In the fall of 1983 I was living in Santa Monica in a 1930s era apartment with my girlfriend four blocks from Palisades Park and that amazing view of the Pacific Ocean. Such a beautiful neighborhood and place to live! I was doing a lot of songwriting, and playing shows every couple weeks at clubs in West Los Angeles.
At the time I was listening to lots of different artists, but a couple of my faves were Joni Mitchell, who had just released “Wild Things Run Fast,” and The Police’s latest “Synchronicity.” I think these two had a lot of influence on my writing, specifically on a song I wrote that fall called “Ariana.”
I recorded a demo of that song up at an old friend’s studio in Topanga Canyon. His place was perched on a beautiful hillside way up high on the east side of the canyon, and if you stepped outside on a clear day you could see Catalina Island about 35 miles away to the south. So one afternoon he helped me write an instrumental intro, then we recorded a demo, with me on acoustic guitar and vocals. I’ve always loved the recording process, and this was a beautiful place to be doing it.
Not long after I had given away a few copies of cassette tapes of the demo, I got a call from a friend who was working at a recording studio in Studio City. He had played the song for Kazu Matsui, a producer who had made several albums in L.A. with a lot some top session players. Kazu wanted to talk to me about recording “Ariana” on his next record.
Not long after that, Kazu and I met for a lunch at the legendary Sidewalk Cafe in Venice, right on the boardwalk. We hit it off, and after agreeing that the song should be on his record, Kazu suggested I play acoustic guitar on the track, and I agreed to work up the arrangement and write the charts for the other players. I was excited to get to record with the musicians he’d be working with on this project. They would include the legendary Abe Laboriel on bass, Ed Green on drums, Robben Ford on electric guitar, Gregory Walker on lead vocal (he was the lead singer with Santana at the time), as well as others on keyboards, horns and background vocals.
The recording session was a blast. Abe, Ed, and Robben were all there as we laid down the basic tracks together. Then Gregory came in and nailed the vocal, joking with me that he’d never sung the word “remuneration” in a song before (see the free download at the end of this blog).
Later in the spring I was driving down Santa Monica boulevard one afternoon in my VW bug, when suddenly I heard “Ariana” come on my radio. I’d never heard one of my songs on the radio before, and it was quite a rush. This was long before Clear Channel or iHeartRadio, back when there were local stations in different markets with independent program directors that would play what they liked – not just what was coming in over the satellite. “Ariana” got a lot of play in a number of markets in the US and Japan that year, and I could tell when I did shows that summer that having a song on the radio definitely helped create a buzz.
A few months later, in the summer of 1984, Kazu and his cadre of musicians did a show on a beautiful evening the Wilshire Theater in Beverly Hills. In that show I got to perform live with the same guys that had recorded “Ariana” in the studio. Thinking back on it now, I don’t know if I realized at the time just how cool all this was. Kazu introduced me as the writer to the packed house, and I think I got to say a couple words to the audience – but I’m not sure. It’s kind of a blur. I DO REMEMBER how big that stage felt, the warmth of the lights, the fullness of the sound of my acoustic guitar in the monitors, and Abe Laboriel’s big sweet smile and nod that he gave me as I fought a little case of nerves right as the song was about to be counted off—I played the intro to the song alone on my acoustic guitar. That show was another great experience that showed me that with hard work, following your heart and doing something you truly love, you could succeed. I felt on top of the world, and I was in love with making music.
You can download a copy of my song “Ariana” here. OR stream it here on your mobile phone. Keep in mind it’s a bit of a time capsule, being from the early 80’s on a jazz-ish record, but it’s a good song nonetheless. If you were around in 1984 and heard it on the radio, please comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
You might also want to check out my latest album “Missing,” that I recorded in Austin with producer Mark Hallman. Mark has been at the helm of a lot of wonderful records, producing a bunch of Eliza Gilkyson’s records, as well as Ani DiFranco, Carole King, Slaid Cleeves, and many more.
Thanks again for following my stories, and for listening to my music. I love sharing it all with you.
Catch you soon,
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