Friday, December 24, 2010

Bob Malone's Famous Eggnog Recipe (serves 1)

In small bowl, over sink, beat until light:

1 Egg yolk
Beat in slowly:
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1/4 Cup Cream
A dash of salt
Set mixture aside.
Fill one large (12oz) rocks-glass with:
Bourbon or Rye whiskey
Carefully lift small bowl, and pour egg yolk mixture into sink.
Drink whiskey.

Have a fine holiday season, and remember these words of wisdom from
Mark Twain:

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is just barely enough."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It Never Hurts To Ask

It all began with an email from a 14-year old kid in Switzerland named Richard Freigang, and it went something like this:

“My dad is turning forty this year, and his three favorite musicians are Jimi Hendrix, Janis Jopin, and Bob Malone. Since you are the only one of the three still alive, we are hoping you will come to Switzerland and play for his birthday party.”

Who could say no to such a proposal? I let it roll around in my head for a day or two and then responded in the affirmative. A day later I heard from Richard’s mom, who was astounded that I replied at all. No one in the family thought I would. I would have told them what the kid already suspected: it never hurts to ask.

Mom had some connections in the music biz and said she would get me a plane ticket and put together a tour for me in Germany and Switzerland. And so she did. Great gigs, too. I believe her inexperience allowed her to wade in, unjaded, and ask for stuff a more experienced agent would have thought too lofty to attain.

It never hurts to ask.

So last night I played the birthday party. It was a surprise-party, so after soundchecking the microphone and the 100-year old piano in the tiny living room, I was then sent into hiding in the cellar for the next four hours with nothing for company but my laptop, a white longhaired cat that I was deathly allergic to and a terrarium containing 12 baby turtles. I am a big fan of both cats and turtles, so we got along ok. By the time they liberated me from the cellar, the living room was stuffed beyond comprehension with friends and family of the honoree, and I was in desperate need of the toilet. This would have to wait, however.

Stefan (that’s the dad), cried tears of joy and shocked surprise during most of the first song. I don’t think I was ever happier with my career choice than at that moment. My job, when you strip away all the things I think it is, and other people think it is – both wrong, incidentally – is to make people happy. There is no better gig in the world.

During the three days since arriving at Zurich on an 11-hour flight from L.A., I have been hiding out in a snug little apartment procured for me by Barbara (that’s the mom) in Rapperswil, a charming little town on Lake Zurich, a half-hour by train from the city. There is no wifi here, no TV shows in English. For a short while, I became acutely aware of my addiction to the Internet and my TiVo box, but soon the soothing rhythms of the pre-digital life I once knew took over. There is a small selection of classical CDs here, and I have been getting intimate with J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio…all three discs worth of it. I have just finished a wonderful book by Elisabeth Tova Bailey called “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.” The author, left immobile and bedridden my a mysterious illness, spent a year prone in a spare bedroom with no company save that of a tiny woodland snail, an accidental passenger in a pot of field violets brought in by a friend. She learned much about our place in the world from this creature. Sometimes we come out the other side better off when separated from all the chaos we think we need to thrive.

Everyday I hear the kids in the apartment above practicing cello and violin. The kid on cello is sounding quite good – sounds like he’s got a few years on the one scratching out tunes on the violin. In any case, it’s a pleasant enough cacophony. And they are not wasting away the hours playing Guitar Hero, they’re playing guitar…so to speak. Which they will thank their parents for later.

Tonight, I played a wonderful venue full of very enthusiastic people right here in Rapperswil. It was one of those nights that reminded me of how very lucky I am to be a musician. Tomorrow, I’m off to Berlin for the next leg of the tour.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Eddie Horst - You Will Be Missed

After a long battle with clinical depression, my friend Eddie Horst killed himself this week. He was well known as a great composer and arranger, and an energetic and inspiring spirit. He did orchestral arrangements for Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Train, REM, Natalie Cole, all kinds of famous people like that. But to me, he was a true mentor.

In 1985, I was a newly-minted freshman at Berklee College of Music in Boston - 18 years old, just off the boat from New Jersey. One of the first people I met was Eddie. He was fourteen years older than I was and had gone back to school to learn arranging. To a kid like me he was a gargantuan presence. He'd been a professional musician for over a decade, and was already moving on from the things I hoped to do one day. I used to go over to his little apartment in the Back Bay and bring records I liked, or play songs I was working on. He would explain to me what was good and what was crap, always with respect. He saw something in me as a musician that few people saw then, and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. One day at the little apartment, he took out his copy of "Randy Newman Live at the Bitter End" and said: "I've met very few people who could truly appreciate this, but I think you are one of those few. " It was a life-changing experience.

After college, ten years passed before I saw Eddie again. By then I had started touring and playing my songs, and I would show up in Atlanta from time to time to do a show. We would see each other occasionally, and exchange an email or a phone call once in a while. I was in L.A., he was in Atlanta, and we didn't see that much of each other. But I always felt that so much of what I had become was due to the attention Eddie showed me when I was young and green.

In 2008, when I was working on my latest album, I asked Eddie if he'd be interested in doing a string arrangement for one of the songs. "I don't have a lot of money," I said. He said not to worry about it. The arrangement he sent over a week later was a thing of beauty, like all the work he did. The tune was called "St. Christopher" and it was the tale of a man facing hopelessness and loneliness with only that fabled patron saint of travelers to help him through. Eddie always told me how much he loved that song. Now I think I know why.

May you rest in peace, Eddie Horst. And wherever you are, I hope Saint Christopher is riding shotgun tonight.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New York, New York

I've been in New York all week. It's Fashion Week, which means lots of models walking around right before the winter coats come out of the closet. Nice. Tuesday, I got an invite to the Bambu Apparel party, where I found myself surrounded by models while getting a tutorial on how to tie a bowtie. Like most things of this ilk, It's a long story...

The tour started in Philly, and I took the Chinatown bus from there to get to NYC. Eleven bucks! Given a choice between crapping my pants and using the bathroom in that bus, I would have had to think long and hard about it, but otherwise it wasn't too bad. Dropped me off walking distance from my friend's loft in Soho. "We are not," said the sign on the bus, "responsible for any belonging." Yet I felt as if I belonged anyway.

This weekend, on Friday 9/17, we do our second Midnight in Manhattan show at Iridium Jazz Club at B'way and 51st. And on Saturday 9/18 at 7:30, we do our New England CD Release show at Johnny D's Uptown in in Somerville, MA. First 20 people in the door get a free video single. And on Sunday, 9/19, an intimate solo show at Space Mountain House Concerts in Coopersburg, PA. RSVP Mike Space at mike@spacefamily.netfor details and directions.

And as always, butts in seats mean we can keep coming back to play your town get your butt in a seat. I promise to make it worth your while.

Meanwhile, back in CA, a last minute gig has been added on 9/25, at the Castaic Days Festival up in Lake Castaic, CA. If you're up that way...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quotes From The Road

I've been on the road these last few days, touring the Midwest with Christa Hillhouse, Jonny Blu, and Adam Gust. As the days go by, and the claustrophobia of the truck, the stage, and the hotel makes everyone increasingly punchy, funny things get said. Here are some highlights, along with a couple of clips of us live from the's not all just comedy, you know - we're actually playing some music out here, too!

BOB: "Tobacco itself is not addictive, cigarettes are addictive because..."
CHRISTA: "Cigarettes are addictive because I need something to smoke instead of crack!"

BOB: "Adam, all you gotta worry about is making sure your groove is making me comfortable. If I look like my ass is so clenched up that I won't be able to shit for a week, then you're probably not grooving."
CHRISTA: "Yeah, you're either a saddle or a buttplug!"

ADAM: That drumhead looks like my face in high school!"

ME: "I appreciate that he thinks I'm great and all, but the guy was so drunk I was kinda wishing he'd hated my act so he would be gone by now."

CHRISTA: "You hoochie mammas leave my boys alone! My boys are good boys! My boys are clean boys!"

ME: "If there is a God, I don't think it's anything like the God any organized religion has come up with."
JONNY BLU: "Yeah, theirs is more like Santa Claus, only really fucking ripped."

ME: Look, a Hooters! They actually have really good wings."
CHRISTA: "Yeah, but I find the premise disturbing."
ME: "Intellectually, I agree with you..."
CHRISTA: "...but your dick thinks they have really good wings."

CHRISTA: "I found a good parking spot, up against a bush, so our shit won't get stolen."
ME: "I think it's a good policy to be up against a bush whenever possible."

ME: I've decided I'm going to start drinking again when I turn seventy."
CHRISTA: "That's the stupidest fucking idea I've ever heard!"

CHRISTA: "The best thing about drugs is they make you not care...the worst thing about drugs is they make you not care."

ME: "This traffic sucks ass."
CHRISTA: "And not in a good way."

Live at Zoo Bar, Lincoln, NE - 6/25/10

Anarchy in the Backyard

I sit on a large American deck, in a large American chair. Eating a muffin that could easily feed three large Americans, if they were paying attention. I am surrounded by large American houses, too large by half for the families within. But what the hell, I'd buy one myself, if I had the means. The houses are nestled around a large man-made lake, also American. The air is filled with a symphony of lawnmowers, keeping the grass civilized. The next house over, a group of middle-aged women laugh too loudly over bridge and cocktails. Suburbia, baby. The American Dream. Cheever people in the flesh. My roots.

Artificial, you say? Unnatural, you say? Hopelessly bourgeois, you say? I would have agreed once, but marking the difference between city, suburb and country is now pointless. There is now only the difference between the real world and the virtual world. Because we have all lost touch with the real world, haven't we?

I am writing longhand in the sun, entranced by the drone of the lawnmowers, untethered by the electronic chains that bind me. Free, if for just a moment, from my self-imposed prison of connectivity. Anarchy in the backyard.

I will not be answering your texts. Your IM messages. Your facebook messages. Your emails marked URGENT!! Your grammatically unsound tweets. Your phone calls, shouted unintelligibly into a bluetooth. You look like a crazy person, talking to yourself. Stop it!

You are just going to have to wait. Because I do not like who I have become. This once focused person who is now just another ADHD butterfly. This once voracious reader who now cannot conquer more than three pages at a time as he skims the text with one eye on the page and one eye on the iPhone. This once prolific writer of songs and prose who now spends most of his time harried and distracted by a barrage of mostly useless information. This man who is so busy all the time, but getting hardly anything done. No, I do not like who I have become at all. 

So I am going to continue to sit on this deck in the sun. And in regard to your email, your text, your tweet, your IM, your MySpace comment, your Plaxo post, and/or your call of twenty-four June, I will not be responding. Bartleby said it best: I would prefer not to.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Yellow Firetruck

When I was a kid, they brought a fire-truck to our elementary school. This was Cozy Lake School in Milton, NJ. The year was probably 1973 or 1974, which means I was in the second or third grade. We were so very excited when the firemen showed up. We were going to climb all over the big red truck; sit in the driver's seat, ring the bell, honk the horn. Except the fire-truck was not red. It was yellow. And I cried. Because fire-trucks are supposed to be red. 

Ever since that day, every expectation I have ever had about how things are supposed to be has been dashed by a yellow fire-truck. Magicians don't wear top-hats. No one dresses up for the theatre. People in power are, at best, disappointing, and mostly, outright scoundrels. Everybody lies about something. Mediocrity is richly rewarded, and greatness is scorned. The incompetent flourish, and the gifted wither. No good deed goes unpunished. Love and money will eventually become tragically intertwined. Trains are never steam trains, and they never have cabooses. 

And yes, as a sane, rational adult, I have learned to gracefully accept that things are never as they seem, and that life is not fair. And I have learned to not be bitter. Because the world may not always live up to my expectations, but it is a beautiful place, full of wonder and kindness, and I am lucky to be here.

But still, I wish that once...just once...the fire-truck would be red.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ghost of Cairns Past

"Nothing but opals and fucking plastic kangaroos for as far as the eye can see," said my wife. We are in Cairns, tropical north Queensland, Australia. Tourist hub for this land of perpetual summer, rainforests, white sand beaches, the Great Barrier Reef...and the deadly saltwater crocodile. My wife had just had a dispiriting look around the area immediate to my gig at the Cairns Reef Casino, and what she saw was a town designed from the ground up to further the belief that a Japanese tourist and his money are soon parted.

I wondered, though.

It seemed to me that the bones of another town lurked beneath the sanitized, corporate nowhere that much of the place had become. So I went exploring. I bought cuban cigars from a dusty tobacco shop.  No tourist dare show his face around the motley gathering of weathered locals therein. Sandwiched between the chain tchotchke emporiums and gleaming high-rise hotels I saw the few remaining places where the weird folks gathered. I saw weatherbeaten old buskers and beach bums...ghosts of Cairns past. A ragged-but-right reggae band played by the sea, and there is no more glorious sound on a sunny humid afternoon. There are still nude bathers on the Esplanade. And at dusk, a vast squawking colony of bats fanned out across the golden sky, in search of sustenance; an ancient ritual unconcerned with our little lives on the ground.

I'm guessing that the fate of this place mirrors that of Key West. It was once an out-of-the-way tropical backwater where hippies and eccentrics and boat fisherman who ran a little dope during the off-season could flourish peacefully among the live-and-let-live locals. And just like Key West, it was all over once the moneychangers stormed the temple.

The ernest well-scrubbed boosters and the Chamber of Commerce will crow that everyone is better off now that all this dough is coming in. But there are a few people with their souls intact who know better. If it had happened more slowly, you probably would have seen some "Keep Cairns Weird" bumper stickers. But I think it happened too fast for that.

And once the weird is gone, you can never get it back.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tales From A Sunburnt Country

Tour of Australia 2009

Part 1

New York to LA, LA to Sydney. After three weeks on the East Coast, I’m home for one day. Then it’s fifteen hours in the air, crammed into another Delta coach seat, Australia bound. 

I arrive at 6:30 am. At 9:30 I’m on the phone with a newspaper writer in Melbourne, pulling off charming and witty in spite of the massive time displacement. Jet lag doesn’t accurately describe what it’s like coming here. It’s more like time travel. Wheels up on Tuesday, land on Thursday. I keep moving, a nap would be deadly. Lunch at noon, then ABC radio in Sydney for a live one with Richard Glover. He’s a fan and a real pro, it went so fast and smooth I had no sense of even doing it. If only they could all be like this.

Back at the shack at 4:00, another press interview. This time I’m talking to Maria, from one of the papers in Perth. A land so exotic and far away that even most Australians have never been there. I will be there in two weeks. I’m still on, but it getting harder now.

7:00. We’re at a pub watching Pugsley Buzzard sing and play the piano. We’re doing a co-bill at the Basement in Sydney on Tuesday, and I’m sitting in to promote the show. Pugs sure can play the shit out of that piano. I have met my match, and I dig the challenge. I inhale a t-bone steak, play two songs, and head out of town with Mick the bass player to his place an hour south of town.

My head meets the pillow at 11:30, and I’m gone.

Awake in the am, the ocean booms softly below, the parrots call to each other in the trees. Paradise. Mick is set up here. We eat omeletes and drink strong coffee, get ready to go. Three hours to Canberra for another radio interview. We run out of gas within sight of a gas station, just as I am telling Mick how I love being on the road with him because he never fucks up. I figure he still didn’t fuck up because he ran out of gas so close to the station. The whole incident only sets us back 15 minutes.

Radio goes nicely. I banter with the host about drop bears and such, bang on the old upright. The horn section, which will be with me for the next four shows, is in the green room when I get back there. We have a quick verbal run-through of the charts, and then we all head out to The Great Southern Blues & Rockabilly Festival in Narooma. A hypothetical three hours away. There’s torrential rain, weekend traffic, and we’re stuck on a mountain two-lane behind an old camper with one of its rear brakes throwing sparks and fire. The trip takes over four hours.

In the backstage parking lot:

Me: “Where do we get our backstage passes?”

Parking Lot Guy: “I don’t know!”

At the front gate:

Me: “Where’s the Albert King Stage?”

Front Gate Woman: “I don’t know!”

Everyone here is on a need-to-know basis, apparently.

After much wandering in the pissing rain, we find the backstage entrance. Hugs all around with my good friends Gerry and Carmen Blaine. Gerry is the MC tonight. Candye Kane is ripping it up the next tent over, I want to drop by and never get the chance to. We say hi later via MySpace instead. Ahh, the modern world. Even as you gain something, you lose something better at the same time.

As showtime looms, the six-piece band I will be doing these shows with is finally assembled in one place. Half this band I am meeting for the first time. No rehearsal. They nail it. The crowd shows much love. It is a great night.

Back in my room at the La Salle Motor Inn, I have left my book backstage, and there is no wifi. Only the TV. No cable. A soul-numbing choice between “Thank God It’s Friday” or “Best Videos of the Eighties.” 1979 through 1989…was there ever a worse time for popular culture than those years? No, there was not. Disco, followed shortly by MTV and the drum machine. The music biz shot itself in the foot, and the patient never recovered.

This will be two days old by the time you lay eyes on it. And on the road, two days is a very long time.

Part 2

Day two, Narooma Blues Festival. Up at 7 am to croak out a radio interview by phone. I’ve already done so many of these this month that I honestly can’t remember where or what station he was calling from. It’s good to have publicity, though. I appreciate it, even if I don’t know exactly whom it is I should be appreciating. My voice is shredded. Sleep deprivation, damp cold weather, and a soundman who wouldn’t turn up the monitor have all contributed. There are soundmen, believe it or not, who are quite resentful when you ask them to, well…to do sound.

A little later, Mick and I join my good Aussie friends Gerry and Carmen for brekky (that’s what they call it here). Various folks who saw the show the night before come by to say hi and tell us how much they dug it. We talk and eat for a good long time. It’s raining too hard to explore the town or do much of anything. I head back to the room and fall asleep.

Later on, Mick and the horn section and I go out for the second worst Chinese food I’ve ever eaten. No Asians working at this place…we should have known. The first worst Chinese food I’ve ever eaten, if you’re wondering, was at this joint in Denver where they had a couple of giant Samoans cooking up the grub in the back. The year was 1990, and I was on my way out to L.A. to start my new life on the West Coast. So traumatized by this meal was I that I still remember it vividly after all these years. It was not, as they say, the business.

Backstage, there too early and bored, I flirt mildly with the pretty young thing at the backstage food counter. She is working the concession with her mother and grandmother. The grandmother is the most fun and lively of the three. She comes over to whisper in my ear that her granddaughter likes me, and then flits off like a schoolgirl. I got the feeling grandma wouldn’t have minded a crack at it herself. Mom remained bemused and indifferent. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But it mattered not, I’m married. Just like to check every now and again and see if I’ve still got the goods.

Onstage, getting ready to play, I hear the following exchange:

Mick the Bass Player: “Hey Steve, I’ve got some DW-40 tonight!”

Steve the Guitar Player: “No worries! I brought my gloves!”

I ask if they’d like to share a room for the rest of the tour.

Our tent is packed to capacity as we start the show. Lots of love and energy from the crowd, and the usual festival smattering of neo-hippie chicks with a nice buzz going doing that hippie noodle dance thing. I never get tired of watching this. When blues legend Charlie Musselwhite hits the stage the next tent over, we get quite a few defections from the crowd, but this is to be expected.

Postshow, back at the merch table, I sign CDs for fans and find out we have sold a shockingly good number of discs between our shows last night and tonight. One very friendly couple comes by with a photo they took of me playing at Blues on Broadbeach festival in 2006. They have carried it around for four years waiting to run into me so they can get an autograph on it. My first instinct was to confiscate the thing – I’d lost nearly 30 pounds since this photo was taken. Didn’t need THAT thing floating around, slowing inching it’s way to a nonstop appearance on the internet, where all your fat pictures live on and on. Even after you have dropped those pounds like a bad habit.

Back at the motel, Mick fixes my stuck boot zipper with some WD-40 and a piece of a keyring. It’s like having MacGyver on bass.

Sunday morning we drive the three hours back to Canberra, where we play a 3:00 show for the local blues society. This schedule is punishing, and the rain won’t let up. But tomorrow is a day off.

We stay for the night at Mick’s parent’s house. They are very kind, helpful and hospitable. The food is great, the beds are soft. The source of Mick’s many good traits revealed to me at last.

Tuesday is upon us before we know it. It is the night of our show at The Basement, probably the most revered and famous club in Australia. Everything is first-rate – the sound, the staff, the Steinway grand. It is the day after a three-day holiday weekend, and it’s raining. Not a recipe for great attendance, but a nearly full house shows up and we have a very fine show. Such a pleasure to play a place like this. For a crowd like this. With a band like this. On a piano like this. Nothing is getting in the way of us making the best music we can make. This is how it should be every night. I believe that I have clawed my way to within sight of that reality.

On the way back to Mick’s house in The Gong, we are starving. Hoping for an open kebab stand, we reach the last outpost of Sydney without seeing one. Desperate for sustenance, we pull into Mc Donald’s. I have a strict Only-Twice-a-Year policy about eating Mickey D’s. This will be my second and final transgression for 2009, and I am famished enough to deem it acceptable. Mick hasn’t eaten at a McDonald’s in fifteen years! He is already traumatized by what is about to happen. We order, and as we sit in the deserted late-night eatery, surrounded by plastic clown statues, which Mick is also having a hard time with, a man comes in with a mop and a rolling tub of water. He unceremoniously dumps the water all over the floor in front of us and starts to briskly spread it around. Soon, small breakers of soapy brown water are lapping against our shoes. It’s high tide at McDonald’s. Mick is appalled:

“Is this normal?” he asks the woman at the counter.
“No, we usually have security,” she says.

What is that supposed to mean? Security for the likes of us, or for the occasional rouge worker, heedlessly splashing water all over the customers?

I guess we’ll never know, we took the remainders of our burgers and got the hell out.

Today, we bask in the glow of the previous night’s performance, feed parrots and lorikeets out on the porch, and head back up to Sydney to visit our good friend Alison Penney.

Tomorrow we light out for Melbourne.

Part 3

Eight hours on the Hume Highway got us from Mick’s house in The Gong to gray and cloudy Melbourne. We made a dutiful stop at the “Dog on a Tucker Box” statue/tourist trap/restaurant. Perhaps the most underwhelming thing of its kind I have ever seen. And the coffee sucked. The small monument was easily overwhelmed by the wonderful scenery that surrounded it. I was struck once again by how similar the scenery in this part of the world is to that of central and southern California. You can tell that this continent broke off of the North American West Coast and floated away a few billion years ago, All back in the Dreamtime.

The ‘roo and wombat roadkill were legion, and hard for this Yank to get used to. It seemed like every five miles there was a disemboweled macropod having its entrails picked and pulled by fat black crows and ravens. Good eating for the birds, I guess.

That first night in Melbourne, we stayed with Mick’s old friend Cindy in a bohemian two-bedroom that reminded me of so many apartments I lived in when we all went to college in Boston and nobody went to college anywhere else. Right down to the scattered pools of melted candle wax, and the roommate twisting one up on the sprung and tattered couch. Cindy was sweet and accommodating, and made us welcome after a long journey. A long night of reminiscing and smoking and drinking was clearly in the making, so I grabbed a pillow in the bedroom and made my way to the land of Nod.

Our gig was right downtown at the Paris Cat Jazz Club. A great room in Mebourne’s delightful labyrinth of bustling, restaurant and coffee-bar filled alleyways. There was extremely subtle signage, and a trip through a wooden door downstairs to the club. A real nice jazz-type joint, with grand piano and drums already there. Like they were waiting for us. The place filled up and we did the show. A very good night. Met a guy that had just wandered in after attending the Slayer/Megadeth double bill at Festival Hall. He was flabbergasted at how hard we rocked with just a piano, bass and drums in a little room with no PA to speak of. A very enthusiastic new fan was born. I love shit like this.

Saturday I began the morning listening to the newly remastered “Abbey Road” on my friend John Lattanzio’s $20,000 audiophile speakers. As far as I’m concerned, they were worth every penny. It’s been 25 years since I heard the Beatles for the first time. I never thought I’d experience that electric feeling again in this lifetime.

Mick and Andy and I made the five-hour drive up to Mt. Beauty for the next gig. It was called Ian’s Place and then it was called Arby’s Place, and truthfully, we didn’t know what the hell to expect. It turned out to be a former gas station turned into a cool funky ski-lodge. All the work done by Ian…Arby for short, who greeted us at the door. There was a rented PA and no soundman. We set the gear up ourselves and discovered that there were no power cords at all. Showtime was in an hour. Mick called the store where the gear came from – two hours away on twisty mountain roads. After laying down the situation, he was greeted by stunned silence, followed by a long, impressive volley of swearing that almost made the whole thing worthwhile. Ian, in typically resourceful Aussie style, headed across the street to the local pub (and the only pub) and came back bearing aloft double handfuls of power cords. We soundchecked and gobbled dinner. The gig was unexpectedly great. A little like a house concert, but on a larger scale…they came from miles around. After it was over, Ian, Mick, Andy and I stood in the kitchen eating pizza and local homemade sausage and telling road stories. There was no discussion of sitting down to eat. We were male, and there were no women around to make us sit. It was a glorious evening.

After a big Aussie brekky in the mountain air, we headed back to Melbourne. My wife Karen had flown in that morning and set up camp at the swanky Langham Hotel, downtown by the river. After weeks of living low, I felt like an interloper as I checked my grimy bags and my grimy self into the room, where I found my much-missed girl waiting for me. And then, I was an interloper no more…

Part 4

I sit in an idyllic spot. French doors open onto a fairytale bedroom behind me. Before me is a Seussian grove of strange Australia flora and birds of every possible color and description. I am at the Pinda Lodge in Margaret River. This is wine country, the Napa of Oz. We are retreating from the road for two days, after being hard upon it for the last week. It’s hard to believe we only landed here in Western Australia just over a week ago.

This part of the journey began in Perth, the world’s most isolated capital city, where we were picked up by David from the Perth Blues Club and his teenage son Ben. We crammed way too much luggage into way too little car and sped off for our lodging, seventeen-year-old Ben at the wheel. Father-son banter was amusing, and an intriguing mixture of rebellious teen vs. dad, and two old friends busting balls. Finally we arrived…in the wrong driveway. What a difference one number can make. Further checking of the directions rectified the mistake. We were staying with Kirsty, Pugsley Buzzard’s sister. A very cool chick.

The following morning, I was on RTR radio with a host whose preparation was so thorough it bordered on stalking. I mean, she knew everything about me. It made for some unusually good radio. And reaffirmed my belief that being truly good at one’s job requires just a touch of manageable mental illness. I mean this in the best possible way.

After this we headed back to the airport to pick up Trysette. David, who works for the Australian Department of Conservation when not making things happen for the Blues Club, took us for lunch and walkabout in a lovely park and gave us instruction on all manner of local flora and fauna. The weather was glorious, the park was lovely, the view of Perth from the bridge breathtaking.

At four, we were at the Perth ABC radio station, where I did a song and a short interview with the host, who was phoning in by remote from the big cricket match. It was the playoffs or something. I could give a fuck about cricket. But it was a good interview. I like the ABC.

Perth Blues Club was located in a big room attached to a nondescript hotel. The club had pretty much remade a formerly pedestrian bar-slash-function room according to it’s own vision. Great sound, great lighting, big stage. Everything first rate. The grand piano was all miked and ready to go when I got there and it was the possibly the best live piano miking job I have encountered in 20 years of playing for a living. This soundman really got it. I wanted to take him with me.

Mick (Malouf) the bass player and Andy (Byrnes) the drummer had flown in that morning, and met us there. It was heaven to have the band back. It was a damn good show.

The following day, we did our tourist thing at the wildlife park, and then it was off to Ellington’s Jazz Club for the show. This room is booked by Graham Wood, a very good jazz pianist. He was in L.A. for a day or two a few months ago and I got to meet him there. Everything about this room was right, from the food to the nine-foot Steinway concert grand to the décor to the sound to the lighting to the crowd. The gig was such a pleasure. Nothing like a club conceived of and run by another musician. After the show, the bartender kept the drinks coming, and the whole band got a nice buzz going on a variety of local wines. I felt apart from it all, as I always do when I’m sober and everyone else is not, but I also felt a great warm satisfaction. These people were beginning to feel like family to me.

The next morning, Karen and I left for Broome, a three-hour flight north from Perth. This was where the red-dirt Kimberley meets the hot, humid tropical coast. The first thing that happened was the guy that was supposed to pick us up was not there. This is how you know you’re in the tropics. The guy that is supposed to pick you up is either: A: not there. B: there, but drunk. C. Extremely late…and possibly still drunk. I called the venue, nobody knew anything, but after much pointless negotiation, I finally got them to send someone. We were officially on “Broome Time.” Island Time…I knew it well.

We made the five-minute drive over to Beaches of Broome, where we would be camped out for the next four days. The place turned out to be a backpacker hostel, but we had a private room – small, but pretty nice. We actually didn’t even know it was a hostel ‘til the next day when we discovered there were no towels and shampoo, and no one came to make up the room.

We began our day with the complimentary breakfast, which was really the complimentary toast and instant coffee – followed by a scandalously expensive cab-ride over to the Kimberley ABC radio station downtown. The desert was burning, smoke hovered over the town and the radio was reporting on it fervidly. I felt a little trivial in comparison when I went on the air to talk about my shows in town and my new CD, but perhaps the diversion was helpful. It was a nice little interview in any case.

After that we explored the downtown as much as the heat would allow. The architecture was a combination of corrugated tin-roof Aussie outback and classic Chinatown. Pearling was the whole reason this town came to be, and the pearl shops abounded. Tourist season was winding down and the streets were very slow and quiet. We decided on lunch at a Thai place that had an inviting beach oyster-shack look to it, and ended up being served the best Thai food we’d ever eaten. Some of the best food we’ve ever had, period. We were the only people in there. We took the bus back to the hotel – we’d learned our lesson about the cabs.

The gig for the first two days was in a place called Divers Tavern, a big rambling place up near Cable Beach on the outskirts of town. It was a combined pub, drive-thru liquor store, and restaurant. Soundcheck consisted of us trying to figure out why the piano sounded like shit while a cataclysmically drunk guy stood at the edge of the stage yelling: “let me get up there and have a go!! Drum and bass, drum and bass! Let me have a go!! I’ll blow you awaaaaay!” He would not let go of his burning, drunken desire to “have a go.”

We were playing in a cavernous open-air bar where sports played on five screens, you could bet on harness and dog racing, and shoot pool. I was filled with dread. The crowd was sparse, all locals. At least eighty per-cent male. Local guys in wife-beater t-shirts out for a few stubbies with their mates. Nothing at all wrong with the place, I just didn’t want to be playing there. Karen did the opening set and was rocking, considering the circumstances. I did the closing sets. Some guy actually requested a song called “Boys From The Bush.” I’m not making this up. The crowd was neither hostile nor overly enthusiastic. It was just a bar gig. I hated it. Every beer-soaked, pool-shooting, dart-throwing, ashtray-smelling, request-shouting, loud, drunken minute of it.

At the end of the night, the guy that books the place came around, and he was a really great guy. We discussed the local deadly creatures, and he gave us a ride back to the hotel. He is akin to many of the perfectly wonderful girls who will never understand why I dated them once and never called again. It’s not you, it’s me!

The next day I was a sulky little bitch, and a trial for my wife to be around. She actually quit playing music altogether ten years ago because of gigs like this, but was handling the situation much better than I was. That’s because she is an adult. And I am not. We filled the day with tourist activities. Several walks on the beach, where we unsuccessfully attempted to track the elusive sand bubbler crab in its natural habitat. A trip to the crock park, where the crocodiles were so well fed that a large population of ibis and spoonbills hung about the place, unconcerned with being eaten. Lunch at a kickback little beachside restaurant. And after much talk about how we weren’t going to do the camel ride on the beach, because everybody does that…we did the camel ride on the beach. We rode a camel named Diesel along the white sand beach as the sun set over the Indian Ocean. And gladly paid ten bucks for the photo at the end. Then we played Diver’s Tavern again. It was the same.

The third gig was an early show at Matso’s Brewery in town. This was much better, an outdoor stage in a magnificent setting, with gourmet food and an attentive crowd that was there to hear music. Someone was supposed to bring a keyboard for me, and the guy from the venue didn’t know anything about it, and several phone calls were made and missed and finally it showed up.

Me: “The guy said he was going to bring it.” Venue booker: “Yeah, but this is Broome.”

Most of the crowd were tourists from Perth and they dug the show. Everyone working there was very nice and helpful and wonderful. We sold CDs off of a large red rock under a palm tree next to the stage. And then ate a world-class dinner. My mojo was back.

The next morning we partook of an ocean kayak excursion, blissed out at the swank Bali Hai spa, and ate a very good white-tablecloth lunch. “Next time we come to Broome,” I said, “It will be as tourists.”

Back in Perth, David from the blues club picked us up and we made the three hour run down to Margaret River, where we met Andrew Witt, also from the Perth Blues Club, at his family house down there, “Witt’s End.” It’s been a real joy to befriend these two guys…more welcome additions to our extended family of the road. And Witt’s End turned out to be the best vacation spot of them all. There were wildlife and picture-postcard views, barbecue and great conversation, an excellent selection of CDs, and many laughs. A piano. And free wifi! Heaven.

And now our four-day break is about to come to an end at this fine little lodge here by the river. I am ready to get back out there and make some noise.

Part 5

I think the guy who brought the PA that night said it best:
“They keep trying to introduce culture to Nannup, and it keeps getting rejected. Tonight’s just another example.”

We drove for hours through a thick forest to get to the isolated town of Nannup, in the Southeastern corner of Western Australia. There were none of the random, isolated dwellings you usually see on the road from one country town to another. No trailers with broken down cars in the yard, no trim, cute little farmhouses. Nothing but forest. Aside from Perth, a thriving metropolis like any other, Western Australia can be disconcertingly underpopulated.

Every person we encountered in this part of the world laughed ominously when I told them we had a gig coming up in Nannup, so I had a foreboding feeling that we were headed for a fiasco. The band pooh-poohed this as negativity on my part. They were all way too experienced in the ways of the road to be wearing these particular rose-colored glasses, but I admired their positive spirit.

From the moment we were accosted in the dirt parking lot by a local who wanted to know “if we were going to do some Abba” and who, upon being denied that particular request, elaborated threateningly that “we better play country, then,” I knew we were the wrong band in the wrong bar.

Andy the drummer had flown in from Sydney that day with his wife and arrived in a separate car. Qantas had lost his cymbals. You can’t really have drums without cymbals. The claim was that as soon as they located this lost luggage, a courier would drive it down from Perth to Nannup – almost four hours. I held little hope that this event would transpire, but as we were setting up, the courier arrived, cymbals in hand. It was all downhill from there.

We had borrowed a keyboard for these three dates from a friend of a friend. It was a Roland digital piano of mid 90s vintage. I had owned the very same keyboard myself in the mid 90s, and I knew it was trouble. However, I was getting it for the price of a bottle of whisky, which was just about what I could afford. Like many Roland products, the concept was great but the execution was terrible. Keys break, strange, gig-ending electronic glitches occur. A piece of machinery ill-suited for the rigors of the road, where your shit has to work. Every night. No excuses.

About twenty minutes into Karen’s opening set, the keyboard suddenly changed keys. There I was, playing an A minor chord, and a B-minor chord was happening instead. The band and my wife stared in horror. I was sure I had lost my few remaining marbles. I know I’m playing the right fucking chord! I thought. As the band played on, I turned the keyboard off and then on again. This reboot seemed to solve the problem. Like the fucking thing was running on Windows 95. It held for the rest of the evening. I spent that time preying none of the keys would snap off.

Early the next we headed out for Denmark, some four hours away on the far south coast. The venue was in a striking location on a hill overlooking the Southern Ocean, nothing but thousands of miles of churning sea and Antarctica to the south.

The place was booked by a musician, so he had our back. I did a quick radio interview for the local station, the six of us had dinner and then we did the show.

It was one of those small towns populated mostly by people who had moved from bigger towns to get away from it all. Well-educated types, musicians, artists, young hippies, old hippies. We met a guy who had moved there from Philly with the money he made from his self-started fitness empire. That sort of thing. My kind of crowd. They were with us from the start. Some sat, some writhed pleasantly around the perimeter, doing that Grateful Dead dance. I love that shit. There was one point where that connection got made in which you feel the room is about to levitate. Those are the moments we do this for. The keyboard changed keys again at almost exactly the same time. I restarted and got on with it. It was just part of the show now.

The next day, another four hour drive back up to Margaret River and our last show in W.A. – Cape Lodge. Cape Lodge is the swankiest and most expensive retreat in the west of Australia, but still, nothing prepared us for the treatment we got there. As soon as we arrived, the misses and I were whisked off to a five-star suite the size of our apartment, while the band were taken to equally well-appointed cabins on the lush and peaceful grounds. The place was so impeccable I felt like I was soiling it by just standing there. A sound company brought in staging, lights and sound for the show and set up everything while we rested and washed off the road grime. The wife was very pleased.

About an hour before showtime, armies of waitstaff brought course after course of high-end tucker. This was a gig? It was hard to believe. If we’d been patrons here, this food plus the room probably would have set us back two large.

The show was transcendent from beginning to end, the crowd had paid $120 a head for a “Jazz Soirée With Bob Malone” and they were primed and ready to dig the show. But during the first song, the keyboard changed keys three times. And it did it again in every one of the next four songs. The reboot thing became way too disruptive, so I just started playing in the new key as it would happen. Good thing I went to music school! I remained calm, told jokes about it, and the adversity got the crowd even more on our side. I turned it to my advantage. About halfway through the show, the trouble stopped and we wrapped it up unmolested by any further electronic mayhem. With two encores. It was a memorable night. A very fine way to end this part of the tour…this would be my last show with this band until next year. We toasted our good fortune, and headed back to our plush rooms.

Part 6

Midnight, the Establishment Hotel. Sydney CBD. I like this place. It’s got that modern décor, but it’s all about uncluttered feng shui and not form-over-function run amok. And it’s got free internet. Australians have to pay in blood to get online. They are getting hosed like you wouldn’t believe. $20 an hour to get online in a hotel is not unusual. $40 a day. $10 a minute! They need to have an uprising here.

Two weeks ago, we left Western Australia. Karen flew home to LA, the band flew back to Sydney. I headed for tropical Queensland. I would be finishing this tour solo. Gerry and Carmen picked me up from the Brisbane Airport and we headed to their house in Montville. A stunning part of the world up there. The Sunshine Coast Hinterlands. Spent three days at the house eating Carmen’s addictive cooking, observing the wildlife in the backyard rainforest, cooling off in the pool. Paradise among friends. Then I headed out for my outback adventure.

I flew from Brizzy up to Townsville. The promoter picked me up, and dropped me off at the wrong hotel. There wasn’t much in the way of signage, so I didn’t realize it was the wrong hotel. Then I handed the front desk clerk the printout of my prepaid reservation, with the name of a different hotel on it. He gives me a key and says to have a nice stay. Unbelievable. I have lunch at the café in the lobby, go up to my room, do my OCD thing with the toiletries, and just as I’m dozing off on the bed…the phone. A new front desk person had come on, and she finally figured out that I was checked into the wrong hotel.

So packed up my shit and walked four blocks down to the Holiday Inn, where they were indeed expecting me.

Welcome back to the tropics.

The gig tonight was at the Court Theatre, a very nice joint. Attendance was light, but the crowd was enthusiastic. After three weeks of touring with the band, going back to playing solo again was shocking. Nothing felt right, nothing achieved liftoff, nothing moved me. I found myself bored with myself. I forged ahead, detached, and hating myself for it.

An old man who had seen me play the jazz fest here the previous year, came up to me during the intermission, and said: “last year when you played the jazz fest, my wife enjoyed it so much that she stayed all day, dancing to the other bands, waiting for you to come on again for your late show. She died three weeks later." Then he turned and walked away, weeping. I did not phone in the next set.

The next morning I am on an 8-seat prop plane headed for Richmond, deep in the Queensland outback. Nothing much on the ground between Townsville and Richmond but scrub and baking heat.

The airport was one runway, one windsock, and one doublewide trailer. I got off the plane alone, nobody else got on. The sole airport employee took my bag off the plane and handed it to me on the runway.

I was here to play the October Moon Jazz Festival. The booking agent told me: “don’t think of it as a gig. It’s more of an adventure.” And besides, the money was good. I was game…this was surely a corner of the world I never would have seen had I not come here to play music. Those are the best places. Music has taken me to Paris, London, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo and Stockholm, and I have loved them all, but it’s the out of the way places I never would have thought to go that always stick with me the most.

The volunteer from the fest drove me into town…all three blocks of it. There was the health clinic, the grocer, the hardware store, the news-agent (who was also the guy who ran the airport trailer), the clothing store, the library, the butchery (LOCALLY KILLED BEEF! trumped the sign). One pub that served food, and one plain old bar that also doubled as a liquor store. And in the center, the crown jewel of the second block: Kronosaurus Korner. The first fossil of Kronosaurus, the largest creature ever to inhabit the seas, was discovered right here in Richmond, which was under water 100 million years ago. Kronosaurus Korner was an oversized Quonset hut housing a pretty impressive fossil collection, and a café.

I was dropped off at the Ammonite Motel. Not too bad, not too good, a motel like any other.

An hour later I was taken to the local school, which housed every grade from K thru 12 in one building. I played for and talked to three separate groups of kids of varying ages. Sometimes they asked questions about music, more often they wanted to know if I knew any famous people (“not biblically” I offered.) and if there were a lot of “flash cars” in LA, and if I had one. I thought the kids were mostly delightful, especially when they were saying things that the teachers thought would offend me.

By noon, it was all over and I was back in my cinderblock-walled room at the Ammonite. Alone, with the rest of the day and night ahead of me, I headed out to explore the town. I spent a good part of the day alone in the museum with the fossils, which I enjoyed quite a bit, as I am quite the nerd. Had a pretty good lunch at the café, and rambled up and down the three blocks of the town, ending at the library.

I pulled up to one of the ancient library PCs to check my email, and as I did, a few of the local school kids who had seen me earlier stared openly and unabashedly…like Jesus had just walked into the local library. I was really uncomfortable. Eventually, the place emptied out, and I fell into a conversation with the librarian, who looked and talked like anything but a librarian. He was a true Aussie bloke, from his bush hat down to his Dryzabone. I asked if I could check out a couple of books without having a library card. He said: “I’ve seen you on the posters around town, I guess I know where I can find you. Just drop ‘em in the chute before you leave town, mate. We’re closed on the weekend!” We stood outside talking as the sun went down, this was the kind of place where conversation is a commodity and time is made for it. I commented on the giant spider trundling up the wall (“that’s just a baby!” he said). He also confessed that he was a big Rush fan, and “that’s not the kind of band you want to talk about in this town.” A lonely prog rock afficiando in a desert of country music fans. So we discussed Neal Peart’s fantastic drumming, the merits of “Red Barchetta,” etc. He was so happy, I felt I had done a truly good deed. And I’m not even that big of a Rush fan.  

Later I was taken to the restaurant by the ladies who put on the jazz fest. They were the small town version of the “Ladies that lunch” – all quite nice, and very glad to have me there. Grandmotherly in demeanor. I feared someone would pinch my cheek before the night was through.

The gig was on a small stage under a gum tree, lakeside. About three-hundred people gathered for the festivities, which included performances by a local country duo, the winner of last year’s Australian national karaoke contest, a little girl in her first year of violin lessons playing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and a few of the local piano students, plunking out what they had learned. It was more church social than music festival. I was the sole professional act, on which they had blown all their money.

It was small-town and profoundly unsophisticated, but these were good and kind people. There was none of the barely contained small-town anger and proud ignorance that one so often encounters in the hinterlands of any country. They were deeply unhip, but they were civilized.

Sometime around two am, back at the motel room, I was taken with the first cramps and nausea that sent me running for the bathroom, where I would spend much of the next 24 hours, deep in the throes of a terrible stomach virus. After the worst of the exodus of my stomach contents was over, a fever followed. Somewhere in my delirium, I stumbled out to the street, desperate to locate food and aspirin, only to find a completely deserted town. Not a car or a soul stirred as far as I could see. Only the wind disrupted the perfect silence. I made it back to the bed just as the phone rang. One of the ladies from the festival. Apparently the whole town had been struck with this same virus, everything was closed, the health clinic was swamped beyond capacity. So apparently “The Stand” was not just a popular work of fiction by Stephen King, but prophesy. Captain Trips had arrived to take me away. One of the festival ladies brought me soup and aspirin. There is nothing greater than the kindness of strangers.

The last two gigs of the tour were house concerts on the south coast of New South Wales. Trysette rejoined me, this time as the opening act. And Mick volunteered to drive and play some guitar.

Two nights in a row we played for delightful crowds in idyllic country houses, complete with chickens. Nothing wrong with that!

And now I am back in Sydney, awaiting my flight home. I am ready. Just as I am always ready for the next adventure, I am always ready to return home.