Charlie McCoy on Desolation Row

At midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do

– Bob Dylan, from a verse of Desolation Row

I have opinions about music. I have always been highly attuned to extemporaneous playing, having grown up in households full of jazz and 60’s rock, and incorporate it a lot into my playing. The people I admire the most are the players who can take an idea and dissect it in real time, as the song proceeds, and find their way around the theme in as many different ways as possible.

I don’t know much about Charlie McCoy, but from what I do know about Bob Dylan’s recording style, He wants to lay them down quick and be done with it, and everyone does their best to learn the songs in real time & keep up with him. According to Wikipedia, they recorded 5 takes of this song. That means McCoy might have had an hour to come up with a theme, then execute this track. This has to be extemporaneous. He figured out more or less where he wanted to play in between the vocal lines, and was probably just off to the races.

Say what you will about Bob Dylan, (and I probably won’t disagree on a lot of points) but I found myself listening to this on repeat the other day, and really focusing on the 2nd guitar part instead of the lyrics for the first time, and it really jumped out at me what he’s doing here. In an 11-minute song, he methodically goes about re-inventing his part every single verse, every single line. He manages to only repeat an exact phrase once or twice throughout the entire song. An extremely impressive feat. So if you’ve read this far, I encourage you to take a pass through it and focus on the guitar and the myriad ways he moves the song forward through an ever-changing multitude of distinct arpeggios. Brilliant!

Lost And Found, Audio Edition.

For 30 years, the only copy I had of Hurlo Thrumbo’s 2nd recording session was a very worn cassette copy that I digitized myself 15 years or so ago. Lots of warble and hiss, not much low end. But the songs were good. The band only existed for about 2 years. We made a 4-track cassette on a porta-studio in our practice room that we “released,” (100 copies?) soon after forming, but it really doesn’t sound good enough to put out there any more. Then there’s this one I’m posting here, which we also “released” as probably 100 copies or less, and a third great-sounding but never-finished 3 song session at Cedar Creek studios in the band’s later iteration that sits on my computer… alas. So these 3 songs are the only public record of the band.

The first iteration of the band in early 1989

When Jeri & I split in 1991, we didn’t undertake the most meticulous division of the archives, to say the least, we both moved several times, & stuff got scattered. We have stayed in touch though, and recently she was organizing some stuff at her studio in Llano & came across a second trove of tapes, which included this little guy. My old friend John Viehweg (who really is one of the best audio engineers in Austin) still had an ADAT player, & he did me the kindness of dusting it off and digitizing these songs for me a couple months ago. Amazingly, they transferred perfectly and sound great!

A digital audio cassette and its cover, circa 1990.
Still pristine, after 30 years.

Well, as great as they did when we mixed them. I made some production choices that I would go back and fix if the multi-track tape could ever be found, but that seems to be a lost cause. I still feel pretty strongly that this was some of the best songwriting I ever did, and man, in a different world, I might have kept writing, but life happened. So these songs represent a turning point in my life, where I moved from dreamy but increasingly frustrated idealist to an actul adult who needed to get a career that paid money, and I settled down to have a family, start a business and take a break from the music business for a couple years. I returned in a cover band to recoup my losses and never tried the original songwriting thing again. These songs are mostly my music & Jeri’s lyrics, with a couple contributions from Fred Mitchim who was just over at the house one evening when I had the bass part to Shape Shifter rolling around, & Dennis Bruhn who is a pragmatist about arrangements.

And Now The Reveal!

A while back, I made a Hurlo Thrumbo page for the Music portion of my website, with some history of the band and links to the cassette files from the Congress House session, for which I have the written date as March of 1990. The Quicktime embedded players had stopped working, & the tables are still barely holding it together, but I’m happy to note that today I updated it with the new audio files and figured out how to add HTML 5 widgets in Dreamweaver. The duct tape around the images & text is still working (good old web 1.0) and I’m glad to have these files up at last for public consumption. You can listen, download and read more there.