The Best Twenty Nine Bucks

I was twelve. I know because I had a paper route and twelve was the bottom end of that gig. One block north of me a classic neighborhood 60’s garage band practiced. “The Cobras”. We’d sit on our bikes in the driveway across the street. The teenagers, including way too many cute girls, got the prime spot on the driveway in front of the band. “Down in the Boondocks”, just like the record. The keyboard player had a Wurlitzer 112. The tan/mauve colored one with the white and gold splatter paint. The Wurlitzer had tremolo through the nasty on-board speakers. WAAAaaahhhWAAAaaaahhhAHH…Whoa! I fell in love with that piano. They had one just like it at Larsen’s, the music store in the open air mall. I’d go close the glass door to the room it was in, along with the Vox Jaguar organ. And dream loud and large until somebody told me my mom was calling.

My parents bought me the Jaguar and a Vox Essex bass amp. The Essex was the one with a concrete slab in the bottom to keep it from wandering off stage from bass vibration. But no stereo tremolo. I bought myself a Wurlitzer EP200 when I was twenty. With stereo tremolo. Back then it was pretty easy for me to find a relaxed state of consciousness as well as some free time, and stereo trem was the way I spent a lot of it. Something about the spacey undulation of sound. Tone combined with movement. A kind of audio dance. When you grow up with one speaker in the center of the dash, one organ amp, one bass amp and then discover you have two ears and can fill them yourself? Epiphany.

Then? A Fender Rhodes 88 with a Satellite system. Are you kidding me? Stereo tremolo designed by God with speakers spread out across the back room of Driver’s Music. They’d see me coming and lock the door. I owned a Hohner Pianet a few years later, the one with suction cup action. You can see it sitting under the two Micro Moogs in my Gravatar. I ran it through a Mu-Tron Pedal Flanger, an EH Freq Analyzer and a Mu-Tron Bi-Phase. The end result, if the red lights were on for all of them, was quite often musically useless. But talk about some awesome stereo tremolo.


A long time ago, when my daughter was three or four, the Wyndham owned the Hotel Galvez and it felt like part of the set from The Great Gatsby. The big party wing off the lobby was still an Art Deco bar with tall windows, wispy curtains and the whole place felt like romance. The pool and steam room were still out front surrounded by lush landscaping. The restaurant was all polished brass rails and starched tablecloths and offered “a fine Gulf Coast dining experience.” The chef even took the time to come ask my wife how she liked the lobster and gave away free, melt in your mouth desert samples while he was at it. And a small, spacey black man I came to admire greatly over the next twenty-five years named Joe Sewell played piano in the restaurant/lobby.

Joe was a melody piano bar man, not a singer or sing-a-long guy, and when he saw our daughter fidgeting while we waited for dinner he launched into a twenty-five minute Disney medley that sent her right off on a musical magic carpet ride. I’m not rich or flashy, but I am a piano player, of a sort. I got up, put a twenty in Joe’s tip jar, told him “Thanks,” and complimented him. His style was simple, melodic. None of the unnecessary arpeggios and jazz pyrotechnics to prove to anyone listening he went to music school too long or was better than his gig. He stated the chord, played the melody. Just the song. Joe could play Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and not stride out the left hand. At all. But it worked, because you could hum the melody with him, eat, admonish your kid to do the same, and chill. His interpretations became a component of the light sea breeze that blew through the lobby like an audible Wyeth watercolor.

“I could sit on my left hand and just play the part you can whistle,” Joe said. “Folks need to remember how their dinner was, how maybe a song they liked was part of it, what their memories will be. Not what kind of piano player I was. I’m here to play music for makin’ good memories. Least, that’s the way I see what I do.” I still consider that to be one of the best pieces of indirect advice I ever got. And easily the best twenty bucks I ever spent.


I have this electric piano app from IK Multimedia, iLectric. It was on sale one weekend for $9.99, with an extra library thrown in. I am not a fan of sampled anything. In fact, I am a full blown snob about AI and real-time physical modelling (Backstory) as opposed to sampling. But simple, as Joe said, is always a wise choice. The app gives me the same lack of control(s) the pianos themselves offered. That is to say little or none. And at a fraction, and I mean a small fraction, of the original cost of just one piano. Now I get pretty pictures of many electric pianos on my iPad, along with audio Polaroids of their sounds. Even the horrid suction cup reed sucking of my Hohner Pianet. ALL with a Stereo Trem knob. I got over myself and my anti-sampled rant when I heard the app. An electro-mechanical piano is what it is. Reeds or tines vibrate, the amp modulates (in stereo!), no frills. But the sound of those pianos straight, chorused, flanged, auto-wahed and stereo tremoloed pushed thousands of songs, sold gazillions of records, and got me through everything from avant garde Prog and Fusion to Blues, R&B, Jacuzzi Jazz, pop ballad shlock and a hundred and fifty strings easy listening elevator music. And more than one shit gig backing an Elvis impersonator or an ex Miss Oklahoma with a bleached out mustache.

As a safeguard against being caught without stereo trem I asked for, and received a Christmas past from my son-in-law, an ElectroHarmonix Pulsar. Stereo trem to go. On anything that makes noise.

Simple and Stereo Tremolo are two things I’ll believe in forever. Twenty-nine bucks. With a dash of major sevenths and some free time? Gone, baby, gone. I wish every twenty-nine dollar hole in my pocket had been as good to me as Joe Sewell. And Stereo Tremolo.


Looney Lunes #155

Titles and Headlines

I wonder, when I see things like this, if a LOT of thought went into them, or none. 

First of all, how cumbersome and uncomfortable!

WTF was AARP thinking?

Looney Lunes #154

Hollywood Blockbuster – The Death of Logic

If We Exhale More Than We Inhale We Feed The Plants. This Will End World Hunger.
tweet from actor Jaden Smith

So much for Newton’s Third Law.

I love them. Love them. I think the more positive approach you have to smoking, the less harmful it is.
Actress Sienna Miller

All you positivity MEME hounds? That is an example of what happens when the power of positive thinking is in the path of a rolling blackout.

Smoking kills. If you’re killed you’ve lost a very important part of your life.
Brooke Shields

Okay, maybe Brooke was a near death of logic experience.

Looney Lunes #153

Politi-Speak 101 – Smoke Screens and Nonsense

They had men’s underwear on for half price. I bought a bunch that was clearly too small for me and I find it difficult to sit for any length of time.
Canadian politician Pat Martin explains his absences from the House of Commons

No problem, Pat. They’ll be great for sexting raisin twin shots to your interns.

Tomorrow we begin a new tomorrow.
Mitt Romney on his last day campaigning for president

Good news there, Mitt. And the tomorrow after that? All provide an opportunity to keep spending those Zombie Campaign $.

FYI – They had dudes wearing mesh versions of the manties in the pic. I can see how they’d be convenient for a political smoke blown up the ass quickie but a real nightmare to sit around in all day…or tomorrow.

Rejecting Logical Constructions — Edge of Humanity Magazine

This person’s work harks back over 120 years to France and a fresh take on the Roger Dean era. Rarely do I see such articulation, imagination and color. When I do I am compelled to share. The picture above is one of those “I wish I’d done that.” With words.

Photographer Marie-Laure Vareilles is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of these images. From ‘IMPROBABLES III’ series. To see Marie-Laure ’s body of work, click on any photograph. Creation of photo montage : imagine a universe of possibilities, elaborate the encounter of the unlikely. Mixing elements, transforming scale relations, […]

via Rejecting Logical Constructions — Edge of Humanity Magazine

Looney Lunes #152

No Wonder People Don’t Trust Cops

Eleven National City police officers were caught cheating on a promotion exam. However, no disciplinary action was taken against them, because they had not been specifically instructed not to cheat.
– The Los Angeles Times

So, specifically, there is no longer a moral ethic NOT to cheat? Has anyone told the Taxman?

Headline, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

I guess it saves time writing them tickets. I wonder, can they “cheat” traffic laws to ding them?

Remember, when seconds count the police are only minutes away.