The John Watts Era Comes To A Close

It was a sad day, indeed, when John Watts took the decision to leave Native.

He loved the band, but the schedule was punishing. And, it has to be said that, at this time, there was a bit of friction in band – some of which is my fault, so I bear a piece of the blame for driving him out.

When I met John, I was chuffed and delighted to bring him in for an audition with the band, and when he joined the band kicked up another notch in tightness, and our sound became even more musical and rich.

He was our most joyous, upbeat member, and that’s saying something considering we had the sparkling Mike Jaimes in the band.

On a personal level, he encouraged me to take my writing more seriously (to the bemusement of other members, who, I think, would have rather well-preferred I take it a lot less seriously!)

One example of how he helped me, was when he championed my newest song, Sweet Intensity, over the disinterest it had received when I played it for the guys. I really don’t think it would have become a Native song without his support.

I’ll readily confess – my general displeasure over how my material was being judged led to a bit of a bad attitude on my part in the later days of 1996, but there was another music-related factor that led to some inner-band conflict which disturbed John a lot.

I had started to feel a pain in my hands, stemming from my vice-like grip on the drumsticks. My punk-rock drumming approach had been getting more streamlined and sophisticated, but I retained the too-tight grip that, after long gigs, was leading to an aching soreness in my thumb joints.

John suggested I see a drum teacher he knew, and I very quietly started to take instruction which gave me all kinds of insight into how my grip was defeating my intent – why my drum fills were heavy-handed and sloppy, and how it contributed to an overall laxness in my playing, despite my high energy-level. I was working twice as hard for half the effect! Finding a better grip not only transformed my style, but the lack of pain was an enormous relief.

The problem was, I didn’t tell anyone else in the group about my lessons, and rather than increase my ability, the immediate result of my new grip was a drop in precision. It was going to take some time to get used to it, and in the meantime, I was playing very sloppily.

Then came a big band meeting, where I was confronted about my playing. Having already made moves to up my technique, I was angered by the interference. I sort of reflexively reacted to being provoked in a very confrontational band meeting, and was appalled that my playing had obviously been the subject of discussion behind my back.

The tensions in all this ultimately pushed the always convivial John Watts away from the band, and his era came to a sad close. The following months were what Chris Wyckoff has dubbed, ‘The Scary Time’, where Native soldiered on as a 5-piece. Fortunately, the first six months of 1997 saw very little taping at our shows, so there is scant evidence of my progress with the new grip.

The good part of the story is that I got my drumming problems sorted, and Native went on to continue our schedule of a hundred or more gigs per year, constant song-writing (which I was able to be a larger part of, thanks to the success of Sweet Intensity), and the recording of our best album – Exhale On Spring Street. During the recording of that epic, the reserved and tranquil Mr. Wyckoff joined our ranks, and all was well in the little town of Inisfree, once again.

So, the ending was happy, but when it comes to the subject of John Watts’ departure – I can’t think of anything funny to say about it. I wish he had stayed, and lord knows how we might have evolved if he had.

Bottom line — today’s tune brings Nativology Vol. 3 full circle. It began the era with a brilliant demo tape, and ended the era with a masterful performance at our home base – McGoverns Bar. We were much better than we were giving ourselves credit for.

Digging Holes (McGoverns 11-09-96)

Cornbread Wednesday

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Exhaling On Spring Street, Part Two

Special note: This week we got the sad news that our good friend, and Mat Hutt’s first wife, Rebecca Lyons, passed away after a courageous battle with breast cancer.

Needless to say, we are devastated by the loss of such a dear, beautiful comrade. Rebecca was there for so many of our exploits, it seems inconceivable she’s not here still.

Her heart was huge, her laugh contagious, and her spirit was infused with love.

So, with a misty eye, we dedicate this week’s post to her, and carry on as she would want us to. R.I.P.

The onset of winter, in November of 1996, brought with it a sense that the year had seen a lot of growth in the band. We had matured in our playing, and our songwriting, perhaps influenced by the sophisticated jazz leanings of our keyboardist, John Watts, was going to some very swanky places.

We were in a very much better state of confidence as well. Just a year earlier we were struggling to bounce back from the lack of success from our first album, and we were still adapting to the loss of John Epstein on keys. Now, as we looked forward to 1997, with a self-produced live album under our belts (Live From Marmfington Farm, Vol. 1), that was selling faster than we could believe, and an increasingly steady growth in our fanbase, there was a feeling we could do it all ourselves.

This was the dawn of the DIY age, for us. With even our management fighting amongst themselves, the band drew together – we relished rehearsing, and writing, and had learned enough about manufacturing a product so that it was all we wanted to do. To heck with producers, and trying to impress record company moguls who just didn’t get what we were about – we would undertake the production of our next studio album ourselves – or, rather, I should say I would take on the responsibility of organizing, funding, finding the studio, oversee the sessions, coordinate schedules, keep track of all the overdub sessions, invite the guest players, and all the leg work that entailed.

I didn’t realize it then, but I had become a Record Producer.

So, here we were, at the height of our powers, ready to undertake an album that would be a year in the making. Thank goodness, we had such a wealth of good material at hand.

With the debuts of today’s featured tunes, all the songs from the next album had been introduced, and were up and running well, thank you very much –with one big exception. But, that exception is a story for another day.

Right now, kick back on the alligator-skin sofa, sip a Black Velvet, or some other exotically-named libation, and check out the sounds of what were our latest songs in that fabled November, 1996.

Satisfaction (McGoverns 11-09-96)

Everything Must Happen (McGoverns 11-09-96)

Cornbread Wednesday

We Want Our Native!

Greetings, O minion of the greatest unknown band of the Rock era – Native!

Firstly, let us utter unto thy eyes our wishes, e’er so sincere, that thou hath observed a wonderful holiday season, with many blessings and thithings. May you, and your children, and their children’s children, and all of your long line find peace, love, drinkiness, and smokiness in this new year of our lord and taskmaster, Mat Hutt, who was born on December 25, 1237 b.c.

We are tardy in these betidings because of that recalcitrant knave, Dave, who lives in a cave, and will not behave, or make time between lashings to fulfill his quota of blogs. Scurrilous cur that he is, the feeble phrases of excusitude he offered gave us no recourse but to increase his torture. His words were anathema to our covenant — he’d been busying himself not on our behalf, but plying his efforts to the pursuit of making something called, “New music.” In shock, horror, and inertia, we digressed!

How, sayeth we, canst thy talents be cast so, in the vain quest for that which is not the true Native agenda? How canst thy already abhorrent countenance grow e’er more vile?

Sayeth his tongue with a smirk, “O reader of blogs, O members of the greatest band that no one but a chosen few hath witnessed – forgive my pleadings with more turns from your merciful whip, for I have strayed!

While the flock were still, I sallied forth and made music with shepherds from the nearby hills of Brooklyn, Bronx, and Hastings-On-Hudson. My co-conspirators also beg a lenient thirty lashings for laying down tracks in Satan’s Protools. My mixing and mastering cohort in evil has dethroned to the fallow basements of the New Hope Church, near Gowanus — working unto my songs a sound so pleasing, the angels will weep with antipathy.

Pray, my masters, you will forswear against reprisal upon our mistress of the internets, the crafty lass who has suffered to create a veritable portal to the stars — a website for my own domain in which I lurk and debauche with impunity and justice.

Click not this link, lest thy eyes behold the wonder of these labours:

www.davecave.me

The music, literature, art, and comic books found there will dazzle the soul of e’en the most tireless miscreant.

Do so in the faith and scepticism I have earned in my weekly vault-raiding, bloviating, humble servitude, and reverence to your memory. Hallowed be thy name – Native.

Knowest thou in thy hearts, O readers, that ‘pon the morn of Wednesday next, ye shall see revealed another piece of the puzzle – make that two pieces – in the enigmatic wonder, and conclusion, of the John Watts era as found in Nativology Vol. 3.

And we looked upon this work, and intoned in our least silly voice, “It is good.”

A Native Tribute to Jerry Garcia

A few weeks ago, we shared a couple of tunes from this extraordinary tape, recorded on 8-14-96, four days after the first anniversary of the death of Jerry Garcia.

As a band, we were as indebted to Jerry’s legacy as any other band, for to be sure — his influence was almost omnipresent in the music of the day, and of the present, even with artists who might not be readily-associated in any way with The Grateful Dead.

We, having a certain Mike Jaimes in the band, were always going to have more than a touch of the Dead in our music, despite the fact that in the first four years of our existence, we had never covered a single song from the great American songbook of Jerome Garcia & Robert Hunter.

But, there was always the tacit understanding that Jerry was to Mike, what Chuck Berry was to Keith Richards – an all-pervasive influence. Mike assimilated Jerry so thoroughly that he was able to built on the influence, creating his own style which stands as unique from Jerry’s as, well, Keith is from Chuck Berry. And, Mike built a small army of fans who loved the connection whilst celebrating the evolution, and revolution of his mastery.

Despite all this, it was seen as a bold step for Native to finally step up to the plate and take a swing at a Dead tune. It was the event, and sad acknowledgement of Jerry’s passing that led to todays offerings, which include the song we deemed fitting for the event, and remains a treasured memory to this day. We returned to the tune a couple more times, always at a special moment or occasion requiring a life-affirming statement, of which it is a perfect example.

So, please enjoy this penultimate piece of Nativology Vol. 3, as we near the end of John Watt’s thrilling tenure with the band. We’ll have one more offering next week, and then we plan a little break before turning to the DAT shelf, and the onset of the fearsome Wykcoff Epoch, as will be found in Vol. 4, saints preserve us!

Now, kick back and get ready for a buttery slab of cornbread & Jagermeister, as we share four songs recorded deep within the hallowed edifices of McGovern’s Bar, located at the corner of Spring Street and the edge of the universe —

In Or Out
Love Your Love
Fragile Clown
The Wheel

Cornbread Wednesday

Another Cornbread Wednesday!

As with the last few posts, we’ve been going through the Native tapes from that hallowed era – 1996, when men were men, women were women, pants were optional, and Native was effing Native!

This week, to make up for being absent in our duties to bring you the best bloggage we possibly can last week, we give you not one, nor two, not even three, we give you four songs from the treasure trove of great McGovern’s tapes that were spun by our dear friend and manager, Paul Ducharme, and our equally dear aboriginal misfit/soundman, John Fitzwater.

We’d like you to think of these four cracking numbers as bonus tracks to our album, Live From Marmfington Farm, Vol. 1. For, lo! They emanate from the same time period that yielded the performances heard therein.

This particular night, many of the songs ended up incomplete on the tape that resides in our monolithic vaults deep beneath Mount Olympia in the garment district of Manhattan.

The tape is mind-bendingly incomplete – more songs are cut off than those that aren’t.

But, miraculously, these four astounding performances tell the tale of that fabled night. We begin as Mike Jaimes, arguably one of the greatest guitarists in the history of ever, teases the crowd with a small, delightful snatch of an iconic tune —

Interested Third Party (McGovern’s 6-3-96)
Big Boss Man (McGovern’s 6-3-96)
I Am (McGovern’s 6-3-96)
Corrina (McGovern’s 6-3-96)

Cornbread Wednesday

Ladies & Gentlemen, Mister John Watts!

This weeks Nativology excavation is, as far as we can remember, the only song John Watts wrote and sang lead on in his entire amazing 2005-07 tenure. Our memories of those smokey, smokey, drinky, drinky days are hazy at best, so don’t quote us on that one. As drummer Dave ‘Hollywood‘ Thomas continues to unearth rarities from our vault, we may yet find another example of his way with a melody. We sure hope so.

John is very good at arranging, which was the great boon of having him in the studio when the songs were in their nascent stages. Things like the middle bits of as tune — the solo, the breakdown, the bridge, or just the good old bog-standard one-note jam — all these things and more were John’s stock in trade. For the most part, Mat Hutt & John Wood were the songwriting dynamos, with Dave bringing in a tune now and then. Every great once in a while Mike Jaimes would bring in a song, but that was becoming more and more infrequent – he, like John, loved to delve into the arrangements. And if all that talent was stymied for an idea, we could count on Matt Lyons for that crucial way out of a musical painted corner.

It was a hothouse atmosphere of creativity at Marmfington Farm in the year of 1996, when Native ever so briefly added this really great tune to our setlists.

Listen for the excellent harmonies, the metaphor-laden lyrics and playful vocal of Mr. Watts. And, don’t miss the show-stopping solo by Mike.

Most bands would kill to have a song like it in their repertoire, but with a songlist bursting with riches, today’s featured tune suffered a very short shelf life. So far, this is the only recording we have of it.

So, thank goodness it’s a fantastic recording made by the staff at Wetlands — Dave Nolan and John Laterza.

Ladies & Gents — here’s John Watts schooling us all about the beast within, the —

Tyrannosaurus

I’m No Boss

By late summer 1996, Native was either gigging, recording, or rehearsing nearly every day of the week. We were on an incredible ride thanks to our manager’s, Paul Ducharme’s, growing contact list, and the various NYC clubs where we had built relationships where they just automatically booked the band on a monthly, bi-monthly, or (in the case of McGovern’s Bar on Spring Street, near the Hudson River) weekly residencies.

McGovern’s was such a special place for us. The owner, Steve Greenberg, had befriended Dave in the pre-Native days, and was soon to become a faithful comrade of everyone in and around Native, providing gigs in our earliest days, and support in ways that helped us survive those early days — indeed, both Mike Jaimes and Mat Hutt tended the bar, and John Fitzwater ran the sound system, when they needed cash to pay their bills and feed their faces.

In many ways, it was home base to us in the same way Marmfington Farm was, and it cannot be said strongly enough that without Steve’s belief in us, and all his good will, and support — we may not have been able to keep going.

Cornbread Wednesday

As it was, we were able to do more than keep going, we were developing new music at a mercurial pace, and it was during this period that we abandoned making demo tapes and just started playing the new stuff each Wednesday. We found that a positive audience reaction to a song was worth more than listening to the tapes a thousand times. Our night was soon dubbed ‘Cornbread Wednesday’ and it was almost always the highlight of our week (and, the tradition of showcasing new music continues to this day in

this very blog upon which you now gaze adoringly).

Another fixture of McGovern’s was an old-timer who sat at the end of the bar at each and every gig. His name escapes me now, but it doesn’t matter really…. every bar has an old guy like him. Sipping mixed drinks and scowling in a way that makes you think they are not enjoying themselves very much. And yet, next time you play that club, there he is, sitting in the same spot, telling stories about stuff that happened before you were born.

Today’s tune is Mat Hutt’s tribute to that old guy, and all the others like him. We had put it on the Live From Marmfington Farm, Vol. 1 album earlier that year in a version recorded at Wetlands, but this one is from the place were it originated — McGovern’s. I like to think that the old guy is still sitting at that bar, telling war stories, complaining about how awful everything is, and profanely proclaiming —

I’m No Boss

You Keep Me Running Smooth

Hey Native People!

Dave Thomas here (just back from my successful negotiation of a peace accord between Mongolia and Peru).

Just to bring the Novatates up to speed — when I’m not saving the world from itself, I’m the drummer in the band. Yeah, by day I’m Mister My Brain’s Larger Than Yours, and I speak only in Minutiae; by night, I’m Animal from The Muppets with an I.Q. like a black hole. In between, I harness the music that lies dormant and petulant in the Native Vault, located far below Fort Knox, Switzerland.

As curator of this vast rubble, it has been my solemn task to present a rare Native performance each week in this blog which you now hold between your sweaty thumb and aorta.

We are currently up to Volume 3 of the epic Nativology series, wherein we investigate the mysteries of Native’s oeuvre by making new mixes from these things humans once called cassette tapes, some of which have been unplayed for tens of years.

Usually, we have put forth recordings that emanated from multi-track tapes, produced in our luxurious studio, Marmfington Farm in sunny Mid-Town Manhattan. All the previous tracks in Vol. 3 have been the product of overdubs and weed.

Now, we sadly bid adieu or orderve to that era. All our mighty, unfocused super powers would be slightly more focused on preparing for the recording of a proper album. But, we also were reminded from time-to-time by that wonderful Leprechaun, Gigs O’Plenty, that we had to go play music in public, and it had to be good, and it was!

But, live gig tapes can be a frustrating menace to endure. The first song is almost always going like a flesh freight train, full steam ahead, before the record button was finally engaged. And get ready for vast sea-changes in volume thoughout the next three to ten songs. Bemusedly, I’ve lost count of the face-palms I’ve made as my and Woody’s carefully unscripted drum solo ends mid-cowbell-triplet with the premature end of side one. Side two, yep, we’ve lost the beginning of that song, too.

DAT tapes came along eventually, and ended the practice of making sure we had no complete drum solos (except one – found on Live From Marmfington Farm Vol.1), but these tiny VHS-like tapes had their own set of peculiarities — brittle, digital sound, and the life-expectancy of an ant with a low white blood-cell count.

So, I’m concentrating on Cassettes for now, as we ease full-bore into the second half of Vol. 3, and the John Watts era is encapsulated by the abundance of what I call ‘orphan’ recordings — great performances found on tapes that are otherwise filled with cut songs, drop-outs, & other sound-related issues.

Here’s a tune from our first album, which stars the affable and bizarre John Watts, in a stirring exercise of ivory-tickling —

Running Smooth

Cornbread Wednesday

One hour of sleep, a one-lane road, and coffee – my co-pilot

I remember when I wrote that lyric. It’s emblazoned on my brain.

It was in the fall of 1996, and Native had been steeped in a period of heavy creativity. But, I had not contributed anything more than the three-year old Barefoot Girls, and I was bound and determined to rectify that situation.

Now, a cursory look back over the sheer number of new songs we’d recorded demos of in the previous year, is daunting. We had more first-class material with which to make an album than we needed. Rover, Digging Holes, Restless, 155 — pretty daunting competition, especially in light of the fact that I’d not brought a new song in during all the tumultuous period stretching back to John Epstein’s reign of benign terror.

Actually, my most recent composition was from ’94 — Missionary Man. A beautiful song, but preachy, and there turned out to be a big hit song with the same name by The Eurythmics. Native dutifully learned it, played it one or two times, and it was quietly dropped. In my embarrassment at that failure, I had foresworn to do better.

All through the next year, I regaled the band with a series of tunes that showed great development in the songwriting department, but they missed the mark in terms of being right for the band. Some were very pop-oriented, some hearkened back to the hard-rock Native of the Anthony Ballsley era, and some were just plain strange.

No wonder that my newest creation was met with a bit of skepticism and poorly-masked dread. I’ve often joked that a band’s worst fear is a drummer who writes, and that joke stems from this period. Nevertheless, I soldiered on in earnest effort. I had a lot of music in head, and it needed to come out or I was going to go crazy. Or, maybe I was crazy and was trying to work my way back to sanity, and music was my medium. I became fixed on the idea of coming up with a song that would put my yearnings into a palatable package.

Suddenly, I did just that. So, surprised was I at my breaking through the ice-field of my creative impasse, that I prematurely presented the new opus to our lead singer.

Mat Hutt was sat in the living room at Marmfington Farm, our loft on W. 26th Street, enjoying a bit of telly with his girlfriend, Rebecca Lyons. His initial reaction, upon being assaulted with this half-formed ditty, was non-committal and rightfully so — there had been a fair few clunkers already from my pen, and my scratchy guitar stylings coupled with a singing technique that could be likened to the sound of a chalkboard being massaged with barbed wire, didn’t help.

In desperation, keyboard-tickler John Watts suggested I demo the song on the trusty Tascam 8-track and try to hone the performance into something that doesn’t make people want to throw themselves off the nearest tall building.

This is precisely what I did. In the process, the song went from being called One Track Mind, to the more metaphorical-sounding One Lane Road. But, that didn’t work very well in the chorus, which required a repetitive rhythmic string of word-things. Suddenly, in a moment of clarity (or super-stonedness) I hit upon a unique combination of adjective and noun, and the chorus was in place. Matt Lyons did a session, laying down a bass track. And that was it. I mixed it with a ton of reverb, and that was that.

Hearing it again, after all this time, I’m struck by the things that are exactly the same – the guitar chords & its rhythmic pattern, the vocal melody & most of the harmonies; and, I’m equally struck by the things that went through a transformation into something better.

When John Watts heard the demo, he laughed heartily and said, “Here’s what I think you’re trying to do,” whereupon he played it on his piano with exactly the feel that I was shooting for. Mike Jaimes later added the distinctive roto-vibe guitar part that I can’t get out of my head to this day, such is its brilliance. Matt Lyons had a chance to build upon the structures of his bassline, adding the bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp that sends a shiver to the spine, and the mysterious driver of the song down that barren stretch of lonely highway.

When Mat & John Wood’s voices aligned with my lyrics, the rehearsal room erupted in smiles all around as they miraculously recreated the good parts of my vocal performance, and improved the less-than-good parts.

I had achieved my goal. The iceberg impasse was broken. And the demo I’d made was quickly set aside without benefit of Messers. Watts, Hutt, or Jaimes’ contribution. It lay dormant and forgotton, until today.

What you are about to hear is the very-rough demo that sparked Mr. Watts to leap into the fray and help it become a Native standard that graced every single gig we played in the aftermath of that hallowed, feverish period of late 1996.

I’ve made a lot of demos since then, but none more momentous for me personally than the one where I learned a bit of performance craft, and found that if you take two words that don’t go together, you might come up with a title that has some magic in it. Something like —

Sweet Intensity

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