Category Archives: performing musicians

Just Another Day – Rancho Life

Just as we finished the afternoon fertilizer work it started to rain, which couldn’t have been better timing to dissolve the fertilizer granules so the plants can use it.

This is the sort of thing that makes people say jokingly, with a little bit of caution in their eyes, that we have a pact with the devil. How else could we have started off so well 5 seasons ago, and continue to do well when we’re only musicians?

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Manotas, Beto’s male dog, seems to think he belongs here. He’s out sitting next to our pickup (which we left in the street because I don’t want to get wet in the rain moving it) and Chon says “We have to give him something. He’s cold”.

And I say “Do you want a dog or something?”

“No.”

“He’s just fine. If he really gets cold he’ll go to his real home.”

I’m trying not to love the two black and white litter mates.

Doña Julia’s Birthday Party

We were invited to a family party in El Toro. Our friend Ana, the person who schedules and manages things at the small church is a friend of ours, and asked us to come and celebrate her mother-in-law’s seventy-first birthday.

Here’s Doña Julia in front of her house. I’ve described the construction of the vast majority of homes in Mexico, and hers is the same – brick and mortar. Hers has a useful design, with several bedrooms and two bathrooms, side by side. Gotta love that!

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We were honored to be invited, as every other person there was part of her family. I’m not sure how many sons and daughters she has, but there were at least four sons and four daughters at the party, with their husbands, wives and children, including Ana’s daughters. Here are two of them, both beauties.

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We had a guitar with us, and we sang las mañanitas, and a few other songs, including Eres Tu, originally performed by Mocedades from Spain, and Solamente Una Vez, by the great Mexican songwriter Agustin Lara.

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The food was wonderful – Toñio, Ana’s husband and Doña Julia’s son, prepared tacos. There was a variety of meats including carne asada and chorizo, served up with grilled onions and smallish yellow chiles stuffed with cheese (excellent, and a new dish for me).

Naturally there was a cake, accompanied by a gorgeous gelatina with fresh fruit, which is every bit as important as a birthday cake in our part of Mexico.

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This guy had his very own table!

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Rain was threatening when we left for home, but Ana’s teenaged daughters were wangling a ride to nearby Tecuan for a “big, big dance” complete with two popular bandas. And Doña Julia sent me home with a snippet of a climbing version of corona de Cristo, a spiny plant with red flowers. I hope it wants to live at our house.

Music – More Gigs For Our Big Little Band!

Recently we’ve been hired to play more Catholic masses, and more parties. If you’re curious, here we are paid about the same in pesos as we were in dollars in the US. A dollar is worth around 17 pesos right now. We don’t do it for the money.  We do play out of devotion to what we were born for – music.

We played for a fiesta last Sunday – a big birthday party held in a nearby ex-fertilizer vendor’s warehouse. We received mixed reviews. A man who worked for 25 years in Nevada and Montana loved it. Two tables of women sat and listened to every single song, hardly talking.  An older man asked for “Mexican music! Don’t you play Mexican music?” When Chon announced “This next song is pura Mexicana! I wrote it myself, and I’m Mexican.” The guy and his wife got up and left after the song.

The menu was puro Mexicano – carnitas and sopa.  (Dessert came later). When a pig is butchered and cooked in an enormous copper kettle it’s called carnitas. Sopa here (sounds a bit like soup, doesn’t it?) is what you might call Mexican rice. The recipes vary, but it is almost always red rice. Some recipes have more ingredients, like diced carrots and peas. It’s always good.

We played different styles of music. We played cumbias (check out cumbia rhythm: it’s one of the most infectiousand non-boring rhythms I’ve heard, ever). We played baladas, slow songs. We played rock ‘n roll. We played rock. We played original songs (very popular). We played songs in Spanish and English. We played until after 11 p.m., and we had been hired until 9 p.m. It’s typical that Chon plays better and better, and sings better and better the later it gets. (Look up the word “duende”). He’s an astonishingly good singer, guitarist and composer.

WOMEN helped us load up our equipment! Women! They stayed on and on, chatting, until nearly everyone had left. They loaded our heavy equipment into our big truck, and then loaded us with food to take home. Most of these parties are well armed with to-go plates and containers and aluminum foil. We had food for a week! There was at least two pounds of carnitas which I prudently packaged and froze.

Although the fiesta was less than 5 miles away we arrived home very late indeed. We had to call it a success.

And here’s a truth about local Mexican audiences: in general, they’re surprised by us as a band. The first thing they notice, other than we’re only two people, is that we don’t play banda. They love banda. They expect banda, that ubiquitous mix of Spanish lyrics, simple, repetitious  melodies, and what I would call a tuba band. Instead, they get something more like a rock band. We have big equipment, enough to produce sound for large crowds. We have a large truck to carry equipment – you should see the stares when we show up.

If you are a musician, or have some knowledge of what you see on a stage, you may wonder how we do it. Among the pieces of electronic equipment we carry are two drum machines, programmed by us. We would love to have a live drummer, but it’s just not likely to happen. I’m a classically trained singer and keyboard player, the person you might see singing on a stage with a chorus and orchestra, or in an orchestra pit accompanying a musical comedy, and I use two synthesizers. On one synthesizer I play bass with the left hand, and lead parts like introductions, and accompaniment parts like strings and piano sounds as well.

Chon is a very, very, very good guitarist, with many years of experience playing in a bar and touring band from Chicago. He has extensive training and on-hands experience in sound engineering. He also has impressive skills as a composer. He has written literally hundreds and hundreds of songs for church services and live performances of all styles.  I love it sometimes when we’re recording or practicing and I tell him that I think what I’m playing on the keyboards sounds boring, and he thinks for a couple of seconds (literally) and then says “Try this.” And sings me a riff or a melody or a rhythm. He has stunning ideas!

GALILEO IN CALIFORNIA – POSADAS 2014

I see my one (ONE!) lonely post from last year and I think “I know, I’ll write about my Internet connection in Mexico!” But try as I might, I can’t make it funny or interesting. So just know this, Dear Reader, that I have a bad one. I swear it got much worse this year, although it didn’t seem possible. Like – No Uploading, Ever bad.

The first time I put on my headpiece each year is just seems so BIG!

The first time I put on my headpiece each year is just seems so BIG!

Galileo is in SoCal for our annual Posadas Dinner Party gig at La Golondrina in the old, historic part of Los Angeles, and instead of writing about farming in Mexico or other exciting details of our busy life (you think I’m kidding, don’t you?), I’m going to give you a glimpse into the life of us two professional musicians.

 

 

 

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This is the sculpture at the Tijuana border. I think it’s imposing but ugly.

I am seated at a desk in a hotel room – the same hotel we have stayed in for several years now. It’s not glamorous. Many of you would not choose to stay here. But it’s clean (enough) and safe (enough), has internet (see above – this is why some of my friends and family only hear from me in December!) and we’re used to it. Enough about the hotel. We’re notorious penny-pinchers. We travel a full day to get here each year, leaving Central Mexico and the central time zone early in the morning, arriving at the border still in the morning in a new time zone, getting across said border, renting a car in San Diego and driving to the Los Angeles area and haggling over the price of the hotel. (Bet most of you didn’t realize you could do that). We usually have one or two days to get acclimated.

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I got to see my friend Chris. Flannel twins.

Practice: maybe you thought that practicing is for beginners. Practice is for all musicians, all the time.
All through the year we practice, learn, and rehearse. For us that involves setting up equipment, as we don’t usually practice with acoustic instruments. Since Chon is a composer, we learn new songs throughout the year, to archive them, or to prepare them (arrange and organize) for live performances. Some weeks we have to put our farming schedule first, and put off practicing, but we always return to it as soon as we can.

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Makeshift studio in our hotel room, using headphones purchased today at a pawn shop.

And Chon is thinking throughout the year about our December gig. We do two to four gigs during the year, and they include my birthday party (June) and Chon’s birthday party (December), New Year’s Eve, and other dates, like Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day. These gigs often include repertoire we plan to use at the Posadas parties.

The Posadas dinner parties are held in a restaurant that can accommodate several hundred people. We have played nearly every night of each December 16-24 since 1987. Really. The show is pretty much the same each season. In fact, the manager prints us out the very same show order every year. This year they wrote in an extra group of dances by the folkloric dancers, which might not seem really important, but it turned out to be. And it was a different dance group than the one that we’ve seen every year for many years.

Many of the families that attend have made this a family tradition for longer than we’ve been hosting the show. Really! So we see children and grandchildren of those families one night of the year every year. And after so many years, you get a feeling of what to expect each night. Since it is a family-oriented show, you may not have a realistic picture of how the evenings might go. Although there are many small families with charming, wide-eyed children, there are often large families and some pretty wild behavior. Take last night for example.

While we were setting up, an ex-student arrived to chat with us. Thanks for coming, Jose!! Planning to stay, he and his friends instead had to leave, there being no room in the inn, ha ha (posadas joke). It was sold out.

Our student friend Jose stopped by while we were setting up!

Our student friend Jose stopped by while we were setting up!

When I saw the thin blonde woman walk in, with her extremely high heels and faux leather pants, I knew how it would be. The year before, her large family group had brought confetti-filled egg shells, and throughout the evening had thrown the eggs and hard candies around, one even denting the finish of a guitar onstage. They tend to drink a lot of Margaritas. Who knows – maybe this is their one night of the year to really cut loose! And so they did. There were 25 kids, seated at long tables facing each other on the dance floor, (right in front of us) leaving little room for the marionette show and the dancers. The kids threw confetti eggs at each other, and playfully ground confetti into each others’ hair. Their parents could be seen and heard admonishing the kids, to little avail, although the kids really seemed playful and excited, and not hurtful.

We began the evening on time, with some jazzy Christmas carols on the piano. While I played, Chon was fixing the sound to be even better. After the jazzy carols we played and sang Christmas carols in English and Spanish, and then the dancers came to the now-tiny dance floor, a few minutes late. The leader/organizer of the dancers had asked us to let him know when there were two carols left before they began. We told him, but they weren’t quite ready. Christmas carols are not long! They are certainly not as long as a three-minute pop song. We sang two more, and then the dancers entered the crowded dance area and presented some short Aztec dances. They have beautiful costumes and headdresses, rattles, and fire! in a fire pot.

Then we played two dance numbers for the audience, one in Spanish and one in English. The kids continued bombarding each other with confetti. Confetti on a polished wood floor seems to make it more slippery but no waiter or waitress bearing large trays of food fell.

Then the Bob Baker marionettes show was presented by the talented puppet master, Eric. I love the show, and have not tired of it in all these years.  There are clowns, a skating bear, a couple in Mexican folkwear, a tall couple in ballroom dance wear, a tall pink cat with maribou and high heels, little boys, a big yellow chicken that lays an egg on stage. I find it delightful. The kids edged closer and closer to the center, making it difficult for Eric to navigate.

The music used for the marionettes is “classic” humorous songs all adults recognize, a Spike Jones number, and even light classical music like Leroy Anderson. Eric has the music on his iPod/iPhone and it’s easy to hook it up to our sound system, but difficult to equalize so that it sounds good through the big speakers. Chon does that well. Recently Eric and Chon have discussed making new recordings of the music so it doesn’t take so much adjusting.

After the marionette show we did a Posadas Procession, a shortened version of the Mexican tradition of singing groups of people visiting neighboring houses before Christmas. The kids “help” with this, processing around the restaurant, with the dancers carrying a large Nativity scene. Joseph and Mary seek shelter and the story ends happily. We play live music for this. With so many kids it was difficult to walk around.

We followed the procession with more dance music, and then played very brief music for each kid to swing at the piñata (there were two of them, as there were so many kids – the twenty-five seated on the dance floor were joined by others who magically showed up when we announced the piñata.

Throughout the evening the dance floor was occasionally taken over by men wearing Mexican gabanes holding glasses – of – beer? It looked like that. They are the ones who like it when we play rock music. And we do. See how eclectic it is?

The dancers returned for a dance from the Mexican state of Michoacan, the above-mentioned change in our tried-and-true order of events, and at this point we began to get complaints. They came to me, and not to the manager, so it was a little weird. No, it was odd, and I wasn’t sure what to say.

One woman, loudly, said into my ear as I was singing, “The Baldwins are leaving! We were waiting for the Mothers and Sons dance, but we have to go!” As soon as I could, I told her that would be the very next thing. The Michoacan dance dragged on. Aside: the dance from Michoacan is a famous one called Los Viejitos, The Little Old Men, and it’s comical. Or it’s supposed to be. Dancers with masks depicting old men with long pink faces, dance like young men, and fall down, and get up and dance some more, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. To be really good it must have physical humor. It seems mystifying to most of us gringos, however, as it was last night to the audience. I must be missing something. The blonde woman also came to the stage to comment about the Mothers and Sons Dance, and I told her that the program was the same, and it WAS, it really WAS, except for that one little insertion of the Old Men Dance. The blonde woman hissed at me, “NO, it’s NOT”. They know the order of the show!

Anyway, it ground to an end, and we were relieved to announce the Mothers and Sons dance. We have often thought about changing the music we play for this, but perhaps we should put that idea out of our heads. Then the Fathers and Daughters danced, and we followed this with the Hokey Pokey, (yes, we really play the Hokey Pokey), La Macarena, and then a melange of mostly original holiday rock music, which has really great energy, and many kids and parents were dancing, including the blonde woman, who at one point put one high-heeled foot up on a table so that her pants slid down in the back and we got a really clear view of a body part usually covered up, and later made some dance moves not usually made on family restaurants.

Aside about the Hokey Pokey and La Macarena: these are musical numbers that we have considered changing over the years, usually at the request of the dancers who are sick of it – not much challenge there for a dancer, you must admit. But we will probably NEVER change them, because you now see what happens when you Change Things. And the other night when we began La Macarena, a thirty-something woman who used to be a teenager at the show said to her sister, with a lit-up face, “Oh, this is my favorite!”

And then it was over. We tore down equipment, packed it up and stowed it, and headed to the Valley. We sat and watched an episode of Anger Management and went to sleep.

Our schedule every day of the show – you may think that a three-hour show is just that – three hours. But now you know – there’s practice and planning all year. There is instrument repair and wires repair. There is tuning. We leave to go to the three-hour gig at 4 p.m. We set up for 45 minutes to an hour. We eat. That’s a lucky part, because the food at La Golondrina is really good, and it’s better every year. We play the show. We tear down, and we get back to our non-luxurious hotel aound 11 p.m.  When you have that sort of wire-tired feeling you can’t go right to sleep, so you sleep late. Then there is usually enough time to get breakfast or lunch and get ready to go again. It’s great work if you can get it.

On The Radio

 

 

This is not my image – it’s from Google Images

 

Last night I drank just a little too much tequila. Maybe that’s why this morning I felt a bit raw and emotional. But that’s how I felt while we were enjoying Breakfast With The Beatles (raw and emotional).

Nearly every Sunday morning we enjoy the program, courtesy of my sister, (thank you, Eileen) on Sirius radio. Today’s program was especially good – the host had chosen songs that seemed to me to flow really well together. There are often a couple of surprises as well, and today was no exception. Donovan was a special guest. As a child of the sixties I grew up knowing the sound of his voice, and liking his songs very much. But today I more fully realized how much I was affected by the music he gave us.

Donovan then – from Google Images

 

There was always one song that deeply moved me. When I was seventeen or eighteen I had major surgery to shorten a leg that was mysteriously more than an inch longer than the other leg. (Evidently a genetic thing, as my brother had a similar difference in leg length). Years later it seems a medieval idea to correct this with surgery. Medieval as it may have been, there I was in the hospital, on heavy pain medications and I had a little device to call the nurse if necessary. It was was equipped with a radio, clipped to my pillow (remember that, anyone?) and tuned to sounds of the mid-sixties. I kept it on night and day for company.

One night around midnight I was dreaming waking morphine dreams and Donovan’s new song “Hurdy Gurdy Man” was playing though the tiny speaker. The night nurse had not yet closed the curtains and I could see out into the night. It seemed that I was looking into time and the words of the song reached out and grabbed my imagination. The sweet clear voice seemed to speak directly to me, and I felt that I really understood the role of us performing musicians in everyday lives. There was also a guitar making sounds I simply had never heard the likes of before; unbeautiful, raw, emotional sounds that went right to my heart. At the time I knew nothing about the guitar player – it just seemed then that it had been planned as part of the arrangement of the performance.

And today, in April of 2012, there was Donovan on the air speaking with Chris Carter, the program host, about his recollections of events that had happened many years ago with the Beatles in India and in the recording studio. My impression of him was that he is really an “artist” – a bit fey and clever, and – just, well, different.

Donovan willingly agreed to sing, right there in the studio. He played his acoustic guitar energetically and sang wonderfully well. And he sang  “The sunshine came softly through my window today…” from Sunshine Superman and I was catapulted straight back to the sixties.  He followed that performance later with “Mellow Yellow” (quite right-ly)

Then he sang “Hurdy Gurdy Man”. The host asked him about the “lost verse” of the song that was omitted in the recording. The verse had been written by George Harrison while they were in India. Donovan explained that all the musicians, while they were there together in India had sung for each other, and he had sung the song for George who told him that he, George, could write a verse for the song. Then Donovan recited the verse for us who were listening. It seemed to me to fit perfectly into the song. And Donovan explained why he had not included the verse when he recorded the song. During those days there was an exact length that each commercial song was to have, and the verse would have made the song too long.

Here is George Harrison’s verse:
When the truth gets buried deep
Beneath the thousand years of sleep
Time demands a turn-around
And once again the truth is found
Awakening the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Who comes singing songs of love.

As Donovan recited the verse, I wiped away tears for the dead musician who wrote it over 40 years ago, and for the little hole in my life where the words could have been living for decades.

I had never heard of the extra verse. In the sixties I was a young musician hoping and planning to continue music studies. This came to pass (thank you, Mother and Daddy and Grandma). But in those days I knew next to nothing about the details of lives of musicians and the creative, bubbling fermentation of music of the times. I knew the songs, but not their makers. Many years later, Chon told me about how Jeff Beck had been in the studio that day, casually and by chance, and had added the iconic guitar part that had stunned me that night in the hospital. I had had no idea of this collaboration, nor of the friendships of the musicians during that magical time in Britain.

Donovan more recently – from Google Images
So thank you, Donovan, for sharing your recollections, and for singing songs for us today that you must have sung literally hundreds of times in the last 40 years. Thank you for making it as real as when the music was new. It was wonderful to hear your voice again.