BillyRadd Music

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Practicing Practice

Live From Neil's Man Cave Studio

So this is how it goes.  

Neil Laurence and I are rehearsing a few times a week for four or five hours at a stretch in his home recording studio getting ready to begin performing together in front of people here in Asheville - two seasoned men on their ukes.  The whole process makes me very aware once again of the value and absolute necessity of the discipline of practice.

Practice makes perfect.  How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice.

There is no substitute for practice.  Neil told me about country guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins.  Why do we know his name?  He practiced guitar 4 hours a day.

I've only been playing my new Kala U Bass for a month, but already there is a small shiny smudge forming on the spruce face of the uke above the strings from constantly resting my right hand there to pluck the strings, physical evidence of my dedication to practice. 

I can easily trace my acquiring the skill of practice because it came at at substantial investment in time - studying Martial Arts for 15 years.  It was worth every minute and it not only was great physical exercise, the practice of Tae Kwon Do either alone, with my daughters, or in class as a student and teacher benefited my brain in positive ways that I hadn't anticipated.  I highly recommend the practice of martial arts, any martial art, to anyone, at any age, at any time.  It will change your life and your brain in wonderful, unexpected ways.

But, so will the study of music.  I am proof of that.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Well, I got this new hat so now I have to wear it, right?  Will it make my playing sound any better? You betcha! 

I need all the help I can get.

My buddy and co-conspirator, Neil Laurence and I are practicing half days two or three times a week to get ready for our premier together in front of an audience in Asheville NC, and I think I need "an attitude".  Maybe people will think that the chapeau is sooooo cool that they won't notice any minor slip ups on my part of the deal, playing bass accompaniment to Neil's singing his songs, strumming his uke, blowing the harp, and whistling.

If I could get away with it, I'd simply record my part and play a CD of it behind Neil as he performs solo.  But, no!  He expects me to stand next to him, to just hang it out there, so to speak, and play.  This takes a measure of bravery and devil-may-care panache that I am not used to displaying in public.  Sure I've exhibited lots of my paintings at art auctions, written, produced and shot hundreds of TV commercials, and other genre of visual media.  The latter endeavors typically involved much planning, feedback from other professionals, and a kind of distance that insulated my ego from the reactions of the end user.  

Not so with performing live music in front of an audience.  For one thing, people will be looking at me personally, not just my work.  Thus, the hat becomes an embellishment and a prop, a distraction and perhaps a point of interest to any specific listener.

So, it has finally come to this.  Where I used to consider myself to be an author of a work, now I am part of the work, part of the "show".

Eeeeeeek!  I'm "devolving".

But, then again maybe it's like my old mentor at film school, Tim Baar used to say.  "Sometimes you have to go back to go forward".  I had assumed that he meant that you merely backed up for a while.  I didn't realize that I would actually have to turn around and face my future full on. Another Life Lesson learned by Billy - The Future is ALWAYS in front of you.

I'll let you know how it works out in about a month.  Say, maybe I can wear the hat over my face.

Uh, probably not.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Steppin' Up

Singer/Songwriter Neil Laurence

Jeff Skolnik, the owner-operator of Dryden Street Studios in Fairview, North Carolina, is a cut above the rest.  The former US Navy Engineer lifer welcomed us at the door to his beautiful studio by saying, "I thought I heard a car pull up."  

There are probably two good reasons for this statement.  First, after many years as an audio engineer, Jeff's hearing is no doubt superb.  He demonstrated his aural acuity to us many times in the 6 hours he worked with us as Neil Laurence and I began to lay down tracks for one of Neil's many compositions called "Life is Sweet".

Second, Jeff's studio, a handcrafted audio paradise that more resembles a comfortable contemporary home than hi-tech sound recording studio, is nestled on a hill in the woods in a beautiful, very quiet neighborhood in western North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains.

Jeff's recording talents were only exceeded by his warm hospitality and positive humor.  As a working bass player himself, Jeff was impressed by the low "woody " tones emitted by Mela Kani, my diminutive Kala U bass, while Neil and I were blown away by Jeff's impressive collection of one-of-a-kind bass guitars which he shared with us like a proud papa.

The three of us spent hours laying down multiple tracks of bass, ukulele, and double-tracking Neil's vocals, including whistling, and harmonica.

What a great experience it was for Neil and myself to find this gem of a collaborator, Jeff the Recording Master.

As Neil and I were driving back to Asheville after our session, I asked Neil, "Where did you get hooked up with Jeff?"

"The same place that I found you - Jeff responded to my Craig's List ad," Neil said.

Well, that's pretty random, I thought.  

But, hey, sometimes things line up in the Cosmos just right.  And, like my Dad used to say, "Don't fight it".

Monday, March 21, 2011

Uke It Up

Let's Get Ready To Rumble

Today I decided to go ahead and do it.

Mela Kani, the Magical Kala Ukulele Bass I am using to reinvent myself as a musician, called out my name as I practiced my bass scales for the 50th time.

"Billy, " I heard her whisper. "Are you going to have to carry Peg with you (my vintage Ampeg B12N bass amp weighing in at about 65 lbs.) every time you practice with that nice man Neil in his Beverly Hills (the one in Asheville, NC, not the LA Basin) man-cave studio?

Mela Kani was 100% correct, sir. Peg has a big round bottom, er, end. And she likes to throw her weight around when she "gets down" low and dirty. But am I man enough to pull her weight AND mine every time I want to rehearse with Neil?

Of course, I've heard it all before but, how many times do you have to hear the truth before you believe it.

The Kala Baby Bass was right. Time for lifting the weight from my back and move into a light and more-portable future.

I jumped into Big Red (my trusty rag-top Jeep) and headed down the pike to Asheville's own Music Center store where I picked up a lighter and younger version of my Big Mama Peg, the Fliptop. Amp.

While no lightweight in tone or handy features, my new Fender Rumble 15 bass practice amp packs a heavyweight punch with its quality constructions and cool features - and all weighing in at only 19 lbs.

So far, I practiced for three hours with Neil sawing on his tenor uke, and the Rumble 15 carried its own weight admiringly. My U Bass's throaty tone was reproduced without one crack, misplaced pop, or distorted vibro during our whole session.

The Rumble 15 is the perfect practice mate for my U Bass. Together, they can really put the "thump" on you. As my artist friend, Charlie Schmidt, says, "I like it too much".

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Peg Is Back

My amplifier repair guy, Aaron, called me yesterday and told me that he was able to fix Peg, my B12N Ampeg combo Portaflex fliptop bass amplifier, with parts on hand. So, she's back home and sounds really great with my Kala U bass and my Fender P bass as well.

Aaron said he was really happy to work on my Ampeg and told me it was in the best condition of any vintage amp he had ever worked on. I told him that my parents had given the amp when I was in high school in 1963 and he was impressed that I was the original owner.

I recommend Aaron's work highly so if you are in the Asheville, NC area and need to get your guitar or bass amp worked on, get in touch with him. He knows it all, worked quickly and was very reasonably priced.

You can reach Aaron at or 828-254-3953.

It's nice to have Peg back home.

Friday, March 18, 2011

B12N Repair Update

Here's the thing.

My local tube amp repair man, Aaron, called me yesterday to report on his upgrade of the power cord on my vintage bass amplifier, an
Ampeg B12N. He had found some additional problems.

"Have you used this amp in the last 20 years or was it just stored in a closet or something?" he asked.

"Oh, uh, I've been using it to practice with since last summer," I said innocently.

"Well, I'm surprised at that because there are a few problems with the electronics," he said. "Does it hum a lot?"

"Well, no, it doesn't hum a lot but I haven't turned it up very loud, though. Maybe there is a hum but I can't hear it at low levels," I responded. "Is there something wrong?" Duh.

"Yeah, there is a blown
capacitor and a few other problems. Plus, someone replaced some of the original tubes with a kind that isn't really meant for your amp. I'm surprised it doesn't hum a lot, " Aaron reported. "These tubes won't perform as well as they should - kinda lower capacity power tubes. There are two KS 16's instead of the two GY96's that should have been used, " he said, or something like that.

"I did have a music store replace some tubes about 20 years ago, " I remembered vaguely.

This conversation was beginning to sound like my typical sobering trip to the local car repair shop. I don't know much about car parts either.

"Uh, OK, " I said authoritatively. "Well, can you fix it?" Ah, the perpetual question.

"Oh, sure," Aaron responded happily. "It will take me about 5 or 6 days to get the parts in."

Now, this was really starting to sound like a car repair routine.

"Ok, then go ahead and do what you need to do and let me know when I can pick it up, " I said.

"OK, man," said Aaron cheerily.

We both knew our last two lines very well from years of practice. But, the B12N will be back into service in about a week. I will be happy thumping away through the B12N's new vintage electronics and Aaron will feel the satisfaction a doctor feels when restoring the life of an older patient who was very near death but didn't even realize it.

For myself, I spent the remainder of yesterday trying to think of a good nickname for the old amp. This is my typical level of personal interaction with my instruments, besides playing them - thinking up a good name.

Then it hit me hard and quickly while looking at the above pic of the lit Ampeg logo that decorates the top of my B12N. Peg is her name. The logo, to me at least, says, "I am Peg", so that's her new name.

Anthropomorphism - it's a great hobby - not too expensive and VERY non-technical.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Alohas Have It

The Sound of Mela

Many thanks to those who voted in my "Name the Kala U Bass" questionaire which ended today. The beautiful Hawaiian name Mela (which means Song) won with 50% of the votes. This is doubly great because that was my favored choice as well. BTW, Kani, meaning Sound, came in a close second so I may have to call it Song Sound, which is somewhat appropriate for such a classy little music maker.

In other music news, I discovered yesterday, while reading a bass forum on the net about Ampeg B12N fliptop amplifiers, that the vintage boomer of that very type my parents gave me for my 16th birthday in 1963, is a no-kidding electrocution waiting to happen. It seems that, since it was manufactured way back when grounded outlets were not the norm that they are today, the vintage two-pronged power chord my B12N sports has no way of grounding the power that might surge through the unsuspecting player if he, she, or me were to touch a microphone or any AC powered device plugged into a different amplifier.

That would be a rude awakening indeed, and maybe The Big Kahuna of All Rude Awakenings..

So, today I loaded my beloved B12N into Big Red, the Jeep, and hauled it off to Asheville's Guitar Mama Store for a sorely needed upgrade to a grounded power plug. Good thinking, don't you think?

When I play bass, I want the sparks to fly, but not from my ears.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

My New Kala U Bass

The Little Wonder

I was surprised to hear the door bell ring about noon today and find our friendly FedEx delivery woman holding a box I didn't think would arrive until the middle of next week. This early arrival was my new U Bass electric baritone ukulele. And, what an amazing new invention this beautiful baby is!
It's called a Kala U Bass and is very small (30 inches stem to stern) and light (a mere 2 lbs) as opposed to my Fender P bass (45 inches long and 7 lbs). It sports soft polyurethane strings, has piezo electric pickups, (one for each string) and sounds just like an upright or double bass. I'm rehearsing with an Asheville singer songwriter, Neil Laurence, to join his act soon playing at coffee houses, parties, etc.