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

Barefoot Girls

Before Native, your humble narrator was in a band called Kitchen Ethics. Based in Hell’s Kitchen, and helmed by Joel Golden, Mick Ryall, and Ron Brice, we were lucky enough to play gigs with Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, God Street Wine, and were a part of the burgeoning New York Rock Club Scene in the pre-Wetlands days when small clubs like Nightingale’s, and McGovern’s ruled the roost.

It was during this period that I started to take up a guitar and attempt to write songs. As a drummer, I’ve always tried to play with really good songwriters, and the day came when I had collected enough influences and arrangement practices that I was compelled to take it a step further and write the darn thing myself.

I was like Candide, throwing myself into the role of writer and hoping that sheer luck and effort would make up for things like not knowing the names of the chords, or how to play the guitar.

But, I had one very good advantage, as a drummer I knew very clearly what the beat was, and how I wanted it played. This may not sound like much, but let me tell you something, most of the songwriters I worked with, as good as they were, usually had no idea what they wanted, beat-wise. Quite often, I’d be playing a song and wonder if I had it right, and I seldom found out!

So, I was motivated to write songs from the beat up, and with the encouragement of the Kitchen Ethics guys, I wrote a little ditty called The Better Part Of Valor. Good title, but that’s about all that’s good in it. Oh, the band plays it fine, it’s the lyrics and melody, and singing that makes me absolutely sure that I’ll not be playing it for anyone.

Kitchen Ethics broke up, sadly, and I was left with The Radon Room in Mott Street. Two years later, at the same location, Native was getting going, and I decided to dust off this tune and give it a revamp. Inspired by the intoxicating sight of beautiful girls dancing around an open fire after a Grateful Dead concert, (and with Something Worth Remembering already under my belt) I proceeded to work up a tune that worked out pretty well, and would stay in our setlists for the rest of Native’s touring days.

We never recorded an album version, other than the epic live version found on Native’s cd – Live From Marmfington Farm Vol. 1. But, we *did* tape a demo of it during the sessions from Fall 1995 that have made up a big part of Nativology Vol. 2

In my humble opinion, it’s one of the best things we did in these sessions. So, take a trip back in time, to a Grateful Dead parking lot bonfire, and the silhouetted dancers around it, those —

Barefoot Girls

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

The Smallest Moon

Native’s chief songwriters are Mat Hutt and John Wood. Mike Jaimes wrote a few really good ones, and I was always champing at the bit with one of my little epics.

But, Matt Lyons very rarely brought in any compositions, being satisfied to contribute to the details of the various arrangements. However, there exists in the Native Vault one item that I’ve always loved — it’s a song that began life in the days when Anthony Ballsley was our singer, and we had a harder, more Rock sound.

It existed for a couple of years as an instrumental that only got played as we warmed-up during rehearsals, and was known informally as Ham & Eggs. It was never played at our gigs, but it was very strong, and we all thought it had promise.

Woody singingI asked Woody recently about the transformation the song underwent in the Summer months of 1995:

“The song, as I’m sure you’ll remember, was originally called Ham & Eggs. It predated me, and I don’t know if Matt Lyons wrote it, or if it was a collaboration. I always thought it would be a great song to try to write a melody for and I specifically wrote this song to go with the riff as opposed to how I usually write.

I had mostly always started with lyrics, then wrote the melody to fit. I learned a lot, writing that one. It was also very personal to me.”

When he brought the new lyrics in, renaming the song in the process, it was an immediate hit with the band, and for a brief time it enjoyed a regular place in our set lists. But, time and tide move on, and what was one day a sentimental favorite soon became a remembrance of pained separation and loss, and would be played nevermore.

Thus, the short lifespan of one of Woody’s all-time best lyrics, and Matt Lyons raging power chords was limited to a paltry few live tapes in our library. But, I cannot help feel a pang of nostalgia for those days, surely a golden period for Native, when the high point of our show would unquestionably be —

The Smallest Moon

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

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


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

Taking Out The Trash

Leave it to Mat Hutt to pen an ode to housework, albeit it’s been said the song also works as a metaphor on the subject of ridding oneself of unnecessary, destructive, hurtful alliances.

Recorded as part of Native‘s winter songwriting sessions in early 1995, today’s featured song became a staple of our set lists for a year or two and then disappeared, perhaps in part due to a misperception that it was about judging people negatively — the metaphor was taken too far!!! And being negative about things that are negative, can lead one down a virtual rabbit-hole of unabashed negativity. Perish the thought!

But, since it’s been taken too far, let’s explore this particular metaphor further, shall we? Grab a flashlight! Into the rabbit-hole!!!!

Let’s have a show of hands. Who amongst us does not have an acquaintance that drags down the quality of their life?

Ah, no hands raised. No surprises there, really.

We tend to let these relationships go, being nice people that we are, but they rarely turn into shining beacons of positivity do they?

No, sourpuss people tend to remain sourpusses and we don’t need them at all, nor do they serve much purpose except perhaps as examples on how not to live. And yet, we allow them to fester in the hope that we are not being diabolically judgmental.

Horses for courses, we say with an air of pompous humility.

Equally though, we all have the capacity to be that person. I know I have skirted the periphery of being a useless, needy Wormtongue of a friend on past occasions. I’ll leave out the fact that I have changed, because that would undermine my pompous humility.

But, this song is not about me, anyway! No, no, no! Perish the thought! Nor, is it about anyone else specifically — Mat was not big on metaphors, you see.

Very literal, that chap.

So, when I listen to this one — I just like to simply dwell on housework — cleaning carpets, dusting the dishware, shaving the cat, and how nice it would be if some needy, moany person would pop around and take over, instead of me having to soil my hands with it.

So, the moral of today’s lesson is — negative people have their place, and at times are quite useful, but this song is not about them.

Trash

Cornbread Wednesday