Damon - A Short Tribute
By Mick Polich - 02/23/2011 - 08:19 PM EST
Life always seems to ‘happen’, doesn’t it? Good news travels, and makes it’s way eventually to you, while sad news travels faster – a friend, and a great musician in my little universe, passed yesterday from our circle.
The guy who jammed with Eric Clapton while he was growing up in Britain - that’s one of the first things I heard about my friend Damon Randall, who ended his struggle earlier this week - his body tired of trying to accept a bone marrow transplant for a pre-leukemic condition. You knew it was coming, his death, but it doesn’t make it any better once the moment arrives……
In 2001, our family moved from Westerville, Ohio to Atlanta, Georgia – our second stop on our 20 plus year United Parcel tour of duty. I certainly didn’t know what to expect – we had moved from Des Moines with almost half a million people, to the Columbus area with a million plus – now, Atlanta, “ The New York City Of The South”, with over 3 million in residence around the metro. What’s a Midwest boy to do? Jump in and start paddling around.
By fall of 2001, I had gotten a few music students, one of them another buddy from that time period, Steve Pateuk. After a couple months of guitar lessons with Steve, I asked him what he thought of trying to form a neighborhood band, something we both never tried before. He gave me one of those that’s-so-crazy-it-just might-work looks, and we were off formulating an ad to put in our local subdivision newsletter.
We got calls, several actually, and then started to separate the honest from the mildly curious. Steve said there was this British guy who was interested – Damon Randall, mentioning that Damon might have jammed with Eric Clapton at one point, but had since put the guitars and basses away to pursue ‘adult life’( which means, kids, car pooling, laundry, youth soccer games, and drinking beer on the weekends with other escapees of ‘adult life’). Sure, let’s get together – I was game.
Well, we had a couple of jam sessions with an initial core of musicians, and a band brewed into existence. Now, the next crazy plan I purposed was, ”Hey, how about we learn some songs, and play them for the neighborhood in May at the next outdoor party?” From then, it was full steam ahead – all these Type A dudes, engineers, salespeople, and stay-at-home dads, rehearsing the crap out of a ton of classic rock numbers.
Rehearsing, yes, became a mission each time we played for a neighborhood party thru those years – every Sunday afternoon, sometimes weeknights, sometimes four months before the gig. I had been used to literally going to a bar with a group of people that wanted to put a band together, ordering up a couple pitchers of beer, sitting down, and hammering out set lists with key signatures, perhaps even a month before the gig ( it came off well usually, because these were folks that I had grown up playing music with in the central Iowa area). Then, we honed our chops gigging, which I still find to be the best way for me, at least, to get to know the music. This approach of rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing,was completely brand new. And being a ‘big picture’ guy at the time ( and defacto band leader for awhile), I used to drive Damon nuts by skimping over details in the song arrangements. “We’ll hammer it out when we play more gigs,” I used to say. Yep, drove him nuts…..
We had clashes, make-ups, disagreements over the music, then beers, congratulating ourselves on a good gig for our motley crew. None of the meaning of that era in my life never really hit me until later on.
Our family moved from Atlanta in 2007 to the Dallas/Fort Worth area – our final move with UPS. I had updates from our buds back in the old ATL ‘hood on the old band’s progress, new gigs, and new songs. Now, I’ve always been a guy who needs to absorb a time period first to be able to fully understand it – I have to really delve into my feelings on times in my life in order to make a substantial judgment that makes sense to me. As I received news on how well Damon was stepping into his new role as arranger, lead guitarist, and leader, I really realized what a good thing it was to help form the band, not only for the enjoyment of our old neighborhood, but as an outlet for people, particularly Damon. Here was a guy who all but put away the pleasure of making music – the instruments were in the closet, and that was a ‘closed period’,according to him at one point. But now, now he was using those great musical ears (and he did have great ears for hearing parts of songs) to the fullest effect . One solo that he nailed was to the old Free song,”All Right Now”. Granted, that’s a tune that’s been overplayed, misused, and hacked to death by bar bands and weekend warriors around the clock – in Damon’s hands, though, that solo was a thing of pure joy.
Why? Because he simply loved to do it – he loved to see how close to the original lead guitar part he could get - loved to get the tone, the correct bends, pull-offs, and hammer-ons. Oh, the anal nature of the process would basically drive everybody else nuts in time, but look at the results. He just loved it, and that’s more than enough. That’s the essence of playing music in the end – there are X amount of “American Idols”, You Tube sensations, and generational music heroes, but in the end, there’s you. And usually, you’re hammering it out in a local bar, church, community center, or sidewalk, seeing what YOU can do with the music……..
At one point, Damon asked me for a couple of guitar lessons on classic rock lead work. I agreed, wrote up some pentatonic scales, riffs, and gave some thoughts on improvising. Now here’s the thing: some people are born improvisers, while others like the structure and predictability of learning a note-for-note solo. People are just wired to those polar opposites, and you know, it’s o.k. – I used to think EVERYONE needed to learn how to improv a solo.
Not Damon – he didn’t need to. In fact, he was better off not having that wiring, because he was so good at doing the other stuff - of picking apart the music that he loved to see if he could pull it off.
If it was redesigning a neighborhood clubhouse, or picking apart the details in music, Damon was your guy.
Hell, he was OUR guy for awhile – one man giving his talents in a brief run of getting a bunch of moms and dads together from a planned community, to play some music and see what would happen. Glad I was there to help launch it, and glad I was there as one of Damon’s friends.
I could go on with far too many ‘Damon’ stories – most of which are quite funny now( here was a guy that used to line the beer stock in the ‘fridge up by labels – ALWAYS facing front – brand, and beer type, THEN, joke about the process, while being utterly serious about it at the same time!). I need to save ‘em for myself, and the people who knew, and loved ol’ Damon.
This coming weekend, many will get together to eulogize Damon – I suspect after the memorial service, a few shots of whiskey might be in order, some beers, and probably some music. If you can’t have a proper Viking funeral, dammit, then you need to make do to send your old friend off into the next world. I bet Damon is talking to Paul Kossoff from Free right now, telling him, “Paul –brilliant solo on “All Right Now”, but really, it could have used a bit of tweaking in the mid-section…..”
Yep, I can hear him now – good bye, old friend…..here’s a pint to ya……
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