scarf down burger on the rooftop barbecue.

“I don’t throw around the word ‘brilliant’ much, but I’ve got to say it: Ralph is brilliant.”

I was talking to Ray the day Ralph finished in the studio.  He called me and he could barely contain the excitement in his voice.

“What did he do?” I asked.  

“He just stepped up to the microphone and started singing,” he said.  “I swear he made the whole thing up, right on the spot.  And it was perfect.”

He played it for me over the phone, which was really frustrating because I could barely hear it.  It sounded like there was another guitar part, and a new layer of backing vocals over the middle eight.  He was almost giddy when he was playing it; it was like listening to a jazz band yelling and screaming during the song while the sax player took an exceptionally good solo.

“I can’t hear it,” I said.

“It’s like a whole different song.” 

“Is it a good song?!” I asked.

“It’s fucking fantastic.  Lots of bands have singers that really struggle to come up with a decent melody.  They just sing along with whatever chords the guitar is playing.  Ralph just came in and made up a new melody, on the spot.  It was a melody that was completely different from the rest of the song.  It was like he came in and made up a different song.  I wish I had that kind of talent.”

We were going well beyond the area of “high praise.”  This was, like, adulation.  I was jumping out of my skin to hear it.  “Put it in the mail!  Now!”

When the tape finally came in the mail, I was home on one of my regular, 15-minute lunches.  I tore into the envelope and raced out to the car without even eating anything – I wanted to be in the car when I listened to it.  Music sounded better to me in the car.  I climbed in and popped in the tape, and listened to “Mountain Man” once through before I pulled the car out of its parking space.

Ray was right.

I don’t know who did what, and I don’t know when it happened.  There was a new guitar part on “Mountain Man” that completely improved the beginning.  There were new vocals.  Even the original vocals seemed stronger.  I have no idea what stuff came from the first session and what came from the second; I didn’t know what was remixed and what had been re-recorded.  All I knew was that it sounded great.  I rewound it three or four times on the way back to my office, forgetting all about “Belly.”  

Ralph’s added vocals were riffing on the concept of being outside, drinking beer and having burgers at a summertime rooftop barbecue.  They changed the whole song.  They had added some effects to the vocals, and he sang underneath his original vocal track so that there were two different vocal parts going at the same time.  

It also seemed like maybe the guitars were a little more roughed up or something.  It just seemed more raw, for some reason.  

I can’t describe it properly, so I’ll just play it for you.

Here’s the original mix I got from Ray.  I believe this is just a rough mix, but you can hear the guitars are very plain at the beginning of the song, the backing vocals are way back in the mix, and the middle eight is wide open, with only one vocal singing over the place where it feels like there should be a guitar solo.

Here’s the new mix.  New guitar in the opening, vocals up higher, awesome Ralph in the  middle eight. Thanks to Mark for the better copy; I just bought a DAT player so I could get the master uploaded, but this will do fine for now.

I guess it’s not really a middle “eight,” but you get the point.

“Belly” was similar.  Bill from American Standard came in and sang some backing vocals.  Ralph added some extra touches as well.  Bill put some nice harmonies on top of what Ralph was singing, and it added another layer to the music.  

I practically ran into the office and called Sandy at work.

“It’s amazing.”

“What’s amazing?” she asked.

“The Footstone songs.  They’re amazing.  I want to put them out.  Right now.  If it made sense, I’d want to hold off on Melting Hopefuls and cuppa joe, and put out all three at the same time.”

Sandy sounded excited, too.  She knew how down I had been about the whole thing, and she liked Footstone just as much as I did.

There were a few lessons to be learned here.

First of all, I would never, ever, ever doubt Footstone again.  This was a bunch of really talented guys, with excellent taste in music, and a passion for playing.  They were just beginning to develop as a band, and Ralph was really beginning to hone his chops as a songwriter.  It seemed like hooks just popped out of his mind.  Like Ray said, there were other musicians who would kill for that kind of talent, and the guys in Footstone were just beginning to learn how to use it.

Second, I decided that if a situation like this ever arose again, I would not say “no.”  Instead, I would offer suggestions, and try and see if there was a way to resolve it  (and, like I said, it did happen again, maybe two years later).

On top of all that, in case I haven’t said this enough yet, Footstone were the nicest guys in the world.  All four of them.  We had become friends with them, and looked for reasons to get out with them for a beer, or bullshit with them on the phone.  I didn’t want to lose that.

I don’t remember the conversation, or how we ultimately agreed to put out the record.   

What I do remember was going to their house in Denville (at least I think they were in Denville by this point) to talk about packaging.  Mark had an idea to use this pornographic clown puppet that they had been given as a gag gift, take a close-up picture of him for the front of the sleeve, and put the lower half of the puppet, in all its pornographic glory, on the back.  I believe the name of the puppet was “The Happy Jerkoff Clown,” and one of the selling features on the box was that it “Wobbles From Side To Side.”  The 7″, therefore, would be called “Wobbles From Side To Side.”

I had some misgivings about that, and also about the fact that Footstone’s logo was a ripoff of the Firestone logo.  I was a little worried about a lawsuit threat from Firestone.  I was a little worried about some group like the PTA coming after me because of the giant puppet penis on the back of the record.  But I was not about to say no to Footstone again.

Plus, it was punk rock.  And at the end of the day, that’s where Footstone was headed with their music.  They were a punk band who knew how to play their instruments, who just happened to have a singer who could sing; it wasn’t long before I was telling people that I thought Ralph had the best voice in indie rock, and it only got better.  It’s still getting better, all these years later.

By then we had heard a few more of Ralph’s new songs, and had fallen in love with them.  There was one called “Superworld” that was just so laden with hooks that I couldn’t stop listening to it, even though it was on one of the crappy rehearsal tapes.  It was fast and heavy, and Ralph’s voice just soared over the band.

I had, at this point, decided that as long as there was a Dromedary Records, if Footstone wanted us to put out their music, we would.  There wasn’t a more fun bunch of guys, there wasn’t a tighter band, and they got better with every song they wrote.  And documenting that was why I got involved with music in the first place.

~ by Al on February 28, 2009.

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