Headed East to the ‘Big Apple’
House of Hearts “Da Butt”
I was finished with Los Angeles at a point where the money was in bad shape and money from working with Rory on the road was not nearly enough to afford to stay in Los Angeles. But especially because I was love-sick. In the worst way. I wanted to be with Rory. I thought if I got back East, I could see her more and our relationship could grow. I could be back near my son and the rest of my family too. So, I packed it in. I sold off a lot of my stuff and put everything I wanted to keep in a small trailer. I hooked it on the back of my VW fastback and drove back to Bethlehem, PA from Los Angeles in record time. Literally. Of all the times that I had driven across the country, once to get out there, twice with Ben, a couple times with Rory of course, but this time I did it differently. I left at about 6 PM missing most of Los Angeles rush hour (leaving from the Valley) and drove over night until well into daylight the next day only stopping to avoid rush hours anywhere. I slept in the car at mid-day wherever I was… usually in a park under a big tree.
I drove in the afternoon until late morning again following convoys of trucks overnight each night making it back in the shortest time I ever did. Two days and two and a half hours to Bethlehem, PA. Then I slept for almost a day. I stored the contents of my trailer on my sister and brother-in-law’s farm and drove to Brooklyn. There waiting for me was my best friend, Michael Hutchinson. Michael had been divorced now about a year and was living in his huge brownstone in Park Slope, alone. I had been whining to him about my broken heart over Rory and he suggested I come stay with him and give New York a shot and be near her too. I did make my play for Rory full guns in the next few months, but it was to no avail. I wanted it all. She wanted it as it was. Then something horrible happened. Rory’s oldest son, Thiele, died in a car crash. It was devastating to all of us who knew him. Rory was inconsolable and often unreachable for a while. I am in the photo of everyone who was at the memorial service. Interestingly I am standing off to one side alone. That was where I was, in a way, in her life there, but at arm’s length. A part of it but not where I wanted to be. I was an emotional mess. Michael did everything he could to help me out. What a friend. Rory eventually called me months later asking me to mix the album she had just finished as a tribute to Thiele. It was called House of Hearts and it was an intense time to be there with and for her. I am glad I was with her through it. I even wrote three Haiku poems for her dedicated to him. After House of Hearts was finished, I knew that there was little hope for me with her and I was a real emotional mess for that and a number of other reasons.
I kept working as best I could. I heard from Bruce Hawes in New York. He thought it was funny that first we worked in Philly for years then moved to Los Angeles and worked together there with Stevie (he was in MYX) and now we both were in the Big Apple. So, he booked me on a session with Enrico Macias, an artist who was huge in Europe and around the world. Bruce was cutting some songs with him in Manhattan and wanted me to record it. He brought up from Philly the core of the MFSB rhythm section, Baker, Harris and Young. After the session two things happened that I do remember well. I asked BHY to let me take their picture. I did, and it turned out to be the last one of the three of them ever taken. Norman Harris went home and within a week or so had a heart attack and died. Here it is.
The other memorable thing was that Bruce, and the artist took me out to dinner after the session. We went to Sardi’s. I, of course, was not dressed any differently than I ever did for sessions: T-shirt and jeans. I had to be given a jacket to let me in… Let’s face it… I have never been a fashion hound. The few pictures that exist of me in sessions with anyone famous that exist will attest to that. The book cover shot of me with Thom Bell (from the Denice Williams sessions in 1982) must have been when it was cold outside as I have a long sleeve shirt on (albeit unbuttoned) with an orange T-shirt under it. With McFadden and Carstarphen (taken by Whitehead) I’m in a T again. The ones with Stevie at Sigma I am in a T-shirt and my almost ever-present Philadelphia Phillies cap on… There are very few others. I was working – not collecting shots of stars.
I got one of my best sessions in New York because of Michael Hutchinson. He was too busy to take it, so he recommended me. It was a session in Sorcerer Studios in lower Manhattan. It was for Spike Lee’s production: 40 Acres and a Mule. It was produced by Marcus Miller the internationally renowned Jazz Bass player, composer and musical director. I was told the group was called E.U. I showed up early as I always did, got familiar with the room and set up for live drums and the rest of a rhythm session. As members of the group started to show up, I was shocked to see “Sugar Bear” and the members of a DC/Baltimore area band called Experience Unlimited that I had recorded a number of times at Sigma. This of course set the tone for the day as a great vibe indeed. Marcus was happy about that and everything else over the three days we worked on the one song: “Da Butt”. My favorite moment was when Marcus was in the studio next to “Sugar Bear” feeding him ad libs as I punched them in, bit by bit. At one point, “Sugar Bear” kept going and did an ad lib of his own. He sang, “Big ol’, big ol’ butt!” and Marcus lost it and started laughing so loudly that it was recorded right on the lead vocal track. We all knew it was NOT to be erased and can be heard in the final mix. We all lost it! There were two other important moments relating to this song that I need to relate. First was my last session on the track. Spike and Marcus needed a “party” track in the mix that would add to the vibe of the record and work well in the film. So, they both brought a bunch of friends to the last session and I set up a bunch of high room microphones and recorded them all laughing and partying in the studio. Even my assistant engineer from Sorcerer was in there parting his ass off. I was the only one working… It hit me in a very weird way, making me question what my role in the years ahead would be. I mixed the song which was the mix used in the film I believe. The second moment came a few weeks later when my check came. The record had already been remixed (by some else) for the clubs. Yes, a “Disco Mix” was already out and selling the record. Indeed, Marcus, Spike and E.U. were already making money. They would go on to make plenty, I’m sure. I got my check for three days work and realized that after paying my rent and food money for the month I might have enough left over for a trip back down the New Jersey Turnpike to see my son and buy him a burger… I questioned fundamentally just what I was doing in the music business. I thought, that’s enough.
I’ve made literally hundreds of records that had made literally millions for others. I was struggling. I thought I was done. A year or so later as a struggling and starving student again at age forty I had the check stub from the “Da Butt” sessions pinned to the top of my bulletin board. Every time I sat there and thought, “Why am I doing this?” I’d look up at that check stub and buckle down again.
My life was in one of its lowest points. I was divorced, alone, not working much, in love with someone I could not have or be with, no matter how hard I tried. Michael was my lifesaver. He gave sage advice, a place to stay and even some work. He was my best friend. But I went on doing as many sessions as I could get. I had a run of sessions with Reggie Lucas in his new studio in Hoboken NJ. I remember one in particular. It was a duet for CBS records. It featured Rebbie Jackson (yes, of that Jackson family) and Robin Zander (yes, of Cheap Trick). I recorded the vocals in Hoboken. My name does not appear on the album. They may have redone them another time without me. Those things happen a lot in the business. Reggie was kind to me to give me as much work as he did. I thank him for that but at one point he had to sit down with me and simply say that I had to pull it together, that my depression was so obvious that my professionalism was at issue. I thank him for his honesty and his concern for me as a person. He simply could have simply stopped booking me. Thanks Reggie. Thanks. It got me off my ass and moving forward again eventually.
ACOA, Adult Children of Alcoholics, is a spin off group of A.A. It functions in the same manner. People gather and talk about the difficulties of coping with life as the result of having been raised in an alcoholic household. I am not an alcoholic. There were years, 1985 to 2011 that I chose not to drink. Twenty-six years of complete sobriety. In 1985 in New York City, I was in need of help with my depression, and it seemed that the best place I was finding help was at ACOA meetings. I started by going to ones in Brooklyn. They met once a week. That was not enough. I found out there was a second meeting elsewhere in Brooklyn. There were multiple meetings throughout the week in different parts of New York. I began going to as many as I could. It was like a crash course. I went to as many as four or five a week when I could do it. It helped. It resulted in my jumping in my car one day and driving to my parent’s home in Bethlehem, PA and confronting them regarding my father’s alcoholism (by then he had been sober for years), my parent’s drinking throughout my childhood and my father’s not completing one of the 12 steps (making amends) with me. It was not an easy time for any of us. I did what I had to do. They responded as best they could. I went back to New York and continued to pull my life back together.
Next, I realized that New York was not for me. It coincided with Michael meeting and falling in love with his second wife Gwyn. I had been welcome and helped out tremendously by him and thankfully just as I was ready to move back to Philly, he wanted me out so that they could have the privacy a new couple deserves. So, it was back to Philly.