Carlock: Impromptu jam underscores special moments in music

Published 8:16 am Monday, September 3, 2012

During my most recent trip to LA, I had an opportunity to check out a new band that a friend of mine had been telling me about for a while now. They were gigging out at one of my favorite hangs, Rock & Roll Pizza in Woodland Hills. Music mixed with New York-style pies is always a good time for me, and I gave a call to another one of my usual partners-in-crime, funk guitarist Gemi Taylor, to come join me.

After the band played, Gemi decided he wanted to start a jam, grabbed a Strat off the wall and started laying down a riff. Drummer Tony Whiting (Dee Dee Ramone) was down for it, too. Even from the tin can stall of the men’s room, I could hear these guys needed a bass player so I hurried up and got out there. In no time, we had a handful of remaining fans from the long-past show dancing and standing in the aisle between tables with new audience members coming in from the next room.

Whenever I have the good fortune to hang with Gemi, I can’t help but recall the song he and I first played together in my Woodland Hills studio. It was a song from the Transplants’ second album called ‘”What I Can’t Describe,” which can be easily found on YouTube. The track is a great example of how songs can, and most often should, determine the production direction. Tim Armstrong (Rancid), my co-producer on the record and always a great songwriter, ran with rapper Skinhead Rob’s idea of doing a Transplants’ song with a twist of 1970s era, LA car-culture doo wop.

The final arrangement ended up showcasing a different sound for the band and was strongly considered for a single release. Even though the band had one of the greatest modern rock drummers in Travis Barker (Blink 182), the song’s sound was changed too much by the use of Travis playing full kit. So I found a drum loop to replace his main drums while keeping his fills. Next, I called in Gemi, who I’d met shortly before in Comedy Traffic School. Yes, I did say Comedy Traffic School. He came by and laid down the killer, clean Motown-esque guitar parts that kept the song true to Tim & Rob’s vision of that 1970’s vibe. After I played the bass, B3 and electric piano, the track was almost there but still needed some Transplants signature sound to round it out.  The final pieces that stamped it was Tim playing the reverb-laden melodic guitar solo and the lyrical interplay between Tim and Rob.

Finally, we needed to finish the big harmony vocals in the chorus. Tim and Rob decided to have guest singers on the hook of the track, a common hip-hop production idea (think of all of Nate Dogg’s guest appearances). So Rob put in a call to get the Boo Yaa Tribe to do the guest appearance. To enable them to learn their parts, I sang all the original chorus vocals and backgrounds, including Tim’s idea of call and response and they were invited to the studio to check it out.

When the Boo Yaa Tribe came into the studio and heard my stacked vocals, they went crazy — really over-the-top enthusiastic — saying how much they loved the sound and insisted that my vocals stay in. The Boo Yaa Tribe wanted to layer me with their voices instead of replacing me. Rob told them the intention was to drop out my parts, but they wouldn’t have it. Ultimately, the Boo Yaa Tribe’s enthusiasm kept me in the mix. It was pretty cool having these big 6-foot-3 Samoan guys come in and love me with hearts wide open at first meeting, mainly cause, well, they could’ve snapped me in two. That day was one of my favorite and most surprising days working on the record. While being embraced by LA gang members, we combined all of our voices borne from wildly different worlds and created music together.

The life of an artist is filled with moments like this, moments that you’ll always carry with you. Just like the moment I find myself on a stage jamming with the great Gemi Taylor, forging a groove in real time with the man that was one of the secret weapons of Motown LA, a member of Graham Central Station and Willie Hutch’s right hand man for years. When someone like Gemi tells you he loves you and that there aren’t many cats out there like you, you know you’re doing the right thing. For all of you artists who know you’re doing the right thing, keep doing it and be sure to do it well. The world needs you.

— “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” William Congreve

Dave Carlock is a 25-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.