We had the good fortune of connecting with Ted Wulfers and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Since this interview was conducted, Ted has released his 10th studio album, Play Ball (Original Ballpark Organ Instrumentals) and the Los Angeles area is opening up more from Covid-19 regulations thanks to vaccinations and community spread numbers declining.
Hi Ted, what do you attribute your success to?
Well first off, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to ask me these questions. Sometimes as creatives, we are so focused on what is next and how we’re moving forward that we’re not often allowed the chance for personal reflection and perspective on our careers to see how far we’ve climbed instead of constantly eyeing the part of the mountain we have yet to climb.
I’m a multi-hyphenate when it comes to my career and brand. I’m a musician who is a recording artist, singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist of many instruments, composer of film, TV and video game scores, record producer, recording studio owner (663 Sound), recording engineer and mix engineer. I’m also a filmmaker who directs documentary films and music videos. And along with all of that, I’m also a professional photographer focusing on landscape, fine art, musical instrument and travel photography. As of March 2021, I’m a musician who has played well over a thousand shows throughout the United States and Europe. I have released 9 original studio albums, 3 Vinyl LPs, 1 Vinyl Single as a historic Record Store Day Exclusive (That happened to go into the Baseball Hall of Fame), I have composed the film scores for several award winning films and TV programs, I have produced, recorded or played as a session musician on hundreds of songs and dozens of albums for other artists, I am directing a feature length documentary that is currently in production, I have directed, produced and acted in numerous music videos for myself and other artists and my photography has been published in various forms of print and online media. My music has been heard and featured on radio stations throughout the world as well as television networks such as ABC, CBS, CNN, CNN Europe, ESPN, FOX, The Hallmark Channel, NBC and WGN. My music has also been studied at the collegiate level, included at keynote addresses, covered by other artists on their albums and is often used at weddings and funerals by many throughout the world. My current release is my 9th album called, Tremolo Moon and I am currently busy putting the finishing touches on several album’s worth of new material that I recorded during quarantine in 2020 and 2021 as well as directing a documentary film on the history of the Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar.
The most important factor behind my success is the combination of originality, integrity and authentic quality in everything I put out into this world. Whether I’m writing a song, performing a concert, making an album, composing a film score, producing an album for another artist, directing a film, shooting a music video or making a photograph, I strive for it to be as original and as true to myself as possible. I am also constantly raising the bar for myself so that I continue to grow and that my best keeps getting better. That is the most challenging part of being an artist in any field and it takes you a long time to really sound like yourself, look like yourself or box out your own style and genre, but when it happens, that is the special moment of when you truly become yourself as an artist and an artist as your true self. Truth and honesty are something often lacking in modern art forms and in our modern world altogether, but they are two things that have always shined in my music, film scores, movie work and photography and I am very proud that audiences connect with those elements of my art. I’ve just tried to write the best song I could, make the best album I can, and photograph the best images I can make. If you keep doing that and keep topping yourself, your best is only going to get better and you’ll be on a good path forward.
Because of my track record for originality and thinking outside of the box, audiences have found my music, people have sought my talents and expertise in hiring me to help them record their music, score their films, shoot their music videos or take their photographs. Sculpting an original form of your own artistry takes many years of successes and failures but any artist who is in this game for the long haul, knows the passion, sacrifice, determination, will power, sense of humor and just plain stubbornness it takes to see it through.
The famous author and psychologist Carl Rogers wrote a book called On Becoming A Person and I really feel that every true artist has had to wrestle with that mantra on some level, of “on becoming an artist” and “am I becoming the truest artist I possibly can be to deliver my truth to my audience so that it becomes proof and part of the lives of the audience as well?” That transfer of energy from artist to audience is sacred and powerful and connecting on that level is what every creative person is striving for. It’s a sensual energy of the most human and cosmic form. Do you feel it, do you hear it, do you see it and does it move you enough to want to feel it, hear it and see it again? Not to get too deep there with you but it’s one of my many philosophies on artistry and I feel it’s been a major factor in the success of my music, art and brand. Also, a side note…I wrote a song called “The Carl Rogers Blues” that’s on my 2007 album Drivin’ Barefoot and it was a #1 radio single in Nashville for many months and it went into the Nashville Independent Radio Hall of Fame. Only recently have I made the conscious connection to artistry that Rogers was trying to make to personhood but everything comes around full circle eventually.
It’s a lot of fun but it’s a lot of work to be in the arts and anyone who tells you differently is either full of shit or selling you something.
Now how do you be a true original? By honing your skills to the best of your ability and constantly putting your own unique spin, or attempting to anyway, on everything you create. Also by realizing what you’re up against, what’s come before you and how you’re going to take your art into the future and remain timeless. It’s also about talent and craft and the amount of hard work you put into it. A little bit of luck never hurts either but that is usually earned by making your own luck.
For the last three decades, we’ve lived during a time in human history where every opportunity in learning knowledge, historical facts or purely trivial information has been literally and figuratively at our fingertips through quick searches on computers, phones and in those wild and crazy ancient encyclopedias…and yet it seems most people these days don’t know much about history or claim not to know how to gain any historical knowledge when it is literally just a click away. Ten minutes on google can change your life sometimes! Try it. I bring this up because it’s important in art to know where you are and where you’re coming from. If you don’t know what’s come before you, you won’t be able to be that innovative moving forward and if you’re only obsessed with what’s to come, you won’t have any solid foundation on which to build your artistry. I feel it’s important to have a respectable knowledge of the historical past, a relative perspective on what’s going on around you and a clear and educated focus on what’s to come and how you’ll take your art to that place.
I’d also like to point out that it’s extremely important to be able to laugh in this life. Especially at yourself. Not only will that make the climb that much more enjoyable but it’ll make it easier when you have to dust yourself off after the inevitable and occasional falls. Laugh… it’s good for you!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
When it comes to making art, I’m truly on the lifer plan. I’ve been making music for almost longer than I can remember. At age 3, I started playing all the commercials from TV on the piano by ear and soon after, I began classical lessons. I would play recitals and this lasted until around the time of 7th grade when I began writing my own songs and wanted to form a band. Then at 14, I begged my parents for a drum set, but a guitar was more manageable volume-wise haha and I immediately taught myself how to play guitar. From there and then I began writing songs, started a band, taught myself bass, mandolin, organ and began recording on a primitive Radio Shack mixer with Radio Shack microphones into a Sony boom box and a Tascam deck throughout high school, even having some of these recordings circulate and get played on the “PA” over the morning announcements. It was my first bit of radio play hahaha. Then it was on to recording albums in real studios when I was 17 with my then band’s debut and I started playing as a session musician on other projects as well. From there, I’ve taught myself a ton more instruments, made hundreds of recordings and performed over a thousand shows. Making music and oxygen are both equal life sources for me as well as both elements on the periodic table of my soul haha.
My albums under my own name are of the Rock, Pop, Roots, Folk, Blues, Jam Band, Americana and occasionally Ukulele variety. My soundtracks as composer for film/TV are of the classical, medieval, jazz, alternative, rock, folk, bizarre avant garde variety. I’ve produced, recorded and played on albums and songs in countless genres for so many different musical artists. My photography ranges from gritty, raw and honest to smooth, textured, painting-like, dreamy, ethereal and majestic.
I’ve gone to great lengths to make my music as authentic as possible. This is what has led me to teach myself how to play so many different instruments. Often, instead of using a sample from a keyboard library or bringing in another musician, I find it a great comfort and a fun challenge to learn a new instrument quickly and record it. You do that a few times and suddenly, you’re proficient at the instrument. This comes naturally and very easily for me. I know that’s hard for some people to read as it can be difficult to them but just as rocket science, hitting a 100mph fastball or crazy mathematic economic equations comes easy to some, making music and learning new instruments comes easily to me.
My art stands apart from others in that it borrows from a wide variety of influences that have marinated within my soul, psyche and work ethic over time to help form something that comes out as music sounding like, and films and photographs looking like they were made by me. Part of this comes from my craft, talents and technique and part of this also comes from me always striving to do things differently and to try the methods that are unorthodox and really blaze my own trail and find my own path rather always go by the book or copy other people.
A great example of this is when I was composing and scoring music for a video game soundtrack at my studio, 663 Sound and I had Eric Rigler come over to record some tin whistle and uilleann pipes on a few of the tracks. Eric is arguably the greatest tin whistle, bagpipes and uilleann pipes player in the world and certainly one of the most well known. Have you seen Titanic? Have you heard the big Celine Dion song, “My Heart Will Go On”? That’s Eric on the tin whistle playing the main line. He’s in the game, Cards Against Humanity because of that tune! Haha Have you seen the movies Braveheart, Master and Commander, Road To Perdition, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me or Cinderella Man? That’s Eric on all the traditional pipes and whistles. He came over to my studio to record and truly is a brilliant musician and the nicest of people. But, the night before, I realized that I had never recorded tin whistle or uilleann pipes before and here I had the GREATEST WHISTLER AND PIPER IN THE WORLD COMING OVER TO MY STUDIO. So, I stayed up all night researching how different studios around the world were placing microphones to record these instruments and what techniques they were using.
And then I used a completely different approach treating the instruments the exact opposite as how these other recording studios were and had a very unorthodox mic setup ready to rock when Eric arrived. Eric noticed the different setup and I could tell at first thought I might be crazy or lacking experience but then, the look on his face was amazing when he heard how he sounded on the first test run. He commented how he’d never seen a mic setup like that before and how impressed at how good he sounded. I told him that it has always been in my nature to strive for something different, original and not like everyone else. I also told him that I was trying to treat his instruments as a voice rather than an instrument and that is what made the different in tone and aural texture. He loved it and I loved it and it was such a pleasure working with Eric! He had a tin whistle that can tune chromatically which I had never seen before and his bagpipes are from the 1300s and were actually played at William Wallace’s funeral. William Wallace is who the movie Braveheart is based on and due to a recent DNA test, I learned that I am related to Scottish Noblemen who worked with, fought with and against William Wallace. But that is a story for another interview. Life is indeed crazy that way.
When it comes to scoring films, I can tell you what I’ve been told by those I’ve worked with sets me apart and that is how I craft, compose and create music that fits the exact mood of the moment using a tremendously deep collection of instruments and abilities to play them. I don’t follow a textbook rule or strict standard guide of how the film or TV show should be scored. Instead, I follow my instinct and form the sonic wallpaper in the background that is a structural foundation on which the moving pictures, actors and action can dance upon while the audience feels the music and mood more than necessarily hears the music. Some film scores I’ve heard seem to be all about the musician and composer showing off their virtuosity where I feel that clutters the story. On an album or live performance, I’m all for taking your virtuosity to the limit and giving it all you got to blow the audience away. When you’re scoring films though, you’re providing sonic emotions, not stealing the show. That’s what the actors and the visuals are supposed to do and of course when the three all come together as one, that’s when you know you have something worthwhile.
One compliment I’ve always gotten on my albums even going back to my super early work in the 1990s is that my albums always have an enjoyable flow and that they’re the kind of records you can enjoy on a road trip, to study to or to clean the house to just as much as you can enjoy them in a party atmosphere. That is something I’ve always been really proud of because I feel too many albums have songs that all sound the same and don’t have enough dynamics or variety, not only in sound, but genre, technique and emotion. If you have 12 songs that all sound the same, you’re going to want to switch it up. Also you need to grow and change as an artist and I’ve strived to make sure that all my albums are very different yet very much me. That makes for a stronger set list as well. If your albums have a variety of styles, sounds, genres and songs and you pick 2-4 tunes from each album, that makes the live set list a really fun and enjoyable evening of music for the audience instead of 20 of the same songs in a row.
A very recent story I can share with you about standing apart from others in my field involves the music video for my song, “The Ghosts” from my latest album, Tremolo Moon in which I am proud to say some truly groundbreaking techniques were employed in making the music video. The song is this dreamy, ethereal, haunting and emotional song that really connects with a lot of listeners on several different levels. For the music video, I had the idea of using some tintype photographs I’d found which featured my family ancestors from the 1800s and then trying to figure out how to make tintypes of myself and bring them to life. Then the idea came about of not only bringing them to life but to have a second tintype character and we would come out of our frames and seem to be longing for each other from another dimension while we were hanging besides one another on the same wall.
I knew this was the path forward for “The Ghosts” music video and I then called some professional (and rather famous tintype and wet plate) photographers and asked them if they had seen a music video that brought tintypes to life and if they would be interested in helping me out for the video. They all told me I was out of my mind and that it couldn’t be done and that I was silly for even asking and one photographer in Portland was even a bit of an asshole about it in how rude he was in telling me off.
So then I reached out to some of my filmmaker friends and they all told me the same thing….but were nicer about telling be it couldn’t be done haha.
But I knew I was on to something because I had NEVER seen a music video with tintype photos coming to life. I knew it had to be able to be achieved. My philosophy is that anything CAN be done and I thrive on doing things that people say can’t be done or haven’t been done….before I do them! And that’s just what happened.
I reached out to my good friend and collaborator Erik Nielsen, who I’ve shot many music videos with and am working together with on the documentary I’m directing on the Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar. I expressed to Erik what I wanted to do with the tintypes and we racked our brains and Erik figured out the tech side of it and I figured out how to find a way for the third wall to be broken by the characters in the tintypes coming to life and actually reaching out of their frames. Erik and I tested this in my living room and after an hour or so, we had it and began to plan filming the video.
The video came out AMAZING…. I mean AMAZING AMAZING….. here, watch it for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADu1hWY21Qs
This effect is rather groundbreaking in that people haven’t seen it done before. I sent the video around to some musicians and filmmakers and they warned me that “groundbreaking” is a dangerous word to toss about in the land of Hollywood, and before even watching the video questioned me why I felt it was as thus. I then told them about how I reached out to several photographers and filmmakers who told me we couldn’t do it and that we had in fact done it and that they should watch the video.
Their reactions after watching the video were usually: “Holy Shit, That Was AMAZING”
And like the Eric Rigler tin whistle microphone technique, I apply the same unique and different approaches to recording my own music and especially producing and recording the other artists I work with at my studio, 663 Sound. You have to be different…I don’t know why you’d want to be like everyone else. Some people do I guess but that’s just not in my nature. I love working with an artist who has been frustrated by previous recording experiences with other producers, engineers or musicians and helping them to feel totally comfortable and safe to make the music that they want to make and help that music to sound like THEY do and no one else. And I love opening their minds to different techniques, sounds and approaches to help them chase that sound to where it’s exactly how they hear it in their head. I’ve had clients say they only sound good singing in their shower….so we tracked the vocals with them singing in my shower and they nailed it in one take because they were comfortable. I had one client who is a yoga guru and she said that she likes the way she sounds singing to herself while doing head stands. So, I immediately put the mics on the floor and asked her to do a head stand. She loved the way it sounded and that’s how we tracked her vocals for that album. It’s about getting comfortable and having an open mind and just doing your best to sound like YOU and nobody else. Plus, there is a quote of mine that I’ve been saying for 20 years now that gets more and more true by the day, minute, second, year….. “When it comes to making music, writing music and recording music, there is no wrong…it’s finding what’s right for the song.”
And in my photography, once I started pushing it out into the world a bit more, I had several photographers and fans of photography reach out to me and tell me I really had a voice and a style in my photographs in how I framed, how I saw and how I formed my composition. To me, taking a picture is JUST like writing a song, a piece of music or recording an album. It’s about telling a story and delivering it in the medium that is original, quality, honest and enjoyable for not only yourself as the artist but for audiences for the rest of time. All this art will outlive us all and that’s the beauty of it, but with that comes great responsibility. There are works of art within several hours drive of here that are 11,000 to 14,000 years old. Those ancient artists found a way to portray what they saw, felt and needed to express and now today….this instant… you and I can go see it. That’s the power of art, that’s why we wake up in the morning or stay up way too late at night to create it. It’s a calling to express our emotions to connect with reactions and hoping that they are honest, authentic, timeless and original. If you’ve done that, your work is complete and it’s on to the next mountain.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, let me start off by saying that some of my tours of the area for out of town guests over the years have been rather legendary. It’s such a joy to show off favorite spots and to show people my hidden Los Angeles. Since you’re asking me this during the the Covid-19 Pandemic, my answer today is NOWHERE hahaha…Stay Home until everyone is vaccinated, we have the virus under control and sanity has returned haha. But…let’s pretend this tour is Fall of 2019 or fingers crossed AFTER the Covid-19 Pandemic.
I also love showing off the truly magical wonderland that we are surrounded with here in Southern California and that far too many people take it for granted. So in visiting me, we’re going to see LA, the South Bay, The Valley and cruise from San Diego to Santa Barbara or even San Luis Obispo and back. We might even hit Lake Arrowhead of Joshua Tree. If the moon is right and the energy calling, there’s no telling where we may wander. I love the Malibu, Oxnard and Ventura areas. One time, a German Model friend was in town to do a photo shoot with me and she told me she had been around LA but had never seen Mulholland Dr. Well, minutes later we were on Mulholland drive. I love taking people to the ocean, to the beach, to the mountains and to the desert. There are people all over the planet who would give their eye teeth to see the sites that are only 20 mins to three hours away from us and I’m always amazed at how many “locals” have NOT gone out an explored. Whether it’s Joshua Tree, Lake Arrowhead, Catalina Island, Malibu, Ventura or anywhere in the greatest LA area…it’s always fun to go out and explore and bask in the magic.
Scuba diving is one of my favorite things to do, so several of my great friends will come visit from out of town year round and we’ll hop the shuttle boat to Catalina Island and do some scuba diving in the kelp forests. Some of the most beautiful and unique diving in the world. You definitely need a thicker wetsuit year round but it is worth it for the adventures my friends and I have had there in the kelp forests and playing with the sea lions and fish. If you’re into giant boozy drinks and ridiculous hats, make sure you stop at Luau Larry’s and “Get your wiki wacked.” There are also several great restaurants on Catalina ranging from groovy diner to funky Mexican to high class seafood.
I’m a history buff so I love showing off the various musical sights of LA as well. Where certain recording studios used to be, where various recording studios are now and various music history in where so and so legendary musician did this or lived etc. Sadly there has been a lot of turnover of cool hangs, spots and restaurants that I’d fallen in love with in my 20 years of being in LA and 10 years of living in it…but that’s just part of the whole darn circle of life and culture.
I must admit that there are some magical beach and hillside locations as well as two of my absolute favorite restaurants in the Malibu and Oxnard area that I will keep private and encourage everyone to drive PCH, do the 101 to Oxnard to Malibu loop and find your own happy places.
One of my favorite things to do is go shopping for guitars and instruments. I am very lucky in my line of work that I get to combine the collector bug with the craftsman bug which means I actually get to use my collection of instruments on albums, film soundtracks and of course live and on tour. Every guitar is different, every drum has a different tone and every piano can tell a different story. It’s about finding the instrument that inspires you and delivers the sound that you’re looking for, needing for the particular project or just makes you fall in love with it and want to play it all day and night. When it comes to guitar playing and collecting, living in Los Angeles is one of the luckiest places to be in the world because we have some of, if not most of the world’s best guitar shops all right here in town. They are great places to go and just oggle, dream, try out, learn about, talk about and hang out and for me sometimes it’s like taking a leisurely walk through a zoo and enjoying all the amazing sights and sounds. That’s how I feel in a guitar shop. When friends of mine tell me about their shoe collections, purse collections, baseball card collections, Star Wars collections…..I get it…I really do….only nice thing is I get to make records with my crazy collection of guitars and instruments. That said, many of my out of town guests, clients and friends love to accompany me on these guitar safaris to these magical guitar shops throughout the LA area and most of the time, they go home with a new instrument from such trips.
Norman’s Rare Guitars in Tarzana, CA
Norm’s is a world famous guitar shop made famous by being in included in so many Hollywood Films and celebrated by so many world famous rock stars that his shop is a hall of fame in itself in a way. Norm was one of the first true vintage guitar collectors who started the whole game back in the 1970s and his books are definitely worth checking out. Because he started then, his collection is enormous and the guy brings in dozens if not hundreds of amazing instruments in each week from around the world. They have a great repair shop there and Norm’s Vault is known worldwide as one of the most revered collections in the universe of vintage instruments. Before Covid-19, whenever you went there, you never knew who you would bump into and chances are they were either your favorite rock stars or some of the most famous musicians in the world. One time I went in there and I had just woken up and luckily put on a decent shirt and when I arrived, there was a film crew there and they wanted me to perform live on the spot which was a lot of fun and actually a very emotional and moving moment if you check out the clip on Norm’s youtube page…..but I’m glad I put on that shirt haha. Norm is awesome and his staff are world class characters of rock ‘n roll and guitar knowledge and lifestyle. I’ve bought some of my most special, unique and AMAZING guitars from Norm over the years and I even had an encounter there that truly changed my life. Norm has also looked me in the eye and told me he has just the guitar I need and has handed me that guitar and it’s gone home with me that day to be used on records, soundtracks and live onstage and on tour. If Norm says it’s special, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be one of the best guitars or basses you’ve ever seen or played in your life.
Ventura Music in Studio City CA
Ventura Music in Studio City is one of the wildest, coolest and funkiest guitar shops on the planet. And I shouldn’t say guitar…George is a genius drummer and instrument collector and his collection of guitars, drums, keyboards, brass instruments, amplifiers and microphones is really a museum unto its own level. If you’re looking for something you’ve never seen or heard before or something truly old and ready to be on your record, go to Ventura Music and talk to George. I’ve acquired some really special pieces from George in my collection from guitars, to basses, to old snare drums, kick drums and amplifiers. George rocks! There’s a reason why a lot of producers and engineers shop there as much as session musicians and touring pros because George always seems to have that weird, ancient, wacky, wild, beat up yet amazing sounding thing that you don’t have in your collection and fits the tune perfectly.
Mike’s Guitar Parlor in Hermosa Beach CA
Go to Mike’s Guitar Parlor. Even if you don’t play guitar…go. It is one of the most beautiful stores in the world and when you see the view of the Pacific Ocean than graces the front door, you may not leave. Mike has some breathtaking pieces throughout his shop from truly custom guitar work to guitars and basses that he has applied his magical setups to himself. All in a vibe and and atmosphere that makes you want to kick off your shoes, grab a coffee or a cocktail and stay the weekend. His “beach bum high class hippie love den” of a guitar shop is a place not to be missed. Just look out for Mike’s hours….when the flip flops are hanging on the door or when they are not indicates if the shop is open or not. This is the ultimate California dream beach shop hang. Enjoy!
Guitar 48 In Ventura, CA
Take a spin up the 101 to Guitar 48 located right in the adorable and scenic heart of Ventura, CA. The shop is hard to miss and has a great variety of instruments and they also do awesome setups. If you’re a vintage guitar geek like me, they’ll let you in on their secret stash in the back of some of the most beautiful and interesting guitars you’ll find on the California coast. This shop is a bit of a hidden gem and it’s always fun cruising to Ventura.
Steel Guitars of North County in Oceanside, CA
Steel Guitars of North County is truly unique on the West Coast in that it is a giant shop and museum of Steel Guitars. Pedal Steels, Lap Steels, Dobros, Weissenborn Guitars, they have EVERYTHING and the best Pedal Steel tune up shop around. For those of my fellow steel-heads out there who are brilliant and insane enough to play this instrument, this is THE place to go on the West Coast and plus…you get to drive to Oceanside, CA and that’s never a bad thing.
LA Vintage in Burbank, CA
LA Vintage is a really elegant and groovy shop in Burbank that is filled to the brim with an amazing selection of instruments, amps and stunning rock ‘n roll photography. Part guitar shop, part museum, it is definitely a place you need to visit on your guitar safari.
Truetone in Santa Monica
Every time I’ve gone to Truetone in Santa Monica, I’ve always seen something that I’ve never seen before. Always a cutting edge supply of rocking’ gear and if you’re on the West Side, it may be the only place you need to cruise to in order to find cool guitars, wild pedals, groovy basses or cool amps.
California Vintage Guitar in Sherman Oaks
This shop has a truly elegant layout and a really fine collection of new and vintage guitars, basses and amps. I’ve picked up some of my most unique vintage pieces at this shop and they always have something interesting you may not think you’re looking for at the time but will fall in love with once in their shop.
Caveman Guitars in Los Angeles (Lincoln Heights)
Caveman Guitars is a really awesome vibey music shop in Los Angeles in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood that always has something fresh, funky, cool, old and ready to be used on your new musical creation. If you’ve scoured all the other shops’ websites and haven’t found anything or are looking for something wild and out there, give Caveman a look.
Imperial Guitars in Burbank and Sherman Oaks
Imperial Guitars has a few locations spread around the LA area and always has a great selection of guitars, basses and amps. If you’re looking for jazz boxes particularly, this is a shop to check out.
These are some of the WORLD CLASS Guitar Shops that Los Angelinos are super spoiled to be around at all times for all of their guitar safari, guitar collecting, guitar repairing needs. There are indeed others in the area but I’ll leave those for you to find and check out and fall in love with.
Now let’s move on to Coffee!!
The best coffee you’ll find in Los Angeles is the coffee I serve at my studio 663 Sound. Just ask my clients…they LOVE the coffee I serve…..but going out for coffee is sometimes more fun and when you’re on a drive and you need a pick me up, can be super helpful. These are coffee shops I LOVE taking out of town friends to while they are visiting:
Kay’s Coffee in Camarillo, CA and Kay’s Coffee in Ventura, CA.
Kay’s on Seaward in Ventura is a coffee beach paradise of a coffee shop with the best coffee in Southern California and one of the best views in the world of the Pacific Ocean. Kay’s Ventura was so awesome in fact that they opened Kay’s Coffee in Camarillo on Ventura Blvd. The Camarillo location is a bit bigger, features art and photography of local artists, has live music and open mic nights and offers a slightly different menu of drinks and snacks. They are both the best coffee shops around and a MUST for stopping in to if you’re cruising that way on the 101. Tell them Ted sent you. I must also admit that the two owners are two of the nicest and sweet humans on Earth and they make a Lemon Pecan Pie so delicious, awesome and out of this world that I had to write a song about it called…well…”Lemon Pecan Pie”!!!
Alcove Cafe & Bakery in Los Feliz Hollywood area
In the US, and in LA, it’s tough to find a late night coffee shop that has a vibe and cool hang about it. There is nothing but vibe and cool hang besides amazing coffee and fantastic desserts at Alcove. You can sit outside under twinkle light trees enjoying the fresh air on old-timey tables and devour a delicious and delectable treat and swim in a giant mug of savory coffee. It is a great spot for a meeting, date, catchup or just to sit by yourself and enjoy being at an awesome and relatively quiet coffee shop outside at night in America. Plus they have a bar that serves booze and other food. What’s not to like..it’s like hanging out in a tree house.
Sweet Lady Jane Bakery in Encino.
Sweet Lady Jane Bakery in Encino is my favorite stop for coffee in the Valley. They have a plethora of great baked goods as well and they cater events, birthday parties and whatnot. Every time I’ve been in there you can see them designing some big fancy and beautiful cake for an Oscar Party or someone’s big day. A particular favorite was a giant cake made to look like drums stacked up with a mermaid leaping out of the top drum. PS, the Croissants…. Thank me later.
Now that we’ve covered coffee, snacks and desserts, let’s move on to restaurants and hangouts I LOVE taking out of town friends to while they are visiting:
The Rainbow Bar and Grill in West Hollywood
I’ve had so many life changing evenings, memories and things I can’t remember happen at the Rainbow. It is a classic rock ‘n roll time capsule but during the day it is a really wonderful and relaxing Italian restaurant that happens to be in the middle of a pirate ship on the Sunset Strip. That said… Chinese Chicken Salad, the Pizzas and the Bread…you can’t go wrong. Also greatest cheese sticks on planet earth. And you never know who you’ll bump into here. It truly is a unique juxtaposition of so many iconic crossroads of our many cultures in this country. It’s a Rock & Roll paradise with a touch of Neo-gothic charm. It’s where Marilyn Monroe was proposed to, it’s where Lemy from Motörhead spent most of his free time drinking Jack and Cokes, it’s where Guns ‘n Roses filmed many of their music videos, it’s where most patrons look famous but are most likely infamous and it was named after Judy Garland’s love of the Italian food there so much that she’d sing her hit song, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” at the end of her meal. Pro tip, that’s why the Tony Bennet version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” kicks on at 2am and cools off the Def Leppard, Poison and Alice In Chains to announce that it’s closing time and that it’s now time for all the rockers to keep dreaming the dreams they dare to dream whether they are down on their luck or flying where the blue birds fly high, but they just need to do all that somewhere else until the following afternoon.
The Great Greek in Sherman Oaks
Amazing food, the nicest people and a dancing wait staff to fun music. Their avgolemono might just be the best on planet Earth and the spanakopita is the best in the US. Pita Bread will have your tummy full and your mouth a smiling. Great to dine in and great for take out.
Capriccio in Ventura
Capriccio is worth the cruise up the 101 to adorable and wonderful beachy town of Ventura. Capriccio has a wonderful variety of a menu, amazing table bread, out of this world coffee and…..my very favorite salad in all of California. Yup friends….it’s here…but I won’t tell you which one because they’re all worth trying for you to find out what’s YOUR favorite on your own. Capriccio rules!
Steak & Whiskey American Tavern in Redondo Beach
The setting and view is spectacular, romantic and wonderful and for a place with this name, they sure do have amazing salads, soups and coffee. Also try their bread and cheese concoctions.
Mucho Mas in Burbank
I have out of town friends who have re-scheduled their flights so that they can sneak in a lunch at Mucho Mas while they’re in town. It is THAT good. Burritos, Enchiladas, Taco Salads, Tacos, You name it…always the best and some of the best chips and salsa. I wonder if chips and salsa presentations will change after covid-19 and if they will be individualized. I don’t know but the first Mexican place I’m hitting after everything opens back up will be Mucho Mas! Also….the margaritas do NOT mess around and may just be the best in town.
Hugo’s Restaurant in Sherman Oaks (or is it Valley Village?)
Hugo’s is ALWAYS a hit with my out of town guests and out of town clients because their menu is varied and accommodates almost all dining styles from vegan to meat eaters. They really do a great job of explaining what is what and the food is delicious and amazing. Great place for breakfast, lunch or dinner and…. They also have a Taco Stand that is branded under their name but is a different experience and you’ll enjoy some of the best tacos and burritos you’ve ever had there.
The Kettle Manhattan Beach
When you’re an artist or a creative person and you’re working on recording albums, composing films, playing gigs, doing photoshoots, filming movies, writing screenplays, writing novels, writing songs or just out on evening romantic adventures, you tend to be a night owl…. And what is one of the biggest gripes for Night Owls in Cities??? Not enough 24 hr places and…not enough GOOD 24 hr places. Well, the Kettle is just that in Manhattan Beach. The menu has something for everyone and is always delicious and the inside decor is fun, funky and a tad hilarious. But it’s a heartwarming hearty place to grab great late night grub at all hours before you walk down and take a late night look at the Pacific Ocean. As long as you don’t have a table of late night obnoxious drunks next to you, it is always a good time there.
Astro in Franklin Hills/Atwater Village
Another amazing 24hr Diner. This place has really tasty, delicious and relatively healthy food as far as diners go. They also have really amazing unhealthy food as well. Great coffee, great vibes and the friendliest checkout person in all of Los Angeles. You’ll never know what cast of characters you’ll bump into the wee hours. I LOVE ASTRO and I miss Astro….I haven’t been anywhere since the pandemic.
Jones Hollywood Cafe in West Hollywood
Fantastic everything and a fun rock ‘n roll environment with wonderful whiskey concoctions based on famous rock ‘n rollers.
Oliva – Sherman Oaks.
I had it at a recording session that was being catered and was blown away by the food. Going there in person….it’s a great meal and fun experience.
Belgian Waffle Works in Lake Arrowhead
Drive up to Lake Arrowhead as the sun is rising and the sky is painting natural pictures that will leave in you breathless as you climb the hill. Once you’re there, have breakfast at the Belgian Waffle Works in Lake Arrowhead Village. Have the waffles, saunter the lake….thank me later.
Gravina in Malibu
And if you really dig Italian, Gravina on PCH in Malibu….wow…a lovely night out basking in Italian food and a comfortable setting for certain.
Home Restaurant LA in Hollywood
Home in the Hollywood/Los Feliz area is comfort food heaven. If you want a big hearty Mac & Cheese and to sit outside around a fire and catch up with a friend you haven’t seen in a while on a cool evening…this is the place to do just that in.
Cafe 50’s on Santa Monica Blvd i
Good diner to hit to enjoy good diner grub in
The Red Door in Toluca Lake
My bar hopping days are over but a fun place I always take my out of town drinking friends to is The Red Door in Toluca Lake. I won’t tell you where it is…you’ll have to find it on your own. But when you do, you will be in for a lovely time of funky atmosphere, dimly lit conversation and you’ll always leave with a story. It’s also attached to an amazing restaurant/bar that has three tables of giant Game of Thrones style chairs and another table with a giant lazy Susan. I can’t tell you how entertaining it is for three or four people to sit at an enormous lazy Susan and spin their drinks and food at and for each other. Good times in Toluca Lake.
HOTELS are also a wonderful place to take people who are in from out of town and not just for spending the night but for enjoying the restaurants, bars, lobby, hangs, history and vibe that comes along with these great buildings. They are also great for spending the night but they’re also great just to visit.
The Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills
Look up the history of this hotel…you may be surprised at what you find in terms of how the city of Beverly Hills came to be. The restaurant is one of my favorites in all of Los Angeles and the coffee and potatoes are both seriously amazing. Enjoy a taste of old Hollywood while it lasts.
The Standard in Hollywood (RIP)
This used to be one of my favorite places in the world. It was a trip and a true rock ‘n roll paradise. Moon chairs, night swims, beach babes, rocking tunes, Hollywood chic with an old time flare and a fantastic late night if not 24hr diner restaurant. I spent many a night after a gig there, or on a late night adventure, or for a business meeting during the day or for a late night nosh with friends…..I will miss the Standard.
Del Coronado Hotel – Coronado Island San Diego
Cruise south a couple hours depending on traffic to the magical and famous Del Coronado Hotel! Their morning brunch is truly amazing. Just go for the views, food and atmosphere…no need to spend the night. I can’t tell you how many times after late night recording sessions, gigs or romantic adventures, I’ve left LA at 4am to pull up just in time for a magnificent breakfast brunch along the water at the Del Coronado….right on the beach. Amazing coffee, great food and if you’re lucky they’ll let you siesta in a cabana on the beach before you cruise back to LA.
Chateau Marmont in Hollywood
Treat yourself to a fun night on the town of Hollywood being Hollywood at the Chateau restaurant or bar. You’ll never guess who you’ll see there and when you do, you’ll have a story for life or who knows, you might just end up with a celebrity husband or wife haha. This place is legendary for a reason and comes with a bit of a toll.
The Mission Inn Riverside, CA
Go have a fairytale adventure and bring your camera. What a beautiful hotel.
The Amazon (RIP)
For the record, some of the best, coolest, craziest and most unique places I’ve ever dined out at hung out at, gotten drunk at, enjoyed coffee at or just laughed at are sadly no longer with us. I could list a great number of amazing bars and restaurants but one of these resting in peace shout outs that I have to give is the Amazon that used to be in Sherman Oaks. I stopped there after a recording session years ago…2008 or 2009 for a late night celebratory meal and it also seemed to be the only place that was open and close to the studio where I was recording. It had a giant waterfall IN THE RESTAURANT and giant gorillas, giraffes, lions and monkeys that would come out of the wall at you. It was very much like a Rain Forest Cafe for adults and after a few beverages was truly a hilarious and wonderful place to enjoy some food or drinks. Anyone I know who had been there looks back on it fondly and laughs about how ridiculous and awesome it was. If you pulled out your cellphone or a camera to take a picture, the owner would scold you furiously and accuse you of stealing his idea. I was so sorry to learn of it closing about 6 months after my first time in but I hope LA brings The Amazon Back somewhere because it was wonderful and a wild and was a great place for me to celebrate after just working with one of the most famous drummers in the world on a session.
Most of my activities with out of town friends outside of guitar shopping, scuba diving or events include recording albums, playing gigs, going to gigs, doing photoshoots, filming movies, going for hikes, riding bikes along Hermosa Beach up to Santa Monica and back or wherever you’re biking.
There’s horseback riding in Griffith Park, there’s Gravity Hill in Alta Dena and there are far too many great lookout spots I’ve discovered on hikes and photoshoots to really list here. Just get out and see or do…or if we’re friends, I’m happy to take you along for the ride.
Dodger Stadium…. in that magical Chavez Ravine in the Elysian Park part of Los Angeles is not only one of the greatest places on Earth to see a baseball game, as of March 2021, in a year’s time, Dodger Stadium was a site for Covid-19 testing, the home of the 2020 World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers and is now currently a Covid-19 vaccine site helping millions of people finally bring our global nightmare a few steps slightly closer to the end.
That said….it’s where I saw my very first baseball game at 18 months old. It’s the first Major League Baseball Stadium to ever play any of my music when they played my song, “Dodgers Hat” as the sold out Dodgers home crowd went while back in the middle 2000s. It is also a place I love to take my friends who love to see baseball games to when they are in from out of town. It’s also a great place for concerts…. The last concert I saw there was AC/DC with Vintage Trouble opening up. It was an absolutely amazing show. I guess the only thing that’s left to do for me there is to play the stadium myself. Come on readers…. I know there are at least 100,000 of you out there that can make that happen. Get on it…let’s rock!
Bart’s Books in Ojai
This amazing bookstore is mostly outside and it feels like you’re in a tree house or a mountain cabin surrounded by books. You’ll always find something interesting there to take home for your library, intellectual curiosity, kitchen adventures, coffee table or book shelf and you’ll always bump into super nice people and dogs while doing so.
The Iliad in North Hollywood
The Iliad is not in an outdoor treehouse like Bart’s Books is but it is equally amazing and has a bigger selection of genres. Enjoy the outdoor artwork as you feel like you’re walking into a real life-sized library upon entering the building. It feels like a record shop…only for books!
Beach Bonfire at Dockweiler Beach
One thing every LA native, inhabiter or visitor must do at least once is to enjoy a beach bonfire at Dockweiler Beach. Just do it…. Look out for late night thieves and people to possibly mess with your car or your tires…. But as long as you’re vigilant and careful…go…enjoy…have a good time and enjoy the pauses in conversations as the airplanes fly overhead.
Go see the museums and the beaches and the typical touristy sites…. This is my tour so it’s going to be a bit more personal. And as I’ve said before, there are so many drives, hikes, ocean views, mountain hangs, desert vistas, restaurants and happy places that I’ve left off this list because some places are too good not to keep secret and of course that just means that anyone reading this should put down your phone, tablet or computer right now and go explore, get inspired and find your own happy places because if you only hang out at mine, that’s not very original now is it 😉
Keep rockin’ Much Love and Keep wearing a mask until it’s time to safely begin the new roaring 20s.
See you there!
Ted Wulfers – March 9, 2021 The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Oh yes, this is such a great question and I have to agree with you….every good meal is only good because of the strengths and combinations of its ingredients and none of us would be anywhere without those who have guided or helped us along the way. Personally, I have a lot of ingredients and I’m proud to give a tremendous shout out to a few.
First off, I had a college professor named Rick Brunetto. He was the head of the music department and even thought I was a philosophy major at the time, I had seen that there was a recording class available and I took it. I had already recorded a few records of my own and for other people before taking the class and Rick immediately recognized my drive, hunger, talent and desire to learn everything I could about recording. No joke, but a few weeks into the class, I was already a sort of TA or teachers assistant, helping other students, helping grade other students and basically spending as much time in that studio as I possibly could. So much so that I was eventually given a key by Rick and I would be in there all hours of the night recording music. Rick really saw that I was on a path to do what I’ve been doing ever since and through his encouragement and giving me the opportunity to explore a recording studio to its limits, I was able to learn, blossom, grow and figure out on my own what certain bits of gear do and don’t do. It helped that I had already had a lot of recording experience before this, but this really cemented within me that I was pretty good at this making records thing and I should keep with it. My band at the time began to tour a bit around the Midwest and we opened up for some famous bands like Chicago and The Doobie Brothers. Having access to the recording studio during that exciting period of time while all of this new music, gigging, touring and rock ‘n roll lifestyle was exploding into my young adult life was a true beacon of creativity and sonic exploration and I can’t thank Rick enough for that.
Rick’s mentorship didn’t stop there. He offered me a job. Not only was Rick a professor but he’s an amazing jazz drummer and he’s the bandleader of the famous Rick Brunetto Big Band. He offered me a job as roadie and soundguy for the 16-Piece Rick Brunetto Big Band and it was awesome. I loved it. I would set up the band, get their instruments and rigs together, do their sound and then tear down the show and load them out afterwards. The gigs ranged from a WWII themed 94th Aero Squadron bar/restaurant venues all the way to Governor’s mansions, balls, galas, weddings and fancy hotel ballrooms. There was a rough and tumble badass of the big band, a trombone player named Gary McCabe. He was the cool dude smart talking “Keith Richards” of the big band scene and was an excellent musical and personal foil to Rick’s “Mick Jagger on drums.” It was great life experience being a roadie for a 16-piece big band and learning about schedules, efficient load ins and load outs and about lugging gear, not losing gear, fixing gear and all while working within a musical setting. Rick had this giant ancient white Chevy van that all the gear lived in to be carted to the gigs. One night, I was driving to load out the band at a gig with my then girlfriend and all the gear was at the gig so the van was empty. Well, suddenly every police siren and light starts wailing and flashing all around us and I realize we’re being pulled over. But not just being pulled over…we were being pulled over by the SWAT TEAM! Guns a blazing, machine guns, hand guns, shotguns and all yelling at us to get out of the van. We did and they asked me what was in the van and I told them that inside the van, they’d find a backpack, my guitar, a cargo ramp, bungee chords and duct tape. The SWAT Team had us spread eagle up against the van and thought I was joking with them. Then they looked inside the van and they found….. a backpack, a guitar, a cargo ramp, bungee chords and duct tape. It turns out, they were looking for a white Chevy van of the exact description as Rick’s that had just robbed a bank. We hadn’t robbed a bank and so we were let go. I recently got to surprise Rick on his 70th birthday recently by filming a video for his big birthday bash event and telling him that story after all these years. I’m very thankful to Rick for helping me grow into music and to help become the musician and producer I’ve become both in the studio, on the stage and off. I’m proud to report that at the time of this interview, the Rick Brunetto Big Band is still swingin’ throughout the Midwest.
I remember vividly the first time I heard “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty. The song, the video….they hit me like a ton of bricks and I thought the guy was just so cool. I was a boy and as I grew into my teens, Tom Petty’s music seemed to be guiding me and helping me grow into a songwriter and musician. Album after album then a box set, then another album, I was very aware, even as a teenager, of the quality of these songs, these recordings, how it was packaged, delivered and consumed. It was brilliant, it was honest, it was authentic, it was cool and it was everything I wanted to do moving forward. Sure, I had other huge influences but I could relate in a powerful way to how Tom worked and how he connected.
As I grew up in age and in my career, I continued to be so impressed with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and the universe they had created around them, and I sought out to work with some of those who had worked closely with Tom Petty and I was lucky to gain two of my greatest mentors and friends. In some weird and wacky cosmic way, I’d love to thank Tom for that.
Around 2002, I went to a lot of Tom Petty shows and one of the things I would do at the end of the gig is run to the front of house area where the FOH Engineer or “sound guy” was working and try to snag a set list of the show and ask for tips and tricks about live sound and various settings for various songs. The FOH Engineer’s name was Robert Scovill and Robert was nice enough to welcome my questions. And a few gigs later, Robert would be bombarded by more questions from young Ted and to this day, I am so honored but also so thankful that he answered the questions and gave me such a huge insight into how Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers achieved their sound live. I would take these tips and tricks and try them in my studio and you know what…these tips and tricks worked and they worked rather well. Robert and I kept in touch over the years and I’d see him throughout the 2000s at shows but as my music career grew, less questions were asked and more hang time was established and I was lucky to be welcomed to enjoy the shows from the awe inspiring sonic comforts of the FOH section while watching my favorite band, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers do their thing and do it so well. I cannot express how truly fucking cool that was of Robert to do and how amazing it was to experience. The last time I got to experience this was during Tom Petty’s final tour in 2017 from FOH at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Rain had cleared out a lot of the crew and we were stationed under this tent…Robert, the lighting guys, a couple of security and me sitting on a road case and smiling like a fool as sad as I am that Tom is no longer with us, that’s the last time I saw him in person and it is a unique memory I’ll cherish forever.
Robert is a legend in the pro audio world. He earned his reputation through hard work and becoming FOH for Def Leppard, then Rush, then Tom Petty along with several other first class touring entertainment acts and events. He has won many awards but he’d be the last to let you know that. He became a friend and a mentor but it’s through his example that I’ve gained the most insight and inspiration from him. His work ethic and life course are remarkable and without even saying a word his dedication to preparation, know-how, mastery of craft, quick thinking combined with natural talent not only are the reason he is where he is today but he inspires everyone he comes in contact with. I appreciate all that I’ve learned from Robert over the years but now my favorite hangs are our annual coffee hangs at the NAMM Show (when global pandemics don’t prevent such coffee hangs).
Plus, on March 8, 1995 (26 years ago yesterday), I saw my very first rock concert…. It was Pete Droge opening for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. I’ve had the good luck to have met Pete Droge in person and to have met Tom Petty in person but do you know who was doing sound that night in ’95? Robert Scovill!! How many people can say they’re currently friends with the guy who did sound at the very first rock concert they ever saw?
In 2003 and 2004, I was recording my album Cheap Liquor and I was trying to figure out who should master the album. Mastering is the final audio process once the writing, performing, recording and mixing steps have been completed. Mastering balances out the song so that that it is evenly equalized, smoothly compressed and will sound good, balanced and at the proper listening volume level on any speaker system. In my research of mastering engineers, I learned that Richard Dodd was doing mastering. I knew Richard’s name from the fact that Richard had mixed Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and had been a recording engineer and mix engineer on several Tom Petty Records as well as Wilco, George Harrison, the Traveling Wilburys, Queen, Robert Plant, the Dixie Chicks/TheChicks, Steve Earle, Sheryl Crow and many more. But Richard had mixed Tom Petty’s Wildflowers which was and is my favorite album.
I wrote Richard and I declared to him that I felt that “Crawling Back To You” from Wildflowers is the greatest mix of the 1990s and asked to book a mastering session with him to master my Cheap Liquor album. The session was booked and since 2004 he has mastered six of my album releases and one EP and has grown to be a great mentor and friend. Richard and I share a similar sense of humor and can often find ourselves riffing great puns or just laughing at how ridiculous life can but but he is also a true genius. So much so that there are top recording studios that will have “Dodd Approved” stickers on the gear that he has judged as better than other units. His Grammy Award Winning audio career is legendary from all the world famous songs and albums he’s worked on and yet he is one of the most humble and down to earth gentlemen you’ll ever meet but you’d better keep your wits about you because he is sharp as a tack and does not suffer fools.
One of the best things about Richard is when you ask him a question, the answer isn’t what he says, it’s what he doesn’t say and he makes you work for the answer. Some people may find this off-putting but I love it and it shows a true mind at work. Working with him has changed my life from an audio perspective. I’ve learned so much of what to do and what not to do that it has helped me find that perfect balance of knowing when to break the rules and when to fall in line and when to throw the rules and the line out all together. One particular session literally changed the way I make my own music and the way I work with others forever.
Richard suggested that I do a microphone shootout so he and I went to Blackbird Studios in Nashville which has arguably the greatest and best microphone collection in the United States, if not the world. To go with this world class mic collection, they also have one of the world’s largest and best collections of pro audio gear to be used with the microphone collection. Richard helped me select 10 of the best mics they had, 10 of the best mic pre-amplifiers they had and 10 of the best compressors they had and we spent a couple hours singing the same songs the same way into all of the microphones as the ultimate mic shootout to figure wout what mic, what preamp and what compressor matched MY voice to sound like ME the best. Richard had told me the mic, pre, compressor combinations he’d used with Tom Petty and Bob Dylan and Freddie Mercury and made suggestions at settings and approaches to capture my voice. We found the perfect combination and it was of course, the combo that Richard had predicted before the session. I learned a lifetime…a true lifetime of information from just those two hours and I still cannot thank him enough for that. I use that same combo and those same settings in my studio at 663 Sound today on my voice and on several clients that I work with. It allows the singer to truly come into their own as a singer and lets the voice really explode in the most natural and honest way as it is captured by the recording devices. Sometimes two hours can change your life…it did for me at that session in Nashville. But above all else, besides the great records and music Richard and I have made together over the years, I still love just hanging out and laughing with the man because he has truly amazing stories gained from the truly unique life that he’s lived.
I first started to teach myself guitar at age 14 when a guitar appeared under the tree that magical and mystical December 25th morning. Along with the Rolling Stones and B.B. King Greatest hits CDs that came with the guitar, I was given the CD, AC/DC Live. I didn’t have a tuner for my guitar for the first couple years of playing and would tune my guitar to the AC/DC Live CD. It was either tune the guitar to AC/DC or tune the guitar by ear and both worked out quite well. I was a 14 year old boy with an electric guitar and I was armed with a AC/DC Live CD. Look out world. Brian Johnson had been the lead singer of AC/DC since 1980 and he was the lead singer on AC/DC Live. This was 1993.
Flash forward from 1993 to 2011 and through a long, wild and crazy turn of events, my good friend and former NFL Pro Bowler and Football Great Tim Tyrell calls me and asks me how I’m doing. At the time I’m Sarasota, FL. I’ve just opened for Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks in Tampa and I’ve played some solo acoustic shows in Sarasota and I’m driving to the beach with my girlfriend at the time. I tell Tim I’m in Sarasota driving to the beach. Tim tells me that HE’S ALSO IN Sarasota and that he’s driving to Brian Johnson’s house and he wonders if we would like to join him and Brian Johnson for dinner. Join Brian Johnson for dinner?? Are you fucking kidding me? All I remember of the rest of that conversation was me doing an illegal 8 lane U-turn screeching and squawking the rental car into traffic on the other side of the giant roadway so that we could drive back to shower the day at the beach off, get dressed and hang out with Tim and BRIAN JOHNSON!!
Tim used to play for the Los Angeles Rams in the 1980s and AC/DC used to use the stadium where the Rams played to rehearse for their stadium shows. Tim is one of the biggest AC/DC fans in the world (was at their first US show ever back in the 70s) and he and Brian became good friends since the 80s.
At the time, I had a song on the radio from my Lucky No. 7 album called “Here We Go” and it was climbing the charts. I was beating out the Foo Fighters and other big rock bands in some markets. Tim told me he had played Brian “Here We Go” and that Brian loved it and that he was looking forward to meeting us. (Not as much as we were looking forward to meeting him haha). My girlfriend at the time was a striking high fashion model and she and I proudly went off to meet them for dinner.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Tim’s bear hugs and there was Brian Johnson and his amazing wife. We started laughing and we didn’t stop for 9 hours. Brian is the most charming, hilarious, obscene, rambunctious, outgoing and pirate of a man I’ve ever met and we hit it off like peas in a pod. Brian was very complimentary of my song “Here We Go” and he started spouting off special details about the lyrics and the guitars and the singing…. I was on cloud 9. He talked about how great it was when he was first on the radio and it was so refreshing, humbling and wonderful to hear this rock legend talk about his early beginnings and the early times when he first joined AC/DC and recorded his debut album with them which would go on to be in the top 5 selling albums of all time!! (Back In Black) He could tell I was on a radio high from having “Here We Go” on the radio and he gave me great advice about it and we bonded over something few musicians ever get to experience, let alone bond over with their idols. We laughed in obscene rock ‘n roll debauchery and charming swagger throughout the rest of the night until the restaurant finally kicked us out and upon leaving, Brian told me “we salute ya” which took my cloud 9 and raised it cloud 999. I had grown up and tuned my guitar this man’s albums and his closing song that says, “For Those About To Rock, We Salute You” and now this man is actually saluting me. So amazing. But not as amazing as when he demanded we come visit him a few weekends from then to see him race as he’s a semi-professional race car driver on the vintage race car circuit. At first I thought he was kidding about inviting us but he insisted and a few weeks later we were his private guests at the Mitty in Atlanta hanging out with Brian, his wife and the race team as their private guests.
While there, I saw a wonderful side of Brian. He really was the same old bloke he’d always been and he knew how lucky he was by hitting the jackpot and joining AC/DC and he knew how much work it was to stay there once you hit that jackpot. He was a truly noble and humble man whose enormous personality and outrageous sense of humor only made him more lovable on top of someone to respect. He and I bonded over rhythm sections and had great conversations about music and rock ‘n roll and race cars and life in general. It was truly surreal and magical and I am so thankful for that weekend. We’ve kept in touch over the years and the man continues to kick ass in his racing career, TV career and back at the lead singer position in AC/DC. But to have one of your idols give you that much inspiration, time, advice and perspective is really magical and something I’ll remember all my days. To some, race car engines and rock ‘n roll are considered noise pollution…but to me and to hanging out with Brian Johnson, they make good good sense…..good sense….and I salute them.
Finally, my biggest influence and ultimate rock in this roll of a life has been my parents. I’m an only child so I’ve had a wonderful bond with my parents my entire life. They were tremendously supportive of me to follow my dreams. They encouraged my piano playing to flourish from a young age and they gave me my first guitar and amplifier. My Dad was my best friend until his passing and my Mom and I are extremely close. I’m lucky. They are two of the smartest people I’ve ever met. My Dad set records in his career and had one of the most amazing minds and levels of intelligence many people ever encountered. My Mom has read more books than anyone I know and is a wealth of information on most topics from Medieval Literature to linguistics to medical health to ancient history and is sought after for her lectures on history and literature. And my Dad taught me how to laugh and had a wonderful sense of humor.
I’ve been very lucky to have encountered the characters I’ve just mentioned for they have taught me lessons directly and indirectly on a number of levels of how to to be a better human being, how to be a better man, how to be a better musician and how just to…. be. I’m very thankful and grateful for their influence, hospitality and generosity and I know my life would be very different without their compass as a guide as I continue to try to carve my own, original path.
Photos by Ted Wulfers and Erik Nielsen Variously