Skeet walked into the office of Lexicon recordings, his current record company. He had started out with Stan at Atlantic and recorded two solo albums there but because of his lackluster solo success and the breakup with Stan, they subsequently dropped him. He had gone shopping for a solo deal when he had met Dave Schwartz, president of Lexicon, at an after party when he was backing up Wynton Marsalis. Dave was a bass player of some renown in his own right but had decided to start Lexicon so he could stay off the road. The company had moderate success but, like Skeet’s solo career, had never really taken off.
When they first met, Dave was a little in awe of Skeet. He had offered him a lucrative deal very quickly, and some days he regretted it, but he liked Skeet and really wanted him to succeed. Dave just felt Skeet was missing the fire and passion in his own work that he was putting into everyone else’s and Dave hadn’t figured out a way to break that cycle. That is, until now.
Skeet checked in with the secretary who asked him to have a seat then she picked up the phone to let Dave know Skeet had arrived. Almost before she hung up the phone Dave emerged from the office. He was tall with an odd smile.
“Skeet! How are you doin’, man? Come on in,” he said, escorting Skeet into his office. I’m really excited about this record! I think you may have a winner here.” Dave walked over to a bar in the corner of the room. “Drink?” he asked.
“Just some water would be great.” Dave tossed a bottle of water across the room and poured himself a glass of bourbon. He made his way back over to the desk and took his seat.
“It’s a shame about what happened to Patti’s benefit yesterday. I know you were playing with Niles. You gotta be disappointed.”
“Yea. Yesterday was a long one. I was also supposed to play with Pat Torpey in a little reformed Mr. Big.”
“Mr. Big? Didn’t Billy Sheehan used to play with them? What happened to him?” If any other record executive had asked this, Skeet would have assumed it was small talk but being a bass player, he knew Dave’s interest was genuine.
“Oh he’s still with ‘em. He hurt his wrist a couple of days ago and I was just fillin’ in. He was doing the singing though.”
“Really? I thought Eric Martin was the singer,” Dave said.
“He was. You know how bands are. I’m sure somebody’s feelings got hurt about something and… at any rate. Eric’s not playing with them right now, and I’m disappointed I didn’t get to either. It sounded really great and I was wanting to jam,” Skeet replied with a hint of disappointment in his voice.
“It was in the Tribune this morning that some guy blew up the transformer. They claim it was the station manager over at WWLH. Not sure why though. Sounded kinda psycho.” Dave said.
“He is,” said Skeet.
“You know him, Skeet?”
“Oh, not well. Just met him yesterday. It’s a long story. Anyway, I don’t want to waste your time with this stuff.”
“Oh I gotcha. Time to get down to business,” Dave said with a smirk. He reached back and pushed a button on the sound system. The familiar sounds of the lead off song, “Velvet Paradise” from Skeet’s album started. “I’ve had a copy of this in my car playing non-stop ever since I got it. I think you’ve really done it this time.”
“I’m glad you dig it man. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure I had the right formula, but if you say it worked, then it must have worked.”
“And the guitar work right….” Dave paused, waiting for a particular spot in the song to arrive. “…is incredible! Who the hell did you get to play with you on this? It’s fantastic? The only guy I could think of was Derek Trucks or maybe Sonny Landreth.”
Skeet sat and listened intently. It was as if he was hearing the guitar runs for the first time. It suddenly dawned on him that it’s because he WAS hearing them for the first time. It was his album, but the guitar was not the same! It was some of the most fantastic SLIDE guitar playing he ever heard. He was speechless. The sound was phenomenal but Skeet didn’t know where it came from.
“Am I right? Is it Trucks or Landreth?” Dave asked.
Skeet still sat speechless. Slide guitar is not a style that many people had mastered and especially not at the level he was hearing. Slide guitar involves using a piece of glass or metal to control the notes on the guitar instead of pressing the frets with the fingers. For any but the most gifted player, it would sound like cat with its tail caught in a screen door. But this obviously was a gifted player, but how did it end up on the album that Dave had received? Skeet’s mind raced. Could Brian be playing a joke on him, or Dave? And if so, who the hell did they get to play it? And how was it so perfectly mixed without having the master files which were tucked away in Skeet’s studio.
“Skeet? You ok buddy?” Dave’s voice snapped him back into reality. He knew he had to say something, but what? How could he tell him that this incredible guitar was not something he had anything to do with or knew anything about? Skeet panicked.
“No, not either of ‘em,” Skeet said.
“Well who then? Please tell me he’s not tied up in another deal. We are gonna need him for a tour and promotion and everything. Your playing with that playing is gonna put all of us on the map!”
“Umm…I’m not sure of his status. I’ll check and get back with you though,” Skeet said, trying to buy him some time to think.
“Well is he from Chicago? We should get him on the phone and start negotiating now.” Dave was very anxious to get started.
“He’s… um…touring in Europe right now. But I’ll talk to him in the next couple of days and see what the situation is like.”
“You’ve got to. I want to get this rolling as quick as possible,” Dave said. He pointed to spindle that looked like it had about 40 CDs stacked on it. “I’ve already made a whole stack of duplicates. I’ve sent them out to all parts of the company. This is our top priority. I’ve got several design artists listening to it so they can get some ideas for a cover design for the album and if it’s ok with you, I’m gonna contact Wynton to see if he’ll contribute to the liner notes. Our mastering guru Tom Perkins is gonna do the final mix and master.”
Skeet cut him off. “Yea, um. I’d really like to get Shawn Thorpe to do the final mix and master. I really respect his ability and I want to give him a shot at this.”
“I don’t know, Skeet. We are banking on this one pretty heavy. I wanna make sure it’s done right,” Dave said. The hesitation sounded in his voice.
“I tell ya what. Give him a couple of weeks. If you don’t like what he does, get your guy to do it.” Skeet was having trouble concentrating. The music playing was familiar but brand new to him at the same time. He was trying to listen to Dave, listen to the music, figure out how the hell this happened and what he was going to do about it.
“Ok. How about this. I’ll have Tom mix it and you have your guy mix it. When they’re done, we’ll just see which one we like best and go with it.”
“Sounds fair. Thanks Dave. Look, I really gotta run,” Skeet said as he stood up and slowly began making his way toward the door. “Hey, can I take one of those copies. I don’t have copy with me and I’d like it for my drive.”
“Sure,” said Dave. He pulled one off the spindle, grabbed a sleeve from a box out his drawer and handed it to Skeet. “But we need to get the distribution worked out. And a photo shoot. We’re gonna need a photo shoot.”
“I’m sure you got it covered, Dave. Now I really gotta run. I’ll call ya in a couple of days.” Skeet almost bolted for the door.
“Um…yea…ok,” said Dave.
Skeet left the office and headed for the elevator as quick as he could. He had to get away. He was having trouble answering the questions Dave was having now and he knew he would get more flustered if he kept trying to dodge.
The elevator doors opened and he jumped in and pushed ‘1’. As the doors closed, he felt a sense of relief. He thought if he could think for just a minute he could figure this out. The elevator reached the bottom and the door opened. His mind raced with thoughts and he couldn’t calm down.
He was relieved when he saw Brian waiting for him out front. He jumped in the car, startling Brian.
“Damn! That was fast. So he liked the album, right?” Brian asked.
“Yea…um…he liked the album.” Skeet fell silent. Brian had known him for so long he was pretty good at telling when something was wrongg.
“What’s up then? What’s the problem?”
“Just drive and I’ll tell ya,” Skeet said. Brian didn’t ask any questions. He just threw the car in drive and pulled away.
“Ok. What’s going on?” Brian’s voiced betrayed his concern. This wasn’t like easy going Skeet. He could tell he was spooked.
“Let me ask you something, and be honest with me.” Brian nodded in agreement and Skeet paused and took a deep breath.
“The master that you sent to Dave. Did you do anything to it before you sent it?”
“No. Just put the copy you made into a mailer and gave it to the courier. Why?” Brian asked.
“You have heard the album, right?” Skeet asked. Brian gave him a puzzled look.
“Of course. I was there with you for the whole process. You know that. What’s wrong, man? Stop beating around the bush and spit it out.” Brian was growing concerned. This was really not like Skeet at all.
“Listen to this.” Skeet pulled the CD out of the sleeve and slipped it into the player. The opening lines of “Velvet Paradise” began. Brian listened for a couple of seconds and looked at Skeet.
“Yea. Velvet Paradise. It’s a great tune. What’s wrong with it?” Brian asked.
“Just listen, B. Just listen.” Skeet looked down at the CD player and raised his finger. As the main line approached, he held it just a little higher and when it started, he dropped it dramatically, pointing to the CD player and looking at Brian expectantly.
“Where the hell did that come from? That’s amazing! When’d you do that? I know I wasn’t around. Who’d you get?” Brian hadn’t put all the pieces to the puzzle together just yet.
“THAT’S what I’m talking about!” Skeet exclaimed. “I didn’t! I have no idea who it is or how it got there. It wasn’t on the master when I did the rough mix to send to Dave. There was a very generic guitar line and the piano was the focal point. You sure you aren’t punkin’ me, man?”
“If I knew someone who could play like THAT, I wouldn’t be fuckin’ around about it. That’s truly fucking amazing.” And Brian would know. While his musical skills at playing and singing were rudimentary at best, his ear and knowledge were unparalleled. “You think Thorpe may be messin’ with ya?”
Shawn was the only one besides Brian who would be able to pull this off. He was a master engineer and had helped Skeet record the album so he had access to all the original tracks.
“Could be, but I doubt it. We’ve been friends for so long. Plus it seems an awful long way to go for a joke.”
“But it’s not too far for me to go? Geez man? What the fuck?” Brian was insulted. His best friend thought he would have pulled this kinda joke on him?
“Man, of course not! I’m graspin’at straws here! I was just trying to think of who had access to the recordings.”
“Pat and Billy and the guys were there right before I sent it out. But even if they had wanted to, that’s definitely not Paul. I’m not real sure Paul has ever picked up a slide.” Brian pondered the whole situation, but quickly drifted back to the amazing sounds coming out of the stereo. Whoever it is, he’s a monster.”
“Dave wanted to know if I got Trucks or Landreth. It’s obviously not Landreth and doesn’t sound enough like Trucks either.”
“Nope…too jazzy for Sonny. Derek? Maybe, but it’d be a stretch. And why the hell would either of those guys work so far out of their style just to play on a demo version of your album for a practical joke. It would be way more work than the laugh they could get was worth.” Brian said.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but now Dave wants this guy for the tour and promotion with me. Wants him bad. Hell, I want him too!” Skeet was getting panicky again.
Brian tried to calm him down. “Look, we got the guys coming over for poker tonight. Shawn will be there. And Pat, and probably the rest of his crew. We can talk to them and see if they know anything about this.”