Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wa

<a href="http://sparkygrinstead.bandcamp.com/track/wa">Wa by Sparky Grinstead</a>




Won Out was released in 1979. Our intention was to release it in 1978 but due to some typical last-minute change-my-minds it was held up. Arlene and I did all of the mailing and marketing ourselves. I remember buying the LP mailers from Tharco, writing the letters to disc jockeys around the country - each one was typewritten by Arlene on our IBM Selectric and hand-signed by me. We aimed mainly at college stations because back in those days college stations were free-willed creatures that would, could and did play anything that struck their fancy. The big-time commercial radio station were pretty snooty and for the most part would have nothing to do with us even though most were still locally-owned and operated. These were the days before some fat rich guy bought all the stations and made them all play the same 3 songs over and over again between commercials for the other companies that the fat rich guy owned. We got a lot of positive feedback from the station managers and the jockeys themselves - each album went out with a stamped return envelope for comments. I wish I still had those letters! We were working pretty much without a blueprint because there were almost no other independent (indie? Did I invent indie?) artists/labels out there doing their own footwork. It was frustrating sometimes because we'd ask someone to play us or carry us in their store (yes, there were many independent record stores then, too! Not like now when some fat rich guy...you know), and it would go something like this:
Q: What label are you with?
A:  The label is Sparlene.
Q:  Sparlene? I've never heard of that label.
A:  It's my own label.
Q:  Your own label? You have your own record company?
A:  Well, it's not really a record company. I just put my own record out under my own name.
Q:  Sparlene, huh? What does it mean?
A:  What we'd really like you to do is play/stock my album.
Q:  Who does your distro? Your publicity?
A:  We do everything ourselves
Q:  Are you getting any airplay?
A:  Yes, they're playing it on (local college station).
Q:  Wow, man, I dunno...that sounds cool, but we/I don't usually deal with the artist directly....
A:  Well, I can let you talk to my wife....

Sometimes they'd buy them directly from us, sometimes they'd take them on consignment and sometimes they'd insist on a bunch of free copies for "promotion" (which we couldn't afford to do). I remember the manager of Tower Records in Berkeley being very sympathetic to my cause. He was the first to stock Won Out and even sold out of his first batch (of 5)! It kind of went sour when Arlene and I went there to look at my name in the record bins and discovered that I was "Sparky Grimstead" - a very common misspelling of my last name but disappointing nonetheless. I suggested we bring it up with the manager but Arlene went ballistic and got into a shouting match with the cashier, demanding that they change the card immediately. The cashier marched up the aisle and removed all of my albums, thereby ending my relationship with that particular Tower Records store.

As I said in an earlier post, we were planning to issue "Fall On Me" as a single, backed by a newly recorded version of "Ten Years".

At the tail end of '79, after all of the initial work on the album was done, we had purchased a TEAC A-3440-S, a gigantic 4-track reel-to-reel machine. It was similar to the Sony machine that Chris Troelson had used to record the initial sessions back in '75. I remember how exciting it was to bring it home, open the box and set it up in the living room (by this time we were living in the rear unit of a duplex on MacAuley Street in Oakland, just down the street from the headquarters of the music magazine BAM) I could now do my own multi-track recording. At first I rather over-ambitiously planned to record everything I'd ever written, but soon made the more realistic decision to record whatever I felt like recording. Arlene and I used the TEAC, which we dubbed "Milton the Monster" to work on a new, more straightforward version of "Ten Years" for the single.

I'm not a patient man when it comes to recording. If I don't get a usable take in the first few tries I tend to move on to the next thing. "Ten Years" was, for some reason, difficult to nail down and after a few tries we put it aside. Then inspiration struck - and the result was "Wa".

I started playing an A chord (my guitar at this time was a natural-finish Telecaster that I'd found at Subway guitars in Berkeley. The Fender Telecaster is my second-favorite guitar after the big red semi-hollow and , with a few notable exceptions, those are the electric guitar you'll most likely see me playing.) and began improvising lyrics, switching to a Dm when it seemed appropriate. It started out as a call-and-response kinda thing: "Gimme a W, Gimme and A" but then I didn't know where I was going with that so I just said "What that spell?" and suddenly I knew. I made up a few verses and then let it ride on the A chord for a while. Then I overdubbed the bass part, which is actually the Telecaster with the tone knob turned all the way to the bass, and just jammed away. The percussion is the Telecaster again - I just laid in down and played the strings like bongos. The tag at the end was added a few nights later. Arlene, Steve Hanamura, Peter Helgeson and I sat around the kitchen table and chanted "What that spell?" while I stomped out the beat.

"Wa" was going to be the single. I took the tape to Mike Cogan and Bay Records in Alameda to mix, splice the two parts together and master. For the b side I reached back and pulled out the "Whatever You Want" from the original '75 sessions (detailed in another blog). We put it out in the summer of 1980 and followed pretty much the same marketing scheme that we'd used with Won Out. Stores wouldn't stock it, so we had to sell it ourselves.

A (vamp)
A
Gimme a W, gimme an A

What that spell? That spells Wa

What that spell? That spells Wa
Dm
Wa is what that spell

Wa is what that spell

Why do I say Wa?
Why do I say Wa?
Why do I say Wa?
I say Wa 'cause I say Wa
I say Wa 'cause I say Wa

What does it mean?
What does it mean?
What does it mean?
I say Wa means Wa
Wa means Wa

(repeat first verse)

A
What that spell?
What that spell?
What that spell?

(bass improv to fade)

What that spell?

"Wa" is still one of my favorite pieces. To this day I believe that in the right circumstances - the right chain of events - it could very well have been massive. It is a very unusual song, kinda nursery rhyme-ish but at the same time subtly subversive. Kids loved it. Adults would admit that it was catchy but for the most part just raise their eyebrows and back away. The radio stations that happily played songs from the Won Out album, despite letters and phone calls from the Sparlene Records publicity machine, generally ignored it. I was surprised and disappointed. I knew "Wa" was unusual, but I thought that the independent-minded program directors and disc jockeys of college radio stations would like it for its uniqueness (it was only later that I learned that "Wa" means "harmony" in Japanese). Boy, was I wrong!

("Wa" was released in July of 1980 as a single a-side)

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