You have to let things happen, yes? Follow your muse? Stick your neck out? Stand when others choose to sit? Rock when others roll? I believe.
These maneuvers have been an innate part of my life. The river of existence has brought many fine fish into my eddy. Take music, for example.
I was lucky enough to grow up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. My first concert was in October 1974, just seven years after the Summer of Love. I was 15 years old and took a bus into San Francisco. On my walk down Polk Street to Winterland to see the Grateful Dead, I was approached by hippies and freaks, all offering me a doorway into the world of psychedelics and free love.
OK, just psychedelics, but free love had to be around there somewhere. The street reeked of it.
I was a little afraid to jump in the deep end, but I was on my way to some formative experiences. Walking into Winterland in the ’70s was a sensory feast.
The atmosphere was electric. Winterland was an old ice rink with wooden winter décor around the edges and a giant oval wooden floor. It had been converted to a concert venue in 1971. The place had atmosphere, especially when it was packed with 5,400 hippies, tripping and grooving in anticipation of the Dead. Winterland was dark and smokey. The illumination was provided by banks of black lights. People’s teeth glowed in eerie skeletal smiles. Shirts and shoes radiated neon green.
I don’t remember all the details of that show, but the Dead deployed fiery, primitive pyrotechnics that would never be allowed now in an all-wooden building. There has to be footage on YouTube. These were massive fireballs! I never saw the Grateful Dead again in my long and colorful concert-going history. But the show was recorded for a live album called “Steal Your Face,” which I am waiting to revisit some day when I’m even older.
Seeing top bands of the ’70s made me think that all music was just like that … bold, creative, trippy, theatrical and free. Throughout high school and college I was happy to be a music consumer, wearing out the turntable and going to concerts up and down California.
When I moved to Aspen I decided to switch from consumer to producer. My schooling was complete, and I was ready to give it a try. In the mid-80s I auditioned for a band in Aspen and got the gig as the lead singer for Nigel and the Hedge Hoppers. This group gave way to The Natives. We played in Aspen’s clubs and bars, most of them smoke-filled in those days.
I was fortunate. The players in The Natives were damn good, and even though they didn’t let me play guitar I got to write, perform and record original rock music at a pretty high level, all influenced by what I’d witnessed in the Bay Area.
The players I worked with and the other bands around Aspen raised the bar. This was how producing music was supposed to be.
And sitting in? I’m always game to sit in with another band, and I often, sometimes to a fault, invite other musicians to sit in. We had Jimmy Buffett up once after he had enjoyed a long visit to Margaritaville before his performance. I’ve been up there with a triple platinum guitarist when another dude pulled up mid-song, plugged in his amp and started wailing. We laughed.
I was playing a gig at Rivers Restaurant with Louie Girardot and Corey Spagnolo last September. During the break I introduced myself to a lady named Erica Brown. Turns out she’s a singer and was scheduled to perform the following night at the Hotel Colorado’s 100th anniversary. We asked her to sit in.
I had no idea that Erica Brown was a soulful, sizzling hot, supersonic, red-hot, strong and dynamic vocalist. Ms. Brown blew the place apart, then asked us about a song we played earlier. We played it again with her.
I asked her to come record that tune. She said yes. The band went to Eagle Wind Sound Studio in Winter Park and recorded the tracks in the course of a day. Erica took the lead vocal and gave an earth-shaking performance. Engineers Tony Roscacci (who played lead guitar) and James Steinbacher gave their all. Producer PJ Olsson mixed the track and made it sound magic.
Olsson, sings with the Alan Parsons Project and co-owns Eagle Wind Sound. He has been nominated for a Grammy Award this year for best immersive audio album of the year for remastering the Alan Parsons Project album, “Eye in the Sky” for surround sound.
Working with the best of the best? This is how music is supposed to be.
Hear the new recording of “Self Made Woman” at steveskinner.bandcamp.com. Reach Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.