Sometimes you linger and listen, look around with a feeling vibrating below you don’t dare put to words in hopes if you stay still and quiet it might pass out of the memory of time, dissolve into superstition, disappear into wild phantasms of your blasted mind but days pass, weeks, months, the years slipping on by as you put your head down, work hard chasing needs, wants and dreams and then you pause to look, to listen and there it still is, nameless, amorphous, circling, lurking. They walk so calm with their soft light step, their measured step in a slowed down rhythm as the big sound ripples out from round them, the people going mad with the release of sorrow and joy so their faces.
We are shaped by our sonic space and feed off the rhythms of the silent beat whether you’re conscious of this or not. You have to wonder how the world is revealed to you; what you hear and see and when and why? From where and how? From who? What is the driving force? The spirit? The source in the shadows in the sound of the wave? They walk so calm with their soft light step – their measured step as the big sound weaves round them and booms out into an electric moving mass of stepping dancing people – it is the only way to keep time in the fury of everything else, walking calm to their own silent beat – but hard hold onto this peace when the music stops and the rivers of life come rushing back in. This is the problem.
As Bennie Pete once told me in a hotel room in Ann Arbor, Michigan, ‘I don’t know how long we are going to do this,’ to which he meant play the beautiful and very dangerous second line parades. You see, people get killed in the parade, folks carry guns but can’t shoot, spraying bullets into the crowd filled with women and children and the dancing folks who are out only for a cold beer and a hot sausage sandwich and the sweet sound from the church of the street as the blood vendettas get played out and ugly scores get aired and settled all out @ the parades so you can’t blame the band to wanna quit; The Hot 8 band members have their families to think of, their lives to think of, their destroyed feet from walking the 4 -5 hour second-line parades come Sundays over the years, which they can’t forget. As Bennie and I drank bottled beer from out the bathtub filled with ice in a hotel room in Anne Arbor, I could tell endings were getting closer to that time.
I was a writer first but story follows sound and sound creates story and we are shaped by our sonic space and feed off the rhythms of the silent beat whether we realize this or not. Record as much of this sonic window as possible for suddenly, just like that, this slice of time had become an important treasure snatched out of a dream we wouldn’t ever hear again unless it was documented in sound. I paused and there it was again, that feeling, circling, lurking, I closed my eyes – record as much of this sonic window as possible. The resurrected sound of a fallen friend there for you to listen to again; what better memory to leave in the wake of lost time and forgotten memory than your wondrous rhythm and beat as a gateway to the testament of the time of your soul on this earth?
Now, many years later it’s easy to say the modern brass band life is hard to hold onto when your deep in the waves of that rhythm and too, in retrospect, that I knew something heavy was coming down the pike. Nobody can move @ those speeds without repercussion. But who wants to think death is on the doorstep for somebody you’ve come to know and respect? A friend. How do you say such baseless worry out loud? It was clear to see, such ways of perilous living don’t last long without fallout and collateral damage. Everyone has guns.
Vendettas are rampant. Hardly nobody can shoot straight. Folks round drink. Folks do drugs, hustling folks hustling dealing drugs, folks is broke, and don’t like it, parents not around kids, it’s real hot outside in a kill or be killed, either you or me on a shirt kind of culture and then Katrina hit. Tip toeing along the edge of the razor and slip a little and the blade cuts deep. You could see it floating round, hear it in the shadow of the wave. The convergence of space, equipment, people, and the hard rhythms in the scorched time of the sound.
Riding on a bike, in vans, in cars, on planes to this gig or that one and looking around @ the band and I let that lurking, somber, sober energy of great change on the horizon rip open another face for me; record it all, no matter who did what, said what to me for as long as I could before it became too dangerous for ending up on someone’s red beam radar as a body to get got for doing this or that.
After recording the hot 8 for a year it’d become clear Dinerral was one the driving forces of their sound. And every time I listened to him, put a mic up on him and recorded and then closed eyes listened close in my house with the head phones on I could tell he was getting better. Intrigued, I’d go back for more – throw the mic up and probe the Hot 8’s sound let my ears guide and my heart decide which space to hold with the mic, what to emphasize cause with single mic recording on a boom pole you often can’t get all the sound that’s out there and so are forced to negotiate and compromise, find interesting sound portraits to pull from the larger sonic wave. But this also let’s you emphasize, probe, color the recording in ways fixed multi channel recordings can’t do.
Record it all – the Hot 8’d be up on stage and I’d slip round through them, close my eyes and hold the mic real close to the bell here, step back there to hear the horns as one, then back up tight on Keith Anderson, Wolf, blowing his solo, historic riffs over to the side of the band @ a wall, losing yourself to your ears in the beat and the sound moving here and there with the microphone listening for the sonic vein – go home after the gig and listen again to what I’d just heard, taking notes along the way as I went about trying to understand and figure the hot 8 sound, what made them tick, what made them go, what songs lit up the crowd, which songs charged the band into lift off so the session became one of those transcendental things. And with the headphones on, each time I’d realize the mic had ended up right up close by Dinerral’s side, sipping in what he was laying down cause he was just that good, doing new things from the week before, riffing over old rhythms, riffing over old r and b hits, riffing on hip hop hits, riffing over obscure old brass band hits, riffing over the sounds rolling round his head, all twisted up into something else, something more in his beat and rhythms; the birthing of a New Orleans sound. He is 23 years old, I think to myself.
They walk so calm with their soft measured step – it’s beautiful because the parade decides where you record, how you record – what the time gives you on that specific day in the middle of the sonic waves of the singing street with a microphone leading you by the hand sweet passing pockets of sound, jewels in the air for the plucking. You had to find a place to tuck in the melee of folks where you could hold a constant position in a sweet pocket of sound and not get in the dancers way or the musicians way or the angrier folks with the guns looking for somebody to shoot. This is key. I liked to get right in the slipstream of Bennie Pete who is ten feet tall and maybe three hundred pounds with a big brass sousaphone that’s seen heavy action right in-between right near Dinerral Shavers cause of that Godly sound pouring out of his snare cause sooner or later at all the second line parades worth their weight in time something heavy would go down and the musicians would be the first to know, first warned, first to shoot, duck, roll and run. Still, there’d you’d be out in the open making waves with a fuzzy blimp on a 18 foot pole so the angry drunk folks start to wonderin who you are and why you’re out there, whatcha doin, and in such bullet flying moments the band doesn’t always have time to be your friend. The microphone is like a magic bucket dipping deep into the endless ocean waves of time.
And so when the detonation in the parade inevitably happened, I always tried to wave the magic wand till the last, leave the recorder running cause it’s not only the drums and horns like diamonds but the back beat bass roo rhythms of the city singing back response to your call so later when you listen to the sound of the city sing you can hear her voice laughing and crying through the swirl of the mesmerizing sonic haze.
While at an expensive mastering session with Stevie Wonder’s sound engineer, Dinerral started asking questions about a Pro Tools audio software he’d just bought for himself a few weeks before the mastering session of the down by the riverside parade. I know this cause Dick had asked me which software I thought he should get and I’d given him some names of some basic introductory programs but he hadn’t listened, gone out and ponied up the cash and bought the best – what Stevie wonder’s sound engineer was using. Upstairs, in the mastering studio, at around his 8th question I was getting jumpy cause I was paying out of pocket by the hour and recorded parades are long art forms that take more time to get right than I’d like to say outloud and it seemed the two of them, going back and forth talking, talking, getting excited could talk on for hours – but I listened to them go and suddenly realized I had no idea what either he nor the master mastering engineer were talking about though they were going on about drop down menus, invert phasing minutia, level envelopes, pitch bend, time stretch, effect morphing, oscilloscopes, frequency analysis, tweaks, and knobs so again I saw young Dinerral in a new light – realized he was getting much better cause he was @ home behind the wood shed working on his sound, on his rhythm, on his mind, on his spirit which I could hear in his beats each time I was able to make a new quality recording and go home and listen close to what he’d laid down – the mark of a true rising professional – heaps of talent, discipline and drive – but still there was that feeling.
Like he knew too – always wanting me to switch on the recorder, put up the mic, when he was playing, practicing, sound checks, juke joints, random parades, even once through open window of a club that’d said no. Once @ a parade, Zulu 06, where nobody knew me on the line, and everybody wanted to kick my ass out, Dinerral put up his hand and “ no,” he’d say, “he’s doing a good thing,” calming all fears and everyone left me alone to record. I put my headphones on and raised the mic on the boom and let the recorder go and you are there.
Rest in peace Dick – your sound lives on.