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"Next time you hear an effective and affecting lyrics-first, narrative and nakedly personal songwriter like Billy Manas, just remember that this act of staying out of the way of the lyrics is a musical skill, not a literary one. Props where they are due." -John Burdick  Hudson Valley Almanac 

"Billy Manas has star power."  Woodstock Times

"Billy Manas is a very passionate guy who operates on many levels and all of this finds its way 
into his music." Poughkeepsie Journal

"You could say that Billy Manas gets straight to the point - his no-frills directness takes familiar songs and makes them his own - his locomotive acoustic guitar, exuberant harmonica, and road-worn voice are the touchstone of a seasoned troubadour."  Paul Higgins WKZE

Truck Stop Troubadour Volume 21-Growing 

A wise old professor once said to me, when everything in my life was crumbling to shit, "Don't worry. This too shall pass."  A month later when everything started to click perfectly, I ran to his office to tell him all my great news and how I just could not believe how incredible everything had become, he listened patiently then looked me straight in the eye and with a poker face I'll remember until my dying day said, "Don't worry. This too shall pass."
The point was not lost on me. But I did notice a few distinctions in this theory. A few blogs back I remember writing about how I was going to take this easy job with a low end trucking company and supplement my income with money I was making on the side playing music.  It seemed like a viable plan at the time, but a few things took place since February that changed how I felt about that. Regardless of the mechanics, the overwhelming reason to change that approach came to me the day I realized that I had to give a certain amount of my time to somebody everyday in order to make a living, why not give it to the highest bidder? In other words, if I have to be away from the house 11 to 14 hours a day anyway, doesn't it make more sense to come home after earning $275 instead of $160?  I mean this is the kind of difference we're talking about. Granted, there's quite a bit more work involved in the higher paying job, but once again, if you have to be away from the house for that long every day anyway, why spend that time on your ass when you could be shaking your thing and making your family happier in the process?  Besides I sleep better when I work harder. So-blammo!-a decision has been made.
We tend to bandy about words like decision without stopping to truly ponder their real meanings. The etymology of the word decision is not too far from the word incision. It comes from a German term which essentially means to cut away all other possibilities. So when I told a truck driver friend of mine that I passed the drug test and the background check and I told my current job it was my last day, he proceeded to lecture me about how short sighted that was. "You should've just taken a leave of absence from your job and made sure everything was kosher with your new one.  What if you don't like it?  What if you can't handle the work?"
I felt a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach when he brought those things up, but as I continued driving down 84 near Hartford, I remembered what the word decision meant.  There is no going back. I want that money not this money. I left myself no out on purpose. Once I became comfortable with the reality of that, I felt a wave of euphoria wash over me. I am striving. I am achieving. I am pushing myself into uncomfortable places and forcing myself to grow.  That is where I find the juice of life.
For the past couple of years, my M.O. has been to play a few band gigs at the start of winery season to create a stir and get my name around. I like to find the best players I can and make as big a splash as possible before settling back into my solo work.  This year, as anyone who knows me can attest, was truly special. I decided to ask the greatest Jazz organ/piano player in NY, "what would I have to pay you to play this gig with me?" He threw out a number and I came up with it. I mean sometimes you just need to do those things. In addition to that I was also able to get one of New Paltz's hottest rhythm sections and I booked a gig at The Sloop Brewery in Elizaville for Mother's Day. Then I asked MK from WDST if I could bring them onto Locally Grown to promote it (I could gush on and on about how wonderful MK is--I've been grinding and grinding for decades and she has given me more exposure in the last year than anyone has in the past 20--so she said "sure!"
Long story short, you can't miss with a band like that backing you up. But something no less than magical happened after the band left the stage.  We still had an hour and a half to fill and I figured I'd keep the crowd happy with my winery repertoire. I opened with a rendition of Me and Bobby McGee where I could feel myself not only hitting all the notes that Janis would hit but the textures were very damn close. So close that I could feel electricity charging off of me and slamming into the crowd and then zapping right back at me.  The hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight out. Then a grunged out version of a Stones song. Then a hyper speed version of Me and Julio.
The energy exchange between me and everyone in the room was intense.
I bring this up because at one point in my life I felt utterly uncomfortable playing to a room with nothing but me, a guitar and a harmonica. I felt like I was trying to penetrate a dark room with a thin treble and people would just ignore me as they waited for the rest of the band who wasn't showing up.
Once again the same story held true. I faced those uncomfortable situations and I left myself the choice of becoming really good at it or just not doing it anymore.
Now I am leaving out the part where I worked really hard for years and I bought myself a sick sounding Gibson J-45, a nice PA, a few little extras here and there--and all this stuff helps a lot--but it was those countless hours of singing the same song over and over, taping it, listening back and then building up a set of 50 of those.
Striving. Achieving. Pushing myself into uncomfortable situations and forcing myself to grow.


Sloop Brewery Mother's Day 2017

Truck Stop Troubadour Volume 18-The Science Of Misery 

Most people go through life--myself included--without sitting down and really mapping out their values in any meaningful way.  People have done it for centuries and far be it for me to rob people of their God given right to be depressed but I do want to offer a simple explanation.  When all of this became clear to me, it freed me up quite a bit, so why not spread the good word. I don't know anyone as well as I know myself, so I am the only real accurate example I can give.  I do, however, feel like these discoveries are universal and I am almost positive that if anyone were to look into the inner strife they are experiencing, they will find this data useful.
      Perhaps intellectually I value passion and creativity in a big way. I am also aware in a cerebral context that it is so true that if you do not have your health, you have nothing. Okay, so in a sub-conscious way, all of these truths are floating around in my whirlpool but then we come to the reality of achievement. Now if I have decided that I am only comfortable if I am in the earnings range of the top 25% of the American population--which is what I have noticed--the problems begin to crop up.  Now I say I noticed this because I never really sat down and articulated it. It appears to be some silent resolution I made with myself. And here's the catch---if you drive a truck and you only feel comfortable if you're making that much money, you better be willing to work twelve hours a day and six days a week.
      You may be wondering where the time is for all that creativity  and passion that I find so terribly important.  Well, it's not easy.  But for arguments sake, let's say I found a way to multi-task and I was able to squeeze a few gigs in here and there.  That is actually a real enough scenario and I can say with honesty that I have been able to accomplish this feat.  The question then becomes the value of health.  Where does that fit in this hierarchy?
      Not only that, but what about the values of freedom, intimacy, comfort or happiness.  Where do these appear in the list?  I found myself at the end of my tenure with my last company extremely unhappy, practically despondent, and very ill.  But earning exactly what I wanted to earn.  Unfortunately that does not make up for the imbalance of values that I was stuck in and without being consciously aware of it, I was beginning to fade out.  In fact I remember being on the phone with someone,at that time, telling them that I "felt like a salmon that was no longer interested in swimming upstream ".  
This is, of course, not the only area where these conflicts exist.  Take relationships and children for instance.  If security and family are values that you have spent a great deal of energy and time pursuing, and in doing so have found yourself in seemingly inexplicable, uncomfortable circumstances, it may be a lot less inexplicable than you think.  It's entirely possible to have those traditional values and at the same time hold freedom, intimacy and sexual adventure in equally high regard.  I say possible not convenient.  And unfortunately, it is this small inconvenience that keeps family courts hoppin' all year long.
    Personally, I tend to struggle in this area from time to time and yes it does make it difficult for me to stay on an even keel emotionally week after week after week--but I happen to have an arsenal of very wise and learned people in my corner and on my contacts list and I make the necessary calls to keep myself from sabotage.
   In my job search over the last two weeks, I have had to give some serious thought to these considerations.  It looked as if I was on my way to sealing the deal on a union job with a concrete trucking firm.  This was the equivalent of the bright and shiny lure that the bluefish sees before it chomps down on the hook.  It came with great health benefits paid entirely by the company, a pension, and a lot of overtime and great pay.  My achievement goals were set.  The rub was that I was told by many of the employees--all at different places and times--not to make any plans from Monday through Saturday. Without warning you could be sent home after seven hours or after fifteen.  It looked as if my winery gigging was going to be whittled down to Sundays only.  And you know, right up until this morning I was actually going to try to make it work for me.
   I had an interview with another company--this one a regular trucking firm like the one I just departed from--and this one would start out for the first month or two being less than what I am used to making but I would be able to gig as much as I am used to and after the winter the money would be closer to what I can live on.  I will be paying weekly for my health insurance and there will be a (401)k instead of a pension plan.
   I'm a little bit uncomfortable not taking the job with all the better fringe benefits and in some way it is making me feel like I am letting my family down.  But in my heart, knowing that I will not be diminishing the inherent values of passion, creativity, health and wellness makes it all worthwhile. And it is my belief that in the long run I am doing more for my family by making my life palatable than sacrificing all of that for a couple hundred more dollars a week and security for a time in my life that I have no guarantee I will live to enjoy. 

Truck Stop Troubadour Volume 17-Existential Crisis 

I began taking Magnesium as a supplement awhile ago because it has a mysterious property that calms the mind of those afflicted with vivid,
visceral, terrible dreams and makes it so that we either don't have them or at least don't remember them.  Lately though, with having lost my job
and my income the Magnesium no longer works.  Add to this the fact that I have never really found myself in such a serious lifestyle--being breadwinner
and father to the two small children that live with me--my psyche is literally going ape shit. The closest metaphor I could think of is feeling like the captain of
a ship that is taking on water.
It is really not part of my modus operandi to play the role of the victim, so I have voraciously been reading books that I feel will inevitably empower me and
stimulate an idea or a passion inside of me to climb up into the next level.  One such book is Anthony Robbins' Awaken The Giant Within.  Now my hope, as I
just articulated was to find an esoteric answer but what I found, totally unexpectedly, was a passage that almost--word for word--spoke to my exact situation:

"To remind yourself of the power of persistence, consider the metaphor of the stone cutter. How does he break open a giant boulder? He whacks it as hard as he can. The first hit doesn’t leave even a scratch, but he strikes hundreds, maybe even thousands of times. He persists even when his actions seem to be futile. But he knows that just because you don’t see immediate results, it doesn’t mean you’re not making progress. So he keeps striking the rock. At some point it doesn’t just chip, but literally splits in two. Did the final blow break the boulder open? Of course not. It was the constant pressure being applied to the challenge at hand. "

It is, of course, a great and powerful analogy but  more than that, it describes the incongruent situation I presently find myself in.  For forty years, that ugly building in East Hampton on Long Island has been withstanding the blunt force of tractor trailers backing up to it and dropping off  the processed crap that those people shovel into their bodies--and I happened to back under the existing trailer and the thing just fell apart.  So again--was it my getting underneath the trailer that caused the ridiculous amount of damage I am being accused of?  Of course not.  But in business, as in life in general, everyone feels better when there's one person to single out and blame.  I just happened to draw the short straw.

Being clean for the years that I have been, my life has traveled up a pretty straight trajectory in both income and quality.  Year after year things seemed to improve by leaps and bounds.  I have no history to draw on that reminds me of anything similar to this--except before I got sober and serious.  In other words, this is freaking me out so bad because it reminds me too much of the unmanageability that I subjected myself to when I was in a very different place and I can not describe how much I dislike being here right now.

I have sat through plenty of recovery meetings where old timers would talk about how they "hit bottoms" clean and I must admit that I sat there listening patiently and thinking to myself that that will never be me.  I know what I am doing.  I work hard, I show up early everyday, I am a safe driver--maybe not the fastest, but if it takes me twenty minutes longer to do the same store as these other guys, at least I know I'll still have a job tomorrow.

 Yeah, there's not a lot of hedonistic joy being a parent of small children.  You don't really converse with your partner unless you can squeeze it into a quick sentence, intimacy is something you sort of remember, you've basically taken a vow of poverty and some days you will swear these little beings scream and cry more than they talk. So there have definitely been times when I was pretty low down-- but with a clear mind,  you lumber through this stuff with phone calls to friends and music and plans for the future.

But here I am--another old timer with a story about how I hit bottom clean.  It's difficult to reconcile. I guess I always kind of suspected, in my darkest moments, that things just don't travel in one direction forever. But again, it's one thing to grapple with this as an intellectual riddle and quite another to be actually living in it.

I drove up to my old work site this morning to take the mandatory piss test to begin another job for a different company who happens to be housed in that same building.  The safety manager from the company who just shit canned me came up to me to offer his condolences and an explanation as to how something like this could be allowed to happen. I felt it'd be an opportune time to explain to him the stone cutter theory but he is clearly one of these endearing people whose idea of listening is waiting for you to stop talking.  You could tell that his response was ready for launch way before you finished your sentence. 

But that's the way it is some days on this planet of ours.  I, however, am going to take advantage of this unseasonably warm February day and lay this burden down for a few minutes.

Truck Stop Troubadour Volume 16- Railroaded 

Like most new truck drivers, I began my career as an over the road driver, sleeping in my truck's "sleeper compartment"and showering and eating at truck stops.
Now you can be as anti-social as you want but you are never going to fully escape the banal conversations that waft through these establishments from the TV rooms, the shower stalls and the bathrooms.  It seems like every truck driver has a horror story where he has been railroaded, scapegoated or mistreated at one time or another.  The one theme that seems to run consistent through all of these stories is that it's never their fault.
So keep this in mind when I lay out my own horror story--I have always had a deal with myself to keep out of the trap of seeing myself as a victim and to always be very conscious of my role in these things.  For the life of me, though, this one really is not my fault.
All summer long then throughout the fall and on into the winter I have been delivering a load of palletized groceries to the Stop and Shop in East Hampton, NY.  The details of what I do are pretty boring but for the sake of accuracy I want to describe what happened on Friday January 27.  I pull into the municipal lot in East Hampton at 7am, which happens to be where the loading docks are, and my job is to drop the full trailer, hook up to the empty trailer that's in the loading door, pull that out, hook back up to the full trailer and put that in where the empty one was.  After this, you unhook from the loaded one, hook back up to the empty and bring that back to Newburgh where they will inevitably fill it back up the next day with more groceries.  All pretty straight forward.
I had some difficulty with the trailer that was there when I got there and the receiver on duty mentioned to me that I hit the wall kind of hard. I've heard this from receivers in the past--usually in jest and it never really amounts to anything.
I was in East Hampton from 7:00am to 7:50am. In that time the receiver on duty helped me with the trailer, checked in the load, and signed the documentation.  I purchased a bagel and a donut in their bakery, I had a conversation with the grocery manager about the entrepreneur that developed "Honest Tea" and about podcasts and finally saying good-bye to everyone, I got in the truck and drove back to Newburgh.
I got home at about 2pm and I got myself ready for my gig at Diego's.  When I got out of the shower at 5pm I had a message from my employer, JB Hunt, pleading with me to immediately call them back.  It was this dispatcher named Laurie who had this incredible knack for giving people a stomach ache just from being in the same room as them.  She was informing me that the East Hampton Stop and Shop said I damaged their wall and I better call the safety people at corporate headquarters in Arkansas and explain my side of things.
Well to wrap this up before you want to stop reading this diatribe, the East Hampton Stop and Shop, located in a forty year old building that was once a Waldbaums and I think an A&P before that, was claiming that I caused $56,000 worth of damage to their wall. $56,000!!!!
So you don't have to take my word for how criminal and opportunistic these slimeballs are, feel free to google Waldbaums East Hampton, NY and when you click on Yelp! you will see reviews from ten years ago describing what a dump the store is and was. Given that things rarely get younger over time, it is no real surprise that it is an even bigger dump today than it was in 2007.
I was called into the office at JB Hunt in Newburgh on Monday and told that my people here were going to do everything in their power to fight it but if it goes through at the number that the Stop and Shop is looking for, I will not only be out of a job, I will have a $56,000 accident following me around on my CDL license for all eternity, which of course will make it nearly impossible to find other work.
On Wednesday I wrote an email to the account manager in Newburgh and asked if I should start looking for another job.  He replied that he was typing up a term exception and they want to retain me.  A term exception from what I can puzzle together from corporate lingo means an explanation written by managers in New York why someone bound to be terminated should get a reprieve or an exception.
So far this sounds okay.
Walking out of the dentist office in Lake Katrine at 4pm today, my phone rings and it is my account manager.

"Hey man, I'm really sorry but corporate is upset that you didn't report this when it happened and the amount of money involved, they wouldn't make an exception.  Unfortunately, you've been terminated."

What is angering me most out of this whole turn of events is that in the most honest terms, I did not do anything wrong.  There was absolutely nothing that took place at that store that indicated to me that I better call my supervisors and tell them what happened. And, once again, the probability that I single handedly caused $56,000 worth of damage to their structure--and I use that term loosely--backing a bobtail tractor under an empty trailer is mathematically impossible and contrary to every law of physics known to mankind.

Knowing I am right is not really helping me right now.  What is helping me right now is knowing that we are in the midst of a very serious driver shortage and with perseverance and courage, I will be fine.  I've got little ones that rely on me in a very real way. If I'm not bringing in a pile of cash every week it's not as if I can just slough it off onto someone else.  There is no one else.

During the holocaust there was this man named Stanislavsky Lech who watched as the Nazis stormed into his home, herded up his entire family and one by one killed them all.  His son, his little girls, his wife  It made him temporarily into a lifeless robot but a voice inside of him--a voice that began by asking a fruitless question...why is this happening to me?... progressed into the question--how can I get out of this concentration camp?--he needed to come up with an answer to a seemingly unanswerable question very quickly because it would not be long before they would kill him.  The only reason he was still alive was because he had the unenviable job of loading naked dead corpses onto a truck each day to be taken out of the camp and dumped into trenches.

How am I going to get out of here?  How am I going to get out of here?  It became like a mantra and his sole purpose. Days and days of asking his brain that question finally led to an answer.  It dawned on him to remove every stitch of clothing from his body and lay "dead" in a pile of dead bodies.  The horrific stench was worse than anything else he had ever experienced.  Finally after hours and hours he was loaded, along with dozens of foul rotting bodies onto the bed of the truck and brought outside the fence to be dumped in the ditch.  Even then he waited for hours until dark and he ran--completely naked--for twenty five miles until he was free from the Nazis and in safe territory.

You may be wondering what this awful and poignant story has to do with my being fired unfairly from my truck driving job.  The answer is "absolutely nothing".  But it illustrates the power of asking the right questions and the paralysis of asking the wrong ones.  I could easily be sitting in my room right now asking myself how something like this could happen to me.  I'm clean, I am sober, I am honest, I don't cheat, I don't steal, I don't lie...but Lech could've done the same thing a thousand times over.  The reason he lived to a ripe old age and many of his neighbors died within days of his escape is because he did not waste his time asking his brain to give him answers to unanswerable questions.
So tonight, much like Stanislavsky Lech, I will be asking my brain "how am I going to get out of this?"  And I'll be damned if I don't have an answer by Monday.

Along with a wonderful souvenir: my very own boring as shit story of what happened to me that totally was not my fault.

Truck Stop Troubadour Volume 15-Weekend Warrior 

  I have been reading "Born To Run" by Bruce Springsteen and there was this one line that hit me kind of hard.  He said that he had to do this thing or that thing or whatever it was because he did not want to wind up a nine to fiver.  He did not want to wind up a weekend warrior that played twice a week and went back to a soul sucking grind Monday through Friday.  I know exactly what he was talking about because honestly I never did either.  In my twenties and in some of my thirties I wrote, I recorded, I played, I made phone calls, I pursued dead end after dead end in search of the one thing I wanted more than anything else ever: the ability to support myself with music. Of course the temptation with reading a book like that is to pick out everything he did better, every plan he made that was more shrewd and admonish myself about how I just didn't reach that level of serious that he did.
Or one could always comfort oneself with the belief that everything is as it is supposed to be and there's no changing it--I suppose it's entirely dependent on how much negativity you want to invite into your life.
During winery season last year, I played a lot.  I think I actually played 70 paying gigs and I was extremely proud of myself.  Most of the time I did this while driving a truck 65 to 70 hours a week at a job that exists an hour away from where I live.  It didn't leave me a whole lot of free time but I was much happier than I am now in the dead of winter, not playing any gigs and hibernating.  As a matter of fact, I called in sick to work today because ...well because I am sick.
From my time in this world I think I can count the number of stable, well adjusted musicians I know on one hand.  I know I'm definitely not one.  I have more inner turmoil in my head than Syria most days and the only relief I ever feel is when I am singing and banging on a guitar.  People use the term catharsis probably more than they should, but that is exactly what it is.  I can actually feel the dark leaving my body as I play and sing and after a typical three hour gig, I am exhausted but I feel great.  I don't feel great right now.  All that turmoil is building and building with no escape and has succeeded in making me physically ill.
I wake up at midnight most nights, take a shower, drive to Newburgh, get in a tractor trailer, drive out to Southampton and then East Hampton, then fight the LIE all the way back to Newburgh where I am generally met with the question by my dispatchers "How many hours do you have left?"  What this means in layman terms is "How many hours will the DOT allow you to continue driving?  Some days I leave the house at 1 am and get home at 5pm, at which point the expectation is that I will wake up again at midnight and do it all over again.  Six days a week. I'm not really sure what the rest of the world does to support their families but this is what I do.  I have a pedestrian relationship with my children, at best and hope someday they will come to understand that in this country a lot of times you are faced with the decision of poverty or working yourself to death.  Right now I feel like I made the right decision.
During winery season, this lifestyle is a necessary evil but during the winter I can get very bitter and very resentful that this is how I have to live at 46 years old.  And angry that I am charged with the task of delivering 80 tons of groceries in a vehicle that takes five hundred yards to stop on roads where I am being cut off constantly by people who have no idea what the potential consequences of those actions could be and don't even get me started on the financial compensation or lack therof because at this point in January it seems almost criminal to me.
So here I am with two more months of going from weekend warrior to just plain warrior.
Weekend warrior is a term meant to marginalize people like myself who haven't reached an unheard of pinnacle of success but it means something completely different to me.  It means I am still fighting.  It means I am still singing and I am still playing.
God please get me through these next two months.

Truck Stop Troubadour Volume 14- Thanksgiving 

I realize I began this blog with a promise that I would be consistent and dedicated, but alas! life is so complicated at times.  I noticed it has been two months since I wrote Part Seven of The Origins of Frankenstein Dog and I plan on making a nice dent in Part 8 at some point today, but let's do this one first: I have been working a lot--which is nothing new for me but between that and the gigs I've been playing, a performance on Q92 FM that I rehearsed for weeks, recording an EP and family responsibilities, my plate has been full (to use a lame and over used colloquialism). Now when I am with family and enjoying my turkey-less Thanksgiving, I am going to reflect on all the people and things in my life I am grateful for.  There are people who have helped along the way that I have so much gratitude for: Jamie Saft for his help with my music, the folks at Baldwin Winery who really got the ball rolling for me, Megan Eckert who helped get me so many more gigs out of nothing but the kindness of her very humane and animal loving heart; Tiffy from Robibero Winery who helped me out so much this year, Uncle Mike from WRWD who hooked me up with so many cool things and events, John Burdick for writing that incredible review of my acoustic album, MK for playing my songs on her WDST radio show "Locally Grown"...I mean the list can almost go on indefinitely because there were so many people instrumental in helping me experience my greatest year as a singer-2016 (and, please, I realize this list is woefully incomplete and if I left you out it wasn't on purpose).
When we are young we never imagine that our greatest year will be smooshed in between driving a truck 70 hrs a week, supporting a family and being 46 years old but life is inconvenient like that.  I do remember going to Oscar Montessa, Ludwig;s dad, for a reading when I was in my twenties and he said to me that I would absolutely realize all of my dreams and aspirations but I will need to be patient because "it won't be for some time."  And, of course, cynical bastard that I was, I just assumed that was his way of pacifying my angst.
Even this blog has been magical in its own right.  I wrote one about my childhood friendship with Chris Notaro from the Crumbsuckers and he found it online, got in touch and we talk almost daily once again.  Cat Ballou, a writer who penned my first review in 1995 in The Woodstock Times, found me through this site also.  That review when I was twenty-five was so important to me.  I still use a quote from it on my website.
Cat Ballou is a card actually.  I remember in 2006 I was asked to be the musical director on a Sam Shepherd play that was being directed and produced by Glen Lazslo Weiss and starred so many fine actors--and like many dramatic affairs, there was no shortage of ego on the stage.  Well Cat Ballou showed up unexpectedly and wrote a review in The Kingston Freeman that said--to paraphrase--I came to see this play because I like Sam Shepherd, but mostly because Billy Manas of Frankenstein Dog was in charge of the music.  To use another colorful colloquialism, that went over like a fart in church.  And just like a fart in church, it made me laugh.
Well that gets the rust off the typewriter, as it were.  Winery season draws to a close and I have no plans to hibernate.  I have the finishing touches on the new EP, my blog, goal setting, lots of groceries to deliver, books to read, motivational tapes to listen to, and life to live and before I know it, I'll be setting my PA back up at Baldwin Winery and playing all kinds of new stuff so the employees don't get bored.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Truck Stop Troubadour Volume 13- The Origins of Frankenstein Dog ( Part 7) -Charlotte 

Okay, before I took that diversion to explain the recording of the first Frankenstein Dog studio record, See Us Run, our story stopped when Chris Magistro and I were at his dad's in Matthews, NC and Ria was blindly coming after us--driving an 88 Cutlass down I-95--with the express purpose of re-joining the fold.
It finally got to the point where Chris's stepmother, who did not enjoy solid mental health (did I couch that appropriately?) told me to get a handle on that "bitch" before she calls the cops.
A few days later, Ria showed up with a couple grand and we got a hotel room at the Days Inn in Charlotte, NC where she spent a few days recuperating.  In the old days this was known as taking the cure.  
It wasn't too long before the sun came out, Ria was shed of the poison, and a plan was beginning to be formulated. 
I know that Chris really resented the fact that we took great pains to escape the madness and here I was days later back with her in a hotel while he suffered at his dads and step-moms, but at the time I felt a lot of things were beyond my control.  I didn't feel like I had the energy to fight off Ria, I wasn't that great at not being in a relationship and after a few days of uncertainty when I was faced with the choice of being at someone's parents or in a hotel with Ria...well, ya know.
There was a righteous soul kitchen attached to the hotel named GA on Tryon and it was owned by a beautiful big lug named James Bazelle.  Grits and eggs for breakfast, oxtails and fried chicken for lunch, fried okra, rib eyes, peach punch, sweet tea...they had it all.
James and his wife Renee immediately fell for Ria and displayed many of her paintings on their walls.  It wasn't too long before she was making quite a bit of money off painting commissions and sales and after a week of the hotel, we moved next door to a complex known as Renaissance Place.  It was an efficiency apartment which meant it was a bedroom with a balcony and a glorified hot plate.
I became a waiter for James Bazelle and Ria started working at the catering business in Renaissance Place.  The catering business was owned by a guy named Ron, who at one time was James Bazelle's boss and mentor before James got a business loan and struck out on his own.
Ron would show up at GA on Tryon every morning and he spent the entire meal sniffing in constantly.  There was a rumor that he had a horrible coke problem but now that I am 46 and I've been around for awhile, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that that was a bullshit rumor.  The guy always had a hearty appetite and--even more than that, he was a focused and hungry restauranteur and relied on his solid standing in the community and voracious word of mouth to keep himself booked at every wedding, church function, engagement party, and reception in that part of Charlotte.  No one could touch the guy's fried chicken.  It was from another planet.
Within a month, Chris Magistro saved enough dough to get himself an apartment at Renaissance Place also and then weeks later, Bobby Parrillo moved down also and shared a place with Chris.
On Friday nights, James let us set up and play in the dining room.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Frankenstein Dog was a restaurant house band for a soul food restaurant in Charlotte.
He couldn't pay us, but he would bring out enormous platters of spaghetti and garlic bread and we had the opportunity to play all the time.
One thing we could not seem to figure out, was why we were having trouble booking any paying gigs in the area.  I think what it came down to was that even though Charlotte is a capital city, everybody knew everybody, so if you weren't hooked up in the network of bands that all originated from the high school, you didn't get booked.
So we never got Frankenstein Dog off the ground there and that was beginning to depress the hell out of me.  As a matter of fact, I got so depressed that I didn't feel like getting up for work anymore.  So I didn't.  
Me and Ria wound up getting further and further behind on our rent until the day came where we were asked politely to remove ourselves from Renaissance Place.
It was then that I had a fabulous idea.  Let's move into Ria's dad's house on Staten Island and play in Manhattan as much as we possibly could.  We were close enough to the clubs to pound the pavement and book stuff, so what did we have to lose?

Truck Stop Troubadour Volume 13- The Origins of Frankenstein Dog ( 6.5) -See Us Run 

Well this is the kind of story that will not make me any new friends, but it needs to be told because it happened.  There is no changing the past.  The function of the past is to realize it as honestly as possible and learn from it.  I call this 6.5 because it happened simultaneously with moving into the Tramontana house on 208 and practically moments before me and Magistro left--literally in the middle of the night---for Charlotte, NC.  It's actually ironic that the first Frankenstein Dog album was called "See Us Run" because that is precisely what we did.
Right after that fateful night where we played at CBGB for Genya Ravan, our drummer Stevie D. had a meltdown and went the way of the Indian from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.  Chris Magistro had this incredibly impractical and lovely idea to ask Bob Parrillo to play drums for us.  Bob Parrillo was a virtuoso drum prodigy from Medford, NY who played in a band with Michael Bergeman (see part one of this series) and the accomplished bass and lead guitarist Sean Kupisz.  His level of playing was light years ahead of where I was, but we were close growing up on Long Island and it was more his loyalty as a friend than the "challenge" of playing my style of music that led him to even entertain the idea. With nothing but the prodding from Magistro, I called Bob and asked him if he'd consider it.
Bob's response was a request for me to send him recent material on cassette and he would listen to it and decide if it was something he could deal with.
I decided to slap together a rough copy of the proposed album See Us Run...that way he'd have every track I wanted to record in the studio and in the order I wanted to do them in.
As this was going on, I believe Chris, Fabrizio and I had about $600 saved plus a reel of two inch Ampex tape and we planned to stay within that budget.
The day before our studio date, in what I remember as a blinding snow storm, Bob Parrlllo showed up at the Tramontana house with his kit and he set up.  We played every song on the album and, of course, Bob played each one as if he was there since they had been written.  His playing was flawless, creative and appropriate.  Between Chris' fretless and inventive bass lines and Parrillo's progressive approach, Frankenstein Dog took on a whole new sound.  I remember this particular song called "Child's Scream" where Bob's left hand on the ride cymbal never stopped playing this one particular pattern--from the moment the song began until it ended.  All the while, his right hand was playing a completely different pattern and both his legs were occupied with two other things.  I had never played with anyone like him in my entire life.  
We went to the studio in Rosendale, NY the next day and if my memory serves me, there was a couple hours devoted to setting up and miking everything and then approximately three hours where--as a three piece--Bob, Chris and I tracked all ten songs perfectly and usually in one take.  We stayed within budget and we all left the studio feeling hopeful and joyous that the first Frankenstein Dog album was on its way to being an auditory masterpiece. 
The next step was going to be Fabrizio going in and tracking his leads and that was to be followed with mixing.
Now right here is where everything began to crumble down around us.  We showed up a week later to listen to the work Fabrizio did and also to begin the mixing and when we got there everything began to spin out of control.  Me and Chris were not even slightly happy with the lead guitar work but even more than that, we learned that Fab was there for seven or eight hours tracking and re-tracking them.  We were so god damn angry that it is really, even now, difficult to convey.  We managed to set up the studio and track the entire foundation of the album as a live three piece in less time.
The more we ruminated over this, the more we began to see dirty pool.  We were pretty sure that Fab was fucked up during the entire thing and the studio owners just kept allowing him to track and track and re-track for hours as our bill steadily climbed way beyond what we could afford.  So the money we had on us to cover the mixing became the money to pay for that lead guitar session...and I don't think we planned on spending that much time mixing the whole thing, so we were most likely short on that end too.
But the studio owners allowed us to go ahead and mix the record and owe them the rest of the money.  We asked if it'd be ok if we took a cassette copy of the mixes with us and they agreed.
Me and Chris decided to call Tod at Magnetic North and turn that cassette into a CD one off.  Then we handmade a hundred See Us Run cassettes off that CD.
Needless to say, we left NY still owing that money to the studio owners but in our minds, we didn't feel it was something that we had to pay for.  We were convinced that the owners knew he was far too fucked up to realize the sort of tab he was running up trying to track thoses leads.
Now twenty plus years later, I will say this: this was most likely the first in a series of reputation building maneuvers that Chris and I were involved in that led to our being known as half musicians, half crooks.
I still remember Jack Rosenthal telling us that he gave all the proceeds from our cassettes he had at Jack's Rhythms to those studio owners and I also remember that they wound up tracking over our two inch tape.
If I had the wisdom that I have now, I would've found a way to pay for those hours and considered it an expensive education but I am entirely willing to accept the fact that I was some kind of motherfucker in my early twenties.  I walked around believing that if you so much as tapped me on the shoulder, I had every right to hit you over the head with a hammer..  I lived.  I learned.
Regardless, the album was incredible.

Truck Stop Troubadour Volume 12- The Origins of Frankenstein Dog (Part 6) -Escape  

"Fuck you!!!!" Ria screamed shrilly as an unopened Hawaiian Punch can sailed through the air and made direct contact with the glass kitchen window shattering it into what seemed at the time to be thousands of little glass shards.
Chris Magistro and the plumber who was working at our house on 208 both muttered the same thing..."you gotta be shittin' me."  
It would've been funny if it wasn't so terrible.  But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
Sometime in Sept of 1995 we grew tired of the place on Church St--dump that it was--and began to look for a suitable band house.  There was this really nice place out on 208 by Jansen Rd that was owned by a "butch" (for those of you unfamiliar with the accent, that means butcher)  from Queens named Joseph Tramontana.  He was a strict first generation Italian and this was basically his upstate project summer home.  The house was being rented by a Real Estate agency so we realized we'd never be approved if we showed up saying we were looking for a band house.
So I found a halfway decent suit at Salvation Army and Ria had a dress from her last society affair on Staten Island and we posed as a married couple looking for a place to start a family.  We invented and finagled all kinds of fictional references and past histories and we managed to wrangle the house.  It was occupied by me and Ria and Chris Magistro and Sarah.
Things began on a positive note there.  I was wrapped in a magical flow with writing and recording.  Some more notable material was "Guess That's What I Gotta Say", "Main Street The Other Day" and an entire rock opera called Wax Wings.
Wax Wings was truly a glorious affair.  Sometime around December 1st, I decided I wanted to give Ria a rock opera for Christmas.  The premise was that I wanted it to be a surprise, so I didn't want her to hear any of it beforehand.
So I was writing stuff, multitracking it at The 87 motel and handing it off to Chris who was writing bass lines in his room through headphones.  It was truly inspired and coming together nicely.  I based the format loosely on everything I learned from years and years of listening to Tommy and Quadrophenia.  Instrumentals that seamed together all the different melodies from all the songs, a solid theme that ran throughout, dramatic tensions, sweet resolutions--it was all there.
Ria wasn't all that impressed by it, and if I remember correctly she was wondering if I got her anything real for Christmas but as a songwriter, I was stretching quite a bit and it felt really good.
Now in the middle of all of this, our friend Michelle Moriello was killed in a car accident and it affected all of us emotionally and I think it even altered the flow of the writing of Wax Wings.  The last few songs took on a really sad and darkish tone, but it really balanced all the pot and Ritalin inspired stuff nicely.
A night that will live in my memory forever was, a week or so after Christmas, when me and Chris decided to get some recreational drugs and re-record the whole thing live from start to finish.  It was amazing.  I did the guitar and vocal live with Chris accompanying me on bass and then we tracked hand percussion and lead guitar.  This entire event went on from nighttime til dawn and when we woke up later the next afternoon, we could not believe what we had.
We bought tapes and made about fifty copies and I made these librettos by hand to go with them.
Two or three nights later, we performed the whole thing at Creations Coffee House on Church St, and managed to sell every copy we made.  We taped that live performance and we made fifty more and made the live Creations gig the B side of the tape.
There was something that was also working against us during all of this.  We were partying like crazy.  Some might even say abusing drugs like crazy.  And the more we were, the more chaotic things were getting. 
Add to this the fact that that particular winter was brutal with its snowfall and the fact that the Tramontana house was really a summer home that was not meant to withstand a winter onslaught such as this and you'll get the idea.  Chris Magistro and Sarah's rooms had no heat, mine and Ria's section was electric baseboard==it was really beginning to get untenable.
And that led to the Hawaiian Punch blow out.
Chris and I had a meeting while driving up to get cigarettes:
"If we're going to get anywhere with this band, I need to get away from dope and away from Ria..." I remember saying.
Magistro spoke to his father who lived in Matthews, North Carolina and a plan was hatched to just leave in the middle of the night--no warning, no official break up...nothing.
The way I was able to make this decision seem more palatable was by convincing myself that Ria was out of control, irrational and strung out.  You don't try to sit down with someone like that and explain a decision that they are going to be very angry about.  You're just wasting a whole lot of time and energy and opening yourself up for more craziness and violence.
So we did it.
We left in the middle of the night and as we trekked down I-95 I was having mad visions of success, a new start; a dream of Charlotte, NC being the new Seattle and as Frankenstein Dog being the next Soundgarden.
We told no one what we were doing and felt completely safe and insulated until the phone call came to Mr. Magistro's house.
It was Ria.  She was in Delaware and had every intention of continuing to drive south until she was in our livingroom.

Truck Stop Troubadour-The Origins of Frankenstein Dog (Part 5) 

Look-  anyone who has ever been young and striving to break into the music business has at least one I Coulda Been A Contender story.  Actually, Frankenstein Dog has a couple.  And I have friends that have known me for over a decade that I have not told this story to because frankly it sounds desperate and exaggerated as all stories of this type seem to.  In fact, I would still be keeping this story to myself if I didn't know in my heart that Chris Magistro, Fabrizio DiCamillo, and perhaps even a few of our close New Paltz friends at the time will vouch for what I am about to tell  Here goes:
The apartment on Church St was owned by a guy named James and his wife.  He owned a contracting business named "Home James" and Fabrizio worked for him full time as a carpenter.  One day James told Fabrizio he had some real important music contacts in the city and he would see if he could hook us up.  So at one point we were probably all sitting around getting stoned and Fab was relaying this information and we most likely got excited and said "sick!" and then played for three or four more hours.
But sometime later in the week, James pressed it further.  He said, "Here Billy.  This is the phone number of a real heavy hitter in the village music scene, give her a call.  Her name is Genya Ravan."  
Well if you could picture this, there was no internet at the time so there was no cause to celebrate just yet.  I called her and she talked to me for a half hour bandying terms around like Sony, Warner Brothers, fingers on the pulse etc etc.  Well it was starting to get exciting.  Then she ended by asking if I could send her a demo.  She gave us her East Village address and then--oh by the by, there's an article about little ol' me, she informs us, in Goldmine magazine.  
Believe it or not, Convenient sold Goldmine magazine in 1994, so we scurried up there to get the publication.
I'm thinking we most likely began to palpitate because the article was just this dream discography of a very influential woman who was involved with EVERYONE at one time or another.
Now please try to understand-we weren't typical hayseeds.  We were all in our early twenties, we all really believed in what we were writing and playing and we were all under the impression even prior to this that we were destined for world stardom and greatness.  This just added fuel to an already blazing fire of inspiration and focus.
That fated phone call from the Great Ravan:
"...I really love the sound you guys have and I think we could get you picked up by a new division that Warner Bros. is just now about to get off the ground.  What I need from you guys is a really clear demo of your four best songs.  Do you have anything like that?"
Well of course I responded in the affirmative and I hung up promising that she would have exactly that within three days.
It was like the green flag dropped and we were off and running:  Magistro used everything he learned from his two year tutlage under Garrett Uhlenbrock (Skinny Bones) and miked our practice room with direct mics, PZM's nailed to the walls--for the resources we had, the sound we got was pretty phenomenal.  We also had another key ingredient.  George Matthews on drums.
George also toured with La Vista Hotheads which made this rhythm section the best I ever played with.  Not only were they both rock solid, but they both just played numerous gigs together up and down the eastern seaboard and rehearsed for hours and hours before leaving for that tour. I never knew what it felt like to have players like this behind me.  It kind of felt like you were playing in a hammock because the pocket was so tight.  Even if the front end crumbled in rehearsal, those two would just keep going---crazy precision.
The first song we recorded was called Cold Winter.  This song was the obvious choice for leading off the tape.  You pressed play and immediately you heard George's 1-2-3-4 and clock like stick count followed by my Drop D tuned acoustic and Fabrizio's riff which was perfect and catchy as hell.  Add to this Magistro's fretless P Bass which filled the room with wall shaking bottom end and we were making a very clear point.  We were serious.  It may not have been everyone's favorite music but no one could deny that they were listening to something angsty, pure and sincere.
We Fed-Exed the tape to Genya and waited for the reaction.
The reaction went a little like this: real killer stuff guys.  Can you possibly book a gig out here so I can shop you to the industry people I know?
Once again, another hoop to jump through--but we booked CBGB for sometime that December.
So that's it.  Everything that we did for the next three months was strictly to get ready and be the tightest and best we could be for that night.  And there were challenges along the way.
About two weeks before, George moved from the apartment to the 87 motel and he just completely lost interest, until finally we were faced with needing a drummer.  We had a gig booked at The Sleeping Turtle in New Paltz with--believe it or not--"Three" opening.  Our line up was a very scary guitar/vocal, lead guitar and bass.
Some dude in the audience introduced himself to us as Stevie D.  He approached us by saying "you guys need a drummer".  He was good, too.  I mean, crazy as a loon and neurotic as hell but good.
So for two weeks we practiced with Stevie D and got tighter and tighter until that fateful day.  We got on the stage at CBGB and played the tightest and most inspired 40 minute set I can ever remember performing in front of an audience.  The whole time we were up there I kept thinking that whatever industry people she brought didn't matter.  Nobody could possibly say we lacked polish or lacked anything really.
At the end of the set Genya came up to the stage and said, "Real super guys.  What an incredible drummer.  I am going to discuss this with my people and see where we're at."
Chris, Fabrizio and I rented a car the next day and drove to Charlotte to Chris's dads house for a very well deserved vacation.
When we got back to New York, we attempted to reach out to Genya.  No answer.  No answering machine.
The next week, the same thing.  And again the week after that.  It seemed pretty mysterious to us but we attributed it at the time to something happening to her or some shit.
Now we, personally, began to concentrate on other things.  Cat Ballou wrote us the best review ever in the Woodstock Times after seeing us play at Tinker Street.  We were exceptionally lucky because Dave Matthews was at Bearsville recording "Crash" and Carter Beauford  and LeRoi Moore were at the bar.  They loved us and gave us their home addresses and phone numbers..
Ok, so there we are just going along and driving down the road with WDST  playing in the background and the deejay began to talk about this particular artist from the East Village who enjoyed some major success in the seventies but hadn't really put anything out in almost twenty years that anyone cared about.  So the deejay goes on to say that she's got this new album with this real fresh sounding single and he played it.
One scene that will forever stay in my mind was that we had to pull over to the shoulder so Chris Magistro could get out and vomit on the side of the road.  The single began with the count and the stick count and the drop D tuning and Fabrizio's exact riff hook and very expensive production that went far out of it's way to replicate much less expensive production.
We didn't even have to ask each other.  It was our song.  The chorus wasn't there, the lyrics were completely different but there was no way it could be explained as a coincidence.  There were just too many exacting similarities to deny what just happened.
We were pretty good friends with Jamie who owned Not Fade Away on Main Street and we showed him.  He mentioned that his dad was a pretty high end music attorney in Manhattan and he was good enough to get him to agree to listen to my evidence and advise me. So I took the Trailways to Grand Central and a taxi to this beautiful glass and concrete structure somewhere in a very expensive part of the city.
I was so completely out of place in that office, I am almost positive that no one working there initially believed that I was in the right place.  My appearance spoke of a young adult who could in no way afford even a consultation with anyone there.  But they buzzed Mr Mayer and he told them to let me in.
He listened to our tape.  He listened to this artist's new single.  And then again.
He looked up and called one of his interns into the office.  The intern listened and smiled.  They both agreed.  It was no coincidence.  Mr Mayer whispered something to the intern and the the intern left the room.
While we waited, the attorney engaged me in conversation about the band and what I was up to and just friendly stuff.  The intern came back in, handed a piece of paper to the attorney and left.
Mr. Mayer summed it up like this:
Ok there's no question that somehow this material more than inspired this other material but the problem is that this record is not really selling that great and the amount of money it would take to litigate this would never be worth it.  Let me give you some free advice.  You seem talented.  You're young.  You're most likely going to write a lot more and perhaps better stuff in the future.  Let this go and consider it a learning experience.
Well I was back on the Trailways heading north with some really mixed emotions.  A hot music attorney said I was talented and predicted a bright future for me.  He agreed that we were ripped off.  All this is good stuff.  But there was also the feeling of being tricked and that got to all of us.
But Frankenstein Dog continued on.

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