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!



Things are good. No, things are great! In my personal life, I am about to marry a woman whom I have dated sporadically, as well as briefly, yet it was over a period of some 35 years. Got that? When I say occasionally, well I said, sporadically – same thing – I mean, about a dozen times over those 35 years. We would then lose track of each other for great lengths of time. This last time we had not seen each other or spoken a word to each other in almost eight years! Then suddenly we were thrown together for what has so far been two very happy years. (See kids, this is how Life works sometimes!) And now, Good God A-Mighty, we’s a-gettin’ hitched! There’s a lesson in there, friends– probably several lessons, as well as a helluva story, in fact, none of which I am going to get into at this time or in this place, however. And, that’s because there is Del-Lords activity a-plenty to get to. 


Where to start, where to start? Ok, first things first: Duke aka Michael DuClos is officially the new member of the band. He will be taking Manny’s old position, playing the bass as Manny had done since before the beginning.  But Manny is no longer able to stay involved on a regular basis, as he is doing good work, important work, that needs someone with Manny’s heart, soul and intelligence to get that job done right. So, while Manny will always be a part of this band, there has been a changing of the guard in the day-to-day. 


Duke is a natural fit. It just fell into place with him quickly and painlessly. His personality, his considerable skill, and sense of humor, has been a real shot in the arm. Plus, (I just can’t stop saying this — it’s that amazing!) Duke is the only person alive who has worked with both Pete Townshend AND Buddy Hackett!!  This is true! We just finished the final two basic tracks for the record last week, with Duke on board. So, the basics are done, we now turn full time to the details: backing vocals, some guitars, maybe some percussion, a little this, a little that, and whatever other little touches will help this baby shine, roar, and stand out from the pack once it’s out of the garage and out on the street. 


Let me tell you, it’s no small thing to be at this point of the record. We’ve done it completely on the resources at our disposal; first and foremost, the band itself being back together, everyone being all in on this thing of ours, our own La Cosa Nostra, for no other band or individuals could do this thing we  – Frank, Eric, myself, and now Duke – do quite as we do it, and that, mis amigos, remains the point of the whole shebang does it not? . 


What’s left to say about Roscoe? Well, whether I’ve said it before, or you’re hearing it for the first time, stay cool, it bears repeating. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, he of the many skills and vision needed, not to mention the studio, to produce this record, to take the vision and run with it, but to also know the ins and outs and brass tacks of what that ACTUALLY requires. Plus, at the same time, he’s a full-on performing member of the band, making his hat switching just that much more of a daredevil, high-wire stunt. You could forgive him if one of these duties took a backseat in order to focus on another, but Eric is working them all at a consistently, astonishingly high level. His playing, singing and arranging is on the same par as his considerable producing skills. 


Of course, there’s Frank. I remember the day we first met (it was coincidentally the same time I met Eric) and Frank had a sort of wound too tight, edgy, friendly aggressiveness that is usually a hallmark of a great drummer, as it was this time, too. Frank’s musical taste at that time ran the full range from AC/DC to Black Sabbath, and then right back again. But, within months of being in the band, Frank was digesting Louis Armstrong, Hank Williams, Benny Goodman, the Blues, and The Beatles. Now, he’s got it all, and plenty more, stored in his noggin, and he carries it all in his back pocket into every musical situation. An encyclopedia of rhythmic choices is what he can whip out on the spot. To know that he is back there is one of the few things I have learned I can actually count on in this dirty old world. And, oh yeah, he sings great, too. And, like Eric, Frank is my brother. Ten lifetimes of shared experience has forged and tightened that bond a little more each and every day.


And now, with Duke, we are once again whole. When this record is done (should be done in February), it will be released in the Spring on GB Records, run by the great rock’n’roll lifer, fan, friend and patron, Gary Borress. Gary is a man constantly burdened by great, constructive, and realistic plans, as well as a passion for the music that is another basic Del-Lords requirement. We have finalized our deal with Gary, and both he and the band are excited and optimistic about pretty much everything. Yes, things are good. No, make that great!


We did play a coupla shows while I was in town last week. One was at the Lakeside Lounge, which was a total blast. There were friends old and new, and the band found a new, higher gear, stepped on the clutch, and let it ride. Then we played a great house concert at Dan and Liz Boudin’s place in Rhode Island. It was one of my favorite shows we’ve ever done. It was tight, it was loose (way loose), it was rockin’, and the audience was a solid wall of raving, excitable, knowledgeable, and attentive music fans, which is a decidedly different vibe than the feel of a club or festival audience. While a club or festival audience going nuts is great, this too is great, although in a very different way. It is exciting, but there is also a dominant Music as Art factor, an intimate communication, and an undiluted love of music that rules the general feel of the night. 


I feel like I gotta mention the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is really dominating the spotlight back in NYC at this moment. Firstly, I am incredibly energized by it, in and of itself, as well as the way it has been catching fire here and there throughout the country. One thing that becomes instantly apparent when you talk to folks who are down there, or listen to them when a reporter sticks a mike in their face, or through some other instant media have suddenly found themselves owning that spotlight for a moment themselves, of ACTUALLY being heard, is that this is not about anything as infantile, or as moronic as “hating the rich”, or “hating money”, etc. Who falls for this shit, anyway? There are lots of issues here: Greed, Big Business and its role in our Democracy, Crime (fraud, insider trading, conspiracy to commit a felony or two or three, etc), the disappearance of the middle class, outrageous inequity, and Fairness in a very broad and very real sense), but the underlying principle that connects them all, at least for me, is accountability. Yes, accountability, as in transparency, investigation, and, if necessary, if you broke the Law, too — on your way to blowing up 20% of the country’s accumulated wealth since we first became a country — for your own personal gain  — prosecution. Yep, a fair trial and a fair hangin’. Consider it a crime deterrent. 


So, I am now back in California, got the new Beach Boys’ SMiLE Sessions box, something I’ve only been waiting for since my Bar Mitzvah, and it was well worth the wait. It’s on constant replay, although I took some time to check out the latest rough mixes from the Del-Lords album, and yes, they do sound great. And, next week Sharon and I get married. My bro, Neil Giraldo, is gonna be my witness. It will be at one of Neil and my favorite haunts, an Italian joint, just off the beach, around sunset, so we will hopefully have that as a backdrop when the vows are made. And, then the future awaits. Big changes. AND, a soundtrack comes with it. 



I’m back in California, fresh, well, sorta, off an eight day trip back to the city of my birth. I say, “well, sorta” because I now have an annoying head cold, accompanied by some rather unpleasant chest congestion. It could be due to the barefoot (I fucking hate that, and I don’t mean he was wearing socks, just his ugly bare feet, ugh) asshole sitting across the aisle from me on the flight, who besides wheezing and coughing almost non-stop for the entire flight and pounding back Alka-Seltzer Cold Shit, refused to turn off his cell phone even when the official “Please turn off all electronic devices” call came, instead hiding it when one of the flight attendants came through. Now, I don’t know what the “electronic devices” interfere with, but I also know I don’t wanna find out. Something in me refused to allow me to snitch, but I did wanna smack him across his smug Modern Dad mug. Man, did he bug me! Barefoot fuckhead! Anyway, how are you? That’s good. Good to hear.

The main mission was more work on the upcoming Del-Lords record, which I am happy to report went just great. Five more tracks for us to build upon, and that brings the total to ten. I figure a few more and we’re there. We recorded out at Cowboy Technical Services, Roscoe’s studio in Williamsburg. It has to be my favorite place I’ve ever recorded, on a par in a different way, to the late great Coyote Studios, where we all worked extensively during its lifetime and which, in fact, started out of our old rehearsal space in the Music Building on 8th Avenue, just south of the Port Authority. Cowboy Technical Services has a great vibe, great sound, and everything is just as you would want it but would normally need at least two days to get it that way before you play one note.

Frank just keeps getting better and better. I have learned that when the question goes out about which song we wanna work on next, if Frank has an opinion, go with it. It means he’s thought it through and he’s gonna nail it before you know what hit you. He was spectacular. Plus, he always brings cookies! 

The tracks we recorded were DAMAGED, YOU CAN MAKE A MISTAKE ONE TIME (title might get shortened), LETTER (UNMAILED), CHICKS, MAN! & EVERYDAY.

EVERYDAY is a song I wrote with Dion back when there was a proposal on the table for a bio pic of him in the works, with a screenplay by Chazz Palminteri, and Chazz as director, as well. The song was written for the scene when they get to the hotel the next morning in Moorhead, Minnesota, where they all learned of the fatal plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, & The Big Bopper on the Winter Dance Party tour of 1959. Everyone is in a state of shock, and Dion, who was entrusted with Buddy’s guitar (Buddy had told Dion, “Take care of it like you take care of your testicles”, to which Dion thought, “I never heard it put that way before, but I knew what he meant”) opens the case, and in his haze starts strumming it, trying to remember that song, EVERYDAY, that Buddy had played the night before. Not being able to clearly remember it, this song is what came out. Some dramatic license, to be sure, but it’s a heartfelt song of friendship.

MISTAKE is a song I wrote based on a great Eric Ambel riff that sounds a bit like what Led Zeppelin would have sounded like if they were actually American. Oh, and with me singing. Use your imagination. I can tell you that the marriage of the song and Eric’s newly acquired Les Paul reissue was a match made in Guitar Heaven.

DAMAGED is a down the middle Del-Lords style rocker. I once heard someone say that it’s gotten so the first thing I ask a girl when I meet her is, “Hi, what did your daddy do to you’? It stuck with me, and I thought it would be a fun idea to build a love song around. Something about it reminds me of NRBQ, musically at least. They’re one of my all-time favorite bands, and Terry Adams is a friend of mine. In fact, I saw him a few months ago up in San Fran with his new band, who are fucking awesome and a worthy successor to the now defunct, after 40+ years, NRBQ.

LETTER (UNMAILED) is a vow of love that I never got to speak to someone who probably would not have reacted favorably to it anyway. I put it in a letter and it remains unmailed. I think I wrote this almost 20 years ago. Yes, the romantic side of the Del-Lords.

CHICKS, MAN! is a frantic rock’n’roll song based on a country blues lick and amped up to (at least) 11. Breakneck speed and guitars, guitars, guitars. Kinda Punk Blues, perhaps. Lyrics are kinda funny, unless you’ve lived through this, then it’s like SPINAL TAP was to Steven Tyler, “Man, that movie was not funny, not fucking funny at all!!!” Got me?

Eric did another fantastic job arranging, playing and producing, with all his ideas advancing the songs and upping their impact. His overview was and is essential, and for me, as the main writer, Eric gives me more confidence than perhaps I deserve, but I sure do need it to be able to do my job. What a great musician he is.

Thanx to our old pal, Steve Almaas, who played some bass, although a family emergency called him away before we could complete more than one track with him this time around. I actually first met Steve in Minneapolis when his band, The Suicide Commandos and The Dictators shared a bill the night the news of Elvis Presley’s death broke. I believe it was August 17th, the night after his actual passing. An unforgettable night. But, Eric called on Jason Mercer, who came in the next day and was fantastic on those low notes, and we were able to nail another four songs with him. Thanx to both you guys for your great work and presence. A big hand, and a loud shout-out has to go to the great Mario Viele, who engineered, caught every note we dropped, and answered the call above and beyond his already daunting task. Thank you, Mario.

As always, it was just great being with Frank and Eric again, as we have such a strong, unshakable bond, and a shared sense of humor, that exemplifies why it’s called “playing” music, and not “working” music. It fills the heart and soul and I am our biggest fan. There is no one on Earth I would rather make music with, and that feeling only grows as time goes on. Don’t think for one second I don’t know how lucky I am just to know them, let alone have them play my songs. I am really excited and adrenalized about the new record, the band’s new lease on life, and the future. I have a real pet peeve about musicians who DON’T get better with age and experience (they shall remain nameless), and I can assure you that is NOT the case with Frank and Eric. They were always great but now are exponentially greater. I mean, getting older has to count for something, fer cryin’ out loud! As a result, I have no doubt this record will be the best thing we’ve ever done. Can’t wait to get this thing out to you guys.

If you wanna hear more about the prodigal son’s most recent return home (yes, there’s more), check out my forthcoming blog on my own site, scottkempner.com. In the meantime, be well, stay strong, and remember we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, no matter what you might hear out there to the contrary.