He really is. Listen to his music now.
Trying to set a land speed record for a new tune, "Church Key". Kind of an itch I just have to scratch before I move onto the other stuff.
I'm a huge supporter of other musicians and I love to listen to all sorts of genres. I leave comments on ReverbNation and I like to share song links on Facebook.
If it seems like it takes a while for me to get to the music, understand that I have to go on "listening binges" on the weekends (and if I'm lucky, perhaps one night during the week). That's what my schedule allows, so I do the best I can. But trust me, I recognize the responsibility of musicians to have each other's back. More importantly, there's just a lot of good stuff out there to discover and I think it's fun to share the music you enjoy.
Peace, everyone. TH
I am four songs into full length album number 7 and the eighth release overall. While the collection was going to be titled "Kinda Sorta", solicited opinions now seem to favor "Night Light".
I thought I was going to throw up; calling this older guy that I hadn't spoken with in ages. He was way too cool for me. In any event, I walked to the small, round table that was home to our rotary dial telephone. I looked up Gray’s number in the white pages, temporarily denying Dale one of his "drums". I found what I presumed to be the correct listing under his father's name on a nearby street, about six blocks away from my home, and dialed the number..."szzzz....szzzz....szzzz..."
The ringing sound resonated in the receiver. One ring, two, three...and... "Hello". It was him. I recognized the voice, though now deeper than the one I knew from little league. No sibling or parent to screen the call – I had reached the man himself.
"Gray?" I queried. "Tom", he replied, in a very calm and unsurprised manner. My God, how did he know it was me? I didn't think to ask. I got right to business. "Dale said I should call you. We're starting a band and wondered if you'd like to jam with us." "When do you want to do that?”, he asked. He seemed genuinely intrigued by the idea. "Whenever you want", I answered back. "We're here now in my living room." "Where is that? I can come right over." I proceeded to provide the address, thanked him for agreeing to come over and hung up. "He's coming over NOW", I practically shouted to Dale. "What now?", was the obvious rhetorical question, although I'm not sure Dale answered the question. Time betrays my memory.
I similarly don't remember anything about Gray's arrival on my doorstep, or how we demonstrated our, um "skills", but one thing was clear: Dale's drumming on telephone books was of great distaste to Mr. Howes. At some juncture, perhaps as early as that evening or the next day, Gray telephoned and got straight to the point, "You sound OK for a beginner, and I think I can help you. And you and I should jam together here at my house. But we're not going to start a band with a telephone book drummer. We can find a drummer with a kit."
I was faced with a hard choice. Dale had been supportive, loyal and helpful, but his dreamt-of drum set was nowhere near happening, and we were going to be depending on the Bell Telephone System for our percussion needs for an indefinite period. It was either that, or go "drum-less" for a while and try to learn rock guitar from an older boy who was willing to bring me along for a new adventure. I chose the latter.
I don't remember how Dale and I parted ways. What I clearly remember is the first time I showed up on Brendel Avenue - Village of Hamburg, NY - on a cold winter evening early in 1979 and situated myself on a sofa in the enclosed porch of the Howes residence. Gray had a small Gibson amp. We plugged both of our guitars into it. He dropped the needle on the record player. "I'm going to teach you an easy one".
The distorted vocals came through the speakers..."I AM IRONMAN!"
We were on our way.
My brother Bill had made mention of Gray about a year earlier when he was in the Hamburg Presbyterian Church Youth production of "Godspell". Many of Bill's high school friends and their families were members of that church, although we were not. The auditions for the production were open to all youth, and Bill ended up joining in with the encouragement of his friends. He landed a part in the show, and so coincidentally had Gray.
One day, in the living room of our apartment, I overheard Bill comment to one of his friends, "Hey, do you know Gray Howes? He's in the show and I heard him playing piano during a break at practice. He can play parts of Karn Evil 9 by Emerson, Lake and Palmer". Bill's friend was impressed by this revelation, and I remember thinking "Wow...that's the guy I played baseball with on Deck Decor. That's amazing." I filed the information away in my mind, and nothing more came of it until Dale mentioned Gray as a potential guitarist.
"Well", I turned to Dale, "I know him, but he may not remember me." "I see him a lot", responded Dale, "We both deliver papers and his route is next to mine. I'll ask if he's interested in jamming with us."
A couple of days passed and I don't think the prospect of jamming with Gray Howes was looming large in my mind. I think I figured he'd say "no way" and that would be it. At the very least, I knew he was already in the Sr. High School in tenth grade and probably wouldn't want to associate with kids still in the Junior High.
Dale showed up at my house one afternoon. "I saw Gray. He said you should call him." Gulp! "Now?” I asked, "Does he want me to call him now?" "That's all he said", Dale responded with a tone of uncertainty, "He wants you to call him. You may as well."
I fast-forward now from the trials of a socially outcast nine year old little leaguer and his one moment of glory all the way to the winter of 1978-79. This is where value of that brief acquaintance with Gray Howes in 1973 became apparent.
With the un-amplified electric axe and olive-green folk guitar in my possession - and the better part of a year of guitar lessons under my belt - I was a ninth-grader resolving to play with other musicians and start a band. Lack of proficiency on either instrument was not a barrier to entry in my mind. The key was to get on with it.
Some months earlier, I'd met a kid from a few blocks away named Dale who claimed to play drums. He had some practice pads and pair of sticks, and so it was agreed that he would be "my drummer" and we'd build a combo from there. The difficulty of the arrangement became apparent when Dale's percussion via practice pads could not be heard above the olive-green acoustic guitar.
As experienced sound engineers will tell you, the main role of that discipline is to solve problems. We didn't need experience to tell us we had problems, namely lack of ability and lack of equipment compounded by lack of volume. How did we solve the lack of discernible percussion when a drum kit was out of financial reach? Simple: telephone books. I grabbed the collection of current and expired Bell Telephone yellow and white page directories from under the living room end table and assembled an ad-hoc "drum set" for Dale to pound.
Our acoustic guitar and telephone book duo rehearsed admirably for about two weeks in my mother's living room. We went by the name, "Mitochondria" because it sounded suitably "prog rock" in the fashion of the day. We had no agenda beyond trying to make any kind of sound and see what would happen.
As those couple of weeks drew to a close, a grim realization came upon us; we really needed a more capable player to help us find our way. It was Dale who said, "There's a guy with a guitar who lives a couple of blocks away from me named Gray Howes. Do you know him?" "Gray Howes!” I answered, "Yeah, I played baseball with him years ago. I've seen him around here and there. I heard he played piano. I didn't know he played guitar, too."
Now, I believe I'd seen glimpses of Gray around the village, probably at Fourth of July parades or at the Erie County Fair in the midst of a crowd of people. We hadn't had direct contact since our little league season because he attended a different elementary school (he of Pleasant Avenue School, me of Charlotte Avenue School). The schools were far enough apart that we had no contact with those kids unless extra-curricular activities intervened.
Deck Decor finished the season the following week with a loss, and a year-end record of one and eleven. It was not important. The boy had the lifelong gift of a precious memory of his assistant coach's gratitude and his father's joy. So potent are these memories, that this author still feels quivers when he thinks of them. That pudgy boy, after all, was me.
I received another lifelong gift that season, though my nine-year old self could not have foreseen it then. That summer with the team had been torture for the most part: shunned by my teammates, I felt alone and out of place with everyone there. Well, everyone except the slightly older kid with the unusually curly hair who stood next to me at practice in center field. That boy had a kind smile, and actually caught fly balls hit his way. A testament to his kindness was that he never said an unkind word when I went on my inevitable search and rescue missions for the ball when I was called to action out in right field.
One Saturday practice, the curly headed guy said to me, "You know, just hold out that glove and try to get under it". It was not said maliciously, but with much encouragement. The next time the ball came my way, I did as he had suggested. By God, I caught that ball! I caught it at the very top of the glove, with half of it poking out, but a catch is catch.
"Great catch!" the curly headed boy said. In fact, he made a point to say so at least three more times during that practice and once more the following week. An acquaintance was made; I was introduced to Graham "Gray" Howes. By extension, Gray introduced me to his quieter - and rather tough-looking - twin brother Ted "Tee" Howes.
Gray and Tee were fraternal twins, not at all similar in appearance or build, but the counter balance was palpable and their bond undeniable. Tee was a big kid, and seemed somewhat sullen. He was not the talking type, and one would suspect he would be capable of a punch up. What shortly became clear was that he bothered no one if similarly respected.
Gray, on the other hand, was more apt to smile and talk (though not at unnecessary length). He was rather "low maintenance" as one might say today. In any event, I appreciated having a friendly compatriot standing to my right in the outfield. I can't say that we developed anything beyond a friendly rapport that summer, but we knew each other by face and name.
The season ended, and our team dispersed. I didn't re-up for little league the following summer, as my enjoyment per inning was running on fumes. I resumed my activities of mythical map drawing, fort building near the banks of 18-Mile Creek, and an obsession with the "Planet of the Apes" movies. As previously detailed, The Beatles and their magnificent "Rubber Soul" LP created a potent boil of an interest in rock n’roll.
Now, it should be said here, that the assistant coach had a speech impediment, making it hard in routine circumstances to clearly understand him. This is no matter for ridicule or cruelty, and the boys knew what a nice man he was and appreciated his mentorship. In present circumstances, though, that speech impediment only added to the mystery.
So, as the assistant coach was skipping rapidly toward the boy at first base, arms flailing, and yelling with great and unintelligible excitement, all the boy could think was "What have I done? Did I mess up?" That thought was soon blown to oblivion when the assistant coach picked him up, squeezed him, and said, so the boy could clearly hear him, "We won! We won!"
We won? What? Then the boy looked and saw the team huddled around home plate, cheering, laughing and clapping. That magnificent sight was followed by one even more meaningful; his father emerged from the stands, moving as quickly as his polio-weakened legs would allow, a broad smile on his face and a gleam in his eye clearly evident. "Son! Son! Do you know what you did? Do you?"
"You batted in the winning run!"
His goal, once his mind was back on the contest, became rather simple: Just hit the ball for once. He had been shamed by his team and admonished by the head coach all season for his "chop", as opposed to a swing. He was the right fielder. He didn't really try to catch fly balls. He instead chased them and allowed the other team to rack up run totals. Thus, as the game's outcome was up to this most untalented fellow, everyone braced for the worst.
"He won't swing", the catcher mocked, "He'll hope you walk him, 'cause he can't hit." The batter turned around and immediately understood the sarcasm and felt duly humiliated. "He's right", the nine-year old washout thought to himself, "that's what I do. I strike out by default in hopes of walking to first."
The passing of years does not allow this author to recall the count. Two balls and a strike? One strike away from another crushing loss? It really doesn't matter. What matters is that, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the batter eyed the pitch and swung at it with all the power he could muster.
Contact...a hit! It wasn't pretty, but that chopping swing made contact, and the ball shot over the pitcher, just evading his glove. The ball landed in the near outfield where someone - anyone - from the opposition had to run and retrieve it. It bought that pudgy little runner enough time to peel out from the plate and kick up a trail of dirt and dust on the path to first base.
The white square loomed ahead, the runner's eyes fixed on it. The thought, "I must make it", cycled over and over in his noggin. That quickly, and "thump!", he landed on the bag. He was safe, right?
The call at first base never came, and the boy suddenly realized that a commotion was going on behind him. He turned around. What he saw then is still clearly emblazoned on his optic nerve: The assistant coach of his team was, in half silhouette against that setting August sun, running toward him, arms waving in almost circular motions.