Friday, April 01, 2011

The Velvet Papers, Pt 1

The Background in Brief

At first, there were two. Two guys: Jim, who played guitar and Craig, on piano. (They were high school friends, but never played together in high school.) Both felt their musical abilities were dubious, but one had an insurmountable ego, despite any supporting evidence. The other, decidely humble even to this day. Ask either one to describe themselves (then or now) and one word would emerge in perfect syncronization: "Losers."

 The other considered music more to be a diversion, a hobby. Personality wise, they were exact opposites: the excitable German and the laid back Italian. Both shared an equal interest in crafting a good buzz and having fun. All was well and innocent in those long ago days.

On college breaks, our dubious twosome could be found, amidst the chaos of four other siblings and a house where everyone wanted to congregate, trying to make something worthwhile out of their limited musical imaginations.  

There were problems. Neither of us could play rock or jazz very well-although these were influences. What the hell could we play? Original music and music that held a common thread-Latin music or more specifically, bossa nova was one recurrent theme. Though early attempts at composing were usually pretty lame affairs. In fact, upon reflection, this was an odd couple from the start. Think of all the great piano and guitar duets. Yeah, that's right. None come to mind. Losers.

Lounge god Nick Winters - the template for all
things Velvet and lounge.
When you fail at rock and jazz, what can come? Lounge. Yes, Lounge, that truly American "art" form that Bill Murray so accurately parodied on SNL. Lounge existed before Murray and still does.

 Oh yeah, we could lounge, baby.

These casual musical meetings continued over the years as both tried to get a college degree.  The pianist sought a practical degree in engineering or something of a technical nature whilst the guitarist pursued a music degree with an emphasis in music education. (As blogged before, the desire to learn about music was a fixed star for the young six stringer despite the hellish conditions of the state college he attended.)

It's Go Time

Addendum: we called our first outing, The Candle Light Tour (86-87) because of some leftover electric cheezo candles that were near the "stage." 

No completely private music making can ultimately be satisfying to the musician. Music must be shared. An audience changes, revises, weighs and ultimately gives meaning to the work of the musicians. Even at our wretched level, we knew we had to play out to grow as players.

Even if it's played at a dive steak house owned by the piano player's dad.

Yes, it has always looked this sad, run down
and generally lower tier.
Craig's dad owned the Cantina. Formerly Lazlo's (?) Steak House. Uncle Tony ( as I and others called him) ran the joint with a careful, if not slightly chintzy, business sense. T knew the bottom line: get a crowd of regulars. There was Taco Wednesday and Three Dollar Pitcher night, etc. He developed a bar that felt like your neighborhood pub, but with an odd mix of socio-economic levels.

We had to play there because we were too weird to play anywhere else. So, the Velvet Brothers were born.

Digression: The name came from a fake interview I was doing of Craig. See? Even then, I was a faux journalist. I asked him about his time in the Velvet Brothers (This was long before Spinal Tap which came out in 1984). " The Velvet Brothers?" was his confused reply and the seeds were planted in the lounge soil.

Next: You can't play at a dive without the right equipment or wardrobe. Or can you?


Karan said...

I love(d) the Cantina; the little paper placemats with a million pictures of different drinks- it was a siren call to pluarlize my potables. Could have only been better had I been around for the days of this particular lounge act...

eclectic guy said...

Maybe so. It was a mixed bag there for sure. The Velvet phase was mighty special for me, born of awkwardness.