Learning from Experience

The movie Crossroads was a major influential hit that encouraged a large contingent of the American youth to try their skills on the guitar.  As I took up the challenge, I hoped to eventually live an extravagant lifestyle with earnings directly related to my rock star career choice.  This dream never came true, but I have managed to make music a love of my life.  The list below profiles various groups that I’ve worked with, and describes our successes and/or lack thereof.  The hope is, maybe there are some lessons to be learned from the experiences – and of course….. some “tasty” tunes brah.

Pudding in a Cloud (1988-1990) – Worcester, MA
For success to have become evident with this band, we would have needed interstellar circumstances of luck.  Basically, we were a bunch of high school budz who liked to skateboard and play music (classic rock and loud jams).  Our talents were limited; to a point that our bassist (Dan) knew virtually nothing about the instrument, but he could make the floor shake, and that was enough for us.  Our low standards and absolute disorganization ensured us zero accomplishments.

Red House (1991-1993) – Boulder, CO

This was the perfect example of a band filled with college dropouts and unmotivated semi-wanna-be-pro musicians.  We held smoke filled jams everyday/night, for hours on end, with absolutely no direction.  Even with a series of local and international music business connections, this band was not going anywhere.  We eventually recruited a singer-songwriter (Mark) and he gave us some focus, but it was too little too late.
Red House

Jamminils (1998) – Cape Cod, MA

This was my first extensive recording project done an a basic Tascam Portastudio with programmed drum parts, multi-tracking, bounces, and EQ’ed mixdowns.  The musical styles were scatterbrained and so wasn’t much of the musicianship.

Woodshedding Years (1998-2004) – Various

The Jamminils recording project helped me realize that my skills needed serious improvement.  I started practicing for countless hours everyday.  No booze/drugs, no girls, no television, or distractions in any way.  It was not uncommon for me to practice 6hrs-8hrs each day, even if that meant less sleep!

We Are One (1999) – Santa Cruz, CA
One of the most enlightening experiences of my life was a trip to Jamaica in 1995.  My time with this band in 1999 really reminded me of how important it was for me to revisit the music and culture of the island.  Ultimately though, this band was not going to see success, as it was made up of hired guns.  With that, when it came time to collect our night’s pay, the bandleader (Maurice) would tell everyone that no money could be distributed because our expenses were higher than our pay.  What was being considered an expense was often repairs on his gear (not ours) or fees for recording studio time that we never attended (he owed people for past sessions).  Most bandmembers quit after a few gigs, so our lineup was constantly changing.  I didn’t care too much about non-payments, since I was deep in my woodshedding period, and I was just chalking the whole thing up for the experience, but the band was never going to move forward with a business model like that.

September (2000) – Boulder, CO
I blew up my four-track during this project and it took over six months to complete, so this was not a simple project – and that’s with the typical cop-out decision to record half the tracks as acoustic singer/songwriter songs, which is always a time saver.  On this recording I started to gravitate towards jazz, blues, and reggae – so at least the music selection complimented itself.  At this point the years of woodshedding started to show, as the recording has fewer blatant mistakes.

Northwood Reggae Project (2001) – Northwood, NH

This NH reggae band was the bandleader’s (Greg) attempt at formulating a secure line-up of musicians (instead of using hired guns from Jamaica) for the regular beachside summer series that he had hosted for decades.  I remember after two rehearsals the trombone player (….. different Greg) requested that I be removed from the band for personal reasons, even though I didn’t know him, so this one had a bizarre feel from the beginning (he was fired as a consequence of the suggestion).  Nonetheless, I eventually got fired for lack of skills, but I’m sure the backstory goes further than that, especially considering that everyone else openly admitted and displayed that they also had limited abilities:)

Free Treats (2002-2003) – Dover, NH
This band was about as scatterbrained as my first EP.  We played only original music.  We didn’t settle in on a particular genre, and we used multiple songwriters, so we played anything from Grunge to Rap to Bubble-Gum Love Songs.  It’s hard to market such randomness, which meant we played gigs at non-traditional venues, such as our first event at a movie theater lobby in Worcester, MA!  I quit this band because I felt that everyone didn’t want to formulate clear goals….. a big one being: let’s fire bandmembers who don’t show up for rehearsals.  Bandmember reliability is a recurring issue, and I take a hard stance on it, but this was my first break from a band in direct relation to the subject.

Drums, Guitars, Bass Lines, and Laid Back Rhymes (2004) – Portsmouth, NH

Considering that the backbeats on my recordings were always programmed drum tracks, I started arranging music so it complimented the electronic nature of the sounds that were being applied.  The music on this CD was funky and jazzy with some hip-hop lyrics and a splash of reggae.  It was still a bit disorienting, in terms of style, but I feel my performances were good, which is the most important thing.

J. Kell’s Band (2005-2007) – Portsmouth, NH

The J. Kell’s Band had a true family vibe with members hanging loose and playing music (as opposed to only being interested only in a paycheck or JUST the jams), yet they still took things seriously enough to gig and record.  The bandleader (Jesse) was great at convincing venues to hire us and he hustled to make sure crowds were attracted to our shows.  We played a mix of classic rock songs and originals – not my first choice, but it was worth the sacrifice to be absolved of management duties.  Unfortunately there was no orchestral director, which meant everyone (six+ bandmembers) played as loud and hard as possible until the ear bleeding volume levels made our sessions/concerts sound more like noise than music.  The drunk audiences never seem to care though, so I guess….. more power to us.  Toward the end, we started having bandmember attendance issues along with a multitude of problems indicative of substances, girls, other rock-n-roll distractions.  The band dissolved soon after doing a studio recording called “The Next Big Thing”.  Maybe it should have been titled “The Last Big Thing”.

Exeter Music Band (2006) – Exeter, NH

What happens when you bring a group of talented well rehearsed musicians who have limited commercial success together to play in a classic rock cover band?  Yes, I would have preferred to do modern material, but really….. am I going to convince the baby boomer hosts to play hip-hop covers by Outkast?  This was a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario, but it was a great learning experience.  I saw the best and worst in everyone, and closely watched the unofficial bandleader (Rich) do an incredible/amazing/outstanding job managing the riff-raff.  We only had a couple of concerts, and they went well.  For me, success was marked by a chance to spend some time with co-workers and friends, and less by the performance level of the overtly talented line-up.

Boom Lava (2006-Current) – Hampton Beach, NH

I was exposed to a lot of modern hip-hop, dub, funk, jazz, and reggae while living in Boulder, CO and Santa Cruz, CA.  The problem is, New Hampshire is like a musical time warp, with a large array of people wanting motorcycle friendly classic rock/metal etc.  I knew starting a band with a more internationally influenced vibe was not going to be an easy task, but I felt musically unfulfilled, and suspected this was the solution.  I didn’t look forward to the management duties, but in all truth, there is no other way.  We have had over thirty drummers rehearse with us, and five move thru the vacancy position (proving the theory: drummers are combustible).  I have had to hire and fire more people than I ever cared to.  Many have quit, none have died, but a few have been too stoned to make it onstage.  Our sound has changed as we continually move thru bandmembers, with anything from outer-space DJ’s to female lead vocals coming and going.  Nonetheless, I believe my ability to enjoy and manage this project has been a lasting and fulfilling one, so it has been worth the effort and time.

Wendy and Nils (2009) – Dover, NH

Christmas is a musical time of year, and I have released a few albums with that theme.  The one that features my wife (Wendy) is certainly my favorite, as her performing, and especially her voice, is absolutely beautiful.  I am not big on peer pressure, so I don’t often request that she contribute much to my musical projects, but when she does it’s magnificent.  It would be wonderful to hear her voice on more, but I’ll leave that to her own devices.  She’s always willing to perform if I ask her, so I look at her like she’s my secret gemstone – beautiful!

Greatest Singles (2010-Current)

Boom Lava is not going to tour New England or spend weeks in a studio getting everything perfect, so to placate my urge for recording quality music, I’ve turned to self-production.  Modern technology has made it possible to create incredible bodies of work, so this has been a very exciting avenue for releasing my art.  I title these releases “Greatest Singles” but I understand they are not great – very good would be a better description given my skills, commitment level, and resources.

Cocheco Street Jazz (2014-Current) – Dover, NH

While researching my guitar teacher (Joe) from the 1980’s, I came across an interview with him made by a colleague at WPI.  He expresses some hesitation about the future of jazz.  I was reminded about my love for jazz music and decided to start this band.  For a variety of reasons, my management duties are limited, which means I can concentrate more on the music, which is wonderful.  Good music, good people, and good jazz!

If you want to dig a bit deeper into the musical archives, you can download all of my personal recordings at this link:


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