Not to name drop, but I hang out with Syd Straw.

I’m heading off to the airport tomorrow afternoon to fly to Little Rock to meet up with Jason and the gang. From there, we’ll be heading down to New Orleans by car to master the record on Thursday morning with Paul Marinaro at Piety Street Studio again. It was just a year and two months ago from when I made my first trip down there to master “Even The Beautiful Get Lonely (Sometimes).” It’s a good feeling to have this second record done. I’m really happy with it and I personally like the fact that I am getting this one out soon after the first one. I can honestly say that my experience with this second one is even better than my experience with the first record. Well, I guess the part where I was terrified of being sick during the tracking wasn’t so great. Nonetheless, I managed to have a pretty good time.

I haven’t written here about my experience singing a duet with Syd Straw. Man, that has been a really amazing experience for me. Let’s see if I can do it any justice. On the week of my fortieth birthday, I drove down to Los Angeles to sing a duet I wrote for the record entitled, “Don’t You Agree?” with Syd Straw. All the credit goes to Jason for setting this up. When we were wrapping up in Little Rock after the flurry of tracking over a long weekend, Jason and I talked about that duet. We were trying to think about who should sing the female part. We had tossed a few ideas around, but nothing really had us too excited. We wanted somebody special because the band had really recorded a great set of tracks, and we thought the song deserved it. If memory serves me correctly, at some point, Jason asked me to think big about whom I thought would be right. Then I think he dropped the idea of Syd. We immediately agreed that Syd was perfect.

Somehow, Jason had her number and called her. She didn’t answer, but he left a voice mail. We joked around a bit about it all probably to keep our expectations at bay. Then, I think she called the next day. She called! Jason and I were in the control room when he got the call. I just sat there and watched the conversation. Jason paced around the studio talking with Syd. They had met a while back when Boondogs were touring. Apparently Syd has a memory like an elephant because it she remembered everything. After a pleasant sounding conversation, Jason got to business and mentioned our project and that there was this one song we wanted her to sing on. She said she wanted to hear it, but was interested. That was absolutely crazy. Syd Straw was considering singing on my record. This was too much for me to handle.

Fast forward a bit. Syd ended up calling Jason again after he emailed her an mp3 file of the song. She liked the song! She was in and wanted to arrange a date for us to come out to Los Angeles to do it. She had a few conditions. One was that we had to go to her place beforehand to rehearse the song together. That was so that we didn’t have to waste time in the studio. Two was that she wanted me to re-sing it with her during the tracking. That was no problem for me, except for my nerves. Three was that we had to get some drinks and hang out afterwards. I had absolutely NO problem with that!

So on a Wednesday afternoon, I jumped into my car after teaching class, and drove down to LA. The stars were aligned because I got to LAX to pick up Jason with perfect timing. I managed to scoop him up easily and then we headed over to my friends’ place where we were staying. The next morning, we got up and hung out with my friends Darryl and Paul. Then we headed out the door to pick up Syd. We managed to find the place pretty easily thanks to GPS. Then we met Syd Straw! She was so cool. We just sat,  talked and played with her awesome dogs. In fact, we were having such a good time talking, we didn’t really rehearse the song at all. Syd’s got a lot of great stories about musicians. She just started telling us a bunch of them as if we knew each other forever. She gave me a Hot Tuna hat that Jorma gave her. She was happy to give it a good home.

When it started to get to be that time, we made a move to my car to head over to Manny’s Estudio to see Jason’s friend Shane who was letting us track there for the day. But before heading to the studio, Syd took Jason and me over to Old Style Guitars owned by Reuben Cox. This is a fantastic guitar store, and Reuben is great. I can’t say enough great things about his work. He’s got really funky guitars and great touch with setting them up. I fell in love with at least a dozen guitars. I managed to pick some things up there, too! I think we got some immediate respect going into Old Style with Syd, like none I’ve received before. I goofed around on a few guitars and Syd said some very nice things about my playing. Crazy.

Jason and I made a note to come back to Old Style. Then we departed and headed to Manny’s. While Shane and Jason figured out technical details about the session, Syd and I sat on the couch and sang the song together. The first note she sang was absolutely incredible for me. I am sitting next to Syd Straw and she is singing my song! This is the voice. The voice of Surprise and War and Peace, those two amazing records. This was Ms. Fingerwood, the algebra teacher from The Adventures of Pete and Pete. This moment was not lost on Jason. He managed to take a minute to capture Syd and me singing together.

Syd and me singing my song!

This was a momentous occasion for me. I was singing with Syd Straw. Plus, she was really invested in the song. She had a few ideas she wanted to try with me. It was great. It took me a minute to get out of my head and get back to the song. At this point, everything was set, so she and I headed to our respective stations. Our mics were separated by French doors. Here’s my view through those doors at Syd.

My view from my vocal booth over of Syd's vocal setup

My view from my vocal booth over of Syd’s vocal setup

After a few hours of working on the song, we found the right parts and managed to sing the song several times. We settled on a very restrained approach to the song. Because the band is swinging pretty hard, we thought that it would be cool to have the vocals be straight-forward. We sing in unison when we sing together a lot, which I think sounds really cool. It makes the moments when we harmonize more special.

After finishing the tracking, we packed up and headed over to Philipe’s for some French dip sandwiches. That was really fun to have a beer and some kick-ass sandwiches together. After that, I drove Syd back so that she could let her dogs out. We had talked about hanging out some more, but we found ourselves to be much more tired than we thought at first. We called it a night.

A bunch of other stuff happened after all of this. I took Jason out for KyoChon chicken. Twice. We had a great night in LA out with my friends. I managed to buy a guitar from Reuben. I got to hang out with great friends. I ate a ridiculous Korean BBQ duck meal. I went to Vegas and partied a lot harder than I thought I was capable. A few weekends later, I headed back down to LA to play a gig at the Cinema Bar with my friends, Kevin Garrett and Scott Gagner. That gig was tremendous fun and I think I played a pretty good set. My friends who were there seemed to enjoy it, so that was a big success for me.

The day before the gig, I met up with Syd again. We made plans to have lunch. I picked her up and she decided that we should get burgers. And so we did. We hung out for a while, ate lunch, and talked a lot. It was great. She asked what I was up to later that night and I mentioned that I was going to see my friend, Paul Zaloom’s show. She wanted to go, so we made plans to meet at the theater to watch the show together.

Burgers with Syd

Burgers with Syd. She’s showing us her fry.

Paul’s show was great. It was so creative, funny, and entertaining. I am so happy that I was able to see it. Syd seemed to enjoy it, too. After the show, Darryl, Syd, Paul, and I went to KyoChon. That chicken is the bomb. Paul and Syd had a lot of intersecting social circles, so it was really fun to sit and hear them talk.

Late night KyoChon is magical.

Late night KyoChon is magical.

It was yet another great weekend in LA. I got to have lunch with Syd, watch a really cool puppet show by my friend, Paul, eat Korean fried chicken, play a gig, and see a ton of really great friends. My life is good.

When I was down in LA that go-around, I brought a few guitars for Reuben to see. I wanted to trade in two of my old Kays for the parts and labor needed to fix up my thinline Tele. Reuben was down for the deal and we made a plan. A week or two later, he texted me and said he was finished. This was torture because I wasn’t going to be able to get back down to LA for a couple of weeks due to some work stuff, and a recording session with Paul Gagner that I absolutely could not have missed. I’ll write more about that session later.

Last weekend, I finally managed to break free and head down to LA to pick up my new guitar. It’s great. The new Lollar pickups are awesome. Reuben sanded down the gloss off my neck and treated it with tung oil. I managed to hang out with a bunch of friends again. It was a bit hectic, but I was glad to be able to connect with everyone I saw. I tried calling Syd, but I hadn’t heard from her. Then we traded a few texts, but I wasn’t sure we would be able to meet up this time around. Finally, on Sunday when I was considering taking off, I got a phone call from her. We made plans to have pie(s). Darryl joined us.

Just a few pies with Darryl and Syd.

Just a few pies with Darryl and Syd.

Darryl had to meet up with a friend, so he took off early. Syd and I just sat at this hipster pie place, relaxed. and talked. It’s really fun hanging out with Syd. Plus, the pies were pretty damned good.

Afterwards, I drove Syd back to her place. On the way back, we put on our duet on the stereo and listened to it together. She had heard the whole record before (Jason sent her a draft) and had very nice things to say about it. One thing that was funny was that she said she should have sang on more of it. That was a trip. She also expressed some concern about me given the sadness of the songs. I tried to assure her that these songs were much happier than the first record. She didn’t seem be swayed by that.

So I hang out with Syd Straw now. We sang a song together. We have eaten lots of great stuff. I happen to think that is pretty damned cool.



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