Category Archives: Random Ruminations

Today on Tommy T’s Random Ruminations – Ants and Uncles edition

There’s a lot of jibber-jabber from the right-wing about Tim (Look! We have a black friend, so we can’t be racist) Scott’s responding to President Biden’s first address to congress.

Most of it centers around the “Uncle Tom” thing currently bouncing around in hashtag land.

I’m a musician. And an engineer/producer. I’ve had (and still have) a number of black friends and associates. And yes, I’ve heard the “Uncle Tom” thing used.

By them.

I’ve never heard one white person call a black person an “Uncle Tom”. Not one.

It’s  a term exclusively used by black Americans to describe someone they consider a sellout.

Like Tim Scott.

Someone like Tim Scott (or Diamond and Silk, etc.) who has acquired some money and/or prestige, and now wants to join the club that the right-wingers will never let him or her into.

They think they’ve won a place at the table, but they’re really just parking the cars.




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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with random ruminations – “cold dead hands” edition

First of all – I’m a gun owner.

I own a Glock G21 handgun, a single-shot .22 rifle that belonged to my Grandfather, and a .410 shotgun that was used in my days as a ranch hand to dispatch armadillo (our cattle were breaking their legs in armadillo holes), and put rabbits, duck, and pheasant on the table.

I also trained with the M1 Garand and the original M16 jam-o-matic in my Allen Academy days. I shot Sharpshooter level with both hands, and still do that well on the rare occasion that I still go to the range .

And no, I don’t EVER carry my handgun around with me in the hope I might get to shoot someone.

So let’s just disarm (see what I did there?) the “You gun-haters want to take away all our guns” trope right now.

I have as much use for a modified (full-auto and burst settings disabled) assault rifle as I do for a
flamethrower or hand grenade.  And unless you are in the military, police responding to an active shooter,  or are planning to kill a whole shitload of people, neither do you.

It’s a bit like someone with a Piper Cherokee saying that the Government wants to take away his plane, just because you can’t buy an A10 Warthog with a working GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon.

Ain’t the same thing, numbnuts.
10,000 Quatloos to the commenter who can pick out the author in the pic below :



Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – Ellison Wonderland edition

This week’s Random Rumination comes from Harlan Ellison :


From Harlan Ellison, responding to a discouraged police officer :

I know damned well there are (good) cops like you. I’ve met a few; and they always wind up like Serpico,brokenhearted or bust-headed. Because police these days aren’t like police when I was a kid in Painesville, Ohio in the Forties.

Friend of mine, a lieutenant of homicide, got a
trifle bombed one night, sitting around rapping with
me, and he let slip one of the most scary things
I’ve ever heard. He said :

“Harlan, it used to be,when a cop said ‘them or us’ he meant us were the good people, the cops and the decent citizens and the responsible business community, anybody on the side of Law and Order, the way it used to be in those Frank Capra films.

Them meant bank robbers, homicidal maniacs, rapists,
guys who torched their own stores for the insurance,
murderers, all the kooks.

Things’ve changed so much,these days when we say ‘them or us’ we mean anybody with a badge is us . . . all the rest of you are them.”


He wrote this in 1975.


(yes, I know I blogged this here in 2014, but it bears repeating)

I may be late reading comments.

  1. It’s my Birthday
  2. I’m on my way to Terlingua / Big Bend National Park
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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – “A modest proposal” edition

Nuclear fearmongering, and a modest proposal

I’ve seen a lot of hysterical gobspatter over the Iran Nuclear Treaty.


You know what?

GIVE the Iranians some of OUR nukes.

Go ahead. They’ll come to the same realization that every nuclear power has – that the things are fucking worthless.


You can’t use them.

They’re hideously expensive tinkertoys that serve no offensive military purpose, other than to try to keep someone (like Israel in this case) from nuking YOU.

I’m about as worried about Iran launching an ICBM they don’t have (with a nuclear warhead they don’t have on it) at us as I am of a plane crashing on my house.

Actually, less, as there is a one-in-fifty-million chance of the plane crash.

So – let’s say Iran does have nuclear weapons. Weapons they don’t dare launch because the retaliatory strike will make a crater where Tehran used to be, before their missile even lands. See? You can’t USE the damned things.

But –but – what about nuclear terrorism?

What if Iran slips some of those nuclear weapons they don’t have to a terrorist group?

Allow me to introduce you to a term : “Nuclear forensics”.

What does it mean?

It means that there is NO SUCH THING as an anonymous/untraceable nuclear device. Every fission product (and byproduct) has a fingerprint that is unique, and shows EXACTLY where it was mined.

If the nuclear device the terrorists don’t have was exploded, and the forensics results pointed to Iran – well – see above (Tehran crater).

Even if Iran did have a nuclear device, the LAST thing they would do is to give it to someone who would be stupid enough to use it.

So – let’s give them some of OUR nukes. They need something non-productive to spend their money on maintaining and guarding.


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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – TV show mockery edition

Smell This House

I wrote this while I was waiting for my 1/2 duplex to sell, and watching that stupid “Sell This House” show every day :


Tanya: “Well, on this episode of Sell This House, we’re looking at Tommy’s duplex. It’s been on the market for 8 months, and there are only 12 other comparable properties on his block, so why won’t it smell…err, sell?. Let’s look at the videotape, Tommy!

Voice on videotape: “Christ! Did a cow shit in here??”

Tanya: “Ok,-  with two big dogs and three cats in a 1,190 square foot ½ duplex, I can understand how carpet cleaning and deodorization isn’t going to make a fart in a whirlwind’s worth of difference (sorry, Tommy), so let’s turn to Roger for some ideas. Roger?”


Roger: “Well, we can eliminate some of the pet odor by eliminating some of the pets. BJ, your Bulldog is a cute boy, but he’s gotta go. (Roger produces a large handgun and fires two shots into BJ, looks closely and then fires one more. He looks satisfied) All right! (claps hands together) now while you guys start digging a hole in the backyard, I’ll run to the supply store for some quicklime. Nothing puts off potential buyers like a charnel pit smell in the backyard. Your other dog Morrie seems to have made quick work of that bowl of antifreeze I set out, and I’ve already strangled your cats Sunny and Kingsford with the strength in my amazingly-muscled forearms! Precious Kitty might be a bit of a problem, as she seems to have disappeared after watching me dispatch Sunny and Kingsford, but moving the furniture in the spare bedroom should take care of that.


Tanya: “See why we call him the miracle worker? You’re amazing, Roger! What a MAN!!” (starts to remove clothes)



Roger: “Let’s DO it!”


And then I woke up.


Remind me not to eat spicy foods any more before going to bed.

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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – Big Bang edition

Homemade fireworks

Every year (when I was in high school) I used to make industrial-grade crackerballs (the fireworks available back then that exploded with a pop when you threw them down on pavement) out of Potassium Perchlorate and one other ingredient.

The report was cherry-bomb sized, but not as fierce as an M80, and everyone I sold them to knew to either throw them against a wall or hit them with something like a spade. I was busily making them in study hall, wrapping the finished products in tinfoil and putting them in my satchel, when a classmate came over and said “Whatcha doing?” I told him, and he continued to stand there – said he wanted one.  I got nervous that the teacher would come over to see why he was out of his chair, hurriedly gave him one with the usual safety lecture.

During my next class I was summoned to the Principal’s office. Apparently, idiot-boy took it to his shop class, put it on an anvil, and dared idiot-boy 2 to hit it with a hammer.

They never did find the hammer head, idiot boy had a bloody nose and no other injury, and the big viewpane glass between the shop instructor’s office and the shop broke.

The Principal asked if I had any “exploding powder”, and I admitted that I did, brightly adding “How much did you want, sir?”.  He replied “All of it”.

No suspension, just sent me back to my class.Only time I ever got in trouble at school.

These days, I’d probably still be in a FBI holding cell.


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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – “Tape doesn’t lie” edition

Tape doesn’t lie.

Back in my studio engineer days I had a guy come in with a karaoke tape he wanted to sing along to (first one I’d ever seen).

Horrible little low-fi cassette, with his vocals on our good U47 mike laid over it?


It’s his money.

Then this guy, who is loaded up with bling, proceeds to dance around in the vocal booth while he’s singing. Really. Big moves and all.

He’s clinking, he’s clanking, his polyester outfit’s whooshing and zzziping like a bedsheet in a whirlwind every time he moves his arms up to frame his face, it’s all being sucked up by the microphone, and because I have to put a ton of compression on him (because he’s dancing around and moving sideways away from and toward the mic) all the noise he’s making is as loud as his voice (which isn’t very). As he dances around, he’s even spinning in a  circle, which means that he’s momentarily singing towards the back wall of the booth.

Between verses, he’s smacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth and sucking air through his teeth. I can hear the studio owner and a visitor laughing in the next room through the open side door to the control room.

Finally, the guy finishes after several stopped takes, and comes into the control room for the playback. I’m waiting for the explosion – ” What is all that noise?? I don’t sound like that!! “

He slaps me on the back and tells me he’s very happy that I captured the essence of his personality.

Tape doesn’t lie.


This is the last of my studio stories, I believe. from this point on, my Ruminations will truly be random, but hopefully entertaining.


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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – “The trick to thick” edition

Studio notes – thick guitars

Re-listening to Boston lately, I was reminded of a trick (can’t remember who I nicked it from) to put down multiple guitar tracks without the sound (especially the high-mids) jumping out in a grating fashion.

If you record several tracks using the same guitar, the prominent parts of the guitar’s sound add up and jump out of the mix in a way that’s not at all pleasing. To get those multiple tracks to nest together rather than blare certain frequencies out is a simple trick.

31-band equalizers were (and still are) the standard for graphic EQs.

There is an individual fader for each one of these frequencies:

20Hz, 25Hz, 31.5Hz, 40Hz, 50Hz, 63Hz, 80Hz, 100Hz, 125Hz 160Hz, 200Hz, 250Hz, 315Hz, 400Hz, 500Hz, 630Hz, 800Hz, 1kHz, 1.25kHz, 1.6kHz, 2kHz, 2.5kHz, 3.15kHz, 4kHz, 5kHz, 6.3kHz, 8kHz, 10kHz, 12.5kHz, 16kHz, 20kHz.

A lot more precise than bass, midrange, treble, no?

Here’s what one looks like:


Now – if you pull down every other fader to knock little sonic holes in the guitar sound, then reverse the process for the next guitar track, BOOSTING those same tiny frequency areas, you prevent the frequency peaks from adding up and becoming annoying.

Easy peasy. Works for multitracked vocals as well.

Hear a song with creamy-sounding guitars and ethereal vocals? That’s what you’re hearing.




And (just to show you what use I personally put this technique  to) – the choruses in “Far Away” as well as all the lead and backing vocals on the song are something I call “The Tommy Choir” – all tracks sung by me, with different EQs on each track to make it nice and creamy. Jump to 5:08 for the big chorus effect.



Oh – the keys as well as the bass guitar are also yours truly.


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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – Demo Hell edition

On recording demos

(in case you missed last week’s RR post)

In the mid-80s, I worked at Good Vibrations Recording Studio as intern, then engineer, and then as Manager. We were a 1” 16-track studio, originally founded by Dallas great Charlie Pride, that did almost exclusively demos and EP releases, with a few albums and commercials thrown in.

Thanks to some very good mikes and even better engineers, we managed to siphon off some work from the big 2” 24-track studios in the area, and everyone (including the first MTV Basement Tapes winners 4 Reasons Unknown) was happy when they left with their recordings.

But – they didn’t always start the sessions happy.

First-time-in-the-studio bands are a challenge in two ways. First, the ones who think they know how sessions work by reading about other people’s sessions in magazines. Those bands are a bit of a challenge, but a little gentle guidance usually gets them to cuddle up alongside reality.

Secondly, the ones who place themselves in the engineer’s hands and just go for it.

For the majority of them, it was the first time they had ever heard themselves on tape.  And therein lay the problem.  When you’re rehearsing (or singing in the shower, for that matter), you hear things very selectively.  Your brain does a neat little trick of pitch correction. You sound great.  In rehearsals, you hear mostly yourself, largely due to the fact that you’re concentrating on your own performance.

When you hear it all during playback, two things can happen :

  1. You REALLY hear yourself for the first time un-selectively, and you suck.  Fortunately, this is the studio, and anything (well, almost anything) can be fixed.
  2. You really hear everyone else in the band for the first time un-selectively, and one of THEM suck.  This is where it can get ugly.

I have seen more bands break up in the studio over number two than I care to remember, but of course, EVERY band has one person who’s not letter-perfect, or doesn’t have that inner metronome, or sings that one note sharp or flat. or can’t keep their guitar tuned. The rest of the band turns on them and the session can degrade into a verbal fistfight if you let it.

Don’t let it. As an engineer, your main duty (after getting them a good sound) is to be den mother, manager, producer, and counselor. Calm them down, get them away from each other’s throats, pause the session off the clock if need be, but do it.

They’ll thank you for it when they leave with their music under their arm (or in their CD case).




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Today on Tommy T’s obsession with Random Ruminations – “studio daze” edition

OK – when I was playing in various Dallas bands, I was working a day job – since I already had a commercial drivers license from back in Waco (where I was driving a 20-ton dump truck for the City,  hauling asphalt for the Streets Department).

I was working in North Dallas hauling forklifts with a 10-wheel rollback. My boss eventually decided to get out of the hauling business and sold the truck.

Suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands, so I went over to a recording studio that I had passed numerous times as it was close to my job. The name of the place was “Good Vibrations Recording Studio”, and I found out that it had been started by Charlie Pride’s band members.

I talked to the owner and his lead engineer, and they gave me a little test.  The studio had a very nice Neumann condenser mike, and the owner said “Go out there and put a pad on that mike.”

I went out and found a foam rubber mike protector (spit guard), and put it over the Neumann. I went back and they were both laughing. What I didn’t know was that condenser mikes have a switch to limit the output, so that an amp has the same dynamics as a vocal. It’s called a “pad”.


They took me on anyway, as an intern. I learned a lot in a short time, and after a number of months, the owner called me into his office and asked me if I wanted to be manager. I said yes (of course).

Good Vibrations was a 1″ 16-track studio (Teac/Tascam), and as such, did mostly demos for local bands who didn’t want to spend $100 / hr to record in a 2″ 24-track place. We did a fair amount of business, largely because we had outstanding microphones, which are any studio’s most important asset. One day, a local group called “4 Reasons Unknown” came in to do a demo that would shortly be the track for a music video .

The group’s manager got them a slot on a new competition on MTV (you may remember MTV from back when they were just music videos) called “The MTV Basement Tapes”.  They won the competition.  Over hundreds of bands that submitted songs. For real.

Suddenly, the phone started ringing off the hook, and we were booked 24 / 7.  Everyone wanted to record at the little place were the first MTV Basement Tapes winners recorded. I didn’t get much sleep in the months that followed.


So – we’re at the studio daze part of my random ruminations series.  Click on the “read more” for the first installment.


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Today on Tommy T’s obsession with Random Ruminations – Moving to Big D edition

This is probably going to be the last of the old band stuff, but I’d like to give you guys a quick rundown on my band history.

You already know about Grendel, but I should mention a few others:

Sing Out Waco – the Waco “Up With People” franchise.  This is where I switched from drums (The Flower People) to bass guitar.

Baylor Symphony Orchestra Summer Student Symphony – my percussion instructor Larry Vanlandingham who was a Fellow at Baylor got me into that one. Funny sub-story – I was looking for the Professor, and someone said he might be in Dean Sternberg’s office. I went there and opened the door.  He was there, all right – along with the Dean, and ISAAC FREAKING STERN!!!  Completely starstruck, I muttered an apology, bumped into the doorframe, and left.

El Gran Mestizo – a 10-piece Chicano orchestra (accent on the second syllable), where I learned to play cumbias, cojuntos, and other cool stuff.  I was the only gringo in the banda..

Aftershock (cover band), one of the few bands I ever quit (to join my ex-Grendel bandmate John Bednarz in a project that fell apart, but still got me out of Waco and up to Dallas).

H2O – two versions – a seven-piece with two keyboardists and two female singers (and no, we didn’t do any Heart covers)

Here’s a pic of us at the famed Agora :

This was the time of my stupidly large bass rig, “Stonehenge”.  A roadie for a band that was opening for us took one look at the massive 8′ by 7′ behemoth (two Altec A-7 bass bins, a 2X15″ cab, and a 400-watt Peavey Super Festival Series amp) and muttered : “Stonehenge”.   You notice that there’s no one on my side of the stage?



H2O reformed as a four-piece all-original group, with the keyboardist singing lead and a different guitarist. We got some label interest, went to Austin (their choice) to record a demo for them. Here’s a song from it :

My bud Steve Simels (of Stereo Review fame) posted one of the other tunes on his site here…..

The keyboardist fired me, fired the guitarist, and the drummer quit. They didn’t offer the keyboardist  the contract afterwards, so I guess the power play didn’t work out quite the way he intended.

I’ve left out some cover bands, but you’re not missing much – except maybe the Elvis impersonator Steve West. That one was fun. Only time I’ve ever worn a suit onstage.

Next Sunday – the Good Vibrations Recording Studio saga.  After my tales from the recording world series, some more recent band stuff.





Today on Tommy T’s obsession with Random Ruminations – Ambivalent about ambidexterity edition

Ambivalent about ambidexterity

When I was very young, the conventional wisdom (thank you so much, Dr. Spock) was to take your lefty child and turn them into a rightie, so that they would fit into a right-handed majority’s world.

This was accomplished by things like “If your baby reaches for something with their left hand, withhold it. If they reach for it with their right, let them have it”, and similar aversion training. My Mom did this with me.

Unfortunately, what this really did was to screw up my manual dexterity, and make me equally clumsy with BOTH hands.

I realized this when I took a manual dexterity test at Texas State Technical Institute which consisted of removing tiny washers from one steel rod one at a time, and transferring them to an adjacent rod. I was almost to the time limit when I looked around and saw my fellow students picking up the washers by the tens and doing the move. Too late for me to join in the cheating, I failed the test. The instructor responsible for counseling new students on their suitability for the classes/career path they wanted to take (in my case, electronics) looked at my entrance exam questions and noted that I played the bass guitar. His unspoken “NOT VERY WELL, I’D WAGER” hung in the air like miasma.

So – I’ve lived my entire life with my right-side fighting my left side for control. I shot Marksman with both hands at Allen Academy (and my “weak hand” is still almost identical to my “strong hand” in pistol target shooting), but I pick up things with my left hand, write with my right, and play bass right-handed. This has assisted me in becoming The World’s Clumsiest Person, and denied me the ability to do things I know perfectly well how to do, but would screw up through clumsiness.

Thanks, Mom.

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Today on Tommy T’s obsession with Random Ruminations – “Insufficient Bone Spurs” edition

Insufficient bone spurs

When I was in Allen Military academy, our MST (military science and technology) instructors were active-duty Army, assigned to Allen after rotating out of Vietnam. It was 1968, and things were getting a lot worse over there. The ethos of Allen Academy (one of the 10 “honor academies” in the country) was that you attended through high school levels, to two years of junior college levels, then were enlisted as a First Lieutenant. A lot of the gung-ho cadet officers bombarded the Nam vets with questions about what it was like over there.

To a man, they refused to say anything at all about it. This scared me more than any horror stories they could have told.

When I came back home to Waco, my father asked me to let him submit my name for acceptance in the Waco branch of the Naval Reserve. My dad was sort of a big wheel there (28 years active duty, and a civil service fireman at James Connally AFB in Waco), so it was a shoo-in way to escape the draft, which was crucial, as my draft eligibility began the next year.

I told him “No – it’s not right for me to hide there while all my friends were being snapped up by the draft. I’ll take my chances like everybody else.” I couldn’t tell if he was quietly approving, or thought I was an idiot.

The night of the lottery drawing, I went to Cameron Park with my friend and ex-bandmate Bobby Arnold. It was night. We took our amplifiers and instruments, and jammed some, then sat in my car and listened to the radio to hear the drawing announcements (they announced each birth date for those eligible, and called out the number that was drawn for it). The higher the number, the lower the chance of being shipped off to Nam. They drew the number for my birthday, and it was 328. They drew the number for Bobby’s and it was 3. He joined the Navy immediately thereafter.

No bone spurs for either of us.

Company “C” (my company) :


That’s me below with the book satchel (yes, I was a book-reading nerd even then)


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Today on Tommy T’s obsession with Random Ruminations – Creeping cancer edition

Pain issues preclude me doing a regular “Obsession” post this Monday, so here’s a little piece I wrote some years ago :


On libertarianism – a creeping cancer

I’ve noticed that so-called “libertarians” (I say “so-called” because no two libertarians can agree on what it is) are really just sociopaths in training.

Greed enters into it, of course, but the real hallmark is loss of empathy. It starts with groups of people they don’t have any contact with (people in other countries, people who have been born into situations they couldn’t imagine, and things that would make them cry like a child if they happened to them) and then expands.

As it grows, their loss of empathy extends to people who occupy the same world but are somehow (usually through lack of hustle) inferior to them, and undeserving of help.

Their circle of give-a-fuck gets smaller and smaller and smaller over time until – guess what? It only extends to them and their immediate families.

And then, in the end, it only extends to them.

And that, my friends, is the textbook definition of sociopathy.

More below the fold


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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – “Why I didn’t run away from home” edition

When I was a pre-teen / teenager, I only had one dream.

Go to Hollywood and become a cinematographer – failing that, a sound recordist. I was smart enough to know that I would need a mentor to take me on as an intern, and smart enough to know what happened to the large majority of people who ran off to Hollywood to make it big.

Did I know anyone in the  ASC?  No.  Did I think it was a good idea to hitchhike to Hollywood without much more than the clothes on my back? No.

Then I got married and had children, and that was that.


I never quit looking at movies with a cinematographer’s eye, or wincing when I heard/saw a badly dubbed line of dialog. To this day, perspective, lighting and sight lines are in the front of my thoughts when watching a film.

I will say that when I heard that MGM had decided to sell all its props, scenery, wardrobe, et cetera, and bulldoze its back lot so people could build offices on it, that plunged me into a depression that lasted a week. Then a friend who owned both “American Pie” and Don McLean’s first album “Tapestry” played me a song called “Magdeline Lane”, and my heart sank again.

“MGM studios can’t make the nut
They’re auctioning Dorothy’s shoes
Gable is gone, the good witch is a slut
And I’ve got the parking-lot blues
The wizard brought benzedrine smiles
And he never let Dorothy doze
Ha- she died as she walked down the aisle
And all that remains is her clothes

Over the rainbow a Kansas tornado
Can twist up a little girl’s head
Aunt Em’s on relief and the tin man’s a thief
And even the wizard can’t wake the dead.”


For a look at what is gone forever, click here.




(Pics courtesy of the “Phantom Of The Backlot” website.)



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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with random Ruminations – I ELPeed myself edition

My greatest concert experience, and my band Grendel


Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Dallas – Oct 20, 1977

I saw ELP on their Brain Salad Surgery tour. Entered Dallas Memorial Auditorium with anticipation. As I topped the balcony steps the audio geek in me fixated on the P.A. system, reportedly (pre-internet info age) quite a big deal.

I looked at the stacks on either side of the stage (nobody was flying PA systems at that time) and saw a PA that was the equal if not better than any I had ever seen. – impressive, but not THAT big a deal. Then I turned to the left to go up to my seat and found myself facing the twin of the stage right PA stack.  Ulp.

Slowly I turned (gotta copyright that) to the right and saw, on the other side of the balcony, the twin of the stage left PA stack.

They were not only carrying double the largest PA system I had ever seen, it was QUAD!

The FOH man had fun for the whole show, dive-bombing the audience by sweeping Emerson’s Moog leads from upper right to lower left. The snarling Moog (they’re a completely different beast at 115db than they are coming from your living room stereo) made an interesting effect. I could see the heads of the floor audience DUCK as the Moog leads passed (sonically) over their heads.

They played just about everything they had recorded, came back for an encore, and played the entirety of Pictures At An Exhibition. The whole bloody album.

They also played this astoundingly difficult repertoire about 20% over album tempo. It was like they had decided “Well, we’re going to play every single thing we’ve recorded, and if we don’t get on the stick, we’re going to be here all night.”

Carl Palmer kept up this relentless pace with perfect timing, and didn’t seem human. I would NOT have been surprised to have seen a big key sticking out of his back.

They played for 3 hours and 20 minutes, and I was deaf for three days afterwards.

It was worth it.


Meanwhile, my band Grendel was cranking out the old Prog rock (covers for the most part) at club after club.

We were playing music of a difficulty level that most other bands just couldn’t perform it. Too complicated. So we were the only way for them to see a band playing these pieces, unless Yes, ELP, Moody Blues, etc. were in town. We started noticing that our audiences were largely other musicians.

It was amusing to see our audiences (guys, mostly) divide themselves up – keyboardists on the stage left side, guitarists in the middle, bassists on mid-stage right (in front of me), and drummers on stage right (where the drummer was located).

During breaks, I would be cornered by other bassists who wanted to talk shop, music, and gear. I always had time for them, and never brushed them off.

Grendel started our shows with the ignition of “caramel candy” in two barrels behind the backline, lights off during the guitar intro to “Tie Your Mother Down”, then as the guitar smash chords came in, lights coming on to reveal the band, shrouded in smoke, in front of our homemade 30’X12′ backdrop. Good times!




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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with random Ruminations – Adventures in Babysitting edition

On playin’ da blooz…


For a bassist, it’s not much fun.

I grew up in Texas, where playin’ da blooz is a rite of musical passage. “Nobody gets out of here without playing the blues!” isn’t just a line from a movie, it’s a way of life. It’s why Stevie Ray Vaughn, Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and Johnny Winter existed.

Having said that, it’s one of the most boring and soul-crushing things a bass guitarist can do on stage. You’re basically (see what I did there?) playing I-IV-V-IV over and over and over, and every 16 bars you get to do a walk-up / walk-down. Whoopee.

Yes, I know it’s a sacred part of our musical heritage, and the springboard to most of rock music, but unless you’re the guitarist who gets to play 12 minutes of solos, or the vocalist, it’s boring as shit.


I can’t even begin to imagine how the drummers feel.




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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with random Ruminations – The Invisible Man edition

The Invisible Man


Being a bass guitarist is like being the invisible man of the band. The guitarists get all the attention, the drummers get all the women, and you get the bar tab. Bassists seem to compensate for this in several ways. Some jump all around in an attempt to be noticed (see Flea), some retreat even further into the shadows (see Entwistle), and some overplay (see me).



But do you know something? Without the bass line, the song falls apart. The rhythm stops. The guitar noodling with no sub-strata to hold it up just sounds like some guy practicing scales, and the kick drum sounds like a petulant ex kicking the door to be let in.

And if your removal from the band’s sound doesn’t do this, you’re not doing your part as a bassist. Your contribution has to be just that – a contribution. Not a drone or a kick drum with a note attached to it, but an integral part of the sound.

If it’s not, you may as well just sell your shit and buy a motorcycle.



Oh – and while we’re at it – I’d like to introduce you to “The Fantastic Four” :



And, of course – “Rigzilla”…


“SUNN – when you absolutely have to destroy everyone in the room with low end”.




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Today on Tommy T’s Obsession with Random Ruminations – bass guitar edition

Here we go with my first non-Freeperati post, people.

The first reader to reply on what my first non-political post on First Draft should be, said this:

“I’ve always enjoyed the reminiscences of the days as an itinerant musician and recording engineer, having some tangential connection to folks in those professions.”



Well, I’m going to start out with my bass guitar stuff, and expand from there – so – it’s The bass guitar and me :

Ok – surprisingly enough, other bassists actually ask me how I started and how I developed my style/sound (some people are easily entertained).   Here goes:

When I started, it was the era of Cream and Led Zeppelin.

Unfortunately, it was also the era of Grand Funk railroad.

My earliest bass sound was that of a tonal dinosaur fart. Part of this was due to the rudimentary nature of my rig, but part of it was due to the attraction of how a combination of playing with my fingers and mucho low-end and distortion sounded. I mean, you just couldn’t play a wrong note. As least, no one could hear it. It wasn’t even a prerequisite to be in the right key.

So, I blundered and thundered along for years, secure in my ability to perform as a rhythm instrument without having to worry about pesky details like being in tune and knowing all the chord changes. Then a tech at Ray Hennig’s Heart Of Texas Music (in the original Waco location) invited me over to his house. He had a incredible Altec Valencia sound system, and said “So you like to play bass, do you?”, and put on The Yes Album.

Everything changed. All the percussion of the bass was still there, but you could hear every note being played. And it was awesome. I determined to have this sound for my very own.

I tried this and that, boosting the treble, lowering the bass, starting to play with a pick (at first, just for Deep Purple covers – how’s that for irony?), but I knew I had to have that bass. That Rickenbacker bass. This HAD to be the key. So I finally got one.


This is the time as I always describe as “wanting to sell my crap and buy a motorcycle”. Because I could really really hear myself for the first time.

And I sucked.

I was sloppy, rushing, dragging, misfretting – this was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I almost quit.

But instead, I got mad. I started forcing myself to unlearn every old bad habit, and before very long at all, I was actually playing like someone who knows how. Buying that bass did more to improve my playing in one year than the preceding 5.

So – it was all about hearing what I was actually doing, rather than what I heard myself doing in my head.

And I still have that bass I bought new in 1977.

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