Unfinished Business



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:

Ok, then!


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:



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!





Back just about a week now from a week in NYC, followed by a four day commando raid on Espana, followed by another week in NYC to do some more work on the new Del-Lords record. In between, saw some friends, family, my girlfriend Sharon came to town for a long weekend, which itself included the first show with new bass player, Duke, three amazing meals and a hurricane. Yes, we were there for the hurricane. Hey, I was there for the earthquake, too!
Got there on a Sunday, and after a day to kick around the Village, it was rehearsals. First rehearsal: We were using a bass player other than Manny Caiati for the first time since the band went from being Me to being We. Manny was the first person in this world to think my songs were good, and that maybe I had something to offer, so this was a big deal. But, onward and upward.  It was also during this rehearsal that the earthquake hit. As a testament to the band, no one noticed it. So, it was a dramatic change, heralded by an actual earthquake, but luckily it could have not have gone more smoothly, or any easier. A friend of Frank’s, Michael DuClos, was stepping into the breach. Frank said he was real good, but this was one of those times in life when you end up feeling happily, and surprisingly, undersold. Duke, as he quickly and forever more became named, was fantastic – he played great, sang great, was one sarcastic motherfucker, and had worked with Pete Townshend AND Buddy Hackett! No either or situation here. No pick and choose. No, sirree, Pete and Buddy both!


We had three rehearsals, and then on the eve of what was to be the first show, more news of the impending hurricane hit, and despite the flesh and soul being willing, the weather just would not cooperate. We were to play a super fun outdoor house concert. BBQ for a coupla hundred folks, but the weather had made other plans. The transit system was to be shut down due the approaching hurricane, as were any highways when winds reached a sustained 60mph, and winds of up to 100mph were being predicted. We stayed home.

So, the first gig was at Eric’s own Lakeside Lounge, and it was just great. The Lakeside is always a fun gig, with a great on-stage sound (designed by Roscoe himself), and an intimacy that is always inspirational. Some first time mistakes, but overall a barn burner, with some old faces, some new ones and a good time was had by all.  Duke lost his Del-Lords cherry that night, and I believe he dug it. We were off to the races.


Then, off to Spain to play the Turborock Festival, which is kind of an alternative type festival, with the bands being all a bit to the left of the mainstream – not unlike myself. It involved two sets of bands (you can check the poster that is still here on our website) that would travel as a package tour, and criss-cross each other with one set of bands playing Benidorm one night and Santander the next, and then visa versa.


Now, one thing about Spain is how a big part of it seems to exist in its own orbit, its own era, and the rest of the world be damned. While the super groups are huge in Spain, there is this large, thriving, ravenous sub-culture that loves American music, from 60’s Garage to 70’s Punk to Americana, and the Del-Lords being a bit of all three get in under the wire, too. The Dictators also had their biggest, most enthusiastic audiences in Spain. It’s a bit of a mystery but one doesn’t look a gift horse too closely in the mouth, does one?

We arrived tired as fuck at 7:30 am Madrid time, and it’s off to pick up Urge Overkill and our friends from NYC, D-Generation. Together we traveled via nightliner (not one of those big shiny American ones, but a more ancient – though clean – European one) the six hours to Benidorm, with the only bus driver in Europe with no GPS. Eventually this meant (too) many stops for the driver to ask any old Jose Shmose on the street if he knew where our hotel was. It was just this close to funny. But, not quite. The hotel was a tad funky, no all-important wi-fi (but if you went out by the pool you might be able to pick up the wi-fi from the nice hotel next door. This is true!), then back to the gig, which had been moved inside due to the wet weather. This pushed everything back an hour or two, including food and sleep. The food part ended up consisting of a deli tray eating sandwiches with meat and vegetables of unknown origin that we all hunched over for some sustenance. Let me tell you, I have been to Spain many times, way more than enough to know there is amazing food in this country almost everywhere you turn – except here. Got back to the hotel around midnight after watching Jesse Malin’s solo set, which I loved, playing our own set, and catching some of Urge Overkill, who were also great, until I needed to lie down. Soon.

So, I laid down at midnight to wait for my 3am (!!!) wake up call. Sleep never came, but the wake up call, THAT came. Down in the lobby we all went back to the venue to pick up The Nightliner From Eons Past for the twelve (12!) hour ride to Santander. I slept on this one for awhile but it wasn’t “real” sleep, it was that road sleep, where you’re never quite relaxed, you wonder if every bump is the driver falling asleep at the wheel and you’re the next Cliff Burton, and you finally go down to the lounge (the beds were all on the second level), where Howie Pyro of D Generation is wide awake and en pointe. Howie had been too nervous to sleep much at all, so he sat down behind the driver making sure the fucker was still awake. Actually, hanging out with my old friend Howie was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We had a great time shooting much shit, and talking much trash. We talked about our first concert experiences, how The Dictators had played Howie’s Junior High School in what must have been 1974, and this, that, and, of course, the other.  Howie has become a world conquering DJ specializing in those awesome rock’n’roll records even most fanatics have never heard of, and he has his own radio show, Intoxica Radio online, and it too is a blast. Check it out!


Santander is a beautiful town, as was the hotel. After the twelve hour sojourn, at the venue, we were greeted by one of the promoters from Heart Of Gold (who I must say did a great job, were very cool, smart, energized & organized), who quickly said to me, “Del-Lords, yes?” “Uh, yes”. “OK, you stay here now, and go to hotel after the show”. To which I very courteously and patiently explained that this was indeed incorrect, as I was going to the hotel right this very minute, and although I could be ready to return in forty five minutes, now, I would be going to the hotel immediately if not sooner. So, off to the hotel we went. And, forty-five minutes later we were on the three minute drive back to the venue. This time I saw everyone else on the bill: Jesse – great again; The Buzzcocks – uh, nevermind; Urge – really really good, engaging, solid and rockin’; and D-Generation, who I thought were better than ever, and should consider staying together. Our show was a huge blast. The band sounded exponentially better than the night before – our second gig together –  I only wish we would have had a next night. I felt really comfortable and at ease, and had a great time with the audience, as I was just coasting on the band’s sound & drive. The set was a tidy one hour affair.


The setlist was:

  1. True Love
  2. How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?
  3. Cheyenne
  4. Jumpin’ In The Night
  5. Judas Kiss
  6. About You
  7. I Play The Drums
  8. Get Tough
  9. I’m Gonna Be Around
  10. Southern Pacific


It was, as always, a great feeling to be part of this band, listening to that sound, feeling that locked-in groove, and just being to concentrate on the audience, knowing the band was like a steel fist, tough and tight. It was a hot show, and the audience was fantastic. After the show, it was back to the hotel for our first sit down meal (Praise The Lord!), which got me back to my room by midnight or so, with a wake-up call coming at 3:30am. And, at 3:30am, it came.


This time it was to take the nightliner back to Madrid for a day off before heading back to the U.S.A., well, NYC to be exact. We were all looking forward to the day off, as we had been to Madrid over a dozen times, loved the city, and knew our way around pretty good. However, the day off was to be at the same hotel, where we had first met up with D Generation, Urge Overkill, and Matthew Sweet and his band (which included my good pal, power pop purveyor, Jan & Dean loving, drummer extraordinaire, Ric Menck). The hotel was fine, but located right by the airport in a spot that was like staying underneath the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn. Not much of a day off, but I did get to Skype with Sharon – something we did several times – and at the risk of sounding like a rube from way back in the 1990’s, this was an amazing treat, this Skype business. Talking for as long as we wanted for free while getting to look at my baby’s beeyootiful face – this is a very good thing.


The next morning it was back to NYC, and some more work on the record.  The record is really starting to take shape, and in October I will go back to NYC to record the final two tracks for it. One will be a cover that I won’t divulge just yet, but I do have to thank the eternally young Rock’n’Roll Goddess, and the most to-the-point drummer of all time, and one half of the KICKS/Norton Records team (along with her husband The Mighty Billy Miller), Miriam Linna, for the inspiration.  The other tune will probably be snatched from the grab bag of songs I have sitting around waiting to be pressed into service.


After a week of summer in the city before the trip to Spain, enjoying hot, but not brutal weather, walking around, eating great food, watching home town Yankees broadcasts (you have no idea how much I miss watching games with the YES Network announcers, who are like friends to me, especially out in California), on our return to town the humidity had set in, and being outside was like being in a hot shower. But, hey, nobody moves to NYC for the weather! Thursday, we were in the studio, and Eric & I did a little recording, some brain storming, and some work on the vocals & guitars, with each new addition bringing the songs closer to being a shiny finished artifact. I think we’re all excited by how well this thing is coming along, and the diversity in the songs we’ve chosen, and a general consensus that this is the best thing we’ve ever done. I think a lot of people are gonna be pleasantly surprised.

None of us have rested in the years between Del-Lords activity, and everyone brought a lot more to the table this time. I never understood musicians who don’t continually improve, and are not completely dedicated to getting better everyday. Plus, and I know I go on about this every time I write a new blog, but Eric has become a fantastic producer, bringing every bit of his musicality, taste, expertise, and dedication to the cause to everything we do. I have never felt more comfortable, more confident, and had more fun than this record has been. I especially enjoy the times we get to set up and play as a band. Sometimes I feel like Frank is getting better right in front of my eyes and ears. Again, I know I say this a lot, but I am a very lucky guy. More than anything, I am especially lucky that I have the ability to write songs these guys wanna play.


So, in a few weeks, it’s back into the fray, to get another big chunk of the record done, and get this baby out for the new year. That’s about it for now. I just wanted to catch up with everybody. On behalf of the band I wanna thank all of you who have been so supportive and encouraging, as well as being so enthusiastically anxious for this record. Your support is the fuel in the tank of this hot rod. You will be hearing from us, and hopefully seeing us shortly. In the meantime, take care of each other, things are looking uncertain out there on the horizon. See ya out there on the Great Highway.