My old friend Tom Rettig has offered to help me record one of my songs, and after we complete this recording he and I expect to have a slow-moving but ongoing relationship for the long term.
Tom and I played together in the avant-funk ensemble Some Philharmonic in the early 80’s, and we had a lot of fun playing bandleader Brian Woodbury's crafty and original music in a large ensemble. During that time Tom suggested I write a Surf-flavored instrumental for a short film by Barnaby Levy, (“This Town Will Tear You Apart”), and as I had been a long-time fan of Surf music I was very excited to give it a try.
I wrote the melody for what became “The Bhonging Angel” on my roommate Katie Hicks’ baby grand piano in the living room of our North Oakland/Berkeley Apt, and it became maybe my best instrumental at the time.
We did the original recording on 12-track at Mills College in 1984, in what was a charming but rickety studio barely holding together at the seams. My fellow band mates Carmen Borgia, Mike Brown and Linel “Dede” Williams (from my own band The Secret Sons of The Pope) joined me for inspired performances, and the demo we made became my favorite accomplishment for years.
Barnaby Levy used that recording for his film, and Tom did a good job squeezing sonic quality out of very limited resources. He was great with a splicing knife and did some nice edits I wasn’t used to, and he really finessed the mix details on a primitive board.
But despite this, Tom and I always wished we had done the recording under better circumstances, and when we found each other on the Internet last year the subject came up again.
I learned that Tom had done some time in the 90’s as a Producer at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. Economic considerations since forced him to pursue his talents in the computer software industry, and because of this he looks for opportunities to do creative projects when he has the time.
Tom enjoys paying close attention to vintage microphones, a passion I understand very well but do not have the resources to pursue. Another recording issue is access to nice recording rooms. I have a wonderful music studio built into the detached garage of my house, but this pales compared to the special rooms they have at Fantasy Studios, where many famous recordings were created. Tom keeps an office in the Fantasy building and maintains his relationships with the staff, so he is ready to record in this professional setting when the occasion arises.
Last year I hired Drummer John Hall to play the drum parts on the new recording, referred through my musician friend Steve Gibson who has great taste and knows tons of players. John wrote charts for the song before I even met him to play, and on recording day he delivered three perfect takes allowing us to choose our favorite.
The title “Bhonging Angel” comes from the affectionate nickname of my perpetually stoned next door neighbor in High School, given to him by his love-struck but exasperated girlfriend. I would describe him at the time as a bright version of the Spicoli character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. (My own High School was Grossmont High, not far from the actual Clairemont High that the movie was based on. Cameron Crowe’s other great HS flick “Say Anything” was not just similar but could be called my actual experience at Grossmont).
Because Tom and I are thankfully employed and dedicated to our family lives, we have had less than one day a month to get together since we began this project last summer, but because I am playing all the instruments myself (except the drums) I have been enjoying the pace as I prepare each part. The instruments include Baritone and Tenor Saxes, electric guitars, keyboards, and electric bass. I was initially embarrassed to show up with so many instruments, but then I felt better when the Fantasy Engineers told me that Counting Crows had just finished their recent recording aided by a large semi-truck filled with 67 guitars. Any band with 67 creatively relevant guitars has my full support! For this song I used five total and needed every one.
One reason I am comfortable with my slow pace with Tom is that I am always able to go out to my own studio and make very nice demos any night I am free, so it's not like anyone is holding me back if I need to express myself. I took up singing last summer, and I have had so much fun applying myself I feel every month is my next opportunity to get a little better. Singing puts everything else into perspective, and since The Bhonging Angel is an instrumental I will be looking forward to getting into a vocal on the next recording I do with Tom.
Another resource I will always have is my best friend Carmen Borgia, who is always available as long distance sounding board and engineer/psychiatrist. He set me up with a great recording rig in my studio and gives me these amazingly well-prepared lessons over the phone, among many other things.
I played a rough mix of the new recording for my family a couple of months ago, and a week later from the next room I overheard one of my daughters casually humming the song out loud to herself. What a sweet thing that was, she was humming it for pleasure. (For a musician, does it get any better than that?)
I expect we will finish this song some time this summer, and then I will be excited to share it with everyone. I have another dozen or so finished songs I can't wait to get to, and if it takes a year to record each one I will not even slightly complain, (as long as I live to hear them). The main thing is I am thankful I have my family and friends there for me as I play each day of my musical life.