In which I find a treasure trove in a black plastic bag
I had given up hope. I really had. I’d held on to a battered old cassette with its faded, tan sticker that read Cancer Diet and Toots and Hot Tubs, two songs that Jack O’Hara and I produced for our pals, the proto-punk band from Marin, Wet Nurse, back in 1981. There was another song on that tape: the only copy. I knew I had lost it when I moved to Nashville. It was thirty years old anyway and probably wouldn’t play even if it did turn up. I had searched through everything before in vain.
We made the recordings at my tiny four track studio in an incorporation yard in San Rafael, California. The yard was an industrial site where trucks dropped dumpsters and piles of building materials. Among the detritus were a couple of sheds, the kind that could be loaded up on trucks and taken to construction sites to be used as temporary offices for contractors.
One of the sheds was a bit heavier than the others. It actually was hooked up to the sewer and had a toilet, though no sink. Nice. No germ cleaner in those days, either. The good old days. We don’t have to shake hands, buys and gals.
No matter, the rent was right; I think our friend Boom-Boom let me use for free it as long as I helped him once in awhile with his nutso and fun recordings. Those sessions were champagne and lines and reefers a-plenty. I only had a Teac four-track tape machine; a bulky old thing that I swear was squirrel-powered. You had to be very creative to record on it, combining tracks in what was called ping-ponging. My partner in crime was Jack O’Hara, the lead guitarist and a force behind cult –pub- rockers Eggs Over Easy (with Austin DeLone). Jack was a master at recording bands with whatever was available.
Most of the time I had the one-room shed to myself. I went there every day and made noise in the construction zone. Where America goes to work. There was no window, so I left the door open for ventilation. Often I’d look up and find a couple of guys in hard hats sitting on the doorjamb, eating their sandwiches and listening to my noise. Hey, man! Some of that noise made the top of the charts eventually.
I used the four- track and a handful of early effects to make my own little records. I had a drum machine that had six beats: Rock 1, Rock 2, rhumba, samba, polka, and waltz. Rock 1 was the beat. I used a tiny spring reverb unit and ran everything through it. I must have had a blue Boss chorus pedal; doesn’t everyone? I played my Fender jazz bass, and whatever guitar that came to hand. I was so poor that I was using borrowed guitars then. Gray Vogensen, my guitar pal who played in my band, loaned me his Ovation acoustic electric, which I loved, loved, loved. I also had a Fender Strat. Last year Gary’s brother Craig sent me the Ovation as a gift!.
I won’t go into how I wrote 867-5309/Jenny right now. Buy the frikkin’ book! LOL . But I wrote it one morning, went to the shed at 11 AM, recorded the track, snag the name and number, and after Jim Keller of Tommy Tutone came by and heard it and had the insight that it was a girl’s number of bathroom wall (the perv! LOL) finished the little demo by about 5PM. It’s a one-day song. By the time Jim showed up, I had recorded the track, guitar lick, Jenny and 867-5309 and had scatted the rest of the vocals in place. Jim and I goofed the verse lyrics and the “I got it” parts. We took the cassette back to my house and my wife Dede and Jim and I danced around the kitchen to it with our little boy, James, who was a toddler.
Somehow the only version I had of the original song was on the end of this Wet Nurse cassette. Who knew the song would ever be a hit?
I held on to the cassette through the years, down to Los Angeles, back to Mill Valley, out to Muir Beach, across the country to Nashville, from my first rental house, to the house I bought. Then I moved down the block eight years ago. Just four houses down from my other house. I knew where the cassette was: in the big box with my DATs and other cassettes.
When I put my stuff in the new house I parked the box of tapes in the garage. One day I went through it. Where was the cassette of 867-5309 with its tiny crabbed letters on the faded label?
Gone. Not in the box. I had a moment of panic. I dug through all my hiding places. It was gone. Nowhere. Oh, crap!
I like to toss stuff. I’m the dumpster king. Toss it! I must have tossed it, too. Not the first thing. I even left my old Teac four-track machine in a rain-filled dumpster when I left California for the last time in 1998. Dang. Gone
So yesterday, there I was again. 1-800-got- junk had come and hauled off a bunch of crap from my garage. Crap accumulates if you let it. It attracts other crap. The junk guys couldn’t take it all in their truck. The rest I would reorganize.
I went through a stack of boxes: fly fishing stuff, old CD’s, gewgaws and whatzits. Toss. Toss. A black plastic bag. Toss. Wait: a clatter of cassettes. I’ll toss them one at time, just in case there’s something there. I had no hope. Hope hadn’t even entered my mind. I might just find some song that could be useful.
I began to flip them one at a time into my giant blue garbage can. Then I saw a tape with my old song Love Dogs on it. Could that be the version of Love Dogs I recorded with John McFee and Keith Knudsen back in 1979? I wanted that tape. I started looking though the others in the bag. A lot of old songs I couldn’t remember. Mid-80’s stuff, some older. I wrote lot of songs over the years.
Then it came out of the dirty old bag and to my hand and I knew it at once. My heart actually skipped a couple of extra beats. Then it raced. Jenny!
I got my keys and started my car. The only cassette deck I had. Toots and Hot Tubs, Cancer Diet. No warble, no drop outs. I fast forwarded frantically, searching for the beginning. I knew the first couple of notes were cut off, I remembered that.
Oh, my Lord in heaven.
There it was. Clear as that day in 1981. The riff, the beat, 867-5309. Jenny! It sounded awesome. I had been afraid that if I ever found it, it would disappoint me in terms of sonic quality, but no. I ran upstairs to my studio and hooked up my cassette deck and loaded it into Cubase. I got it!
Not only that, but once I had the cassette deck hooked up I gave a listen to the other tapes. Song after song I barely remembered, if at all. Hey, these are hit songs! I started loading them onto my computer. Wow. Lots of great recordings I had made on my eight-track. My memories stirred like sleeping dragons. Why had no one cut these in ’85 or ’88? Dang. These would make a great album.
The phone rang: It was Mike Somavilla, who sets up album deals in Europe from old rock band tapes. He had sent me some old Clover stuff he wanted to get deal with in Germany. I hadn’t called him back yet. I had to let him down easy. I hated the Clover demos. We couldn’t put them out; they were just too crappy sounding. But I asked him: what about 80’s stuff? He said for me, most likely we could do a deal.
Berlin, here I come!
As for 867-5309/Jenny? I will probably make a video and post it on YouTube and Facebook. Maybe I’ll give a CD of it away with each book I sell. Can’t say just yet.
Sell it on eBay? No way, Jose’ (bidding starts at $500,000.00!)
I got it!