taking care of business

funny, music, recording, Yakima No Comments »

I always knew that I wanted to be a professional musician.

I grew up in a remote, small town in the middle of nowhere, however, which meant that opportunities for music careers were limited at best, if not completely nonexistent, and that there were no links to the music industry—or any other industry save agriculture—in that little town.  I knew that I didn’t want to be a classical pianist or a jazz bassist (both of which I studied), or a teacher of either piano or guitar.  I knew that I was much too geeky-looking to be any kind of rock star or celebrity, but I figured that at if I could at least play guitar well enough, I might gain some sort of notoriety or interest that way.

All that didn’t stop me from dreaming, however, or from honing my musical skills, because even back in the day, you’d always hear stories about these so-called ‘talent scouts’ who comb the country looking for the Next Big Thing.  Never mind that my little town was so far off the map—thousands of miles from anywhere—and that talent scouts pretty much stick to the four or five biggest cities in the country; I had no concept of any of that, so I thought in my early teenage heart of hearts that if I could play well enough, and if I had a good enough musical reputation, word would spread and somehow get back to those scouts, as if they could show up in a random little town in rural Washington state and say, “Who’s the good guitarist here?”

I was in a couple of bands, and when it was time to record some of our songs, I was lucky enough to choose a studio that was run by a guy who’d moved up from AngelCity, and still had some connections there.  He was (or at least he claimed to be) friends with Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet, so he seemed like a good person to know.  And he was, I guess.  He turned out to be a pretty weird dude, and I’ve told a few longish but interesting stories about him already (here, here, and here), so I’ll gloss over him for now.

I figured being a studio musician for hire could be a good and interesting way to get noticed and to connect with people, so I worked with Enigma (not Enigma Records, but my blog pseudonym for the studio owner) and did whatever was necessary.  I played guitar, bass, keyboards, and played the drum machine.  I worked with a group that Enigma had put together that was inspired by the New Kids on the Block, and the two of us collaborated on writing songs for a group of three teenage Hispanic girls who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but who were attractive enough that Enigma felt like they’d have a certain appeal.  All of these projects went nowhere, naturally.  Funnily enough, I do still have a couple or three cassettes of some of my sessions from back then in a box somewhere.  They always turn up when I least expect them.

I had read enough guitar player magazines to know that versatility was the name of the game in the recording studio, and I felt like I always had to be on my game, capable of doing anything, in case one of those shadowy and elusive scouts happened to show up in town, looking for Talent.  I befriended the major studio owners in town (of which there were about two or three), and let them know that I was interested in working on recording sessions, regardless of the musical style.  Occasionally, people I had worked with mention me to studio owners when they needed a guitarist or something, which I always appreciated, and usually jumped at the chance to do whatever they’d recommended me for.

My favorite of the recommended gigs was when one of my friends called me and said, “Hey, I know a guy who’s going into the studio to do a demo.  It’s kind of 1950′s style music.  You’ll like it.”

“Cool,” I said, “sounds good.  Where and when?  And does it pay?”

“Yeah.  He doesn’t have a lot of money, but it pays.”   He told me which studio at which it was happening, and when, and I thanked him and told him I’d be there.

My roommate at the time was (and still is) a musician as well, so occasionally, I used to invite him to come with me to things.  I said he could come if he drove me over there, because then he’d have an excuse to stick around without any of the studio guys raising an eyebrow.

So when the day came, we drove into the studio’s parking lot and saw an Elvis impersonator leaning against his slightly battered but still cool red convertible, talking to an older guy.  My friend used to tease me for some of the sessions I played on, and he liked to call me a ‘musical whore.’  He couldn’t resist needling me as we saw the pseudo-Elvis.  “Man, you are way more than a regular whore.  You’re a gay whore.  You’re taking it in the ass on this one.”

I laughed and told him to shut up as we parked and walked over to meet Elvis, whose real named turned out to be Steve.  He introduced us to the older guy next to him, who was his manager.  I shook his hand and successfully resisted the temptation to say, “Colonel Tom; nice to meet you.”  [FYI, Colonel Tom Parker was the REAL Elvis's manager for his entire career.]  We all walked into the studio together, and set about the task at hand.

The song he’d brought in to work on was called “Jukebox Fever”, which was an oldie that sounded like Johnny B. Goode, only sung like Elvis Presley.  I ended up playing drums, bass, and electric guitar on it, and spent all afternoon doing that.  I remember that the drums weren’t actual drums, but Space Muffins, which were a weird electronic hybrid trigger system thingy that attached over a regular drum kit and made it sound electronic.  It was a stupid idea for many reasons, in retrospect, but it was the early 1990′s (in other words, just BARELY out of the 80′s), and that kind of thing was still considered viable at the time.  But that’s not the point of this story.

The point is that once I was done playing everything, it was time for Steve/Elvis to do his thing, and I’m here to tell you that he totally ruled.  Everyone in the room, with the exception of Colonel Tom, had no idea what to expect from the guy, but he delivered the goods on that day.  Our jaws dropped, and we were completely impressed with him.  Suddenly, I didn’t feel like a ‘gay whore’ anymore, I was proud to have worked on this project.  IF ONLY I HAD A CASSETTE COPY OF THAT RECORDING.  Oh, how I wish I could hear it again.  Truth be told, I’d probably cringe at it, after all these years of experience and time, but I know that it would be awesome, and I imagine I’d be able to find some hint of the kind of work I’m doing now in it.

Not long after that session, the well-known British rockabilly/country swing guitarist Albert Lee came to my little town to give a guitar workshop at a local music store.  I’m not sure how that was arranged, and I wasn’t even remotely familiar with his music at the time, but I jumped at the chance to go to the workshop because I’d seen him in magazines, and knew that he was from The Outside World, which meant that he’d probably be a good person to ask for advice about becoming a session musician.  I went and watched him, and couldn’t have cared less about the music (I was still a metalhead/jazz fusion snob at the time), but liked his guitar playing well enough to stick around after the workshop to ask him a couple of neophyte questions.  Here’s how it went.

“Man, that was great!  Do you do a lot of recording sessions?”

“A fair amount, yeah.”

“What does it take to get into that?”

“I’m not really sure.  They just call me and I go down to the studio and play.”

“Wow, you must know how to play all kinds of styles and stuff.  Do they call you to do your own thing, or do they usually have something specific in mind?”

“It varies, but usually they’ve heard something I’ve done.”

“Yeah, okay, cool.  Thanks a lot.”

I nervously walked away, feeling like a small-town nobody.  When this guy was my age, he’d already performed all over Europe, and had later played with the likes of Elvis (the REAL one, not an impersonator), and Eric Clapton.  But I felt like I’d been lucky to have had a conversation with him, no matter how brief or awkward.  In the decades since, I’ve realized just how much I managed to glean from that tiny moment.

The secret to being a studio musician is a very simple one:  someone has to have heard a recording you’ve played on, or seen you play live, and then come to you and said, “I want you to do that for me.”  Everything else is just frosting on the cake.  So yes, you have to have skills.  It helps to have your own distinctive style, but you also have to be humble enough to listen to any ideas the people you’re working with may have.  It helps if you can take suggestions without feeling criticized.  It helps if you’re creative, and open, and relentless, and patient.  It helps to be prepared, and that can mean a lot of different things.  It helps if you’re able to trust your instincts, and occasionally even fight for them if you need to, but you also need to do so in a diplomatic way.  Above all, your love for music has to be the most important thing.  Serving the song, and doing what it seems to call for, should be everyone’s ultimate M.O.

To tie this all up in a nice, Presleyan way (in what is already a very Elvis-heavy story), you have to be able to Take Care of Business.  [Elvis's band was the TCB band, and those also happen to be my initials.]  You have to be able to give people what they are looking for and expecting from you.  And don’t forget to have fun.  If you’re easy to get along with, and if everyone has a smile on his or her face at the end of the session, you’ll get called a lot more often.

This began as a funny little anecdote about an Elvis impersonator, but ended up being much more than that, in a way that I didn’t foresee when I started writing.  I hope it was enjoyable.

“Thank you; thank you very much.”

Todd has left the building.

Yakima’s little secret

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Back in the day, I used to be very clever with the outgoing messages on my answering machine.  It was the kind with the two micro-cassettes in it, and the sound quality was great.  That may sound like a ridiculous or trivial detail to mention in the context of an answering machine, but it was the only one I ever had in which you could have background music, or sound effects, or whatever you wanted.  The other advantage of the tapes is that you could create messages that were huge in length; only limited by the length of the tape. I used to hold the machine up next to the speaker of my stereo and play sound effects or music behind things I would say.  Sometimes they were long, rambling messages, but other times they were miniscule, nonsensical ones, like, “I’m going to play a guitar solo for you now,” followed by five seconds of a blazing, 80′s metal scale.  One of my favorites was simply me saying, “Hello?” and then I left a long pause, followed by the beep.  People would invariably start talking, only to have the beep interrupt them, which would completely derail their trains of thought.  Friends would sometimes call my number when they knew I was at work, just to hear what I’d put on the machine that week.

The various roommates I had back then not only didn’t mind the weird outgoing messages, they actively encouraged them, and occasionally participated themselves.  The all-time best one, which I kept up for quite a while, was one that my friend and I directly quoted from a phone-sex line.  We used to dial random things like 1-800-SEX-4-YOU, or any combination we could think of, and one of the ones we stumbled upon had a hilariously detailed introduction, which we promptly wrote down and adapted, almost verbatim, into our own message.  I’ll transcribe it like a script, since that’s how it’ll make the most sense.

ME [reading in a low, seductive voice]:  Thank you for calling Yakima’s Little Secret.  Straight men and women, press ’1.’

ROOMMATE [in an even lower, more seductive voice]:  Gay men and women, press ’2.’  For the man-to-man Cruise Line, press ’3.’  For the Tool Line (and he put a funny emphasis on the word ‘tool’), press ’4.’

ME:  Please have your credit card information handy, and thank you again for calling Yakima’s Little Secret.

BEEP.

Coincidentally enough, less than a week after we had created this message, ClassicRockRadioStation’s morning show announced a contest for the best outgoing answering machine messages, the best of which would be played on the air.  I worked nights at the time, so I never listened to the show, which meant that I woke up to find a bunch of messages, starting with one from a friend.  “Dude!  [RadioStation] is doing an answering machine message contest, so I called in your number for the show.  You’re totally gonna win.  See ya!”

The next couple of messages were blank, followed by laughter, which meant that the station had called, listened, and hung up.  The final message was, “This is Scott and Dave from RadioStationMorningShow, and your message has been selected as our favorite, so you can expect to hear it on the air.  Congratulations!”

Naturally, I had slept through all of the hoopla, since I don’t like mornings and I REALLY don’t like those cloying morning radio shows, but a few friends heard it, and the show’s hosts played it a number of times on the air.  “How about that Tool Line, Dave?  I think I want to call it.”  “Yakima’s Little Secret, indeed.”  That evening, when I arrived to work at CrazyVideoStore, a bunch of people told me that they’d heard it too.

For the record, my dad hated every single one of those messages.  Each of his calls would start with a variation on the theme of, “Do I have the right number?  I don’t even know, because there’s no name or anything, and I guess I’ll have to hope that this is correct.  Anyway, if it IS correct, please blahblahwhateverblahblah.”

After a number of years of faithful service, that answering machine finally gave up the ghost.  The digital ones that replaced it limited you to something like ten or fifteen seconds’ worth of a message, which was too short a time to really hit my stride.  I felt that I’d lost a tiny but important creative outlet.

The other factor in the death of the weird messages was the natural human process of aging.  After many years of creating strange or funny messages, it got to be hard to keep improving on the art form.  I’d always try to one-up myself, without repeating, and it’s more difficult than you might think.  Also, that kind of stuff is funny when you’re nineteen, but by the time you get to be twenty-four or twenty-five, it becomes a bit juvenile, and you look for more productive outlets for your creativity.  At some point it’s an issue of Trying To Be Clever, rather than simple fun, and the charm of doing it wears off.

These days, my message is totally generic and lame.  In fact, I don’t even remember what it says, because I never hear it.  I do realize, of course, that I could punch it up on EyePhone and listen, but I’m content to keep that little mystery unsolved.  Incidentally, I’m still friends with the person who made Yakima’s Little Secret with me, and we have plenty of fun leaving each other funny voice mails, instead of worrying about what our outgoing messages are.

I do occasionally toy with the idea of making weird messages again.  Technology has come so far, with ringtones and all that, I could easily turn my boring message into a big production, but what would that accomplish?  Hardly anybody uses a phone as a phone anymore.  I use mine as more of a miniature laptop computer than as a phone.  Everybody texts and Skypes, and e-mails, or (dare I even say it) hangs out in person.

So chalk this up to a funny memory of antiquated technology, I guess, and how for some things, there’s just no substitute for tapes.  I wish I’d kept the tapes, at least.  One of them got eaten (which was always a problem with tapes, micro- or otherwise), but the other one would have been a nice souvenir to have from that time.  I have a couple others floating around, including the one that my friend made by smuggling his micro-cassette recorder down his pants to get it into the Paul McCartney concert (in 1990, at the Kingdome in Seattle, on Paul’s first ‘comeback’ tour since his days in Wings), but all you can hear on the tape is me singing along.  You can hardly hear Paul at all.  That would be a pointless funny thing to try and record onto my computer someday when I have absolutely nothing better to do.

Thank you for reading all of this, and thank you for calling Yakima’s Little Secret.  Vive le micro-cassette!

 

mostly musical news

blogging, music, pictures, recording No Comments »

So let’s see. . .it’s been a while since I’ve written anything, despite my friend reminding me that I promised—on this very blog—to write more and tell more stories this year.  I’m attempting to hear and obey, and I have a ton of stories, since I went to Louisiana and the Bay Area for gigs recently.  My silence around here definitely isn’t due to a lack of material, it’s due to busy-ness, mixed with inertia, mixed with, um, something else that I can’t quite put my finger on.  It’s created an overwhelming backlog of stories to write about, which is also part of the problem.  I don’t want to dump a ten-thousand-word novella on you, so I’ll have to figure out a way to break up the stories into more manageable lengths.  I’ve had a couple of friends make fun of me recently for posting such gigantic entries.  More often,  however, they’ve made fun of me for not posting anything at all, so there’s that.

Major news on the music front.  My band (which I might call GhostBand for BFS&T’s sake) just finished mastering our CD, after I spent the last few weeks recording the last few parts and then mixing the entire album.  In case you were wondering, mastering is the process by which the ‘master’ CD is created, from which all of the future CD’s will be copied.  It’s the stage of the process in which the songs are officially named, put in album order, and a combination of some technical stuff (equalization, compression and limiting) to make the songs all play at the same volume level and make the individual tracks sound like a coherent collection.  It’s one of the many underlying but crucial steps along the way, and now it’s done.  Mastering is a process that began with vinyl records, because if there was a section of a song that was too loud, or if a sudden low-frequency instrument like a drum or a stand-up bass was too loud, it would make the record skip, or it could damage speakers.  Mastering is a way to smooth everything out, and to eliminate unwanted fluctuations in the overall sound and flow of an album.  CD’s are more forgiving, certainly, but the process is still important, and it really enhances the overall sound.  Our next steps will be to get the thing duplicated (we’re getting a thousand CD’s made), and to design the album cover.  Exciting!  I can’t wait to get this thing released into the world, so that you and everyone else can hear it, love it, and buy it.

We also filmed a video for one of the songs.  Can’t show it yet, because we’re waiting until the album is a bit closer to its release date in August, but it’s done, and it looks amazing.  It showed in a music video screening at the historic Hollywood Theater here in Portland a month or so ago, and that was the first time any of us had seen the finished product.  Our minds were completely blown.  It’s supposed to look (which is to say that it does. . .ha ha) like it was filmed in a night club in 1959.  We all dressed in period clothing, thanks to the costume designer; there are various characters (each with their own miniature stories), dancers, and choreography, and it’s absolutely stunning to watch.  Very distinctive, and it’s all somehow crammed into the framework of a three-minute song.  The filmmakers did a brilliant job.  Okay, okay. . .I CAN share a still from it.  FYI, I’m in the back left, with the vest and red tie, playing the electric guitar.

Pretty swanky, eh?  We used KickStarter to fund this whole process, which is a short way of saying we worked our asses off for an entire month, playing as many gigs as possible, making short promo videos, and generally promoting ourselves in every way we could think of.  And it worked.  We raised enough to pay for the video, and to finish the mastering, duplication and design of the CD.  We also will be paying for the rights to the two cover songs that will be on the album.

At the same time as all this was happening, FrenchSinger and another friend on whose CD I played cello had their own CD release parties a week apart, right before the Louisiana trip, so there was the obligatory flurry of rehearsals and craziness getting ready for those as well.

                                                 

As if that wasn’t enough, there was the photo shoot and KickStarter video for PolishCellist, who is about to start working on her next CD.  Certainly can’t forget about that.  What a hilarious and awesome photo session that was.  And yes, that’s a buffalo-head hat that we’re all wearing.

So that’s the biggest news.  I still have to go through my mountain of pictures from the band-related stuff, and from the trips to Louisiana, California and Washington (the state) with FrenchSinger.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some entries posted before my next musical trip, which is in a couple weeks and will take me to New York, Massachusetts (including the town where I was born!), and a dip into New Jersey as well.  Super excited, since I haven’t been back East for quite a long time, and many of these places—notably New York City and Ithaca—I’ve never been to before.

I should mention how grateful I am to have the opportunity to travel, and to play so much great music, and to be in videos, and to have photo shoots.  It’s a huge honor (not to mention expense) to be a part of these various endeavors, and I owe even more thank yous to my friends and collaborators who continue to make it all possible.

More to come.

Enigma and Fire

music, pictures, recording, true, Yakima 1 Comment »

Here’s another story from the Enigma Files, about the mysterious studio owner I knew in my late teens and early twenties.

Not long after the shooting incident,  a room opened up in the basement of the biggest music store in town, and Enigma jumped at the chance to rent it.  When they were negotiating the terms of the rental, the store’s owner told him that if any kind of disaster affected the store, Enigma would ‘totally be covered’ by the store’s insurance policy.  Enigma asked a few times if he could get that in writing, but the owner always waved his hand dismissively and told him, “Yeah, yeah. . .some other time.”   Enigma thought that was fine; what was the likelihood that anything would happen?  They could always figure it out some other time.  He would occasionally remind Owner about their deal, and Owner would always postpone.  I was there during a couple of those conversations, and I remember them well.  I knew Owner a bit, by association, and I had a friend or two who worked in the store.

Enigma had his studio in the basement for two or three years.  It was mostly electronic, which is to say that it was computer-based rather than tape-machine based.  That’s the norm these days, but in 1991, it was pretty rare.   He had a Mac Classic computer with a synthesizer or three connected to it, and that was how the majority of his projects were started.  If he needed to record drums or anything really big, he’d worked out a symbiotic deal with the drum teacher who rented the room next door.   He’d pull out his tape machine and mixer and run cables through the hall.  Here’s a picture of the studio at that time.  I’m the person in the middle, wearing the weird sweater.  My drummer friend Half-A-Bee (that’s an inside joke) is on the left, and Enigma is on the right.

It was much smaller than the other place, but the location was better, and he saw an instant jump in the number of clients that called on him.  That meant that he also called me more often to play on songs.  By then, my band had essentially broken up, but I had a bunch of songs of my own that I’d been working on, and I banked all the time I’d earned from working on all those other peoples’ sessions into my own blocks of studio time.

One thing about recording studios is that they usually have multiple projects going on simultaneously.  Large studios will sometimes be booked by record companies for weeks or months at a time, but most people these days are financing their projects themselves.   My current studio setup (otherwise known as my living room) puts Enigma’s to shame, and I can spend as long as I like working on songs, for only the price of the equipment.  Back in 1991, however, even the ancient Mac in the picture would have cost a couple thousand dollars.  It was all pretty state-of-the-art back then, and Enigma had lots of people working with him.

My ‘day’ job at the time was the night clerk at a video store.  That was one of my favorite jobs, and I worked there for quite a while.  One afternoon, my co-workers and I heard an unusual number of fire and police sirens racing across town.  We looked out the window and saw a huge plume of smoke rising from the direction of downtown.  We asked the customers as they entered the store if they knew what had happened, and someone was finally able to tell us that the music store was on fire.  My blood turned to ice, and I grabbed the phone to warn Enigma, and to tell him to get over there.  He didn’t answer, but he got my message (he told me later) and raced downtown to hopefully salvage whatever he could.

As afternoon turned to evening, the fire raged at the limits of control, and it took the firefighters until almost dawn to extinguish it.  As soon as the surrounding roads were open, my friend and I drove downtown to survey the situation, and the smoldering remains of the building were pretty terrifying.  Enigma’s studio didn’t burn, but it was buried was under fifteen feet of sludgy water and charred debris.

Remembering their verbal agreement, Enigma tried desperately to contact the building’s owner, who was unreachable for days.  Once the water had subsided a bit, the police allowed Enigma to go to the basement and retrieve what he could.  Most of his stuff, including his tape machine, was completely destroyed, but he was actually able to salvage some of his gear.   He wrapped everything in black garbage bags and carted it to his mom’s living room, where it sat for months while he completely disassembled every piece and cleaned it up.  The computer actually came back to life, eventually, and the mixing board only needed some slight repairs.  Amazing.

After a week or two (if memory serves), he was finally able to track down the owner of the building, who had managed to conveniently forget about their permanently postponed contract.  I told Enigma that I remembered those conversations, and that I’d be happy to testify in court if it came to that.  The owner continued to balk, so Enigma had no other choice but to sue him.  He invited those of us with studio projects in the works to join in the lawsuit, so that we could also be compensated for the amount of time and money that we’d lost.  Some people only lost a song or two, but some of us lost a significant amount of music in that fire.  I had accumulated about three thousand dollars’ worth of studio time, and there was a hip-hop guy whose album was completely finished and ready to be sent to duplication.  Of all the studio’s clients, his loss was by far the most devastating.

The details of the case were these:  the owner had let an employee and some friends dink around in the store after it had closed for the day, and that employee had been smoking a cigarette while he was in there.  I don’t remember if the guy dropped the cigarette, or if he left it in a garbage can and thought he’d extinguished it, but the cigarette was thought to be the cause of the fire.  The police suspected arson, which seemed especially credible since the store owner skipped off to Florida with his two-million-dollar insurance settlement, and couldn’t be tracked down for the next few years, by which time our case had been dropped since the lawyers couldn’t find Owner.  I will go to my grave believing it was arson, because if it HAD been an accident, Owner would’ve been outraged (which he was not), and much more willing to fulfill his responsibilities to his various tenants.  As far as I’m concerned, foul play is the only thing that explains his bizarre behavior, and his unwillingness to deal with those of us who were left high and dry.  Not to mention the fact that the owner was able to salvage a great deal of his inventory and have a huge ‘fire sale’ a month or two later, so he recouped a sizable amount of that money as well.  Yakima’s online newspaper archive only goes back as far as 1997, unfortunately, so I wasn’t able to find this story, but I would really love to find out how they reported the story.

One funny thing about this story was our lawyer’s name.  It was the kind of name that only appears on cheesy TV shows.  I can’t tell you what it really was, since she’s still around and practicing law, but I can tell you that her name sounded like “Money Law.”   Isn’t that cute?

Every once in a while, I search for Enigma online, and I find him.  Sometimes I think it’d be nice to reconnect, but then I remember some of the weirdness, and I lose any motivation to contact him.  Best to let sleeping dogs lie, I’d say, in this particular case.

Enigma and Otis

funny, music, recording, true, Yakima No Comments »

My last entry was about Enigma, the studio owner I knew back in my Yakima days, and I promised you a couple more stories about him. Well, now is as good a time as any, and I’m ready for one if you are.

After I’d spent a few nights recording my own songs, and Enigma saw that I could play a number of instruments, he started calling me in to play keyboards or guitar on sessions for other people. One of the people was a singer-songwriter who A) fancied himself the next Otis Redding (despite the fact that he was white and had difficulty singing in tune), and B) coincidentally enough, had the same name as my childhood optometrist. We also worked with a group of four guys who were modeling themselves after the New Kids on the Block. Ever the budding entrepreneur, Enigma had the brilliant idea of introducing WhiteOtis to the NewKids and creating a ‘supergroup’ of sorts, which he himself would manage. I was called in to help them write some songs. This relationship proved to be ill-fated, and everybody went back to what they’d been doing separately. Otis continued working on his solo project, “Do It,” which would be the first session work on my musical resumé.

One night, we were working on one of the songs for that album—I should really call it a ‘tape’, since calling it an ‘album’ makes it sound much more glamorous and legitimate than it was—and I invited a couple of my bandmates to the studio so that they could hear what Enigma and I were up to. We arrived early, and hung out with Enigma in the studio’s front office for ten minutes or so, until Otis arrived and we all made our way to the main room of the studio. Not more than a few minutes after we had moved to the main room, we heard a bunch of loud sounds that we assumed were firecrackers until we heard things hit the window and saw the curtains moving. It was then we realized were being shot at, and we ducked behind whatever cover we could find. Otis and I hid underneath the studio’s large mixing console, which was sitting on top of a sturdy wooden table. My two bandmates hid around the corner by the bathroom, while Enigma grabbed his shotgun and climbed up a ladder and into the crawlspace above the ceiling. He intended to climb up to the roof and survey the situation from there.

Otis and I were nearest to the phone, so I suggested that we call Nine-One-One and report what was going on. He lifted the receiver and made the call. “We’re being shot at,” he said tersely.

“Okay, where are you located?” the operator asked.

“Uhh. . .we’re kind of. . .on Lincoln and 26th. No, 24th—” He lowered the handset and whispered to me, What’s the address here?

I happened to know it (it was on 20th), so I whispered it to him. He relayed it to the operator, who said that the police were on their way. We thanked her and hung up.

After that, the shooting stopped, but the five of us stayed crouched and hidden until we saw the flashing red and blue lights of the police cars a few minutes later. Enigma had come down from the roof and joined us in the studio again, although he returned by way of a different route than he exited. He jumped down from the ceiling with his shotgun slung over his shoulder, and he tucked it behind his back as he peeked through the front door’s mail slot. “You might want to put that away,” I told him, gesturing at the huge gun.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, and returned it to its hiding place somewhere. While he was putting it away, the police called for us to come out with our hands up, and we walked single-file toward the door. I was the first one outside, and I was faced with the horrifying sight of four handguns pointed at me. I was told to put my hands on the car, and I did so immediately. My bandmates were the next in line, and they followed suit. Enigma was behind them, and he sauntered over to the car next to us. Otis was the last one out of the building, and he was just as calm and cool as can be. “It’s okay,” he said to the police, “we called YOU.” The guns were lowered and the officers came over to talk with us.

We told them what happened, to the best of our ability, and there were lots of rounds of ammunition strewn about on the ground outside the studio, which the police said were from a .22-caliber rifle. We showed them the holes in the windows and curtains, and even found a few rounds embedded in the desk and shelves near where we’d all been standing only minutes before. It was pretty scary, and I’ll never forget that experience. Here’s a picture of the building today, thanks to GoogleMaps.

I love that there’s a derelict shopping cart in the photo. I could have easily cropped it out or chosen a different angle, but why? The cart seems so apropos, somehow. Also, there used to be a row of tall, beautiful trees across the street from that building, but they’ve been cut down in favor of. . .a lawn for whatever business is located there now.

Anyway. That’s neither here nor there.

The full story came out as Otis was telling his story to the police. Otis and Enigma had been hanging out at the studio earlier that afternoon, when a group of four or five young guys came to the door and said, “Hey, we’re looking for [Otis Redding].”

“Yeah, that’s me,” he replied.

“Oh, uhhhh—” they stammered, “we were looking for the [Otis Redding] who went to Hick High School.” [For the record, I had recently graduated from Hick High School, and there was no one named Otis Redding.]

“No, I go to Redneck High School.”

“Okay, sorry to bother you guys.” They walked to their car and drove off.

Otis stood in the doorway and watched them leave, then turned back and said to Enigma, “That was kinda weird. Don’tcha think that was weird?”

Enigma agreed that it WAS weird, and Otis decided to go out and get some food (and, I suspect, to try and hunt down the group of guys), which is around the time that my bandmates and I arrived, unaware of that conversation. In retrospect, it seems that Otis had stolen a girl from one or more of the guys in question, and they were out for revenge. They knew he was a singer, and that he was working with Enigma, so he was easy enough to track down. The rest of us would have been collateral damage.

That was one of the strangest moments of my life. It was certainly the only time I’ve been shot at, as far as I know.

The shooting incident also scared Enigma into moving his studio to a more secure location, and when the biggest music store in town had an open room in its basement, Enigma jumped at the chance to move in. That’s the starting point for the story I’ll tell you next time on. . .The Enigma Files. Or something like that.

To be continued.