Thank You Lou Levy

‘WOODY, you just topped off six vodka on the rocks, at our VIP table, with water!” These were the first words uttered to me by my snarling, coked-up manager.

It was the summer of 1990 and I had landed a job as a busboy at a supper club in New York City! I was young, wide-eyed and innocent.  My only restaurant experience had been working the salad bar at Bonanza back home in Texas, and a famous restaurateur had taken me under his wing.

This supper club had marvelous jazz bands and served dinner into the wee hours. It played host to the likes of Frank Sinatra, too many famous actors to mention, and many wise guys including, every Thursday, John Gotti himself.

I was a complete failure as a busboy and the manager feared what my next blunder might be, so the owner promoted me to service bartender and hid me in the kitchen.

It wasn’t long before I was moved to the front bar when it got very busy. I would take over for the head bartender when he went home at 2 a.m.

This was a crazy shift! One evening I would find myself playing liars poker with Leslie Nielsen, the next I would be decanting ’77 Wares Port while Mr Gotti’s boys watched me VERY CLOSELY.

The owner would introduce me to every celebrity he could. I think he got a kick out of watching them squirm while I chatted them up with naive exuberance.

I would often come to work toting my guitar. I had only been playing for about a month and a music career had not ever crossed my mind.

One evening I was called away from the service bar. The owner wanted me to meet his good friend, a music publisher by the name of Lou Levy! I was introduced as an aspiring musician. Mr. Levy shook my hand and said; “Kid, if you write a song with the lyrics, ‘Tell me the truth and I’ll help you lie,’ you’ll have a million dollar tune on your hands.” I thanked him for the sage advice and went back to serving drinks.

When I would arrive home after work, usually when the sun was coming up, I would often find that my neighbor Dave Thomas was still awake watching The Prisoner or some old B-Western. He would hit the pause button on the VCR and I would regale him with the night’s adventures at the supper club. The night I told him I met Lou Levy his jaw dropped. He told me that Lou Levy was a music publisher during the Tin Pan Alley era of American popular music. That he was credited with the discoveries of Bob Dylan, Charles Strouse, Richard Adler, and Henry Mancini. How he had discovered, managed or developed the careers of numerous artists including Buddy Rich, The Andrews Sisters, Connie Francis, Steve Lawrence, The Ames Brothers and Les Paul. He had supplied numerous other singers with hit material: Frank Sinatra with “Strangers in the Night”; Petula Clark with “Downtown” and “Call Me”; Tom Jones with “It’s Not Unusual.” And he published the Beatles’ first American hit “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

Dave’s history lesson made me appreciate the gravity of having received advice from such a legend and although I was only dabbling in writing music at the time, I vowed to myself that I would, one day, write this tune.

Years later, during a rehearsal break I started humming a melody to an inspiring bass line Matt Lyons was working on. The feel of the thing just screamed espionage, and those lyrics Lou had suggested to me, so many years before, came flooding back. Tell Me the Truth was born. I love the melody interplay with that bass line. It’s plain to see how that song just wrote itself.

Lou Levy passed away in 2001. I wish he could have heard the song. I would love to think he would have liked it. I didn’t make a million dollars but the memories are worth more than a million to me. Thank you Lou.

Tell Me the Truth

Cornbread Wednesday

You’ve got me restless…

Native’s eras are delineated by who was playing keyboards at the time — there’s the John Epstein era; the era we are currently examining — the John Watts era; there’s the Chris Wyckoff era (which will serve as an upcoming Nativology Volume unto itself).

Today’s Watt’s-era tune is derived from the last of the analogue multi-track demos we made, circa 1996-97. Like all the demos of this period, it began life as a stereo recording of Mat, Matt, Woody, and Dave playing live, and captured on DAT by the esteemed John Fitzwater. Mike Jaimes and John Watts would wait nearby, presumably mixing up some quality refreshments.

Despite Woody’s called-out ‘Take 1’, the band replayed the song again and again, until a balanced recording was achieved — in other words, if the band performed flawlessly, that did not mean the recording was a “keeper.” If the bass was too quiet, or the guitar too loud, the whole rhythm section had to do it again. Another facet of this style of recording was that Mat could not sing the song or that would end up on the tape as well. The band had to know the song well enough to get by on visual cues, like hand-waving or consternated expressions of disapproval & guilt.

The next part of the process involved Fitz transferring the now-completed backing track to channels one & two of the trusty TASCAM 8-track cassette recorder, presumably while the band indulged in the aforementioned quality refreshments.

Once the transfer was complete, Mike & John would add guitar & keyboard parts — each one being granted a generous *single* monophonic track. This means Mike’s rhythm track and lead track were one and the same.

This accomplished, Mat & Woody would return from the refreshment stand, zooted and resusitated, to lay down their always amazing vocals. If we were left with an open track, that could be used for a harmony from Mike or John, but there were rarely such open tracks. Almost all of the demos from this period feature two-part harmony exclusively, which is sad because Mike & John were adding more to the harmonies all the time, but the space limitations of only 8 tracks meant those performances could not be saved for posterity.

With all overdubs done & dusted, Fitz then set about achieving a final mix, using equipment Barney Rubble would describe as ‘archaic’. The result is the mix you are about to tap on the link below to enjoy — but, first…

Let us say how enjoyable this journey through our multi-track demos has been. Dave started on this project two years ago, and has worked on it continuously ever since, with brief breaks for air and Nutella Hazelnut Spread — now with cocoa!

We’ve come to the end, but only of this chapter — there are loads of rarities in our vaults that are not multi-track, and we’ll start unloading that load on you good folk in short order. Next week, though, we’ll have one more multi-track surprise to spring on an unsuspecting world, with a recording started in 1993, but unfinished until 1998, the story of which will be annotated by one of the band memberpeople who sang it (hint — not Mat). The week after that we’ll hear a demo by Dave that went on to become a stone classic in the Native songbook.

But, for now, smokey smokey, drinky drink — settle back and click the link!

Restless

Cornbread Wednesday

Should I compare thee to a summer’s day?

William Shakespeare was called ‘The honey-tongued bard of Avon’ for a good reason. Aside from his plays, Good Will was renowned for his sonnets, which he wrote throughout his illustrious career, mostly for a private readership, and, as incredible as his plays have proven to be – it is through the ‘sugered sonnets’ that he was able to, as Wordsworth put it, “unlock his heart.”

Not surprising then, that the lead singer of a twentieth century musical act called Native, a singer who had trod the stage himself at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, would turn to the Bard for inspiration.

Mat Hutt was really on a roll at this point in the band’s trajectory. By himself, or in collaboration with John Wood, he’d already written enough strong songs in the preceding year to fill an album, but the music was flowing out of him with such regularity that when the decision was made to invoke Shakespeare’s sonnets as lyrics, much time was afforded in carefully choosing the lines that would be quoted or paraphrased in this newest masterpiece.

The line in today’s title is from Sonnet 18, but careful examination shows that today’s featured tune culled lines from all around Mr. William’s canon. Long hours around the kitchen table were spent poring over the sonnets, plucking a line here or there and fitting them in place, like jewels in an ornate piece of jewelry.

As it took shape, Mike Jaimes contributed mightily to the construct, with more than a small influence on the utltra-rocking middle section. With the addition of the rhythm section and the Elizabethan stylings of John Watts, the song was a complete epic, soaring and majestic.

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets in his time, but Native edited together fragments from those works, and invested them with such grace and furore that a seemingly new one was born. Which is why we called it —

155

Cornbread Wednesday

Diamonds are a girl’s best frenemy

The quest for economic security leads us all in strange directions. The question soon becomes, “How much of yourself are you willing to give away for that security?”

When Mat Hutt sat down and wrote this week’s featured tune, he would dig a bit deeper into his own experience, as he would do with all his songs from this period, and delve into issues that were gnawing at him in a way that he’d not previously done.

The subject of this song is not conveyed in the title, it’s about a girl who we all knew. A victim of the false quest.

Beautiful, poised, excellently coutured, and always perfect. A bit too perfect, as it turned out, for she was acting the whole time. She was leading a double life.

Her quest had been fulfilled — she had all the glitter, gold, and diamonds she wanted. But, they were empty baubles and trinkets. They were in no way any way a substitute for what she now knew she really wanted. Once you’ve given away your most precious possession – you – the accumulation of wealth and lies becomes an impossible-to-escape vortex.

When the truth came out, it was too late, the vortex would never let her go. The pearls and earrings were now shackles.

We all knew her, and we all felt the deep twinge one gets when remembering an absent and well-loved friend.

She hadn’t died. Her two lives had merely converged for a moment, only to wend away in opposing directions, leaving us wondering what might have been a better life for her.

A life with real love, real people, and nowhere in sight – the vain lure of —

Diamonds

Cornbread Wednesday

Sunned, Stunned & Zooted

How was everyone’s summer vacation?

Ours was fabulous, minus a cataclysm or two.

The main thing is — the keeper of our vaults, Drummer Dave Thomas (or, as he’s known semi-derisively — Hollywood Thomas) took the summer ensconced in his Dave Cave working fiendishly on all manner of mad things, including new music he’s preparing for a solo or band release. He can’t decide if he’s a band or not — it was that kind of existential summer for Dave!

Anyhoo, he’s back on the Native tip, and starting to sift through the tapes that will comprise Nativology Vol. 3. He hasn’t really given us a report on what’s available, but by the oohs and ahhs we hear emanating from the Dave Cave, he’s either on to some great stuff, or he’s found that online photo of Olivia Munn and ScarJo he’s been searching for!

What can we expect when these recordings find their way into our Bandcamp site?

Good question, Jasper from Omaha, Pennsylvania!

All Dave will say is that Vol. 3 will pick up where Vol. 2 left off — somewhere in the John Watts era, featuring more demos from our Exhale On Spring Street period. But, Dave has that shifty look in his eyes (okay, he always has that shifty look, but go with us here…), a shifty look that suggests something special is forthcoming, or fifthcoming, in addition to the Vault tracks that will turn up on Nativology Vol. 3.

Can it be that a new live Native album is in the works??

Great question, Tanya from Stalingrad, Ohio!

All we can do is wait until Dave gets that shifty look off his face and tells us. But, we’ve got next week’s new round of Nativology to look forward to, and that is excitement unparalleled in all of our accumulated human experience. (Edit: Dave: “Except for that online pic of Olivia Munn & ScarJo!“)

Before we say orderve, a big ol’ BTW — right now is a perfect time to go back to Volumes 1 & 2 of Nativology, which can be found here and here. You’ll find a treasure-trove of great unreleased Native goodness to warm the shackles of your heart!

So, welcome to Fall — it’s all downhill from here, except for the uphill parts!

Drinky, drinky, smoky, smoky!

The Wild Atlantic Sea

There are times in your life when you remember right where you were, and what you were doing when you first heard a bit of music. This is the case for me with the song we are featuring in this week’s edition of Nativology Vol. 2.

Mat Hutt’s dad, Sam Hutt, sometimes known as Hank Wangford strolled into the apartment Mat & I shared on 16th Street, told us he’d written a song on the flight over from the UK, picked up a guitar and played us this brilliant tune. It was full of wistful, faraway chords, haunting melodies, and the loveliest poetry.

I was sitting on our couch, quite probably with my mouth hanging open in sheer awe at the effortlessness Sam displayed in his performance, especially in light of the fact that he’d had no guitar on the plane. That moment forever defined the the long road I’d be on to be a real songwriter, not just somebody poking around with some chords and random words.

It was also at this the time of this visit that Sam asked a very cogent question as we viewed an old gangster serial — why do gangster’s henchmen simply accept their orders to go knock off an adversary? Or, as Sam put it, “How come nobody ever asks ‘And then what’?”

Years later, that question (sans question mark) would become the title of our third studio album.

I tell that story, not as a digression, but to illustrate how long we’d hang on to good ideas before incorporating them into our work.

It would be years before Native took up the song. But, once we did it became a tentpole of our shows, often popping up at the end. And there was little that could follow it.

When I produced the Exhale On Spring Street album, I somehow left off Sam’s writer credit — a fact that I regret every time I hear it. So, let me publicly apologize to Sam for the egregious oversight. It was not a slight, but rather a mistake made by someone just a bit over his head on his first album production. I’m truly sorry for it, Sam!!!

This version is our demo from 1996, featuring Mr. John Watts on keyboards. And, just as it served as a closer to our sets, the same is true today as it will be the final song in this volume of Nativology.

We will resume our scouring of the Native Tape Vault with Vol. 3 in the coming months. In the meantime, we are preparing a live album release, the details of which will be disclosed soon.

But, for now, sit back and enjoy a tour of the beautiful, rocky shores of —

The Wild Atlantic Sea

Twisting, turning, flying, burning…

Adding John Watts to the band had really paid off and, by the summer of 1996, the band was really running smooth on all cylinders. Constant, relentless rehearsal and gigging resulted in a band that was air-tight, confident, and armed with the largest playbook of our existence!

In the midst of all the chaos, we continued to write new material, and we were sure-enough of ourselves to play the new music in public, letting it grow and evolve before laying down the demo on our trusty Tascam 8-track recorder.

This week’s tune is a very impressive Mat Hutt composition, inspired by a comment made by our manager, Paul Ducharme.

Paul, ever vigilant against the incursion of fake-hippies into our real-hippies scene, had coined the term ‘krevelers’ to describe those who look, sound, and dress like hippies, but who were actually predators — taking advantage of the naiveté exhibited by so many of us flower children.

Paul’s comment came in the early hours of morning after a gig, when most folks have gone home, but there were a few still hanging around that seemed to have an awful lot of energy considering the hour. “It’s just another junkie sunrise.”

That was all Mat needed to put on his dramatist’s hat and put himself in the place of a lost soul, on the brink of destruction, living not from day-to-day, but score-to-score. He envisioned that soul having a moment of clarity, perhaps the only one of the day, as a stark colorless sun rises overhead.

I’m pretty sure he got some help from Woody and Paul along the way, but however it came about, and whoever helped develop it — it’s a Native masterpiece, in my opinion.

This version comes from August, 14, 1996 and, appropriately, it was the last song of a long set which puts it at the right hour — around four a.m.

Our good buddy and compatriot, Kregg Ajamu, can be heard trading off with Mat at the end.

The band would pack up, go home and sleep, but for some tortured souls in the room, what awaited was a —

Junkie Sunrise

Older? Yes. Wiser? Perhaps. But, we’re all still kids in a Thunderstorm

Native was humming along on all cylinders in the fall of 1995.

We had endured the loss of keyboardist John Epstein, and a summer wherein we toured as a five-piece band. John Watts had come on board in the fall, and we hardly missed a beat — he assimilated our old material, even as we were coming up with enough new stuff to fill another two albums.

Speaking of albums, our first effort had floundered, due in no small part to a poor mastering job which nobody on our team recognized, but which kept radio from playing it.

We were hungry, hunkered-down, and humbled. We kept stumbling & rumbling along, oblivious to any muse but our own. The places we visited were farther-flung than ever, Buffalo, Rochester, all ports of call up the east coast, and of course — Bar Harbor, Maine. Aside from New York City, there was no place we visited more often, or felt more at home. The names of the bars there kept changing, but the faces of friends in that incredible place were as important to us as any we would ever know.

When we were back in NYC, our regularly-scheduled recording sessions kept us busy. The John Watts period saw us refining and improving songs we’d already demoed with the mercurial Mr. Epstein, and today’s song is among those on that list.

John Fitzwater, our erstwhile soundman, had developed a technique for recording the band on only eight-tracks. Since we were limited to that number on the Tascam Cassette recorder we were using in this project. Fitz would record the rhythm section of the band on DAT, and then transfer that to the first two tracks on the Tascam. We would then have six tracks left on which to overdub guitar, keys, and vocals. The hard part was getting a perfectly-balanced take of drums, bass, percussion, and rhythm guitar on the DAT. But, when we re-recorded today’s featured tune, an awful thing happened.

I was beginning to make demos of my own compositions on the same DAT machine, and one fateful day I accidentally recorded over a completed take of today’s song before it could be transferred to eight-track. The band was furious, Mat Hutt was ballistic (and, indeed, could not even talk to me for quite some time, such was his anger). I was devastated, and the event only made it harder for me to bring in material of my own creation.

Thunderstorm over NYC

source: imgur

For a time, I was quite isolated within the structure of the band, and a bit of a pariah. To make matters worse, when we re-re-recorded the song yet again — although it was a fine take, and the overdubs went well (with Mike surpassing himself on lead guitar), we did not take the care we had exhibited on all the other demos, and we found ourselves out of tracks and unable to do the harmony vocals.

At that point, lethargy and inertia set in. We took a break from recording, and the song languished, never getting a proper mix as all the other songs had done — which is too bad because it’s really quite splendid, as I think you’ll agree.

So, here it is — one of Native’s finest efforts, and a lost page from our playbook —

Thunderstorm v.2

Cornbread Wednesday

Fragile Clown

Welcome to the Native blog! If you are just joining us, this is a blog dedicated to the band Native. Each week, we post a rare song from our archives for free downloading or streaming. And the bonus (or the catch) is I get to walk us through a bit of background on what you are about to hear, and you have to read it or we send attack dogs to your door to relieve themselves on your welcome mat!!!

The period of 1995/96 was perhaps the bands’ strongest period; we were writing songs so fast we could barely keep up with ourselves. We managed to play and compose constantly for almost a decade, and much of that material never saw the light of day, or was played a few times in our shows and later dropped, and of course many songs went on to get re-recorded for our albums.

In our studio, Marmfington Farm, we were working on a Tascam eight-track cassette recorder, and our Producer/Engineer was John Fitzwater.

But, today’s track was overseen by Mat Hutt, and was a song that developed so quickly the band never did a full recording of it before it was thrust into our playlist for a hot minute at the tail end of  ’95.

Mat’s early demos, before forming the band, were done on the same set-up and he was quite familiar with how to demo a song quickly, using all the tracks as he does here. He laid down two guitars and three vocals over a stereo drum machine track. Matt Lyons provided the bass. No involvement from myself, Mike Jaimes, or John Watts — eight tracks done and dusted!

It was one of the few times that a song was demoed in order to show the band, as opposed to just running the chords at rehearsal and recording it later. And it worked!

It was so perfect for our sound that we were playing it on stage within days. Sadly, the song was dropped after a period of a few months and never received its due in the studio. But, I love it!

With this tune, Mat shows his continuing growth as our front man and main songwriter. His mastery of vocal-stacking is something I took note of as I got busy with the same kind of demos for the songs I was bringing in.

It’s also a very personal song for Mat. He was going through a lot of changes, growing up, getting tougher, and one thing was for sure: There would be no more —

Fragile Clown

Cornbread Wednesday

Smoke In The Desert

The summer of 1995 was a tumultuous time for Native. We had lost our keyboardist, John Epstein; we’d continued to tour as a five-piece and were not satisfied with our sound minus piano and organ; the album we’d worked so hard to achieve was now over a year old, and although it had garnered some radio play, it had not got us to the big goal of every band (back then) — a record deal; and the strain of constantly being cooped up together in a van was taking it’s toll – we were, for the first time, starting to bicker and get persnickety with each other.

In addition to that, my father, Hal Thomas, passed away, leaving a four-piece Native to struggle through a few torturous gigs without its drummer.

In short — it was the summer of our discontent.

Out of that tumult came some very good things, however — Mat, who had been growing by leaps and bounds as a songwriter and frontman, really took it to the next level; and, John Watts joined us to tickle those ivories that we were missing so badly.

By the early fall, we were recording again and had a new batch of songs featuring the stripped-down sound we had developed over the summer. Today’s song is one of the fruits of those sessions, and it’s a pip, in my opinion.

We’d been doing a lot of shows with a band called The GrasshoppersJason Appleton, Marcos Joachim, Chris Wilford, & Dave Hamburger – and they had a strong influence on us all, but Mat especially was drawn to their tight songs and cogent lyrics. It was a sound not derived as much from the jam band scene we were in as much as it was just pure, classic rock music of the highest order. We thought they were as good as The Beatles.

The affinity between to two bands would extend for years, indeed Mike appears on the cover of their great album, A Night At The Hoppera, and their influence would continue — but it starts right here with this great song from the pen of Mat Hutt.

Smoke In The Desert

Cornbread Wednesday