2003: The Tri-fecta Convention Swing

Postcard of seals that inspired Seal Rock Inn

When I was a mere lad I would delight in attending three conventions every January. The MacWorld Convention in San Francisco, the Consumer Electronics Show in Lost Wages, and the National Association of Music Merchandisers wangbang in Anaheim, CA. Known as MW, CES, & NAMM, they would run consecutively, as if scheduled just for Al. Aside from self-education, they could be fun as well.

When i got caught in the Northridge quake of ‘94 at NAMM, I crossed the Tri-fecta off my list. What the hell, i had attended at least 20 of ‘em - time to move on. All I was really missing was CES, cause I'd catch the MacWorld summer show in Boston/NYC and the NAMM summer show in Nashville.

With the birth of my grandson, it became necessary to journey west again  in the millennium. He resides in LA. So this year, I decided to recapture my youth and do the Tri-fecta. As I sit in Bally’s Huge Tourist Prison in Lost  Wages at 5:35 AM, I realize what a grievous error I am in the middle of  committing. I thought I’d just jot all this down in case I forget later on  how i shouldn’t do this no mo.

I flew business class from Boston to SF upgrading with some Aadvantage  miles from economy. For the first time in my life, I sat next to a vivacious, intelligent woman who worked for a pharmaceutical company. I learned a lot about that biz including the cost of developing a new drug from conception to FDA approval : a mere 500 million! Old friends picked me up at  the airport and we headed to The Marriott Downtown which pretty much adjoins  The Moscone Center where MW is held. They didn't have the room they said they’d have 4 me, and Ramon. the attitudinal desk clerk, in a valiant effort  to get me outa his face, put me in a deceptively okay room. Til we walked in and felt the 180-degree temperature. Someone must have put the heat up to ten  when they left, so we thought. We flicked on the A/C and in a mere three hours  the temperature was down to 70. The windows were sort of slanted out so the  shades were on an angle and they were all pulled up. It was a beautiful day so no problem. I took a nap and then had dinner with my new booking agents,  meeting them face2face for the first time. Back to the hotel, where the room  was now freezing and so to bed. The next morning I got up early and prepared for walking the aisles of the MW exhibits. I checked my badge holder  to see what time they opened and to my amazement, they DIDN’T open til the  next day! The ads all say the show is from 1/6-1/10, but the exhibits start a  day late. Just at that horrible moment of realization, the phone rang and it was Roy Blumenfeld, old pal and former Blues Project drummer. “Wadda ya  doin’ today??” he asked. “Spendin the day with you, of course..” I replied, ad-libbing my way into  one fine day. 

Back in 1965, the Blues Project made their maiden voyage to San Fran to  play at the San Fran State Folk Festival. The school put us up at this motel-on-the-beach at the end of Geary Street called The Seal Rock Inn. It’s title came from a buncha rocks about 100 yards out in the ocean that actual seals used to sunbathe & cavort on. If that wasn’t enough, there were also mysterious caves on the beach one could walk into after consuming large amounts of drugs and easily return to medieval times at the drop of a tab. These cave adventures were actually chronicled in a song I wrote called “Sad Sad Sunshine” which resides on my solo album Easy Does It. If THAT wasn’t enough, there was this great African American couple from Oklahoma who ran the coffee shop concession at the motel who fell in love with us, and would leave us the keys to the coffeeshop when they would close at 6 PM. We were invited to eat whatever we wanted, keep a record of said imbibing, and simply pay them the next day. You won’t find things like that happening no mo in the 2003 Dubya-led USA.

Soooooo, Roy & I decided to revisit the beach and The Seal Rock Inn this  day just to tweak our memory cells. Well the motel looks exactly as it did thirty-eight-odd years ago, even if Roy & I don’t. The caves were still  there, but a bit daunting for a pair of straight 59 year olds. And the coffee shop, although run by comparative newbies, was a pleasant stop for lunch. It was a beautiful day, and we visually trolled the rocks for seals to no avail.  They were probably at the post-Xmas sales downtown. Great to spend the day  with Roy. A great deal of our conversation centered around our  recently-deceased friend/band member Andy Kulberg, who succumbed to lymphoma  nearly a year ago to the day. That evening, I had dinner with Lori Kulberg,  Andy’s widow. Likewise it was great to see her, and we dined among our roots  in a Jewish deli downtown. So it became an Andy day and night, which was not  a bad thing at all.

The next day I walked the aisles of the MACWORLD show. One of my goals was to converse with one of the engineers who worked on the i-Tunes software program as there are three bugs in there that do indeed bug me to death. I was sent from desk to desk by Apple employees until I ended up at Desk One again and gave up. I did however get to unload on one of the engineers who works on Norton Utilities/Systemworks for Mac OSX. If you read this and are considering buying this software, DON’T. It don't work right and they don't know when it will, yet they still have it for sale, which in my mind is a  no-no. Other than that, I was not impressed with anything. Nothing jumped out as they say. 

When I returned to my room, it was 185 degrees again and I realized it was the open shades and the sun blazing in the slanted windows that deskclerk Ramon had tricked me into. So back on with the A/C, and a note to pull the shades when i left in the morning for the convention again. Dinner was with my son, a 35-year-old chef. So ya know he took me to some of the Bay Area’s finest seafood. He used to reside there. End of day. Back to the chilled-room for a cool nap.

Next day spent with writer/pal Jaan Uhelszki and her wiser-than-her-years-twenty-something daughter, Hayley. First stop for Al was Down Home Music near Berklee to CD shop. Lots of soul music imports makes a happy man. Then off to Sweetwater Saloon in Mill Valley for soundcheck. That accomplished, off to dinner at Jennie Lo’s Chinese Restaurant in Mill Valley  - clean and tasty victuals; hopefully NOT owned by J-Lo,

Playing solo shows is way different than with a band. It’s all on YOU the entire time you’re up there. It takes me 4-6 weeks to rehearse a good one.  The set list is quite different from shows-with-a-band, and lyrics and chord changes have to be remembered once again. It also indulges me as a frustrated comedian; I can do approximately 45 minutes of good sit down comedy when I’m  explaining the details of various songs. I have led a hilarious life and it’s great to share it with folks who might enjoy hearing how songs got written and inspired. This show at The Sweetwater in Mill Valley had a nice pace to it. Ya never know how it’s gonna be until you’re doin’ it. The audience was wonderful; very open to the various twists & turns I took them on. My son and various old friends from the area were in attendance, so it was great to play a smooth show. The helpful and talented Chuck Prophet gave me a lift back to town also. I slept a wee bit and packed for part two of the Tri-fecta.

From the moment I walked out of the air terminal in Vegas, I was not in control. And it ain't me - it’s the town itself!! I had successfully avoided LV for the last ten years and always referred to it as the “food poisoning  capital of the world.” Well, I can honestly say that those days are over.  They’ve put in great restaurants everywhere, but they’ve overbuilt this tinytown in a big mofo way. The taxicab line at the airport took an hour but  it wasn’t your usual stand in line. You were constantly moving (fun with luggage) - you’d get to the front of the line and then retrace your steps  back alongside it constantly.

People were in total disbelief. But once you were caught in the line, there was no way out. It was a first. The hotels are so huge, that one feels totally infinitesimal once ensconced in one’s cubicle. To walk to another hotel, is no longer just a matter of walking and crossing a few streets. Now  you CAN’T just cross most streets on the strip. There are elevated  passenger-ways and escalators, etc. If this is futuristic, I wanna die NOW.  Other than performing there, I will never set foot in that town again. I  hated it beyond belief. The CES show? Completely disorganized vis a vis finding anything and H-U-G-E to a fault. These days are over for Al.

It was with great pleasure that I landed in LA and settled in on walkable  Sunset Strip. On this leg, I was joined by Mike Bloomfield’s brother Allen,  an old friend and co-creator of a coming-in-a-year box-set we are compiling  of his late brother’s best work. I had asked if it was possible to interview their Mom for the liner notes and so off we went to Beverly Hills for an  eye-opening, wonderful, afternoon tea. When we concluded, I had borrowed her scrapbook, (filled with firsts!) gotten a wonderful interview, and discovered that Mrs. Bloomfield was the original Wrigley Doublemint twin. Bet ya didn't know THAT !!!! After a few days of various enjoyable deli stops around LA, it was time to move on to Anaheim for the NAMM show.

I am truly a NAMM veteran. I have gone to the various shows for as long as I can remember. There is a summer version in Nashville that I have  attended instead of Anaheim; trading earthquakes for tornadoes? But after  the birth of my grandson, it made sense to return to Anaheim. So here I am -  back at the Anaheim Hilton-ready to rock!!! 

Imagine a Convention Center filled with musical instruments, software, hardware, everything musical in booths for miles. It’s rather fantasy-like. When I used to write a column for EQ Magazine, a monthly pro-audio rag, I met many NAMM-goers in the line of researching stories, so now I have even more friends there than ever. Plus, many musicians like myself attend to educate themselves about what’s new and to perform in various booths or outside private parties at night. This year they had The Goo Goo Dolls, Elton John, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock etc at various outside venues It’s a chance to reconvene with many musos i might never see otherwise, since I rarely leave the house in Boston. Jimmy Vivino and I played a noon set at the Marshall Amps booth on the last day. But mostly, it’s a stroll through the entire industry, learning whets new. I find it quite enjoyable. The evenings  are hilarious. There’s always major shows put on by major companies. I’m too old to go to those now. There’s something about aging that prevents you from enjoying being pressed up against inebriated persons while enduring music incredibly loud as people randomly vomit on your shoes. But ya know- “youth is wasted....etc.” I prefer the bar at the Anaheim Hilton where youngsters dress as rock stars and groupies, and us old guys (invisible by our age) sit  and enjoy the floorshow. For those who live in LA, it’s kinda like the  Rainbow Bar & Grill at midnight on Friday night. 

This year at the show, I was impressed by Lakeland basses, Electro-Harmonix Wiggler pedal (!), Tech 21’s rackmount bass preamp, Pioneer  DJ’s new mixer and CD turntables, Washburn’s Jethro Burns mandolin,  M-Audio’s mic pre-amps and Korg’s double-manual CX3 organ. Hammond is  remaking the B3 organ after 30-odd years of non-manufacturing. A used B3 with  Leslie speaker is usually in the $8k-15k category. Their price: $30.000.  Better have a bleedin’ steering wheel on it for that price, lads! After two weeks of conventioneering, it was great to get home and collapse.  Jet-lagged for a week..... Whew!!!!  Next year, it'll be The In-fecta - just the NAMM show, please.