Joe Gilbert on Guitar
Mike Mobely on Percussion
Suzanne Birrell on Vocals and Bass
Guitarist Joe Gilbert, Latin percussionist Mike Mobley, and myself decided to play gigs together. Between us we had a saleable sound for high dollar restaurants and private parties. We decided we needed an audition CD so we went into Steve’s studio in Pagosa Springs to record for one hour. We wanted a CD that sounded just as haphazard as a live performance.
Steve set up one mic in the one room. Joe went through the board with his guitar and I went through the board with my bass. I had one extra mic for vocals. Earlier in the day I had smashed the middle finger on my left hand and was in pain-I ended up losing the fingernail. Mike had a cold and was practically choking in his efforts not to cough. The plan was that Joe and I would take turns picking which song we would do and play it once through- pretty much how we did it at a gig. We started with NIGHT IN TUNISIA. We stopped to listen-There was some extraneous noise going on so we refigured things. We did this about three times before we realized it was Mike’s drum throne. It didn’t squeak until we were playing because that’s we he started moving. Anyway, once we got that figured out we played straight thru for the balance of the hour. We didn’t even stop to discuss starts and stops and turnarounds and all that good stuff. We played it like we performed-casual like.
We told Steve that we just wanted the raw mix, but he insisted he had to do some fine tuning to the mix. We thought the sound was just fine raw off the board-sounded live!– but he charged us for about 6 hours worth of mixing (herb influenced) —AND we still liked it better raw off the board. We did get five tunes recorded for the price of one hour in the studio. We had figured two or three.
One of the things I like best about playing with Joe is that he would try sight reading anything. I always like the challenge and usually do a fair job of it. We’d always bring our REAL Books and sometimes people would thumb through them and either request a song or even get up and sing. Hey-it’s their party. Once, at a private party-outdoors looking over an incredible Colorado Mountain view as the sun slowly set in the West- we got a request for MOOD INDIGO by Duke Ellington. At the time, I had never sang it before although we were both familiar with the song. I sang it but, I never did get the syncopation right–sometimes it’s hard playing bass and singing. Anyway, the man who requested it was crying by the end of the song. Though I did mess up the syncopation a bit, I didn’t think we had massacred the song THAT badly. Fortunately for our self esteem, he came up later and thanked us. He assured us we had played it beautifully and with “great feeling” (One advantage of being a good actress-I can fake anything) Anyway, as it turned out, it was his and his wife’s special song. She had just recently died. Being part of a moment like that is surely a gift. I went home and learned the song right.
Joe and I were very different. My personality is more of a sunny day while his was overcast and drizzling. I thought it made for a humorous act. Once we were playing a club gig and he was trying to talk me through a tune that he was trying to learn except he wasn’t telling me the same chords that he was playing. I told him to just play and I’d find my part in the tune. All in all, after we got past the beginning hump, I thought it went VERY well. The audience must have thought so as well because they awarded us with a warm and enthusiastic applause. Joe’s take, “Well that sucked.” That pretty much summed up his personality.
Another time we had two gigs to play on Valentines Day. The first was a dinner gig. Advance reservations ONLY, with advance selection of meal, wine, and flowers at the table. Joe was a consummate bachelor at the time and assured me that he could and would refrain from disparaging remarks. I thought it a wonderful gig. We sang only romantic songs for two hours—with never once an applause. Joe kept whispering his opinion about their lack of appreciation while I assured him they were loving it. We announced our last song and told them where we would be playing later on that evening. After that last song, without exception, every couple in the room got up to shake our hands and thank us profusely for a “wonderful “and “memorable” and “absolutely perfect” evening. It was one of those “I told you so” moments that we all like to have once in a while.
Joe was torn over whether or not to get married at age 50 and start a family. He did and is living happily ever after. He married a wonderful younger woman, Christina, and has now two beautiful little girls. I tell you this because when he came back from his honeymoon we had a gig. After the gig was over and before I got home, I stopped to call Christina. I had to tell her: Not only did Joe smile, he laughed. And even cracked some jokes!
We got a lot of gigs with the CD. Mike wore out his hands and didn’t want to play so much. I still think he could have made the switch to using sticks. After the fires, the economy slowed drastically. Three of our regular gigs closed their doors for good. I started playing more with my rock band while Joe slowed up his playing out to coach softball and generally tried to keep up with his beautiful, vivacious redheaded daughters. He’ll be 67 when the oldest is 16. God help him.