Tuesday Tune-Up: That Rock-Star Life, Though…

In August 2019, I Recorded an Album in One of America’s Most Legendary Recording Studios. Then, in December, I Set Off to Tour the West with Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. Here’s How It Went…

It’s been a whirlwind year for me musically. In the spring of 2019, we (Buffalo Jones, the band in which I’ve played for nearly fourteen years now) found out that David Lowery, indie-rock legend from Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, was in to produce our next album.

Not only that, but we’d made arrangements to record it at Chase Park Transduction in Athens, GA—one of the most sought-after recording studios in the country. Furthermore, we hired Drew Vandenberg, one of indie-rock’s greatest engineers to record the thing.

We had a meeting last April to discuss financing and logistics, and we made a plan. From that point, we worked tirelessly through the spring and summer to get 15 songs ready to take with us to Georgia. Though, admittedly, a lot of that prep-work was “high-altitude training” as we came to call it, meaning we weren’t exactly clear-headed most of the time. That rock-star life, though…

We practiced up to twice a week, and did shows as often as we could over the summer to sharpen our chops. Then, in mid-August, it was time to go down and make a record.

During that time, I was still keeping up with this blog on a somewhat regular basis, so I’m sure I’ve written some of this before. Sorry if it’s redundant. Still, there may be some new useful nuggets here, since I’ve had almost a year and a whole other adventure on which to reflect since then.

Athens, GA.

Let’s start with this. From 2002 until 2019 I hated the state of Georgia. I was quoted on multiple occasions as saying “If I never go back to Georgia again, I’ll die a happy man.” Needless to say, the chance to record an album with a guy I grew up watching on MTV is about the only thing that could have brought me back to that state.

My hatred of Georgia stems from the four months I spent living on Ft. Gordon, an Army post just outside of Augusta. I literally hated Georgia the entire time I lived there, and I found ZERO redeeming qualities in Augusta. And I still say f*&k that place. If you live there and love it, then f*&k you, too. There were so many things wrong with my time there in the military that I just can’t find any redeeming value in Augusta. Everything was sub-par. (Golf-pun intended)

First, I was on an Army post, which, after the ABSOLUTE LUXURY of being stationed for four months at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, TX, was an utter disaster. The buildings hadn’t been re-modeled since before the 1960s. There were cockroaches the size of small rodents everywhere in the dorms. The food in the chow hall was absolute shit. The people on post (other than my Air Force brothers and sisters) were Army morons, and the people out in the city of Augusta were, I’ve since been told by Athenians, some of the worst that Georgia has to offer.

So, other than recording the album, I wasn’t excited at all about being in Georgia in August. Been there. Done that. Hated every moment of it.

Then I got to Athens last year.

Athens is to Georgia what Moscow is to Idaho, apparently. For those who don’t know Idaho, Boise is great… because it’s essentially a college town and the biggest city in the state. Coeur D’ Alene proper is a playground for rich people, while the suburbs are a compost field of racists, ignorant fools, and Pacific Northwest rednecks.  Moscow, on the other hand, is a proper college town. It’s the liberal and cultural center of Idaho, midway down the state on the western border. It’s just a few miles from Pullman, WA (Washington State University) and it’s home to the University of Idaho. Moscow is about as un-Idaho as Idaho gets.

Same thing with Athens. It’s a cultural hotbed in Georgia. It’s home to the University of Georgia and bands like R.E.M., Drive-by Truckers, and Cracker to name a few. It’s got a great selection of bars, restaurants, and other attractions downtown.

I really loved the time I spent out of the studio in Athens. That’s the problem, though. I didn’t get to spend much time out of the studio.

When we were there, we had ten days to get an album cut. That meant 12 hour days or sometimes longer. We rarely went outside. If I got an hour or two a day outside of the studio I was lucky. I can take that for a while, but by day eight, I’d had it.

I threw a tantrum, insulted people, and embarrassed myself. I won’t say more than that, but you guys know I have my warts and all. The following day, after a good run to clear my head, I apologized, cleared the air, and got back to work. I’m not proud of it, but I’m glad I got through it.

The Result:

At the end of August, we had finished nine of the best tracks we’ve ever recorded. David and Drew took some of those songs and turned them from base metals into gold. I also have to give mad props to the rest of the band. Joshua Martin, our drummer, worked his ass off to produce one of the finest drum performances without the aid of a click track that I’ve ever seen. Andy Rumsey was a constant force for excellence. He helped keep time, and he put up with the brunt of my assholery. Jason was excellent as always.

I don’t want to say that my whole experience was ruined by my tantrum, because it wasn’t. In the days before that, I got to play some of the best guitar parts I’ve recorded under Drew’s direction. I also got Lowery’s approval for “The lead to end all leads.” (I have photographic proof.) I got to use some amazing and legendary gear to dial in the tones for this record, including some of David Lowery’s pedals. I also got to know Scott Baxendale, a fantastic luthier, and toured his shop next door to the studio. Then, in the same complex, was Greer amplification. I took some time and fell in love with some amps there, for sure.

All in all, over the ten days I spent there, I’d say I only actually got about ten to twelve hours total time exploring Athens. However, during that time, I found a beautiful town and it gave me a whole new take on Georgia. I’d go back to Athens any time. Augusta can still f*&k right off, though.

As for the album, it’s easily the best album we’ve recorded. Sure, the first two full-length albums may be a bit more sparkly and polished (Thanks to Joe Varela’s Pro-Tools wizardry), but this one’s got the soul of the band in it. It was made with love and it’s as live as live can be. We didn’t use a click track. We played the whole thing live and did as few overdubs as possible. Plus Lowery decided he wanted to sing lead on two songs. That’s an incredible honor, and even now—nearly a year later—it’s surreal to hear his voice over my guitar. If you’re new to the site, or if you haven’t had a chance to hear it yet, you can stream it on Spotify, Apple Music, or wherever else you stream music. You can also purchase a copy on our website, if you really want to support us.

August and Everything After…

As I mentioned in multiple other posts, I was on the ropes most of last year. Right before we left for Athens, though, I had accepted a full-time teaching position that would start immediately upon my return. I also ended a long-term relationship at that time. Furthermore, my dad was in and out of the hospital, and I found out that my mother has lung cancer while I was away. So when I came back to Spokane at the end of August, I was broke, I’d lost my vehicle, I had one parent who was in the hospital, and one that was going through chemo and radiation.

I spent September and October trying to numb the stress and pain. I won’t go into details for a multitude of reasons, but let’s just say that from September to December I made some bad choices. I don’t regret all of those choices, but I was definitely trying to kill my pain in unhealthy (but fun) ways. Like the title says… That rock-star life, though.

Once I got back, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I had to focus most of my attention on learning the ins and outs of teaching online. That took a lot of effort, and I had time for little else for a while.

However, during the time we were in Athens, David and Jason had worked out details for a mid-winter tour of the west coast. Because David is a professor at the University of Georgia, his schedule just happens to line up with mine and Josh’s teaching schedules. Jason, being the director of a library, and Andy, being his employee, can work out pretty much whatever they want, so it was an easy decision. So starting in October or so, we began getting ready for the tour.

The Tour:

Ten damn shows in ten damn days. Thats’ what we decided to do.

We started on our own, because our first show with Cracker was in San Francisco, which is a two-day drive from Spokane if you’re pulling a trailer and going to do it comfortably. Therefore, we played a show with a couple of local acts in Eugene, OR the first night. We were scheduled with Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven in San Francisco the next day, then Petaluma, and Los Angeles. Then we had a two day day break for the New Year’s holiday. Cracker was flying to the Denver area from L.A. and it wasn’t feasible for us to make it there in time to play that show. So instead, we booked a show on New Year’s Eve in Tempe, AZ with Murphy’s Outlaws. Murphy’s Outlaws is Brian Blush’s band. Brian Blush is the former guitarist for the Refreshments. If you know anything about the history of Buffalo Jones, then you know that we cut our “pro” teeth touring with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers—the successors of The Refreshments. We toured with them in 2012 and opened for them several times in the years since then whenever they’ve come to the PNW.

But Before We Get to New Year’s Eve…

In California, we got to play in three of the most amazing venues on the West Coast. In San Francisco, we played the Great American Music Hall. In Petaluma, we played the Mystic Theater. In L.A., we played the Teragram Ballroom. In each venue, while waiting for our turn to sound-check, I’d see photos of the gods and goddesses of rock and roll hanging on the wall like shrines. Because of this tour, I’ve played the some of the same stages as more rock and roll legends than I can name. After L.A., though, it was time to depart “the show” for some exhibition games, so to speak. We headed to Tempe for New Year’s Eve.

Goodbye, 2019

New Year’s Eve was the first time I met Brian Blush. He’s had his share of the rock-star-life blues since the glory days in the ’90s, but he put on a hell of a show with my amp and his guitar (We back-lined the whole tour) on New Year’s Eve in Tempe, AZ. I’ve since kept in touch with Brian, and I can say, he’s a kindred spirit. At the same time, his story with the Refreshments and how his demons got the best of him for a time are a cautionary tale for me. Not that I’m ever going to have a major-label hit record and develop a hard drug habit, but still… I have a personality that is susceptible to that rock-star life, and I do have plenty to lose.

So we played a small-ish bar in Tempe for NYE with Brian’s new band Murphy’s Outlaws. There was also a bro-country style band that opened the show. I don’t remember their name… Just that they were awful.

Still, It stands as one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve had in my life. I hope Brian and I can stay friends for a long time. Oh, and Drew, Murphy’s Outlaws’ bass player, and I had a very interesting night after the show tom-catting. After all, I was recently single and on tour with a national act—there was no way I was going to let any opportunity to live it up pass me by. I’m gonna leave the specifics of that one in the dark as well, but I will say that I didn’t get back to our hosts’ house until about 4 AM. Rock and roll, bitches.

After that we went to Las Vegas and played a lackluster show in a dive bar on the outskirts of town. We stayed with one of my best friends, but we’d spent so long hanging out with our friends in AZ that we didn’t even see the sun the entire time we were in Vegas. We had to leave before 6 AM in order to be in Salt Lake City in time to meet back up with Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven.

We drove off at dawn and got to SLC in time to load in and do some exploring before the show. This did my heart good, because I was starting to feel that same itch I’d felt in Georgia around day eight. SLC was day seven, though, and we actually found a brewery next to the venue.

Now, Salt Lake City’s laws concerning alcohol are confusing at best, draconian at worst. Example. At said brewery, I could order any of their beers on tap, but those beers were limited to an alcohol content of 5%.  Not terrible, but I’m used to some heavy-hitting Imperial IPA’s and Porters. That’s the law of the land, though. No beer on tap over 5% ABV. On the other hand, I could order a bottle of the same brew and have it at 9% ABV. Furthermore, you still can’t buy more than one drink at a time at a bar.

I know. To paraphrase our merch-manager, Utah has a lot to be proud of.

The show in was in the Commonwealth Room, one of SLC’s nicest venues. We played the State Room, another great SLC venue, opening for Roger Clyne back in 2012, and, just like back then, the SLC crowd didn’t disappoint.

Thus far, each set we played had a few hiccups, and our set in SLC wasn’t perfect, but it was still one of my favorites from this tour.

Headed Back…

From Salt Lake City, we drove to Portland, OR, for the next day’s show. We were back in the Pacific Northwest, our home turf, and I was looking forward to a great show at a very familiar venue, the Aladdin Theater.

One of my oldest and best friends, Matthew Lindley plays in two different Portland bands, and he had his own show that night. After our set, I decided to go over and watch him play for a bit.

I didn’t realize it was day eight.

I don’t remember what happened for most of the rest of that night. My bandmates weren’t happy with me the next day, and I decided to play the next two shows without any partying.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t happy about things at that point. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and resentful. Our next show was in Seattle, only a couple of hours from Portland. We got there relatively early, and I spent a lot of time by myself thinking about things. I played the show, but really didn’t enjoy it much. The mood was a bit soured for me.

The final show of the tour was back home in Spokane. I was glad to be home, and still a little sore from things, but that show was by far the best one we played over the course of the tour. The energy at the Lucky You Tavern was electric. Lowery and the boys were kind enough to let us play a little longer to open the show, and I think it was probably the most perfect performance I’ve put in for a while. Both Camper’s and Cracker’s sets were great. The energy Spokane brought made us proud, and we couldn’t have ended the tour better.

The Aftermath

That rock-star life is fun. It’s exciting, but it’s also exhausting. Long periods of time confined to a van and not much time in the cities you visit. Lots of opportunities to party it up, but lots of opportunities to make an ass of yourself, too. Standing on a stage in front of a packed house in some of the country’s most amazing venues is surreal. So are a lot of the other things about being on the road.

It’s definitely not all glamor, though. In fact, it’s really only glamor for a couple of hours a night. Once the show’s over, it’s loading up, moving on for hours upon hours, loading in again, and getting ready to perform magic again that night.

For me, the end of the tour was bittersweet. I had some amazing experiences, and some I’m glad I don’t remember. I also felt very lonely when I got home. You see… even though the hometown crowd was amazing, and there were certainly plenty of people there I knew, I didn’t have a single family member or close friend show up.

Now, there are a multitude of reasons for that, and when you’ve been playing guitar in bands for 25 years, you can’t expect your friends to be at every show. Still, it’s nice to have friends at the big ones. So in a way, that rock-star life is a double-edged sword. You get to go places and experience things that very few other people ever do. But you also make yourself somewhat of an alien by doing so. And aliens are lonely.

Still, once COVID-19 has passed, I’m gonna get right back out there and take every opportunity to play that I can.