I’m pleased to report that my previous blog, on the origins of 4/20 celebrations, appeared on the Huffington Post under my name. My 4/20 blog was online at CannabisCulture.com for three weeks in the run-up to the worldwide celebration on Saturday, April 20, which attracted a larger attendance and more media throughout North America than ever before.
This blog was delayed for some weeks as a consequence. It’s a much more personal piece about my rock and roll band here in an American federal prison, and goes with the new photos of me and my band in the prison music studio. The name of the band is Yazoo, and our most recent concert was on Saturday, March 16th. It was our 13th concert since our first performance on July 2nd, 2011. The show was done under gloriously sunny skies from 12:30pm to 3:00pm in the ‘inner’ rec yard, in temperatures of about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23C) – a perfect day, and we all felt it was one of best concerts ever. This is our set list for that show:
Boys Are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy)
Last Resort (Papa Roach)
Blues Deluxe (Joe Bonnamesa)
Black Magic Woman (Santana)
Crazy Train (Ozzy)
Enter Sandman (Metallica)
Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid (Led Zeppelin)
Kryptonite (3 Doors Down)
Green River (Credence Clearwater Revival)
Texas Flood (Stevie Ray Vaughan)
Running Down a Dream (Tom Petty)
Come Together (Beatles)
Plush (Stone Temple Pilots)
Stormy Monday (Allman Brothers version)
Jumpin Jack Flash (Rolling Stones)
Sunshine of Your love (Cream)
Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Pride & Joy (Stevie Ray)
Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix)
Voodoo Child (Jimi Hendrix)
In early March, we were able to take photographs of our band performing in the band rehearsal room (the photos that accompany this blog). All the equipment in the music program, and all equipment or recreational items used by the inmates, are paid for by the inmates expenditures at the commissary (the inmate grocery store). After all costs of service and goods sold at the commissary are deducted, the profits of the inmate store are used to finance all recreational activities in the prison, including televisions, cable programming, all athletic equipment, music equipment, pool tables, exercise equipment, and so on.
My band gets to use the band rehearsal room for 3-4 hours on Thursdays, and we practice in the rec area every day for 1-3 hours daily individually or in pairs. Our songs are done note-for-note like the originals, except we usually have a solo by Terry or Don, and then an outro solo by the other, so a number of our songs will have two solos (like Enter Sandman, Voodoo Child, Texas Flood, Running Down a Dream, and Stormy Monday). Most of the others are identical to the recorded version, except we develop an ending in the case of a recorded version that fades out.
Our vocalist for most songs is Chap (Robert Chappell), whom you can see in the main band photo (at the top of this blog) singing ‘Red House’ (Jimi Hendrix) in the band rehearsal room. Chap is an excellent guitarist and a terrific bass player, much better than me, but fortunately (for me!) he is busy doing the vocal chores for the band, and plays the lead or rhythm guitar when Don sings.
Doing back-up vocalist and playing rhythm/lead guitar is Don Salisbury, whom you can see singing in the photo to the right; in that instance he is singing ‘Green River’ by CCR. Don is working on hard on his singing and gets two to three songs to sing in each set. Usually though, Don alternates with guitarist Terry for rhythm (when Terry is playing lead) and lead (when Terry is playing rhythm). Don’s forte is the blues guitar, and Don often reminds me of how Eric Clapton plays.
Our drummer, Jermaine Moss, known to all here as Sapp, is a remarkably talented drummer with great instincts. Unlike the rest of the band, who get to practice up to several hours a day on our instruments or voices outside of the studio, there is no drum practice opportunity so he gets only the two and a half hours weekly at our band rehearsal, and performance at our concert. Yet Sapp is so talented he can pick up an entire song by hearing it just once, or often having never heard the song, he intuitively understands where a song is supposed to go, and makes playing bass so much easier for me, as he cues me on each change in a song. Getting an action shot for Sapp was difficult, because the snare and kick drums are out of view, and only one shot out of several caught Sapp with the drum sticks in motion.
Terry Griffith is our lead guitarist, but Terry is really the lead musician in the band. Terry is the most accomplished guitarist among three excellent guitarists, and the teacher to the others, as he has played for almost 30 years and understands scales and guitar theory the most. Terry played professionally in bands for about 15 years on the outside, most notably in a band called Rags & Bush Doctor, a Spokane-area band. Terry can play any kind of genre very well, and is also an outstanding bass player and composer of bass lines. When I have to come up with a bass line to a song, and no bass sheet music exists for it, Terry will listen to the song for 30 minutes and then be able to teach me how the bass lines go.
While all the others have ten years to near 30 years experience as musicians, I have only 22 months experience on the bass. Prior to that I had never picked up an instrument in my life, nor did I think I had any talent to ever play an instrument. I may not have much talent really, but I have a very good memory and a real desire to play.
I am thrilled every day to actually be in a band with musicians of this outstanding caliber. But their ability to quickly learn a song puts pressure on me to catch on quickly. So I have tended to sacrifice my theory education (major and minor scales, pentatonic scales, modes) in order to spend my time learning songs.
Although I use a Carvin electric bass in the band rehearsal studio and in our outdoor concerts, I practice daily on these big unwieldy acoustic basses. I don’t have the finger memory that Chap, Don and Terry have; when they play they rarely look at their guitars, they know where their fingers are and where they are going to. I can look away for a period of time on a simpler bass line, as in Running Down A Dream (Tom Petty), but something like Black Magic Woman, Stormy Monday, Texas Flood, Heartbreaker, etc., I cannot look away from the bass because I will not hit the correct fret with accuracy if I’m not looking.
So that’s why most photos of me are me staring at the bass. I know in performance you are supposed to look at the audience, but if I do that for any length of time, I will hit some sour notes – and boy, when you hit a wrong note, you can sure hear it! When anyone in the band hits a wrong note, or wrong chord, it’s very noticeable to the other musicians.
Our next concert is around the Memorial Day weekend, likely on Saturday, May 25th. We have added a considerable number of songs to our repertoire since our last show in March. I have been practicing about three hours a day and the increased practice time is paying off. Here is our set list for the Memorial Day show:
1. Panama (Van Halen)
2. Sharp Dressed Man (ZZ Top)
3. Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen (Santana)
4. Enter Sandman (Metallica)
5. Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid (Led Zeppelin)
6. Peace of Mind (Boston)
7. Last Resort (Papa Roach)
8. White Wedding (Billy Idol)
9. Blues Deluxe (Joe Bonnamesa)
10. Your Disease (Saliva)
11. Classical Gas (Mason Williams) solo by Terry
12. Green River (Credence Clearwater Revival) Don on vocals/Chap on guitar
13. Tuesday’s Gone (Lynyrd Skynyrd) Don on vocals/Chap on guitar
14. Only God Knows Why (Kid Rock) Don on vocals/Chap guitar
15. Boys are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy)
16. Come As You Are (Nirvana)
17. You Really Got Me/Ain’t Talking Bout Love (Van Halen medley)
18. Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne)
19. Texas Flood (Stevie Ray Vaughan)
20. Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin)
21. Voodoo Child (Led Zeppelin)
My band needs guitar tab books, which are collections of songs in sheet music that we can learn songs from, that we will later perform. If you, dear reader, would like to send a guitar or bass tab book from Amazon or any book store (as all materials must come from a store of some kind, since individuals cannot send anything personally by mail except letters and photos), please check out my Amazon.com wishlist.
Any music tab books there that you care to send would be greatly appreciated. My future ambition is that the songs I learn to play here will be performed when I’m in a band at the BCMP Lounge, once I have returned home. And then you can see me play the bass in a rock and roll band that the free world will be able to hear!