Recording "Improvised My Ass"

This album was recorded at 3 different shows:

live at Be-Bop Records and Fine Art in Reseda, CA, 8/20/88

live at Jamie's dad's ranch (outdoor show), Canyon Country, CA, 8/28/88

live in at Spinhead Studios, North Hollywood, CA, 8/31/88


all photos by Chris Gruenwedel


Here are two views, left and right, of the Be-Bop Records show, 8/20/88.

(The right one was done with a flash, so of course the room actually looked like the shot on the left.)

Placed side by side, this gives an approximate idea of the stage set-up. There may appear to be a fair amount of space not shown between the two shots- not so. It appears that way because both pictures were taken from side angles. We actually weren't much farther apart than this- Be-Bop was narrow and long, the stage area being the width of the room. The audience was seated, or stood, the length of the room. Richard Bruland, who owned and operated Be-Bop, allowed us to remove the records and bins and haul it all back to the band house, up the street, leaving room to pack lots and lots of people in. It was a very memorable experience and one of the band's best shows. Songs from this show that ended up on the LP: "Mr. Id"; "Origin"; "I Live In L.A."; "B.B.Q."; and "Mantell's Last Flight".


Here's the only shot I know of which shows the full band at Jamie's Dad's Ranch in Canyon Country, 8/28/88.


Jamie, if I recall correctly, was a friend of someone in the SST organization- probably Phil Newman, the owner/operator/engineer of Spinhead. We wanted to hedge our bets by getting more live recordings to choose from, so we decided to do an outdoor show and invite everyone we knew. We also invited Death and Taxes, Tom Shannon's band, to come out and play with us there. While the turnout wasn't bad, the location turned out to be too remote for most people and so we did not have a huge crowd. I had been very excited about doing an outdoor show but in this case it turned out to be more of a pain in the ass than it was worth. By the time we went on, the sun was going down, the engineer couldn't see the equipment that well, the audience who'd been baking in the sun all day started to freeze and the musicians fared about the same or worse- fingers didn't move so well, etc. Still there were some very fun and memorable moments spread throughout the day and we did get one usable song out of it, "Beany Boy's Polka".


Here's a couple of shots that show the set up live at Spinhead, 8/31/88.

Again, these pictures were taken with a flash, and they make the room look very bright, which it never was- it was dark and atmospheric. (I saw many details of Spinhead illuminated for the first time when these were developed. Here we'd been there every night for a month doing "Music To Trash", and for about a week during "A Land Without Fences"; and until I saw these shots I could never tell what color the back wall was.) And this was a very unusual set up for us, all packed against the back wall- normally we arranged ourselves in a circle facing each other: M. against the back wall, me against the front wall with my back to the door and the recording booth window, George to the right and Kenny to the left. After which of course you could barely walk in and out of the place, especially once the sound baffles went up. But this time we needed room for an audience, so...we all brought a lot less (yes, believe it or not, this was light for us). I didn't even bring the pedalboard- guitar and amp, period. I thought it would be a nice challenge to make Paper Bag music without it. Songs from this session that made the album: "Frightened Lives" and "Studio Hell".


Overall comments: While we'd originally talked about doing a series of gigs and pulling the best from them for this album, after how good the Be-Bop show was M. thought we ought to just pull from that. He was outvoted and we did the other two shows, from which 3 very good pieces came. There have been times, in retrospect, that I thought he was right. (And in fact we have talked a lot about putting out the Be-Bop show as a separate release, something which may yet happen.) But then again...if we'd stopped there, we wouldn't have "Studio Hell", which is one of my all time PB favorites and one of M.'s best poetry pieces. I think if nothing else, that one made it all worth it.

I was also annoyed at having to go back exclusively to the vinyl format- only because we had so much good stuff recorded for this one and had to pare it down mercilessly to fit onto LP. This album is way, way too short, it's practically an e.p. (The prevaling production wisdom was: "It's gotta be loud dude, if it's too long you lose volume!" I said, "Fine, let 'em get more for their money and just turn it up!" But no!) If we'd been allowed a CD release we could have doubled the amount of material with no problem. But considering this album received no domestic promotion (and seemingly no domestic distribution either), SST obviously didn't care. It sat for nearly a year before being released- to Europe and mail order and as far as I can tell, nothing else. A bad fate for a good album.


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