Notes From A Troubled Past


Here are the stories behind the songs on Notes From A Troubled Past plus some information on the recording process.


This project has taken me a while to complete. Because of my work and travel schedule over the past couple of years, being able to devote time to this project has been very difficult. Add to that the fact that this album was an individual project: I wrote the songs, played every instrument, produced it, mixed it, and mastered it.
I wanted to do a more “song oriented” project this time with songs clocking in around four to five minutes. I wanted to ensure that I could actually play these songs live with a band – a good band – and record some in a live setting. I started out the project as a three-song EP, and I decided to make it into a full CD-filling “album”. I wound up with eleven songs and several leftovers.  As usual, when you have a “good idea explosion” there are consequences. The big challenge with this is that, as an individual project, adding songs and complexity seems like it adds time required for completion exponentially.
The songs were recorded on a Toshiba CoreDuo notebook computer using Cakewalk Sonar 8 Producer Edition and a TASCAM USB computer recording interface. Unless an extra bedroom or basement counts as a studio, this was not recorded in a studio! There were no megabuck plug-ins in use, and the real standout was the Line6 POD Farm plugin which was used quite a bit. The PerfectSpace convolution reverb is incredible, as is the Voxengo Boogex cabinet simulator. We also used an old ’73 Marshall JMP 50-watt head, an early 90’s JCM-900 SLX 50-watt, our Traynor Guitar Mate Reverb combo, and a variety of Ampeg and Tubeworks cabinets with Celestion speakers. There is POD 2.0, and Behringer V-Amps on this recording as well. Finally, we used our workhorse SM-57s, SM-58s, and a number of Samson and MXL condenser mics.

Guitars? All of them, particularly the ash-bodied Williams GSs with AttackBuckers. We also used a number of Les Pauls, our old-time 1975 Ibanez Flying V (Rocket Roll Sr.), and even our Fender HM Strat. That Flying V rocks – one of the best sounding guitars we’ve ever used, and it is all stock. The bass choice was easy – our much beloved Made in Japan Fender P-Bass from 1987. Strings are always Ernie Ball Pink Slinkys – even for the bass. Cables? The George L’s are really, really good; the skinny ones are the favorites around here. We even have some George L’s speaker cables. Yep…we thought it was all hype, too.

There is lots of good gear out there, but somehow I feel melancholy for my old cassette-based PortaStudio (which is in storage) and a bunch of analog gear in a rack.

What is up with the title?
Notes From A Troubled Past refers to looking back on your life and completing a mental balance sheet; that is, hoping that the positives outweigh the negatives! This album is loosely based on the process of aging. Actually, I feel fortunate at being able to age! It’s like the old saying: “People pray for long lives and complain about getting old.”
As always, I tried to avoid a lot of creative editing with the software and what you hear is, in most cases a complete take played straight through from start to finish. 
Here are the songs in the order in which they appear on the album. 

Wave Your Flag
While flying back from the Middle East, I saw the Life magazine cover with the Iranian protesters challenging that regime. In the photo, a young man is holding a flag and waving it in front of government security troops. As an act of defiance it was very powerful. As you get older you tend to get bolder in standing up for yourself. I wish I would have waved my flag a little more when I was young.

Gear Notes: The guitar solos were played on our killer Yngwie Malmsteen signature Strat. Interesting, there is not much shredding on the solo…sounds more bluesy to us! The sound is a POD, a 50-watt Marshall JMP, and a guitar plug-in blended…but mostly the Marshall.

Go Loud
“Loud” is a good word. If you are going to go, go loud. Don’t go quietly. Also, play loud. Make people pay attention to you.

Gear Notes: I used an ancient MXR Phase 90 on the rhythm guitar track in this tune, and it really thickened it up in an old-school way.

Lives Forgotten
Because we don’t have a draft, or compulsory service in the United States, volunteers have been fighting two wars for nearly 10 years..and we just got into a third one. Don’t forget them; we owe them a huge debt for stepping up.

Gear Notes: I played the solo on our mid-70s Les Paul Standard with Dimarzio PAFs. It is a very heavy, thick-sounding guitar, and really cut through on this track.

Last Apache on Earth
The last AH-64 Apache attack helicopter will fly someday. It is hard to believe. Think about all of those B-17s we used to have during WWII. I bet those young guys who flew them during the war never thought that most of them would be destroyed in a wrecking yard. Retiring aircraft is sort of an allegory for life itself. Wow.

Gear Notes: The main rhythm guitar sound on this side was the Ibanez V and the old 50-watt Marshall. Rock!

Old Friends
I wrote this after jamming with our old band at the Rob Mabry Jam. Click here to read the story. I just imagined a bunch of guys up on a stage jamming when I put this together, and that is why there is the “noodling” at the start of the song, and the drum fade-out at the end.

Gear Notes: The guitar solo was played on our hardtail Williams GS with the gain cranked up using a DoD 250 Overdrive Preamp. I modified the 250 with a true-bypass switch and an LED. No, the LED didn’t affect the tone! Also, I used the Saga “Mattocaster” on a rhythm track, and it sounded killer. It is strung with Ernie Ball 8s .

I think being an individual is a really, really big deal. The more we rely on somebody else, the more individuality we forfeit. Think about it – you can get in a car and drive anywhere you want to in the United States. However, most folks never do. We always find an excuse to hang on to the familiar and the safe. OK – GO LOUD before you OVERRELY!

Gear Notes: I used the “Les Paul Parts” guitar on the rhythm track, and our ’91 Les Paul Classic on the solo. I got them out of storage, strung ‘em up, and cranked them for this song. Those original Classics are killer.  I also used my black Tele, Led Zep-style through the old Marshall.  What a cool tone!

Six Feet Down
This is the great equalizer. I think most people live like their lives are a dress rehearsal rather than realizing that time is really slipping away, every day.

Gear Notes: The guitar solo was played on the Wilkinson trem-equipped GS, and this was the first take. The “high part” may sound kind of sloppy, but I could never recreate the coolness of that first take. This is one of the real truths of recording – the first take can be – and usually is -- the best!

I am really bored with terrestrial radio. This tune is about the old WKDF radio station in Nashville. I just remember how thrilling it was to hear all of the rock on the old FM album oriented rock (AOR) stations. Remember – this was before Walkmans, iPods, computers, internet radio, YouTube, and Sirius/XM. The DJs were really cool, too. Those late-night guys always sounded like they had just come in from a party.  We just heard that WKDF was sold -- maybe they can rock again!

Gear Notes: The guitar solo was played on our Bill Lawrence-equipped 1977 Les Paul 55-77 “Special”. What a great, great guitar. That Bill Lawrence pickup is like a flamethrower – it is so clear and clean! Not a lot of players can handle a Lawrence pickup, and I’m not saying I can….I’ve just learned to coexist with this one.

Going Home
I remember hearing that "you can’t go home". What I’ve found is that if you do that it never is quite like you remember it. Everybody and everything is moving on; home really is where you make it.

Gear Notes: The “double lead” is played on the Jeff Beck Les Paul and the Williams hardtail GS. I got these solos done in about five minutes, and I was afraid to mess with them. The amp was the JCM-900 SLX layered with just a little POD.

Trouble Ahead

I have an acquaintance that told me he said the biggest issue we have is people trying to “scare” us all of the time. If you accept that precept, you’ll never be scared of anything because you believe that everybody is trying to scare you when they present a concept or idea. Yes, there is trouble ahead, but can we see it?

Gear Notes: The guitar solos were played on an old-time Fender HM Strat. It just sounded the best on the uptempo “semi shred” tune. There is also some PODFarm on the rhythm tracks. Note: The HM has a very, very hot Dimarzio humbucker in the bridge position, and it tends to sound very midrangey, no matter the amp or simulation. It is a particularly good match with the JCM-900 and some non-vintage voiced Celestion speakers. It is very 80s sounding, which is pretty cool!

What Will Become
What is next? This is the universal question. That is why people watch those shows on Nostradamus on the History Channel. Instead of waiting around for something to happen….is it 2012 yet?

Gear Notes:
The guitar solo was played on our hard-tail, ash-bodied Williams GS. Of course the pickups are custom winds, but the neck pickup is a special AttackBucker for the neck position – one of the very few we’ve wound. You can hear the “woman tone” during the solo and the switching of pickups between the sections.

Why so many guitar solos?  Like my other albums, the answer is simple: Because it is a rock album and I wanted to do some guitar solos.  I believe guitar solos are cool, and some of the great 70’s soloists influenced my guitar style. I really like playing guitar. I am a guitar hoarder. I really didn’t want to do another guitar instrumental album, so the song structures are vessels for the guitar solo. Does that make sense? Great – thought so….
Do you wanna be a rock star?  As usual, a lot of my friends, colleagues, and the Facebook Crowd asked me why I continue to record these albums. And, as usual, several joked that I wanted to be an “old school” rock star. First, I personally like the process of writing and recording music, and, like GuitarAttack.com, I created it not to make money or to be famous, but rather as an artistic outlet.  Second, It is my hope that there are some of you out there that may like this recording, and if you do, I really appreciate it.  There will also be some of you who will not like it.  That is OK, too. Finally, I want to get a band together and play these songs live. OK – we may have to do it for free, but I want my next album to be a live recording of some of my “never really greatest hits”. There has always been that dream of getting into a real, very cool recording studio with a producer/engineer like Michael Wagener or Dan Huff. In the meantime, I’m focusing on what I have, not on what I don’t.

Any secrets? A couple of things – use good quality strings and change them often. Use short patch cords between your guitar and amp or preamp. The first take of the solo is usually the one you like best. Finally, if you start getting frustrated while recording, take a break and come back to it.

A word of warning.  We are not Ke$ha or Eminem.  We have not been on American Idol.  We are not hip-hop.  We are not really Post- or Pre- anything. There are no “cookie monster” vocals, death-core blast beats, or down-tuned sludge tone. However, if you like some old-school, driving rock, this may be the collection of songs for you.

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