In addition to songs I wrote for whatever band I was in, I also wrote stuff on the side for fun. I often wisecrack that I have a nasty habit of writing songs. Self-effacing as always, I downplay my solo stuff and assume it won’t wash with whatever hipsters are in power at the time, or is never as good as the stuff with my “real bands.” I would usually sneak into a studio or create tunes on my own 4-track TEAC cassette deck. These projects were done hurriedly and on the sly, quickly thrown together with minimal rehearsal, as contrasted to the bands that benefited from hours and hours of practice. Despite this handicap, however, I was faced with a growing dilemma: regular people actually liked what I did. Regular people are defined as people who were not as obnoxiously opinionated as I was. I am hoisted with my own petard when I in turn measure my stuff against what is hip. As the band Tower of Power sang back in 1973: a) “What is hip? Tell me, tell me if you think you know” and b) What’s hip today might become passe.” So, where I’m at with my legacy material, especially the unreleased solo stuff, is I just want to air this old stuff out, get it off my hard drive, and lay it out for you. And the best part? While I hope you like it, if you don’t it won’t destroy me any more. I simply like sharing the music.
From about 1984 through 1999, I kept at it. I’ve put most of this music under the music tab of this website and have also pulled out some of them here as direct links in this chapter. In the 1980s I played a few solo shows, as either Ken Moss (with an all-lesbian band anchored by Shelly Loconto of Acrylix) or Age of Animals (with Joe Stork and Jim Landry) at the old DC Space in downtown DC. I think I even had one show using the name Killer Elite. Here are some live recordings from 1985: Boys and Girls is short and sweet. Daddy was actually written before I had children (“Daddy, call home, they said you had one too many”), but reminds me of driving home after having too much too drink, with my head sticking out the drivers side window, telling myself over and over “you have two children now, you have two children now.” Living by Your Wits (“I been hangin’ ‘round, with my big foot on the line, and even though I got one leg, that single boot does shine.”) has a nice spooky keyboard riff by Jim Landry.
In the studio, I did Flip It Over - autobiographical, with the lyrics “gonna tell the folks back home, their bright-eyed boy would rather go it alone.” Also This Side of Style - things got a little out of hand in the studio; friends of mine have performed it in a more muted, folky way. As the title implies, it’s about not fitting in, being uncool: “I get the feeling everywhere I go, I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know what I know.” I’m Still Waiting is another early one, with a nice intro guitar riff. Finally, I like Freedom and Stand Tall, because they satisfy my arena/anthem rock urges.
After our second child, Connor, was born in 1991, I kept my chops up. That year, I was in a group called Phantom Gear, formed by my friend Steve Carmody (a superb luthier and guitar repairman, see http://guitarrepairshop.com/). Steve reminds me that I participated in an interview with the band on a Virginia local cable music show and when asked what the goals of the band were (mind you, I had joined maybe a week or two before, so it was quite humorous that I would speak for the band), I said - "We want to be bigger than the Beatles.” I had a great time with them, but could only do it for that year. In the mid-90s, I participated in a musicians collective called Takoma Zone with various Takoma Park MD musicians at gigs and open mic nights, both acoustic and rock, but I basically devoted myself to working and child-rearing. I did have a chance to record my song Hollywood with Lucy Bocchiaro of Phantom Gear (see photo below) on vocals.
Hollywood leads me to Laughing Sam. In the late 1990s, I discovered that my new neighbor was Tom Lyle from Government Issue, DC punk powerhouse. Tom has the best guitar tone I’ve ever heard. I kept pestering him to record me until he agreed to produce a CD of my material under the name Laughing Sam (taken from Hendrix’s The Stars that Play with Laughing Sam’s Dice). We recorded 11 tracks that were experimental deconstructions of sweet little songs of mine - I mean, I really could be a commanding figure in the kid’s folk music genre. Tom hipped them up, taking many liberties with novel arrangements, sounds and titles. So, the Hollywood I mentioned previously was given a different arrangement. I Will Comfort You - which I wrote back in the 1980s and have played and recorded a godzillian times, was tricked out with sitar and became Julie, Cross the Ocean, which I sang for my daughter Melissa at her high school graduation, became Your Biggest Fan.
I kept a lot of my rock and roll under wraps while the kids were young, kept them in the dark like Tony Soprano’s kids. I also spent a lot of time in the basement watching basketball games and David Letterman on TV while everyone was sleeping. I was just Dependable Dad. Two music-related memories capture the duality, both involving carpools. First was dropping a load of kids off at school and on the way home blasting Sunshine of Your Love from Live Cream Volume II. I am sure I wasn’t the only Dad playing loud rock music in an empty family van. The second was blasting (blasting figures prominently in these memories) The Mercy Seat by Nick Cave on the way home from dropping Connor off at summer school. I credit Tom Lyle with turning me on to Nick Cave - he burned a few cassette tapes for me that I carried around for the expressed purpose of keeping me company on those solitary return trips from carpool dropoffs. The part of the trip where the car was filled with kids was nice and quiet and wholesome and filled with dumb kids’ gossip. I’m sure I wasn’t the only Dad letting off steam this way.
It wasn’t until my 50th birthday party, in 2003, that my son Connor first saw me play loud music with a bunch of people I had gathered, including my guitar teacher (and Nils Lofgren band member) Buck Brown, and Marcus and Jim reuniting with me to play Dear John. Connor was impressed, and soon switched from Suzuki cello to drums. In 2004, we and his friend Tommy Sherrod (great producer, recording engineer, see @tommy.tapes on Instagram) on bass, played music together at his Bar Mitzvah reception in 2004. I recall playing Superstition by Stevie Wonder and some Parliament-Funkadelic. Amazingly, owing to the timing of my bands and her various life events, like being away at college, my daughter Melissa did not see me play on stage with a band until 2013, when I was with 7 Door Sedan (it’s coming, I swear). Connor played guitar in a death metal band (He has looong fingers) and later got into the Dead and Phish, whereupon I just had to cut off all ties with him. I’m kidding!
So, that’s what I did early on. By 2007, the kids were in high school and college, and I was having a full-blown mid-life crisis, so I went sniffing around for the next thing.
Next stop: 7 Door Sedan and The Ken Moss Experience (KME).