It’s an early foggy jet lagged Monday morning. I just got back from NYC a coupla nights ago, having left town with all the band overdubs complete. All the vocals complete. Just a piano overdub and some horns on one song, all to be played by friends of the band, remain. It’s a pretty amazing feeling. For 2 ½ years we’ve been working on this record bit by bit, as time and schedules and money would allow. What happens in the breaks, though, is nerve wracking – for me it is, anyway. It is really hard to listen to incomplete tracks. The anxiety and nervousness (is it just me?) that goes along with hearing your songs incomplete is overwhelming. It’s like, will my little song ever get the percussion and backing vocals it so deserves?? And if so, when? And, will it sound like it does in my head, or will that idea suck???? Is it too slow, or is it too fast – well, maybe a little of both??!!? Really nutso shit, I’m tellin’ ya! But, we are all, fans and bands alike, so trained to listening to finished product that it can be hard to “imagine” what it will sound like, even for us who make these things. You KNOW that little bit of percussion will correct any tempo doubts, but until it’s there, it’s too slow AND too fast! Imagining music is like hearing about a color or about someone else having sex. It’s just, “Whaaaat???? Huh??” You want to hear your record at the same level of quality and completeness as you hear your favorite records, your talismans, your food, air, and water.
So, for the better part of two years that was what I’d been feeling. (That’s why I had knee surgery, to calm me down.) But today, right now, I am feeling good, Jack! I have just finished all my parts, and the band has finished all its parts, and for the first time in twenty years The Del-Lords are about to have available a brand new album. And, I was there – for most of it. Eric though, he was there for all of it.
And, at this point, I want to thank Tim(bo) Hatfield, and Mario Viele, the engineers at Cowboy Technical Services Recording Rig, whose starting point was above and beyond the call of duty, and they never looked down or looked back. They were miracle workers, with such high level expertise that it could be practically invisible. And two great guys, too. Thank you, fellas.
I know I play for a very special band, and I love the noise we make. It’s probably my numero uno favorite noise, actually. I am extremely proud of this record, maybe more proud of it than anything else I’ve ever done. I do hope you dig it. Time to exhale.
So, I am going to go back in time here, and although I have told a more condensed version of this story before, think of this as a reissue/remaster – with bonus tracks. It seems like the right time to tie up this phase of the re-emergence of The Del-Lords:
Yes, unfinished business is what the new Del-Lords record is all about. When we were making records in the 80’s, we were a band out of time. If for no other reason (and there were other reasons) than, in an age of synth bands and New Wave leftovers, we were a guitar band – with the 80’s being particularly unkind to guitars. All those crappy reverbs and shit were seemingly designed to make your guitar sound exactly like you would never want it to. And, we took guitars very seriously, we did. Even guitar hero, Neil “Spyder” Giraldo, our producer, was hamstrung by the demands of radio at the time, and he, having been hired with the sole purpose of turning in a hit record, by somehow getting one out of us – and nothing less would do. Hey, we did the best we could!
All through this period my guitar brother, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel had been not so quietly forming opinions on all these aspects of our records, and the general state of guitar records, in general. After a bit, Eric’s opinions started to become a philosophy, one that was being given vindication by what we weren’t achieving in the studio. Eric had plenty of ideas he wanted a chance to try out, and this he did, first with other artists, including local boys, The Clintons, as well as The World Famous Blue Jays, and even a Nils Lofgren record on which he got to produce Neil Young himself. But, he never got his chance to produce us the way he wanted to hear us. Then the band broke up and it was all water under the bridge.
But, all these years later, Eric is a well-known and terrific producer, specializing in the kind of bands and artists with whom we would have shared print space back in the 80s for being in a similar musical bag. His records sounded just like he always said he wanted them to sound, live, exciting, and present, and they all sounded just great. As for those guitars, they went from the 80s’ two-dimensional vibe, plus reverb, to a three-dimensional, fully tactile creature of some heft, with teeth. So, here we are taking care of that unfinished business, with Eric at the helm of the new Del-Lords record.
We are not co-producing it – Eric is in charge. For me, having just come off a solo record where I played all the guitars and made all the decisions, I couldn’t be happier with this arrangement. I certainly did not want to make another solo album, and with me writing pretty much all the songs, and singing most of them, as well, the danger of falling into another solo record vibe was a real one. But, this way, I write them, we all arrange them, and Eric has final say on everything. This time around he also played almost every one of the leads throughout, and that too helps give it a much different character than had I done them, or even some of them. It has worked out great. I am more thrilled about this record than anything I’ve ever done before, and this arrangement has turned out to be a primary reason for my enthusiasm.
Of course, there’s Frank. Frank is a brother, a player, a singer, and a student of drums. Every time I see him he’s added some dazzling new moves to his bag of rhythmic tricks. His drum sound is among the most musical I’ve ever heard, and that is something that is in his hands, and not in the gear we use to record him. Everyone has contributed many ideas to the songs, and we’ve used almost all of them, again, giving it more of a band vibe. And that vibe is the heart, soul and nerve center of who we are and why we sound the way we sound when we play together. It sounds just like us, and no one else. I have played with Frank more than with any other drummer, and there have been some damn good ones, like JP Patterson in The Dictators, but something special happens to my songs when it’s us playing them.
To all this, we have added Mike DuClos, or Duke as we call him. It is a tough fit around here. The three of us are airtight, so to squeeze in requires the absolute right guy, and Duke is that. He’s a tremendous player, a total fucking wise-ass, and (I love saying this) he’s played with Pete Townshend & Buddy Hackett (can I get an Amen?), and has just the right vibe to make us whole again. Our fans will have a treat in store when they see & hear Duke. Of course, Duke steps into some big shoes, those of Manny Caiati, who bowed out of the band last year. Manny was a founding member and that is a huge thing in and of itself. At one point The Del-Lords were just Manny and me! But, in spirit, Manny is always gonna be a part of this band, if not part of the day-to-day. That remains. Onward and Upward.
And, as I recall, this record actually started as a solo album. Back in 2008,I was speaking with Eric about possibly doing a duo tour of Spain. I had just been over with The Dictators, and SAVING GRACE, my second solo album, was about to be released. I was speaking to Pepe, our promoter (both Dictators & Del-Lords promoter since back in the 80’s) about coming over to support my record. He said he would be happy to book it for me, but he wanted me to know that of course, it would not be for as much money as if we billed it as The Del-Lords. But, knowing THAT wasn’t gonna happen, I was willing to take my chances using just Eric’s and my name. This was if I could even get Eric to do it.
So, I’m on the horn telling all this to Eric, and we’re just catchin’ up, bullshittin’, talkin’ trash, spendin’ cash, the usual. And, Eric was into the duo idea and we left it at that. In speaking again with Pepe, I told him it would in fact be Eric and me. A few days later Pepe calls me from Madrid. He’s been thinking this over. He says, in effect, that Eric and me on acoustic guitars, “is ok, but its not The Del-Lords reunion he’s been waiting twenty years for” (turns out the two bands I’ve been in are Pepe’s two favorite bands of all time!! Go figure, hah?!!?), and he’s taking this very seriously. He’s been thinkin’, ya see. He says if Frank could do it, great. He understands Manny probably won’t be able to do it, but given the twenty-year gap, as long as it’s Eric and me, we can call it The Del-Lords. And, he knows just the right drummer if Frank can’t do it. Pepe’s been doin’ some thinkin’, ya see.
This is a tough one for me. I do truly believe in the sanctity of “the band” (no, not The Band, our band!) and I have to think about this. I think that maybe since I wrote most of our songs, and given all the time that’s gone by, and how busy Frank was, that I might just have to do this with a new drummer. A scary and unpleasant prospect, indeed. I tell all this to Eric, who agrees it would be ok, under these circumstances, to use the name even if Frank is not there. But, he says, let’s at least call Frank, as well as Manny. So, I call Frank and explain my predicament. I reiterate that of course he’s the real Del-Lords drummer, and that of course, he is still, just like for the last thirty years, the first guy I think of in every musical thing I do. As for Frank? He plays the drums, ya see.
Frank is remarkably understanding. There’s the money thing, there’s the time-gone-by thing, there’s his schedule with Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven, and there’s the, “Ya gotta do what ya gotta do” thing. He’s good with it. For about twenty-four hours, that is. Then the phone calls start. Now, Frank’s been thinkin’, ya see. Frank: “There’s no way anybody else is ever sitting in that drum seat!!! There’s no way anyone else is playing as a member of The Del-Lords!!!! There’s no way!!!” I get the feeling that there’s just no way. It reminds me of when Frank first auditioned for the band back in 1982. First of all, as fate would have it, Frank and Eric auditioned at the same time. This is true. It was a Monday and auditions were just starting, and first up Frank and Eric. Well, THAT was easy! It was instant! We have our band! But, every night for a week, as auditions dragged on and on (there were some forty drummers we had arranged to try out) Frank would call me. The phone would be ringing off the hook when I walked in the door (remember, no cell phones yet), asking me in a completely rhetorical way, “You haven’t found anyone better than me, right? You know I’m the guy, right?” Ok, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer – Frank WAS the guy. Back to 2009. So, that’s how what might have been another solo album set in motion the first Del-Lords record in twenty three years.
The other thing was Eric sending me a new Chip Robinson record he had just produced. I really dug it, and I loved the way it sounded, too. Lots of space, lots of song. Eric had always had this philosophy of going for live ensemble playing when recording, especially for small combo rock’n’roll. A very cool, spacious, guitar/bass/drums/vocals-centric live recording. And, a hot live recording was exactly what i thought I was listening to. I called Eric back to tell him that I loved this record, and I especially loved the production. I was real surprised when Eric informed me it was constructed bit by bit, overdub by overdub, with Eric himself playing drums on some songs. He explained how he had Chip lay down an acoustic guitar and vocal track to a drum machine track, thereby creating a “map” of the song from which to work. He added that the reason he had sent me that record was he figured I probably had some songs that would lend themselves to that type of recording. Well, he figured right. Within a coupla months I was in NYC to start laying down maps of a dozen or so songs. This turned out to be the first baby steps of this new Del-Lords record.
It has taken a while as no one was paying for it, or for us to take a month off everything else in order to block out the time to record. So, with Eric keeping it all together, over the next two years, on a hit and run basis, we recorded a new record. All the overdubs are now done, mixing and mastering awaits, and then it will be available.
The working title is SILHOUETTES ON THE SHADE.
The working sequence is:
- CHICKS, MAN!
- WHEN THE DRUGS KICK IN
- ALL OF MY LIFE
- ME AND THE LORD BLUES
- LETTER (UNMAILED)
- YOU CAN MAKE A MISTAKE ONE TIME
- SOUTHERN PACIFIC
These are all songs I’ve written, except EVERYDAY, which is a co-write with Dion, MAKE A MISTAKE, a co-write with Eric, and SOUTHERN PACIFIC, written by Neil Young.
A long story told the long way. It is quite remarkable looking back to that conversation with Pepe in the Bilbao airport, on our way home from what turned out to be the last Dictators gig to feature the original four members. Who knew? I was already focused on SAVING GRACE being released, and wanting to come back to Spain to play. But, that conversation turned out to be the fulcrum upon which my life turned inside out and upside down – in a good way. I can tell you that one thing I was NOT thinking of was a new Del-Lords record, and/or a Del-Lords tour of Spain! Yet, if I could have just sat back at that moment and closed my eyes and thought about it, I mean, really thought about it, and I could lay out the next couple of years in my head, and have it all come true, I still would not have imagined anything near as great as what, fours years down the old highway, I actually have now. Married to Sharon (finally!!), got a brand new knee (fuck you, pain!), and The Del-Lords WITH a brand new record!! Sign me up!