ARTHUR BARROW: Happy Birthday – Sixty Trips Around The Sun

Feb 28, 2012

ARTHUR BARROW is the ultimate hipster – smart, funny, honest, well-read and an all around civilized person and nice guy.  Arthur’s musical talent is legendary, but the man is more than his musical accomplishments.

Through a mutual friend, Jamie Cohen, I was introduced to Arthur in September of 1994.  I had been writing songs and playing music since the early 80’s, but had never made an album. We got together that year and spent a few days recording at his studio – LOTEK – in Mar Vista, CA. Those early recordings became the foundation for a series of releases I eventually put out under Fell Music.

Previous recording experiences of mine had ended badly. In one instance, my music partner, Bryan Englund, the son of Cloris Leachman, died of a drug overdose in a NYC YMCA just days before we were to begin recording at the studio of his brother, George. Other musically related opportunities and  instances proved equally fruitless. Back then, and without any of the home studio gear available today, making an album began to seem like an impossible task, so I gave up on the dream, went back to fishing, made a few more turns around the globe, got married, had kids and went to work in the L.A. film biz. I continued writing, playing and occasionally performing in local L.A. coffehouses, though the idea of recording had lost it’s appeal.

After going over the material recorded with Arthur, I recognized an opportunity to not only to make a record, but to do it with someone who was a master at his craft and did his work without pretense, ego, or any of the usual suspects that can and do get in the way of the creative process. I contacted Arthur in March of ’95 and he agreed that we would begin going through the original material, fashioning those 30+ ideas into something that resembled a cohesive whole.

A week later, on the set of Michael Jackson’s SCREAM video, I chopped off a big chunk of my left ring finger, arguably the most important finger for a (right-handed) guitarist.  So I figured that was it.  No more music and song, no more guitars. I stored them in the garage, locked the door and walked away. It was Arthur Barrow and Jamie Cohen who brought me back to life, musically speaking.

I’m no stranger to pain; I’ve broken lots of bones, and over the past 8 years I’ve undergone 14 cancer-related operations (having been told twice in the past 8 years I had 6 months to live). But an amputated finger is different; grated off by the gnarly teeth of a skill saw, what was left of my mangled finger was a bloody mess, literally.  A few months on the mend I came home from work and found my acoustic guitar on a stand by the side of my desk in the spare bedroom my wife Jane and I used as an office. Jamie had pulled it out of the garage, dusted it off, and tuned it up. The touch of the steel strings over the raw nerve of my amputation was bone-throbbingly painful. Seriously. Made me take up smoking. Cigarettes. Again.

Jamie encouraged me, then after a while insisted I get back in with Arthur. So I called and we did. Since then I’ve been blessed with enough luck to hang out and make music and good cheer with Arthur Barrow. Riding with Arthur on the musical side of life has been an experience and an education, a real journey into both the art of music-making and the heart of  friendship.

His studio, Lotek, is like a spaceship in the form of an old house trailered away from the site where the L.A. Coliseum landed. Arthur is not just a bass player, not just Frank Zappa’s bass player or Clonemeister, he plays a mean guitar, his first love growing up in a musical family in San Antonio, Texas, with a father who played church organ on Sundays (one of Arthur’s many fine religions is to bike every morning from his house to his studio and for two hours sit at his fathers Hammond organ to play pieces by Bach, Chopin, and Stravinsky – his musical hero.

Years later, when I had learned plenty from Arthur at Lotek about recording and from my setup in my home studio, Arthur would invite me over to sit in and monitor the mix board during jams and rehearsals with his friends and band members. Guys like Tommy Mars, Vinnie Colaiuta, Larry Klimas, Robby Krieger, the Fowler brothers, Warren CuccurulloTom Brechtlein, and always the spirit of Frank Zappa. Hearing these guys play live in a 20×20 foot room is a high experience, an awareness of a higher language.

Later, after both our families bought houses and settled two blocks from each other in the same Mar Vista, CA neighborhood, and when I had some rough goings dancing with cancer, Arthur would be there, always, with a ride to or from the hospital, soup from his wife, Randi Barrow, an offer to walk the dogs. Arthur and I made it through the Bush years with a shared suspicion and the feeling of a turning, and I made it through my knockout bouts with cancer by having Arthur in that circle of friends I would turn to time and time again for support and love. Big love for you, Arthur Barrow, and Happy Birthday!

Arthur, through the glass, playing bass. Image/Cara Tompkins

Lotek Studios Control Room. Image/Cara Tompkins

The Lounge at Lotek.  Image/Cara Tompkins

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