Monday, October 29, 2007

Squeeze MachineSecrets: 'Heads and Horns'

It's been said that some songs just about write themselves, but in this case it was even simpler. My relocation to the Great Northwest has introduced me to many cultural wonders, such as single-wides, double-wides, guns going full auto in the night and good old-fashioned game hunting. I'm not much of a hunter, but an ad in the local paper caught my eye and inspired me to begin a month-long research project into the world of "Heads and Horns." That was the title of the ad and it was an invitation for all hunters to bring their trophies to a convention in Tacoma, Wash., for judging and award presentations. Here are the lines that stuck out:

"Heads and Horns"
"Do you have a trophy in hiding?"
"Boone and Crockett rules apply"
"Typical, Non-typical"
"Horns must be attached to the skull"

How could you not write a song after being given these lines?

"Typical, non-typical"? Whatever could that mean? I had no idea, but I immediately started walking around the house singing it. Turns out it means if the animal's horns are unblemished, they are "typical." If they are broken from fighting or some other mishap, they are "Non-typical."

Then I began my research to find out what the Boone and Crockett rules were. (Yes, it's Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, who set the judging criteria for heads and horns way back in the 1800s). Finally, it was time to compile a list of every type of game that hunters stalk and put them in an order that was the most singable. This proved to be a real challenge for me and I still have trouble singing this tune without getting a little tongue-tied. I went into my studio and did a demo with a guitar and I got carried away and recorded a couple more tunes while I was at it.

I put them up on MySpace for kicks under the name The Grunts. I never intended for TDA to do the tune, but the band heard it and decided we should give it a go. After we had a track for the tune, I sent an e=mail to my pal Norton Buffalo and asked him to put a few harmonica tracks on top. He was in Idaho recording with Steve Miller, so I sent him an MP3. The next morning I had 2 AIFF files waiting in my in-box. Ah, the wonders of modern recording.

Susie suggested we get her friend Evan Price to add some fiddle and he did an outstanding job. I have to say the whole thing ended up sounding pretty dang authentic. My only regret is that the knee-slaps and hand-claps in the chorus got lost somehow. If we ever get a chance to remix, that will be one of the first things I fix!

Now That's How You Make a Record

Wired News' Listening Post blog dug up a couple of cool YouTube videos that show exactly how vinyl LPs are made. Fascinating!

Part 1: Making the master disc.

Par 2: Pressing the records.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Anybody Got an Accordion-o'-Lantern?

Sci-fi icons, geek titans, Halloween horrors -- it's a glowing pumpkin buffet! Vote for your favorite geeky jack-o'-lanterns or submit your own at Wired News' Underwire blog. An accordion-o'-lantern sure would make a nice addition.

Also: Don't miss the Robotic Snap-O-Lantern in action!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Heavy Metal + Parody = Priceless YouTube Humor

If you haven't witnessed the hilarious rock 'n' roll parodies created by YouTube prodigy StSanders, you're cheating yourself out of a free belly laugh. Earlier this week, Wired News ran an interview with the Finnish funnyman, who takes vintage heavy metal videos and overdubs crappy solos that are strangely convincing and remarkably funny.

Now he's unleashed another gem, "Iron Maiden shreds," this time targeting the veteran U.K. metal band's performance of "The Trooper." The climax of the video -- which features the appearance of Maiden mascot Eddie, set to a circus theme -- is, well, a monstrously funny moment.

Some of StSanders videos are surprisingly convincing -- the "Eddie Van Halen shreds" video had me scratching my head and despairing for the rocker's failing talents, at least until the "Iron Man" quote -- and some people fall for the parodies hook, line and sinker (just check the comments). But in the end, it's all in good fun.

P.S. My favorite StSanders creation is "Jake E. Lee shreds." The crazy Ozzy clapping, the vague haze of applause and Ozzy's under-enthusiastic wail about a minute into the clip ... truly inspired.

Nudie's the Name, Fashion's the Game

Everybody knows the female members of Those Darn Accordions dress fabulously and that, perhaps, from time to time on rare occasions, the manly members of the band fail to raise the fashion bar. I'm guessing some Nudie suits, as shown in the book Nudie: The Rodeo Tailor, would kick things up a notch. After all, who doesn't love a rhinestone cowboy?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Squeezin' in San Antonio, Part 4

Express-News journo Jim Beal Jr.'s blog coverage of the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio includes some cool pictures of performers. He also doles out some superlatives -- guess who he named "best-dressed band"? That's right: That title goes to "Those Darn Accordions, at least the three female members, Carri Abrahms, Susie Davis and Suzanne Garramone."

Paul's button-free Rockordion also gets the nod for "most radically altered accordion," and there are plenty more accolades and witty observations to go around. In fact, I nominate Jim for best coverage of the International Accordion Festival.

For more on the festival, check out the San Antonio Current's feature story, "Argentina, via the Ukraine." It starts out profiling "Argentinian accordion superstar Chango Spasiuk" and discussing the festival's truly international roots, then swerves into an interview with Paul about TDA's "oddball path" to squeezebox rock.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Squeezin' in San Antonio, Part 3

The Express-News' Jim Beal Jr. provides a post-action report of Day 1 at San Antonio's International Accordion Festival, headlined "Fest Offers a Lot of Fun and Tradition."

An excerpt:
"The old music and the new music kept dancers moving and large crowds at three stages grooving to the classic Western swing of the Ridgetop Syncopators; the Native American "chicken scratch" (a relative of conjunto) of Southern Scratch; the Celtic of Johnny B. Connolly and the Tradmarks; the San Antonio conjunto/rock of Texmaniacs; Quebecois from Yves Lambert & Le Bebert Orchestra; the complex Argentine folk/world music of Chango Spasiuk and his band; and the rollicking, rocking, four-accordion attack of San Francisco-based Those Darn Accordions."

There's a lot of roots music at the festival, and many mighty nice musicians hanging around. (We're getting quite an introduction to the button box and creole music, courtesy of Ed Poullard, who plays a mean fiddle alongside Louisiana accordionist Lawrence Ardoin, and builds button boxes himself). The festival organizers and volunteer staffers couldn't be any nicer, and the post-fest poolside party was pleasant as all get out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Squeezin' in San Antonio, Part 2

Two sets down! Afternoon set -- hot as a fresh-fried puffy taco shell (I know because I had one). Evening set down by the River Walk -- much cooler. Bee-yoo-tee-full location, just right for an accordion band. Nice moat in front of the stage and all. You know things are looking up when you see a purple drink ticket.

Paul's black socks look cool and all, but here's what Suzanne and Carri looked like for tonight's show.

BTW, when you're in San Antonio and you're looking for a steak, give Little Rhein Steak House a try. Delicious filet-and-shrimp combo, and pecan pie that's outta this world.

Squeezin' in San Antonio

We're lovin' the International Accordion Festival so far. San Antonio is beautiful, the people are nice, and it's always fun to watch your bandmates put on a workshop.

Suzanne, Carri and Susie were joined onstage by a local San Antonio squeezebox player and another from Austin for the "Calling All Accordion Grrrrls!" workshop, which was moderated by festival organizer Pat. All these lovely ladies talked about their instruments and what it's like to be a female squeezer. They also played a few tunes.

Paul joined the women of TDA to sing a polka (even though he was wearing black socks with shorts).

Well, it's time for our first set -- come on down to San Antonio if you can. We play Saturday and Sunday, and this place is lousy with accordion greats.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Squeeze Machine Secrets: 'Wrinkle Suit'

TDA does a fair amount of traveling, and lately I've been spending a lot of time in airports. In fact, I'm writing this while I wait for a flight to San Antonio, Texas, to play the International Accordion Festival. Looking around, I see a lot of folks on cell phones, and in the past, if I wasn't writing this, I'd probably be on mine, too. It's a good time to call around the country and talk to festival directors and anybody else that might be interested in hiring a six-piece rock accordion band. Can you imagine what a cold call sounds like when you are trying to pitch this band?

"Yes, hello, this is Paul Rogers with Those Darn Accordions. Is Bob Jefferies in? Yes, Those DARN Accordions.... No, not that Paul Rodgers -- he spells his name with a "D," but we do have the same birthday! How about that! Well, anyway, we're a six-piece rock accordion band and we play lots of fairs and festivals and we would love to be considered for next year's ... Hello? Hello?"

You get the picture.

Well, last year I was waiting for a flight and making those cold calls and a salesman was seated right next to me doing the same thing. Only he was selling large industrial waste compactors. I'm not sure who had the harder job, but when you think about it, we were both trying to convince our clients to buy our squeeze! (Sorry about that.)

Anyway, this hapless fellow was going through his Rolodex and getting nowhere. I stopped making calls and began to listen to his calls. He had one heart-breaker where the potential client had just bought a new compactor the previous week. The poor guy had missed the sale by days and he looked pretty depressed. I noticed that his suit looked wrinkled and figured he had been traveling around the country for the past week and probably just wanted to get home. That's when the title "Wrinkle Suit" popped up, along with the first line from the song:

"I've got a cold call up in Raleigh and a red-eye to L.A.
If I can close in West Covina, I'll be home by Saturday"

And of course if you are going to write a song about a traveling salesman, you have to include a nod to the most famous of them all, Willy Loman. So I got right to it in the second line:

"I'm low man on the totem and Loman back in coach
And I'm feeling like a shadow of myself as we approach."

Lately I've been cutting back on the cold calls and just taking the calls that come in after we play a show. I like this approach better, because, let's face it, you really need to see TDA to get what all the hoopla is about. It's just about impossible to explain this band in 20 seconds! Well, time to get on my flight to Texas -- wrinkles and all!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

'Humor Rules' When It Comes to TDA

Nice TDA profile in today's San Antonio Express-News. "Humor rules during a TDA album and show," writes Jim Beal Jr., who has been pulling for us to get a slot at the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio for years.

Now it's all about to happen. Should be a riot (or at least a "heaping helping of accordions"). Thanks for your support, Jim! We're really looking forward to being part of an event with so many squeezebox greats.

Heads and Horns and ... a Video Shoot?

TDA squeezer emeritus Patty sends along a link to the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum in San Antonio, begging the question: Could there be a better place on the planet to shoot some video for our new song, "Heads and Horns"?

The Texas Legends website lays out the joint's interesting history:
"An enterprising entrepreneur, (Albert) Friedrich opened the saloon with the offer: 'Bring in your deer antlers and you can trade them for a shot of whiskey or a beer.' And so, the world’s most unique collection of horns and antlers began. Albert's father, Wenzel, soon joined in on the act, making handmade horn furniture for the saloon. In no time at all, cowboys and hunters began to bring in horns and trophy mounts from all kinds of animals."

I'm hoping we can stop by when we are in town for the International Accordion Festival. You may have a winner on the wall ...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

'Latino Roots' Spice Up San Antonio Squeeze Fest

The accordion's place in Latin music will be celebrated at the 2007 International Accordion Festival in San Antonio this weekend, according to Express News. Of course, we'll be there (we're listed as "alternative").

Check out the full list of performers and workshops (including one dubbed "Calling All Accordion Grrrrls!"). Wonder who'll be at that one?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

End of an Era: Art Altenburg Leaves Concertina Bar

Looks like Milwaukee treasure Art Altenburg finally found a buyer for his truly wonderful Concertina Bar.

That's bittersweet news -- I know Art has been trying to sell the place for a few years, so I'm happy for him. But I'll miss his 100-watt hospitality, his bar-top concertina riffs, his cheerful "beer time!" I'll even miss the broiled cheese curds. But I'm sure it's a good thing for Art, who says he will move to his family farm, take care of his mother and "probably go chasing women."

The possible silver lining is that "the new owner, Andy Kochanski, intends to keep the tradition of Art's alive, but minus Art," according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. What's more, "Andy plans to allow accordions. Art is such an aficionado of concertinas that he would never allow their keyboarded cousins in the bar," the paper says (although Art always gave us the warmest of welcomes).

Good luck, Art, and good luck, Andy!

Bronze Fonz for Milwaukee?

TDA stalwart Bill from Milwaukee sends along a quick note about a bronze statue of Henry "the Fonz" Winkler that tourism booster Visit Milwaukee wants to erect in Beer City. The group might think it is capitalizing on the success of Happy Days, but Bill says, "I would give this thing about a week before it's vandalized."

The big question: Would the vandals be listening to TDA's cover of "Making Our Dreams Come True (Theme From 'Laverne and Shirley')"?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Jamming With Dick Contino in Reno?

Great news! Accordion-centric blog Let's Polka reveals that we will be sharing the stage with Dick Contino at the Eldorado's Great Italian Festival this weekend. Of course, that information is buried on the casino's website (although the appearance is confirmed on Contino's site).

Check out the full schedule and you'll see that OG TDA member Tom Torriglia's band Bella Ciao will be playing, too, along with many other fun bands.