Friday, May 6, 2011

Code Blue Part Deux

If you're wondering what this entry is about, check out part one here.  If the lack of direct Alaskapade relevance bothers you, skip this and check back here in a few days.

The tracks for 508 Park were cut and we waited for the recording engineer to work his magic with the mix down.  That process included adjusting various levels, emphasizing this, minimizing that; whatever it took to make us sound better while maintaining our goal of not overproducing the record.  I thought the recording process was tenuous, but this was a mind numbing process.  The five of us all had opinions to offer on how the finished product should sound. Most of us were concerned with achieving a well-balanced sound and our input was along those lines.  I was primarily focused on the CD packaging and wanted to ensure everyone’s opinion and creative input were represented.  Jim’s input was consistently “I wanna hear more me”.  Once the mix down was complete, I delivered the master recording and artwork to the shop which would mass produce the CD for us.  I had been a PC geek for years and had some experience with graphics, but I was not prepared for the requirements that a four-color production would entail.  I learned fast and was happy with the final product.  The disc itself had a reflective image of the front of the 508 Park building.  It was a nice, professional touch for a low budget release.  The next obstacle was getting writing credits right.  It’s funny how when we were writing the tunes, everyone had input and the spirit of sharing and collaboration was high.  But once a name was to be assigned in the form of a writing credit, Jim’s ego had some competition.  I didn’t write anything, so I could care less other than I wanted the liner notes to be accurate.

I had read horror stories about bands being screwed over by record companies, former members, competing bands, etc. and ultimately losing the rights to their own material.  I wasn’t worried about a record company as much as I was worried about Jim.  We decided to copyright the CD and formed an equally-owned legal business entity. I had already trademarked the name Code Blue as a musical body, an action which would prove to be fortuitous.  Code Blue was a common band name, but none of the other Code Blues out there seemed to have any more notoriety than we did.  Still, it wasn’t uncommon for me to receive an email from some other like-named band from Austin or Houston demanding that we cease and desist using their name with threats of legal action if we didn’t.  They would usually cite the fact that they’ve been around longer or some other bullshit.  I usually just ignored them, but if they persisted and threw out the legal card, I would reply to them with a scanned copy of my copyright and trademark with a recommendation that they back off or my lawyers would be contacting them. Lawyers?  We ain’t got no stinkin’ lawyers. But it always worked nonetheless.  My feeling was they play where they are, we play here, and neither of us are likely to ever cross paths, so just go play your music and leave us alone.

All of us (except for maybe Jim) saw the band for what it really was; a creative outlet; a hobby that paid (sometimes).  When it didn’t feed our wallets, it almost always fed our egos. However, Jim wanted to be a rock star and would do anything to get there.  Code Blue was a stepping stone for him and he made no bones about it. The rest of us never felt threatened by this for two reasons. We saw the musical talent around us and recognized that there were some monster players out there with amazing talent that dwarfed us by comparison.  If those guys never “made it”, we never would.  We also knew that to a certain degree, we had brand recognition and could have another singer on board in a heartbeat if push came to shove.

Ken, aka Mr. Do It All
None of us (again, except for maybe Jim) ever expected the CD to launch us or anything. All I wanted from it was a piece of history; something to show for all the work we put into playing.  Anyone who thinks playing music in a band is easy has probably never done it.  Getting a group of people who have egos strong enough to stand before complete strangers and perform to work together, think alike, and just generally cooperate is a challenge.  On weekends when we played both Friday and Saturday nights, we usually blew off rehearsing the next week just so we could get away from each other.  By the third night on a three day weekend, we could barely stand to be in each others’ presence; and we were part timers doing this for fun.  I can’t imagine trying to live together on a tour for months on end.  I had neither the chops nor the commitment to put up with that nonsense.  After a long gigging weekend, I almost looked forward to getting back to my real job. Almost.

Having a real CD gave us a little more clout when it came to booking gigs and I always included clips from the tracks on the demo disk which was part of our promo pack. I knew the booking manager wouldn’t listen to any song entirely, so I picked the best parts of the best tracks and included them along with some live recordings to prove we really had people who liked us.  Code Blue was working as often as we wanted.  We weren’t getting rich by any means, but we were having a great time and I was able to sock away my share of the pay to buy more gear.  I became a gear junkie.  My drum kit never grew.  I played a 1974 Ludwig kit, usually just four shells and two cymbals.  I learned early on that the noise I could make with more drums and cymbals was negligible compared to the effort it took to haul, set up and tear down the larger kit.  Besides, having fewer pieces made me more creative with the ones I had and I felt it made me a better drummer.  I was into the PA gear and I owned everything the band had.  Unfortunately, I was also the only one who knew how to set up and configure it all.  This was probably for the best because I had a system.  Every cable was coiled into its own zip lock bag. and was packed into a specified case.  Every microphone had its own foam rubber storage spot in the trunks that hauled the gear. I even had a network diagram illustrating how and where every cable plugged into every piece of equipment.  Anyone who knew me personally was shocked at how neat I was with my gear because I was then, and still now, am a slob in most every other part of my life.  Nobody else in the band seemed to understand vocal compressors, feedback eliminators, and crossovers, so I did it all.

Me & a Rare Beer Shot
The more we played, the more the four of us gelled as a unit.  Notice I said four. Jim’s ego was growing so large that the rest of him barely fit on stage. He would go on tirades and throw fits which would as a result, get us banned from the venue. This usually happened when he drank which was usually all the time. Jim’s drinking at gigs forced me to institute a no bar tab for the band policy at the bar for whatever venue we played.  Besides, we had enough fans buying shots for us.  We (Jim) didn’t need any more.  The straw that broke the camel’s back was placed there after a gig at O’Riley’s in Dallas.  We had been trying to get into that venue for a year and when they had a late cancellation, I got the call.  This would have been a rare, albeit well-deserved weekend off for us, but we all wanted to play this venue, so I booked it and called the guys.  We played really well and the crowd loved us.  The bar made a killing and the management liked our show.  We sold a pile of CDs and the tip jar was stuffed.  Jim had been hitting on this blonde bartender all night and became increasingly frustrated as the evening went on because he wasn’t getting anywhere with her.  When the gig was over, we all did our usual banter with our friends who had come to see us play as we packed our gear.  Some people even asked us to autograph the CD they bought.  That was always odd to me and I never felt worthy.  Jim’s usual trick when it came to packing up was to grab his microphone and stand, proclaim “I got my shit”, and leave the rest of it for us to pack.  Sometimes he would hang around, but that was when he was broke and needed the cash from the gig right away.  I handled the majority of the booking and payment arrangements and as such, was the one who had to hunt down the venue management to get us paid.  For some reason, Jim took it upon himself to collect, and used that as a reason to hit on the bartender some more. She wasn’t having any of it.  I was doing my thing bagging up my drums and dismantling my hardware when I hear Jim screaming over at the bar.  I leapt off stage and got to the bar in time to head Jim yell “…you fucking bitch!”  Earlier that night, I spoke with the owner as we were loading in and he asked me how we wanted our money.  I replied “In cash”.  He laughed and said he would divide it any way we wanted it, so I asked for five envelopes with an even split.  The bartender had deducted Jim’s bar tab from his envelope and apparently, that didn’t leave much.  About the time I got there, the owner came bursting out of the office behind the bar, walked up to the bartender who was now crying and said “What’s the matter honey?”  The bartender was the owner’s wife.  I tried to smooth things over, but the damage was done.  This was the fourth venue that we were banned from because of Jim’s actions.  Jim was a misogynist who had no respect for women whatsoever.  He admitted to being married and divorced twice and was always chasing skirts.  He had a Realtor license and would con his way into working for high end brokers until his draw ran out and then he would move on. He was a first class dick, but the man could sing and write.

Dennis & Stu
Afterward, Jim had a few words with Ken and Dennis and they were now packing up and keeping to themselves.  Stu was also keeping to himself, but he was as angry as the rest of us.  Stu was probably the smartest guy in the band. He was by far the most educated.  He was a deep thinker and it showed in his lyrics.  A wise man wouldn’t mistake his quiet disposition for weakness.  When we were in junior high, Stu had finally had enough hazing from some stoner freak and pretty much disassembled him in gym class.  For my part, I was fucking furious.  Our name was Code Blue, but I was seeing red.  I was standing at the front of the stage meticulously coiling and bagging cables when Jim walked up and spouted off about what a dive the place was and how he did us a favor.  In a rare display of tranquility, I just looked away and kept working.  Not willing to leave it alone, Jim hopped up on stage, got right in my face, poking his finger in my chest and said “What!? You got a problem with me too?” I maintained my composure and while slowly, yet deliberately pushing his finger down, quietly replied “If you say one more word to me, the last thing you’ll do before you die is taste your own blood.”  Jimmy Wise, as he liked to call himself, wisely turned and walked away.  The bar’s front doors were locked and we had to exit from the back into an alley.  I had moved my car there to load out and was standing there when Jim made his exit.  Startled, he turned and hustled back in and asked Dennis to escort him out because he wasn’t going to give me a shot at him alone in a dark alley.  What a douche.  One of his original tunes we performed was called “Drama Queen”. I had no idea that he had written it about himself.  But I digress.  I had no violent intent towards him.  He was out of my life and he didn’t even know it yet.  Dennis walked out with Jim and he drove off.  That was the last time I ever saw him.

The rest of us met up in the parking lot and collectively spoke aloud what we had all already decided.  Jim was out.  We had gigs booked the next weekend and we needed a singer quicker than quick.  It was 3:00am and we were emotionally and physically beat.  We decided to get some sleep and discuss it the next day.  The next morning, Jim sent me an apologetic email.  In it, he wrote that he was willing to stay with the band, but added “you have no right to threaten my life, man.  You don’t get to do that.”  I chuckled as I forwarded it to the other guys.  The four of us got together that afternoon on the phone to be sure we were all still on the same page after some much needed sleep.  Ken, as the elder statesman of the band and the one Jim respected the most, volunteered to make the call to Jim.  It's a good thing nobody changed their mind because I had already edited Jim out of the web page completely.

Jim's Typical Pose
Jim told Ken that he had been considering leaving the band at the end of the year anyway.  He also demanded his share of the potential CD sales.  Jim figured that with 500 CDs left at $10 each, he was due one fifth of the potential $5,000.  We all had a good laugh over that one.  Ken was going to meet up with Jim to hand over some gear he had left in my studio.  I handed Ken a box of 100 CDs with instructions to tell Jim he could sell them for whatever he wanted, toss them out, whatever.  I learned later that he took them to independent CD shops around Dallas and left them for consignment.  I wasn’t concerned about them.  I had recouped my production and duplication investment and then some.  I wasn’t in this for the money anyway.

 There were more pressing issues at hand.  We had a gig at the largest biker bar in Denton in six days and we needed a lead singer.