New York City – Donald Fagen is Producing My Song – July 12, 1998

I’m in the studio with one of my all-time favorite musicians, Donald Fagen (Of Steely Dan) and he’s about to produce my song.  How did I get here? 

My mom’s naughtiest running partner and oldest friend, Libby Titus, happens to be married to Donald and somehow my cheep little demo tape with my hedgehog, Fatty J’s scratchings on it, wound up in his cassette player and he had feedback about my song “When We’re Together.”

“The performance isn’t completely sure of itself and there are some pitchy notes,” I cringed as Mom and I hung on his every word, sharing the receiver between us.  “But overall, you’re a great singer and you have a really original thing going on.”  Oh phew, I thought! “I think you have two options,” he continued “#1 You let it be.  It’s a great song and you can leave it as is.  #2 You re-record it and you let me produce it.  I’m free tomorrow and Friday.”

What What What?!?!? How could I turn down that offer?!?!?  

But… I was terrified.  I didn’t know if I could sing the song any better and feared making a fool of myself in front of one of the great musical legends.  “I’m so honored Donald.  I mean, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I am not sure I can make it to New York that soon.”

“Don’t be a fool!” Libby grabbed the receiver giving away her position, “Go to New York tomorrow and let Donald produce this track.”  In a girlish teasing fun-loving way, Mom repeated all Libby’s sentiments ganging up on me  “You’re a fool to turn this down.” “What have you got to lose?” “Don’t you want Donald to do your track?” as my mom and Libby’s voices tangled into a dance around my heart I admitted my insecurities just to stop their love heckling. 

“You know, I am so completely flabbergasted” (yes, I said flabbergasted) “by the opportunity but honestly, I’m insecure about whether or not I can actually do it better.”  This statement only baited the girls into greater peer pressure:

“You CAN do it better.”  They insisted “You’re a fool.”  “You’ll regret this.”  “Come down to New York.” “Why don’t you want to do this?” and suddenly Pheobe Snow was on the phone too (where did she come from?!) joining in on the girl chorus with “It’s a great song, Sally.  You go girl.  Come record with Donald.”

And the matter was settled. 

I flew from Martha’s Vineyard to New York on Friday.  I did vocal exercises for an hour and then practiced the song over and over and over until the bass distorted the speakers. Finally, shaking like a leaf, I hailed a taxi to River Sound Studio on East 95th.  When I pulled up, the driver didn’t have change for my $20 so I ran into a Chinese laundromat where I was promptly turned away.  But miraculously, the driver told me not to worry about it!  Even when I insisted I pay him he drove away apologizing to ME for not having change. 

Donald was walking up the street as I was walking into his studio.  I kissed his cheek in a knee-jerk nervous reaction and he laughed.  He introduced me to Phil, his engineer, and showed me around his phenomenal space filled with Asian rugs and gold records and a punching bag called “Slam-Man” who I deduced was used to de-stress between difficult takes.  As Donald and Phil set up I admitted to them I was nervous.

“Aw, don’t be,” said Donald “I spent years in this studio creating badly pitched tracks.”  It was kind of him to say but did little to alleviate my shaking.

It took 12 takes.  The whole song.  Only 12 takes.  “From that, we have enough to create the perfect track,” said Donald.  He complimented me a lot, probably because he knew how worried I was about the whole thing.   “I love your voice,” he said, and “Man, this song is really a winner,” he said, and “You’ve got great pitch” and “I think you’re going about making this CD the right and smart way.”  And then he said “You can’t pay me for this session.  I really enjoyed doing this for you.”

And when the night was wrung dry, and the perfect track had been mixed, Donald held his breath for a moment, turned to me, and said “There’s just one thing missing.”  There in the wee hours of New York City morning, Donald Fagen donned a pair of headphones, entered the sound booth, and lay down a track of wind chimes.  “Now it’s complete.”

“Do you mind if I call in my partner Walter Becker in to give it a listen with fresh ears?” asked Donald. Are you kidding? Of course I was ok with that! Steely Dan’s other half walked in with blue and white corner store coffee in hand. He gave me a little hug and a smile and then turned his attention to the song.

“Is this your song?” Walter asked

“Yeah,” I replied.

“It’s really great,” he said. 

Together, Steely Dan punched and mixed and replayed my song over and over like it was a piece of molten gold that needed to be washed of impurities. When the song was done we walked down the 5 flights of stairs. We said our goodbyes as the night bled into a new day. Donald ceremoniously handed me our track on a tiny cassette and Walter, as he walked away called over his shoulder “Call me when it goes gold.”

Genius!  Thank you, Walter. Thank you, Libby.  Thank you, mama.  Thank you, Donald.

Vail, CO – “Let’s Rodeo” – The Catacombs & State Bridge – July 2, 1998

The CD is mastered!  I have in my hand one shiny, polished, bouncing baby CD. I hold it in my hands and look through the donut hole in the center staring into my future.  This is the CD from which all other Tomboy Bride CDs will be copied.  It scares the shit out of me.  Now I feel like I truly understand the saying “Fruits of your labor.”  This music production is not for the weak-hearted I am exhausted and completely freaked out.  How on earth did I end up with this thing that seems to breathe without me and yet IS me?  Listening to it on the car speakers on my way home from mastering is unbearable.  Each note sounds off somehow yet I know  I’m just too close to it to hear it without all my insecurities clapping my ears like a schoolyard bully. 

I played “Catacombs” this week with The Women From Mars, a collection of local gals who get together monthly despite where they are in their tour cycles.  We play together to benefit breast cancer research.  The night was vibrant and it was healing to be surrounded by my mountain sisters; Wendy Woo, Jude, Nicole Jamrose, Liza Oxnard, and Libby Kirkpatrick to name a few. We strung guitars and tried each other’s gloss and essential oils in the green room. We nicknamed our backstage “the womb” and we bonded, listening to each other’s latest strummings and celebrating our girl power.

I returned home to a call from Phil Ramone (of The Ramones!). He told me he’d loved my tape. “You’ve got a lot of nice stuff here Sally. Send me the CD when it’s done. I want to present it to Music Boulevard,” he said. I was thrilled and flattered.

Kipp asked me to open up for Zuba (the awesome band he manages) for a strand of Colorado gigs.  I was grateful for the opportunity but after our first gig at “State Bridge” outside Vail, standing up under a sign that read “Let’s Rodeo,” singing with my little acoustic guitar for cowboys and Hell’s Angels I realized I’d gotten in over my head.  Kipp and I scored a top bunk in the band house.   The night was cold and every two hours a train passed through the yard so loud it might’ve raised the dead.   The following day Zuba did a radio interview where the drummer, Wallace introduced himself as: “Hi, I’m stoned.”  I’m going to see if Kipp will excuse me from the rest of the dates.

New York City – Mom’s Birthday – June 26, 1998

It was Mom’s birthday yesterday.  She sits so tenderly inside my soul these days.  I can feel her hand on my hand guiding me tenderly into this scary world of music.  She took me into the living room in the early morning light, overlooking Central Park.  She told me she was proud to watch me producing my own record saying “You have to pass the torch on at some point, you know.”  Her eyes twinkled with restrained emotion. The fabric of her, I cradled in my arms.  How can this brilliant, pioneering, sweet angelic spirit be part of my makeup I thought.  She asked me if she could play me one of her new songs and when I said “Of Course mama!” she sat me down on the red velvet couch, fiddled with the dat recording device, and made unnecessary disclaimers about the sound quality and vocal performance before sitting beside me and holding my hand.  Of course, the song was beautiful. It was deep and soulful.  I felt so close to her and feeling close to her I felt closer to the sky.

Ben made focaccia bread birthday cake and lit a votive candle. We sang Happy Birthday which Mama couldn’t help but sing along to in harmony.  By mid-day, I had to get down to BootsTown Studio to finish up mixing with Wendy and Michael. When I got there they gave me the bad news:  “We’re not going to be able to finish all 11 songs.  You got to cut one.”  They recommended “In My Mind”  saying it just didn’t sound as “quality” as the rest of the tracks.

I asked for a moment to think and went into the drum booth to reclaim my stolen breath.  I was confused.  I felt so attached to “In My Mind” being on this record.  Who knows if I’ll ever make a second one, this might be its only chance to shine.  I walked back into the windowless control booth and announced “I want ‘In My Mind on there.  Let’s do what we need to to get it done.”  I felt the wind knocked out of my colleagues who’ve been killing themselves with 18-hour days to get these tracks done.  My guilt at their herculean efforts led to my relenting ½ way through the mix, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe the song’s not worth it.” I said.  “We’re all tired.”  I felt sick to my stomach leaving the song dead like roadkill on the battleground of the studio floor. It seemed to yelp as it joined the other discarded 2-inch tape on the chopping block.  By 3 am I was home looking through old drawings from 1979.  In the morning  I met up with Wendy on a park bench near a hot dog vendor.  “I’m afraid we might have to—“

She knew what I was going to say.  “Whatever Sal.  We’ll do whatever you want.”  I could have kissed her on the mouth.  We returned to the studio where Michael threw a silent fit but finished “In My Mind” in only an hour and a half.  Ahhhhhhhh.  I feel so much better.

Mixing is completed

New York City – Mixing at Whitney Huston’s Studio – June 24, 1998

I’ve decided to mix “Tomboy Bride” in New York at Whitney Houston’s studio.  Kipp connected me with Whitney’s engineer, Michael White, and he’s agreed to take on my project as long as we can finish all 11 songs in 5 days.  I’m here now, in the hot city with Wendy Woo and at the moment we’re working on “Sign of Rain.” 

My mom made a special trip down to the studio today.  It’s such a role reversal.  I spent my entire childhood and adolescence traveling to mid-town to her studio sessions, ordering grilled cheeses from take-out menus and finishing up homework assignments as musicians like Mic Jagger, Debbie Harry, Harry Belafonte, Ry Cooter, and every session player you’d ever want to meet passed through the reception area.  I drank Lipton tea by the bucket, downloaded receptionists with my latest relationship sagas, and between subjects I rewarded completed assignments with the arcade game of the month for the price of a quarter: Donkey Kong, Ms. Packman, Space Invaders, the car one I can’t remember the name of.

Today at Whitney’s I ordered Wendy, Michael my mom and I turkey subs. We ate while mom wheeled herself around on a console chair like a boss yelling half-chewed suggestions at Michael like “Fly it over.” “That’s the one.  Don’t touch it now” and “Buy it baby! buy it!”  Before she left for the day, she requested a copy of the track.  “I want to blare it through the streets of Martha’s Vineyard and scream ‘This is my DAUGHTER!”  I felt so so so so grateful for her love and tutelage and hand holding and accolades.  It’s her birthday tomorrow and as we finished the day I sketched out this letter to copy into a card I painted:

Mom wanted to know what I was going to do about distribution for the Record. “But it’s not really a record mama.” I explained, ” It’s more of a glorified demo.” I’m not sure I want to deal with retail or a professional distributor.  I’d have to deal with returns and comps and shrink-wrapping CDs. For now, I got myself a mailbox at a local Post Office in Boulder and a website “www.sallytaylor.com.”  I think I’ll take orders by snail mail for now, and test the waters just to see if there’s any interest.  I can also sell CDs at shows.  In total this record has cost me $7,778 plus a few dinners and brewskies for players who’ve refused payment. I just want to make my money back at this point.

Lyons, CO – “Being Brave” – May 30, 1998


Jeremy Leichter arrived in Boulder and now my band is complete.

My Band

Kenny Castro = Bass

Brian McRae = Drums

Jeremy Leichter = Lead guitar & BG Vocals

Me = Rhythm Guitar & Vocals

Jeremy came out to the studio today and I am currently listening to him track a killer solo on “Happy Now.”  He laid down nine guitar tracks effortlessly and cut some harmonies that flew out of his throat with wings.  I’m in heaven.  All the pieces are falling into place.  Mary Jane (MJ) a local booking agent, generously offered to book us a few shows.  I scrawled venue names and dates she’d secured on a tic tac-sized sticky note.

“Tomboy Bride.” That’s what I’m going to call this album. I wrote most of the songs for it in Telluride overlooking Bridalvail Falls under an old mining town called Tomboy. The recording is almost done and all that’s left to do is mix and master.  Of course that is just the beginning. What a caterpillar calls the end, the world calls a butterfly. I don’t know who said that but it rings true here. Once the music is done the production begins. I’ll need a website and CD artwork and some radio and print interviews lined up, and then of course there are gigs.

Oh my God what have I gotten myself into? I’m scared of being publicly rejected and humiliated but I’ve learned something from this crazy creative process: 

Bravery is not the absence of fear. It’s being scared and doing it anyway.

Boulder, CO – Leggo My Ego – May 29, 1998

Things have been crazy and now I HATE my album.  I never want to hear any of these songs ever again after this damn thing is over.

I’ve been singing out of tune for DAYS!  It’s driving me crazy and I drove home tonight listening to music I couldn’t bear to sing along with least I’d have to hear my own voice.

Sometimes I have a shitty day. I haven’t slept well or eaten enough or I’ve eaten too much or not exercised. These are the days I worried about to Fausta back in her hippy therapy shack on Martha’s Vineyard.

It’s these days when my soul feels rubbed raw and every voice in my head is yelling “What do you think you’re doing? You are SHIT at this! Your songs suck. Your voice sucks. You can’t play guitar for shit and you look like ass.” During these self-abusive sessions, I look to anything that will drown the voices out.   Sometimes a drink puts the fire out. Sometimes I just have to go to bed.  But when I can’t sleep, I turn to applause to repair the cuts and bruises I inflict on myself. The battery is relentless and can go on for days.  

Sleep is the healthiest of my crutches but it doesn’t always work.  Last night, for instance, I woke up with the fullest brain of assholes I’ve ever experienced.  “You can’t be a musician.” They said, “You suck and your songs suck.” “You can’t perform.”   “What were you thinking recording a demo?” 

Sometimes I feel so small that if my body were just a 1/2 a pound lighter I’d fall through the cracks in the sidewalk.  In these moments I say to myself “I’m nothing. I am nothing.  I am a housewife.  I am Betty Crocker and where’s my little tiny cooking set?”

And then I feel sudden bouts of relief.  The sort that alo vera brings to burns, the sort that tingles like mint jelly on lamb chops, the sort that nibbles like patient waves at the crust of a shoreline.  But then the dis-ease begins again and I want to scream and fill canyons with echos. Instead, I silently cry and scratch my face until the pain subsides.

I had to wake Kipp and beg him to hold me “Just talk me down.” I begged, my breathless tears nearly strangling me as he rocked me back to sleep. 

Booze and applause are decidedly the more detrimental of my crutches.  And, while alcoholism runs in my family and is a risky rod to bait, an addiction to applause would surely take me down quicker than a career in booze.  Drinking applause when you need it is different from accepting it as an unnecessary gift.  It wakes my roaring ego, that dangerous and skilled villain, who speaks to me in my own voice and locks me out of my own soul.

How I’ll stay away from ego:

  1. I’ll make fun of myself.
  2. I’ll make a point of enjoying other success.
  3. I’ll love myself regardless of whether others enjoy my music.
  4. I’ll never be jealous or bitter.  I’ll never do anything just because it might “look good” or “boost my image” but I will believe in everyone I surround myself with and I will believe in all my decisions.

I feel 8 months pregnant with this record.  It’s too late to turn back now and yet I’m scared as shit to give birth to it and set it free into the world.  How will it be received? Who will love it?  Does it matter?

I just want perform to my very best, sing with all my might, and do it to an absorbent crowd.  

Boulder, CO – “Time’s Ticking” – May 18, 1998

On Tuesday, Wendy and I got together in the morning to lay down guitar tracks.  Unfortunately, I ruined the session with my terrible mood.  I’d taken antihistamines to counter my hay fever and they made me bristly, snappy, and slightly agro.  We left the studio at noon having accomplished little.  We agreed to take a beat and reassemble for a nighttime session at 6 pm.

My best pal Kate suggested we go to the batting cages to get let off some steam. What a gift it is to have a friend like Kate.  We hit balls and raced go-carts and watched horses trample the dry earth into dirt and dust. 

Afterward, we went clock shopping, not for a device by which to tell time, but for an instrument that gave the right “tick.”  I wanted a real clock “tocking” the time in place of a metronome in my song “The Goodbye.”  Kate and I must have looked very funny holding our ears up to different clocks and I assume most people thought I was mad when I loudly requested silence from an entire shop before bending down to listen to the intonations of a specific coo coo.  But finally, out of exhaustion, I opted for a cheep $5.95 pharmacy wind-up alarm clock.  It ticked in ¾ time but somehow managed to work for the song in 4/4.  You can hear it here.

Brian McRae (drummer) and Greg (stand up bassist) laid down tracks in the evening and even though everyone thought “The GoodBye” and “When We’re Together” were my weakest tunes, I advocated for them to be on the record.  It made me think that maybe I’m beginning to believe in myself.

We were at the studio until the wee hours of morning.  Each time we hit record, we had to remember to also shut off the house fans, close the door, and hit the buzzing dimmable lights to ensure complete background silence.   In those moments of dark and silence, lit by candles and smiles, we held our breath hoping for a steady performance, one that wouldn’t need to be redone or patched.  We sipped shitty 3.2 gas station beer and by 5 am we were stumbling out into a newly broken dawn. Bass tracks were complete on “The GoodBye,” “When We’re Together,” “Small Town,” “In My Mind” and “Red Room.” 

I know I change my mind about it every day but I think this demo/record will turn out to be grand.  And if it DOES suck, it won’t be because of the musicians.

Boulder, CO – The Break-Up – May 13, 1998

I broke up with Doppler Circus.  The boys were surprised.  I was surprised they were surprised.  They told me I owed them $489 for the Red Door demo tapes and rehearsal space for 3 months. I cut a check and left them, jaws agape, in the rat-shit-infested garage I found them in.  I went straight from the rehearsal space to the second-hand store across the street and bought myself a white slip and cowboy hat with a radiator burn in the brim.  I plan to wear both for my photoshoot on Wednesday.

Fort Collins, CO – Opening for The Samples – The Starlight Theater – May 11, 1998

I turned in my last paper today for Anthro to Professor Patton.  It was not my best work.  I’m thoroughly exhausted. We opened for the Samples at the Starlight in Fort Collins and it changed my life. 

Our little garage band is now “Doppler Circus,” formerly known as “Tiny Yellow Ducks” formally known as “Not Eric” formally known as “Mary Sister Reload.” I got the call from Tom (Drummer) when I got home from recording keyboards on my own demo at Skyline. On the voice message, Tom said “We got the gig opening for The Samples and the guys are all in.  See you Saturday night.” 

I rode to the gig with Jeff  (guitarist) whose squareness brought out the cooky side of me. I sang silly songs in British accents along to the radio most of the journey.  We arrived close to 5 pm.  Just in time to hurry up and wait (as is often the case with sound checks).  Venues want you to be on time and imagine (rightly so) that since you’re an artist you’ll be late.  So they schedule their sound guy to come in 3 hours after they’ve told you to be there and thus, the colloquialism all bands are familiar with, “hurry up and wait.”

Wendy Woo randomly showed up and we talked about the tracks on my record while The Samples sound checked.  It was a warm night.  The club was medium-sized with an indelible patchouli scent that had no apparent source.  I was watching the buzz of bartenders tapping fresh kegs and listening to musicians test mics with the tried and true “Mic check 1, 2.  Testing 1. 2. 1. 2.”

Suddenly I heard a voice that came from somewhere deep inside me. It said, “This is just the beginning.”  But of what?  I’m not sure.  Opening for The Samples?  Doppler Circus on the road?  My own musical career?  Whatever it was, I couldn’t wait.  I felt confident and strong. 

We sound-checked with “In My Mind,” and our audience began to file in. 

Sean, The Sample’s lead singer, asked if I’d join him for a song during their set.  I got out my guitar in the dark red light of the stale green room.  We did tequila shots and drew sharks and parrots on the walls and Sean suggested we do a Neil Yong song “Old Man.”  Of course, I knew all the harmonies. 

“You look like your dad,” he told me “Your eyes are like waterlilies and I’m falling into them.” He said drunkenly while his girlfriend rolled her eyes and got up from his armrest.  “Will you open every gig for us this tour?”  He asked.

“I’d love to.  I’ll ask the guys.”  I did and of course… they declined.  “If the Samples won’t pay our gas, it’s not worth it man!“  said Dave (insert eye roll here).

When Doppler Circus was introduced at 9:30 I dove into the spotlight first “Hey everybody, we’re Doppler Circus and we’re going to play some tunes before you experience The Samples.”  As Tom counted off “Weaving The Tomb” I felt my feet ground like roots into the stage.  I felt electricity flood my body. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fully direct my energy into the mic but when I opened my mouth my voice shot out as clear as a laser beam.  I felt like the limb of some giant ancestral tree branching a new bough out into time and space and I knew that the music had me, more than I had the music.  I let it flow through me.  My black floor-length polyester dress struggled to hold the universe in my lungs, in my chest. 

This

Kicks

Ass!!!!!

I thought.  Before launching into “F#” another Doppler Circus original, I said “You all having fun?” and the coagulated crowd roared their consent.  “OK, we’re gonna play a couple more and it’d be cool if you all danced”. The crowd laughed and one guy toward the back, shrouded in darkness shouted “If we could move!?!”

At the end of our set, I shouted “You guys want to hear one more?”

“Yeah!” The room responded.

“Ok, Twist my arm.  We’re Doppler Circus from Boulder.  If you want, there’s a live performance recording of us in the back!  Good night!” and we finished up with “Not Eric” a song we wrote as a band in the middle of an identity crisis.  But while that crisis might continue in that chilly, cavernous garage back in North Boulder, as we evacuated The Starlight spotlight and re-entered the sea of faces below stage level, my personal crisis was over.  I knew who I was.  I was not Not Eric or Tinny Yellow Ducks or even Doppler Circus.  I was Sally Taylor and I was branching out on my own.

Boulder, CO – A Short One – May 6th 1998

I’m going out to sky trails today to lay down drum tracks, then rehearse with Mary Sister Reload/Not Eric/Tiny Yellow Ducks/Not My Fucking Band. 

Tomorrow is bass tracks and Jeremy Lichter is coming out from the East Coast to lay down guitar tracks but before then I have to write two papers and study for my Anthro exam on Friday and somehow I’ve got to transfer all my credits to my college back east to get my diploma. 

Frankly, I don’t even care if I graduate anymore.