Sunday, January 28, 2018

Partners in Crime: A Nod to my Brother Bassists

It's been close to six weeks since my last gig and while I wait patiently for my leg to heal up I am also looking forward to my musical future. While I am anxious to finally have a chance to do some of the things I have planned I am just as excited for the uncertainties that await me. The reason for that is because in the past those unknowns usually led to meeting some amazing musicians who made their mark on my life as they were not only a joy to play with but also people who taught me more than they could ever know.

In reflecting on such an idea I must say that I think a lot about some amazing bassists I had the pleasure to work with these past few years. Aside from the musical bond we created by working as the rhythm section there is that personal connection that is almost unbreakable. In fact, it has been my bass brothers who have checked in on me the most during this time of rest and recuperation so I thought I would return the favor by taking some time to give them the nod that they deserve.

AJ Gonzales

My most recent rhythm section partner is someone I go way back with. We have worked with each other in various bands as well as in the studio off and on for close to ten years so any time we have a chance to get together we know it's going to be a good time because we are very familiar with each other's style.

Aside from being a great bass player AJ is also a singer and a songwriter so he is very song friendly when it comes to playing bass lines that fit what the song needs. Sound wise he has this awesome Fender bass that I nicknamed the Soul Sista because it has this bottom end that makes my bass drum really happy. For the past year we had the chance to lock in together at so many gigs and it is something I really miss right now. The last couple of months were really special because there were times we would just look at each other onstage and know exactly what to play. At the end of such songs we would just smile and say, "Yeah, I felt that."

Backstage with AJ
One thing I also appreciate is that he is very attentive to dynamics and textures so he is never shy about telling me when I may be pounding a little too hard or if I need to approach something in a more musical way.  Then we would hit the stage again and once we nailed whatever it was that we had to adjust we smile and nod in order to pat each other on the back because for us it's always about being a team.

I miss grooving with him but we both know that something will come up in the future that will allow us to play together again.

Thomas Charbonneau

For about five years I had the chance to groove along with this brother of mine in a couple of different bands. His technique was downright frightening at times but his humility always made him approachable and easy to talk to.  Then there was his sense of humor that made me want to hang with him as much as possible because I knew that I would be laughing both loudly and often.

His tone filled every room we played in and since it had such a big sound I had to pay more attention to the sound of my bass drum to make sure it was on par with the power that Big T brought to the table. Our grooves were always very precise because Thomas has a very active and intelligent musical mind that knew how to pick a song apart. It was actually a great exercise for me to work with him because his extensive musical vocabulary made me access a lot of the music education I learned over the years as our communication went beyond just humming parts to each other. He definitely kept me on my toes.

Thomas was also very protective of me because, as he would always say, "We are a team." I always appreciated that because if I was not on my "A" game he was more concerned about my well being than resentful of the fact that I wasn't perfect that night. In other words, it was never about his ego because it was about the band sounding great and not how he looked or sounded on stage.

Recently he moved to Florida and while I really miss him we are still in touch and always will be. That is because our bond in unbreakable to the point where I believe we will get the chance to play together somewhere down the road.

With Thomas and Peter
Peter Gorritz 

While I didn't get a chance to play with Peter as long as I would have liked to we did have a chance to perform several gigs together. These gigs were fun because Peter loved to perform and was always the most visual member onstage.His energy brought more out of me and while I am not the most visual performer out there it still made me take my energy up a notch.

He always fascinated me because he had this ability to really pound his bass when the groove had to be strong, which was great for me because I would have to match his presence with more power from my bass drum. Then he had this way of moving around the fret board in the most gentle way where I would back off on the bass drum in order to give him the room he needed. During those moments I usually did more cymbal work in order to add a light texture to his beautiful bass runs. I always enjoyed it when we had a chance to go in both directions in the same song because that gave us a chance to showcase our dynamics as a rhythm section.

This contrast in his playing led me to give him the nickname of Delicate Danger, which he liked a lot. Plus, I also think the nickname described him well as a person because you'd see this guy walk in the room that was dressed in black with a a Mohawk...who was also the nicest guy in the room.

One day I'm going to find myself onstage with him again and hopefully it will be in a situation where we can blow off some steam because I know that the two of us have a lot more to explore together.

Michael Young

Recently I had a chance to reunite with an original band from my college days when the Blue Note Ritual reunited to record an EP (yes, it's coming out soon).  It was a 22 year gap from the time of our last show in the Southern California area to the rehearsal we had in my living room here in the Arizona desert. This was a great surprise to me because we all now live large distances from each other but found a way to come together to finish a project that we never completed back in the day.

Post-rehearsal with Michael
Michael was the greatest rhythm section partner I had during my time in the Los Angeles music scene. He pushed me in ways that I had never been pushed before because while the music we played was already intense it was Michael's style of playing bass that brought so much to the sound of the band. I always had to be at my best just to keep up with him and that included those moments when we worked on new music because he has such an extensive rhythmic vocabulary.

Having a chance to play music with him again was a blessing and I can only hope that our band is able to maintain some time of working schedule to allow us to work on some new music real soon. I love the way he hears other rhythmic patterns within the grooves that we play and then he'll push me to add even more to my parts in order to further orchestrate what we are doing. For years we always called him The Funkster because the brother has some serious soul. So you can imagine how awesome it is for a drummer to be able to throw down with him.

Alex Quinonez 

Some gigs just don't last long enough and unfortunately that happened to me a couple of years ago when I played in a Rock band for a brief period. Thankfully I am still good friends with two guys from that band with one of them being bassist Alex Quinonez. Our bond really started at the first rehearsal as we had both showed up prepared and ready to lay down the groove. One of the first things he said to me was, You and I are going to be practically married. And he was right.

With Alex after rehearsal
Even though the band only did a handful of gigs I am proud to say that Alex and I did our part to make sure the music was spot on. In fact, many people commented that we were the two best musicians in the band. While we appreciated that it came from hard work and a constant communication between the two of us. I had a blast playing with him because he was a solid bassist who kicked the groove hard. It didn't matter if it was a straight ahead beat, a shuffle, a ballad or an uptempo rocker. I knew that Alex would be wherever I was and that gave both of us a lot of comfort.

We also connected so much on a personal level from our common faith life to the way we see the world. Once I got to know him in that way I was not surprised that we connected so well on  a musical level because we had so much in common as people. I really miss playing with him and hope something will come up in the future that will give us a chance to throw down some beats again.


Anyone who has ever played in a band knows of the bond that you create with those you work with. The longer the group stays together the stronger the bond but even within each group there are those little circles that are formed based on everyone's job within the group. For me it's always been about the beat so bass players are the ones I have usually created these bonds with.

It's true that maybe we aren't seen as much onstage as the rest of the band. Maybe you don't even know our names. But, if you're dancing, if you're tapping your foot or just nodding your head to the beat then you do know us more than you realize.

Thank you brothers for allowing me to groove with you.

Carlos Solorzano

Monday, January 15, 2018

Time For a Change

For the past 5 years it's been non-stop for me with gigs and more gigs in the Tucson Country Music Scene. Nothing makes a working musician happier than to be on the go and working with other great musicians on a regular basis. I have been blessed to work with so many great bands while also meeting some amazing people that work at the local music venues as well as those who patronize these venues. The support that I have received from so many people has been overwhelming and I cannot put into words how much it has meant to me. Such people have honestly become family to me as I love them all very much.

However, the one thing that many people in the crowd do not know is that many of the musicians who are onstage each night are also people with families as well as artists who have their own creative endeavors that are usually set aside in order to focus on making their working band the best it can be. I was more than happy to do this for the time that I did it but I have reached a point where I can no longer ignore the things that matter so much to me.

The first sign that something had to give was one busy weekend when I had left home for yet another show and saw the look on my children's faces when I said goodbye to them. I was tired from the show the night before so I spent most of the day resting, which also meant that I didn't spend a lot of quality time with them. Even though my kids were used to their father being a working musician their facial expressions told me that my absence was beginning to weigh on them and I was starting to see the same facial expression all too often. This was because my performance had been the busiest that it had ever been and I was doing this while I continued to work a regular career outside of music.

At times I didn't worry too much about being away from home because my performances usually began at a time when my children were already in bed. But there was one thing I didn't think about and I am ashamed to say, was something that showed how selfish I had beacome. My wife is a principal and there are times when she comes home late. Sometimes her schedule was such that if I had a Friday evening gig I would leave for my show before she would get home from work. That meant I would only see her briefly that Friday morning before we both left for work and not see her again until the following Saturday morning when I am far from focused on anything other than a huge cup of coffee. And like most families, our Saturdays are filled with errands and chores to do around the house so that led me to ask the big question: How much quality time did I have with my wife?

Something had to give.

On a creative level I still compose my own music while also writing books & blogs and since I have a full time job a lot of my free time was used to gig and learn new material for these gigs. I always enjoyed the performing experience while also making that extra money but the artist inside of me was dying to get out and my schedule was not giving me the chance to fully express myself. Right now I have all of this music inside of me that needs to get out and more literary ideas that need my full attention. Aside from that, I was also not putting enough attention into promoting the books that I already had out so that's not going to get my literary works anywhere if I just have them out there and do nothing to get them into the hands of more readers.

Something had to give.

On December 18, 2017 I slipped on the stairs at my home, rolled my ankle and heard a pop before feeling a pain that I had never experienced before. This greatly concerned me since the injury took place on the right side of my body, which is the side of my main bass drum foot. Then I became very concerned when I found out that I actually did break the lower part of my shin bone. It was now time to focus on healing and that meant that I would be confined to my home (when I wasn't walking around on crutches at work) and since my mobility was very limited it also meant that I had a lot of time to sit and think...and these moments of self-reflection were not always comfortable.

That doesn't mean that each moment was one of sadness or regret. In fact, while I was laid up I had to find things to do and while I was unable to play a drum set (I still did some work on a practice pad) I was not unable to sit at my laptop and get back to writing stories and blogs. I was also able to sit with my guitar, bass guitar, keyboards and/or drum machine and start composing music again. It felt good to be able to spend time doing such things again and they served as a great distraction to any discomfort that had been caused by my injury. There were so many moments when I was so lost in what I was doing that I had to actually look at my leg to remind myself that I was either in a splint or a walking boot. Most importantly, I was able to do this while I was... home with my family!

Once I got the taste of this again it was hard to go back to such an intense performance schedule. Still, to walk away from a scene that has meant so much to me will not be easy because no decisions are made without some sort of sacrifice. Growth cannot happen without some experience of pain so while I look forward to my creative future I am also sad that I will miss more good times that were certain to come. Still, nothing is more important to me than my family so while failures and longings are certain to come they will also occur while I am with those who have missed me and worried so much about me during these late nights away so how could that be a bad thing?

Finally, I have already  been asked by several people if I am walking away from performing for good and the answer is no. It is true that I am going to focus more on my creative projects but I still plan to continue performing once I am fully healed up. The only thing I can say is that I won't be out gigging as much as I have these past few years but still, performing is part of who I am so there is no point in denying that part of my being. So here are my future plans, for now:

1) To continue composing more tribal drumming songs along with more of my instrumental tracks. I have so many unfinished songs that need to be completed and now that I have already upgraded some of my gear I am really excited to see how all of this material comes out. I also plan to get back into the music licensing world as one of the great honors of my music career has been when my music has been featured on various television shows around the world.

2) Working on some new drum set ideas and composing more drum set solos that will be posted on You Tube once they are completed. I also plan to get back into doing more drumming exhibitions and master classes.

3) Doing more session work for Richard Newell at Alegria Productions and probably more fill in gigs from time to time since there will be a big change in my availability.  I am also on call for some other recording studios in town so it will be nice to be able to do more work in the recording studio.

4) I was recently contacted by a promotion company that I had worked for in the past to do a Latin Jazz gig this summer. That led me to call on some musicians I worked with in the past in a  Jazz/Fusion combo called Sonoran Sol to see if they wanted to pull the band out of mothballs for this gig and possibly for some other gigs from time to time and they were all for it.

5) Then there are the surprises that are certain to come. Once I went down with my injury many of my musician friends contacted me to see how I was doing. It was really good to hear from them as it has been quite a while since I had spoken to some of them so their concern meant a lot to me. Aside from that, some ideas were exchanged as I was asked of my future plans. All I can say is that if any of these ideas come to fruition it could be an exciting time because it would mean that I get a chance to get back into playing other styles of music that I haven't played for quite some time with some dear friends that I have missed greatly.

Regardless of what happens I know that most of my musical work will now be done at home so I will be much closer to my family. Since I am an early riser I have already committed to working on my music before my kids get out of bed and after they are asleep for the night. My future gigs won't be as often and most likely end earlier than the gigs I had been playing these past several years so it will be nice to have more time at home and to get home from a show before the calendar rolls over. 

After all, I have already missed so much already.

So to all of the great musicians I have worked with over the past 5 years in the Tucson Country Music Scene, thank you for the great times, for challenging me and for the creative connection I was privileged to share with you. You will all hold a special place in my heart because everyone knows that if you work with people in a musical group on a regular basis you establish a bond that cannot be broken. Of course since these are also human relationships that means that there were also those moments of tension and discomfort so for that I ask these same people to forgive me for the times I let you down. I know that I wasn't always easy to work with but you always had my respect even when I failed to show it.

To all of the great people who filled our dance floors all of these years...all I can say is WOW! I have never been around such amazing people when it came to showing support and loyalty to both a group and to a particular musician. You taught me so much about love and friendship and I will never forget that. To be honest, you are the ones I will miss the most because you never owed any of the bands I worked a thing yet your constant support was such a gift to all of us. So for that, I say thank you and God bless you all.

I hope to see you all soon and wish everyone nothing but the best.

Carlos Solorzano


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Vinnie Vincent: A Defense of the Musician

The KISS Army eagerly awaits the return of Vinnie Vincent at the KISS Expo that will take place in Atlanta on January 20, 2018. The thing that excites fans the most is that Vincent will have news in terms of what his future musical plans are while also meeting with fans and answering their questions.

No former KISS member has caused more controversy and yet has been more mysterious than the man known legally as Vincent Cusano. From stories of why he was fired from KISS to hearing about why he didn't sign his contract with the band (one story is that an attorney familiar with the case said that Vincent could see that the contract was not favorable to him) along with stories of what it was like to deal with him once he was out of the KISS and working as a solo artist.

Speaking for myself, I am not too interested in any stories he may tell us about his time with KISS as I am more interested in his future musical plans. That is because Vincent is a true talent and I have been a fan of his work since he was a member of KISS in the early 1980's. I even had a chance to see the Vinnie Vincent Invasion perform at Long Beach Arena from a 3rd row seat on their first tour as they opened for Iron Maiden. Talk about an amazing night as they were absolutely amazing!

Was It the Player of Was It the Era? 

Very few people seem to contest the idea that Vincent did some amazing things with KISS from writing great songs with the band to performing great solos on the albums. Yes, we all know of his eccentric solos onstage as he was one of many gunslingers from the 1980's determined to show the world how flashy he was. From what I can remember he didn't really do anything that many other guitarists weren't also doing except for the fact that he was a far better player than many of them.And since guitarists have egos and love to show off you can imagine how many of them felt when they saw this short strange looking player out dueling them.

KISS also continued to deal with the same issue but on a smaller scale since Vincent's replacements didn't have as much involvement in the songwriting process. The late Mark St. John was also a gunslinger that gave the band some trouble during the creative process (see Face the Music: A Life Exposed by Paul Stanley's pgs. 297-298) and while Bruce Kulick was a great team player, there were some things that Gene Simmons had said about his playing that showed that he needed a few records to figure out the attitude one needed to play with the band. (see KISS Extreme Closeup). If you look at the time period, this was the way people played guitar and the truth is, if KISS was being formed at that time and writing songs that were typical of that time period then original guitarist Ace Frehley would not have made it through the audition.

I remember when I saw Vincent do his guitar solo during the first VVI tour. The band had just finished the song "Animal" and then Vincent took the stage to himself. It was long and he really went crazy with it but at the same time, he did some amazing things. Many people in the crowd were booing him and calling out names like Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen and while such guitarists are also true talents even my teenage self could see that Vincent was doing things that many guitarists from that era simply could not do. Does anyone think that might cause some resentment? And, such a reaction is not exclusive to that era of music. Just look at the drumming world today and see how many drummers react to the talents of players like Mike Mangini, Thomas Lang, Virgil Donati, Marco Minneman, etc. Well, can he groove? Why does it have to be some complicated? Etc  (side note: sometimes these remarks are also said by many world renown drummers). True, there are some people out there who simply don't like this style of drumming or even shredder guitarists for that matter. That's okay and I will always respect a person's preferences when it comes to the kind of music they like.

But we all know a dirty little secret about musicians and music fans who are real possessive of their favorite artists. Every now and then someone comes along who is simply at a different level than the musician or the preferred musician and while their style might not be to their liking it's hard to deny the talent that one sees . Being a musician myself I am willing to admit to the fact that I have seen other players that blew me away with me having to admit to myself that: This person is doing things that I can't do and possibly, will NEVER be able to do. Therefore, some of my criticisms of such players were in fact a mask for my wounded ego and I am not afraid to say that other musicians are guilty of the doing the same thing.

Finally, when people have great talent they also get very restless. They are usually known to be difficult to work with because it's hard to find people that can match their level of competency or intensity for that matter. That doesn't excuse their behavior if they are in fact rude to others but on a musical level there are times when they simply want to explode. Does anyone think that Vincent wanted to simply play Frehley licks for a living? Or, from an egotistical point of view, if he sees that he has enough ability to surpass the level of talent that is heaping words of praise why not go out there and show the world what you can do? I'm not saying that it's not a self-centered thing to do but hey, how many people would go for it and how many guitarists back in the day did in fact, go for it?

Digging For Treasure

That is not a pun to one of Vincent's old bands but a suggestion to look beyond the screaming guitar lines and to the things that demonstrated Vincent's true brilliance. Some say that it is impossible because getting through Vincent's wild guitar playing to whatever was underneath it is impossible but I would argue that it is not impossible because I know that I've had to do the same with other bands. Take for example the song "Humans Being" by Van Halen. It's one of my favorite songs by this great band but the middle section absolutely irritates me because while EVH isn't necessarily shredding I always wonder, does this middle section have to be this long?! If I could ever sit in the same room with him and listen to this song I know what I would say: Yes Edward, I know that you play the guitar? Yes Edward, I know that you're a guitar hero. Please Edward, just play the damn song! Geez....and yet, I can still listen to the whole song because overall, it's a great song!

Every artist knows that they are responsible for whatever they release to the world as it is part of their musical legacy. In this case, Vincent has talked about how the first VVI album was the moment he took the time to exorcise some of his pent up anger  (Start at 8:15). But within that anger there is some brilliance in terms of what he did as a songwriter and all of it is pretty amazing for someone who doesn't really see himself as a songwriter (previous link, start at 6:09) and I will do the best I can to share what I hear because while I do play a little bit of guitar I am more of a drummer so please keep in mind that I am more of a fan and not an expert on the guitar.

First Album

Of all of the records that people criticize the most it is Vincent's debut album. Yes, there are plenty of moments where he is really out there but he has never shied away from what he did and stated many times in the past that he did all of that for himself. Further, it's not like he was the only guitarist from that time period that played in that way. He is just the one who gets the most heat for doing it. Seriously though, to my ear he was doing things that other players simply couldn't do and again if you're that person with that kind of talent you're going to be the target, especially if you're not in those inner circles of those considered to be the guitar god of the moment. Still, let's take a look at some tracks from this album as I offer what I think are some great things that Vincent did:

1) Boyz Are Gonna Rock: The song is a real rocker and God knows that Vincent really went out of his way to go nuts on this track. However, the song in itself is pretty cool in terms of structure, lyrics as well as some of the sounds that Vinnie came up with. I have always liked his rhythm guitar sound as well as the tone he gets on his solos but that roar that comes out of his guitar at 3:15..WOW!

2) Shoot You Full of Love: Yes, an eccentric 80's song but it has a sexy riff to say the least. The thing that stands out to me is the vocal line after the solo. Robert Fleischman really gets up there and the first thing that comes to mind when I hear that is imagine Paul Stanley singing this song at the peak of his vocal abilities. It's too bad KISS and Vincent couldn't work things out as this might have been a great KISS song.

3) No Substitute: Honestly, this is a beautiful song and the lyrics are just amazing. This was certainly a tune that any teenage boy at the time (myself included) could relate to as the song said exactly what a lot of us were feeling at that time for that special lady we had our eyes on.

4) Animal: The opening riff is awesome and the chorus is very catchy for what we knew of 80's music. And when it comes to throwing throwing one's hat into the circus known as 80's guitar soloing...well let's just cut to the chase...Vincent wins.

5) Back on the Streets: This is just a great song. The vocal part is heart breaking and let's be honest, when Vincent actually holds a note during his solo it feels as painful as the song. There is feel here and yes we would have liked to have felt more of it.

All Systems Go

On the second album they seemed to have tamed the beast...well, a little bit. But we do get to see so much of Vinnie the songwriter as well as Vincent the producer because there is a lot going on with some of these songs and the there are in fact many textures in what we hear. 

1) Ashes to Ashes: This is such a great song as it has such a great groove with some great guitar riffs. The vocal melody is awesome and the guitar solo is amazing. The beginning draws you in and when Vincent does get into his rip roaring licks it's not as intense as what he heard on the last album but again, it's the way it was back in the day.

2) Dirty Rhythm: A different type of groove than what we were used to hearing in the 80's but it has a sexy feel to it. Again, great guitar riff and a very upbeat song that is a lot of fun. It is both different for Vincent as well as the era. 

3) Love Kills: I have to say that this is still one of the most amazing power ballads I have ever heard! The lyrics give me chills as it brings up haunting memories of my own painful experiences. The guitar work behind the vocals adds to the emotion of the song and the movement of the verses into the choruses is just phenomenal because it brings a rise out of the listener that convinces them of the message of the song, that love does in fact, kill! The guitar solo was most surprising to all of us when we first heard it because we were used to the shred master doing his thing over everything. However, on this song Vincent shows his ability to play with taste, feeling and dynamics. It's a spectacular performance.

4) Burn: This is just a great rocker and I can never get tired of the amazing tone of Vinnie's rhythm guitar. The intro is super cool and the main riff is just the perfect thing to hear right out of the rocking intro. Again, another song that is just fun.

5) That Time of Year: For those of us with dreams of rock stardom this song stopped you in your tracks. The story line was heart breaking because while we wanted to feel that thrill of the stage we also wondered what it might be like if we had to leave our beloved behind. Aside from that, Vinnie's clean guitar work is just beautiful and his rhythm guitar is once again smooth and grooving. I especially love those kicks that go into the verses because while this song can be seen as a ballad it still rocks! Finally, another great solo that was both current to the era that also helps tell the story of the song.

Feeling Hopeful

Like many fans from the KISS family I hope this coming convention is the moment where Vincent tells us that he has something planned for all of us. We already knew back in 1992 when he helped KISS resurrect their career yet again by contributing to the best songs on the Revenge album that he knows how to write music and not just songs dated to the 80's. Everyone from Adam Mitchell to Mark Slaughter have said that he knows how to play just about anything on guitar and not just the shred master stuff so in my perfect world I would love to see him show us every side of his musical abilities. However, just something new would be great.

I know most people are jaded by past horror stories and I am not hear to ignore such things. However, we do know that this is not abnormal for musicians in general from any musical genre. Buddy Rich? Ray Charles? Barbra Streisand? Whitney Houston? And how about Gene Simmons? I have seen similar behavior even among local musicians who have never tasted the type of success Vincent has experienced in his life so that should tell us enough of what can happen to anyone that gets up on a stage. And with that being said, we all know that we love the music and support the career(s) of artists who are just as bad if not worse than Vincent. Isn't that interesting?  And why is this so? Because of the fact that true talent and good people skills don't necessarily go hand in hand. But if anyone has true talent they have the ability touch someone in someway. Speaking for myself, I have no problem saying that I have been touched by the artist known as Vinnie Vincent and hope to hear something new really soon that will move me in a similar way.

Carlos Solorzano