Tag Archives: Valencia Club

catching up

OK, it’s time to catch up on the last few weeks. Every time I think I’ve got some time free, something seems to happen. This week it was the headaches. Last week it was a couple of unexpected days at work.

Whatever. Let’s look back,

SoundBox was really awesome. The young German conductor of the SFS Youth Orchestra, Christian Reif, was the curator. Rather than trying to describe it, I recommend you all just read this review. It is of course a glowing review, but what I especially like about it is how it describes the atmosphere at a SoundBox concert pretty well. A couple of people that I spoke to afterwards who had seen many SoundBoxes were quite moved by this set.

From the technical standpoint, the only difficulty we had was amplifying the instruments in the Black Angels string quartet. I didn’t find out until after the fact that the full title includes the words ‘for Electric String Quartet.’ I had only been given a note that the (acoustic) instruments were to Be mic’d, which we did for the first rehearsal. Everyone seemed to like it expect the players in the quartet who now told us the sound should be distorted and loud ‘like Jimi Hendrix.’

So we talked it over and they agreed that they would bring in their distortion pedals the next day and we would wire them through the overhead speakers.

What they actually brought in was a motley collection of amps, none of which had dedicated distortion circuits. All we could do was overdrive the inputs and hope it worked. After much fiddling – so to speak! – we got something that they professed to be happy with. It wasn’t nearly the overwhelming loudness of Hendrix. Oh well.

A week later was my date with Loose Gravel at the Valencia Club in Penryn. At the last minute, I had traded with Tom singing Dizzy Miss Lizzy for Blue Suede Shoes. That one I had sung back in the April days so I thought it would be straightforward. It turned out to be a problem, though, partly because the vocal starts without any introduction. I ended up in the wrong key. It was only the second song of the afternoon and people were looking at me and the band as if wondering what they were in for.

It got better, though. A few songs later I got to chew on Big Boss Man, which I had actually sung a few times in the intervening years. That went very well.

The second set was the Chuck Berry tribute and I sang Wee Wee Hours and Memphis acceptably. In honor of Chuck I had brought my red ES-335 which I don’t play much. I had bought it from Vince a couple of years ago because he offered me a great deal on it. Afterwards we talked about it. He offered to take it back but ‘didn’t have any money.’ Ha ha, very finny Vince! I don’t dislike it that much.

It’s a beautiful guitar. Here’s a picture of it in front of Allen Frank’s Super Reverb at his Drytown Club right after I bought it.

The next day – Monday night actually – the Skyline band played a ‘Mid-Term Exam’ at the Last Stop Sports Bar in Daly City. They are nice people there, but fitting a big band into the performance space they have is just not happening. We guitars were stuffed in the back next to the drums with all the wind players in front of us and playing in the other direction. It wasn’t too bad until I got to African Skies when I was supposed to be playing a unison line with the tenor sax. I couldn’t hear him at all! The trading twos at the end was a little better because it was just us and Zack was counting and pointing to each of us on our turn.

Here’s a picture of the ES-330 I use for jazz band:

It looks similar but it is really quite different. I won’t bore you with the details unless you ask.

The last SoundBox is upon us. Next week will be the last program for at least 7 months. Whether we get to start it up again in December is up to the Symphony board. It was funded for three years and those three years are done. No one wants to see it go but we all realize it is quite expensive to put it on. Some of the ‘features’ like the lighting and video will be migrated to the main Davies hall but the custom sound system I run won’t be one of them. Stay tuned . . .

Franco

I mentioned Tom Kent in these pages not too long ago. Tom is very gregarious and when he moved back to Northern California from New Mexico, it wasn’t long before he had found people to play music with. For the most part I have been content to tag along and sit in with Tom’s band when I could. Starting around the same time, Tom & I got together with our old band mates from the ’70s about once a year.

Even though I had played guitar in that band, I had played more bass in the intervening years so I was usually the bass player.

The bass player in Tom’s band was a crusty guy just a little older than me named Franco. I say crusty – he was friendly enough but perhaps a little suspicious in those early days of Tom’s old friend showing up at jobs. He was in his element at bars and seemed to know everybody. I remember one time early in our relationship when I had come down to the Valencia Club in Penryn to hear and perhaps sit in with the band, Franco was slow getting back to the bandstand after their first set. After they called several times and he didn’t appear, I plugged in my bass and started playing with the rest of the band. That got him back out there right away. He was nice but firm: ‘I’m the bass player.’

As the years went by I hung out with the band a few times a year, less often at jobs than at rehearsals at Vince’s house in Loomis. There we could relax when not playing and chat without the distraction of bar patrons and we became friends. I had made it clear that I wasn’t trying to get into the band permanently on either instrument. The band, especially in the early 2000s, was pretty busy, playing 3 or 4 times a month around the Gold Country. I was still getting my feet back under me musically.

Franco was not a flashy player, but he had been playing professionally for a long time, mostly in country bands. He knew what sounded right and how to do it. I always enjoyed watching him work with Tom and the band on parts of songs. He was not the leader – Tom was – but when something wasn’t right, he demanded that it get fixed, and stuck with it until it was.

As time went by, Franco let me sit in on bass every once in while. Usually I was the third guitar player. By then I knew most of the songs the band played so there wasn’t a huge let down in quality.

It was about this time 5 years ago that I sat in for Franco for the last time. Of course I didn’t know it then. The band was playing at a pizza restaurant in Cool. Just before the second set he said he wasn’t feeling so good and would I mind playing. No! I had gone outside during the first set and I remember marveling at the strong and clear bass sound that carried well out past the parking lot.

I don’t remember how the evening ended; whether I played bass for the whole rest of the evening or Franco came back. There was no indication that anything serious was wrong but it was only a little over a month later when Tom called me with the news that Franco had died.

I was honored to play through his rig with the band at the memorial. Later I bought it from his nephew and treasure it still. Franco wasn’t married and had no children so the nephew was the closest relative he had. The band has had a few bass players since but none to match Franco.

Rest in Peace, Franco Giovannoni. The heavenly band is better for your presence!