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Greg: Because this first ever CD release of Dog Neutral is a compilation of performances recorded throughout the band's three-year life, it would be tempting at first glance to think this must then be a "Best Of"; and so, representative of the band's repertoire. In my opinion, it is neither. That may sound harsh, but let me explain.
First, the repertoire: many good Dog Neutral songs, some of which were played at nearly every rehearsal and gig, are not represented here. (No "Kennels Of Shame", "6612", "Jungle Tornado", "Pumpkinhead", etc.) Meanwhile, there are a few totally improvised pieces -- two of which take up a lot of room on these discs -- that were only performed once and happened to get caught on tape. (IL1, to those who know Jugalbandi lingo.) Then there are other pieces that were only played rarely, for example, "Hiding The Beer Will Not Save You", which was one of the very last things the band did. So, this is far from representative of what an average set might have sounded like, or of our repertoire in general.
Second, a touchier point: "best of". Because most of the DN material was set up to be heavily improvisational- often about 70% or more- picking a "best" for any given tune would be a) highly subjective and b) take a long, long time because of how many recorded versions there are of each piece. The ones you'll find here happen to have been transferred to digital by Hyam back in the early '90s, and represent his favorites of what was available to him at the time, chosen without discussion between us. That wasn't necessary then; they weren't intended to be anything but listening copies for him.
With all that said, it may seem as though I will now proceed make apologies for what we are offering here. Nope. Whatever these discs aren't, I can tell you exactly what I think they are: a collection of wonderful performances which show the band in full flight, from the highly-composed ("Baghdaddy-O", "Suburbs Of The Great Beyond") to the free-form searches for new ideas which yielded so much material for the band ("Jam From The Great Beyond", "The Dog Ate My Homework").
We will no doubt be going through the DN tapes and coming up with more releases in the future. But for now, I am really pleased that more people will finally get to hear this great, adventurous band, which I was, and am, so proud to have been a part of.
Hyam: To put it simply, this collection is really only a "best of" the material that is available to Greg and I in digital form at the current time (mid-2009). That is barely three hours worth of material, out of the close to 300 hours of Dog Neutral material that was recorded during the band's lifetime. (For you musicians reading this, I've said it before and I'll say it again here : Rule #1 is Record EVERYTHING! You never know when magic will happen, and recording media is cheap -- practucally free -- nowadays.) So needless to say, stay tuned to this channel for more, and please enjoy these first offerings of what I think was an absolutely extraordinary band: DOG NEUTRAL.
Leon: I have worked with the same people a the same day gig for 21 years, and they still talk about a bachelor party thrown by Greg & Hyam. It was nothing more than a 10 minute video, so vile that my first wife decided to become a lesbian. What was it? Bizarre Oriental Queen? I haven't peed since then.
Trivia: The last thing said on stage at a Dog Neutral concert was the following: "May the Lord bless and keep you; may the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace".
This is Leon's egocentric memory of Dog Neutral, a band that was old school in an earlier era. The one-trick-pony keyboardist used cheap semi-new techology to mimic a limited set of instruments that he did not know could not keep in tune. This placed order where it did not belong, guiding mayhem through half-built hallways of composition that sprung from the mind of a junior-college educated hack composer. These poorly-constructed corridors were painted with only a few dank colours, but they had a floor of solid bedrock and were ruled by Agents of Chaos, who strove to start and end at the same point but could seldom remember how they got there. The colours were a secret cant known only to those who treasured twelve-inch slabs of Edison plastic, a language that has since disappeared in buildings full of fools dressed in cigar smoke and silk. These fools are for whom the Dog tolls, for they vomit the same filth with each new store-bought idol that you are commanded to worship. Dog Neutral will make you hate music. Go Gene, Go!
Song Notes for In Gear, Volume 1:
1. Clear Day (7:14, IL5)
Hyam: When Dog Neutral played live gigs, quite often we opened with "Clear Day", since its structure provided a good way for us to 'get our feet wet', as it were. If we were feeling particularly frisky right out of the gate we might jam on the outro for several minutes, taking it to all sorts of weird and wondeful places. On the other hand, if we were a bit slow to warm up, we could play the song more or less straight, as we did in this version. Note that, as in the version of this song previously released on "Jugalbandi: 1999 Deep Cuts" (Great Artiste 89 GAJG005), my drum break remains firmly composed.
This recording was made at the wood shop where Barry worked, which was in a cavernous warehouse (hence the name "Shop Jam"). Because I really liked the huge sound the band had inside of that huge space (think: John Bonham's sound on "When The Levee Breaks"), I had us set-up just as we did for live gigs and captured the music using 3 microphones placed in front of the band. The resulting sound is indeed huge, albeit with less-than-ideal definition of the individual instruments.
Greg: Good Dog, not another one! Yes boys and girls, yet another version of Clear Day. Who knew in that far-off winter's day in '86 when this sucker's blueprint was improvised to my 4-track, that it would turn out to be a staple in my music for the next 23 (and counting!) years? Of course it was tweaked to fit Cold Sky, and that structure continued for Dog Neutral, and then for the most part on to Jugalbandi. At this point we may view the song as more like a sport, where the enjoyment is to be gained from the way things play out around the basic structure. Even straight, as Hyam puts it, we usually shredded it up pretty good on this.
The Shop was an amazing place to play. It was out near Dodger stadium, where once upon a time they had room to build such gargantuan places. The only other indoor structure I've ever seen that was as large is an old airship hangar up here in Oregon. There's ample room to drive vehicles around inside, and if you go to one end, anything at the other end (like four cars parked end to end and a full band setup in front) looks pretty small. I remember taking a walk with Barry during one of these shop jams, and the other guys were almost out of sight, definitely out of earshot- and we hadn't reached the back of the building! There was still something like a supermarket's worth to go. Barry said this last bit belonged to one of the other sub-lettors so it was out of bounds.
Hyam's charactarization of the sound as having less-than-ideal definition for individual instruments is dead on. My one complaint with this recording -- and with most of the shop jam recordings -- had always been just that. I felt the guitar was a bit buried, lacked impact, etc. Hyam worked a bit of audio magic that brought out some less-than-favored frequencies, and I had much less to complain about.
In the absence of a proper chronological debut via Cold Sky, I think this track will be a good introduction for the talented Leon to the music-listening public. (Not counting the "Social Fact" album, which has about as much to do with the real Leon as "Invisible Touch" has to do with "Nursery Cryme".) Listen to those lightning fingers go! Shred, toastmaster, shred!
Leon: This was always our introduction of the band to the real world. We played this in Cold Sky, and we thought it was our most accessible piece. For instance, the Troubadour (a club in LA) said that they would like us to play after they heard this piece, but they changed their mind after they heard the next piece on the tape ("Kennels of Shame", for those of you keeping score). The demo tape version used organ during the intro & Greg's solo. Greg's solo is pretty short on this version, while mine is pretty long. When we started with Dog Neutral, Barry was loathe to do a solo, so I was doing a solo during that section on the flute patch on the Korg 800 with which I end the piece. I was glad to stop with the flute solo when Barry decided to get into soloing, as the flute thang was pretty cheesy; I much prefer the Mellotron flute pads & Barry stretching out. The military coda was a new thing for the piece when Dog Neutral started. The Korg 800 flute during that section are buried enough to not sound cheesy. Incidentally, I listened to these songs & wrote these commentaries in temporal order, so my continuity may be weird.
2. The Dog Ate My Homework (28:16, IL1)
Hyam: This piece was one of those all-too-rare times when we managed to capture lightning in a bottle. Although I set-up mics and recorded every rehearsal (and almost every gig) that Dog Neutral ever played, more often than not the recordings, while providing useful tools for song development, would suffer from one or another technical problem (gross imbalances between the instruments, excessive distortion, lack of clarity, etc.) that disqualify them from being released to the public. And if I did manage to occasionally come up with a superior-sounding recording at a rehearsal, the performances were often workmanlike but not particularly special.
"The Dog Ate My Homework" was one of the few times when everything clicked: I placed the mics just right, I set the levels just right, I remembered to push the 'Record' button, there was enough tape in the machine, nobody played too loudly or quietly, and the four of us made absolute musical magic together.
"The Dog Ate My Homework" is a true IL1 that just sprang from nowhere. In fact, Greg wasn't even in the room when Barry began jamming the opening bass pattern -- he comes-in 8 bars after the opening. And right from the beginning of the piece the four of us all seemed to be part of a single musical mind, visiting that ideal place where you're completely plugged-into your inner musical voice at the same time you're completely plugged-into the musical voices of your bandmates. When that happens, the music you all make takes on a life of its own.
Greg: I was out of the room at the beginning of this -- and "Jam From The Great Beyond" on disc 2 -- because I was taking a piss break. I'd be standing there doing my business and hear, muffled by walls and white-noised by the stream, the unrestrainable fingers of my cohorts breaking free from common courtesy, and noodling their way into something a' happenin' and a' groovin'. By the time I could finish, my brain would have already been jamming along with what little I could have made out, and by the time I got my mitts on the 'ol axe and cranked the volume, I'd be right there with 'em. Sometimes, as at Billy's ("Jam From The Great Beyond"), I couldn't hear much until I got right outside the door and then in the room. But as an improviser you learn to think fast and play in your head even when you're not playing with your fingers, and so even a short jump-in time will usually suffice. It didn't take me long to come in on this one, so I figure Barry must have heard me flush, run the sink...I dunno. But it worked out all right.
There are so many highlights in this piece, if I were to go into it in detail, we'd be here a while. But there's one spot that to me says a lot about the band, and the quality of the players. There's a section where we do a bolero in 7/4. Now, being this is an IL1, you might say, wow, dig those crazy improv time signatures! Well, in fact we had at one time (months previously) fooled around with just the rhythmic idea of a bolero in 7. Here, it works its way into the piece a player at a time until everyone picks up on it. Now personally, because we'd rehearsed the concept, I wasn't necessarily impressed with our ability to do that. I'd expect it from good improv players, this is just part of what we do. But this section still knocks me on my ass, every time I hear it, for a different reason: the chord changes and melody that go along with the rhythm were TOTALLY unrehearsed. The changes come something like every bar for a while- compare this to the usual one- to three-chord jams which happen so often in improvised music (no matter how good it is). With moments like these, you can't help but feel something special is going on. You can't just put any four musicians in a room, tell them to jam, and expect that to happen.
Leon: Ah, New Year's Day. We would always look forward to the New Year's Day rehearsal, because we knew we could all get together all day, and it always ended up being a good jam. After the band split up, we would threaten with a one day reunion every 1/1. The bolero is another example of a band calling a play at the line of scrimmage. At the end of the bolero, I go from sampled organ right to Mellotron flutes, with a mere flick of a pre-set button. Then the Mellotron voices take us out of the space jam & lead the mutation into chaos. I see I'm still using the bells -- Greg always liked those bells. The Korg had a sequencer on it, & I leave that on for a while. The R2D2 to which Greg is playing bluegrass is a Casio breath controller, which I would play in order to get a different methodology of leads. (Greg with the parody and the bluegrass and the Dog Neutral and the Aram Khachaturian! Mw haiai!) And there I am with a whole band fading in & out as one, waiting for me to play lead, but I am on the floor cracking up. I then switch to different timbres on the Casio when Greg starts referencing other Dog Neutral tunes, having one hand on the controller & the other on the echo unit. I always liked how Hyam & Greg came out of this section starting at 21:27 into 22:00, at which time Greg & I trade riffs with increasing irregularity. Greg & Hyam syncing up at 23:44 blows me away, and the jam that follows makes me feel dirty until 24:54. But we finally get back to the head of the piece, then to coda. What a long, strange trip. Probably the best we ever played that piece. We never felt it was reliable enough to be a staple live, but we had to yank it out of the closet when we ran out of material at the Stage West gig. How does an improv band run out of material?
3. MIRV Gryphon/Hiding The Beer Will Not Save You (16:43, IL4)
Hyam: "MIRV Gryphon" came from an idea of mine for a slow piece with spacy and etherial-sounding keyboards and a lyrical guitar melody, and was the first piece that DN developed as a group. At live gigs we would sometimes stretch MIRV's middle and outro sections until they were completely unrecognizable.
"Hiding The Beer Will Not Save You" (the title refers to my futile efforts to keep Barry relatively sober during rehearsals by burying the beer he brought at the back of my refrigerator, behind the milk and OJ cartons) was an uptempo fusion jam that we grafted onto MIRV's ass-end almost as soon as we developed it. This version gives Leon a chance to really stretch his keyboard chops while I do my best to channel Billy Cobham. This is unquestionably the best version we ever played of the "MIRV/Hiding" medley, and it features what is (in my opinion) the absolute best ending two minutes that Dog Neutral ever played on any song, ever. Leon's Mellotron chords that begin at 15:18 give me goose-bumps every time I hear them.
FYI: "MIRV" is an acronym for "Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles", a technique of putting several nuclear warheads on a single intercontinental ballistic missile, thus greatly increasing its destructive power while making it much harder for an enemy to shoot down or otherwise counter. All current US ballistic missiles are designed to carry at least three nuclear warheads, although the START II treaty requires that the Minuteman III missile's payload be reduced from three to a single warhead.
Greg: I'm so glad to know we'll only be blown to ashes once, rather than three times. Three times is just bad luck.
Yam did indeed come up with the idea for "MIRV". And as I probably stated elsewhere, the melody came out at a jam with a couple of guys I didn't end up working with, and it fit perfectly for this. I am very glad there are other versions of this already released, because while I think the medley concept worked, we never took MIRV the distance again after that. Eventually we will release some epic version (or three) of DN's unbridled take on it, and you'll hear for yourself.
As for "Hiding The Beer", it was one of the last things I worked on with the band, and I never quite bonded with it. The riff I play in it to go along with what Leon and Barry are doing comes from an early piece of mine, "Full Circle", which I have yet to do anything with (which may be for the best, at least where its lyrics are concerned). I think this version absolutely shreds, for some reason the "Hiding" portion is where we all really locked in. Glad the tape was on!
This version is at its best when we hit uncharted territory, once we get deeper into "Hiding". I find it interesting that the band always seemed to come to life when the structure disappeared. It's the same for Jugalbandi -- take away the road map and the journey really unfolds. I think that's what being an improviser is really about.
Leon: "Mirv Gryphon" was not my favorite piece to play, but it is a great piece with a great feel & melody, so I played it like a good soldier. My part is simply ascending fourths on an ethereal patch. It used to be on the Juno 6, but I switched to Mellotron flutes late in the band’s career. The switch made the piece somewhat less ethereal, but I felt sticking to Mellotron brought better continuity to any given set. Another reason I never objected to playing the song is that this was one of the pieces that Barry really let go. He got a hollow body bass that he would start feeding back, and it really got out of hand, which was the point, right?
"Hiding the Beer Will Not Save You" was Barry's name for a bass figure that I wanted to explore. The figure is derivative of the Glorious Om Riff, this one being 3 groups of 5 then 3 groups of 3, which you can then play against a four (3x5+3x3=24, 24/6=4). (There it is, the Pythagorean Theorem of music.) (No, it isn't, but how many of you believed me? Hands? Hands?) Am I playing a piano patch on the sampler? WTF? Anyway, 3x5+3x3 is not easy to play repeatedly unless you are totally undistracted, until you have cranked it into your brain. 17 years later, I tap the rhythm out when I'm waiting in line at the grocery store. But, let's face it, Hyam playing straight four over the figure is a freakin' Mach 4 steamroller. Greg introduces the other figure which is in 12/8 but sounds like it came from the "Apocalypse in 9/8". The two figures could work well together (12x2=5x3+3x3). I actually had a lot invested in this piece, but the rest of the band was ambivalent, because my contribution required rewiring one's brain to be able to play it well. [Hyam's comment: Actually, I had a lot invested in the piece as well, since it was our repitiore's best opportunity for me to play in a straigh-ahead fusion style. Plus, I was the only one who didn't have to deal with the main figure's odd metrics, the drum part being the one thing that roots the piece on musical terra firma.] As it is, this is an awesome jam.
After Greg left, the rest of us tried keeping something together, and we found a violin player. (No, he wasn't a violin player, he was a fiddle player. He thought that having an edgy nickname could make his solos sound like they weren't from a square dance. Please. I have played with violin players, and you, sir, are no violin player. "Grab yer partner/swing around/bash your heads upon the ground!" Should have called himself Do-si-do. I did love calling him by his first name.) Anyway, we tried playing "Hiding the Beer Will Not Save You" in that band, and I laid out the melody from "Kennels of Shame" with on-topic lyrics and a half-time section, and it may have turned into something pretty cool if we could have kept it together.
4. Suddenly Irritable (4:49, IL1)
Hyam: Only a couple of months after Barry joined the band we recorded a half-dozen songs at a local 8-track studio, and in spite of what I think is a terrible drum sound, the playing on the whole session is quite inspired. At the end of the session the engineer told us that we had about six or seven minutes of 8-track tape left, so the four of us went back into the studio and improvised this IL1 right off the tops of our heads. On this one it's hard to tell what's guitar and what's keyboards, while I use the drums to create 'washes' of sound. That's Leon getting a bit out of control in the right channel at 3:53.
Greg: When we were told we had tape left, and told the engineer that yes, we'd like to do something with it, there was a pause for a moment, at which point someone, probably Hyam, said, OK, anyone got any ideas? And I said yes, I've got something. I'll come in, and just follow me. Whaddaya gonna do, sez Hyam. Just follow me, I sez. 'He grinned to himself knowingly', chuckle chuckle. I've always loved coming in from dead silence with full-volume shrieking feedback. Smells like victory. I certainly feel it worked on this occasion. I can still remember the smile on Leon's face when I let loose that first torrent of feedback. This sort of "Oh boy!" grin, cracking of the knuckles, I'm-diving-in-now look. This quickly spread around the room. EVERYBODY was into it. A mass unleashing of raw creativity followed. Barry can be heard at one point crushing a can against his bass strings, and continuing to use it as a plectrum/scraper/smasher/slide. That wind sound? Bass, played with a crushed-can slide. Listening to playback later, even Leon and I would get confused as to who was doing what, until one of us slipped into some characteristic sound again.
This piece is probably the closest we ever got to the Paper Bag sound. And I'd also say that despite the rare PB cover tune -- which never sounded anything like the originals -- in my opinion, it's really the only time that kind of similarity ever happened. You'd think it would have happened more often, after all, doesn't all that improvised stuff sound alike? Ummm.....no.
As for the 8-track session this comes from, I've been pushing all along for it to get released, but Hyam's right, the drum sound is, to put it nicely, lacking, specifically where the bass drums are concerned. I think if I can get my hands on the master(s) I might be able to do something about that. We won't know until we know, and then we'll know, so we can tell you, and then you'll know too.
Leon: Funny that the earliest thing on these CDs is this. I think we only played it once, not even at the truly awesome Stage West gig where we played everything except for "Ruby Tuesday". The theme of this piece was "Long Notes". I think this piece is why people always told us we should do soundtracks. Here, I get a lot of use out of my digital echo "pedal" (that I kept on my stationary unit at arm's reach, hence the ironic quotes). The sampler is going thru it, with Mellotron voices that came with the unit, a used Roland that held 4 samples in memory. Since it's early in our career, I used some Korg Poly 800 sounds I would not use later (maybe even factory presets!); I actually used fewer sounds as time went on, because everything but the classics gets really tired. The "out of control" was due to the difference in volume between presets, and that clam has always given me heartburn. Other than that chord, this is a magnificent piece of music.
Song Notes for In Gear, Volume 2:
1. Baghdaddy-O (8:26, IL5)
Hyam: To tell the truth, I don't remember much about the musical genesis of "Baghdaddy-O". I'm sure that, like most Dog Neutral songs, it began as an improvisation at a rehearsal (Rule #1: Record EVERYTHING!) that we fleshed-out over time. Once we got the song worked-out it changed little from performance to performance. Perhaps Greg can fill-in some of the blanks.
What I do remember well is the particular session this recording came from. At this third Shop Jam session Greg wanted us to get 'definitive' versions of as much of our material as possible (unbeknownst to us, he was planning on leaving the band two weeks later). We borrowed a 12-channel mixer and several extra mics from a friend, which allowed me to mic everything and get much better definition of the individual instruments than on our previous Shop Jam recordings. During the marathon all-day session we got good versions of many staple DN pieces, including "Baghdaddy-O" and "MIRV Gryphon/Hiding The Beer Will Not Save You" featured on Volume 1 and "Suburbs Of The Great Beyond" that appears on Volume 2. (This session was also videotaped -- stay tuned for possible future release.)
Greg: I do remember some things about the musical genesis of this piece. We were at the Dog Pit (Hyam's home setup). We were brainstorming new material. Hyam had, or came up with, this drum pattern. It started with the drum beat. I then came up with the main riff; or Barry came up with that wonderful bass line that just cements things. Leon found what I was doing and then decided to stagger things around a little. But that's all we had and it went nowhere after that. Leon said, "What we need is another part to this riff, another little melody." Actually I think what he said was, "YOU need to add another part to that". I said, "OK, great, got any suggestions?". He thought for a minute and said "Something simple that's a whole phrase, like Asian music. Have you ever heard any Japanese music?" Sure I had, I was a Godzilla fan. But no, really, I had. AND I was a Godzilla fan. He said "Something like 'Plum Song'". (It might have also been called Plum Blossom Song, Plum Pudding Song, Plum Loco Song, I'm sorry but I can't remember the specifics.) He then played me the melody, which sounded suspiciously cliche', like it had been used to introduce the sinister notion of Japan in every WWII era propaganda film; shades of "First Yank Into Tokyo", if you know what I mean. So despite its simplicity, I said "I can't play that", and he said "Well no, not that, just something like it." Luckily, it also reminded me of an oft-repeated 4-note musical phrase from many a Godzilla movie, probably penned by the great Ifikube himself. I tried to come up with something in the vein of these two sources, and the phrase before the transition sections comes from that exchange.
I don't remember when we decided we wanted something different for the middle section, or even that we wanted a middle section, but I would imagine the suggestion was probably Leon's, and the riff was probably mine. Smart boy, that Leon, always pushing us into interesting territory.
I'm pretty certain it was Hyam's idea to double the fast picking at the end of the "Plum Godzilla" guitar bit, he plays it stroke for stroke on the toms. This put me in the briefly awkward position of having to play it the same way every time, but as soon as it was suggested, I was on board, because clearly, the benefits outweighed the expenditure of brain cells to think my way through something. Fast unison stuff! Neato! The arrangement of the solo outros was Leon's, and a good, inventive job it was too. These types of things really made the band A BAND, where everyone's creativity added to the whole in a way which transcended the individuals and created a unique sound. You may notice that despite two shared members, and even shared material, Jugalbandi and DN are quite different beasts.
Leon: Boy, this one is a blast from the past. I had forgotten about it, and hearing it again brings back memories. Reading Greg's comments, I have some embellishment. The piece started with the first part of the melody, written by Greg. I commanded him to write a second part of the melody, because I didn't want to put out the energy to write it only to end up with rejection, something I had become accustomed to in my musical career (although not so much in this band). The piece I was referencing in giving Greg ideas is called "Cherry Blossom", a traditional Japanese piece, something that should make a potentially racist melody sound even more racist, further driving my Japanese then-wife into lesbianism. What he came up with was simple enough to canonize. Probably wrong use of that word, but I'm no papist. The form of the piece was pretty immutable, so I ended up dreading playing the piece often. However, I am listening to it now, and it is an awesome piece of music. I have no frickin' idea what I'm using for the pads during Greg's solo, except that I'm using the digital echo. Based on what I hear on "Hiding the Beer", it's probably a piano sample. The strings I use out of Greg's solo are so "Scheherezade/Kashmir", that I can't believe that I was subtle enough to not beat the heck out of the sound on this piece. I then go to the Casio breath controller, using it as rhythm during a nice solo by Mr Kennedy. Alice Cooper got sued (unsuccessfully) by Pink Floyd for "Black Juju"; I wonder if he would sue us for something we played similar to the same song. The last time on the head was played on a Casio mini-keyboard. I usually put that next to the digital echo on my stationary controller, but I would sometimes Velcro it to my Korg 800, which I wore on my shoulder. This gave me a double-neck keyboard: The monstrosity had 4 cables coming out of it, sound & power for each unit. (I can't remember what I was using for the stationary controller; was it a Roland Juno-6? I rarely used it for sounds, and it had nothing to offer as a controller except midi note tracking. Looking at the pics on Greg's website, yes it was the Juno-6. Maybe what I used for pads during Greg's solo).
2. Ivy Mike (14:34, IL4)
Hyam: "Ivy Mike" was a song that DN played hundreds of times (hence its IL4 classification), but in reality it really should be classified an IL3, because when Greg and Leon began the song's opening unison theme they never ever told each other what keys they each were going to play in. This often created a wildly dissonant passage that led us into very stange harmonic territory, but when we recorded this "for keeps" version at Billy's 8-track studio we were a bit disappointed that they each picked the same key to start in, making this version sound much more harmonically straightforward than was most often the case. Nonetheless, this 14-plus minute excursion is one of the best "Ivy Mike"s we ever got on tape, 8-track or otherwise. Leon's Mellotron work beginning at 4:41 is superb, and his and Greg's majestic playing from 7:40 to around 9:20 is an example of what the band came to call "The Genesis Effect" -- temporarily trading identities with a famous English prog-rock band. During the final three minutes we give the song's 5-note theme a thorough workout.
The title "Ivy Mike" comes from the code name for the world's first thermonuclear device, detonated by the USA on Elugelab island in November of 1952. The explosion (equivalent to almost 11 million tons of TNT) completely vaporized Elugelab, leaving a crater in Eniwetok Atoll several miles across. At that moment the world changed irrevocably and forever.
Greg: I love this version. The bit of "the Genesis Effect" in this was also commonly referred to by Barry and Leon as "Spiderman", because when he first listened back to the roughs, it reminded Barry of some music from the '67 Spiderman cartoons. After this version -- when it surfaced as part of the improvising -- it made its way into the "structure" of the song. Barry and Leon would keep an eye on each other and go into it at some point. If I recall correctly, they might also choose a different key for this section to be in per gig. Yes, I'd have to adapt, or if I was listening, I might recall it. Usually if I tried to listen to this kind of interaction, Leon would stop me and say "Don't worry about it, you'll do better if you're not trying". I suppose I should have been offended but actually I always heard it as somewhat of a compliment, because he meant it. I believe he meant that I just sort of heard it naturally and did what I needed to do. It's the Zen archery effect.
Sometimes people at gigs would wonder exactly what we were up to, playing things like this. One night after a show at Madame Wong's West, a group of people came out singing the 5-note theme over and over again, and I think we were being ribbed. Which is OK, they probably still remember us!
Another night at the same venue -- hell, it could have been the same night, but we played there more than once, so who knows -- we were on bill with a band who sounded like a cross between U2 and The Police. Which describes maybe a third of the bands we usually shared a bill with, the other two thirds sounding like mixes or copies of other popular bands. Anyway one night there was a band on before us who were very conventional, but pretty good, and the drummer in particular clearly had chops and imagination beyond the needs of his situation. I saw him after our show, while we were carting our gear off stage into the hall, where he was still packing up. I said, "Hey man, you were great.", to which he responded "Fuck you!", with a disgusted look on his face. For a minute I didn't know what to say. And then I replied, "Uh...OK...Never had that response to a compliment before. Whatever." And the look on his face changed rapidly, and he said very apologetically, "Oh! Oh, you were serious! No, no man, we suck, it's just pop shit! You guys are like, real musicians, you guys are phenomenal. I thought you were rubbin' it in, like you were being an asshole. So you're serious?." I assured him I was, told him in detail what I liked about his playing, and eventually he believed me. But for every positive thing I said about him and the band, he came back with things like "No, I wish I was playing stuff like you guys, you guys were great!" Not sentiments we usually got from the average pop-playing musician; there was a lot of polite tolerance and sometimes less than polite chortling behind hands (or glasses/bars/soundbooths, etc.). Proving that sometimes a morale-boosting thumbs-up can come in the strangest ways, from the most unexpected places.
Leon: I have a lot to say about this piece, as I have been listening to it for several years. "Ivy Mike" is a piece that has three sections: 1) Fugue (where at least two play the theme), 2) Exposition (where the theme is present in only one or no instruments) and 3) Spiderman (Block chords of the theme). (Hey Greg, why did you never take us into Spiderman?) We actually didn’t start on the same note here; Greg & I moved into the same key from the first phrase. To get out of this predicament, I cheated by moving down chromatically & then using pedal notes. Sounds start with a square wave on the Korg 800, then I go to an organ sound which is a straight forward 4-sine Yamaha DX 8 organ layered with a sample from the end of the first side of "Thick as a Brick". The Spiderman brings in Mellotron strings, three sounds layered: two sounds that came with the Roland and the opening from "Watcher of the Skies", I think studio. That first Spiderman actually had two sections; Greg's work during the second section is magnificent, starting at about 5:40. Hyam gets credit for starting the Genesis Effect (G.E.) on this piece by tightening up the beat @ 7:08. What's crazy about this one is that it is in "Ivy Mike", a piece that is pretty much not in any key. I move into G.E. with a weird modulation that moves melodically rather than harmonically, and I pretty much left Barry in the cold @ 7:21. (Poor guy, he was new to jamming at this point. I mean, he had "heard of" Cream. After I spoke with Barry for the first time, I told the boys, "We're going to build us a bass player". And we created a monster!) You could see the panic in his eyes in the studio, but you couldn't hear it in his playing. At 7:34, Barry was a whole step below me & I knew it; unfortunately, there was no way I was going to go from augmented suspensions to a whole step down. I move up a whole step instead & just keep throwing stuff at Greg, who responds with some of his best melody ever WHILE maintaining tonal center with two different people. Barry finally finds me @ 8:32 by grabbing onto my 5th just as I land on a half cadence (listen to me -- I'm Arthur "Two-Sheds" Jackson), and Barry & I resolve it. We are rewarded with Greg's melody starting at 8:54, which may be EVEN BETTER than the awesome stuff he had been doing for the past two minutes; as a band, we have sung that part together while playing it back during breaks in future rehearsals. And so I move into the Korg organ sound to lighten the mood, playing the atonal theme tonally @ 9:15 while each other member of the band adds pretty ostinato background, & the band then swaps back & forth from Fugue to Exposition. Then after a bit of space jam, Hyam forces me at gunpoint into a second Spiderman (very unusual), this time with the Mellotron voices. And Greg is out there, playing the mating call of the Byahkee. Hyam took us right out of Spiderman to Coda. I think this is the first time we ended Ivy Mike this way, and it became a standard ending for the piece. This ending, as well as Spiderman & Genesis Effect, are examples of how Dog Neutral would call plays during each piece, a skill we developed in rehearsal.
Leon's responses to Greg & Hyam's comments: 1) I think Spiderman would usually be in F, but it did not have to be. I wanted you to keep guessing because of a story I heard about Belew's guitar solo in "Boys Keep Swinging": Eno didn't let him hear the track until after he played the solo. Once he heard it, there was no going back; you, on the other hand, were always fresh. 2) The frat crowd at that gig with their "ribbing" was a no-lose situation for us: Either they liked the piece, or they couldn't sleep all night because of it. 3) I remember that 'Police' band; they were good. I didn't know that one of them liked us. They steered pretty clear. 4) A couple things about the Genesis Effect: a) It could happen at any time in any piece. b) It was composed of Hyam & Barry playing tight rhythm, me playing chords on Mellotron or organ, and Greg playing lead. c) I can't find anytime where Genesis did that; the closest I can come is the 13/8 in "Robbery, Assault & Battery" @ 3:18, and Hackett only plays two notes.
3. Suburbs Of The Great Beyond (6:41, IL5)
Hyam: "Suburbs" came into existence during the last year of the band and quickly became a showcase for Leon during live performances. In addition to his two large stationary keyboards, Leon also wore a smaller one around his neck, and would often prowl the stage looking for unsuspecting audience members to bring under his spell as the band's official "Toastmaster". Leon himself once told me that he thought that Greg's guitar sound in this song was "the most awesome-sounding thing in any Dog Neutral song". "Suburbs" and "Baghdaddy-O" were the two Dog Neutral songs that had the least amount of improvisation -- live performances were always very similar to the versions heard on these CDs. (If it ain't broke, don't fix it.)
Greg: "Suburbs" may be my favorite DN composition. It's the kind of thing I never could have done on my own, and the composition and arrangement are very much a band product. It's something I'd be very happy to discover if someone else had done it, music I'd listen to over and over again. Leon shines all over it. My favorite part of Barry's is his melodic playing during Leon's solo. Hyam's sense of tastefulness, which I think is strong anyway, was never more apparent or appropriate. (This is easy when you just groove, which to many people defines the term tasteful, unfortunately. It's harder when you REALLY play, take chances, use the drums as more than a timekeeper; which makes artistry and tastefulness that much more impressive.) It's just...everyone at their best. The piece itself is mysterious, evocative, dreamlike, powerful. My three years with this band would have been worth it for this one piece alone. Thankfully, there's much more.
I don't know if this is the best version we recorded, but it's up there. This being an IL5, the solos weren't composed, and I'd be happy to release other versions at some time in the future. We'll see.
Leon: Yes, indeed. After I noodle a little with Mellotron flutes, Greg's opening to the theme of this piece is "the most awesome-sounding thing in any Dog Neutral song". It sounds like angels crying. Because they are on fire. I think we came up with this piece to let Greg play some melody with a slide. For Greg, that's innovation: He usually uses his slide to make crazy noises or imitate Mellotrons. I was thinking of Pink Floyd when I chose something as simple as 12-bar blues in B minor, and Greg really carried the piece. We may repeat too many times before the middle section, but what we have is 1) theme, 2) slide lead, 3) no-slide lead, 4) Korg organ, and 5) more organ for balance. One repeat for organ didn't feel right when we played the piece. Maybe the second organ section could have done without the admirable restraint by Greg, but we're way beyond the statute of limitations for second guessing, and the guitar coming in at the bridge is a nice big shock to the system. The Mellotron flutes opening & strings middle section were always improvised on the spot. I suppose I could have written something, but then it wouldn't be Dog Neutral now, would it? The only thing that was the same every time was the first two chords of the strings & the last chord of each section. I love how Greg comes out of my section & back into the head. Very nice piece.
4. Jam From The Great Beyond (19:57, IL1)
Hyam: Although "Jam" suffers from less-than-stellar recording quality (Bill's place was a very large rehearsal studio with long reverberation times that was much more suited to heavy metal bands than it was to subtle musical interplay), as DN's first truly successful long improvisation "Jam's" inclusion in this set was mandatory. Right from the beginning it's clear that all four of us are full of piss and vinegar, with Greg's playing being mind-boggling at times -- throughout the piece he seems to be firmly in control both of his own playing and of the many directions "Jam" takes. At 3:25 listen for how Greg's and my musical ESP allows us to snap in total unison out of what sounds like musical chaos. The passage beginning at 5:30 is one of my favorites, again with Greg in total control. (And at 6:26 he even brings-in the theme from "Ivy Mike" for a bit of a workout.)
There's a danger that things will fall apart when I introduce jazz time at 7:51, but Barry firmly keeps us together by continuing the "Ivy Mike" theme. Then at 10:03 it's Greg who introduces the theme from "Priests On Drugs" (a song from his Paper Bag days), leading us in yet another direction. Then at 12:21 I slam things into overdrive with my favorite rock 12/8 groove, getting wonderful support from Barry and Leon (love those Mellotron voices). Starting at 14:18 listen to Greg really pull-out the magic -- his playing for the following two minutes is soaring, soulful and absolutely breathtaking. His volume pedal work at 17:10 brings-on the ending, with Barry introducing a killer groove at 17:32 that carries us all the way out. Greg's playing remains huge and absolultely riveting, with more virtuoso volume pedal work for the very ending passage.
Greg: Hyam's decision to segue this with the end of "Suburbs" was a good one, I think, although it doesn't show you exactly how rapid the beginning of this was.
Let's see, what do I remember about this, other than the aforementioned piss story? I remember blowing a fuse in my amp that day, thankfully I had a spare...I remember that beautiful feeling of having the piece play me, rather than the other way around, from the moment I picked up the guitar...After a few minutes I started to get worried about how we could manage to keep that going, which is of course exactly what you don't want to do, you just want to roll with it. Luckily such thinking didn't make the piece tank, but I did have to work harder than usual to consciously keep up with that level of inspiration.
There was no danger of the bottom falling out with Hyam's switch to jazz groob around 7:50, that's an easy follow for me...The hard part is letting go of the "Ivy Mike" motif once you let it loose....The quote from "Priests On Drugs" foreshadows the quote workout on "Dog Ate My Homework"...Love the 12/8 transition, as you can tell when I kick on the fuzz and start to shred, Yam supplies the fuel and I set a match to it...Yes, I love sounds, but I love melody too and when I hear an opportunity to dive in deep, as I got here thanks to what the other guys were playing, I take it. Yeah, this one worked. I may actually like it better than "The Dog Ate My Homework" just by a little bit...I dunno, it's a toss-up.
Leon: I didn't think of this one as a composition so much as a moment in time to which we needed to refer occasionally in the months to come. The beginning, based on a great riff by Barry, morphed into "The Dog Ate My Homework", although I do not know the difference between the two, except that we played "Dog" at a gig & it ends with the head. I have not heard this in almost 2 decades, but Hyam is right, this was a seminal jam in our history. You could call this a medley: "Dog Ate My Homework"/"Ivy Mike"/"Priests on Drugs"/Genesis Effect. YES, Virginia, there is Genesis Effect, when Greg comes in with that magnificent melody, especially at 15:10. (Point of order: Can "Dog Ate My Homework" be part of a medley if it has not yet been composed?) Let's see: I use Mellotron strings, Korg 800 organ. I think I also do a little crunch work on the sample organ (a la John Lord on "Hush"), then back to the Korg & Mellotron voices together. I have still never heard "Priests on Drugs" by Paper Bag. Barry & Hyam at 15:44 is such a nice, simple backdrop to Greg. Greg's chords at 17:32 sounds just like the voices program on the Korg 800 -- that's the program that was too loud on "Suddenly Irritable". The lead sound at the end is the Korg 800; Greg referred to it once as "1975", because that was the last time you heard a sound like that. It was difficult to program on that board, because there are no sawtooth waves on the thing. My last two notes, the augmented suspension (something I did pretty much more often than necessary), refer to a sketch from Saturday Night Live, where Bill Murray & Garrett Morris are pitching a musical to Bea Arthur with Harry Shearer & Paul Schaffer. Bill Murray ends the musical with the same notes. But you probably already figured that out.
5. Mach Turtle (5:50, IL4)
Hyam: "Mach Turtle" was a piece Dog Neutral played throughout its career. For most of that time it contained an extended uptempo jam that occasionally included a guitar/drums duet. After a while we decided to drop the jam and simply retain the guitar/drums duet, which audience members consistiently told us was their favorite part of Dog Neutral's live performances. Greg and I pay homage to Mahavishnu Orchestra's John Mclaughlin/Billy Cobham duets, which remain one of the countless musical influences that we share.
This recording was made during a gig at the now-defunct "Odds'n'Sods" records in Reseda, CA, and is in fact, the very last piece of music that the original Dog Neutral ever played together. (Greg left the band after this gig, and although we got back together about a year later, that short-lived band's musical goals were very different from those of the original version of the band.)
Greg: An interesting and appropriate choice for the last track on this set. I didn't realize that this was the last thing I played live with the band until reading Hyam's notes. The duet section of this, and its success with both us and audiences alike, is probably what spurred us on more than anything to proceed with the Jugalbandi format.
I think I've played better during the head section on other versions of this, but overall it's got a fierce energy I really enjoy. It may be the best duet section we ever got on tape. Hyam's drumming here is like a high-speed steamroller.
Leon: Mellotron voices and surf guitar. We thought of it. Don't even try it. Patent pending. Early on, I had a solo section, but I am not as virile as Greg, so we left it to him. This is our last time playing together, and you could hear Barry becoming very aggressive during the bridge on this piece; very nice. Greg & Hyam needed some time alone in every set, but I forgot we did it on this piece. Live, I had a lighter just for this section, and I always hit a different chord when Barry & I dropped. The demo version of this song doesn't have the the drum/guitar break, so this is a real trip down memory lane for me. The IV-i chordal exit from the duet originated with a mistake Greg made one rehearsal, and I demanded he never change it. Greg & Hyam had a unique bond which made a jam like this mandatory for our band. Greg's background was in drums, so they could anticipate each other very well. Not playing during that section always made me feel less guilty about always being compelled to play something during all of our other songs. This was my last satisfactory moment in music.
Afterward by Greg:
The reasons I left this superb band have been discussed elsewhere, but are worth mentioning again here, perhaps in somewhat more detail. When I disbanded Cold Sky and agreed to work with Hyam and Leon in a different, more experimental context (and explicitly with no vocals), I made it clear that I would also be looking to put a band together to replace Cold Sky. My need for a vehicle which would include vocals but not exclude improvisation never vanished, it merely went to the side while I worked with DN. I was actively auditioning other musicians the entire time, and also recording new solo material, specifically "Darkland Express".
Complicating this was that Leon and Hyam were very comfortable in their day jobs and their lives, and were not interested in taking the band to a professional level; that is, unless there was some way to meet their then current salaries, which of course wasn't about to happen. I, meanwhile, was completely miserable in my day-to-day activities, and still looked at music as a way to escape them. I was still willing to live hand-to-mouth in a van if necessary. Barry would have done this, and said so, but with two members who wouldn't, I felt I had to find a group of people who were willing to "go to the front lines" as musicians. Hyam had already done it for 6 years and hated not knowing where his next dime, or next meal, was coming from; Leon had been in a pop band that went nowhere and refused to have anything to do with the music industry anymore. In retrospect, I can see wisdom in both views; but I was in no way ready to take either step. It wasn't a matter of not being jaded yet- my experience with Paper Bag was enough to accomplish that. There was just a part of me that couldn't retreat yet, not under any circumstances.
Life soon took care of that, but not before I bailed from DN to focus my attention full time on assembling a band which would be able to do what I needed it to do. I told the guys they could use all the material with my blessing, that I had absolutely no hard feelings towards them, but that it was time to move on. A few months of ads and auditions and frustration yielded nothing. One day a phone conversation with Hyam revealed that he would be willing to consider doing something with vocals, a la Cold Sky, if it meant we could work together again. Early Jugalbandi rehearsals included vocal tunes, including some covers. At some point though, Leon and Barry got wind of what was going on, and thought we were reforming Dog Neutral without them. We assured them that wasn't the case, and a very long discussion ensued about what would be necessary for the four of us to work together again.
The result was essentially a rebirth of Dog Neutral as a cross between the original DN and Cold Sky. We only had a few rehearsals, but musically, this was the band I'd been trying to put together all along. Nothing short of amazing. Unfortunately, my stack of personal troubles, that had been brewing for about a year or more, finally reached critical mass, and I simply could not choose to stay in Los Angeles. Not unless I wanted to couch surf for shelter, and continue to sink ever lower down. At the same time, an opportunity to relocate to Portland came up, and there seemed to me to be only one viable choice, and that was to take it. Where had my kamikaze music spirit gone? Well it was still there, I suppose; but I had to be realistic. The musical situation had improved into something better than I could have hoped for; but neither Hyam nor Leon had changed their opinions about pursuing music as a career/hobo lifestyle. Now, I too had food and shelter concerns, in addition to musical ones; and the way safely home for me was towards Portland. Telling the guys was horrible, and Leon in particular looked like I'd smashed his heart. I wasn't happy about this in any way, I can promise you. But it was time for me to go.
So now, all these years later, here we are. And things haven't worked out all that badly, have they? This music will now get a proper hearing, out into many more ears than ever would have heard us live, and the work of its great players will get long overdue and much deserved attention. And there's a lot of material we haven't touched on yet, so if you like this set, listen again with a smile as we compile, and look forward: there will be more to come.