John Skinner, Luciano Pavarotti

In September 2001, I got a call from John Skinner, a local music contractor. He told me that the legendary operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, was coming to Sacramento for a “one night only” concert. He asked if I would be able to join the orchestra and accompany Mr. Pavarotti on a couple of Italian folk songs. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to play with the finest tenor opera singer of the 20th century.

Sitting on stage next to that beautiful and powerful voice was a thrill. After each song, he’d raise his arms with his white handkerchief in hand and flashbulbs would go off in a blinding frenzy. It reminded me of a Beatles concert (except here they all went off at the same time). It happened every time he finished a piece.

As memorable as the concert was, the rehearsal earlier that day was actually the highlight and peak experience. Pavarotti’s conductor had already rehearsed the orchestra for a couple of hours and we thought the rehearsal was nearly over. All of the sudden, in walks Pavarotti. What a sight! Beaming royal blue trousers, white Fedora, a gigantic pink and turquoise scarf draped over a red and white kimono shirt, topped off with bright colored tennis shoes. All this, coupled with his jet black beard and there was no mistaking it. He had the aura of a super star, which he was.

Once again, the orchestra started playing through the material. This time with Pavarotti’s booming voice soaring above us all. Suddenly, he abruptly stopped everything. He was not happy with what he was hearing and proceeded to explain the emotion of the song and described the scene in the opera.

Next, and most importantly, he would vocalize the orchestra parts. Hearing him sing, you could grasp the nuances, phrasing and dynamics very quickly. When the conductor led the orchestra through that section again, it was amazing. It sounded like a new group of musicians had taken over. They sounded so much better. In every way.

Being witness to this incredible metamorphosis was the chance of a lifetime. Here was the greatest artist, teaching us how to get the notes off the page and on to our instruments in a more musical way. I always knew that musical instruments were trying to emulate the human voice, but I never took the next step. Now I’ve learned to vocalize what’s on the page and then put it on the guitar. Thank you, Luciano.

During the early 60’s, there was one reason that thousands of high school and college students ran out and bought acoustic guitars and banjos. There was one reason they stayed glued to the radio. The reason for all this commotion was a group called the Kingston Trio.

While we were still freshman in high school, my friends, Ron Floegel, Timothy B. Schmit, and I started a Kingston Trio tribute band… long before there was such a thing as “tribute bands.” We faithfully learned all the songs. We wore the black loafers, white socks, dark slacks and matching striped, short-sleeve shirts (it’s where the Beach Boys got the idea, too).

Timothy played a cheap Harmony tenor guitar. It was similar in looks to Nick Reynold’s Martin tenor guitar. I had a cheap Kay banjo just like Dave Guard’s beautiful long-neck, Vega banjo. Somehow we got a Martin D-18 and it was Ron’s job to be the Bob Shane of the group. It never would have entered our minds that, some 55 years later, Nick Reynolds would invite Timothy to his home in Coronado, California and give him the iconic, Martin tenor guitar that had been on all the hit records and had gone around the world many times over.

Eventually, Timothy would go on to become a member of the biggest recording group in history, the Eagles. It was well known that Timothy had been a big KT fan, so when John Stewart, Dave Guard’s replacement, passed away in 2008, Timothy was asked to perform for John’s memorial service. Nick Reynolds was there and Timothy was thrilled to finally meet the man who had started us all on our musical journey. One thing led to another and after a few months, it was decided that Nick was going to give his tenor guitar to Timothy(!). This was incredible news. How could it be?

I knew there was a good possibility of this happening, but I was surprised when I got a phone call from Timothy inviting me to fly down to LA and drive with him to Nick’s home in Coronado in order to pick up the guitar. These pictures were taken during that visit. We had a lot of fun talking to Nick about his Trio days, and it turned out Nick was a big Eagles fan, which made for good conversation.

Sadly, a few months later, Nick died from respiratory disease. Nick’s lovely wife, Leslie, asked Timothy and me if we would play for the memorial service that was held oceanside in Coronado. What an honor. The picture of Timothy and me playing Nick and Bob Shane’s guitars was taken just before the event.

The day we visited Nick and Leslie will last in my memory forever, as well as the memorial service. I’m so glad there are pictures to chronicle the event.

This is part 2 of my interview with Jack and Tommy at 5 SONGS Podcast. I try to explain the unmeasurable, gigantic importance of the Kingston Trio before the Beatles ever invaded our shores, and talk about the day I finally met Nick Reynolds, and learned the secret to meeting girls.

Redwing - self-titled
Rolling Stone Magazine (July 9, 2015)

Sacramento, California, wasn’t a hotbed of country music: it was over 200 miles distant from Bakersfield and over 2,000 miles away from Nashville. Nevertheless, it was home to Redwing, a country-rock band that evolved out of Glad after Timothy B. Schmit left to join Poco. This debut included 10 originals plus covers of country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers and Nashville “hippie-cowboy” Mickey Newbury. After this debut, Redwing recorded four more albums between 1972 and 1975, never breaking through.

What We Said Then: “[The] finest hard rock/country band in the business today, the finest since Moby Grape first commandeered the Fillmore stage back in ’67… Licks that won’t quit. Long lazy ones. Short hard ones. All perfect in both taste and execution, and vocals that will wrench out all the tightness in your throat after too much of shock rock… Redwing… seems to both understand and contain the mellowness of the country living with the overriding sound of the hard urbanity that now intrudes upon the farmer and his fields.”
— J. R. Young, Rolling Stone #85 (June 24th, 1971)

I got to hang out and shoot the breeze with Jack Gallagher and Tommy Dunbar on their fantastic 5 SONGS Podcast. It’s an entertaining interview show where they invite their favorite Sacramento “celebrities” to bring in five important songs that fueled and formed their lives. The conversation can go in any direction and that makes it fun and surprising as each song leads to different stories, and memories, and shared experiences.

I had such a blast chatting about (and listening to) the songs that blew my mind as I was growing up, and how they influenced and changed my life!

The show lasted over an hour so I’ve broken it up into shorter sections. In Part 1, we discuss the magic of Les Paul, Mary Ford, and my dad’s radio career.

You can visit 5 and hear the whole interview, or check out other guests who have visited the show. Take a listen, I hope you enjoy going back in time…

Knowing how to restring your guitar is a vital maintenance skill. Regardless of string brand or gauge, this lesson shows how to replace a string on your acoustic guitar and get back to playing music!