Thursday, December 1, 2011

32 years as a DJ.

Last  month I celebrated 32 years as a DJ and entertainer. Technology has come a long way since I started and evidenced by the fact that I'm sharing my thoughts on the subject of professional anniversaries on this fancy-schmancy, electronic, new-fangled, on-line journal.  Click here and here for previous commentary.  I have noted before that the first song I ever played as a DJ was Gary Numan's "Cars".  It was a brand new song then and it's almost 33 years old now.  I think I played it on a cassette tape the first time.  You young-uns may not know what a cassette is- it's pictured at the top of this photo.  There would be about 20 minutes of music on one side and then you would take the tape out of the player and flip it over and play 20 more minutes on the other side. (The cassette pictured is not the Gary Numan tape that I played.) 
But I did play those two 8-track tapes by Styx that night- in addition to others.  Come Sail Away, Blue Collar Man, Renegade etc. It was my Dad's stereo and I frankly never intended to be a DJ.  I was a keyboard player dog-gone-it!  A few weeks later, somebody who was there wanted me to do their party too and I resisted, citing the fact that it was 8-track tapes that had to be cued in advance and it was my dad's stereo yada yada yada.  They insisted- "No, we loved what you did- you really rocked it and made it fun!"  It's 32 years later now!

8-tracks and cassettes are very difficult for DJ work and I switched to vinyl- mostly "45s" which had one song on either side. You can see one of those too in the center of the picture above. Vinyl is making a comeback in recent years.  It has a warmth that digital is missing sometimes.  There is also something to be said about the fact that you  have to invest in the listening experience with vinyl.  It's not as convenient as an ipod.  You actually have to set aside some time to listen- it's difficult to do something else like work out, send emails, groom your nails... you have to get the record out of its sleeve and put it on a turn table and put the stylus down and listen to 20 minutes of music and then... you have to get up and flip the record over and listen to the other 20 minutes.  You are almost required to stop down and listen to what the artist is trying to say. It's even better when you just surrender to the experience willingly. Some songs become more profound when they are played after a couple of other songs that might set the mood and then a musical experience can ebb and flow.  There are liner notes and album artwork and lyric sheets to read and study while you listen.   
In the middle of my career, CDs came out.  I resisted mostly because I already had a huge investment in vinyl, already a decade in, and didn't want to buy another collection.   Once I finally made the switch I wondered why I hadn't done it the day that CDs appeared.  I could carry far more music and have quicker access to any given song on the fly.  Sadly, there are tens of thousands of artists and albums that never made it to digital and may never be seen again.  Gary Numan made it.  You can see that I had him sign this CD copy when I saw him in LA in 1997.  I've met him a few more times since.
On my 32nd anniversary as a DJ, I played his song again at a very large singles mixer/dance in Tempe AZ.  The song still seemed fresh and energetic- it packed the dance floor with about 300 dancing bodies!  You may want to click on the picture to see my work screen with "Cars" highlighted on the right.  Actually, the computer file I'm using here was made from the CD pictured above.  I carry about 20x the music that I used to carry with no extra weight and space and even quicker access to any song- usually about 8 seconds to find anything. It cues in about a quarter second but it takes me 8 seconds to find and select it. 

I actually resisted switching to digital in 1999 mostly because I'm not a computer whiz and it was hard for me to imagine showing up for a gig without a disc that I could hold in my hand.  MP3s were cutting edge at the time and I bought a computer and adapted it to the purpose of DJ work.  The industry moved that direction very quickly and my workstation pictured was the first commercially available computerized DJ system.  It's nearly 6 years old now and is becoming antiquated.  I like it though.  It has really been a battle axe. 

I think that Bing Crosby and Beethoven and Glenn Miller and Carmen Miranda and Bill  Haley and Handel and John Lennon would be thrilled to know that I think their music is important all these years and centuries later and that I carry it on an electronic device and that I play it regularly. 

I'm not sure what the next format will be.  I don't think we will "own" music anymore in the way we do now and I'm not sure how artists will be paid for producing it but I do believe that however that turns out, an entertainer like me will still be able to make a living by adding entertainment value in the playing of the songs.

Styx's Tommy Shaw wrote what I think is one of the great metaphors of rock music in a song called "Sing for the Day". In the song, "Hannah" is the embodiment of everybody who has ever loved a song. The song is written in the first person and so the "I" is the song itself. It invites Hannah out at night to sing and dance. It knows how a song can change a nation, it knows how to heal, it knows how to express the things that people have a hard time verbalizing otherwise. It also realizes that if the musicians don't play it and the people don't sing and dance to it, the song is forgotten and it dies. It has no life on its own apart from those that love it and keep it alive.  The song even pleads that Hannah won't forget it when a new song comes along.  I love playing a song like Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and seeing people who weren't even born when that song was written sing along with every word.  I can cut the music for fun in key places and hear 300 voices singing in unison as loud as my sound system had been. 

Live music is still alive and well and viable.  Just this week, I journeyed to southern California to see my son Javin play guitar live at the House of Blues in Anaheim.   
That's him on the left here. 
As I mentioned above, my first event worked well and became the genesis of a career in music and entertainment because I was an entertainer, not because I was simply playing somebody elses songs on 8-track tapes on my dad's stereo.  Just a reminder that all of the brilliant technology in sound and lighting won't save an event if the DJ stinks. This will sound cocky and arrogant and that is not the intent, but I could go in to an event with an ipod and a couple of speakers and make it happen.  I sure love having all of the brilliant equipment and lighting to make my job easier, it frees me to BE the entertainer, but my job is not to simply run the equipment.  An ipod playlist won't respond to the crowd and the moment, it will just play the next song.  A good DJ will feel the moment. My job is to add entertainment value to those songs by playing them in an order that makes sense and creates energy and by highlighting dramatic elements of the songs with cool lighting effects and by giving voice to the emotions of the occasion and taking attendees on an adventure and helping them release.  They will heal their hearts and make sense of the troubles in their lives and they will celebrate a landmark event in their family or in their company and they will mark the times and seasons and they will feel better when they leave.   

Sometimes when I'm at a piano event, the opening notes of some songs are met with absolute jubilation.  There are lots of songs have entered the collective consciousness and have been a constant to people through good and bad times.  Three and four generations of people know those songs.  They know every word, they sing along, they are hugging each other, dancing and getting in to it.  I feel their energy and I dig down and nurture it and add to it and send it back to them and they feel the renewed energy and they start getting down and laughing and singing and dancing and they send it to me and I send it to them.  It's a love fest!  People become comfortable expressing themselves in ways that they otherwise are uncomfortable doing.  Tears can be shed comfortably.  It helps let go of the hurt.     
I really do count myself blessed.  If you have read this far, thanks for that.  If you have read this far and you are one of those that has been blessed by music in your life- carry on!  If you are reading this and you are one of my industry mates or mentors- thanks for the love and thanks for the things I've learned from you, you ROCK!  If you have read this far and you've contributed to my career and  happiness by hiring me or having attended an event where I played- thanks, Keep Rockin'!  Here's to not only the 33rd year, but a lifetime of love and music. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I was invited to play at a very POSH industry mixer for the Destination Management and Corporate Event world tonight.  These models were on either side of the stage on stools and a costume skirt that went to the floor with a hula hoop hem. 
I put a blue LED moonwash effect along with a red and green laser matrix that really made the sparkly costume sparkle. 
 LED screen at the back of the stage. 
You can see my logo on the wall off to the side of the stage and above the bar.  As people moved about the event from this room to others, they all saw it and I know there were some technical types that were wondering how I did that. 
I didn't know in advance that Harley Bonham would be behind the camera for this event.  He's the nicest guy around and a pleasure to work with.  We did a wedding together recently and we have another event together coming up in November.  He took some photos of the event that will knock your socks off- don't confuse my snap shot at arms length photos with a professional photographers work.  Harley is one of the best.    

In addition to the ten foot tall models up by the stage, this champagne glass model was opposite from me on the far side of the room.  
This last picture cracks me up because it's kinda like one of those snapshots that tourists in Italy take- pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa... I was just taking a shot of my work station and I think this guys was checking his phone but it looks like he's about to drink the champagne!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rockin' San Diego

I haven't posted anything in some time but it's not for lack of DJ adventures to post, it's just that the DJ adventures have consumed my time and secondly, I really do focus on my DJ duties at each event and not photographing each event for my blog.

I had a two night event in Southern California for Labor Day Weekend. It was a big Christian Singles weekend retreat with seminars, activities, speakers and a mixer dance on Friday night at the church hall and on Saturday night at a local amusement park. They had about 1000 people from all over the southwestern U.S. 

This Gobo (go before optical) ummm... anyways, it's a projection thingy in white light that was front and center on the dancefloor.   
Here are two of my best buddies from California.  That's Bill on the left.  He was my neighbor when I lived in Upland CA.  He's about the nicest and warmest man you'll ever meet.  Scott is on the right.  We've been friends for about 15 years now and my life is certainly better because I know him- he's full of wisdom and he's always a good house guest at my place or host when I'm staying at his place.  These two guys are quick to jump in on roadie and technician duties whenever I'm working in CA and need a bit of a crew.  Scott and I have done "dueling DJ" events together in LA and here in Phoenix a few times.  He's coming to Phoenix to help me with an event at the Arizona Science Center coming up in October.  It was sure great to see you guys.
Spent some time Saturday at the beach and at the San Diego Mormon Temple site with Scott.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Various and sundry DJ adventures

I played recently at a great wedding at a photography studio/artist loft at an old warehouse in downtown Phoenix. Here's some behind the scenes preparation as a chandelier is being installed right over the guests for the ceremony and later, the the banquet table will be right under it.

This is Hank- one of the groomsmen. He's ROCKIN' that bowtie! He and I are Facebook friends now too.

Incredibly well-behaved. He's sitting right where he's supposed to during the ceremony.

Here's a shot during the ceremony. You can see the chandelier overhead. That's my lighting on the wall where the dancing will be later after they open up that divider with the "LOVE" sign on it.This is the room all reset for a dinner celebration. The chandelier is looking good- the bride and groom will sit right under it.
I loved this bride and groom- the guests are having some cocktails in one of the galleries on the other end of the building and the photographer is taking care of the professional shots with the family and bridal party.

When it was time for dancing, I changed the lighting from the amber spotlights to some LED/laser effects with a gobo projection in the middle of it. The dancefloor seemed to float in space.

My little camera mic is no match for high powered speakers. It's not as loud as it seems. It's interesting as I rotate around, you can see the effect kinda go flat- looking from the dancefloor away- it's just a room, but the guests looking toward the dancefloor, it was floating! If you think that the blue moonwash effect seems to be moving, it IS. It's great new technology.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Princess Bride

I played at a great wedding at Raven Verrado yesterday. This was a workin' family and the last daughter of the clan to be married off and the father of the bride was a bit emotional about it. In his toast, he commented that the wedding plans had been rather matter-of-fact and mechanical. He was just writing the checks. When the song started for the bride's processional, it hit home and he crrrrrriiiiiiii-ed like a weeeeee bay-beee! I'm well aware of the power of music too. I've been at this for 31 years now and even though I love to love my customers, I don't really have a vested personal interest and I don't know the history of their family etc. but I get emotional too when I see them celebrating something important in their lives and my music selections help give voice to the emotions of the day. It's very gratifying to me. The stage is set.

I always enjoy all of the behind the scenes preparations, the setting of linens and dinnerware, the sound and lighting equipment, food, flowers, photography, musicians etc. The payoff is when guests arrive and have the good time that we planned for and worked for them to have. The bride arrived in a horse drawn carriage but I should have photographed the horses left profile. Let me 'splain... The carriage was supposed to come from off in the distance and cross this bridge and arrive in front of the wedding party and drop off the Maid of Honor and the Best man and then the bride and her father would continue around behind and disembark and come up the aisle from behind. The horse couldn't navigate this bridge though. He made an attempt and as he got to the top of the hump he was now pulling the weight of the carriage and 5 adults and one kidlet. The driver helped the horse back down and they gave it a bit of a running start this time. He got to the top again and had no traction because of his steel shoes against the stone pavement. I was playing Pachabel's "Canon in D" which is a 5 1/2 minute song and if you know the chord progression, it goes on and on and on and on. I've already played it twice at this point and the bride isn't even in earshot of it yet! It was a song that she had chosen for this moment. A third attempt was made.

A few burly men dispatched themselves to see what they could do to help- perhaps pushing from behind. A couple of golf carts from the clubhouse were dispatched to assist as well if needed. I couldn't bear another round of "Canon in D" so I rallied the troops and played the "William Tell Overture" (Theme from the Lone Ranger) to an eruption of cheers and laughter.

Rather than risk the liability of someone getting hurt, it was ultimately decided to turn the horse around and go back around the lake (a substantial distance) and come in from a direction that didn't require crossing that bridge. When the bride got into earshot from the reverse side, I played her song again. The attendants disembarked and now the carriage had to go around the far end of the golf club (another substantial distance) to get in place behind the guests. This required the 4th airing of Canon in D. That's 22 minutes of that chord progression, plus 4 minutes of the Lone Ranger Theme and finally the bride's processional- Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." The bride and her father could have walked from the bridge but she wanted to ride that carriage. She'a a Disney fan and her recessional song was "So this is love?" from Cinderella. The guests were equally patient and gracious.

The ceremony got off nearly 45 minutes late but it was sure an adventure. In a strange way, things like this end up being rather charming in memory. It was not an ugly incident that would be remembered negatively but it will add some spice to things and it provides a story to tell. All of the kidlets and other interested guests got to go for carriage rides around the local streets during cocktail hour and into dinner and that was a real treat.

It dawned on me later... look at the pic of the horse again... I'll wait... muscular, fit, trim, beautiful... It was a one-horsepower carriage. I think that the steel shoes were the problem more than the strength of the horse. I overheard that there are rubber shoes for horses for such situations. I heard that something similar had happened a few weeks ago on that bridge with another carriage company but that a horse almost lost her footing and went in the lake. I think the venue should advise brides going forward that this may be the case. I wouldn't want the liability of anybody or a beautiful animal getting hurt and marring an otherwise lovely occasion. One of the groomsmen played an original composition for one element of the ceremony. He nailed it! I provided lots of theatrical lighting to showcase various elements of the room. I'm not a professional photographer so my camera doesn't do it any justice. This really framed the cake when viewed with one's eyes but the cake looks lost here. On that subject, I usually don't put pictures of the wedding party that are identifiable because there is usually a professional photographer on hand and I don't want a casual reader to think that this represents the professional photography for the event.

Also on that subject... the photographer was none other than Harley Bonham. He was recommended to the networking group that I own a couple of years ago and I liked him in the first two or three minutes that I got to meet him. We have crossed paths several times at industry functions and we've shared the stage on opposite pianos at a dueling piano club a couple of times but this was our first time working together in our professional element. I was at once intimidated but also really excited to work together. He has referred me to several of his customers and he did that blindlly trusting in my reputation and what personality he could detect in me in other settings- he had never actually seen me work and I feared he may discover that I am completely mediocre. It was as great as I had hoped it would be! He may be the nicest guy in this industry and he proved that he was also a brilliant professional to work with. We already have another common customer coming up in the fall.

Congratulations to Courtney and Eric. You guys ROCK! Thanks for letting me take care of the music for your wedding celebration.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentines Dance at the Mesa Academy

Before- It looks suspiciously like a school gymnasium...

After- There's nothing like some cookies, punch, lights and good music to make a bunch of teenagers dance.
They say that if you ain't the lead dog, the view is always pretty much the same.... I have a pretty good view in life!
Thanks Mesa Academy for a great time at your Valentines Dance!

Monday, January 31, 2011

The DJs new clothes

I had some new stage clothes made this month which is always a good perk of working in entertainment. I can wear some really great stuff and even if its over the top, it's like I get a free pass because I'm the DJ and I'm supposed to wear something outrageous. It's good that I've worn it on stage a couple of times and it seems to have good ju-ju and when somebody says how cool the outfit is I get to tell them that I designed it myself and had it custom made. The jacket and shirt were made in Scottsdale at Jean-Paul Jeune and the boots came from Spain and the pants in this photo were just out of my closet because the pants that I ordered for this outfit were coming from Ohio and they didn't' make it in time. In fact, it's been 50 days since I ordered them and they keep telling me that they are on the case...

I'm leading the timid masses at a big industry mixer for several professional associations and networking groups within the wedding and event and tourism and hospitality industry. I didn't expect any dancing at such a function so the fact that I got 4 people going was a bonus. I didn't want to bring all of the lighting rig and video projection and everything but I did relish the opportunity to show my industrymates what I had and what I could do. Special thank you to my buddy Andy DeLisle for letting me use this photo.

The trouble with distinctive stage clothing is that I have to be cautious where and when I wear it. If I wear it in front of a particular group, I have to make a mental note not to wear it the next time I appear. Those Hollywood starlets that wear a $10,000 gown and get photographed in all of the trade and gossip magazines can't wear that dress again.

I played at a really fun wedding last weekend at Raven Verrado Golf Club out in Buckeye. The ceremony actually took place in the city park in the center of town. Here's the bride and her dad walking across the park. She wanted a certain lyric to swell at the moment she arrived at the stairs about 30 feet in front of her in this shot. I nailed it. Even the minister's first comment was "Wow, that was dramatic!" It's sometimes hard to cue such things on the fly because in rehearsal, they walk one speed and at the actually wedding with the nerves and the adrenaline going, they often walk faster.
There is a really warm and cozy banquet room with great acoustics at the golf club but the bride chose to have her dinner out on the lawn and rent a tent. It was pretty charming with my lighting and everything. I would have liked to put up my dancefloor lighting rig but the top of the tent was too low to do it.
I think a few of the guests were rocking out to a Bon Jovi song here.
That night was the beginning of a string of consecutive Saturday bookings that won't stop until June 18th and they include events in San Diego California, Salt Lake City Utah and Heber Arizona.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Party like a rockstar

I played a very posh event at a private residence in Scottsdale last night. It was a victory celebration/political fundraiser for David Smith of Arizona's District 7 which includes Cave Creek and parts of Scottsdale I think.

This is Tony Vacca on the sax. He just played a couple of numbers with an mp3 file on an ipod as accompaniment through my DJ system. He was too good for his own good I'm afraid. It was so perfectly mixed and performed that I don't think that most people realized they were listening to live sax unless they actually saw him standing there. Here's Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaking to the crowd with David Smith on his left and event organizer Gia Heller on his right. My DJ booth is right behind them but I'm out taking this picture.
I'm over by my booth this time. Sheriff Joe and Mr. Smith.
Personal friend and industrymate Lanette Romero- the Cake Contessa- catered the event and she whipped up some coconut shrimp with a delicious mango salsa- Mmm Mmm MMM! Local celebrity, Raven Valdez, was tending bar to raise more money for the cause of the evening and Barry Goldwater Jr. (former member of the U.S. House of Representatives) was also in attendance and gave a short speech. I also met LeAnn Hull who recently ran for the U.S. House of Representatives.

I was brought on mostly to provide the sound system for those couple of speeches and announcements but I can't just do the minimum- it's just not my nature. I fired up some dance music and asked the homeowner if I could move a patio table out of the way and we had some dancing and even went a half hour over. How could you not want to dance when you are all dressed up for dancing?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

In the beginning...

I had a visit from a DJ buddy from LA this last week- spent a couple of days at my house between Christmas and New Years- and we took a road trip up to Winslow where I grew up. We've become really good friends in the last 16 years since we met and he wanted to see if a visit to the place of my primary years could help him figure me out. Had a great chat on the drive up and back but I'm not sure he knows me any better than before. If you know pop culture or at least classic rock music, you know that Winslow, Arizona was immortalized in the Eagles song "Take it Easy." I'm not sure the song writer ever actually stood here or anywhere else in Winslow but the town has declared this corner to be the place and provided a photo opportunity. This is just a brick wall- a remnant of a building that used to be there. An artist has painted the windows and the signage and everything. If you look at the window on the left, there is an eagle perched, two windows over are two lovers embracing, the lower window reflects the flat bed Ford (remember the lyric, "it's a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford, slowin' down to take a look at me.) Just click on the photo to study a larger version of it.

This picture is where the Whipple's store used to be. The Burlington-Northern-Santa Fe railroad has an office on the left and Family Dollar is on the right but the two used to be the nicest department store in northern Arizona. Just out of the shot on the left- in the corner of the mall- was the corporate office for Whipple's. It's vacant now.

I'm standing on the spot that sparked my imagination and ignited my passion for the entertainment business. My DJ career started right here. It was a big retail promotion that my dad put on that was the biggest thing Northern Arizona had ever seen and probably hasn't been matched since. There was a 45' flatbed trailer parked on that spot for a stage and I got to introduce an appearance by Arizona TV legends, Wallace and Ladmo. There were about 1500 people there and I cracked a little joke and they laughed and when I told them to cheer, they cheered.

That moment changed my life.

The only thing that could have made that trip better would be if the Root Beer Stand had been open. I had a major hankerin' for a Taco Tangle.

Double Whammy!

I did two weddings on New Years Eve but I was home at 11PM. Try to figure that one out. I had a brunch wedding out at Raven Verrado in Buckeye and then hustled out to Dobson Ranch Inn in Mesa for an early evening wedding reception.
This may be the cutest flowergirl in the history of cute flowergirls. She was the niece of the bride and probably believed all day that SHE was the bride. If she has any memories of this day I hope they are fond memories. She was really well behaved and charming and cute. She was wwwwWWWORKIN' my tambourine on the dance floor in this shot.
The bride knelt down beside the dancefloor while her new husband was dancing with his mom and the FGIQ (flower girl in question) laid down beside her to take a break. They had to be done by 4P because another New Years party was coming in to that room for that evening. The wedding had been on the lawn at 11AM and lunch was served at about 115 so wrapping up at 4 was just right.
This was the evening couple- a second marriage for both of them. They had been married in the Mormon Temple in Mesa that morning and participated in a religious service and then friends and family gathered for dinner that night at a nearby hotel restaurant. We had family introductions and a couple of speeches and a prayer and some dinner and dancing and when the evening was winding down, we did an arbitrary New Years countdown and lit some sparklers and sent them off on their honeymoon.

It was a long day with some equipment and music logistics to be concerned with but I planned well and executed it well and had some satisfied customers at the end of it.