From the Vaults

OK, I know it’s been quite awhile since I posted here – about a month. My apologies to those yearning for regular content updates, but the truth is I haven’t much interesting stuff happening in my life lately. So rather than bore you with what I had for dinner, or what color socks I wore on any given day, I opted for just laying low and not cluttering up the internets with useless drivel. (If only others would abide by that rule. But I digress…  )

As you know, we are all products of our environments and our influences. Musically, I had a pretty broad range of inspiration to draw from, and I soaked it all up like a sponge.  As I began to write music at around age 9 or 10, I started to unknowingly incorporate various styles into my music. Many of these influences wouldn’t become obvious to me until much later.  (Perhaps the most impactful influence on my bass playing wouldn’t become apparent until almost 40 years after I was first exposed to his playing – Motown Funk Brother, James Jamerson. But that’s a whole blog post in itself.)  Reviewing this material dozens of years later, it is much easier for me to pick the specific licks, progressions, or styles that I was injecting into my work.  Maybe it was a certain guitar tone (from a Steely Dan song), or a production technique (like a slap-back echo, made popular in the late 70s and early 80s), or certain chord progression (from a 1979 Neil Larsen record called High Gear.)  I was browsing through some old recording I had made in my teens and early 20s, and I stumbled across a few things that caught my ear.

Neil Larsen - High Gear album cover

Neil Larsen "High Gear" album cover

When I was about 23, I was working at a small video & audio production facility in Toledo. We had started to do some industrial videos and were in search of some background music to use behind the voice-overs. My boss at the time, knowing of my musical background, suggested we rent some drum machines and keyboards and let me mess around for a week or so to see what I could come up with.  Well, I don’t know that I created anything really useful for that purpose, but I did compose a few little tunes that were kind of interesting.  Keep in mind this was about 1983 or 1984, and I was working by myself with a 16-track tape machine, a couple of keyboards that I barely knew how to operate, and of course, my über-lame keyboard skillz.

One of the pieces I came up with was a latin-jazz flavored, keyboard-centric tune I called “Latin Lovelies”. (I have no clue how I came up with that title.) Listening to it recently, it is blatantly obvious that it I was listening to a 1979 Neil Larsen album called “High Gear” around that time.  Both pieces are posted here for your listening (dis)pleasure – see if you notice any similarities.  Obviously, the playing skills are not one of those similarities.

“Latin Lovelies” – ©Jon Diener

Excerpt from “High Gear” – Neil Larsen

Here’s another piece I found that was written and recorded around the same year.  This one was put together in my makeshift home studio on a 4-track Tascam PortaStudio, which used standard cassette tapes as the recording media.  I remember the seed for this song was a drum machine pattern I stumbled upon, which reminded me of Pat Benetar’s “Love is a Battlefield”, which was popular around that time.  I started adding guitar parts and experimenting with progressions until I came up with what you hear below.  I think some of the guitar lines are reminiscent of Jeff Beck’s style, which was a big influence on me since the mid 70s.  Let me be clear that I am in no way comparing my playing to Jeff Beck – I just remember trying to emulate his stylings when recording this.  See if you can pick out these influences in the tune I called, appropriately enough, “Beck’s Battlefield.”

“Beck’s Battlefield” – ©Jon Diener

If I run across any more examples of my musical influences manifesting themselves in my music, I’ll be sure to post them here.

Blasts From the Past

Recently, I was clearing out some old files on one of my Macs at the office, and stumbled across a couple dozen audio files that were just labeled “rec 1”, “rec 2”, etc.  Intrigued by the uncharacteristic vagueness of the file names, I opened a few to hear the contents. Within a few seconds it became clear that these were files I had digitized from my cassette tape “archive” I had accumulated from the mid 70s through the early 80s. But these weren’t songs from Styx or Boston or Queen. These were works I had created in my bedroom studio while in high school and college – everything from very rough song demos to aural experiments to fairly full-blown finished songs. (Some of the later works were started at home or on location, then finished at a 16-track studio in Toledo, where I worked after college.)

Obviously, much of the work was very rough and it would be overwhelmingly embarrassing to have them heard in public. Some were very personal and never meant for any ears but my own.  But I did manage to pull a few items out of the cobwebs and post them here for your enjoyment. And by ‘enjoyment’, I mean ‘hysterical laughter’.  Just keep in mind these were created between the ages of 15 and about 21, with some pretty marginal gear, and even more marginal talent.

1. This was a cover of the Average White Band song, as performed by me (guitars & engineering) and 5 friends during the summer of ’76, I believe. This was the first ‘real’ attempt at recording something. I transcribed all the parts from the original recording, and we recorded everything in my bedroom. The “multi-tracking” was achieved by recording the first pass of guitar, bass and drums on my brother’s Sony reel-to-reel recorder, then playing that back and adding the other guitar part, keyboard and horns, to a cassette recorder. Then playing THAT back and adding percussion and hand claps. (Can you say “tape hiss”?) Wow. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s all we had to work with. Enjoy.

2. OK, I have no idea why I named it that. I guess there was a cornfield behind our house, and that’s what I must have been looking at from my bedroom window when I was trying to think of a title for this. This was recorded around my senior year in high school, if I recall correctly. It’s all me on guitars and bass. But I think this was one of the first things I recorded on a used Dokorder 4-track machine I purchased from a newspaper classified ad. Keep in mind, the process for many of these ‘songs’, was to roll tape with a vague idea in mind, play one instrument all the way through, then go back and add other parts (basically making them up as I went), and then see what I end up with. So, no real arranging went into these early works. Obviously.

3. This one may have a name, but it escapes me right now.  But what I do know is this must have been recorded shortly after I took delivery of a Korg Guitar Synthesizer. It was a fairly revolutionary device for it’s time (1979 or 1980.) Basically, you plugged a guitar into it, and it would trigger one of a handful of synth sounds, with minimal controls for adjusting the sound. Oh, and it was monophonic, which meant you could only play one note at a time – no chords. Again, not a lot of planning here. This was more of an exercise in exploring different sounds and textures. I believe the ‘inspiration’ for this came from a book I had just bought on the subject of home recording, and it came with one of those thin, flimsy plastic records (like you used to get on the back of a cereal box). One of the demo songs on there had a tune similar to this and it seemed like a good starting point.

Well, I think that’s enough abuse on your ears for one day. If I get feeling brave, maybe I’ll post some more. Let me know what you think.