Monday, November 29, 2010


Although this blog is mainly about music, there are some events that are too important not to make mention of. Many of you might not have known that Leslie Nielsen was in the hospital.

"A hospital," you ask, "What is it?"

It's a large building where sick people go, but that's not important right now...

On November 28, 2010, Leslie Nielsen died in his sleep in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida hospital of complications from pneumonia.

Although Nielsen's acting career crossed a variety of genres in both television and films, his deadpan delivery would make him the "Olivier of spoofs" (in the words of film critic Roger Ebert). His portrayal of serious characters seemingly oblivious to (and complicit in) their absurd surroundings gave him a reputation as a comedian.

Even though I knew every line in the 'Airplane' and 'Naked Gun' movies, they never got old. Nor did Nielsen, so it seemed, his white helmet of hair leaving him almost unfairly frozen in time. It was with great sadness that I learned of Nielsen's passing on Sunday at the age of 84.

"Surely you can't be serious?" I screamed at the heavens.

"I am serious," replied a voice in my head, quoting the line from 'Airplane', "And don't call me Shirley."

RIP Leslie Nielsen

Friday, November 12, 2010


Some 400 high school students in San Juan Capistrano ran through classrooms, locker rooms and their school quad dressed in feather boas, tin-foil outfits and one dressed as the Burger King.

It may have been Oct. 29, but it was not for Halloween. It was an attempt to make the San Juan Hills High School arts department look cool by lip-syncing to a 1980s pop song that starts with the lyrics, "I don't want to work. I want to bang on the drum all day."

San Juan Hills High School students mug for the camera during the taping of a music video in which they lip-sync Todd Rundgren's song "Bang the Drum All Day."

The visual and performing-arts department often makes an informational video to encourage middle-school students to get involved with the arts. The video from last year started with classical music and bullet points. That was boring, according to students tasked with creating this year's video.

Then came "lipdub," a form of music video made from one continuous shot that features people lip-syncing a song that's dubbed in during editing. Several months ago, two rival high schools from Washington created lipdubs for an informal competition that became cable news fare. The founder of Vimeo, a video host site like YouTube, claims to have coined the term.

"Our goal was that we wanted to be the most fun department and the most fun school," said Brian Devaney, the video production teacher who organized the stunt. He divided students into teams tasked with gathering groups from arts classes, from orchestra to dance. The students chose Todd Rundgren's "Bang the Drum All Day" for the music video.

The school couldn't afford a steadicam – a stable mount for a camera that's set on a moving object – so some students built one using instructions they found online. The camera appears to be running after singers as they make their way through dancing crowds on campus.

Principal Tom Ressler has asked Devaney's students to do another video at the end of the school year, incorporating the senior class for a final send-off.

"We really want (students) to get interested in the arts as a freshman," Devaney said. "We want them to take a drama class or take a video class and find their passion."

Watch the San Juan Hills video here:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The Walkman, the Sony cassette device that forever changed music listening before becoming outdated by digital MP3 players and iPods, has died.

It was 31 years old.

Sony announced Oct. 25 that it has ceased production of the classic, cassette tape Walkman in Japan, effectively sounding the death knell of the once iconic, now obsolete device.

The Walkman is survived by its close relative the Discman (still clinging to life) and ironic music listeners who think using a Walkman in this day and age is charmingly out of touch.

It will continue to be produced in China and distributed in the U.S., Europe and some Asian countries. Digital Walkmans are also being made with models that display lyrics and have improved digital noise-canceling technology.

Still, if you’re looking to chisel a date in the Walkman’s tombstone, then Oct. 25, 2010, is as good as any.

For many, that it’s taken this long is surprising: “They were still making those?’’

Perhaps Oct. 23, 2001, the day the iPod was launched, is the better date of expiration.

But none of the success of Apple’s portable music players would have ever happened without the cassette Walkman. Some 220 million have been sold since the first model, the TPS-L2, debuted in July 1979. (It retailed for $200.) At the time, transistor radios were portable, but there was nothing widely available like the Walkman.

It was developed under the stewardship of Sony founders Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka. Morita insisted the device not be focused on recording but playback, a relatively odd notion at the time.

Originally called the “Soundabout” in the U.S., the Walkman was an immediate sensation and a revolution in music listening. Foremost, it was portable. Music no longer needed to be something that one experienced sitting in a room, but could be blasted on the bus, pumped while jogging on a beach or played softly while studying.

By turning the volume up, anyone could be tuned out. The detached teenager with foam earphones slouched in the back seat or bobbing his head in the elevator became an indelible image of the ’80s. (The first Walkman did have an orange “hot line” button to lower the music and increase the microphone so you could hear someone talking to you.)

Music, previously listened to in a room with shag carpeting and a stereo, was cast into the world, made a part of daily life. Pink Floyd could join a walk in the park; Public Enemy could soundtrack a commute.

More than portability, it fostered a personalization to music, a theme the iPod would also highlight in those early dancing silhouette ads. A big reason there’s so much nostalgia for the Walkman today is because it eliminated any separation from music. It felt like an appendage, which is perhaps why some (with questionable fashion instincts) clipped theirs to their belt.

The Walkman was also the father of the mixtape, an offspring that nearly trumps the progenitor. For the first time, music was something you could make yours by arranging it and swapping it.

For those young and unfamiliar with this process, making a mixtape typically entailed gathering songs by The Cure and Depeche Mode, labeling the tape with care and awkwardly giving it to a love interest.

The Walkman didn’t disappear so much as it was improved upon. Sony continues to use it as a brand, but the company long ago ceded hipness and style to Apple. The iPod will likely one day befall a similar fate, and another generation will gasp in joined wistfulness. When it comes to music and how we hear it, we’re all romantics.

I shall raise a glass to my dearly departed old friend, The Walkman!

(although I still have mine in a box in my closet-Sony made those things quite well!)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


The conclusion of my presentation of the Goldmine article on Spock's Beard (say that five times fast)

Now a four-piece band, Spock’s Beard had one more question to deal with: Where were their new songs going to come from? The members had contributed to a few of Neal’s songs on past albums, but as the main source of new material, they were an untested commodity.

For D’Virgilio, stepping up to the writing plate was the fullfilment of a longtime ambition: “We all wanted to get more involved in the writing. I love Neal’s writing, but I wanted to have more of a role.”

All four members would contribute to the composing for the new album, and they brought in some help – old friends and musical associates John Boegehold and Stan Ausmus.

As recording got underway, a new Spock’s Beard sound started emerging. In addition to a new voice, guitars started to play a more prominent role.

“It was more of a regular rock record,” Alan Morse said. “It wasn’t quite as progressive as our previous things. For a while there, we felt like we wanted to go more mainstream to bring in some more people.”

The end result, 2003 release “Feel Euphoria,” was a different kind of Spock’s record – more aggressive and varied, still prog but far removed from the band that made “Snow.”

Fan reaction was, expectedly, mixed. Loyal followers were glad the band was carrying on, but Neal Morse was missed.

“Some people dug it,” D’Virgilio said. “I got letters from fans where they thought it was the greatest thing ever. A lot of people didn’t like it at all because it wasn’t Neal. Everybody universally liked the fact that we were keeping going with the band.”

When it came time to tour, the band once again followed the Genesis pattern, they hired a second drummer, Jimmy Keegan, to free up D’Virgilio so he could front the band.

“I’ve known Jimmy for a lot of years,” D’Virgilio stated. “I knew what he could do – how he played, how he could sing – that was a pretty easy choice, because he just came in and understood it all.”

The subsequent tour saw the introduction of nightly drum duels between D’Virgilio and Keegan, which would quickly become a crowd favorite at Spock’s shows to this day.

The band was content. “While Feel Euphoria” sold less than “Snow,” it established Spock’s Beard as a band with a future. “We knew that we could keep going,” D’Virgilio said. “We knew we could make quality music, so we wanted to keep going. InsideOut was still supporting us.”

Carry on they did. Two further albums followed – “Octane” in 2005 and “Spock’s Beard” in 2006. Both found Spock’s Beard embracing a variety of styles. While half of “Octane” was devoted to “A Flash Before My Eyes,” a mini prog-opera, the CD also had a strong rock element, and a fusiony instrumental called “NYC.”

Spock’s Beard mixed it up even more. One song, a straight-ahead rocker called “Is This Love”, became the target of strong criticism. “(The reaction) almost went beyond hate,” Meros said. “I totally dig that song,” D’Virgilio stated. “I love the way the band sounds playing that kind of music. The prog heads didn’t like it much at all, because they thought we were trying to sound like Cheap Trick or something, but I was just going with my influence.”

Another track that got a mixed reaction was “Sometimes They Stay, Sometimes They Go,” the first Spock’s Beard song to feature an Alan Morse lead vocal.

“They either hated or ignored it – they pretended it didn’t exist,” Meros said. “Honestly I think that is one of the strongest songs on the record.”

If Spock’s Beard had a problem, it was, according to Meros, too much variety: “There are about two or three songs that should not have been on the record. Looking back, it was like, ‘We have room for them on the CD, and they’re really well-written songs, well-performed. If somebody doesn’t like it, that’s what the skip button is for.’”

Criticism aside, the two CDs proved D’Virgilio had fully settled into his lead singer role, and the band’s post-Neal songwriting improved with every release.

The band still had momentum. But it would be four years before Spock’s Beard made another album.

Their Names Escape

Why the long wait between Spock’s Beard and the recently released “X”? A few factors contributed to the break.

Changes at InsideOut coincided with the fulfillment of the band’s three-CD record deal, and the members weren’t convinced re-signing with the label was the best plan.

“We just wanted to get out,” D’Virgilio said. “Also, I think at that point we were all just tired and needed a bit of an hiatus. That’s why this record turned out as well as it did, because we actually did take the time to breathe.”

Even if Spock’s Beard was on hold, the members weren’t idle. D’Virgilio resumed his side job as touring drummer for Tears for Fears, and then relocated for a steady gig with a Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil production. Okumoto worked with prog bands GPS and K2, played in a top-40 lounge band in Las Vegas and then returned to his native Japan. Alan Morse released an instrumental solo album, “Four O’Clock & Hysteria,” in 2007, and focused on the electronics company he owns, DynaMetric Inc. Meros, who toured with a modern-day version of Eric Burdon & The Animals from 1990 to 2005, played in cover bands with veterans of The Tubes, Enchant and Iron Butterfly.

“There were some really big life distractions,” Meros stated. “We pretty much just let things idle for a while, and all of the sudden it was, ‘Man, we haven’t done something for quite some time, so we better just do it now or never.’”

All four members had been writing material on their own, but the big question was how they would get an album made with no record company support. Ultimately, the band chose to seek financing from fans through pre-orders of the CD.

“We didn’t really want to self-finance it,” Alan Morse said. “Other people had been doing the (fan-financing) sort of thing, Marillion and some others. We didn’t know if it would work, but we figured it was worth a try.”

But work it did. The response was tremendous, in no small part due to the band’s creative approach to this effort. Previous self-financed albums have seen artists thank fans for their support in the CD booklet, but Spock’s Beard took it one step further – by incorporating fan names into the lyrics of an actual song on the CD!

As conceived by Meros and Boegehold, fans were offered an ultra package that included, along with a T-shirt and autographed CD, the inclusion of their name on the disc itself.

A great, innovative idea, but the execution proved challenging. “We thought maybe 30, 40, 50 people would do this – and 130 people signed up for it,” Meros recalled. Now committed to this plan, the band had to come up with a song to go with the names. They considered doing a novelty song such as, in Meros’s words, “a prog polka,” until Boegehold came up with a working concept for the track, “Their Names Escape Me.”

Meros recalled, “John made up this story about these people who rose up against the government. This guy destroyed all the evidence but he has a photographic memory and all these names are still in his head. They’ve got him in this cell and and they’re trying to extract all of this information with these people’s names.” The names in his head, revealed in the lyrics, were the band’s patrons, and each one had to be multi-tracked by D’Virgilio for their inclusion in the recording.

The end result is spectacular, and a good reason to order the limited edition CD, as “Their Names …” is not included on the retail version of “X” through an agreement the band recently signed with Netherlands-based Mascot Records, a label Steve Lukather and Joe Satriani also call home.

One of the most remarkable things about “X” is how unified and consistent it sounds. It was recorded as many bands do these days, mostly at the band members’ home studios. Then it was assembled by master mixer Rich Mouser. D’Virgilio did his vocals mostly in his home studio, and Meros did the same to record his bass. But the combination of sharp songwriting (much of it by Meros and Boegehold), a return to the band’s classic prog sound, Mouser’s powerful mix, and superb performances by all has resulted in v2.0’s finest CD yet, easily the best Spock’s Beard product since “Snow.” And the fans have been vocal in their praise.

“It’s really weird – people on the Internet are making up all these reasons why they think this album is so much better than the other ones,” Meros said. “There is no tangible reason. It’s the same dudes playing the same instruments. We recorded at the same studio with the same writers. I think all of us really learned a lesson with Spock’s Beard: You can’t throw the kitchen sink onto your CD. We got a little bit less all-inclusive and a little bit more self-producing.”

What Next?

For Spock’s Beard, the immediate future looks bright. An excellent, well-received new CD. A new record label pledging to give the group a strong promotional push. But what is the long-range plan for the band?

As far as touring goes, it ultimately comes down to economics. A Spock’s Beard show is not a cheap undertaking: “We’ve got two drum sets and three million keyboards,” Meros said, “and we need 50 channels live.” The band is a good draw in major markets such as L.A. and New York, but has a harder time in rural areas where they’re less well-known.

More American shows could be a possibility, however, if sales are strong for “X.” “If the record starts taking off and instead of 30,000 we’re selling 80,000, that means we can tour in the States,” Meros said.

It could happen. Alan Morse sees a younger generation of Americans getting into prog: “I always love it when you see kids out there. We’ve done some gigs where it’s 12-year-old dudes in the front just rocking out. I get e-mails from little kids – 7 or 8 years old.”

Whatever happens, he doesn’t foresee Spock’s Beard ending any time soon: “As long as people keep buying (the CDs) and we’ve got fans to play to, I’m not ready to quit and I don’t think anybody else is.”

Afterword by DiscConnected-"X" was also released on vinyl! Check out for more information about the band, and for more info on a great record collector's magazine!

Monday, November 8, 2010


What Now?

The departing Morse planned to make Christian-themed solo projects, but for his brother and the remaining Spock’s Beard members, the future was anything but sure.

“We didn’t really know (what to do),” Meros stated. “We just decided we really liked playing with each other and this band had been the best thing any of us had ever done. We couldn’t just walk away from it. We had to at least try. … (Neal) was really supportive of us and he really wanted us to keep going. … In some ways, it was a gigantic gift. He started this band and made it what it was, and right at its peak, he handed this whole franchise over to us with his blessing.”

In retrospect, Snow actually had some clues as to the band’s next move, since it featured D’Virgilio singing lead on two songs, one of which, “Looking for Answers,” he wrote, marking the first time a band member besides Neal Morse had a solo composition on a Spock’s Beard album.

Replacing Neal Morse presented multiple challenges. Not only was he the band’s lead singer; he also played keyboards and guitar, was instrumental in the albums’ production, and perhaps most significantly, wrote nearly all of the band’s material.

Okumoto and Alan Morse, both virtuosos, could handle the instrumental parts. The big questions were, who would write the songs – and who would sing ‘em?

Different scenarios were considered. “We were all looking for singers,” Meros said. “Thomas from InsideOut was suggesting Ray Wilson,” who briefly replaced Phil Collins in Genesis for 1997’s Calling All Stations – an album that, coincidentally, features drumming by D’Virgilio on four tracks.

While Wilson fronting Spock’s Beard would’ve been interesting, the fact that he lived in Europe made this scenario difficult. But someone already on the Spock’s team wanted to borrow a move from the Genesis playbook.

“Nick said, ‘You know what? I want to (take over as vocalist),” Meros stated. “I told him ‘You have to stay on drums. Nobody can do this gig better than you.’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘Let me try. I swear to God I can do it. … If I can’t do it, you can all get together and decide, and then I’ll go back to drums, but at least give me a shot.’ So we went ‘OK’, and the rest is history.”

A strong vocalist in his own right, D’Virgilio had already sung on his solo album, Karma (2001), on various outside projects, and on Snow, but this transition wasn’t a slam-dunk. “I had to convince the guys,” he said. “It took them a little while to accept that, but they ended up going ‘Yeah, it’s cool.’ But they asked what we were going to do when we play live, and I said ‘We’ll worry abut that then’ and we went from there.”

“Nick’s the only one who could really pull it together singing,” Alan Morse said. “Ultimately, he was really into it. It seemed like it worked well for Genesis. It was like, ‘OK, do we want to bring a whole other personality into this thing?’ It didn’t seem like that was such a great idea. We just felt like we (had) to hit the ground running. We wanted to hit people really quick with something so that they’d know we were still around.”

The parallels to the Genesis story did raise some concerns. “We didn’t think about it at first,” Meros recalled, “but when I got home that night I thought, ‘Wait a minute. The singer that everybody based the band around quits, the drummer becomes the singer, and that was after the sixth record, which was a double concept album. The prog fans are going to have a field day with this!’”

Pushing such worries to the side, the band moved forward, beginning work on its first CD without Neal Morse. The future was uncertain, but one thing was sure: Spock’s Beard would continue.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Continuing my presentation of the Goldmine article on progressive rock band Spock's Beard (also available on their website,

Beware Of Darkness

Released in 1996, Beware of Darkness showed a band that had matured by leaps and bounds since its first album. The addition of Okumoto in the studio on Hammond organ and mellotron added greatly to the mix while the other members grew in instrumental proficiency. The band was evolving vocally as well; one song, “Thoughts,” featured intricate acapella vocals, a homage to one of the band’s major influences, Gentle Giant. Another highlight was the title track, a progged-up cover of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass classic.

The making of this album was not without drama. The band had been working with Kevin Gilbert, a producer/engineer of note who also was an artist and songwriter with credits including Toy Matinee and work with Sheryl Crow. D’Virgilio recalled, “He had mixed the first three tracks (for Beware) and we were scheduled to go to his place and mix another three, and we found out he died. The guys were waiting at the studio, wondering why he was late, and I had to drive over there and tell them that he wasn’t coming. That was a little dark cloud over the record.”

With Gilbert gone, the band hooked up with a new engineer, Rich Mouser (who remains with them to this day), for the next Spock’s Beard album, 1998’s Kindness of Strangers. “That was the one where we decided that maybe we should start to cross over, a little more accessibility for non-proggers,” Meros stated. “We (still) do a lot of Kindness live; it’s got that impact where the songs really translate well live.”

The trend towards accessibility continued with Spock’s 1999 release, Day for Night, so much so that the album risked alienating the band’s steadily growing cult of followers. “That, I think, is a bit stronger foray into trying to get a hit,” Meros said. “I can’t really speak for what was going on in (Neal’s) head but that’s the feeling I got, (he was) trying to be more like Jellyfish of some of those alt art-rock bands going on right around then. That one got panned a little bit by the press.”

Despite this mixed reaction, the band’s popularity continued its steady growth trajectory. “Each record was progressively making us a little bigger,” D’Virgilio stated. “Day for Night lifted us up to the next level for sure. … We started to go, ‘I think something might be happening here.’”

Something was happening. The band was on the brink of making its masterpiece, to be followed immediately by the worst thing imaginable.

Exit Neal

Spock’s Beard got back to its progressive roots on its fifth album, the aptly titled V (2000), and the result was the band’s biggest CD yet. “That was the breakthrough record,” D’Virgilio said. “We opened up for Dream Theater a couple of times, did a headline tour over in Europe, we were playing in the States and pulling in decent crowds. … We thought we’d hit the threshold. This was our time to really go for it, but I think Neal knew he was going to quit by then.”

“It was really the peak of Spock’s Beard,” Meros added. “There was a buzz going on. It seemed like it might happen.”

What did happen was that, in 2001 Neal Morse decided the time was right to create the band’s magnum opus – in classic prog tradition, a double-album rock opera to be titled Snow. Its creation would be fueled by tragedy.

“Neal had been writing Snow for quite a while,” Meros recalled, “and he was sending out demos to us … we did a bunch of rehearsals and we were going to start recording. Neal was thinking about it and said, ‘You know, this record isn’t right. I’m not satisfied with it. So let’s just go home and I’m going to work on this.’ That was on September 10th.”

When 9/11 happened the next day, with airlines shut down, Neal Morse drove home from Los Angeles to Nashville. This gave him time to rethink Snow from the perspective of those tragic days. In fact, The Making of Snow DVD shows him writing new lyrics while making the long drive.

“He got home and completely rewrote Snow,” Meros continued. “He trashed 90 percent of it and started from scratch. I thought, ‘Oh my God. He rewrote a double record.’ … It was a lot better, but it was a completely different record.”

The two CDs told the story of John Sikeston, an albino nicknamed “Snow” who has, according to the story summary on the band’s Web site, “a special kind of a gift for seeing into people’s lives.” Some saw the plotline as an allegory for the saga of Neal Morse, a gifted man who could “heal” people with the power of his music. The album’s subtle-but-omnipresent Christian themes turned out to be a foreshadowing of what was to come.

On the surface, all signs were positive. The band had strong support from InsideOut (“We got a big fat advance to make Snow,” D’Virgilio said) and was looking forward to its most spectacular tour yet, triumphantly playing its greatest recorded achievement to date. Then the worst happened.

“We’d finished the whole record, and came to this little studio to record some acoustic stuff,” D’Virgilio recalled. “We did the recording and then listened to Snow, and (Neal) decided to tell us after that that he was leaving the band.”

“He was going more and more in a Christian direction, which isn’t something I am particularly into,” said Alan Morse. “I never figured he would bail until he just came in and we were all like, ‘WHAT?’ We were all pretty shocked, especially since we had just finished making this record, it was a lot of work, and we can’t even go on tour for (it).”

“Every record is a big struggle,” Meros said, “and that one, being a double record, and him going through a personal transformation, it must have been 10 times the struggle for him.”

Whatever his reasons, Neal Morse had left the band he started.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Well, not really fear them.

But here for your reading pleasure, is an article on progressive rock band Spock's Beard originally published in a recent issue of Goldmine magazine (also available on their website, www.goldminemag.gom).

A great article from a great music collector's publication on a great band. How can you lose?

Once upon a time there was a progressive rock band, a truly magical one that was going places. Just as the band peaked with the creation of its masterpiece – a two-disc concept album – the charismatic, all-important frontman quit. But all was not lost; the drummer took over as lead singer, and the band lived happily ever after.

Sound familiar? Probably, but we’re not talking about Genesis here. A home-grown prog band, Los Angeles-based Spock’s Beard, followed the same pattern when singer/composer Neal Morse left the band in 2002 and drummer Nick D’Virgilio added lead vocals to his job duties. Spock’s Beard v2.0 made three CDs since Morse’s departure, but then took a long break. The band recently re-emerged with an excellent CD, X, the first album to be independently financed (with a little help from their friends) and self-released by the band.

Spock’s Beard has always existed in that sweet spot where Beatlesque melodic rock meets prog. More adventurous than Asia, more melodious than Dream Theater, Spock’s Beard brings a refreshingly American spin to the Brit-originated prog rock format. Sure, they can play in 17/9 time like Yes or ELP; sure, they’re all world-class players on their respective instruments; but like Genesis they’ve always put songwriting first. Their original take on this classic style has earned the band a devoted following, but they haven’t always enjoyed smooth sailing over their 18 years of existence.

Spock’s Beard has weathered its share of storms and is now back, stronger than ever. But theirs has been a long road fraught with twists and turns.

Seeing The Light

The Spock’s Beard story began in 1992 when aspiring singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Neal Morse asked his guitarist brother Alan to listen to some progressive music he was working on.

“Neal wrote ‘The Light’ (which would become the title suite of their debut album) and he played it for me on his little keyboard, and I went, ‘Oh, nice Zappa ripoff,” Alan Morse recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, it’s kind of cool,’ so he came over and I played some lead on it in my living room.”

Recording on the album commenced, but it was, in Alan’s words, “pretty much a shoestring operation. … We were doing ADAT tape back then … that was pretty much cutting-edge at the time. It was hilarious when we were mixing that thing. We had all four or five us crowded around the board and each guy was riding his own knobs. … It’s still one of my favorite records. Most of my favorite records were recorded on what would now be considered terrible gear.”

Even if they didn’t need sophisticated equipment, one thing the Morse brothers needed was a band. Fate played a hand in the arrival of their drummer.

“I met Alan and Neal at a bar in L.A., the Universal Bar & Grille,” D’Virgilio remembered. “It was a blues jam. You had to put your name on a chalkboard; they’d call you up periodically … and they called the three of us up. We hacked through some blues. We ended up talking about prog, and how we were all into the same kind of music. They had an organized jam at a rehearsal studio a few days later. Neal was talking about how he had written all this progressive music and had enough for a record, and that ended up being The Light. I went down to Neal’s place and picked up the cassette and dug it and I’ve been with the band ever since.”

With the drummer slot filled, the band needed a bass player. John Ballard, a friend of Neal’s, played bass with the then-nameless band for about a year, but was replaced by Dave Meros.

Fate may have played a part in his joining as well. “Sometimes when you really need something to happen, it does,” Meros said. “I was getting bored with traveling and playing this simple, blues-based stuff. In my mind I said, ‘I really need something to fall out of the sky and land in my lap.’ Al called and said, ‘I’m going to send you a tape. Check it out.’ I was like, ‘Oh man, I’ve always wanted to play with a real obnoxious tone like Chris Squire.’”

Meros bought a Rickenbacker bass, just like Squire’s, and the original four-piece lineup was complete. But that situation would soon change.

“It wasn’t really a band then,” Meros said, “it was a recording project. Neal did all the keyboards (on the album) … we wanted to do some gigs and Neal couldn’t do everything.” So the band added a second keyboardist: Japan’s gift to prog rock, Ryo Okumoto.

“I met Ryo in some club, playing in some funky blues band,” Alan Morse said. “He was pretty awesome, so I thought maybe he’d be into it. He showed up for the audition with The Light completely charted out, and then just proceeded to play it almost flawlessly. So we said, ‘OK, I guess you got the gig.’”

With the five-piece lineup in place, it was time to pick a name. “I came up with this big ol’ list of names, and (Spock’s Beard) was just a kind of joke,” Alan Morse recalled. “It was an inside joke with Neal and me. If something weird happened, we’d say, ‘Dude, that’s like Spock’s Beard from a parallel universe.’”

“Everyone would come in with a list of names,” Meros stated, “and the serious ones sounded real pretentious. That’s not who we are – we’re just a bunch of dudes with 15-year-old senses of humor. … The only (name) that never really wasn’t completely objectionable to everybody was Spock’s Beard. That was on everybody’s list as a joke at the end, and finally we felt, ‘Well, this seems to be the one that’s surviving, so let’s just use it. … We were fully expecting to be sued by [Paramount, owner of the Star Trek franchise].”

One band member actually had an encounter with the entertainment giant. Alan Morse told the tale: “We used to make up all these stories about the name, and every time we’d tell a different one about where the name came from because we didn’t want to get into trouble. Finally, one day I said, ‘I’m sick of doing this. Let’s just tell people what the deal is.’ So I was out to dinner with a bunch of people and I told them the story. One guy goes, ‘That’s interesting. Actually, I’m an attorney at Paramount. … But don’t worry, it’s cool.’”

Legal risks aside, the Trek connection has paid off for the band – sort of. “We actually got a gig at a horror and scifi convention because of our band name, not because of us at all,” Meros remembered. “Nobody even showed up. It was a giant convention, with 15,000 people over the weekend. We were in this big ballroom. There was about 40 or 50 people there. I guess everybody else would rather hear George Takei speak.”

Even if they didn’t catch on with the scifi community, things were happening for Spock’s Beard, as The Light was picked up by a small prog-oriented label, Symphonic Records. Meros recalled that label owner Greg Walker “spent more on the artwork than we did on the whole record.”

Even with a small launch, the 1995 release of The Light caught some attention upon its release. “Everybody dug it,” D’Virgilio said. “[Dream Theater drummer] Mike Portnoy even heard about it and started to say good things about us in his little circle.”

The band members were further encouraged when they played their first gig of note as Spock’s Beard in 1995 at Progfest in San Francisco. “We had no idea there was anything like (Progfest),” said D’Virgilio. Meros added, “That was when we discovered that there was indeed a prog audience.”

Besides an enthusiastic reception from the cult of prog, this show also gave the band another break, as Thomas Waber, founder of German prog label InsideOut, was in attendance, and met and eventually signed the group.

The band started getting serious, playing more gigs, tightening up its act, and starting work on a second album.

Spock’s Beard was on its way.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Visiting IU professor Todd Rundgren performs a set Sunday in Auer Hall in the Jacobs School of Music. Between songs he explained his methods of songwriting and composition and told stories about how he developed his style of playing as a young musician.

It’s been more than five years since Wells Scholars professor for the 2010 fall semester Todd Rundgren has performed a solo show.

“It’s kind of embarrassing to say, but my parents really like him. I’m in marching band, and he directed us. He seems like a really cool guy. We played “Bang on the Drum All Day” in band,” freshman Elizabeth Szymanski said.

Fans stood in line waiting for the Rundgren recital, “CLUSTER: The Birth of the T-Chord”, well before the doors to Auer Hall opened.

“I’ve been a fan of Todd Rundgren since I was in high school. The opportunity to catch all of the events going on during his visit are important to me,” Alumnus Jeff Green said.

Professor Andy Hollinden stood in line as well. A fan of Rundgren’s Utopia album and prague rock, Hollinden said he was confused when he heard Rundgren’s earlier works.

“I was 14 or 15 years old, so I was only into what I liked. When I heard the earlier stuff, to me it just seemed more like radio music, you know, sort of pop music. Now that I’ve become more knowledgeable about song writing and music production, I can see why that stuff’s his most successful, maybe most critically acclaimed,” Hollinden said.

Rundgren got the audience involved in conversation too.

“I swore off these kinds of shows. Imagine my chagrin at finding myself up here on stage with a guitar around my neck,” said Rundgren, who got the crowd to laugh then gave them a mock vocabulary lecture, telling them that ‘chagrin’ is a bad word, and they shouldn’t laugh at his chagrins.

The free show, which was open to the public and broadcast on the school of music’s website, featured Rundgren on stage at Auer Hall with an acoustic guitar, grand piano and the C.B. Fisk Organ in Auer Hall.

Professor Christopher Young played the organ while Rundgren sang along.

“I swore off playing the piano solo because I don’t feel I’m any good at it, and I don’t feel I have any business charging people to hear me play the piano,” he said.

Rundgren’s catalogue featured samples of music from different periods of his musical career. The final song of the close to two hour recital was “The Wheel,” which Rundgren described as “another of these sappy hippie songs.”

After that, Rundgren said goodnight to the crowd, wishing them a “Happy Halloween” and told them that those were all the songs that he remembered.