Shmoont

John Epstein, Native‘s funky, non-sequitur spouting keyboardist came up with a word to describe moments there are no words for — shmoont.

It’s the perfect catch-all word, neither fish or fowl, noun or verb, Earth-based or non-Earth-based. And since all those things could be equally applied to Mr. Epstein himself, the term not only stuck, it became a part of our everyday lexicon.

“What did you think of that guitar solo?” “Shmoont.”

“How are we going to get from Buffalo to Bar Harbor in twelve hours?” “Shmoont.”

“Is that a truck heading straight for us?” “Shmoont.”

“Did you hear that Epstein’s quiiting the band?” “Shmoont!!!”

The general reaction to John’s departure was a mixture of grief and relief that can only be summed-up by the wonderful expression he invented in the days before his departure from our happy little dysfunctional-family in the late spring of 1995.

It must be said that Native was set back on its heels by his absence. We spent an unsettled summer playing keyboardless shows in our five-piece formation, but in many ways  it was good because it kicked us all into a higher gear as we tried to balance the loss by upping our individual games: Mat & Woody really turned into a true songwriting machine; I took drum lessons; Matt Lyons & Liz Jaimes were quickly becoming Matt & Liz Lyons; Fitz was ensconced at Marmfington Farm, determined to turn our rehearsal space into a recording space; Karl’s posters became even more elaborate and evocative.

We knew, however, that there was something missing in our sound — Mike, especially, was desirous of that carpet of organ riding under everything like a magic carpet.

‘Twas at that time that the heaven’s parted and, lo — a keyboardist of extraordinary prowess stepped among us, took that empty seat in the van and became known to all the world as John Watts.

To which, we all simultaneously commented — “Shmoont!!!!!!”
Native with John Watts

In no time at all, the estimable Mr. Watts was familiar with every song in our playlist (although, it was at this time that a quite a few older tunes from the Anthony Balsley era were sadly dropped).

Fitz attained a newer model of TEAC’s 8-track cassette recorder, and off we flew into a new series of demos, starting with today’s selection —

Up Or Down


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Native — The Cover Band

Every band has songs in their repertoire that are not of their own making — cover songs is the term for them. Some bands do nothing but covers, others adapt them to their own style.

Native played tunes by The Clash, Chuck Berry, and Taj Mahal at our very first gig. Of course, we were very motivated to write original music, but were aware from the start that a good cover version says a lot about you to your audience.

Over the years, we took on a lot of cover tunes, some for our own amusement, others as requests. We played everything from Jimi Hendrix, to The Beatles, to Pink Floyd… shoot, we even did a U2 song at someone’s wedding. And then there’s Hava Nagila!!

But, the band we loved to cover the most was The Funky Meters from New Orleans. The mostly-instrumental numbers they came up with had a bubbly, percolating patina that distinguished their brand of funk with that ‘something extra’ that we learned from constantly.

When we added John Epstein to our roster, it enabled us to really dig into The Meters style even more so than before. Everybody, it seems, does a version of Cissy Strut, but, with Epstein’s organ prowess giving us that funky undergroove, we were playing Funky Miracle, Fiyo On The Bayou, Look A Py Py, Pungee, and many more.

So, the day Epstein came in with a yen to do an all-out monster version of Stevie Wonder’s Ordinary Pain ( from the Songs In The Key Of Life album) we hopped on that train and rode it all the way to Funkville.

So, today we offer up this Motown epic, done Native-style. Recorded by John Fitzwater in the spring of 1995 at our luxurious studio accommodations known as Marmfington Farm, located on the sunny plains of West 26th Street in Manhattan.

Ordinary Pain

Cornbread Wednesday

Sneaking Through The Alley With Epstein

‘Twas in the 14th century that it came to pass that people began adopting surnames. I remember it well, and it sucked. Now, I had to remember a whole other name; I couldn’t just be ‘Dave’ anymore… no, I had to be ‘Dave Thomas’ — a name I must share with a large percentage of the population. (Go out on any street USA, yell out “Dave Thomas!” and watch twelve people turn around!)

But, I lucked out in Native. Not only were there no other Dave Thomases, there weren’t even any other Daves!

The other guys in the band were not so lucky. We have two Matt’s – Mat Hutt and Matt Lyons. To confuse things further, Mat Hutt only has one ‘t’ in his first name, which makes it real hard to talk to all the other Matt’s in the world when you realize you have to double-t them, possibly reigniting old childhood stuttering traumas. And, as a further aside, Mat was named that way because Hutt has two t’s and there’s only so many to go around. Times were hard in those days and you were only allowed three t’s maximum per name.

Poor John Wood had to bear the agony of sharing his first name with our impish Keyboardist and resident alien (by way of Pluto), John Epstein. There we were, poised for stardom but this name situation could have made it all a cataclysmic failure.

We had a problem, and it wasn’t in Houston.

Our solution was thus: Mat Hutt and Matt Lyons would forevermore be referred to as Mat Hutt and Matt Lyons. Both names, every time. Simples.

John Wood, perhaps in a moment of clairvoyance that there would one day be yet another John in the band, said “Screw it,” and became ‘Woody’, which made things a lot easier.

We were further relieved when John Epstein also dropped his first name. Sometimes folks misspelled it as ‘Jon’, but we were convinced that we’d dodged a bullet, and we called the Pan-like impressario ‘Epstein’ whenever we could.

Sharing no names with anyone, Mike (with easily the most common first name of us all) crossed himself and thanked heaven above when he found there were no other Mike’s in the band. But, then we all just called him ‘Jaimes’ anyway.

Thus, we narrowly avoided the Great Native Naming Confusion-Thing, and there was much rejoicing.

Today, we have an Epstein tune on tap — his rendition of an Allen Toussaint song made famous by Robert Palmer. Recorded January 14, 1994, at the New Music Cafe on the lovely, but smelly, Canal Street — here’s

Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley

Cornbread Wednesday

Mike Jaimes — The Jazzie Hippie

Mike Jaimes wrote an instrumental piece called Jazzie Hippie around the time Native was formed. His self-recorded demo is a part of Nativology Vol. 1 and makes for an interesting comparison to the version we humbly present today.

As an arrangement, and as a showpiece for his guitar prowess, it’s up there with the band’s best tunes, but it also highlights his skill at linking musical passages that, on paper, might seem too disparate to ever work together.

Mike would employ this talent in so many songs over the next decade. Whenever you hear a musical motif, or a bit of bridging material — chances are that was Mike’s donation.

Interestingly, there is a point of pedantry associated with this song, an odd thing for an instrumental production — the spelling of Jazzie came up upon the first occasion of writing it on a tape cover. One might expect it to be spelled Jazzy, as that’s the way we normally see it used. But, (and here’s where I contributed to the final usage, although I remember it being a group-wide discussion) Jazzy Hippie looks weird in the sense that it employs two differing ways of spelling the same ‘ee’ ending.

So, my point of pedantry led to the present-day, nicely consistent title. It also offers a view into the biotelemetry of the band.

And — what a song!!!!

As a opening number (when we’d had no sound-check) it served to let the sound-technician get a working mix going before having to worry about vocals; as a middle-of-the-set number, it rocked and gave Mat and Woody a chance to rest their voices. The key thing here is — it always worked.

From day one, it was a perfect fit within the architecture of Native’s distinct persona.

Indeed, we did not record an officially-released version until And Then What in 2001, but that version is cut from the same cloth as this wonderful demo, made in the dizzying, chaotic, exhilarating year of 1995.

Recorded and mixed on analogue tape by John Fitzwater at the legendary Marmfington Farm — kick back and spend some time with —

The Jazzie Hippie v. 2

Cornbread Wednesday