to learn more about slide guitar and Richard enlightened me with his extensive repertoire and knowledge of alternate turnings such as DADGAD, CADGAD, DADF#AD, DADG#AD, etc. Richard spent a year in East India at the Meyer Baba facility which included jamming with local musicians who accompanied him on the tabla. Richard has also collaborated with many world class musicians such as Steve Vai, Buzz Feiten, Jeff Miley, Bob Een, etc. Look up Richard on his website at RichardPeikoff.com. He is amazing.

Milk Crate Blues

DYVE disbanded at the end of 2006, and I went on a bit of a musical hiatus for about a year. It was during this time that I realized that for me to continue my musical progress I would need to commit to being a solo artist. I was determined to work on my chops as a soloist and build up a repertoire of classic blues tunes for busking and other performances. I spent a lot of time in the "woodshed" working on material and also busking. I found it rewarding and satisfying to spontaneously perform for strangers out on the streets. It felt liberating not having to rely on friends and acquaintances for support when playing out at clubs.

I got re-married in 2008 to the best friend I have ever had. Fortunately, she is not involved in the entertainment business which is a real blessing. The Great Recession of 2008 destroyed me financially. 4 years of sweat equity in a business venture with an old friend from UCLA went up in smoke when the stock and real estate markets collapsed. The financial fallout was so devastating that I had to get out of LA to clear my head. The reality of starting over again from scratch in LA at my age was unappealing. After a short stint of living in a 27 foot Airstream trailer on 5 acres of rural land 10 miles west of Roseburg, OR, my wife and I decided to head south to her hometown of Tucson, AZ in the summer of 2009. I had first visited Tucson with her in Sept. 2007 and instantly fell in love with The Old Pueblo as the locals fondly like to call it.

I did a lot of busking in Tucson in 2009 and 2010 and some volunteer engineering at the local public radio station, 91.3 KXCI. In my opinion, KXCI is one of the finest public radio stations in the country. I spent about a year and half in Tucson before financial obligations and the lack of opportunity forced us to relocate back to LA in December 2010. At first, I spent a few months busking on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica and around town. Busking in LA was not going to cut it for us financially, and once again, I entered the corporate world in order to make money and get out of debt. By early 2005 I had accepted an offer to lead a small branch of a business concern I was working for and relocated to Las Vegas, NV. My wife and I lived on the far western edge of the city a “stone’s throw” from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area which is about as far away from the Strip that you can get. Red Rocks is a beautiful section of southern Nevada and is worth the 20 minute drive from the Strip to visit. In addition to Red Rocks, there is a magical state park called “The Valley of Fire” about 60 miles northeast of the city. It is at the top of the list of my favorite camping locations, right below Joshua Tree National Park. Check out Red Rocks and The Valley of Fire if you are in Vegas and tired of the Strip, etc.

Our stint in Vegas lasted approximately 2 ½ years when we made up our minds to permanently relocate back to Tucson in June 2017. We are fully committed to living in The Old Pueblo and absolutely love the culture here in the Sonoran Desert. Tucson is an eclectic mid-size city with an incredible arts and music culture. It was also the first city in the country to be named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, even before New Orleans, which says quite a lot about the food culture here. Which brings me to 2020:

What a year this has been so far! Unbelievable in so many ways. I have made a decision, with the support of my wife, to leave the corporate business world and focus on creating music as a solo artist, and hopefully, with many other musicians, both here in Tucson and around the world for that matter. I have been fortunate to earn enough money over the past few years to make that leap. I am fortunate to not have to worry about a roof over my head. Finally! I remain hopeful about the future and plan on contributing to societal change in the best way that I can, as both a musician and activist. I’m not entirely sure how it is going to pan out but I have a few ideas for musical projects and civic engagement that I will explore moving forward. I have been an activist since my days at UCLA and will continue to be so. Lord knows we need major restructuring of our socio-economic and political systems. There is, and has been from the inception of our system of government, far too much inequality in our society. That needs to change and I am trying to remain positive for the future of our country and our planet. Musicians and other artists are needed to sound the clarion and inspire humanity to progress toward true freedom in whatever ways we can.

Milk Crate Blues

I must mention a debt of gratitude to David Peters who produced, engineered, and contributed musically on many of the DYVE recordings contained on this site. He also recorded my acoustic solo trax on this site and hopefully will be able to do so on my future projects. I have known David for over 15 years and he is a very talented singer/songwriter/engineer and producer. David’s studio is located in LA and I highly recommend him to any fellow musicians for your next musical project. See David’s website: www.oakhouserecording.com

Also, many thanks to Larry Marciano who contributed his guitar chop on “Rock Me” and “Got My Mojo Working”.

Much gratitude as well to the following musicians for their work on “Separate Grounds”: Ken O’Malley on mandolin and Billy Watts on guitar. See Ken’s websites: www.kenomalley.com

And, much gratitude to Jimmy Paxon for his contribution on drums.