Notes for “Dialogues”

My newest project, “Dialogues” will be available (hopefully), December 1st, 2020.

This project has been in the back of my mind since last December (2019), the last time the RCO played together.  I was contemplating doing some recording at home over our Holiday hiatus and  the idea of a spoken word/music project seemed to be the point to be taken.  Little did I know, the pandemic would hit our planet and physical isolation, in many forms, would become the rule of the day.  No contact, no gigs.  I had even more time on my hands to finish an immediate project (“Necessary Road”) and start plans for the next creation.

When performing with the wonderful folks and musicians in the River Cow Orchestra, I have been given much leeway in my improvisations and presentations.  With a wordsmith and world class poet like drummer Greg Field to help fuel our musical adventures, I learned much about the artistic and poetic power of the written word.  As our music and CD recordings progressed through the years, I realized I could open my yap at a session and share poems, thoughts, titles, etc. from my journals and notes.  Brent Bowman calls them “words”.

So, at the beginning of this idea, I went back and listened to about a dozen and a half selections of the RCO where some of my thought collections were featured. As I transcribed the stream of conscious thoughts in the musical selections and  rechecked my notes of those sessions I had prepared, the project became distinct and clear.   I decided to use the individual spoken word as my guide. Although a few tunes had words from gig collaborations with my band mates, the majority of the selections I chose were from the discography of the RCO. The performances of these tunes by RCO stand alone and are musically incredible. Their playing influenced what eventually happened when I recorded, as I paired down my thoughts to a final total of nine pieces of music. I would hope one would visit the RCO catalogue (22 CDs and counting) and find the originals and hear those collaborations.

The final list of tunes is such:

“Completely Atomic”

“Tilting Buddha”

“Squid Magic”

“Her Hair Was Flexible”


“Mushroom Conspiracies”

“Skull Faced Trucker”

“Another Bedtime Story”

“Corrugated Love”

At some point in the future, I will share some background on each tune.

Here we go...

“Completely Atomic”  began as a tune off the 2014 RCO release, “Finding Water”.  It was entitled “Toxic Sweetness”.   Without getting into too much strange detail, I had been watching the original Tobe Hooper “Texas ChainSaw Massacre” a day or two prior to our recording session.  Obviously it was on my mind when I imagined what that dysfunctional household would have been like around the evening dinner table and the scattershot conversations that would have ensued. Although I only used  a portion of the text, I covered enough of it to move the musical selection along as I experimented with manipulated horn sounds amid some palindromic motives.  Finding a chainsaw sample that fit the selection was a bit difficult.  Anyway, I hope it is not too creepy. 

“Tilting Buddha” was taken from some prepared text I wrote and used in some live performances around 2017-2018.  The inspiration was taken from a small garden statue gifted to me by Don McCarter, a fine and wonderful guitar player and a former member of RCO.  I regret that since I have grown through the years my love of yard work has gone the way of the push lawnmower. (That is another story for another time.)  After checking my sweet basil and rosemary in my yard one evening, after our yard guy had finished his work,  I noticed my Buddha was leaning on some straw against a wall. The thought hit me that I had passed the Buddha hundreds of times in my yard, but I never really paid much attention to the symbolism it conveyed.  It was then the text came to me. In the musical setting I used the words to get the process started.  I used  a musical motive and a structure/form that could feature both muted and unmuted trumpet, some back masking, and some synthesized tracks.  Putting these singular tracks into a final product was a wonderful musical puzzle. The last chord was inspired by my lifelong friend,  B. Murphy Tetley...(he knows why). 

“Squid Magic” was a reading taken from the RCO CD entitled “Celery” from 2019. The tune was called “Fully Clothed Squid” named by the incredible word smith, Greg Field.  A few weeks before this particular recording session, I revisited the book “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs and once again was struck by the strange immediacy of this work, in particular, a non-linear story line and the scattershot approach the author employed. The stories and scenes in the book are amazing. So... my words were meant to portray a harmless event ( an everyday lunch) and permeate it with a twisted ending.  The vocal part of the tune doesn’t appear until about half way through the work, in keeping with the non-linear approach I was taking on this selection.  This tune ended up having trumpet take center stage, melodically.  There is also quite a bit of ambience done with synthesized sounds and tonal colors on this composition.   I used three different synthesizers: an AudioKit One, an Alchemy Synth, and a Moog Synthesizer. These programs were run through my Impact GX61 midi controller. I want to also thank my friend and band mate Michael LaGrega, for his inspiration dealing with electronic music and synthesized sounds.  He is one of the most musical and creative artists with which I have performed..The musical interplay between the horn and the synths was challenging.  Surprisingly, the ending of this selection was my first use of the B. Murphy Tetley chord.  This was great fun to compose and perform, so I hope the listeners have as much fun listening to it, as I did in the creation of “Squid Magic”.

“Her Hair Was Flexible” came from the 2014 RCO CD release, “Finding Water” and was certainly an interesting composition to put together. All my band mates in the RCO are very supportive of my efforts (or at least they don’t say much about them), so being a huge fan of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart,  my  musings sometimes are not ‘middle of the road’.  The incredible leader and co-founder of the RCO, Dr. Brent Bowman has always been right there with his genius level comments regarding phrasing, musicality, balance, blend, etc. His inspiration, counsel, and friendship really helped me with this selection. The text was a simple straight forward telling of a fantastical story of a guy having a  ‘date’ at home,  while watching old science fiction movies on his television with his girlfriend. The fact that the protagonist is relating this story to no one in particular is sort of odd and strange. Anyway, the crux of the story happens when the couple is interrupted by his neighbor lady who is looking for a lost pet and wants to share some snacks. Questions: How did she get in to the house?  How did she know they were watching TV?  How did she know they needed snacks? Does she really have a pet? This is sort of a strange premise and one that is certainly not clarified by the music.  Technically,  I used the same synth set up that I used on “Squid Magic” and utilized both realtime trumpet sounds (muted and unmuted), treated/manipulated trumpet sounds, animal sounds, and of course the shadowy vocal track. This one was a lot of fun. 

A spoken haiku. A trumpet. A Fender Rhodes piano. A synth. 

 One of my favorite quotes is from the piano genius, Keith Jarrett, who said, 

“The more experience a person has, the more simplicity is profound.”

The composition, “Dialogues”, which is the title tune of this project, was my study in simplicity.  While the synths were used as a counterpoint to the musical dialogue, the melody in the trumpet and the harmonies in the keyboard were set up as a simple musical duet to present the musical theme of the selection. The listener can find their own meaning of dialogues  in the basic form that is offered here. The melody came to me early on a rainy morning and the harmonies played with me that afternoon. After a day or so, I started the construction of the composition, hopefully, short and sweet.  This is what I discovered. 

The backstory of “Mushroom Conspiracies” originally started in the offices of the Richmond, MO Chamber of Commerce, in the early 1980’s. Whether or not it was synchronicity I will never know, but I was in THE meeting when the idea of having our town be the ‘Mushroom Capital of the World’  was floated for the first time. (Again, another story for another time...). I had scratched the surface with a recitation from the 2019 RCO studio recording project “Intergalactic Love Men”, in a tune called “Mushroom Conspiracies: Fungus Planet”.   That time and the ensuing years of ‘mushroom this and that’ (‘the circus is in town’) staked a spot in my memory that resurfaced during the pandemic quarantine.   My reworking of the original featured all my synth programs, a Hammond B-3  program, both treated and untreated trumpet manipulations and sounds, self generated loops, and voice modulations. I used some snippets of themes from the selected trumpet improvisations to move this composition along. At a point in the tune, the organ and the trumpet engage in sort of a conversation (a dialogue, if you wish!) This was one of the compositions that generated quite a bit of tension towards the ending resolution. I guess those conspiracies became more than insignificant. 

The genesis of the tune “SkullFace Trucker” is, of course, an oddball story. The protagonist of the story actually had many names when I was formulating this presentation(i.e. Benny, Frankie, and Charlie) prior to the 2019 recording of RCO’s CD “Intergalactic Love Men”. I finally settled on one of my favorite sounding names.  ( I have at different times had a mannequin and a cement donkey both named Monty,   so the name worked!). This was the story of a unique looking truck driver who, seeking entertainment during a long haul, misplaces his truck AND his cargo. I am not real sure when I came up with this scenario...perhaps the idea came from some sort of a fevered dream. Anyway, the RCO studio original was a great tune, with the band doing an electro funk style.  (I can still see Brent Bowman’s facial expression,😲, when I started up with “Hey Monty?”) .When whittling down my  choices for this project, I realized when choosing this text, I certainly could not improve upon the performance of RCO.  What I wanted to do was look at the music from a different facet, so  I settled on a ragga beat, sort of a faster sub genre of reggae. (At least that was my intent.) I used portions of the text and full compliments of vocals, manipulated loops, programs, and instruments at my disposal to extend my musical thoughts on this one. It was great fun on the original and it was an extended musical recess on this rendition. 

“Black Dog and the Blue Devil” from the 2016 River Cow Orchestra CD release, “The Devil Inside the Box” was the inspiration for the title on my project, “Another Bedtime Story”.   This initial phrase came from a book I was reading at the time, ( I think it was from the Inspector Rebus series of novels by Ian Rankin). I liked the sound of B-D & B-D word grouping, so I worked it into the recording session. In the re-listening phrase of this selection I noticed the scenario had a strange attitude.  So I  filtered the sequences, bolstered by the stories I would make up and share with my own children, Nathan and Meredith (when they were young), as I tucked them in at night. Although, I never made up a story like this about ‘goat freaks’ with them, they got their fill of stories with titles like ‘The Dogs of the Forest’, ‘Baby Aliens’, ‘ The Magic Possum’, ‘TheTreasure in the Trash Ditch’, and ‘Cracker Box’.  This selection features a melodic piano tune using a program or two that are combined, along with the synth programs I relied on in earlier tunes.  When those things were added to the main vocal, the enhanced (and manipulated)  vocals, and a muted trumpet, the composition began to take shape. I even found a synth program that did a great job on a theremin sound.  This selection became sort of an ironic tune that was, at the same time, cute and a bit creepy.  Although my intent was to impart another angle on the human condition, on reflection, “Another Bedtime Story” ended up being  a linch pin creation of this project. 

What do the following have in common?  :

Actor Peter Lorre, actor (“Island of Doomed Men’, 1940)

The Vandals, (a local 1960’s GarageBand.)

A haiku used in performance with RCO, 2019

Miles Davis fusion @ Isle of Wight Concert, 1970

Chicago (the band, 1972

Tito Puente (Latin percussion), 1977

These talented people and sparse writings all contributed to the last composition featured on the release, “Dialogues”, entitled “Corrugated Love”.  I basically started with one little theme based on a line from the movie with Peter Lorre, where he states, ‘Keep that monkey away from me’...I loved that rhythmic bounce so, I started constructing this dance tune.   Later, after coming up with the title and haiku that introduces the selection, I ‘jumped in’, figuratively speaking, with both feet into this musical mix, devising a Latin-Jazz-Rock Hybrid. I worked in some musical lines that helped move the composition along,  with the trumpet and organ voices.  This was another of the compositions that generated quite a bit of tension towards the ending resolution.  I guess I tried to capture the feelings I experienced playing dances in high school (back in the ‘60’s) and arranging tunes and playing in a cover band at the Conservatory ( back in the ‘70’s). To this add in the euphoria of hearing the fusion of Miles Davis and the brilliance of Tito Puente as a young adult and you see how this tune started to stack up.  

I have loved sharing these backstory thoughts with the readers.  I also want to extend  a special ‘thank you’ to my wife, Sally, who understood my need to disappear down the rabbit hole at times during the creation of this project.  Although it was a quarantine dream, the project was also a labor of love. 

Thanks for reading and I hope when December 1, 2020  arrives, you secure a download of “Dialogues” through your favorite service.

If you are interested in a hard copy CD of “Dialogues”, please contact me through my website, and we will work on it.

Take care and be safe.