Originally written in spring 2005, Milan, Italy.Revised October 2019.
I’m sure there are many civil, gentlemanly model boat races on calm inland waters throughout America. Chrysler-driving old men and cornflake-fed children in Polo shirts gather on a lichened pine dock to launch factory-painted balsa sloops and ketches, tending them with sticks and perhaps a radio controller. At the drop of a flag, the craft totter and slurp through the wavelets to a pink mooring ball, arriving in a tidy flotilla of white nylon sails and politely wagging telltales. Golf claps and spilled lemonade are the only action from the sidelines.
The evergreen pursuit of overland speed leads folks to the expected places. Stingrays, Shelbys, a rainbow of subprime-financed and mileage-limited leased German sedans for the temporarily embarrassed millionaires. But some of us have things to do. I can’t carry hundreds of pounds of electric organs, speaker cabinets, and their attendant toolboxes and accessories in a Challenger—ignoring that I gigged on a bicycle and a Harley Sportster for years. You make do with what you have, after all. But an increase in live rig size meant a commensurate increase in road rig size. I also like to enjoy myself while driving. That’s why I keep around a Ford Transit Connect van.
Last week, my old friend and Boston’s hardest-working soprano Shannon Rose McAuliffe JetBlew into Tinseltown to lend her trained larynx to the digital wax of the All Ages Record (still as yet unnamed). Since the rest of the album will be performed by a bunch of “far out” ne’er-do-well rock and rollers on the hep “mod scene,” having a true classical musician on board adds a whole different dimension to the project that I could only otherwise dream of. It’s been a long time since I crapped out a Bach Invention at the West Tisbury Congregational Church. On one track, her voice serves as the counterpoint to that of coquettish crooner and known oaf Sean George, whom I’ve been writing and performing music with since before iPods.* His barrel-chested bellow contrasted with her lilting melisma is just a delight, if I do say. This record will have everything: insistent groove, cerebral weirdness, electric disco, folky-dolky sensibility, operatic moments, tender balladry.
After the amplifier rebuild/modifications, the trickiest part of the Leslie 31H project has been figuring out the most elegant way to reconfigure the rotors so that they’ll work with two-speed motor stacks. Here’s what I came up with.
Among the metric plethora of other crap I’m working on or involved with, I’ve been slowly, fitfully working on the grand Leslie 31H tallboy. I finally finished rebuilding the amplifier, but not without a couple of snags along the way. Thanks to the eminent wisdom of Trek II’s Michael Smokowicz, the final word on matters Hammond and Leslie, I got them sorted out and the cabinet is now producing its barrel-chested roar once again. See the video for an explanation. Next comes the mechanical and cosmetic side of things.
Further to the recent treatise on my descent into gooberdom, I brought home a supremely junked Hammond BC from a dusty field in Ojai for a song. It’s just about useless, but for its precious chorus generator that I will use in the restoration of another, chorus-generatorless BC. But will this donor generator even turn? I break out the widowmaker and give myself over to the whims of the goddess Fortune.
My folks, of the hippie stardust that landed on the deer-ticked dunes of Martha’s Vineyard in the 1960s and 70s, have lived down the same driveway in Aquinnah for the entirety of their five decades there. Locust Lane was a notoriously treacherous gash of gravel and sand that crept through the forest towards Pancake Hollow that down the years had swallowed buggies, pickups, and UPS trucks whole. Its prominent center hump, steep grades, loose stones, and tendency to flood which turned it into a bayou in summer and a solid glacier in winter meant it was only reliably passable by high-set 4×4, Subaru, or toboggan. All others were at their own peril. They always said it kept the Jehovah’s Witnesses away if nothing else.
I still don’t know what to call this thing, but I do think it’s a decent idea. In 2017, someone–my sister, a client, HAARP waves, I don’t remember who–gave me the idea to put together a record. On this record would be music. Music for everyone. Music for All Ages. Whimsical and light enough for children, interesting and intelligent enough for unchildren. I would take songs that I particularly enjoyed as a kid and rearrange them in my own style. I raised money to buy decent recording gear and pay some session cats, and began. As of this writing, the work is ongoing.
I’m not on the same level as some of the true nutcases, staked out in grayed huts up the far Rural Routes of Minnesota or another Jello salad state. They laze about the internet, their forum signatures sagging under the weight of the dusty Orpheus Leslies and melted Hammond L-102s and forgotten Ensoniq this-and-thats that have drifted across their transoms over the past several eons. These are the real goobers. The junkies, the aficionados. The men who drive the same supercharged Buick Park Avenues they bought new in 1995, who also have barns full of IH Travelalls, Wisconsin skid-steer engines and AM broadcast transmitters from before the War. The American Pickers-type folks. I have always wanted to be this type of person, even though space, finance and good sense conspire against it.
After years of having only Leslie 147s and their equivalents, the Leslie 31H “Tallboy” will soon join the ranks once its rebuild is complete. In preparation, I’m outfitting my organs with 122 as well as 147 hookups. The excitement is palpable.