Reflections on Music, Life, and "Beauty Gone Wild"

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Indiedog, Jul 14, 2015.

  1. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    I have been enjoying Leah Waybright's CD "Beauty Gone Wild" lately. I became aware of it through my passion for all things Happy the Man. Rick Kennell, Stan Witaker, and Ron Riddle are on it so the Happy the Man influence is definite. Rick's producing skills are an important part of the success of the project. But most of the credit does go to Ms. Waybright; she is an excellent pianist and composer. The CD is a "concept album" about flowers. The artwork is sumptuous! There is text and artwork for each of the tracks. I mean it is stunningly beautiful. It is one of those CDs that might not leap out at you on the first listen but on follow-up listens the magic becomes very clear. She manages to combine beautiful melodies, lush and clever orchestrations, and some infectious rhythms. Her choices of keyboard sounds are spot on. There is lots of variety and each sound is fine tuned. I especially like Fender Rhodes and other electric piano tones and there are lots of great examples.

    Yeah, I like it!
  2. Thanks so much for the kind words and the rave review Indiedog....

    One of the best stories about making that record is the Ron Riddle generator story. I coaxed Ron to come down to our place in Westchester County New York - from his place in Ithaca for a weekend to do all the drum tracks. I had gotten him the material in advance and he listened over and over again and drove with the drumsticks in his hands rehearsing all the way. I hadn't seen him in a few years at the time. We finished unloading the van and as we were sitting down to dinner, the power went out. It wasn't weather related - they were working on the power grid at the Con Ed station a mile or so away and trying to fix a "brown-out" problem they had been having.

    We shrugged it off, got out the candles - and the fun part was getting caught up and telling all the great stories we both had to candle light. In retrospect, that friday night was an incredible evening - it couldn't have been more perfect - very magical.

    We got up saturday morning and I called and they told me they had run into an unexpected problem and the power would be out for the entire weekend. I was really a little freaked - Ron was starting a new film project the following week and would be unavailable for a few months. Happily, when I called the local Tool Rental Center, they still had a generator left. We begged them to hold it for us and rushed over and picked it up. Happily - it was enough to power the whole studio. We busted butt all day saturday and into sunday afternoon and got what we needed with time to spare. Thank God for that generator!

    Leah had access as an instructor at the New York Botanical Garden - to all the rare and really old Victorian books in the basement of the library. These were books too old to be on the library shelves or in circulation. She compiled a huge binder full of information - the myth, magic and folklore of many of those flowers - and then compiled and re-imagined those stories - re-telling them in her own words. She then set all of the stories to music.

    We decided to offer the CD in a museum-quality hard-cover gift book - the size of a CD. We found a pair of twins that were wonderful graphic artists and since we were running out of time - commissioned them to do the artwork. It was cool - since there were two of them they could do it in half the time!

    There is much more on her website here: Welcome to Innertainment and the Leah Waybright Website!

    Thanks again, indiedog! I love that record and play it often myself....

    Mixed by Doug Oberkircher who mixed multiple Spyro Gyra and Dream Theater records...

    And yes, we are finally working on the follow-up....

    Here is the cover and one of the fully illustratied songs/stories:

    Last edited: Jul 29, 2015
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  3. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    What a great story, Rick! I played the disc on the way to work the last few days and was impressed how each successive listening reveals new layers and cool little details. What strikes me is how darn clever everything is and how carefully worked out the orchestration is. The harmonic twists and turns are very rewarding. As each piece starts, I think I know where things will go but Leah surprises with clever modulations and returns. I mentioned above how tasty each synth or electric piano voice is but again, each time I listen I notice just how perfect each choice is. I especially like that several times she uses variations on an oboe-like, reedy voice. I am reminded of those old Arp Pro-Soloist reeds but of course her tones are modern takes on them. (Or is that Gary Blu's horn work? His flute work is sublime.) And the typical, DX-7 like electric pianos can come across as cliched if one is not careful. Leah does just the opposite and makes them sound jewel-like on the tune "Foxglove."

    And that is fascinating about Ron's part in it. I started my musical life as a drummer so I always listen carefully to drums and percussion. He consistently comes up with the most clever patterns. He could have chosen some simple things but instead he clearly spent some serious time coming up with elegant patterns. And there is so much evolution to his drumming. He adds so much to the pieces with the changing patterns and fills. "African Violet" is a great example. There is one piece about 2/3 way through the album where is bass drum patterns are quite complex. Yet they never get to the point of distraction.

    My Van has a nice sub-woofer so this morning I was focusing on your parts, Rick. As always, you also eschew the obvious choices and hit some beautifully complimentary bass notes. Your bass ostinato in the middle of "Windflower" is so infectious and then you make it much more complex later in the piece. And the rhythmic interplay between you and Ron is superb. I have recently been trying to learn about how the best drummers and bassists stay out of the way of each other when it comes to the bass drum and the bassline. You compliment each other perfectly.

    And of course Stan's guitar work is as creative as his work on the HtM records. He manages to add so much without getting in the way of the layers of keyboards.

    When I listen to the CD I often hear elements that remind me of some of my favorite groups. There certainly is that "Happy the Man" feel in places. At times I hear Camel (one of my all time favorites), and one track starts off with some Anthony Phillips-like arpeggiated chords. But it is never derivative.

    Over on the Progressive Ears site there is a thread about it and everyone posting seems to like it; a number of people sort of put it in a new-age category but I think it is much more percussive, interesting, and so darn satisfying than even the best new age work. This CD deserves a much wider audience. And again, the artwork alone is worth the price of admission.

    And I am so glad you are working on a follow-up!

    Thanks for your part in making this lovely music, Rick...please convey to Leah that it is brilliant!
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  4. Hey Indiedog

    Again, thanks so much for all the kind and very specific notes. I will gratefully let Leah read every word - she will certainly be inspired by your comments.

    Yeah, all of the lead woodwind instruments were done by Gary Blu. Gary is the horn guy that does all the horn arrangements for "Steely Dan" over the years. He has worked with them in the studio, but his main gig with them is "live". When they hire a horn section for their tours, they don't want them standing around - so they hire Gary to do horn arrangements for all of the songs that didn't have horns on the original versions. He is busy with his own projects so he doesn't usually do the tours with them, but he attends rehearsals and as a relentless perfectionist - he directs and conducts the horn sections.

    When we first talked about it - I told Gary that I wanted something really unique, and I was leaning towards oboe. He wasn't an oboe player but he suggested that we do all the horns with a Yamaha wind controller and then I could assign the tracks to whatever sounds I wanted: oboes, flutes, saxes, clarinets - whatever fit. We played around with it at the first session and we both really liked the way it came off. So that is what we did. Below is a brief bio:

    Gary Blu

    "Gary grew up in New Rochelle, NY playing at local clubs and giving private lessons from the time he was 16. After graduating from SUNY Binghamton with a degree in music composition, he attended graduate courses at The New School in commercial arranging and audio engineering. He worked alongside Donald Fagen as assistant arranger and music copyist with The New York Rock & Soul Revue, featuring Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs, Phoebe Snow, and Chuck Jackson. Since then, he has done the same for all of the Steely Dan tours, as well as music copyist for Steely Dan's Grammy winning Two Against Nature, Donald Fagen's solo record Kamakiriad and Walter Becker's 11 Tracks of Whack. Some of his horn arrangements can be heard on Steely Dan's live album Alive In America. Gary was involved in Steely Dan's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony and can be seen on the PBS special Two Against Nature, Steely Dan's Plush TV Jazz-Rock Party. Gary also had the pleasure to work briefly alongside the late Gerry Mulligan re-arranging music for Mulligan's tentet. Gary's diverse experience also includes live performances and recordings with many local artists".

    Ron Riddle

    As far as Ron and I go - yeah, I must admit, I have always really treasured our musical relationship. Ron has toured with Stu Hamm and was a member of Blue Oyster Cult for a number of years. In my musical history, I have always felt a need to do a lot of talking with the drummers - figuring out where to put the air, understanding where the kicks need to be - just mapping things out and making sure we are anchoring the tune properly. With Ron none of that was ever necessary.

    First of all - Ron is a lot like his pet wolf - Chance - who passed away a few years ago. He will never play the song exactly the same way twice. He doesn't believe in it. That challenge was an adjustment for me at first, but later became a huge asset. It forces you to listen and interpret as you go. It keeps you on your toes - and the surprises can be so gratifying. We really think alike musically so when we start to read each other's minds in real time - it cracks us both up. I once mentioned to Ron how amazed I was that we never needed to talk about what we were going to play. He just grinned and said "I would rather stick a pencil in my eye".

    That's Ron....
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2015
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  5. mapleglo

    mapleglo Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    phoenix, az
    Thanks for the link! Those clips on her page sound great. Another CD purchase added to the queue...
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  6. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    What great information, Rick! Thank you very much!
    I love all of the Westchester County associations. I moved to Yonkers when i was 10 and went to high school in New Rochelle so it is cool to have an even better sense of Ron, you, and Ms. Waybright.

    And that makes perfect sense (Gary using the wind controller and triggering the sounds). Now I know why I thought it was Leah on keys. What a perfect way to come up with the oboe sound but get all of the Gary's inflections and phrasing.What an impressive resume that he has! Playing/arranging with Steely Dan says it all. Ditto for Ron.

    (Sorry for the delay in responding to you...I had a finger infection that got bad quickly and needed some treatment.)
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  7. Hey Mapleglo

    Thanks so much - we had a lot of fun putting "Beauty Gone Wild" together and have recently gotten two new tunes polished up for the next one. Leah wanted to have a nice back log of material for the next record, and she is over 30 tunes at the moment. So we are sorting through them and examining the arrangements and hope to have a new one done by year's end.

    and Indiedog

    I hope your finger infection is better. You can't take those infections lightly these days. I hope your back in business and thumping around on your basses again.

    I had no idea you lived in the Westchester area. We lived in a big house right off the Taconic near Pine's Bridge Road for 19 years and I still maintain an office in Briarcliff. We were just renting, but the house had quite a history. We found out after moving in that it was used as the HQ for the American Nazi Party and eventually the US government found out about it - and had some kind of shoot out and took it over. Adjutant General Mitchell used the house as his headquarters in WWII and there were over 40 phone lines coming into the house.

    We lived in what was the servant's quarters - but we had a 40 X 60 stone patio and a beautiful pond and waterfall outside. It was cabin fever during the winter as it was a tiny studio apartment. Barely enough room for the studio in the main room with a tiny bedroom. But in the summer it was quite nice. We recorded Leah's entire record there and we had some amazing piano recitals for her students on that patio overlooking the pond. Our landlord lived in the rest of the house and he decided on the spur of the moment to move to Atlanta when his mother became ill - and sell the house. Nick DiPaolo the comedian, ended up buying the house.

    I don't know if this makes sense, but Leah had intensive piano training at James Madison under Dr. Lowell Watkins. Dr. Watkins was our keyboard player - Kit's father. It was an interesting situation. Our keyboardist, Kit - was winning classical recitals at the ripe age of 5 years old. Both of his parents were gifted pianists - one was New England Conservatory and the other was trained at Peabody. So if you are looking for the roots of her Happy the Man influence you can probably point to that. Kit's expression was always very aggressive while Leah's expression has always been gentle, but they both learned the basics from the same person.

    Before I was out of the service and still in Germany - the band did one concert without me at Madison. Kit covered the bass on keyboards, and Leah was there. In the middle of the concert the fire alarm went off and no one moved. As the story goes, the band just started jamming in time with the fire alarm. So Leah actually saw the band perform the first ever concert and I wasn't even at Madison yet, but still in the Army.

    Again, thanks for the warm support, it means a lot. I have been busy programming scratch drum tracks to a couple of HTM songs, so I have some drums to compose my bass parts to. You know, the way I look at it, bass without drums is like cereal without milk!
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  8. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    Thanks, Rick! So far the finger infection is retreating (when it was bad I had thoughts of being like Django R or Jerry G!)

    And the more I hear about the genesis of HtM, the more I understand why you all fit together so well. It becomes clear that the band's collective genius was the result of the various influences and personalities that blended together. And the east coast origins of the various members also cannot be stressed too much. Each area of our country has its unique stamp on the people that were born or live there. Westchester County has always been a special place because there are so many different people, cultures, and of course, ALL of that history! (Just drive up 9A and stop in Sleepyhollow or Dobbs Ferry and you'll get a feel. The cemeteries alone will keep you busy for days. I just loved riding my bike from Yonkers up 9A through the light and shade of all the little towns to the Tappan Zee bridge back when i lived there.)

    I delved into Kit's story a few years ago (what a brilliant and creative mind he has). The intensity of his parents' love for the piano must have been both very encouraging and somewhat daunting at the same time. But clearly he found his own voice. And that Leah studied with his father is so interesting. I have seen this before: a number of students study with a great teacher, the majority come out somewhat cookie-cutter and wear the obvious stamp of the maestro but a smaller amount of the students blend that intense influence with their own strong spark and fly off on a great tangent. Kit came out they way he did because he had inside him such a unique harmonic and rhythmic approach (no one sounds like him). And Leah came out showing her special identity. Her strongest talent clearly is her sense of melody--something that many successful musicians never quite master (the "groove" covers for that). It is a cliche to say that her melodies are haunting but it is true. That is what keeps drawing me to her CD. And those quirky harmonic turns are a big part of the attraction. (I wonder, did Dr. Watkins have that same adventurous harmonic sense? Is that where Kit and Leah got it?)

    Re: your time in that wonderful house...our homes influence us greatly, especially artists. It is sometimes very positive but sometimes a difficult home environment can squash creativity. Despite the smallness of the space, you both pulled from that home motivation and stimulation. And there is nothing better than a nice patio or deck (unless there is an intimate concert going on). My wife and I very much enjoy our backyard and the flowers we have (hibiscus, gardenia, cacti) are delightful gems that highlight all the palms and other greenery. I have always enjoyed flowers but I remember an especially expansive moment in the Bronx Botanical Gardens when I sat under one of the flowering trees. I pulled apart a mostly-unopened flower and realized that no one had ever seen this particular flower and no one else ever would. It cemented my feeling that we need to protect the natural beauty around us. Naturally, Leah knows and loves the fascinating beauty of flowers and the way she combined her passion for them with her music is wonderful.

    I want to thank you for always being so open to sharing information and stories with us, Rick. Not many artists do that. Despite the acrimonious tendencies of some posters here, TalkBass is a great place because of the huge range of members and their desire to share. I have learned boat loads of important details and been turned onto a lot of new music because of it. Thanks go out to the TB admins and the members.

    And I certainly want to be the first on line to purchase Leah's next CD! Sign me up!
  9. Hey Indiedog

    Again, thanks so much for your kind comments, I enjoyed reading your thoughts about Westchester and Kit - and well, your entire post!

    Yes, it was uncanny how we fit together. I suppose you know the seed of everything was me in the Army after having been in Germany for about a week. I was walking to the PX and I saw a bunch of long haired guys unloading a van. I walked over to say hello, and it turned out to be "Shady Grove" who were performing at the service club that night.

    Screen shot 2015-07-24 at 8.14.06 PM.png

    It was guitarist Stan Whitaker and his brother Ken who was the lead vocalist. For some reason, Ken wasn't in the photo above. Ken walked over and said hello - I think he just wanted to get out of the manual labor of unloading the van - and we started talking about music. I mentioned that I was from Indiana, and that I had only been in Germany for a week, but I loved eccentric euro music. Ken immediately turned to the band and summoned everyone over to meet me going - HEY, this guy just got here from the states and he is into the euro bands!

    Everyone crowded around and at the time I thought it was a bit odd, they kept peppering me with questions about the "states" and what the US music scene was like. After a few minutes, I realized that they were Army brats who had spent their entire high school years and more living in Germany. They were estranged from the US Music scene and were wondering big time what it was all about. I also found out that they were heading back to the states after the tour which went into August - to embark on their college careers. Stan had picked Madison College in Harrisonburg, Virginia - now James Madison University. He had heard good things about the music department, and also knew that it was in the middle of changing over to co-ed from being a all-girl's school. There was a ridiculously high ratio of women to men and I always figured that was part of the equation.


    It only took about two minutes and we were raving about all the same bands - Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Van Der Graf Generator....the list went on and on. Ken got really excited and I told him that he would be amazed at my record collection. I also had to stress to them that most of the US was not necessarily into those bands - at least not yet. There was a small pocket of us in Indiana and we loved and craved that eccentric Euro rock. Ken asked if he could see my record collection, so we walked over to the barracks and left the band to set up for sound check. He flipped because a huge percentage of my collection was also his collection.

    So we wandered back and Ken told the band of my collection and that I was a bass player - and Stan - who was VERY impressively ripping off Steve Howe licks warming up - told me the bass player wasn't coming back to Virginia with them and they needed a bass player for this new project. The bass player had wandered off and Stan asked if I knew any Genesis. Of course I did - "The Knife" I asked him? He grinned and said good choice - pick up that bass. So we played the Knife and I nailed it. We spent a little more time and then everyone split up with a promise to reunite for the show.

    The show was mind blowing - I mean - mostly eclectic covers of all their favorite Euro bands - with a few originals sprinkled in. Ken had an easel and a palette of paints and wore a long black cape. During instrumental sections he would work on the painting but the easel had it's back to the audience, so you couldn't see what he was painting. At the end of the show he turned the painting around and it was a painting of the audience. Very cool.

    So after the show Stan said - hey Rick - I guess you know that you are our bass player. I felt shockwaves going through my body - I had a year and a half left in Germany - there was no way I could be in their band. Stan said - listen - you don't know me but you will. It will take us months to get settled, get the rest of the musicians together and write the material - don't worry it will all work out fine. He also told me that when they got settled in September they would drop me a note. This was June 2nd.

    So after they left it was very weird for me. The whole thing was like some amazingly magical dream. After a week or so the whole thing wore off - and I resigned myself to the fact that it was just a magical moment and soon after I kind of forgot about it. I think it was too painful for me to think about it and dwell on it.

    The second week of September I got an 11 page letter wrapped around a cassette of the songs I was instructed to learn. Here is the wrapper with the mailing label from that package:

    Screen shot 2015-07-24 at 8.13.50 PM.png

    I especially liked the "3rd Eye" part....

    Go figure. They waited a year and a half for me.....

    How rare is that after one meeting and a couple of hours together.....?

    As far as Dr. Watkins goes....

    Leah went to a summer camp during high school when she was still considering colleges. At the camp she met this amazing pianist - Barbara Watkins - yes - Kit's sister. She was so impressed with her piano skills that she decided to go to Madison and train with her father, Dr. Lowell Watkins.

    Leah always gave me the impression that the magic of Dr. Watkins was mostly technical in nature - he was kind of an old school guy with big time classical roots. Kit broke his heart in high school when he told his father he wanted to buy a Hammond organ and be in a rock band. One of my greatest memories from Madison was attending a performance at Wilson Auditorium with two grand pianos facing each other - and Kit's mother and father dueling back and forth.

    Truly Remarkable....
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2015
  10. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    Once again, I must thank you for such a great reply, Rick. What a fascinating tale. I of course knew the basic details of the Germany story but not the entire story. Isn't it amazing how many things in life come down to chance encounters? And of course Leah's story hinges on a similar chance encounter. (I assume you meeting Leah is because Kit introduced you?)

    I love the record collection element. I have had that occur often as well. I have this theory that in a minor way, most of the people on the planet are related to each other due to overlapping record collections. Some of us only overlap by a few titles but a few of us have a substantial overlap. The 1970's were such a special time because there was such a diverse amount of genres and styles existing at the same time. Especially in a major metropolitan area, you never knew if the guy next to you was in an entirely different world or just might be your next best friend. I owe so much of my collection to influence by other folks. (One of the best examples was one of my college roommates who was in a Master's program at the U of AZ in piano performance with Ozan Marsh.)

    One more random thing: are you and Leah aware of Untermeyer Park in Yonkers? It was always a favorite destination for me when I was in High School. The main, walled garden (in Persian style) is finally getting some funding these past few years and I hear it is looking better than it has in a long time. There is a great website on it and there is a 11 minute promo film on YouTube. I thought of Leah when I saw all of the flowers. The place has an intriguing history and perfectly illustrates the magical elements of Westchester County (and the rich barons) back in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
  11. Hey Indiedog

    Just noticed how funny this thread has become. We might as well be PMing I suppose. It's always a bit odd to me - the threads that folks find interesting - apparently this isn't one of them. But that's OK, I enjoy telling the stories and I am happy to document some of our history - even to an audience of one.

    Actually I met Leah at a party in a dorm room one night. We had just finished rehearsal and one of our good friends popped in and told us he knew of a party and he was heading over there. A few of us tagged along. When we got to the party, there she was. I was so incredibly smitten with Leah from the first moment I saw her - it was so hard to describe. I think most of all I was attracted to how still she was. It wasn't just that she was on the shy side - she definitely was - but more importantly her nature was simple and quiet. She didn't volunteer anything. If you wanted to know about her, you had to go in and get it. I suppose that her growing up on a farm had something to do with it. I knew when I met her that I had to take this one nice and slow. I found myself so infatuated with her quiet nature - it was so different and attractive to me. I knew she could be the one.

    We played a concert a few weeks later at Wilson Auditorium. I asked her to come and stop by and say hello after the show. I saw her file in and take a seat, so I knew she was there - but after the show, she was nowhere to be found. I called her the next day and asked her where she went and she simply said: "I am not the type to visit a band's dressing room. I don't think it's proper and it's not in my personality. Besides, there are plenty of pretty girls who like to do that, you can have your pick if that is what you want."

    Well, this kind of blew me away and made me even more enamored with her. Everything about her was different than most of the women I had known - and I found it to be incredibly refreshing and attractive. In addition to her musical talent, she was also an honor student. I still can't beat her at Scrabble, but I think she lets me win once in a while - for fear I would grow tired and lose interest. And of course, her musical talent gave her a real awareness and insight about what it takes to lead a creative life. She seems to have an innate understanding about who I am and that understanding is mutual. Most relationships I have experienced - you seem to spend way too much time explaining yourself. Our relationship has always been pretty effortless - we get along - we laugh a lot and we don't have to work at it much. We just fit.

    We ended up dating until the summer off and on, but again - I was taking it very slow and easy. It was very romantic and special - and then she went back to Gettysburg for the summer. It was a lonely time in Virginia and I missed her terribly. She has always had a bit of a phone aversion - so we only talked briefly a few times - but we did send a few letters back and forth. When she got back on campus in September we fell head over heels - and the entire romance got very intense and naturally shifted into high gear.

    We are celebrating our 39th on August 1st.

    I guess that kind of says it all.....
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2015
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  12. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    I of course was aware that the party has rapidly become just the two of us. Several observations: on most Forums and especially here, threads often drift off course, sometimes for the worst (arguing contests that really consists of people trying to force their opinions upon others, off-topic tangents, silly or off-color jokes, etc.) and sometimes for the better. I hope this thread is the latter. I don't think we are thwarting on-going discussion on the topic by drifting slightly. My goal by starting the thread was to try and turn a few more people onto the wonderful CD that is "Beauty Gone Wild." It is criminally under-noticed by the very people that might enjoy it. One of the best things about TalkBass is that there are quite a few professionals here and some are well-known; you are one of them. It is an honor to have those folks here because they generally take the time to share valuable information and advice. You have done a lot of that, especially on the gear side of things (an area much loved by most members). Your previous discussions on other threads about the benefits of short-scale basses and the relaities of the managing one's music career are quite enlightening and worthwhile. And I feel that the pros deserve a wee bit more latitude when they drift. If Mark Egan drifts off topic and wants to tell us something about his upbringing or if Tina Waymouth wants to tell us about her favorite hot sauce, I don't think most people will stop them.

    Your discussion of meeting Leah was lovely and you hit upon such an important relationship area when you said that you don't need to constantly explain yourself to her. That is very noteworthy and to me, it is one of the keys to a great relationship. I think many of us can benefit from this awareness. So drift away if you'd like! (And I too have a unique story of meeting my dream-girl but I will save THAT one for a PM sometime! :) )

    But I do want to get other people interested in Leah's CD. IF you want to continue, I'd be interested in more about how something like this gets made when there are so many different personalities involved. You discussed some of the dynamics in the drumming and the flutes and "oboe" lines. What other dynamics were there going on? How did Stan Whitaker approach the project? What in the recording or mixing was difficult or really easy? And other than her website, how do you and Leah promote the CD?

    And the thought of a follow-up has me leaping. Where does she find inspiration? Jamming? Her classical background? A more cerebral approach like thinking of a unique rhythm or chord sequence that she has not yet approached?

    Thanks again for your effort. I think there is more than an audience of one here.
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  13. Hey Indiedog

    Thanks for the words of encouragement.

    The story is - Leah and I were in San Francisco for a little over a year doing a project with Nancy Wenstrom called "Tommie". Nancy was Grace Slick's guitar player on her solo stuff at the time and she had also written a Rock Opera with Marty Balin of Starship. Nancy basically put together the band. The project had an investor and I was hired to produce. Leah had been in an all-female band here in New York for a short stint called "The Skirts", and she did some work with British vocalist Nancy Giraffe. However, she did not have a world of experience being in a band. Nancy's writing was solid but not spectacular - no "career-breaker" in sight - and worse, the songs were all over the place. No one else's songs were considered - it was definitely Nancy's deal. I rescued an old country tune I found on an old cassette in Nancy's living room called "Restless Girl" and turned it into an up front rocker. One thing you had to do, especially in those days - was to let the label know that YOU KNOW who you are. So there was a direction problem and finding four killer songs all in a similar vein was a challenge to say the least. I worked hard on this project and we managed some pretty killer demos.

    I shopped the tape in L.A. and had a lot of major label interest. There is controversy surrounding what happened next and if you talk to any three people involved you will get three different versions - at least. The long and short of it - in my opinion - is this. We did a quick one-take video at a local Community College of one of the songs - with students filming - and the whole thing was basically free and on the amateur side. At the end of the day, the poor camera man couldn't keep the camera off Leah. After the song was edited I could tell that Nancy was seething. She got very jealous and even though it was less than two weeks before the showcase - Nancy fired Leah the next day and added a guitar player to take her place. She then demanded that I still stay on and see them through the showcase.

    Well, after a few days - I decided to move on - and resigned. They did the showcase a week or so later and there was little interest. I am certainly not saying there would have been interest had Leah been there - but at least the band had a great shot at sounding exactly like the demos I had painstakingly produced. It's Leah on the left:

    Tommie Photo.jpg

    Tommie Bios.jpg

    We got back to New York and for the first time in a while - Leah got the bug to work on some of her own music. I was managing a couple of recording studios and we had some free studio time so we experimented with several directions. We did a demo of songs called "Haunted Heart" which we shopped in L.A. at a New Age Music Conference at the Roosevelt Hotel. We made a lot of contacts but since we had drums, it wasn't very new-agey. We also did a vocal project with an outstanding vocalist we had met. It was really poppy and just a diversion in the end, but we learned a lot working together. I was wishing we could do another Happy the Man record but it wasn't in the cards. Stan lived in L.A., Frank lived in Hawaii and Kit wasn't into doing anything.

    At the time, Leah had a bunch of other songs she had written - some in New York and some in San Francisco. I said look - let's just get the Happy the Man folks to play on this and at least to us, this is our version of a Happy the Man record. She agreed that it was a good idea, and her writing was gravitating away from pop and into a more personal and eclectic form. When I called Ron and Stan and asked them about it - they were into it. I sent them a couple of the piano tracks and it was obvious they enjoyed the songs. So we set out on this project with limited time and a very limited budget. I mean, we were both earning money, but we knew that we would have to pay for the project as we went in order to see it to completion. You know, it was a "where there is a will..." kind of thing.

    So we recorded all of Leah's piano tracks and got Ron down from Ithaca to play. I had Ron just play every song through top to bottom 3 or 4 times. Then on to the next tune. After he left I had tons of editing to do, which was really good for me. It got me really familiar with the drum parts and made composing the bass parts kind of second nature. I literally combined bits and pieces from all the takes and assembled a single drum track that I liked. I then sent them off to Ron for his approval. He liked everything fine, so then I went ahead and recorded all my bass parts. I was putting in 3 or 4 hours a night and working full-time on the weekends, but just the drums and bass took months. It was a very slow process and my brand of perfectionism didn't help much.

    I then got Stan to come up - I think he may have moved back to Baltimore by this time. I sent him the tracks and like Ron - we did all the guitar parts over a weekend. Same as Ron, I let Stan play each song down 3 or 4 times and then I grabbed the parts I liked. Again, a pretty sizable editing job. I think they both enjoyed the looseness of the situation. So, after the guitars were done, I had a pretty good representation of the tunes. Then it was time for the orchestration. This was really my favorite part and I was a kid in a candy store with all the midi modules and samplers we owned. We had to be really careful during this part of the recording that the pillow talk didn't degenerate into "why is the flute too loud on the rough mix?" We did have some moments of tension and disagreement - especially with the rough mixes I was banging out. I wanted all of the beds and instrumentation to be pretty close to final when we brought in whoever was doing the horns on top.

    At this point, I had met Gary Blu through my friend Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater. Folks don't know this but pre-Dream Theater I helped Jordan out for a spell. He was offered the Dream Theater gig and the Dregs gig basically in the same week. He had to go to Korea to visit with Kurzweil and then he had auditions with both bands in LA the following week. He had to learn like 4 hours of some of the most demanding and challenging music ever written. Luckily he was a chart guy, so he charted everything and sight read it at the auditions. I was shipping his gear and co-ordinating the auditions and putting together all of the tour info for both bands so he could make a big picture evaluation. In the end he decided to do the Dregs tour - he couldn't do both because of the overlap.

    My memory tells me it was years later - when he got together with Dream Theater again, and the timing was right - and he then became a member. Anyways, Frank from Happy the Man was living in Hawaii so I asked Jordan if he knew of any world class horn players. Without hesitation he said sure - my friend Gary Blu. So I called Gary and we hit if off on the phone and decided to schedule a session. It all went well and Gary was fun to work with. Major coffee drinker and then let's play into the night. Again, I just had him do a few takes and I took the parts I loved - then got his final approval.

    I had done almost all of the percussion work on the record - Ron just did the drums. I wanted a percussionist to come in and add some timbales and other incidentals and also to listen to what I had done and edit out anything that might not be happening. For this I chose Gerardo Velez, who played at Woodstock with Hendrix among a gazillion other things. Gerardo actually loved all of my percussion - we added a bunch of stuff - but he didn't find anything I had done to be objectionable.

    So, back to that pillow talk thing - in the end I knew I could never mix the record. If there were things Leah didn't like she could always point directly at me. We made a pact and I went off to visit Bear Tracks which was Spyro Gyra's studio in Suffern, New York at the time. I met with Doug Oberkircher and played him a few things. He has mixed tons of great albums over the years, but I always particularly liked the work he did on the multiple Spyro Gyra and Dream Theater records he mixed.

    So, altogether it took a few years and when we finally got it mixed and got the packaging done - the stars lined up and Happy the Man decided to reform. So the record ending up taking a back seat to "The Muse Awakens" rather than being a fresh new lighter version of Happy the Man.

    A little disappointing in certain ways, but don't take this as complaining!

    It's all good.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2015
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  14. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    Dang, Rick...I hate when you clam up! (wink)

    This is all fabulous to read! I think we amateur musicians often wonder what the whole story is behind a favorite album. We get to bask in the final product, see it's cohesive unity, and see it only from a very unrealistic, "it has always existed in this form and sprang to life a la Mozart's all-in-his head" approach. (Jeez, don't let my old English teachers read that sentence!) But seriously, we only get to experience the art in its final form, rarely realizing or appreciating how quickly or how slowly something was put together. The extreme would be Wendy Carlos in the old days patiently recording individual, monophonic lines to slowly build layers to achieve an dense, orchestral whole. The opposite being a single jam session that results in a fully-formed piece when the red light goes off.

    (I love the players that showed up in the arc of the record's long birthing; especially cool is the part Jordan Rudress played. What a fascinating musician he is.)

    "Beauty Gone Wild" apparently is the result of what happens more often than either extreme I mentioned above: life simply happening in response to dozens of inspirations and roadblocks. The journey that took place is fascinating. Just the machinations involved with "Tommie" are alone worthy of a great story. I sense that Leah is so talented that she could have gone in a dozen different directions depending on chance meetings, the encouragement of professionals, and the impasses that were thrown up. The Happy the Man story has so many of those twists and turns, from the chance meeting of the principals in Germany, to the early history of almost becoming Peter Gabriel's backing band, to the starts and stops of the third album, all the way to the side projects and then the latest, Kickstarter funded campaign for the "union" approach being taken now. Leah's role in the middle part with what turned out to be "Beauty Gone Wild" is very intriguing.

    The amount of turning points in your story are sobering. At many different times the project could have stalled or turned into something vastly different. Just like the various personalities in HtM influenced the compositions and business decisions, Leah's destiny was shaped by quite a few strong individuals and fairly random meetings and closing doors. I love how you guided the project by letting the other musicians try different things. It allows for some great contributions to fall into place but yet that requires great discipline on your part. We all have experienced the overwhelming feeling when we realize that we have a dozen different guitar or drum tracks to choose from (or to blend). One needs to keep one's head steady to not be overcome by the competing possibilities. I have had my own projects derailed by too many choices and too many options. But the resulting music on her CD feels like it tumbled out of Mozart's, um, Leah's head, fully formed. What an achievement!

    I loved one of the reviews on the Amazon page for her CD:

    "Leah Waybright has a very smooth sounding recording here. The songs are thoroughly addicting." -- Electronic Musician

    And "addicted" is what I was trying to emphasize a number of posts ago. The record is immediately accessible on the first play yet with each listen I hear more genius and more details. Each time I spin a track I see the soundness and joyful play of each of Leah's melodies and the special spices brought to them by the various musicians. And more and more I see you as a Renaissance man of modern music. You clearly have the bottom end covered because of your years of bass playing. You know how to orchestrate because you have paid attention to how layers fit together from the moment you heard music as a kid. You know how to capitalize on Leah's strengths. You know the dirty details of how to make the business side of music work. And maybe hardest of all, you know when to get out of the way and let someone else add their special sparkle and when to let someone else mix it all. And you are willing to take the time to talk to the fans. You are an ace in my book. Maybe you deserve Leah after all (wink).

    I hope a few more people get the CD because it should appeal to a wide range of music fans. As I said a few times already, I cannot wait to hear more from you and Leah!
  15. mapleglo

    mapleglo Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    phoenix, az
    Quoted for truth!

    What wonderful stories you have; you should write a book! I would buy it :)

    Thanks for sharing!
  16. Hey thanks so much you two....

    Maybe I am writing a book. Maybe someone will copy and paste and send it to Simon and Shuster.


    Good luck with that...

    It's a bit of a tangent but finding the right studio in San Francisco was quite a project. One of my top priorities was looking for a studio with a killer live room for recording the drums. Jake the drummer was like 5'2" and 90 lbs. but she had great wrists and good technique. She hit like a pro, but I really wanted some natural room ambience on the kit. She played sparsely with a lot of air, and her style was perfect for some room ambience.

    I had worked with Tony Bongiovi from the PowerStation in New York in designing and equipping the Jonathan Elias studio suites before we decided to go to California. Jonathan was a very successful jingle composer and producer, raking in tons of money from his Budweiser commercials. A couple of years later - he went on to produce Duran Duran as well as "Union" by Yes. He's controversial and was a pioneer in the sampling craze during that era. Of course, he has dozens of credits under his belt now and did a few records in his own name as an artist.

    I was working at Elias Associates when they were expanding to 20th Street in Manhattan and they were building several state-of-the art recording rooms at their new location. They had a great relationship with Tony and the PowerStation - but the studio was always booked up and they could rarely get booked in. Tony agreed to act as a consultant and help them with the ins and outs of duplicating the main room at the PowerStation for their own studio. I will never forget the day I was down there with Tony and he was deciding if they needed to float the floor or not in the main room. I don't remember which floor, but the new Elias location had neighbors below them, above them and on one side. Tony asked me to call SIR and rent an Ampeg SVT and a Fender bass. I rented them and as they were bringing them in - I was really curious as to what Tony was up to.

    I couldn't believe what I saw next. He put the SVT cabinet face down on the floor, in the center of where the main studio room would be - he hooked it up to the head, and cranked it nearly all the way up, turned the bass control up and laid the bass on top of the cabinet. He then hit the strings rather violently until he created a bass feedback loop. He must have been pretty amused at the bizarre look on my face as he grinned sheepishly. He said - don't worry if it's a good SVT it won't blow. I figured he must have done this a time or two before. It sounded like a freakin jet engine about to take off. He said, I am going downstairs to check and see if I can hear this sucker, you just make sure the bass doesn't vibrate so much it falls off the cabinet, OK? That might cancel the feedback loop. I smiled and said sure. He came back a few minutes later and said - Yeah, we have to float the floor, I will call Jonathan.

    Here I am so enthralled with Tony Bongiovi as one of the mad scientists of the studio world, and this is how he figures this out? I grinned all the way home just thinking about it. I was very aware of the drum sounds coming out of the PowerStation (now Avatar) especially some of the drum sounds folks like Robert Palmer and engineers like Neil Dorfsman and dozens of others were getting out of there. It was kind of a legendary and trendy thing at the time to have that ambient room sound as a trademark on the drums.

    So I started asking around in San Francisco and I found out that one of the best "live" rooms for drums at the time was Rhythmic River. I scheduled a visit and spent some time with engineer Gary Mankin - who played me some stuff he had recorded there. We struck a deal and when we finished some tracking the following week, he said - man, you are blowing me away here - you have to meet my friend Bill Cutler. Do you mind if I invite him down? I said sure Gary, after these drum sounds any friend of yours is a friend of mine!

    Bill had cut his teeth in San Francisco as one of the great musician/producers around town. He was an incredibly valuable resource and as it turns out - a great friend and advocate. He seemed to know everyone and he did records with folks like Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia and Jorma Kaukonen and was completely plugged into the scene. Originally from New York, Bill and I got along famously, and my relationship with him is still stellar today. We don't see much of each other, but he was a huge help in getting me over the peaks and valleys of my San Francisco experience and instrumental when it came time to shop the project in L.A.

    The other interesting thing to me - we lived in San Francisco for months when we first got there - but we rehearsed at Hun Sound in San Rafael. It took a few days for me to realize that all the grey and overcast weather in San Francisco was fog and not actual weather. We would go across the Golden Gate Bridge and suddenly it was sunshine and blue skies. Eventually, we opted to live in Marin for that reason. It really affected my mood to wake up day after day in what seemed to be cloudy overcast weather. And Hun Sound was always a trip. I remember rehearsing one night and Starship were next door and Journey was down the hall. I became very friendly with Craig Chaquico and not only did we hang out a bit - but he actually hired me to sort out a project with Starship a couple of years later. All in all, the San Francisco trip was really good for us, despite of no happy ending. We learned a lot, made a lot of friends and got to make a lot of music.

    Isn't that what it is all about?
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2015
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  17. mapleglo

    mapleglo Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    phoenix, az
    Hey Rick, Thanks for all the background information. Great stuff. As you know, I ordered the CD, I got your message. I'm looking forward to receiving the CD :)
  18. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    Great tales, Rick! That science experiment sounds hilarious (and dangerous to one's ears)!

    I sense that one of the best things of being a professional musician is the good friends that are made along the way. That is great to hear. And I love how every step of your career appears to reveal your passion for music.

    Thank you!

    And Mapleglo, I look forward to your review when you get the CD...
    mapleglo likes this.
  19. Hey Nexy

    The package went out so you should have it soon...

    1 Thumb Up.jpeg

    And thanks to you Indiedog for the kind words....
  20. A little diversion - Rush....and JT

    I remember when we were first kicking around in DC, we met a sound engineer named Ace Pace through Skip Pizzi at WTGB radio. I think Ace was providing sound for the WGTB Pandamedia concert that we headlined at Georgetown University and I believe that is how we met him. Ace was a pretty quiet guy for the most part, but always enthusiastic and known for his infectious grin. We had our own FOH mix engineer, Wayne Garber, and he and Ace hit it off right away. Ace's brother Tim was a very established lighting specialist who had worked his way up to being pretty much a legend in DC at the time. As far as I know, he still is. He was skilled at all the techniques of the day - using slide projectors and providing water light shows for the hippie bands. His light shows were a marvel to behold and he was running from venue to venue - perpetually busy and booked up solid with his light shows somewhere.

    So the sound system that Ace had provided was huge and pretty superior to anything we had experienced up until that time. He had a logo on the mixing board that said "Atlantis Sound" but we noticed that a lot of the road cases and cabinets had the logo "National Sound". I asked Ace about it - because I was curious. He told me that National Sound was a local sound company that did a lot of big shows, but they were not usually around - because the system at that time toured exclusively with "Rush". He also told me that this huge system we were using was only like 1/10th of their system. Well, you have to forgive me - I had never heard "Rush". I knew they were Canadian and had a couple of records out - and Ace told me they were HUGE in certain venues, especially in the Midwest, but they were still building their following slowly on the East Coast. I could be wrong, but during that period I don't think Rush ever played in DC. I would imagine they played Baltimore though - which was much more of a rock and roll town.

    When I decided to start building my arena bass rig, I decided to ask Ace if he knew of anyone who might be helpful to consult with me and help me build a rig. I had been on a few arena stages at this point and while my Hiwatt stack wasn't bad, I found it to be uber directional. Bass has a tendency to die out fast in a big arena with a 40 X 60 stage even cranked up at decent volumes. I also hated the idea that the "stack" put the top cabinet right at ear level. My entire career, I prided myself on NOT having anything pointed directly at my ears. The cymbals do enough damage. We also had a stage setup that we developed over time that allowed us to get along without monitors if we had to. We only had a couple of vocal tunes - all with lead vocal and no harmonies - so the monitoring was really only a couple of vocal tunes along with the saxes and flutes.

    If I took a decent size step one way or the other my bass would drop out and I had trouble hearing myself on certain stages. I wanted something a little deeper that pushed a little more air and also disbursed a little better. Without hesitation, Ace told me to get with one of the guys on Big Tommie's National Sound crew - a guy named James Tomlinson, who everyone referred to as JT. He was a fixture at all the Rush shows and Ace told me he was an electronics guru. JT was also a really good guy - very experienced and extremely knowledgable.

    We had a meeting and discussed what I was thinking and JT went off to draw up some plans. He suggested first of all that the rig be modular. As our budget got bigger and the needs got bigger, to design a basic system that could be added to as needed. His first suggestion was to use 18" speakers for the low end instead of the 12" speakers I was using in my Hiwatt stack. He told me he really liked the 18" folded horn Cerwin Vega cabinets, because with the speakers facing the rear of the cabinet, the horn design pushed the air out really far with an unusual amount of force. These are the basic cabinets which he suggested and I purchased:


    So when we got the cabinets we did three things. First, we flipped the cabinets over so that the large ports at the bottom hit me right in the solar plexus. This also kept the cabinets from manufacturing artificial low end from "floor coupling" so they sounded much more consistent from venue to venue. Next, we put on huge, heavy duty casters which helped even more with the coupling effect. And third, we either covered the red panels with the Cerwin Vega logo in black material or painted them black so you couldn't see the logo. I don't remember which. We bought the cabinets new so we carefully cut the tops off the boxes and slid them down over the cabinets as "covers" to protect them on the truck. The speakers were way down inside the cabinets so there was no reason to worry about protecting the speakers.

    The top end was a little trickier. I never cared for tweeters or horns of any kind. I liked the warmth of speakers. In a moment of brilliance, JT suggested that we go out and get a couple of Bose 901 cabinets. I thought that sounded mighty risky, but he was sold on the idea. He told me that he would design and build the crossover himself and that we would use a limiter onstage to protect all the speakers. He had a speaker so he brought one over and we tried it. We were truly blown away, not only with how good it sounded, but as importantly - the way it dispersed the sound. I managed to find a pair of used ones that were for sale at a really good price because they were chipped up and cosmetically in rough shape. I had JT pull all the speakers and fill the holes and then he used what I think was kind of a fiberglass black paint on the cabinets. The walnut cabinets looked nice, but I wanted something that would read neutral and be in the background. The walnut chipped easily as we could see - so we wanted a finish that could take some abuse. Finished up, the cabinets looked stellar, so he tested the speakers, mounted them back and them put a super heavy duty grill over the speakers to protect them.


    We bought a small rack on wheels and JT recommended to go with Yamaha power. We bought two large stereo Yamaha power amps for the low end and two smaller ones for the top. One of each was active and one of each was a spare. If anything happened onstage I had a button in my pedal board and the whole system would change over to the spare amps. He also built two crossovers for the rig, which were also a part of the switching system.

    I have always run things pretty flat. Not an EQ guy. EQ to me was only a tool "live" to dial out room gremlins, which rarely existed in the theaters and arenas we were playing in. So we decided to go with the Ashley SC 40 preamp which has parametric EQ and a small DBX limiter for protection:

    AshlySC-40.jpg dbx-163-comp-limiter-1.jpg

    The rig was great, heaven in the large room settings - but was a beast to try and control in small clubs like the Cellar Door. The Cerwin Vegas just pushed too much air and pushed it too far. Our engineer could rarely - if ever - get any bass into the PA in the smaller rooms - because it carried so well in the room. It wasn't a volume problem - it wasn't about turning down - it just pushed too hard even at low levels. I have major regrets about it - there are over 15 board tapes which got leaked over the years - and turned into bootleg CD's in the marketplace. The complete lack of bass guitar on many of those recordings is jaw dropping and embarrassing. It's simply not there. In retrospect, I should have had a small combo amp of some sort and used that at the club shows. Exhibit A: Live and Learn.

    I have always had a very strong aversion to being a circus barker for gear companies. It just rubs me the wrong way. I have had a number of endorsements along the way, but I always insisted on no free gear. I would always pay at least cost for the gear and I would never sign off on any requirement to use the gear or to display the logo onstage. I never found a company I loved so much I wanted to use all of their products across the board, but there may have been something here or something there that interested me. In those days, I got away with not allowing them to use my name in any advertising because I bought the gear. Right or wrong, if I stumbled onto something I felt was superior to what I was using, I wanted the freedom to be able to change instantly. If they were giving me the gear for FREE, that is a different story. I had Artist deals, along the way, where I got my gear at cost from GHS, D'Addario, Aguilar, Anvil, Carvin, Axxon - and I am sure there are others.

    I know this is a complete diversion from the thread, but I also thought it makes for a good story. Only met the Rush guys briefly once - they didn't hang out much in that time - and I am not sure at the time they realized I was in Happy the Man. Not that it matters, they were very nice guys and I thoroughly enjoyed our brief time together!
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2015
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