Firstly, I would like to apologize for waiting so long to begin my account of the Johnny Unicorn and His Jam Unit tour. And immediately after the apology I would like to make an excuse: booking shows, driving to them, and playing them requires so much of my emotional and physical energy that I needed to wait until two weeks after I returned home to even have the slightest motivation to begin writing about the it. So, here it is, part one of a series of perhaps dozens of posts on the Jam Unit tour, and it starts further in the past than you might have thought:
I had toured a number of times before on my own, and when I did so, I was literally on my own. I used sequences that I put together on an Ensoniq SD-1 as backing tracks, while I performed guitar, accordion, keyboard, saxophone and vocals. Since I was bound to the irrevocable rhythm of the machine, I was extremely limited in how much I could direct the flow of the songs, and since I am at best a mediocre player of any of my instruments, i was forced to play mostly my simplest songs. But, through a series of serendipitous and unexplainable events, I wound up with a small group of loyal and excellent musicians playing my music. Naomi Adele Smith (of Autumn Electric) first joined me on synthesizers, then Jesse Mercury joined on synth drums. Later, Max Steiner (also of Autumn Electric) joined on the guitar, which finally freed me up to stop ruining the songs with my hands. I decided I could never go back to the solo act again, because I loved the way the new band sounded. At the same time, I had just released my exercise album, “Sadness And Companionship.” I thought it was quite likely that the people who were digging the music I had to offer on previous tours would probably enjoy this new stuff performed by this new band. So I bought a van and enlisted the booking help of my friend Michael Trew and with much excitement we booked a tour for the Summer of 2013 with my new band (with Max’s brother Ian filling in on drums because Jesse regrettably couldn’t go). The band is called the Jam Unit. Remember that.
We dipped our toes in the water with a pre-tour out of town show in Anacortes, WA. Before this, the only thing I knew about Anacortes was that it was where you went to get on the ferry to go to the islands. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I stepped out of the van and was greeted by an actual city with stuff going on. One of that stuff was my band; my Jam Unit. The four of us, anxious about having to perform the longest of our tour sets on the very first night, stepped into the Brown Lantern with optimistic caution. Would they receive us with open arms and hospitality and provide us with all the necessary equipment to do a quality show, or would they hold us up against the wall by the throat and threaten us with further physical violence if we didn’t increase their alcohol sales? Fortunately, it turned out to be the former!
What I remember of the show now is mostly a blur of dark red and orange (as is my memory of almost every nightclub I’ve been in, except for the really fancy ones, which I usually remember as some shade of blue) and the nervousness of playing our very first show with this lineup. I probably don’t have to mention that there were plenty of “not-what-I-remember-from-rehearsal” moments, and for the first hour and a half, I was painfully aware of the fact that one shouldn’t wear a wizard robe to play fast music, and if one is going to wear a wizard robe, one should make sure to bring a pair of wizard shoes as well, because nothing else matches. But aside from those technical difficulties, we were received very well and we even connected with a few of the people that were there. And the management seemed pleased with how we performed our job. As a bonus, we learned about the real power of the “Jam Unit” name. It turns out that the phrase has at least one NSFW connotation, and that makes it a conversation piece, and therefore memorable. The guys that drew our attention to this fact were entirely unaware of my true intention in creating the name, which was to have a band name that had the same initials as my stage name.
With this success behind us, we proceeded to rush back to Seattle in the dark hours of the night, so we could sit in our homes, twiddling our thumbs for a week, waiting for the tour to start in earnest.