Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Life Before Animation

Like I said about the blog, this isn't all about my life in animation. It's about other things as well. Take for instance this photo, This is me back in '78, I was 23 and practicing guitar in my parent's basement in a suburb of Chicago. That's my trusty Takamine 12 string I'm playing and my 1963 Fender Stratocaster in the background.

This was well before animation even entered my brain as a way to make a living. I was a semi- struggling musician and living at home. Well, not really struggling, as my parents were very very understanding. Hell, I slept until noon, taught guitar at the local music shop during afternoons and evenings, and stayed up late at night. In essence, I was a typical 23 year old musician. I played in a short lived (on my part at least) southern rock band on weekends or at night. We did covers by The Allman Brothers, Charlie Daniels, Poco, Marshall Tucker Band, Heartsfield, Les Dudek, and Pure Prairie League. The band was really quite good, but I had my own disagreements with the drumming. So I quit. Not that we were on our way up to greatness, but one never knows. Well anyway, on most other weekends I played in a 'wedding band'. Ah yes, a 'wedding band'. The Bob Basso Revue to be exact. Heck, I even owned my own tuxedo. I was not however, a 'wedding singer.'

It was your typical Chicago wedding band of the late 70's. Bad hair and bad suits, but that didn't seem to stop us from getting hired. Maybe there was a shortage of badly hair styled wedding bands back then, I don't know. This particular wedding band was headed by this old band leader and sax player named Bob Basso, hence the name. I had replaced a good friend of mine, Harry Hmura, on guitar who went on the road with famous Chicago blues harmonica player James Cotton and later Sugar Blue and others. So at the time, I thought it was a good gig. This might lead to something. And I got paid to play! What more could you ask for? Free food and drinks too! Strangely enough, my friend Harry went on to play with many people in jazz and blues, and I ended up designing and doing the art for his first two albums.

But back to the weddings. . .I'd have to say, we probably weren't the worst wedding band in history, but the fact was, we rarely, if ever rehearsed. Well, okay, once, at the beginning of the season. That was it! Literally, that was it! We ran through the list of songs in the trusty fake book, and some of the popular upcoming tunes of that time, like Celebration, (this was the 70's and the disco era after all! ) and others. Otherwise we read everything else off charts on the spot. That was the one requirement of joining this band, you had to be able to read music charts and of course play your instrument. If a wedding party goer wanted to hear a song, and we all knew it - hell, no problem. But if we didn't know it by heart and it was in our charts and we had never really played it . . . well, I used to pity the party that heard it first. It was like a rehearsal at their expense. Thankfully, they were usually so drunk by that time, that it really didn't matter what we sounded like as long as the song was recognizable. Most seem to enjoy the music and on more than one occasion we were even applauded with vigor on our performance. If you've ever gone to many wedding receptions, you eventually see a lot of drunk people, most of whom can't remember a thing they heard or said that night. So I took their compliments with somewhat of a grain of salt, especially if it was by the groom's drunken brother who was already hitting on the bride and he also loved our performance of Takin' Care of Business, yet another staple of weddings everywhere.

Sometimes young kids would come up and request heavier rock tunes like Zeppelin or Deep Purple or Black Sabbath. Come to think of it, Dazed and Confused is probably pretty appropriate for a wedding. These heavy rock tunes were usually kind of tricky for us as our earlier incarnation of the band had one of the oldest drummers on the wedding band circuit. Poor Al, he was probably in his sixties at least. He was the type of guy who used the same beat for every rock tune we did, no matter if it was a Beatles or Creedence or Stones tune. He was from another era. The 1940's I believe. We sometimes would just answer if hit with a request like Black Sabbath, that we don't know it, rather than cause Al, a heart attack. Al was a really nice guy but usually by near the end of the night he'd had a few too many drinks in him and he'd be slowing the beats down and you'd have to force the rhythm just to get him to keep up! He eventually retired and was replaced by our former guitar player's brother. This was great, as we now had 3 younger musicians in the band. We still had Bob as leader and lead singer, and this older than us bass player who was kind of stodgy. But at least Danny the new drummer, could play rock, jazz as well as lame wedding songs all equally well. Danny was also the drum teacher at the store I taught at too.

The songs which I dreaded most were the standard wedding songs you had to play at every wedding back then. Proud Mary (not the Creedence one either) , Celebration, The Hokey Pokey, The Wedding Song, The Anniversary Song. I'm surprised there wasn't a Divorce Song.
I enjoyed the jazz standards because you could stretch out a little as Bob would take a sax solo and the other guitar player Frank or I would take guitar solos and you could use cool jazz chords instead of standard rock chords. Stuff like Watch What Happens, Stardust and George Benson's Breezin' were always nice to play.

I think I made around $65 to $75 for the 3 hour gigs. It kept me in new strings, different guitars, and Chicago pizza. Sometimes I'd make more if it was a bigger event and the band charged more or for special events, like New Year's parties or something. I think I ended up playing in every hall on the south side, all with names like Chateau De Beer or Condesa Del Sausage. All dressed up in a nifty tux with stripes on the pants, ruffly shirt and shiny black shoes. It was quite an experience and I'd have to say it really helped with the guitar chops to read charts every weekend. Looking back, we had a lot of fun. Heck, I was 23 and living at home, and just playing guitar. That didn't seem so bad. Didn't hit the big time but what the heck. I guess the animated movies I've worked on more than make up for that.

The one thing I wish I still had from all this is that DAMN guitar in the background of the photo. That was an original 1963 Strat! I've had many guitars since then, and still have a Gibson 335 I've had for over 25 years, but I only paid $450 for that Strat! I eventually sold it to a member of Tammy Wynette's band for $1200. So I did profit some $750! BUT those guitars are worth like ten grand in today's market. Oh well, can't live in the past as my wife says to me.
Where's my TIME MACHINE!! I wanna go back and get it!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

One Day On Iron Giant

Back on Iron Giant, I had an efx scene to do with Kent lighting up his pipe while asking the train engineer where a phone was. Brad Bird wanted this smoke to look like the smoke from the cigars in Pinocchio that Lampwick was smoking. After I got the reference, I quickly animated this version for fun, because the Kent animation just lent itself to this gag. Luckily Brad thought it was hilarious and it made it to the dvd outtakes. Brad had the sound editor add a really loud Warner-esque explosion to it too which made it even funnier. I did of course, do the real one that was in the movie. The train engineer of course was the one and only Ollie Johnston in a cameo role. Those of you who don't know, Ollie was a top animator at Disney and one of Walt's Nine Old Men and train fanatic, like Walt.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Something new-ish

Well, I know it's been a while since I posted. Busy trying to finish some home remodeling that I hope won't be re-muddling. Been building a bedroom for my daughter out in our guest house. She's itching for me to get it done. So in the meantime, here's a cg model I've been trying to finish of a WWII P-40 Warhawk. I really dig the way the old fighter planes look.