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RIDE WHAT YOU CAN'T CHANGE
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RIDE WHAT YOU CAN'T CHANGE
STORY & CREDITS

In my travels I have observed that history is not decided by the challenges of the times, but by how challenge is confronted - this album is my response to a challenging time in my own life & is dedicated to anyone at such a crossroads in their own...

...so reads the dedication in my album: “Ride What You Can’t Change” As the first decade of the new millennium came to a close, I was grappling with a collapsing business and a collapsing marriage, both in the midst a collapsing economy… suddenly all these things I had spent my adult life building were in question at a time when there genuinely seemed few new prospects in the world. Yes, I made all the calls knew to make, and I shook all the bushes I knew to shake, yet somehow I could not break the silence and the stillness that came to define those days for me. Eventually though, sitting in my silent and still office, I finally made a realization: how for all my efforts to fortify my life, what had long ago collapsed was the artist within in me I longed to become.

Granted, as a guitarist I never stopped playing, and over the years it has been my good fortune to work with many noteworthy musicians, but somehow music in my life had gradually become less about me, and more about being in shadows of others. But who was I on my own terms? As I suppose happens to many, without even realizing it, my artistry had slowly been eclipsed by the demands of family and career… now, as terrible as it was to have these things suddenly be in freefall, the artist dormant within me was free!

Hah! Being set free was the easy part! I can assure you, it is a scary thing to sit down and to try to write a song after a ten-year hiatus. The irreverence of youth, which often counts for so much with music, was now just a spec in my review mirror… looming large in my bathroom mirror there suddenly stood a middle-aged man staring back at me… when did this happen? Indeed, life-experience and reality can be very cruel to a musician’s ego, and I found myself asking: why should I succeed where I had already failed years before, now at an age when most are ready to return from the journey I was just setting out on? What did I have to offer?

A book I had recently read was William L. Manly’s autobiographical “Death Valley in ‘49”, which is the story of his journey to the California goldfields. This harrowing tale (that Manly almost did not live to tell) provides an incredible first-hand perspective on the early days of the American West, but to me, Manly’s account is also that of a man whose very survival came to hinge on nothing more than his talents and his faith in himself. Thus Manly inspired the first new song I wrote: ‘Chasing Lightning’

Death Valley, Joshua Tree, the Salton Sea, the Sierra Nevadas, gold country… these places all have a million stories to tell! Often I will take long, solitary drives along the back roads of this state, absorbing whatever history I may stumble upon. The images I collected during these journeys came to form a sort of canvas beneath my new songs - from gold mining, to Hollywood, to the burgeoning beat and psychedelic movements of the ‘50s & ‘60s, to the tech era of today, California has always drawn dreamers who found their lives at junctures not unlike the one I now straddled. Pushing onward, more new songs soon followed, and with them an overarching theme to emerge was how, well, sometimes we all can only ride what we can’t change...

Once underway, I came to see my age as less of a liability and as more of an asset. Truly, I could not be telling the stories I am now writing at any earlier point in my life, because with life-experience has come a library to draw from, and with maturity the ability to do so in a less self-centered way. Musically too, my horizons continued to broaden even during years when making music was not my main priority - as a teenager I was very fortunate to have been exposed to a lot of jazz music but at the time my brain just could not make much sense of what I was hearing; flash forward to the present, when while writing my new music I found myself dissatisfied with the same stale chord voicings and genre conventions that I had been routely relying for the past twenty years, and suddenly I began to appreciate jazz in a whole new way! But perhaps the biggest gift to come with age is that I knew better how to approach and manage the process of turning my new songs into an actual recorded album - namely, from having worked on various creative fronts for as long as I have, I knew how with a very limited budget that it was unrealistic to think anyone would commit to working with me on some open-ended proposition, but that it might be realistic to rally a world-class team around the idea of working together for, say, just one week.

Although I am fortunate to know many wonderful musicians, I ultimately sought out all new collaborators who had no preconceived notions about who I was or what my music was about. Casting nets, I put out a call on Craig’s List that read: “Country Artist seeks Jazz Musicians for Album Project” and pianist Isha Love was among those who answered the ad. In Isha’s masterful playing I immediately heard the sense of atmosphere and space I was looking to bring to my narratives. However, I suspect Isha’s first impression of me and my limited technique was much less flattering: I had a show coming up at Hotel Café in Hollywood where I planned to premier my new songs, and so I invited Isha to play on a few songs to see how we might work together, but I left our rehearsal feeling like I had frustrated her so badly that perhaps the jazz-hybrid I was envisioning might not even be possible. Then a few days later Isha called me back saying she believed she had suddenly figured out what I was after, and she wanted to know if we could do a second rehearsal? I told her no, that I just wanted her to bring whatever she had to the stage at Hotel Café. And bring it she did. Later, Isha would write out charts for all my songs, and recruit bassist Dale Black (a mainstay on the LA jazz circuit) and famed virtuoso drummer Eric Valentine to round out my studio band. Americana and Jazz may seem like strange bedfellows
at first blush, but as I see it they are both genuine American forms of music, and are both quite adept at portraying the American experience... while Isha, Dale, and Eric did each seem a bit disorientated at first, in almost no time and without exception they quickly keyed into such commonalities and brought my new music to life.

Back when I lived in Laurel Canyon, I went outside one morning, and ambling up our road came a lanky, wild-haired guy in a blue bath robe, wearing a baby strapped to his chest, holding a leash attached to a black Pomeranian in one hand, and a shovel in the other... such was how I first met singer-songwriter Willie Wisely. We of course became friends, and years later when I had finished my new songs, I asked Willie for his feedback - he was so enthusiastic that he offered to work as my producer. To begin, Willie requested that I come over one evening with selections of music to better key him into my vision for my record. The CDs I selected were Merle Haggard’s “Greatest Hits” for the types of characters he invents and the way he sings from their different perspectives, Duke Ellington’s seminal “Money Jungle” as a template for the acoustic jazz trio I sought to assemble for my studio band, George Thorogood’s “Who Do You Love?” for its searing P-90 guitar tone which I thought might be interesting to contrast with an acoustic jazz trio, Wilco’s “A Ghost is Born” for the way it juxtaposed bold clear piano tones with distorted guitar, Astor Piazzolla’s “Tango: Zero Hour” to show how music can sound simultaneously spontaneous yet never accidental, Tchaikovsky’s “Arabian Dance” for the tactile way it conjures a desert landscape, and Harry Belafonte’s iconic 1958 “Live at Carnegie Hall” for how he makes a dozen different genres all conform to his singular voice in one transcendent performance. Fortunately, Willie was not phased at all - he did recognize the common threads I saw running through such seemingly unrelated sources, thus affirming he was absolutely the right man for the job!

Unfortunately, Willie did not have his own studio, and nor were we able to find what we needed at an affordable price. With nothing to lose I went back to Craig’s List: “Wanted: Recording Studio and Engineer needed for Country Jazz Project” My ad went on to state how I needed a grand piano, rooms to isolate different instruments for live tracking etc., along with a competent engineer who could help with both recording and mixing for the entire week, all for a price that was so far beyond optimistic that it bordered on being insulting. Exactly one person answered the ad: Justin Gariano. When I met Justin he basically matched my expectations: he was a young guy with connections to a studio he could get us for a bargain basement rate. Once we got to work, Justin immediately, completely, thoroughly, and utterly surpassed my expectations: first by insisting that if his name was to go on my project that we dedicate the entire week that I could afford to have everyone working together to just recording exclusively, and that he and I then later spend as much time on editing and mixing as it took for my album to meet his standards; and secondly, when it came time to get to work, Justin just did a superb job making everything work and sound amazing. As I got to know him, I came to discover that Justin is as modest as he is accomplished, and that he in fact is a producer-engineer with credits on numerous platinum-selling albums. All things being equal, I eventually asked Justin why on earth did he ever take on my project? He said that while searching for a piece of studio gear on Craig’s List he happened upon my ad, and he reached out because the idea of country-jazz just sounded, well, interesting to him.

Rounding out the picture, I brought in a few other voices...

Tomasina Abate is a singer I have been in awe of ever since we met on LA’s singer songwriter circuit in the mid-1990s. These days her rock band is a mainstay at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland Terrace, and she is also very active in musical theatre. We had lost touch for many years, but around the time when I first began to conceive my new album, I happened to take my daughter to see a show at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre, and out onto the stage danced Tomi! This random encounter then allowed she and I to resume contact, which then led to my writing several parts for my new album specifically with her exquisite voice in mind.

Actually, I have found that channeling the voices of other singers can be a very good way to flush out language and phrasing when writing songs. Case in point: “American Vesper” This song is my homage to how the words of the Declaration of Independence have continued to take on different meanings at different times, as told through an ensemble of oral histories. The voices I imagined singing the different roles were those of actor Ronny Cox, Tomasina Abate (who, requisite for the part, happens to be of Native American descent,) folk singer Jim Kweskin, and opera singer Cedric Berry; a highlight among highlights of making my album was that I managed to recruit each of these actual artists to then perform their parts for real.

Jim Kweskin deserves some further special mention. Jim is a master finger style guitarist and an encyclopedic authority on American folk and early popular music - although today he is not as widely known as many of his contemporaries, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band played the legendary 1964 Newport Folk Festival, enjoyed an appearance on the Steve Allen Show, and shared Filmore dates with The Doors and Big Brother & the Holding Company. As a teenager, I first heard Jim on a Woody Guthrie tribute album singing his rendition of “Buffalo Skinners” which has always enthralled me for how its steady, intricate guitar part so effectively illustrates the dry desert landscapes Jim sings about. As I began writing my new songs Jim Kweskin’s “Buffalo Skinners” came to serve as something of a point of departure for me. The idea that the music behind a folk-type lyric could evoke such living, breathing, ambience is really what pushed me into jazz… so thank you for that, Jim. When it came to recording ‘American Vesper’ I obviously knew Tomasina Abate, Ronny Cox had long been an acquaintance of mine, and I graduated high school with Cedric Berry, but I did not have any connection to Jim Kweskin whatsoever. It took some detective work, but eventually I did manage to land a cold call, and Jim agreed to give my demo a listen; he never gave me a straight yes or no answer, but he did write back to ask my thoughts on adding a 5-string banjo part... Jim, you could have asked to play bagpipes and I would have agreed!

Willie, Justin, and I planned our seven days of recording like a bank heist. On our first two days we recorded live-in-the-studio piano, bass and drum tracks at Stagg Street Studios in Van Nuys, laying down six songs per day; over the next five days we cut all guitars and vocals at Justin’s studio in Woodland Hills. During recording Willie kept everyone on point, wrote out parts and harmonies on the fly when necessary, and maintained quality control so that I could focus more just on the creative aspects of what was happening. Justin wired everything together and made it look easy (when in reality it is anything but) and quickly his musical insights and opinions came to carry as much weight as Willie’s and my own (hence the co-producer credit that he earned.) To give further credit where it is due, Eric Valentine also volunteered some impromptu arranging, particularly on ‘Colorado Bound’ and especially on ‘Get it in Gear’ where his drum parts came to be what distinguish the different sections of each song. For my own part, I established a rule whereby no one was allowed to overdub a second part over anything they had already played (meaning the drummer could not go back and add shaker, no one could harmonize with themselves, etc.) “The Rule” as this stipulation came to be named during our sessions, I believe greatly contributed to the character of my album for how it forced everyone to really own what they played since there was nowhere to hide, and it also spared us from having to sort through an unwieldy amount of tracks during editing and mixing. It took months of coordination beforehand, and an uncanny synergy of talents once underway, but ultimately we did accomplish our goal of recording my entire album, start to finish, within that one allotted week.

The other day I came across a quote attributed to Gandhi that read: “You have not lived until you have done something for someone that they will never be able to repay you for.” If this is true, then I contend that Justin Gariano is a man who lives his life most fully. For several months following the seven days we spent recording, Justin volunteered his time, expertise, and studio resources to making not merely the best record I could hope to afford, but the best I could uncompromisingly conceive, which is by far the greatest gift I have ever been given by a complete stranger. Quite simply, the finished album you are now hearing would not nearly be what it is if not for Justin’s generosity. Thank you Justin.

On the subject of generosity, my sincerest heartfelt gratitude goes out to all who stepped up and supported “Ride What You Can’t Change” by pledging funds in advance of its completion – please know that your assistance, given at such a critical juncture in my project, is what made the difference between its success and failure, and that I am humbled by your faith in my ability to deliver (eventually) what I promised.

I give additional thanks to Ronnie Smith for doing such a great job with my album photography. Actually, you all have him to thank for the cowboy hat I am wearing on the cover: though I am proud to own a couple Stetsons, I find it tough to wear them in LA without looking like a jack ass... but without the hat Ronnie insisted I just looked like the Charlie he has known and worked with for many years, while with it I became to him the guy who now wrote all these new songs.

I offer very special thanks to my lifelong friend and fellow musician,
Jeaneah Paik, for being my angel benefactor, and more importantly for her belief in me - which, given the admiration I have for your sublime musical ability, Jeaneah, really helped me to believe in myself.

Lastly, I also thank Glenda, my wife of 15 years, who, despite the difficulties we were having at the time, encouraged me and helped me to prioritize the fulfilling of this dream.

It has now been a few years since “Ride What You Can’t Change” went from dream to reality. Remembering everything that happened as I wrote this forward, I am struck by how the journey of its making truly did personify its overriding narrative: yes, there are always blind alleys and dead ends hit along the way, but sometimes it takes a total impasse to truly move forward.

COIN. Since in many ways ‘Ride What You Can’t Change’ came to represent a fresh beginning in my own musical journey, it seemed an apropos moment to don a new name. I chose “COIN” for a variety of reasons: as both a life-long collector and occasional designer of U.S. coins, they have in many literal instances served to inspire the music I write... but moreover I chose COIN for the commonality and longeveity that the name suggests.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the success of my album proved to be the answer to all of the problems in my life that inspired its creation... yeah, but I cannot. Following its release, the reality is that the economy continued to take its toll to such extent that I had to sell many of my belongings to make ends meet, including several guitars that I had been holding onto since I was a teenager – ah, but here’s the thing: for years these instruments had sat idle in my closet awaiting the day the musician I longed to become would need them; to me, what completing “Ride What You Can’t Change” represents is how this day has come, I now am that musician, and for me it is a great measure of accomplishment to be able to let go, and to thin my herd down to just those few special instruments I need to continue making my music, and to take my life further.

Onward!!

**

The Collaborators:

Piano: >> Isha Love
Isha Love holds a degree in music from Berklee College of Music in Boston – in addition to her session work, she is also an adept composer & arranger.

Bass: >> Dale Black
Since arriving in town a few short years ago from Wichita, Kansas, The Dale Black Quintet has quickly become a mainstay of LA’s jazz scene.

Drums: >> Eric Valentine
Eric’s credits & accomplishments are literally too overwhelming to paraphrase… he is truly a musician’s musician who raises the bar for anyone he works with… presently he seems most focused on working as Jonathan Butler’s Music Director & drummer.

Additional Vocals: >> Tomasina Abate
Tomasina Abate’s rock band 'Tomasina' is a mainstay at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland Terrace - she also regularly appears in various stage productions for Disney as well as many others.

Guest Violin: >> Eliza James
Eliza James is a prolific session violinist - currently she is the violin soloist in Burt Bacharach’s orchestra.

Guest Vocals: >> Ronny Cox
Ronny Cox is a veteran actor who has starred in everything from Desperate Housewives to Star Trek, but perhaps he is best known for his breakout role in ‘Deliverance’ & his part in the iconic dueling-banjos scene. When he is not acting Ronny tours the world as a first-rate singer-songwriter.

Guest Vocals: >> Cedric Berry
Cedric Berry has been a performing member of LA Opera for more than fifteen years; he is also the Program Coordinator for USC’s Film & Television Production Division.

Guest Vocals & Banjo: >> Jim Kweskin
Jim Kweskin gained fame & notoriety in the 1960s with The Jim Kweskin Jug Band - after a long hiatus, he has in recent years returned to music with new albums and a regular concert schedule, often appearing with fellow jug band member: >> Geoff Muldaur

Producer: >> Willie Wisely
Willie Wisely is an accomplished singer-songwriter with fifteen albums to his credit. In addition to his own work, he has also produced albums for Andy Dick amongst many others.

Engineering / Mixing / Additional Production: >> Justin Gariano
Justin Gariano has worked with artists ranging from Alicia Keyes & Paul McCartney, to Maroon 5 & Gnarls Barkley. He is also an excellent guitarist & songwriter in his own right.

Mastering: >> John Vestman
John Vestman is the pioneer of a mastering technique that utilizes separations for each instrument instead of traditional stereo files… the result is a very spacious & ambient sound that can be heard on many of the tracks on: ‘Ride What You Can’t Change’