I've been a musician since I was 5 years old, when my mother started me playing the piano. She herself was a pianist, and it was natural for her to introduce me to the world of music. I am not exaggerating when I say to this very day I remember my first piano lesson. It consisted of just three notes - B,C and D, all wrapped around a little tune with words that I also remember. Through the public school years I also played baritone sax, tenor sax, tuba and sousaphone, but became dissatisfied with sax while in Jr. High School.
While I wanted to give up the saxophone, my parents insisted that I play something. During supper one evening, they asked "what do you want to play” ? Even though I had really not given it any thought I replied that I wanted to play the guitar. These were to be prophetic words.
A few days later at the local music store the clerk informed my mother that "guitar players were a dime a dozen and if he plays bass guitar then he will be in demand". I remember the very first day when we came home with a rented bass and amp. I didn't even know how to tune it yet -- my first lesson was the following week -- but I composed a tune on it anyway! I even wrote it out on some staff paper by using a crude form of self - invented tablature.
Fortunately, learning to play bass came quite easy for me and I was soon learning songs by picking out the bass part by ear on the records. I played bass for about two years before my teacher told me that he had taught me everything he could, and that I should now start learning 6 string. However, when my instructor loaned me his 6- string I wasn't all that enthused at first -- in fact I wasn't sure at all that I even liked it! But after 6 months or so something clicked and it became an obsession for me. Once again I found that I was picking things up quite fast. So fast in fact, that I became a guitar instructor at age 15 teaching private lessons in the very store I learned in! All this after only picking up the guitar some 3 years earlier!
I hasten to add that apart from school essentially all I did was play the guitar, from the moment I came home from school till I went to bed. On the weekend I would play it all day, continually learning songs from picking the parts off the records by ear and by jamming with other musicians. I played lead guitar in several bands through public school.
After graduating from high school I chose to continue studying music at what was then called the Wisconsin College - Conservatory, located in Milwaukee's East side. I became a performance major, studying Classical and Flamenco guitar. Ironically, while I really enjoyed playing those styles I had no intention of making a living by performing them. What I really wanted to do was play loud and raucous Rock & Roll, which I was already doing along with teaching private lessons.
My vision was to tour and to play large venues. The group I had together at the time seemed like the best avenue for achieving this but reality intervened - I made the first biggest mistake of my life and married my first wife! The short story is that we were both way too young and immature for marriage and we stayed together about two years before divorcing. The sadder part of the story is that shortly after we married I left the Conservatory and started working blue collar jobs in steel fabrication to supplement my meager income from teaching guitar, which I did for about 13 years. All the while I still had various bands that I played with locally on a part-time basis, as I had learned that earning a decent living from performing alone was a tougher concept than I had thought.
In the mid 70's I became the lead guitarist in a new band founded by a guy who I would continue as good friends and business partners with in a recording studio venture. Our band fell apart after about a year, but my buddy had recorded a number of his own songs on a 4-track tape recorder and they sounded pretty good to me. So much so, that in due course I purchased a 4-track tape machine and related equipment and we began recording songs that he had written.
I became fascinated with the recording process and began a program of equipment upgrades that found me owning a great deal of very nice gear! I now had a semi-pro 8-track tape machine, big mixing board, and a number of outboard effect devices in my basement, where we recorded.
About this time a building on Milwaukee's near South side was being developed into rehearsal space by a lawyer friend of mine, and he inquired if I might like to develop a space there for the recording studio. My recording buddy and I talked it over, and where I was quite keen on the idea he was not overly enthused. Our focus was to record our own material which we had a lot of, but we determined that if we only did a marginal amount of business from other musicians we could pay the rent and have the rest of the time for ourselves. Little did we know what we were getting into, since after we opened we found a flood of business coming our way, as our rate structure and equipment package appealed to those looking to make demo tapes and singles. In fact, for a year or so we were THE demo studio in Milwaukee, and did a hell of a business. My partner was the engineer and was at the studio all day (and night sometimes), and I owned virtually all the equipment. We split all the profit after paying the rent and utilities, and where my partner lived off his cut I put it all back into the studio with more equipment upgrades.
Eventually we upgraded to a 16-track machine at about the same time a number of garage and basement studios opened up in the Milwaukee area. And with no overhead they were able to offer rates far lower than ours despite the fact that we offered a better overall package as well as acoustics. It then became evident to me that I wanted out of the recording business and forced a buyout by my partner.
Roughly at the same time I left the studio business there was a new band forming who needed a guitar player. I hadn't performed live for some time and wanted to get back into it, so I tried out for what was to be called "Front Page" and landed the position. It turned into a situation that I had never known before in a group of musicians. Not only did we form very close friendships that last to this day we managed to stay together with the same original 5 people for a period of 8 years - which must be some kind of record, being as most musicians aren't terribly good at getting along for extended periods!
What made us unique to an extent was that this band was a strictly part-time endeavor. We mostly played weekends and limited weekday evenings since we all had full-time jobs, and everyone with the exception of myself had families. It also became a reasonably well-known cover band which developed a huge song list including everything from old instrumental classics to the latest synth-pop rock, so we could entertain any audience. As a result, we did not have the ambition that a great number of groups had to migrate to all original material, tour, and cut albums.
We existed as more or less one happy family, until about the time that I got involved in my second career - brewing beer. The hobby I took up in 1982 quickly became a passion and then an obsession. I was home brewing every weekend, transferring/bottling/kegging the brew during the weeknights (and mornings), wrote articles on English Ale for home brewing magazines, and lectured at regional and national home brewing conferences. And it was all my own drive and enthusiasm that carried me since I lacked a formal education in brewing and relied on my own driven self-learning. I toured dozens of domestic and European breweries, constantly learning, asking questions, and returning home to practice what I had seen, heard, and tasted. You might say beer had taken over my life!
All this while I had been earning a living working in steel fabrication - welding, grinding, machining, and finishing at a small specialty shop in the Milwaukee area. After about 10 years with the company the owners sold it to a firm in Texas who suddenly closed our shop down and moved the production there. They also laid off the entire staff including me. So, being as it were at a crossroads in my life I evaluated what I really wanted to do next because it sure wasn't welding! What I really wanted to do was brew beer for a living but there were not a lot of opportunities in Milwaukee at that time. Hard to believe, I know, given the city’s brewing heritage – but sadly a sign of the declining times for America’s major breweries.
At that time there were two breweries in town producing the type of product I could see myself associated with. One was a small brewpub and I didn't particularly respect their beer. However, the other was an outfit whose beer I really liked so resume in hand away I went and soon found myself with the Sprecher Brewing Co. This was a real shock in some ways since initially what I earned in compensation was half of what I was making while welding, and with NO benefits either! Fortunately, I had my mortgage paid off and had a bit saved so was able to ride this period out.
My ambitions however dictated that I started looking elsewhere to carry on with my new found career and it became obvious that relocating out of the state was necessary. The hardest part of all this was breaking the news to my band members since I was convinced that it would in turn cause them to throw in the towel. I had also married my second wife shortly before this and this too would prove to be a tragedy.
So off to Washington State it was for me to become the Brewmaster at Thomas Kemper of Poulsbo, just across Puget Sound from Seattle. This change in level of responsibility for me from being a shift brewer to Brewmaster in charge of production/QA/QC/product development (along with myriad other responsibilities) was something that I was both hungry and ready for. The unfortunate consequence of all this along with the stress from relocating as well as a marriage going south was that I stopped playing my guitar altogether - for a period of 8 years! And make no doubt about it, this left a huge emotional hole in me since my music had been such a close and personal thing for me practically all my life! Clearly, the new position's requirements were such that I was at the brewery 6-7 days a week, sometimes logging 70 or more hours. There was simply no more energy to divert to anything creative such as playing my guitar!
Our brewery was acquired by Pyramid Ales in 1992 and grew us to a point where we renovated an old building in Seattle and built a much larger and more efficient brewery. I found myself divorced from a failed marriage as well as commuting to Seattle to run the new plant. Pyramid went public in 1995 and in due course built another very large state-of-the-art brewery in Berkeley, CA. About this time there were other changes in the company which I became unhappy with, since I was not at all comfortable in the corporate mindset.
In 1997 I found I was so dissatisfied with my new position as Corporate Brewmaster that I began looking for another job where I could get back to my roots in brewing, which I saw was being a production brewer. The company gave me some help in deciding as I was down sized along with all the VPs during an upper management shakeup.
I landed on my feet not too far from Seattle at the newly opened Snoqualmie Falls Brewing, as Head Brewer. Actually, I was the ONLY production employee for several years. This gave me a chance to get back into the boots and smell the wonderful aromas of malt and hops again from the perspective of why I got into this crazy business in the first place. It also restored my self-confidence as a brewer which had been severely compromised during the last years with Pyramid.
The really positive effect this all had on me was that I started playing my guitar again. I was now reaching for my acoustic guitar rather than my electric more than ever. And the most positive thing was that playing was much like the analogy of riding a bicycle again after a period of absence - you're a bit rusty at first but it all comes back to you soon enough. I discovered that all the tunes I had ever composed but never written down came back to me, and I also started writing new material very shortly after. In fact the very first tune I wrote I sat down and played from the beginning to the end just as though I had known it all my life!
This was to become a very prolific period of writing new material - some of the best I had ever done. And I also realized that it was now finally time to achieve that goal I had for myself for too many years - to get into the recording studio and put these tunes down like I heard them in my head.
Yes, this has all been a (very) roundabout way of saying "I finally got around to it".
So that's who I am. As far as why should you care . . . well hey, that's up to you!
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