All I ever wanted to be was a bass player. My father is a bass player… one of the best that ever lived. He was Elvis Presley’s bass player from 1969 until Elvis died. He also was the bass player on “The Doors” L.A. Woman Album.
Yup, “Riders On The Storm”, “Don’t You Love Her Madly”, and the classic song “L.A. Woman”. Yeah, next time you hear one of those songs you might think of me for a second, as well.
I know I’ve lived a charmed life. Ever since I started playing music it not only cleared my head to know that “Everything is gonna be ok”… (I didn’t quite know how but just knew when I heard the sounds, and became a part of them, “Everything is gonna be ok”. And the people I was playing with confirmed it. I saw what we had… a spiritual connection and event that was untouchable. That connection made all the troubles of the world go away which showed me the lesson… FIND YOUR PASSION, and FIND YOUR PEOPLE. Don’t settle for anything less. And let me repeat the 2nd half of that which is SOOOOO important. FIND YOUR PEOPLE. The ones that GET IT. That SUPPORT you.
So when I look back on my life and career for a lot of it I’ve looked at it as a very fortunate guy… At times could entertain the thought of feeling guilty that I didn’t work at it harder… but now I know that’s not true.
My mother told me to SING when I was around 13 or 14 years old. She told me my life as a musician would go to a much different level if I sang. Although I knew that, when I had tried to sing and heard my voice back on a tape I hated it. I knew she was right, the problem was that I didn’t BELIEVE it, for me. I didn’t HEAR it. I wasn’t good. So I discarded the idea.
Eventually, I was offered a *gig* at 16 years old by the great John Auzin of San Diego. John’s band spawned many great musicians’ careers who went on to L.A. after having the “Cream Gig” in San Diego, “The People Movers”.
In fact, when I was offered the gig it was to replace Nathan East who went on to L.A. to become one of the top 3, or maybe even 2, bass players in L.A.
Looking back, he was following my father’s footsteps and so there was a part of me that longed for what he was doing.
BUT, I auditioned for the gig and John obviously spotted some *potential*.
And also, when I look back, there was a moment that I think shaped me for the rest of my life and that was my ignorance. Ignorance of what I was capable of… so when he asked if I could sing and I told him no, he said, “Well you have to because Nathan sang”.
So I figure, “Ok, I want this gig so let me try.” John asked me to look at his set list and told me to pick a song to try… like a COMPLETE IDIOT not knowing any better, I chose Billy Joel’s, “Just The Way You Are”.
I’d like to ask anybody reading this right now to sing the first verse of that song… and notice the *range*. Again, WHAT AN IDIOT for me to try and audition with a song that was that difficult to sing… but I didn’t know any better. (thank God for the stupidity of youth, sometimes…)
But it planted an ignorance to this day I still have… I don’t *know* if I can’t do it, so I’ll try… and if I can’t, there’s where the mental games begin… how do you keep forging ahead? (we’ll get to that a little later).
So here I am, in San Diego, 16 years old, freshly out of High School, (no, I didn’t graduate early, I quit… a characteristic I fought for a long time… and the last thing I do is condone quitting school…but at the time it was the right choice, for me), and one of the singers in the top San Diego club band, “The People Movers”.
I have to say here for a second that all of them embraced me… just like another big band that took me in, when I wasn’t fully ready either… and that was another thing that stuck… to be an encourager… I also learned from them, as well another big band that took me in, was to fall in line… just because I’d gotten a break and was in a position to potentially spin out, ego out, I saw that wasn’t they were about so I just tried to emulate them.
But getting back to the singing… I started, and poorly. Now I look back on my music career and see where the turning point was… when I stopped relying on what was EASY. What was NATURAL… playing the bass…
I got COMPLETELY out of my comfort zone and started singing… or attempting to, anyway. And just started the journey… the journey of being bad, at first… having glimpses of being better, only to fall back to being bad in the same sentence… but I kept on doing it… and improved…
Now I see that was the part of the 10,000 hours I was putting in and thank GOD I started when I was 16… I didn’t WAIT… didn’t WAIT until I was ready… I just began.
So at this point I want to point out how important this is for me to acknowledge and to also acknowledge what’s happened along with way, when things got COMFORTABLE.
I went as far as I could in San Diego and realized I wanted and needed more. The band was great, John Auzin is without a doubt one of the biggest mentors and positive influences on not only my music but life in general… so there was a part of me that could stay there forever, as long as he wanted to keep going… but I needed more.
My decision to move to L.A. was NOT a “I’m going to the big city to MAKE IT!” decision… it was more of a decision to just keep moving forward. I was starting to hear so many amazingly talented folks in San Diego speaking in a defeated tone. It was really strange… you could tell they had wanted more but for some reason they were defeated, and obviously mentally. They had given up. Later I’d learn that they had *tried* to make a go of it and when things didn’t work out for them, they quit… gave up.
What an amazing study… to wonder what people’s thresholds are for throwing in the towel.
And again, I didn’t really realize I was pushing myself… I was still considering myself a “Bass Player” who happened to sing, sort of!
I wanted to go to L.A. to literally be *around* all the people I admired… I figured, I’d rather go to 7-11 and bump into Gino Vanelli or Maurice White… just to LOOK AT THEM! I wasn’t planning on saying anything… just wanted to SEE them… be in proximity.
So no dreams of “I’m gonna make it, or else.” So I never set any expectations on myself… just wanted to go play my top 40 music but in a city where I could possibly bump into my heroes.
And in 1980 I moved to L.A.
I played top 40 for a few years and started seeing my friends moving up the ranks… scoring publishing deals, writing songs that were becoming hit singles… so I tried hat at that… and that’s where I found my voice, in the studio.
I was writing songs with my pals, going into the studios, singing and I liked what I heard. That didn’t change the fact when I’d go to my top 40 gig I still wasn’t that comfortable. Once I got on a stage and the volume was loud, couldn’t really hear my voice over the volume, I wasn’t confident… I’d try, but it was tough… BUT, kept on going… 10,000 hours… being bad, taking the slings and arrows… that’s what happens when you put yourself out there.
And then the magic day came in 1985 when the biggest pop group on the planet asked me to audition for them. Chicago had just come off of their biggest selling record “Chicago 17, and their tenor lead vocalist, Peter Cetera, had left the band to pursue a solo career.
Chicago had found my tape, (yes, were were making cassette tapes back then), and in one of those magic fairy tale moments, I got a call they thought I was their guy. MINDBLOWING… but, I had to act fast, to get my head together to go in and meet with them. I had to make another young, ignorant executive decision to think “Why not? Of COURSE it should be me!” I knew I’d be able to record… I just didn’t think about the live part! The concerts!
So I met with them, auditioned 2 times and got the gig. (Another MASSIVE THANK YOU to the boys in the band who took me in… I’ll never be able to thank you enough).
We made Chicago 18 and it was pretty smooth… ironically, it was much smoother than my studio bass playing career had gone! Isn’t that amazing? The thing that was so easy for me as a kid, playing bass, wasn’t as comfortable in the studio… I mean I was *good*, just not great… and I know why… I wanted it SOOOOO BAD. My vision was to follow my father’s footsteps into being one of the greatest bass players in the world… but it wasn’t happening…
So I took this route that life was giving me… and I kept working on my 10,000 hours.
We recorded Chicago 18, it came out and we had a huge hit single with “Will You Still Love Me”. I had finally joined the club. I was part of music history getting to hear myself on the radio, a lot, appearing on television, traveling the world and continuing on with one of the greatest bands ever to exist.
We had a great run with hits up until the early 90’s. Radio had gotten saturated with Chicago music so there was no more room to add singles… so we were pretty much done going into the studio for a while.
Luckily, we had the body of work… 21 albums with tons of hits that several generations kept want to come hear… so we kept touring, and I got to keep practicing and developing…
Now here’s where it gets interesting… just like the other turning points in my life when things were going well, I saw there was more for me… not wanting to go off being a solo artist… for me, that would be crazy because I was already playing incredible music and on a lot of levels it was my comfort zone! TOP 40 MUSIC! Right? I just so happened that I got to play some I’d actually created with them but most of it was the stuff I’d grown up on… so it was pretty simple. Still challenging but the familiarity of the songs having been played for decades made it simple.
Cut to the beginning of the new millenium… I’m approached by the bass player of Rascal Flatts, Jay DeMarcus, because he was such a huge Chicago fan… he told me how he had particularly followed my era of the band… he was barely 30 years old at the time… so all of a sudden I saw a generation that I had been a part of. When I saw a group that was taking off like that telling me I had influenced them? Wow… what a far cry from the kid struggling through “Just The Way You Are” in 1978. I never would have imagined it, but that’s the beauty of life… you just START things… get your FIRST PLAN going and let it evolve, and change.
I went back to Nashville writing with Jay, just because… or maybe trying to write for Rascal Flatts… and he’s bringing in the biggest songwriters on the planet, at the time… one guy, Brett James, came in and the 3 of us really hit it off… we wrote a couple tunes and they re lit my fire… I saw there was a new horizon… just because Chicago wasn’t recording as a band anymore… I saw a future for me with a new generation… and actually, just as important, I saw how I could share my experience… record making had changed SO MUCH since I made Chicago 18 with David Foster and Humberto Gatica… back then we had to do it… no tricks to fix… so you had to earn your way in.
As I write this it just blows my mind that for a guy who didn’t consider himself a singer at first realizes the opportunities and the experiences I’ve had can be helpful at this point of my life. What? *I* can be a mentor?