Monday, June 6, 2011

A Tale of Two Ovations

A Tale of Two Ovations

My Ovation Balladeer
At last, I am tellinging my Ovation guitar story. This isn’t exctly why, when, where and how I intended to present it, but at least it’s for a noble cause.

My original intent was to send this tale as a personal letter to Kaman, the manufacturer of Ovation guitars in an attempt to get a sponsorship and/or a free guitar,  case or Ovation swag... something, anything, to demonstrate their appreciation for such devout customer loyalty.

Over the years, I can probably be credited for as many sales of Ovation guitars as the guys who work in music stores selling them directly to would-be guitarists eager to burn a hole in their pocket on a new guitar. I’ve even changed more than a few minds of purists who had a negative pre-conceived notion about Ovations because they aren’t made of 100% natural woods. I know of several people who went out and purchased Ovations upon hearing mine or after I allowed them to play it. During the ten plus years I was hosting open mics and showcases in and around L.A., California,  my Ovation Balladeer was the house guitar; the one anyone who didn’t have one or forget to bring theirs was offered in proxy.

Due to my procrastinative nature, I never got around to writing that letter to Kaman. What happened was this:

 It was the beginning of a heatwave and the end of a long night of performing my regular Sunday night stint at the Chimneysweep in Sherman Oaks. I think it was 1990 or ‘91. I had recently purchased an Ovation Balladeer and went to sleep while it remained in the rear of my hatchback. As night people are often want to do, I slept until noon the next day. After I awoke, I made some fresh coffee and sat down with a cup to watch the news at noon. About twenty minutes in, during the weather report, Fritz, the weatherman mentioned that it was 110 degrees F outside... and then it hit me --- my equipment was still out in the car, in the driveway, under NO SHADE!!  I leapt off the couch and ran to the car. As soon as I opened the back door, that intense, dry heat hit me in the face like a blow dryer! My heart sank, because I knew my guitar wouldn’t survive this. If it was this hot outside the car, how hot must it be inside?  I immediately popped the hatch where the sun had been beaming it’s rays like a laser through the glass of the hatchback as if through a magnifying glass.

At the sight of it, my heart sank even further. The surface of my brand new Ovation case was full of blisters and bubbles like the crust of a baking pizza pie. I couldn’t even touch it. I had to run back inside to find a towel or a pot holder so I could get it out of that hot car ASAP. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind not to set it near the air conditioner, but what the hell? Would that even matter?  I decided not to open the case until I was sure it and its contents were room temperature. Believe me when I tell you, I was afraid to look inside at what I was sure would be a warped mess of cracked wood and popped strings.

But see, here’s the thing. And it’s the thing I’m sure helped sell a lot of Ovations to people I related this story to over the years... the guitar was absolutely fine. Not a crack. Not a blemish. Not a single thing wrong with it. That case took the all the bullets. For every bubble and blemish and crack in the case, there was nothing to show for the ordeal on the guitar it served to protect. The case was a portrait and the guitar was Dorian Gray.  

It’s now 2011 (over 20 years later) and I recently took pictures of the case and guitar, both which I still gig with to this day. Why am I compelled to tell you this now?  Because I just wanted to demonstrate how much abuse an Ovation case can take... Because to damage an Ovation guitar inside an Ovation case, there has to  be an extaordinary amout of neglect and/or intent to damage involved to get an Ovation to end up like the one in this next story...

Lisa Nemzo’s Ovation Adamis
Lisa Nemzo is a well known singer/songwriter and recording artist who resides in Los Angeles. I  became a friend and fan from the first time I saw her perform at the now defunct Blue Lagune Saloon in Marina Del Rey (wow, I miss that place) during the late '80s when I was tending bar there. In the years since, I had seen her perform a few dozen time and even shared the bill with her once or twice at local venues such as Ghengis Cohen and local coffee houses. Her Ovation is one of two that influenced me to purchase one (the other belonged to my friend D.J., a friend and former bandmate I grew up with in Philly)

Ahh, but the sounds Lisa was able to get her guitars to omit, those amazing harmonics, that timber, unique only to a top-of-the line Ovation when it’s plugged in. WOW!! Wow, Wow, Wow!  That sound has stayed with me through the years. You never forget your first Lisa Nemzo concert....

So it was with great sorrow that I read her post on Facebook recently about the demise of her prize Ovation Adamis at the hands of American Airline employes and the calousness in which her case is being handled (absolutely no pun intended). If I ever have to bring a guitar on a plane, ANY plane, it will be with great trepidatrion, thanks in no small part to American Airlines. 

Unfortunately, Lisa’s guitar didn’t survive the beating it took on the tarmac at the AA terminal where it was crushed by who-knows-what kind of truck. But I believe the tale of Lisa Nemzo’s Ovation should have a happy ending. 

Reading about this ordeal, which Ms. Nemzo is still going through as I write this, has somehow struck a chord in me which has managed to awaken some serious anger and frustration about the whole state of mankind, how it seems to have devolved in the last decade or so and how powerless it seems the powers that be want to make us feel. It evokes some lyrics of my own from an original song called “Change The News” (a song I wrote about every vote making a difference),

“Dear Mr. President of these United States
and leaders of the world,
from now on, we’re gonna take a stand.
No longer will we tolerate
one man’s inhumanbity
to another man

And if you expect us to just
sit back and let it happen
From now on we must refuse
And, every one of us must get up every day
And help to change the news"

...And that’s what I’m feeling right now. This resolve to not let this go...  not until American Airlines makes full restitution to Lisa Nemzo.

 They offered to give her a new guitar. One of much lesser value than the one they destroyed.

She had to cancel several gigs and lost opportunities to meet and greet her fans (many who are sorely dissapointed)

She lost an opportunity to make new fans and sell a lot of CDs.

 It makes me ill to think anout the degree to which American Airlines has attempted to minimalize this debacle of human decency.

Several musician friends have suggested Lisa write a song about the incident in the same vein as Dave Carroll’s “United Breaks Guitars”. Years ago, folk singer Tom Paxton wrote a song about a similar incident. My fear is that the novelty of airlines trashing guitar songs will  wear off and will only serve to give publicity to the bastards. And I’m also pretty sure that as I write this, Lisa has written the bridge by now.

I thought about writing on American Airlines Facebook wall as Lisa requested. But in order to do that, you have to hit their “LIKE” button first. That’s a catch-22, because I’m not about to LIKE them just so I can post about how much I DON’T LIKE them. Beside’s they can easily delete any posts they deem negative from the public. So what would be the point?

Okay, I’m getting down off my soapbox for now. I may not have the answer, but hopefully, when you read this, you’ll start asking some questions yourself. Get the word out. If you have any connections in the news media, see if you can get this story some legs. Do whatever you can to keep this story alive and in the public eye. Fly SouthWest whenever possible. Be good to each other.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Right to Make A Right

No, I haven't become an ultra-conservative. I'm talking about making a right-hand turn while DRIVING in Philadelphia. Having lived in L.A. for so long really puts a magnifying glass on the problem and I've come to the conclusion that if there's one major difference between Philly and the rest of the civilized world, it's this issue.  Now the way I understand it is...

During the late 70's or early 80's, Mayor Frank Rizzo was famously opposed to allowing right hand turns while the light was red at any intersction. However, after a major campaign by the public and his own city council, he was reluctantly persuaded to abolish the "No Right Turn on Red" law. Finally, after years of having to wait until the light turns green to make a right hand turn at an intersection, Rizzo at long last agreed to allow drivers, after first looking both ways, checking the rearview and both side mirrors, using extreme caution and unless a posted sign said otherwise, to make a legal right hand turn at their discretion! Oh joy. Oh, happy day.

Unfortunately what came next was unprecedented, unnecessary, and IMHO, mind-numbingly stupid (I thought so then, and I think so now)... He ordered a "NO TURN ON RED LIGHT" sign put up on practically EVERY street corner of the city. Since there weren't enough of these signs in existence, it gave the prison inmates something to do for a while, and that's about the best I can say about this idiotic decision. Seriously, I have no idea what the cost to make and install these signs cost the city of Philadelphia, but he may as well have just flushed that cash down a toilet. And not only was it a waste of time and money, but to this day, the signs remain a major inconvenience and waste of time for Philly's motorists.

Some of these signs, to be sure, are located at intersections where they make sense. Near schools, major arteries, shopping centers, expressway entrances, etc. But the vast majority are at intersections where traffic is slow, have high visibility and in many instances, aren't even full intersections (e.g. T-crossing, driveway entrance, very minor intersections). It's an insult to our intelligence to be forced to sit and wait for a light to turn green before making a right when it's perfectly safe and no one's on the road for miles.

I say, the time has come for a revolt on this issue. Let's get a NEW campaign started to uproot about three-quarters of the signs now holding up Philadelphia drivers and productivity.

Honk if you agree.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's Late, I'm Tired and I Just Started This Blog

I've always wanted to write a book about some of the things I witnessed as a bartender in Los Angeles, some of the conversations I've been privy to, restaurants I've discovered, gems of wisdom derived from my experiences on the way to losing most of my hair, etc.

So. Anyway, as I was saying... My first choice was to write a book, entitled "Tales From The Bar Side", but I didn't want to go through all the hassle of finding a publisher, a literary agent, publicist, and whatever being an author entails (I'll talk more about this in a blog about procrastination). I just like to write and I have a whole shitload of stuff in my cranium waiting to be spewed out. I have no idea in what order these things will emerge from the storage units inside my head. My only hope is that I have something relevant to say to someone, somewhere, and that my sense of humor shines through as well.

Every so often, I'll get on my soapbox about something. I don't whine often*, but when I do, I'm painfully aware that I'm doing it, but, like everyone else, I need to vent from time to time, so I apologize in advance for those particular blogs when they end up here among my little vignettes. I'll try to inject some humor into those occasional tirades as well - although I'm sure it will come out as my trademark sarcasm.

Lastly, let me just say this - I am NOT a Tweeter. I'm far too verbose to confine myself to short phrases several times a day to express myself or keep friends and fans posted as to where I'm eating a donut. Nope... I'm afraid I need to BLOG. Stay tuned.

*Some people think I do... screw 'em! This is whining...