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Loving The Alien

14 Jan

“Come on! … Come on, you guys”! Yet another day of nagging, I thought to myself. Is this what had become of me?

“Come on!  This is getting ridiculous …the food is getting cold already … by the time you eat it, it’ll…my voice trailed off. “All right then” as I was getting ready to go into a tirade of unutterable words, the phone rang.

“Hi Carlos, I have David on the other line. Can you hold on?” It was Eileen from David Bowie’s Office. It was great to hear Eileen’s voice.

  “Sure” I said, as I licked my now, dry lips with my tongue. Was my mouth dry because of the nervousness or was it that I had wasted all my salivary fluids, drooling over the lost meal I was missing out on?

“Here’s David” she said and then, there was silence.

“Carlos?” came the voice on the other end of the phone.

“David?” I replied. Then we both started laughing. That exchange was always funny, no matter how many times we did it, but it was always totally enjoyable. “Is that really you?” I questioned

“Yea mate. How ya been?”

“Hey man! Pretty good” I replied as I waited to see what could have David Bowie, calling me after 6 years. God! Had it really been that long? I pondered on how long. About as long as it took my family to come to the table to eat, I thought, as they finally sat themselves down and started to complain about their cold food.

“What was this once? Dad, Huh?”  My budding daughter Lea Lorien asked in her snide voice. “Stop that, and eat your food,” retorted my wife Robin. “Can’t you see your father’s on the phone.”

“Thank you Robin,” I said, cupping the phone.

  “So what’s up?” I asked, getting back to David. “How’s married life treating you?

“Oh Man! Its Great” he replied. And then we talked. About this and that, who and when, where and how and then, he suddenly interjected.

“5:30”

“What?” I replied,

“5:30…Can you be in the studio at 5:30?”

“Sure, I guess” I continued “but, what’s happening? I questioned.

“Well,” he began  “I’m in the studio… Brian is here”. As he started talking, you could tell he was really getting excited. It seems he and Brian Eno were at it again, recording a new album and I guess David wanted to get that old “Trilogy” feeling again. It was a welcome thought considering the fact that David had spent so many Years with “Tin Machine” (another pseudonym for David Bowie).

I guess David had gotten discouraged. He must have finally realized, that a group effort means a total group effort. Good times and bad, thick and thin, money or no money. 

Yea, Sure!  As far as “Times” were concerned… The few British clippings I could get my hands on confirmed that they were progressively becoming bad times, the creative stream, it seems had long since thinned out, and the “monies” spent, were usually his.

Anyway, he wanted me to come to the Hit Factory in N.Y.C to record his new album.

Glancing over at Robin while I listened, I could see her lips forming the usual phone question, “Who is it?”

“David” I Shot back, in dumb tongue.

“David?” she questioned, with that look of David Who? “Bowie, David Bowie” I shot back in spoken tongue hoping to quiet her. But she wouldn’t have it. Up she got, and over to the phone she came. Standing next to me, in order to listen, she pressed herself close and lent an ear.

“Onions!”

“Onions?” she questioned.

“Yea, Onions.” I replied. With visions of Buckwheat and Darla from the “Little Rascals” dancing in my head, I placed some distance between my lovely, but odoriferous wife and refocused on the phone conversation.

“Yeah man! … Aha…well, look …yeah…whatever you need…you know I’ll be there … and David …Thanks for the phone call … O.K.  I’ll see you then…”and just like that, it was over.

Turning back to Robin I could tell I’d have to start from the beginning and tell her everything, which I did.

After I  finished, she looked at me with that I’m-your-wife-and-I-told-you-he’d-call-look and said. “I guess he wants to be David Bowie again”. So much for Tin Machine. 

Not one to go one-on-one with an old I-told-you-so-pro, like my wife, I could only look at her and say “I guess your right.”

Chapter 1

(THE ALBUM)… to be continued…

Olympics in London

27 Jul

Wow! … So I’m chilling’ out at Jocelyn Brown’s house in London, when the Olympics come on. As the teams representing each nation file out, everyone awaits the advent of the host country,Great Britain. The United States team got a fine reception and then, after a few more teams…finally the moment everyone has been waiting for…the entrance of the team from Great Britain…when suddenly what do I hear?…me. Yes, me. My signature guitar line on David Bowie’s “We Can Be Heroes”. My wife turns to me with that warm look of satisfaction, from long years of support and guidance. And my daughter smiles the proud look of any offspring in the light of her fathers accomplishments. Jocelyn looks at me and asks ” is that your guitar I’m listening to”? All I can do is smile and say ” Yep”.

Wow…

 

here’s a video clip of the moment

 

Touring with the Big Boys

10 Jul

            I’ve often been asked what’s it like going on tour with Superstars like David Bowie or Iggy Pop.

Sometimes I’m even asked to go overseas and tour in Japan, Australia, Europe or China. Touring has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

It started back in 1970 when I was hired to play guitar for Sesame Street on tour.

Sesame Street premiered on November 10, 1969. As their first season was a phenomenal hit, they commissioned a children’s tour to promote the series and off I went. Before then I had not traveled at all.          

I was just 19, recently married and with my wife’s blessing and guitar in hand, I was ready to go out and conquer the world . 

Touring by definition can also come to mean many things. A tour of Military duty for instance. It would seem from the above description that the only thing missing was the army physical and boot camp. But sometimes the lines do get blurred. Some tours can be national and others international, as you leap-frog from hotel to hotel. Some can last a month others a year. Some, even longer as Superstars try to capitalize on their popularity as they go from album to tour and tour to album, all in a mindless blur of one-nighters.

     Some of the Locales are breath-taking though. Foreign spots like Hawaii, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, and others offer the musician an ability to understand people and customs in their own setting. Thus the understanding of interpersonal relationships becomes much more developed than let’s say tO the non-traveler. Even the vegetation and wildlife makes you feel like you’re on another planet. It is sometimes overwhelming how vibrant life can be, when it is found naturally. But that is not to say that beauty and culture cannot be found nationally. The sunsets in Tucson were overwhelmingly beautiful and if you should ever ride horseback in Wyoming, well… you would never leave. From the Grand Canyon to the Louisiana Bayou beauty can be found at home as well as abroad.

    But Touring also has its drawbacks. I’ve seen musicians mesmerized by the allure and glamour of the stage. Go buck-wild and crazy. Losing their self-respect, their honor, their families and themselves. Pumped up with accolades and adoring fans, drug pushers and groupies. Some leave behind their jeans and don the regalia of leather and eye shadow, that marks the beginning of the end. Others, I am happy to report, make life long friends and allow themselves the privilege of sharing the journey with others. It is a strong man who can keep his senses in a room filled with so many fragrances.

    But the friends/fans that you make in your travels are truly what makes it all worth while. Every time you return you expect to see them, as they wait on bated breath for your approach as well. And as the years pass, you see less and less of them. Some move on as the fragrance of a sweeter music draws them like bees to a flower. Some pass on to a better place and some overcome by time and obligation never leave their abodes. And when that time comes you know it’s time to go home.

    Musicians have a term that’s call “Road Shock” Just like the military have ” Shell Shock” . It’s that feeling that you get at the dining room table… it’s about 7pm…you’re finally home…you’re waiting for your food and yet you feel this adrenalin rushing through your system (your body and mind are still on stage, waiting for the applause). After dinner you feel uneasy and anxious (Where’s the after-party)…you can’t seem to go to sleep..(next club,anyone?).

Yeah, sometimes the lines get blurred….I guess that’s why they call it…a tour.



Soda Stereo Pt. III

28 Jun

I landed in Buenos Aires and proceeded to Customs. As usual, the lines leading to customs were brutal. I waddled on line dragging my carry-on bag behind me like an unwanted appendage. The memory of my lost guitar at the Bangkok Airport, near the Chao Phraya Waterway, missing clothes bags in Sweden and countless airport/custom blunders filled my thoughts. Finally, I was next in line to meet with an agent. I approached the Customs stall cautiously, conscious of the red line at my feet and fighting the uncontrollable desire to lean on the counter. I handed over my passport and papers to a young man with a serious demeanor. He looked over my credentials then, he looked at me. He finally greeted me with the usual question.

“And what brings you to Buenos Aires Mr. Alomar? He asked, followed by the dreaded follow up. “Are you here on business or pleasure?”

For anyone who has ever traveled out of the country, this is how the system works. If you are there to “work” you have to get a work visa. I didn’t have time for all of that, so to cut time I just replied with my usual response.

“Oh, pleasure. I’m just here to visit with some friends.” The agent leaned in and like a teacher peering over his glasses, to set a student straight he replied.

“Mr. Alomar, I know who you are and why you are here. I will be at that concert tomorrow to see you perform with Soda Stereo. Good Luck.” He looked at me with knowing eyes and I let out a huge grin. I was beginning to get the idea now, about how important this concert was going to be.

The next night I found myself at a rehearsal studio filled with other musicians. It seemed that the concept for the concert was simple. It was to have the instrumentalist that performed on any given song, play on their song for the show. It seems I was there to play on my song, “La Cupula”. but for me it was much more. It was a chance to see my old friends, now older with children and lives that I knew nothing about.

When they entered the room and saw me, the smiles that ensued and hugs that followed forced everyone to stop what they were doing and simply take it all in. It was more like a family reunion. Me a little older, Gustavo gruff and unshaven after long touring, in stark contrast Zeta shaved clean with bald head glistening, reflecting every light bulb in the room, and Charly now a grown man with a smile that clearly showed his years of experience and pleasure.

The night of the show the packed audience was explosive, receptive and appreciative. They sang along with every song, lit their lighters on cue and swayed in unison to the slow songs. Finally, I could hear my name coming from the loudspeakers as Gustavo announced my approach. I’ll tell you this, there is nothing like the roar of fans as they finally see their chosen band perform for the last time. Every song meant something to each of them. When they graduated, fell in love, when they married, had children, had their hearts broken, divorced and even when they saw the passing of their friends. Every song, every word, at this moment, at this time meant something … maybe even, everything.

“Ladies and Gentlemen …Carlos Alomar!!!!!!” Gustavo Cerrati announced as I walked on stage. The roadie handing me my guitar chord and the monitor engineer turning my volume up in the monitors. One…Two…Three… Four…

“La Cupula” began as I felt the blood rush to my ears and I entered the trance-like-state that consumes every performing musician. I played my solo (although I do not remember any part of it), I smiled for the whole show, not just because I played well, but because it always amazes me how much better musicians get with age. Gustavo, Zeta and Charlie, not only played every note that we had rehearsed and practiced for weeks 20 years ago, but added notes that could only come from years of experience and techniques learned over the many years they toured together. It was glorious, the closest thing to heaven that a musical jam could be. After the show we partied deep into the night, like it would never end, but we all knew that not only would the party end, but that our odyssey which had begun together some 20 years ago would also come to an end. And that night as I slept I knew, that I would wake up to a world without Soda Stereo.

Years after Soda Stereo, I still use the same criteria for accepting production request. Let’s hear all your new songs. Are you a close knitted band? Can you execute any musical acrobatic that I ask for? Will you stay together long enough for you to affect the world. I guess the lessons learned with Soda Stereo run deep and are not easily forgotten.

In May of 2010 I found out through the Internet that Gustavo Cerrati had suffered a stroke, and had entered into a coma. My heart stopped as I choked back a tear. A few years earlier in 2003, another of my friends the great R&B singer Luther Vandross had also suffered a stroke. I understood the pain and loss to his family and to his fans, all too well.

Yet another voice of our times was silenced.

As I reflect on the music industry in the advent of the new millennium there are many bands willing, and I think able to pick up the banner where Soda Stereo left off. And yet, I worry that the new bands will not rise in the same way as Soda Stereo did. The big Multi-National companies have a very narrow and tentative attitude about signing, marketing and promoting new bands. The amount of venues that promote live music are disappearing yearly and the rampant disregard for royalties via pirating threaten to shorten the life of any aspiring band. A short while ago there was a huge controversy regarding S.O.P.A (Stop Online Piracy Act) that intends to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property. Bono, lead singer of U2, has publically stated that he supports this law, whereas other artists feel the opposite way.

As all this continues and sides are taken, Gustavo Cerrati Sleeps, his coma leaving him oblivious to the outcome of all that surrounds us. Will his legacy via his royalties go to his family and heirs or will it just be left unattended as the Pirates rape and pilfer all of his offerings.

I went to my archives and resurrected the original lyrics for the Rap to “En El Borde’ (On the Edge)”. It surprisingly offers us an answer to this question. I leave it for you to decide.

“Well I’m on the edge and I just don’t know

if you’ll find me here or you’ll find me there.

Cause things are really taking a turn,

and I just don’t know, if I will be burned…”

“No hablare del final….”

                                                               “Excerpt from “En El Borde”

 

Carlos Alomar continues his odyssey on the guitar recording and performing with todays most well know artist as well as being the Director of the Sound Synthesis Research Center at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey

Soda Stereo Pt II

27 Jun

Having worked with such great artists as David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger, you might ask how I compared Soda Stereo’s artistic level to theirs. Well, the answer is simple. I couldn’t compare them. Yes, artistically, musically, and mechanically Soda Stereo were awesome musicians. But there was something else. We were speaking in Spanish, communicating on a heartfelt level in our own language. A secret language, a language that did not interpret into the Anglo vernacular, and with that came a trust that only comes from speaking in your own tongue, it drove me. I immediately knew that this project would define me. The need to give back to the music business that had been so good to me, the need to work with “Rock In Spanish”, the need to find a band that could deliver on any idea that I, as a producer, would have, the need for Soda Stereo to work with a known Latin-American Rock guitarist. All of these factors lead us all to believe that we were on a mission, and that we could not afford to fail.

The rehearsals went very well. They came prepared with over 20 songs. We decided on eight of them, but agreed that as soon as we had the right arrangements, maybe we could write a few more. It’s always good to do something fresh, unexpected and spontaneous in the studio when you have a great band and they now have a clear understanding of their new sound. Why? Simply because, you can! It’s not that simple to do, when the artist is a singer and you have to put a band together for them. Soda Stereo was self-contained and they were all there, able, willing and ready.

In the summer of 1988 we met at Sorcerer sound studio In New York City to record the album. Andy Heermans, who had worked on my solo album “Dream Generator” was contracted to record and mix the sessions. We decided on this studio because we could buy it out cheaply and knew that no one would disturb our sessions. We would basically own the place for the time we were there. The sessions went well and additional musicians were brought in on Keyboards and horns as were needed. A few songs stood out above the rest. Songs like “La Cúpula”, and “En la ciudad de la furia”, they sounded like actual classics from the start, with guitars sometimes up front and then guitars wailing in the back. We were very happy and I knew that for “Argentinian Rock” these songs would forever represent greatness.  Sometimes it is not possible to be fully aware that you are creating a hit, and sometimes you are blessed to have one fall right in your lap.

While in the studio Gustavo and I traded guitar licks as he questioned me about my life and times with David Bowie, as well as how I came up with the guitar riffs in “Fame”. I would show him things and tricks that I wanted him to play in parts of the solo that he was about to record. I usually don’t like to play guitar on an album that I’ve produced because I would rather show the part to the band guitarist, to have him be able to play it “live”. But Gustavo would not have it….

”Oh yes! You are going to play on this song… are you crazy, the great Carlos Alomar is not going to play on our record? Oh no … you are going to play this solo!” proclaimed Cerrati in his broken English.  The fierce leader of this power trio had not traveled all the way to America, to not have me play on his record, this was certain. As the others chimed in their approval, I agreed to take the solo on “La Cupula”.

I entered the studio and asked them to lower the lights for added ambience. I looked through the double glass partition at the band as they leered back. Gustavo now poised at the helm, sitting in my producers seat. Zeta standing to his right, arms crossed and waiting and Charly giving me the thumbs up in recognition and smiling.  Needless to say, I nailed it in one take. Having auditioned the parts a few minutes ago for Gustavo, they were all still fresh in my head. Additionally, all the years of playing around with licks and practicing endlessly in hotel rooms, had always paid off. These random licks had finally found a home in the solo on “La Cupula”.

With hearty backslapping and accolades I finally reclaimed my “throne” from Gustavo behind the mixing board. We all continued laughing and “Woo-ing” about my performance (a usual ritual amongst musician, when a great time and a great performance is being had). But, I realized that Gustavo was right. Why should he try to sound like me, when I was already there, ready, willing and able.

There was one last song that had to be done “En el border” (On the edge). It was Zeta who first uttered the words that sent a cold chill down my spine.

“Why doesn’t Carlos lay down a RAP track on this track? Yeah, a RAP track is just what is needed, chimed in the rest”… Silence ensued, as they all turned to me…with that look in their eyes.

NO WAY!, NO F*@#$%~ WAY!, was all I could say and laughed at the thought of it!

It had been almost 8 years since Kurtis Blow recorded the track for one of the most famous RAP lyrics of our times…”The Breaks”.

I know great Rappers, and I do not consider myself to be one of them. I certainly did not want to enter the battle arena of rap to later be scrutinized by others…. especially Rappers!  But again, the boys wouldn’t hear of it. They dogged me, pestered, pleaded and insisted. I went home that night and wrote the lyrics for “On the edge”. I returned the next day and reluctantly but wholeheartedly laid down the rap on “En El Border (on the edge)”. It was great! I actually enjoy it very much. But I vowed that that would be the first and last time I ever rapped on a song…thank God, I have kept true to my word.

“DOBLE VIDA” was released in 1988 with great acclaim and reviews. The album went on to be known as the true launching of Soda Stereo and the Album that would bring them the most recognition.  I think it remains one of their greatest achievements, as well as one of mine. Over the years I would correspond with all of them individually, as I continued on in my musical odyssey. I would read reviews of their ensuing albums, of their eventual break-up and of their individual endeavors and I would rejoice in their continued success. The memory of our time together, forever giving me reason to smile.

In 2007, and after almost 20 years of having recorded “Doble Vida”, I received a surprise invitation from Soda Stereo to participate in the last show of their comeback tour at the River Plate Stadium. Well, you could have blown me over with a feather. I of course, said yes, and prepared to go to Buenos Aires to be reunited with my old friends.

End of Pt.II

-chapter 18- Soda Stereo

21 Jun

Image

My life and times with Soda Stereo

Excerpts from my upcoming book

“Dancing with the Big Boys”

written by Carlos Alomar and Robin Clark

Part I

-Chapter 18-

In the late 1980’s I used to frequent a place called “Rudy’s Music Stop”, a music store in the legendary 48thstreet music district in New York City. One of the few places where real men could window shop and envision themselves playing any one of the most amazing vintage guitars that would be found there. Slowly and inevitably you would peer closer until you finally stumbled upon the price tag, there your daydreams would come face to face with the true reality of “American Commerce”. Damn, you’d have to work all your life or start one of those Internet start-up companies that produced millionaires in the coming years to afford one of those beauties.  But I wasn’t there looking for another axe, I was there looking for Rudy.

Rudy

I figured as long as I was in the neighborhood, I might as well ask his opinion on my thoughts about Latin Music.  You see, Rudy was very knowledgeable about the whole Latin scene and I would constantly go to him to set me straight about all things Latin. Rudy was a middle-aged Argentinian man who looked much younger than his age, probably from all the places he had to visit in order to get his hands on all the pearls that he had to offer (surely, a much better scenario than being stuck in the shop all day long). Rock and Roll had been very good to him and to actually find him behind the counter was rare. I was there to talk to Rudy about an idea I had. I wanted to start “The National Rock Movement of Puerto Rico.”

Rock Music with Spanish lyric was taking off via MTV and I was very aware of the consequences and demand for such music. I wanted Puerto Rico, with their close relationship to the United States, to be the portal for bands wishing to enter the U.S. market. My desire at this time, to give something back to my musical community, was at an all time high.

I finally found Rudy in the back room, polishing one of his new acquisitions. Rudy listened as I excitedly talked for about 20 minutes non-stop about “this and that” and “them and those” and basically all things wrong with the record companies. And of course, how they wouldn’t know a great band even if they bit them in the ass!

Yet, Rudy was very intuitive and clever so he let me go on and on with my chatter until he finally stopped me with one simple word.

“Carlito…” was all he said. This simple word stopped me in mid sentence. You see, the Spanish ending “ito or ita(for females)” added to anyone’s name, is like Americans calling Charles, Charley or Michael, Mikey. This Hispanic term of endearment was always used by anyone older than you, not only to show you his or her rank. But mostly, to make you feel like a child again…no matter your age.

“Have you ever heard of a band from Argentina called Soda Stereo?” he continued.

When I told him I had not, he then went on to inform me that Gustavo Cerrati the Lead singer from that band had come in recently. Gustavo, like me, had come to ask his advice about possible producers for their upcoming album. Rudy commented how fortuitous it was for us to be having this conversation and recommended that I think about producing this band. I told Rudy that I was very interested and asked if he had Cerrati’s telephone number. Rudy reached into his back pocket and produced what I considered to be his “Little Black Book”. Now I use the word “little” very loosely here, because the weathered, frayed and tattered book, held together by rubber bands that he produced could hardly be considered “little”.  In fact, it would have easily bore a hole in a lesser man’s buttock. But I guess that after years of feeding it numbers from many places, It probably balanced the wallet found on the other side perfectly. Giving him an added height of accomplishment that would forever have him seated high, above any man.

When I got home I did a little research on the band to see where they were coming from. I was pleasantly surprise to find that they were pretty good musicians. But, yet again let me explain another production fact. That really was not a concern…as a producer I admit that your past is important. But what is more important is what you do now. As genre’s morph and change and the beats per minute drive music to be faster and faster, every song has to be a hit and a producer must prepare every song to be viable.

So my plan was simple. First, invite them to N.Y.C. to rehearse their songs in a proper rehearsal studio. I hate it when monies are wasted rehearsing in a recording studio. Granted, some spontaneous things happen in the recording studio, but there are bigger benefits that can be reaped from a proper rehearsal studio. In this case, they would not be distracted by familiar people, places or phone calls. (A thing I learned from Bowie, when he once informed me that we would be rehearsing on a tropical island). Secondly, we would have them available to re-write or re-arrange any song, at any time of day or night (the latter would proved invaluable, as that is just what happened). And third, this would allow me to formulate an idea about their “Sound ”. This is important because it allowed me to consider who would be the recording engineer, mixing engineer and where I would record, as well as who would master the final product. These things being done, we finally arranged to meet at the rehearsal studio.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Jeff Beck Group and countless power trio bands from days gone by, ran through my head as I listened to Soda Stereo warm up and introduce me to some of the intended songs for their new LP.

The first thing that caught my attention was the amazing vocals of Soda Stereo’s front man, Gustavo Cerrati. Gustavo was a virtuoso rhythm and lead guitarist with an uncanny and convincing ability to sing and write a hit song. I found him very intelligent, calculating and serious about the band. With Gustavo, all things were negotiable but he understood the strengths and weaknesses of his band, and fought to maintain their image and direction.

Hector Bosio on Bass, who quickly told me to call him “Zeta”, as no one, no one, …no one called him “Hector”. Zeta’s demeanor was collaborative and supportive. He was born to be a bass player, strong and loud and by loud I mean “forward”, he said what he meant and meant what he said”. Zeta was always holding things “down” and by “down” I mean “together”.

And last but not least, the young pup and relentless drum machine behind it all, Charly Alberti, a curly haired smile atop two shoulders. Charly was a real sweetie and charmer who I knew had all the makings of a true “Lady Killer”. Charly like many young men needed a lot of sleep, and he was not apologetic about getting it …anywhere he could. I would sometimes see him laying on the carpet, catching a nod on a chair or resting in a fetal position comfortably on the coach. He reminded me of a cat. His reply to everything was always positive and delivered with a beaming smile. He was quiet and shy and I found him to be,

well…totally endearing.

End of Pt.I

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