Tag Archives: Random Ruminations

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


Continue reading

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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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