06 March 2014

The birth of Donkey Lopez

I was on FB a couple months ago and someone had written as their status update, "If I had a band, it would be called—" Well, I don't remember who it was or what their band would be called. But I wrote a new status update: "If I had a band, it would be called Donkey Lopez."

Within a few hours, my musician friend Steve Lederman, aka Gongadin, wrote to me and told me he had enlisted his friend and percussion mentor Ray Dillard, and we three were now the trio Donkey Lopez. Could we get together and rehearse in the next week or two?

I met Steve in the early 1990s, when a band called the Angry Shoppers were scheduled to appear on some cable TV variety show, and their lead singer and guitarist had just quit. The band's horn player, Rick Bordolotti, who I knew through my friend Kevin Connolly, asked me if I would front the band for this TV appearance. We got together for a couple of rehearsals, during which I adapted four of my poems to their music — or perhaps they adapted four of their tunes to my poems — and then we went on the show. It worked out pretty well. The drummer was a guy named Steve Lederman. Our rehearsals took place in the basement of his parents' house. Steve reminded me recently that I had arrived at the house, looked around, and said it looked like a place my mother, Shirley, who was an interior decorator, might have decorated. Well, it turned out my mother had done the interior decorating there, and she and Steve's mom, Marilyn, were good friends.

The Angry Shoppers never performed again, in whatever form, but Steve and I continued to work together sporadically, doing an improvisational duo at the El Mocambo, recording a bit in Steve's attic, and then working a couple times with bassoon player Jeff Burke, guitarist Andrew Frost, and dancer Norma Araiza for a festival called Figure of Speech.

It was at Steve and Jessica's son's bar mitzvah last year that I was seated with Ray Dillard, and we talked music, and sound poetry, and eventually, when Steve came around to shake hands at all the guests' tables, he decided that he, Ray and I should play together someday. Here's Ray performing a couple movements of John Cage's 4.33.

So it came to be, and we've had a couple of improvisational jam sessions in Ray's basement in Barrie, Ontario. When I was invited to take part in a tribute to my dear friend Paul Dutton, one of the world's foremost sound-singers (he doesn't like the term "sound poet"), I thought that maybe this could be Donkey Lopez's public debut.

For the performance at A Tribute To Paul Dutton At 70, which brought together about 20 sound and literary artists at The Supermarket in downtown Toronto on March 4, and about which I'll write more another time, we did a trio rendition of Paul Dutton's prose text "This and That."

It was a fast and frenetic interpretation. As soon as it was over, I had almost no memory of what we'd done. I did recall, though, that about a minute into it, I blacked out for a split second, regaining consciousness to feel myself falling backward before recovering and continuing. I better work on my breathing.

This is that performance:

We have another engagement scheduled for Toronto at the end of May — an hour-long performance about which I'm far less nervous. We might even get a quick-and-dirty CD ready for that. Ray records all our jams, and instantly engineers them after we complete each improvised piece, then sends them to Steve and me via Dropbox later that night. Those guys tend to love everything we do, while I mutter critically about many of my own contributions and suffer from impostor syndrome.

Over and out.


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