Category: Music

Workin Man Blues!

This Wednesday night (that’s tomorrow) at 7:30, KVIE (channel 6) here in Sacramento will be airing a show produced by my good friend Mark Johnson: Workin’ Man Blues. Watch it! Here’s the description:

Workin’ Man Blues is based partially upon author (and Oildale native) Gerald Haslam’s authoritative 1999 book Workin’ Man Blues: Country Music in California. It traces the Dust Bowl roots of Haggard, Owens, and other key figures among the Central Valley’s hard-living, harddriving creative family to explore its continuing influence on country music today through the work of such stars as Dwight Yoakam and Alan Jackson. The program will look into the past through a fascinating collection of historic photos and videos and revisit the seminal performance by Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. Highlights of the program include interviews with Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, in his last broadcast interview before his death. Former veteran KNCI DJ Walt Shaw was also interviewed to help tell the story.

NINJAM – One more reason not to leave the house!

As I mentioned earlier, the Gangster Fun reunion show completely re-ignited my interest in performing music. When I got back home, however, all of my musician friends were too busy with jobs, kids, commuting, and the rest of their lives to want to jam on a regular basis.

I started looking for a technological remedy for my need to rock.

The first solution I looked at was email. I’ve worked on several projects where files are emailed between two or more musicians, each of whom does his or her own thing and sends it back to a person who assembles it and mixes it. This technique works pretty well, but it lacks spontaneity. I wanted to jam.

After doing a little more research into online music, I discovered an open source project called NINJAM (which stands for Novel Intervallic Network Jamming Architecture for Music). NINJAM allows people to play music together over the Internet. Since there are various latencies associated with transmitting music over the Internet, the biggest technological obstacle to real-time music collaboration is how to keep everyone synchronized. For a good example of the problem, try calling someone in the same room as you on your mobile phone and telling them to sing along with the voice on the phone, not your live voice. To an observer watching you both singing, but not listening on the phone, it will appear as if you’re singing out of sync, because of the time it takes your voice to travel through the mobile phone network. This is the same problem with trying to jam over the internet.

Instead of trying to minimize the latency, NINJAM takes a very novel approach–it makes the latency much longer. So, imagine that instead of your friend hearing your voice 1 second later, you could tell the phone to play your voice on the other end exactly 16 beats after you sing it! Now, all you have to do is sing a pattern that repeats every 16 beats (like the song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”) and it will appear to the observer that you and your friend are singing together, even though your friend is actually 16 beats behind you. NINJAM can manage multiple connections at the same time using this scheme. I’ve seen jams involving 8 to 10 different people from all over the world.

After reading up on exactly how NINJAM works and listening to some recordings on the Web site, I installed the NINJAM client on my computer, plugged in a microphone and connected to a server. The first thing that happened is that I felt unworthy to be playing along with the group I dropped in on. I quickly bowed out and started a new jam session with just me. For kicks, I slowed the tempo down and changed the beat to something I thought would be interesting — or at least funny. After a while, a guitar player joined (apparently, there are a LOT of guitarists on NINJAM). It was a mess. I didn’t know what I was doing, and dealing with the latency is enough trouble without also having to worry about unusual beats. I’m sure the guy I was playing with was good, but we sounded horrible and he gave up after 10 minutes. Undeterred, I kept on jamming by myself…I’d be doing that anyway, I figured. A little later, a bass player showed up. This time it went a little better. We weren’t exactly rockin’, but it was passable–in a hanging out in the basement making music sort of a way.

I’m still very much a NINJAM newbie, but I’m very excited about the possibilities. The fact that you’re not actually playing “live” with the other musicians is limiting in some ways, but the experience going online and playing in a band with bunch of good musicians from all over the world any time you want is mind-blowing.

THIS is what the Internet is good for. No more drummers who are late to practice. No more drinking too much at open mic night to get up the courage, only to make a fool of myself because I’ve had too much to drink. Best of all: there are no more excuses for not playing live music regularly. I’m getting ready to call my “real life” friends and tell them that if they ever want to play music, wait until the kids are asleep and get on the computer.

Gangster Fun is Back!

Friday was the Gangster Fun reunion show! It was insane! We were really good. The only bad thing about the night was that the show was sold out before the doors opened, and so a lot of people (including some of my friends) who didn’t buy tickets in advance were turned away. If you were among them, you’ll be glad to hear that it’s looking more and more likely that this was not the last Gangster Fun show ever. It was way too much fun to not do again.

I’ll be posting video here as soon as it’s done rendering and uploading. In the meantime, visit our brand-new Myspace page and be our friends.

Possible Gangster Fun Reunion?

For those of you who know what I’m talking about…there’s talk about a Gangster Fun reunion show happening at Detroit’s Magestic Theatre on December 29.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about…I was in a ska band in the late 80s to early 90s in Detroit. Sometimes called the “Godfathers of Midwestern Ska”, Gangster Fun was a strange mash-up of really good musicians and really entertaining people playing ska mixed with classic rock. During the period I was in the band, we inspired a boat-load of other ska bands, some of whom are still playing and apparently doing quite well.

Despite a crazed bunch of fans, 4 or 5 albums, and a couple tours, Gangster Fun never did well enough to be a full time job for anyone. After several old-time members left, it very slowly morphed into a much different band and then broke apart during the 2nd half of the 90s.

The reunion show, if it happens, will be largely an early-90s Gangster Fun show, which will be exciting to a bunch of people in their mid-30s in Detroit, and maybe to a bunch of younger people who have only heard about G-Fun.

If you’re curious, you can view some videos of the band, and of me playing sax, on Google Video. Here’s a direct link.

Picking up the sax again

For a reason that deserves its own post, I’m playing sax again after a 10 or 12 year hiatus. The hiatus started when I sold my last tenor sax to get some money to help pay for moving to California. I don’t regret that. It was a crummy sax, and I figured I’d get a new one in no time.

But I never did get a new one. I totally regret that. About 2 weeks ago, however, I just did it. I bought a Yamaha YTS-61 off eBay. It arrived yesterday, and I’m in love with it.

I still remember how to play, but I now pretty much suck at sax and I really need lessons and LOTS of practice.

While searching around for free internet lessons and sax teachers, I found the most incredible site ever: My original plan was to start taking lessons with a real teacher as quickly as possible, but I think that this site can delay me needing to start incuring that expense for several months. I hope this guy (Alastair Ingram) is doing well with his site, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has any interest whatsoever in playing saxophone.

Announcing the Sursiks

It’s one day old and the debut release by The Sursiks is a huge hit!

The record label my brother, David Minnick, and I created to facilitate the release and distribution of our own music released David’s latest CD, The Sursiks: I Didn’t Know I Was Singing, yesterday to incredibly good reviews. CDBaby loved it so much they’re going to feature it on their homepage next Tuesday, and they gave it the following incredibly good review:

For entertainment value alone, this album is worth mentioning. It’s one of those novelty albums you need to play at a party to impress your friends, new and old. But that’s not where this album ends- not even close. The concept of taking answering machine messages and turning them into music is only the first level of playful ingenuity in “I Didn’t Know I Was Singing.” Beyond that idea kernel, The Sursiks play with and tweak each message in a unique way, whether by breaking them down rhythmically or melodically or inferring genre styles and emotional qualities as diverse as hip hop rock to folk to jazz to funky R&B. Each message-turned-song is so cleverly woven that it brings to mind the notable contemporary classical composer, Steve Reich, and his work “Different Trains” which beautifully demonstrates the great musical potential of human speech. The Sursiks, with a similar end in sight, give us yet another way to appreciate this phenomenon with humor and fun.

You can find out more about The Sursiks at, and you can request to be notified when the CD is back in stock (which will be early next week) at

While you’re waiting to get your hands on a copy of I Didn’t Know I Was Singing, check out Oven Mitt Johnson’s 2005 release, Hot Guitar!