I don't have a lot to write about this album. (Not that that will stop me from doing so anyway.)
In the Fall of 2004, I'd booked a live gig—the first to be done since "The vonHummer Hour" had stopped producing new episodes, at the end of 2003. In making the tv series, my hope was to build a following for my music through tv, rather than playing live. To my mind, I thought producing a tv show for two years would be less work. Funny, huh? Shows you how much I love playing out. At least then, anyhow. I've since come to enjoy it immensely. And when I get somebody to lug my stuff for me and set it up and break it down, I'll be in heaven with live gigs. But I digress.
So this gig in October of 2004—I forget the date, exactly—would be a test of my premise, that tv alone could build a following for music. I let the show run for a year or two,I figured, then get a gig, put up some posters, take out an ad, and there should be a bunch of people wanting to see me.
I knew already from the traffic on the website that there was a lot of interest. Lots of comments on the message board (remember those?) and the downloads of mp3's was pretty good. I was able to get a top-ten downloads list going so I knew what my "hits" were. All that remained was to get a gig somewhere and see what happened.
I finally did get off my ass, and booked a show at the last place I played live—before the tv show had aired—at The Mad Hatter Lounge. I had some fancy ideas of what I wanted to do in the show: to build a cage of programmed flashing xmas lights around myself, and give away a free CD of "unplugged" versions of my most popular songs.
Turned out I didn't have enough time—or space—to erect the light cage, so I settled for just hanging the strands of lights behind me, flashing programmatically. But I did get the free CD done, which in my mind I called, "October Surprise," named after the scarecrow phrase that makes the news every September before a big election.
I think I was thinking then that seeing me play live would be a disappointment because my live sound would be so much less full than the multi-tracked songs heard on the tv show. To compensate for that, I thought if everybody took home a CD of re-arranged, sparse tunes, and played them over and over, they might get used to the difference in sound and come back to see me at the next show. (I was SO self-loathing then. That people might actually enjoy the difference was beyond belief to me.)
Recording this took a few days, as I'd been rehearsing the songs already. To vary the sounds from song to song, I used different guitars, and usually a different guitar than I used on the original. This was still my era of recording on cassette tape with the trusty Tascam 424 MK2 I'd been using since 1998. I don't think I did the voice and guitar at the same time. I think I went back and added the vocals after the guitar was laid down.
I recorded seven songs for "October Surprise," but while the studio was still rigged up, I also took the time to record demos of new songs ("Sometime Soon" and "Mansion on the Moon") and to get a decent version of songs that I only had video recordings of ("Coversong," "Coversong Too," and "Insufficient Funds.") These I've included as bonus tracks. "October Surprise" is really the collection they belong in.
The cover photo was taken by frequent vH photographer Jason Kaplan, at the very show that these CDs were given away at, at the Mad Hatter, in mid October of 2004. I didn't play well that night. I hate to say that, but I didn't. At that point, I'd almost never played live and I was horribly nervous. I blew chords and lyrics, and sweated profusely, as I usually do.
But I packed the place, and that was more than enough for me. It had to be. I tried not to think about the effect of everyone showing up for a lousy performance. Instead, I hoped the mistakes I made, only I was aware of.
Almost every free CD went, and I made about 67 of them. I think the sweetest part of that evening was during the load out. About five or six teenagers were waiting at the back door to meet me. They were big fans and begged the manager to just let them sit on the staircase going down to the bar to listen to the show. They helped me load stuff. And the next time I played live, they roadied for me.
Well I really felt like the big time at that point, let me tell you. And the next show, in February of 2005 at Cafe Nola was my biggest ever. I figured things would build and build, success-wise, and I'd be a major something or other quite soon, but...
Maybe you can only get a lobster just so far out from under his rock?
released October 16, 2004
vonHummer: vocals, guitars, basses, shaker pick.