The Jazzie Hippie

Mike Jaimes

As January and February of 1993 rolled by, Native was avoiding the winter cold down in the always humid environs of The Radon Room, located conveniently four stories underground. Here, in our secret lair far beneath the unsuspecting tourists of Little Italy, we jammed heavily and constantly. We had written, demoed, and redemoed nearly all the songs that would appear on our first album.

During that time, Mike Jaimes made a tape at home as he tried out an old standard, and two songs which would become staples of our shows for the rest of our touring years. Here is that tape, motor noise and all.

Trouble In Mind is a wonderful 1924 blues tune written by jazx pianist Richard M. Jones. There are many famous versions of it by everyone from Dinah Washington, to Sister Rosetta Tharp, to Eddy Arnold all the way to Hot Tuna and Jerry Garcia. The latter two undoubtedly influenced Mike’s version, although he may have heard the tape of Janis Joplin and Jorma Kaukonen doing the song whilst Jorma’s wife hammered away on a typewriter in the background. This is my favorite version of them all.

Next, Mike worked up an original tune called The Jazzie Hippie. Native would give it an epic arrangement, and it served us well over the years. From day one, it was a real crowd-pleaser, and it was a handy opener if there had been no sound-check. It gave the soundman a chance to dial in the instrument levels, and wait to get the vocals later. Native finally got around to doing a proper recording of it on the And Then What album. If you compare that version you’ll hear that this early demo is missing the uptempo middle jam. That’s because Mike wrote it later. Mike was great at writing middle jams.

The next tune is the very first recording of what would become Mike’s most famous song — Down To The River. I think you could say it’s his signature tune. It’s the rare Native tape, indeed, that does not include it. Interestingly, Mike had not yet worked out the incredible finger-picked intro to the song, but he had a good idea about the stop-start pauses at the finale.

Trouble In Mind likely served as a jumping off point for what Mike would write — it even has the line, “Going down to the river. But Mike took it and made it indelibly his own. For me, these are the best kind of rare tapes, where you get to hear the process of genius using that genius to create works of genius. Did I mention genius? That was Mike Jaimes — The Jazzie Hippie.Cornbread Wednesday

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Cover Versions

Mat and Matt

Photo by Mike Lyons

Cornbread WednesdayEvery band does cover versions, i.e. songs they didn’t write.

An effective cover version is a song that not only compliments the sound of the band, but also imparts something trenchant about the band itself. A good cover song is one where the audience not only hears something familiar, but also learns something about the band – what its’ stylistic leanings are, and the aesthetic it will employ when creating new masterworks of its own.

As Native moved into the year 1993, composing new masterworks was the main item on the agenda. January saw a furious amount of activity to this end. New songs written this month would comprise 90% of our first album. Only Interested Third Party and The Sea from our pre-Woody days would make the cut.

At one amazing rehearsal on February 3, Native recorded all the new music we’d written since Woody joined — Carried Away, Go, Fall Away, Tell Me The Truth, Down To The River, and Island were added to our set lists and would remain staples of our shows for quite a long while.

It was an exhilarating time — we were really exploring our sound and what we were capable of achieving. We were growing by leaps and bounds, not only as a performing unit, but as writers and arrangers.

Today, however, we are focusing on three songs we chose to cover at that session. Because, they speak as loudly about us as our original songs do, in fact, maybe moreso.

(Two slight caveats: 1) The following tracks were recorded straight to cassette, so the mixes are what they are, including a china-cymbal that is way too loud. Not much I can do about it. 2) These are rehearsals, we were very much in the learning stage on these tunes – so, you will hear a bit of sloppiness, i.e. occasional bum notes, and a somewhat fluid approach to time-keeping.)

Now, without further ado — on to Native, the cover band!

Mat remains a big Bob Marley fan to this day, and his choice of Caution was an inspired one, as it’s not one of the more well-known Marley songs which allowed us to really put our stamp on it, and have the coolness factor of doing Bob Marley.

Mike brought in a wonderful Taj Mahal song, Corinna. His vocals would become more assured as time went on, but at this point getting Mike’s voice on tape represented a challenge to soundman extraordinaire Rob Smith. Simply put, Rob had to raise the level of Mike’s singing to a point where it was on the verge of feedback. Mike’s vocal, therefore, is a little low in the mix. But, it’s worth it to hear the first version of a song we would continue to play throughout the rest of our performing years.

And then there’s a cover picked by the whole band — Santana’s Hope You’re Feeling Better. Stylistically, a throwback to our hard-rocking Anthony Balsley period, but hey — it’s Santana! And, it’s badass!

Who doesn’t like badass? Nobody!

The Woodman Cometh

Woody and Matt Lyons
Cornbread WednesdayAnthony’s last gig with Native was at Nightingale Bar on December 10, 1992, which means it was Mat Hutt’s first gig in the role of front man. But, it’s also the night of another seismic occurrence in the band’s timeline — John Wood sat in on percussion & vocals — and although he would be there for every gig from then on, there was no official moment where he was made a full member, nor did there need be such a moment. He simply was in the band, no question’s asked.

I remember smiling through the whole gig. Not only was Mat going to work out fine, but I was loving the cross-rhythms Woody & I were hitting from note one. The listener might be excused for wondering why I wanted another drummer in the band when I was doing such a splendid job by myself! But, the fact was that I was doing some deep listening to The Meters, and I yearned for the interplay, the syncopation, the luxury of laying back into a fat groove and letting the percussion fill in the cracks like grout around large slabs of tile.

Now, to be sure – Woody was already hanging with us, either at The Radon Room, or he’d be there when we returned to the flat Mat & I shared upstairs from him on 16th Street. Woody had been working on his own recordings in his Hellbent Studio, and that is where today’s first track originates. The first part is a story as only Woody can tell it, where he mentions the band. He also name-checks a song he & I wrote – Mad About You.

This was way before the hit TV show of the same name, and I’ve always thought we missed a trick by not finishing it. The licensing money would have been substantial if they’d used this very catchy tune!

Woody’s Story Hour/Mad About You

Next, we have one of our best early songs, recorded by Rob Smith to two track cassette, which shows precisely everything Woody brought to the band, and how quickly our sound changed. It was in this fertile period that we really became the band that people came to know over the next decade.

Water

So, Woody was in, our sound was forever changed, and 1993 would be a very big year, indeed.

Next time: Native’s most awesome rehearsal (probably) February 22, 1993.

December 1992 — The Rise of Mat Hutt

Mat Hutt
As Anthony Balsley’s last gig approached, Native’s rhythm guitarist, Mat Hutt stepped up to the plate, assuming the vaunted mantle of lead singer. Although, he’d been singing several songs per show since the start, it was a daunting task to step to the center stage, and he reminded us of the Jack Kerouac line, “Walking on water wasn’t built in a day.”

Stalwart fellows all, the band rallied around him, committing to rehearse relentlessly, and gig even relentlessier in the service of Mat’s lead singeriness, and maximum non-vexational, coming into one’s owniness..

The first point of business was to do some demo recordings with our new front man. The songs that drifted over from the Anthony era that Mat tackled — Down and The Sea were accompanied by songs Mat had a larger hand in developing.

Blue Room, an ode to a loo, had been demoed by Mat the previous year in his room at the Hippie Hotel. Anthony had sung it with the band (as heard in Nativology track 3), but now Mat repossessed it, and with the band’s fierce accompaniment showing the growing confidence gained from six months of constant rehearsals & gigs, Blue Room is where the funky side of Native really takes off. In many ways, it and Something Worth Remembering formed the foundation for the new sound the band was developing as it moved away from its hard-rocking infancy. Because, after all — if you move people’s butts, their hearts and minds will follow.

I Am was another demo of Mat’s (track 2) that had grown by leaps and bounds. It’s either a slow ska, or a fast reggae, but whichever — you can really dance The Twist to it. And, it shows the band combining styles, forming hybrids, taking creative leaps off the cliff in firm belief in a safe, aesthetically-pleasing return to earth. For a real kick in the pants, compare this track to the version that appeared on Native’s 2007 release, And Then What.

Interested Third Party was the first real band-written song, developed at Rob Smith’s Park Slope apartment. Mat came up with the chords, we all worked on the melody, and I (Dave Thomas, your humble narrator) wrote the lyrics, Johnnie on the spot! The subject matter provides a very serious juxtaposition to the jaunty arrangement, dealing with the sad story of a lady who is committed to a relationship with a man that can only fail spectacularly, as observed by a friend who stands condemned to watch helplessly from afar — the ‘interested third party’. Our lawyer loved the title of this one, and I must admit — it’s a personal favorite of mine, too.

(Note: Blue Room and I Am are the original mixes from December, 1992. The multi-track tapes are available, but require more work than can be mustered at this time. Perhaps a time will come when they can get a proper new mix, but for now — this is how they sounded when Rob & Mat mixed them. Interested Third Party is a new 2012 mix.

Next week: The Woodman Cometh!