I just added a new photo to an old article about an important event that took place back when I was a young teen. Ain't got nothing to do with art, but a lot to do with the complexities of a father and son relationship.
The original article, written 12 years ago: http://www.drawger.com/greenmonkey/?article_id=604
Greenbelt Land Trust in Oregon called me in late May of this year, asking if I'd be interested in creating a short animation for their website. GLT Executive Director, Michael Pope, and Development Director, Jessica McDonald, were looking for something that would, in thirty seconds to one minute, show what they do. They wanted to to be fun and not pedantic. Although I'm not a pro animator, I was intrigued by the subject matter and thought about it for a few days.
As a long time professional illustrator, I have the necessary skills to submit sketches and, when the client makes changes (which they most often do), I whine for a while, but I always come through with the goods. However, since I've only created my hand-made animations for myself. Which, of course, means I can enter into the project with an idea in mind, but, since I haven't shown storyboards or even an outline to anyone, I can change course at any point in the project. That's why, despite all the work involved in making motion pictures, I've enjoyed creating them over the years.
With that in mind, I decided to write to GLT with this proposal (edited):
I've done some animation commercially, but only as a designer, meaning I provide characters and backgrounds, etc. A professional animation company creates the finished animation. The animations that I've done entirely on my own that have been created as personal projects. I'm not faced with a deadline and there's no client needs to be met. Since there is no input from others, I simply do what I want to do. All of my personal animations are done in traditional 2D style. They are loads of work and, despite all the great computer software now available, all animation takes time to produce. I'm also a musician, so I get the opportunity to create the music and soundtracks.
If you are still interested, I'd be happy to make a fun, Elwoodian animation for Greenbelt Land Trust, but unless I were to hire a pro animator to do the actual animation, I would want lots of freedom to do what I've done in my own personal animations. You'd have the right, of course, to decline what I come up with. I'd want some kind of small kill fee for the hours spent on the project if you reject it, but we can discuss that fee to make it fair.
Michael and Jessica loved my 2D animations and were game to give the project a go-ahead as I presented it. I worked on ideas off and on while finishing up final art for a kids' book and began working on the project in earnest about two weeks after I accepted the assignment.
In this article, you can view some of my early sketches for the Cave Man and the Modern Man. I initially tried to create the art in Photoshop's frame animation program (which I'd only recently discovered), but found it unwieldy. Partly, I'm sure, because I don't really know the software. I may return to it one day.
I ended up going with the great vector software, Toon Boom Studio, my old standby. I normally output the work as a QuickTime movie, which is bitmap, but beginning with vector allows me to output a variety of file sizes, from HD to tiny iPhone movies.
I used a borrowed Wacom Cintiq 18SX tablet, drawing directly into TBS. (Maggie bought me the amazing Cintiq 21UX for my birthday, but the unit was back ordered. Sadly, I wasn't able to use it on this animation, but happily my new Cintiq arrived last week!
I exported a large QuickTime of the animation from TBS and imported it into iMovie "11 for final editing, including adding the sound effects and musical score.
I created the music in GarageBand--where, much to my amazement and delight, I can create symphonic music, even though I can't read a note of music!)
Here's a link to my Mac MobileMe Gallery where the animation now resides: E.S. GLT Animation
(If you can't play it, just upgrade your QuickTime player to the latest
Oops! I just realized that I'd forgotten to add some images and descriptive text. Sorry about that. I guess I tossed out my rough sketches, but here's a first run at my caveman. He's closer in feel to my normal illustration style and, while I liked him, I wanted the art to be simpler and more rolly polly and squat.
Ditto for my Modern Man.
Here they are, basically the same characters I used in the final animation. These are drawings I wanted to use as my models in my failed experiment using Photoshop's animation program. I love the watercolor texture in these, but since I ended up doing the art in Toon Boom Studio, it became vector art, which in Photoshop would have been bitmap. I'll have another go at the Photoshop system as soon as I have time.
Unlike real animators, I don't create pencil tests or do storyboards. One can argue that my animation suffers because I bypass that important process, but it's how I've chosen to do these things and, while I know there is lots of room for improvement, I'm happy with my results and, over time, I know I'll get better.
However, I do write a short outline for myself and I work out rough sketches and a timing sheet. The one shown here is a more finalized timing sheet, done after I'd worked up a nearly final animation in Toon Boom, but hadn't yet added color. I used this sheet to create my soundtrack and it gave me an idea where the sound effects would fall.
The Attacker characters as drawn using the vector animation software, Toon Boom Studio.
Foliage elements created with pen on watercolor paper that were never used, but were models for the final animation.
A screenshot of my Toon Boom Studio workspace while working on the GLT project.
Screenshot 2 of the GLT project in TBS.
GLT Soundtrack in GarageBand.
If anyone wants to see larger images of any of these, let me know and I'll publish them as images only. -ES
In the “The Nomads” article below, I touched upon my guitar lessons with Cootch and Mabel. The photo of Mabel’s kitschy furnishings and the two of them sitting there, making music on their guitars, piqued the interest of several Drawgerites. A little more information about the Coutures, then, seems to be in order.
Cootch and Mabel were pivotal figures in my life, though I doubt they understood the powerful effect they had on me. I probably neglected to tell them at the time how much they instilled in me a love of making music, although I did thank Cootch many years later, when I visited him in a retirement home. I brought along an acoustic guitar and he and I played some old tunes together.
Clarence "Cootch" Couture and his wife, Mabel were old friends of my parents. When my mom and dad bought & refurbished a small resort on Long Lake, 9 miles north of Alpena, Michigan, Cootch and Mabel showed up for a week’s vacation with guitars in tow. For seven, sublime nights, I sat mesmerized, watching Mabel coax unworldly, ethereal sounds from her Oahu Hawaiian guitar, while Cootch sang Hank Williams songs, punching out sock rhythm chords on his yellow-sparkle Supro.
After the Coutures departed, my parents asked me if I would be interested in taking lessons with Cootch. I’d failed miserably as a grammar school coronet player, but the guitar touched my soul. I showed up at the Couture’s home the following week carrying my father’s small, out-of-tune, old flattop guitar.
Every week, Cootch and I would work our way through an Oahu Method “Spanish Guitar lesson. The Oahu company began in 1936, publishing Hawaiian guitar tablature lessons and they eventually added regular guitar and accordion lessons. Later on, the company sold guitars, amps and other music related equipment. When guitars went electric, Supro supplied Oahu with guitars.
If the impromptu jam sessions that followed my lessons weren’t incentive enough to keep me coming back week after week, Mabel’s huge, homemade sugar cookies were. I learned little from the Oahu lessons, but at lesson’s end, Mabel would head to the kitchen, emerging with three glasses of milk and a plateful of gigantic sugar cookies. Energized by white flour and sugar, we picked up our guitars again and the real fun began. Cootch & Mabel knew dozens of classic country tunes and popular standards from the 40’s and 50’s. With chord charts spread out on my music stand, I’d struggle along with the tunes, applying as much as I could from my previous lessons. I spent months wrestling with that rascally closed F chord, but I was determined to get it clean and on time. I wanted desperately to be an active participant in the magic.
This event took place some 50 years ago, yet I recall vividly the smell of the cookies and the warmth permeating Cootch & Mabel's apartment. Thank you, my long departed teachers. Making music was, for you, a spiritually enriching, joyous occasion and you led me to the temple.
A while back, I sent this picture to my pal, Steve Bartles (the bassist on John Platania - Lucky Dog).
A '57 Carvin--photo thanks to Peter at musurgia.com
He wrote back, asking if it was my Supro, a guitar I'd often talked about.
Nope, I responded, my father built that guitar. I'd learned to play his old small-bodied acoustic and I was chaffing at the bit for an electric guitar. Money was tight and Dad was handy with tools, so he decided to build me one.
Catalog page thanks to Kevin at the Carvin Museum
We probably ordered the pickups from this 1957 catalog sheet.
Supro Dual-Tone - Cherry Sunburst
PART 2: MY SUPRO
My particular model seems to be rare, but I finally found a pic on the web of a Supro Dual-Tone that looks nearly identical to mine. My Supro sported a two-teared pickguard, otherwise it looked just like this beauty. It had a contact-type pickup built into the bridge along with the two humbuckers. A great short-scale guitar. It's the one I used in nearly every band I played in while I lived in Alpena, including "Johnny Woytaszek & the Thunder Bay Polka Jax".
Me again with Dad's guitar
PART 3: THE NOMADS
This photo was taken at Al Zdan's store, Long Lake Supermarket, in probably 1958. Al is the other guy in the first photo. I was taking guitar lessons with a my first guitar teachers, Cootch and Mabel, and as I progressed, I taught Al what I'd learned. I remained the lead guitarist, but Al was an excellent rhythm player. Al began with that archtop guitar in the picture, but he switched to a double-neck Carvin-inspired guitar that my dad helped him build. My first band featured Al on his double-neck (short-scale bass on top and guitar below) with me on lead guitar and my pal, Bill Wright (now my brother-in-law) on drums. Bill was an excellent Hawaiian guitar player (now most often called lap steel), but we needed a drummer. Hawaiian guitar back then was for sissies. Al had a drum kit over at the store, so Bill became our drummer--learned it within a few weeks. He didn't need to be much of a drummer, since Al and I were greenhorn guitarists. What we lacked in technique, we made up for in innocence, blind ignorance and enthusiasm.
My guitar teacher, Clarence "Cootch" Couture and his wife, Mabel with her Oahu lap steel in 1964
Our first gig: New Year's Eve at the local Disabled American Veteran's Hall. Actually it was a bar. My father, a WW II vet, landed us the gig. We'd only learned a half dozen, maybe ten tunes. We needed a waltz, it turned out, so we played "Down in the Valley". The audience danced and when they weren't dancing, they drank. A lot. So, no one noticed the same handful of tunes being played over and over and over. When we finished up at the end of the night, the bartender, a beefy guy named Spigelmyre who ran the place, asked us how much we charged. We gave him blank stares. Huh, we're getting paid? Spigelmyre said, okay, how about fifteen bucks? He walked back to the bar, leaving three grinning teenagers tossing back Vernor's Ginger Ale. Wow, five bucks apiece! We couldn't believe our good fortune. The bartender returned to our table and handed us forty-five bucks. Fifteen smackaroos EACH! Fame and fortune was just around the corner. We learned some more songs, bought matching bolo ties and came up with a cool name. "The Nomads". The perfect name for a band that had never traveled thirty miles beyond Alpena.
Historians write endlessly about artists from the late 50's. You know, those country hicks who became cool, like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins & Elvis. Yeah, they were great musicians, but isn't it time to finally recognize those boys from Alpena: Elwood Smith, Bill Wright and Al Zdan? The Nomads.
Rob Saunders was curious about the big blonde I held in my arms at the Bond Street "Ben Day & the Zipatones" gig. From info I've gleaned from the web, Rob is correct, it is a Epiphone Zephyr Deluxe Regent from the early 50's. A fickle Gemini, I've gone through a slew of guitars and mandolins over the years, always in the hopes of finding the "perfect" axe. I ran upon this dandy Epiphone (which, sadly, I no longer own) in a shop on 48th Street. As I recall, I had a measly $700.00 in my CitiBank account from which I withdrew $500.00 to buy this lovely archtop. I was mostly a bluegrass picker and I knew acoustic flat-top guitars like vintage Martins, but I knew very little about the world of archtops. Obviously, this Zephyr Deluxe with it's nifty Art Deco details, would have been a fine investment. The pickups, as you can see in the photo, were cradled with lovely, almost amber, Bakelite. It was not a carved archtop but had, like many acoustic-electrics of that era, laminated top, sides and back. I now have a Bob Benedetto carved archtop, so I don't weep when I think of this long, lost guitar, but it was fun to play, a delight to hold and a treasure among great vintage archtop guitars. I wish I had taken better pictures, but I'm posting a fairly good, but soft focus, pic I found on the web (which I'll remove if I need to--I can't recall where I got it) along with a couple more pics taken at the Bond Street event.
Here I am, back then & 20 pounds lighter, playing a Rockabilly G chord on that blonde babe.
Wow, I've moved up up the neck to get, yes, a G chord! "G", the People's Key. Or is that "C"?
This photo, found on the web, was labeled "Epiphone Zephyr Deluxe Regent, 1951" and it looks to be nearly identical to the one I owned.
I learned to play guitar when I was about 15 years old and I've continued to play music in one form or another throughout my life. My brother, Dave (about 18 months my junior & my childhood sidekick) learned to play drums in high school, but lost interest in performing once he headed off for college. I guess the ham in me kept me going. Over the years, I harbored a dream that Dave would learn to play guitar, mandolin or banjo and, whenever he would trek from Michigan to visit me in New York or I would end up in my Michigan hometown to visit him, we'd haul out our instruments and, much like the Everly Brothers, we'd create the special kind of music only family members can make.
But Dave didn't learn to play the banjo or the mandolin. Not even the ubiquitous guitar turned his head. No matter, my dream, like a vaporous barnacle, was in it for the long haul. Opportunity knocked in mid-September. My sister, Jude, and Dave and his wife, Elaine, journeyed from Tennessee & Michigan to Rhinebeck for a short visit. One morning, during my daily walk, inspiration struck. An idea for a video, followed the lyrics to the perfect Dave song began rattling around my head. I'd hit upon a way to realize my dream. I arrived home, jotted down "Rats & Nails" and asked Dave if he'd be willing to be an actor in a short video. Uh, yeah, okay. How could he refuse his older brother?
I tuned my tenor banjo (4 strings, short neck) to an open tuning so Dave could strum it without worrying about chords. The song was short and simple--no chord changes & a bluesy, modal melody. Dave sings occasionally in a choir, so it was a piece of cake. We needed a set. The dining room was chosen, chairs were moved and living room floor lamps were brought in. Dave gamely allowed me a half dozen or so takes. As payment, he demanded a supply of Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre ale, which he soon began carrying with him as he trundled on and off the stage.
Dave suggests cracking open a dark ale before viewing this small movie. Damned fine advice, banjo man.
Due to popular demand for some Polecat tunes (1 demand: Zimm) I've decided to start a E.S. Music category.
I don't have any digitized versions of music by The Polecats and we never got around to creating an album, but I'll try to transfer some of our rehearsals from tape to my computer. If they are worth a damn, I'll post a couple of songs. Happily, I CAN post a tune sung by the core of the Polecats.
The song comes from a musical Maggie and I created some years back, "Grumpy Lou & His Kazoo". I wrote the songs and, later on, Maggie created the "book" for the live production that we did locally at the Rhinebeck Center For Performing Arts. It was not a common garden variety musical. Partly because I don't have the skills to create one, but it was also an opportunity to try something different. We projected about 600 slides from 4 carousels (it'd all be done digitally today) cropped from some 200 drawings I'd created, during which, the marvelous J.T. Carlisle read the story with gusto. The band wove the songs in and out of J.T.s reading following cues given by our esteemed musical director & keyboardist, Mark Vian. Our dear friend (master carpenter, actor & writer), Mike West, directed "Grumpy Lou" and showed up nearly every Sunday for months before our show date to help us put the complex slide show together. He also enlisted his talented wife, Deborah, as our female singer in the live production. It was true community theater and for all involved, it was a labor of love. Neither Maggie nor I had ever done anything like this and it was an amazing, creative, scary, joyous, sharing experience. The show ran for a three-day weekend and with sold-out performances. We were asked to do it again a month later. How could we not?
About the recording: The studio band featured Polecats Steve Bartles on lead & harmony vocal & bass; Russ Bonk on lead & that nice, deep bass harmony vocal; Charles Prosser, harmony vocal & drums, Tim Hoolihan, harmony vocals & guitar and guest vocalist, Cathy Curtis. John Platania played lead electric guitar, rhythm acoustic guitar and acted as musical director. I played rhythm guitar and mandolin.
The story, written by Maggie Pickard, tells the tale of Grumpy Lou (real name, Ludwig McTiffle), a cantankerous feller who rides the range with his trusty horse, Buster, and tends his herd of talented Vocal Range Rabbits. Two ornery rascals, Peadog and Jellybone, finally manage to rustle the Range Rabbits and head for the hills to brainwash their hostages. Lou enlists Captain Condor, who has a fear of flying, to help him in his search. Here's some dialog when Lou first meets the Captain.
"Captain Condor at the ready! May I inquire, Sir, which of my many stunning military stratagems you require?"
"Raptor's peepers is supposed ta do a bang-up job a' spottin stuff. How's about flyin' over yonder ta see what ya kin see?"
"Flying?!!! No one said a word about flying!"
They encounter the Numbskulls, a "Slime bellied tricycle gang" with "rapacious murder in their flinty hearts" but manage, through the magic of music, to change the gang into a bunch of softies. Later on, Captain Condor meets and falls madly in love with Sylvia Snake. I may post their Bluegrassy love song later on. I may also share the song "Bad, Bad, Bunny Blues", sung by Peadog & Jellybone while brainwashing the helpless Range Rabbits.
I wrote "Doggone It, Now You Did It" to show the Numbskulls' miraculous change of heart. The song is in Western Swing style and John plays delicious breaks on his vintage Stratocaster. The Polecats handle the Western Swing style of singing admirably. Hope you enjoy.
Okay, here's the Bad, Bad Bunny Blues as promised. Thing is, I'd forgotten that I sing on it and that's never a pretty picture. Steve Bartles plays bass and sings the part of Jellybone and, for reasons lost to the decades (and the beer, chips & spicy bean dip being devoured in the recording studio), I took over the roll of the dastardly Peadog. Seems to me, upon a current listening, that I'm overacting--trying to make the character mean and, in the process, becoming nearly unintelligible at times. Should have gotten John to sing the part, but what's done is done. Click Here For "Bad, Bad Bunny Blues"
Of course, that's John Platania playing those sweet & low-down bad dog blues licks.
I was born in Alpena, Michigan which had a single radio station, WATZ. They played a wide variety of music--the popular songs back then (the 1940's and 1950's), bluegrass from Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, country artists like Roy Acuff & Hank Williams, Western Swing artists like Bob Will, MIlton Brown and the Brownies, singing cowboys like Roy Rogers & Gene Autry and Swing Jazz artists like Benny Goodman and Count Basie.
Bluegrass songs often focused on tragic themes--men throwing their girlfriends into the Ohio River, miserable fathers in a drunken stupor knocking over an oil lamp, allowing their kids to be burned to death. I was fascinated by those horrifying, cautionary tales.
"Fire in Arkansas" flowed from my mandolin, a popular bluegrass instrument. I approach songwriting in several ways, sometimes with a theme in mind, sometimes playing around with words and very often playing around with my guitar until a song begins to emerge. Fire in Arkansas began with a simple mandolin riff. The melody led me to the story. I knew from the first chords that a house would be set on fire. I saw a mother standing on a porch calling out for her son. I was there, with him, hiding behind the tree. I could smell the dust as they left him behind. The dead white birch tree wasn't only camouflage, it added an element of dread to the story.
The story came to me as I played the mandolin like an actual story remembered. The kid crossed the yard and entered the shed. I could smell the oil and the gasoline and feel the heat as the sun rose in the Arkansas sky. I could have placed the story anywhere, but I liked the look and sound of the word, Arkansas.
I was the eldest son and my father took me hunting at an early age. I had mixed feelings of pride and horror when I killed rabbits and partridge, but I liked being with my father, carrying a gun, walking at his side. Movie war heroes and B-Western cowboys carried guns. This was way beyond cap pistols. Because I had hunted, it was natural to have the kid grab a shotgun.
In my first draft, I had the kid burn the house, kill the sheep and run off to hide in a farmer's field. A short time later, he was captured by the local sheriff. Or maybe his dad. It felt more true to this kid's nature to have him climb into the hayloft, in an exhausted daze after the slaughter, and fall asleep. There was no escape.
His father found him sleeping in the hayloft And killed his only son on the way to hell He sits staring at the knuckles of both hands Two murder weapons in a prison cell
I was amazed when those last two lines fell into place. They are perfect. The guards remove all weapons from prisoners, but this violent man keeps his, reminding him every day of his violent deed.
John Platania is a wonderful musician and a warm, unpretentious guy. I met him at The Clubhouse, a local recording studio many years ago. I was at the studio recording a tune with my bass player pal, Steve Bartles for a short video I was making. Since John was hanging around, I asked him to trade lead guitar licks with me on my tune. I wasn't a fan of Van Morrison, so I had no idea John was his friend and had been his guitarist in the old days. I also didn't know he'd played and/or recorded with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins, and Randy Newman. So, in the bliss of ignorance, I asked and John said yeah, sure. I also didn't know John was a singer until I heard him play locally. We were friends by then so I hired him to play guitar on and arrange a 3-song demo for me. A year later I hired John (at a reduced rate, thank the muses) to work up a full album of my songs. To entice him further, I funded the project, and allowed him pretty much total creative freedom. I vetoed a few things (as executive producer) and I was there throughout the entire recording and mixing process, but I tried to stay out of the way. This was John's first solo (and vocal) album and I wanted to honor that. The creation of Lucky Dog is a creative highlight in my life.
Fire in Arkansas is the only song on Lucky Dog with a bluegrass feel & features me playing mandolin--the only time I make an appearance. John handles all the guitar work on the CD. Steve is on bass, Zoe B. Zak on accordion and Brian Doherty & T Xiques on drums, along with a couple of other great musicians appearing here and there (all listed on the CD).
PS: 1 minute clips from the other songs are available on my website: Elwood's Website