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

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

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!