Monday, 29 June 2015

Black Belt is born

We continued our weekly open jams at Pauly's place, and it was always a blast, as you just never knew who would show up with what instrument. Some weeks we had more people, some weeks we had less people, but we always had a great time regardless. As per usual Paul would record every jam.

After a few months our group started to dwindle down a bit, to the point where there was now just six of us showing up on a regular basis. Those six people being myself on the mic, Paul & Mike C. on guitars, Mike Myre on bass, Gregg on drums, and Kevin Evans on the turntables. Our jams were starting to get a bit more structured now, and we were actually writing some songs. 

Now that we had dropped from an average of 12 guys to 6 guys, I no longer felt like "The B-Funk All Stars" was a suitable name for us, so I began to brain storm. I had recently rekindled my relationship with old Kung fu movies that I was very fond of as a child, so I now spent a lot of time watching old Bruce Lee films & Shaw Brothers films. Pauly noticed my interest in these films, so one day he grabbed me a VHS from Zellers where he was working. The name of the video was "Bruce Lee & Kung Fu Mania"

The tape consisted of a short documentary on Lee, perhaps 45 minutes in length or so, which was quite interesting and informative, but the rest of the tape was where the real magic laid. Two hours of movie trailers showcasing every classic Kung-Fu title under the sun. Epic films like The Chinatown Kid, The Five Deadly Venoms, Master of the Flying Guillotine, and many, many more. 

There was a trailer for one movie in particular I had seen ages ago that I had totally forgotten about, a martial arts/blaxploitation film entitled "Black Belt Jones" starring an actor named Jim Kelly, most famously known for his role in Bruce Lee's "Enter The Dragon" Jim was also in a few other films such as "The Tattoo Connection" and "Hot Potato" which was the sequel to Black Belt Jones. After rediscovering this film I was feeling very inspired. I felt like the music we were making was quite parallel to the feel and the attitude of Black Belt Jones. 

It was then that I made the realization this could serve as a great band name, but it needed some spicing up. My first idea for a new band name was "Black Belt Jones & The Five Deadly Venoms" myself representing Jones, and the other five guys representing the Deadly Venoms. All the guys loved the name, as did I, but shortly after I felt like it was too much Kung-Fu referencing and not enough reference to funk, which was what we were all about.

I started to brain storm again, and it didn't take long before a new name came to mind; Black Belt Jones & The Furious Five. "The Furious Five" was a reference/homage to "Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five" one of the first rap groups to emerge on the scene in the early 80's. The name was perfectly fitting, as it embraced the combination of two major influences, Kung fu & old-school rap music. Once again, all the guys were on board with the name. We even came up with a new genre name for the music we were creating...
"Kung-Funk" We also started referring to Pauly's place as "Kung-Funk Studios" even though it wasn't a legit recording studio.

Our journey had brought as all to an interesting crossroad. What started as a group of guys jamming simply because they loved music, had now evolved into something real. Our ball of momentum was now rolling on strong and nothing could get in the way of it.

Or so I thought...

Friday, 19 June 2015

B-Funk All-Stars

The day of our first jam had arrived and I was ecstatic. I headed over to Pauly's with Mike & Mike, and we were surprised by the turnout. Apparently I wasn't the only one excited for this impromptu jam session. Everybody got their gear set up and arranged and we were ready to make some music. 

Greg from Demon Barf was on drums, Mike Myre was on bass, Mike C and Pauly were on guitars, Dave was using a CD player to drop in samples, Eric had brought his trumpet, Justin was on bongos, Kev from Demon Barf was on the turntables, another fellow had brought his saxophone, and yours truly held the microphone in hand.

Pauly set up a blank 45 minute cassette in his boombox and hit record, we were off. The jam consisted of slower, funky grooves, making it easy for me to freestyle and making it easy in general for everyone to play along with each other. We were busting out some sweet sounds, and despite the large number of us, everything was blending together nicely.

When the 45 minute tape reached it's end, Paul flipped it to the other side and hit record once again. We were having so much fun that the time just flew right by. In the blink of an eye we had been jamming for 90 minutes and we had filled the tape. Everyone was stoked about the jam session, so we decided to have another one ASAP.

Our new super group needed a name, and I believe it was Mike C. who came up with "The B-Funk All-Stars" the B standing for Brampton. It was an ode to The P-Funk All-Stars, a classic old funk band comprised of members from Parliament and Funkadelic. Granted our funk was a bit more rap oriented, but we all loved the name. It was settled, we were now known as The B-Funk All-Stars.

Ice Cube had recently put out his latest album "Lethal Injection" which was mediocre at best compared to his previous releases, but I was listening to it a lot regardless. The album was very P-Funk influenced, and it even featured one of their members George Clinton, known for his hit song "Atomic Dog" There were a few songs that influenced and inspired me to write some lyrics down, as to have some lyrical content for our next jam. The song "Bop Gun" led me to write "Pot Gun" and I also wrote my own version of "One Nation Under A Groove" as well as a few other songs who's titles escape me at the moment.

The next week we were back at Pauly's to jam again, and even more people showed up this time. If someone had an instrument, they brought it. We also had a few friends show up just so they could sit and watch the jam session. Pauly had the tape recorder queued up once again, and we were all ready to make more groovy funky tunes. Having brought lyrics this time around made my life a bit easier, and we actually started to structure some songs.

Every week we would jam, and it was always a mystery as to who would show up. Paul made a point of recording our jams every week, his philosophy being that we could go back and listen to them for ideas. We could take the best parts and use them for creating songs. I personally thought it was a genius idea. 

To be quite honest, I was just thrilled to be making music again, even if it was just for fun, as we really weren't trying to go anywhere with this, it was merely a creative outlet for a bunch of musicians who were not currently playing in bands. Everyone was having fun, nobody was taking things too seriously, and there really was no right or wrong. People just played whatever they wanted and whatever made them feel good. These were truly some magical jams, that unbeknownst to me were leading up to something special...

Friday, 12 June 2015

Measuring Success

Happy Friday everyone! For today's post I am going to step outside of the box a bit. This is an ongoing story of the involvement of music in my life, which is generally what my posts reflect. Once in awhile I post general updates as to keep my readers in the loop. Today I am taking things in a different direction for a change. I hope you are up for a read because things are about to get deep.

Over the past year I have been fortunate enough to reconnect with one of my best friends in this world, someone I truly admire as an artist and as a free thinker. This man is one of the most inspirational people I've known in my 42 years on this planet, and he is actually the sole reason I started this blog in the first place. His name is Jon, although some of you may know him as "Osiris" co-founder of UWA Hardcore Wrestling & co-owner/creator of Wrestling Abaddon.

We have been having some pretty deep discussions as of late that go beyond philosophical, and we seem to bring out the best in each other's creativity and imagination, so much to the point that it has inspired me to take this blog post out to left field on this occasion. While we were involved in one of our deep talks, Jon mentioned that a mutual acquaintance of ours had stated that I was not a successful person. Jon made his points of why he disagreed with this, all of which I fully understood and agreed with. Being a person who's brain works overtime 24/7, it got me to thinking, which led me to writing.

What exactly is success? How do we measure success? 

"People measure success in so many different ways and on so many different levels. When setting goals in life or business, it’s important that we identify what success means to us personally, so that when we succeed we will know it. Most people measure success in business according to their income, however this may not be an accurate assessment. If your business efforts provide a substantial monetary reward but you don’t enjoy what you do, can this really be called success?"

If a man works 40-60 hours a week sacrificing the time he gets to spend with his family, while saving all of his money for retirement, then dies at a fairly early age due to health issues caused by stress, etc. was he successful? I've always been the type of person to live for the moment, because in this crazy world of ours we truly never know what will happen. It could all end tomorrow in the blink of an eye, and I'd be ok with that, as I have lived my life the way I've wanted to. Sure I may not have a huge bank account or own a house, but to me those things aren't measures of success, and to be quite honest I really have no interests in such material possessions. After all, human civilization has been around for thousands of centuries thriving without money, yet within the last millennium somehow money has now become everyone's answer to life. 

So what exactly is success? How do we measure success

Let's look at my friend Jon for example. Here is a guy who was still a high school teenager when I met him, running UWA an independent backyard wrestling federation out of a barn on his mother's property. Jon had hopes and dreams of being a big time wrestler/promoter and I never viewed his dreams as unrealistic, as I could see the love and the passion he had for the sport. A few years after I met him, UWA had grown out of the barn and into the backyard, with a legit wrestling ring he and his brother built themselves. The crowds had spiked from 10 people to over 100 people, growing so fast and so big that they had no choice but to turn it into a legitimate and licensed business. This was really the only choice, as they were risking everything putting on illegal backyard events.

For almost the next decade Jon ran UWA with his brother and it was like a dream come true. They were averaging 300-600 people per show, which are staggering numbers for an Indy fed in the greater Toronto area. They brought in big name talent from all over the world including wrestling gods we had idolized growing up, while still giving opportunities to lesser known names and local independent wrestlers. UWA became (in my opinion) a legendary underground movement that was on a parallel with ECW, and it flourished into the biggest Indy wrestling promotion that I have seen in this neck of the woods within the last three decades. They even received television deals with Bite TV, The Fight Network, TWC Fight!, & Samurai TV in Japan. Jon got to travel to Mexico & Japan and helped enable the careers of his fellow friends and workers.

To me it was amazingly remarkable to watch all of this unfold. To see two teenagers that started on a trampoline in a barn come this far within 10 years was incredibly inspiring. So how did the wrestling community pay them back? By anonymously slandering them and flaming them on internet message boards, forever trying to run their names through the mud.  Haters gonna hate right? Why? Was it jealousy? One can only assume. A lot of Ontario wrestlers were bashing UWA simply because they weren't working there. So why weren't they given opportunities? Some of them were and some of them weren't. These decisions were based on the talent and the integrity of said performers. This had nothing to do with ego, Jon simply wanted to give his loyal fans the best possible product he could. If that meant presenting the crowd with Ultimo Dragon instead of Joe Blow from down the street, then that's what had to be done. Not only for the fans, but for the interest of the business.

To further prove my point, Jon wrestled as "Osiris" he wasn't a fantastic worker by any means, but he always put his pure heart and soul into it. As UWA got bigger, Jon took a back seat and focused on the promotion and production aspects, as once again, he wanted to give his following the best product he could. I was fortunate enough to be apart of his company, and I told Jon from day one he would never have to pay me a dime. I wasn't there for my own selfless reasons or to try and get myself over, I was there because I truly wanted to help out my fiends, I truly wanted to be apart of something I knew was special, and I wanted to have that life experience. It had been a goal of mine from a young age to be apart of the wrestling business, yet I let that fizzle away to pursue my love of music and arts. Jon & his brother Joe gave me a chance to fulfill that life goal and made one of my dreams come true. It was a blessing to be taught a lesson by these younger men, the lesson being that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. 

A lot of Jon's so-called "friends" offered to help out with UWA, but sadly a lot of them were only there for their own selfish reasons. People who he trusted and gave opportunities to paid him back by stealing money and product, not to mention backstabbing him, and running his name in the shit. When Jon decided to end UWA in 2008, he never even got so much as a thank you from a lot of wrestlers who's careers he helped launch. It's sad to say, but in the world of pro wrestling most of the talent are only out for themselves. When everybody wants to be the next big thing in the sport, they will do anything to reach that goal, without even blinking an eye at who they have to fuck over to get there. Some even questioned his mental well being, and spread rumours of him being "crazy" I suppose you have to be somewhat crazy to roll around in barbwire and broken glass, but I've always known Jon and known how his mind works, and I can honestly say that in this present day I've never seen him more focused, determined, and brimming with intelligence. Jon often honours me by saying I'm the smartest person he knows, well one hand washes the other, as I truly feel he is the smartest person I know.

So did UWA make Jon a wealthy man financially? No. Was UWA successful? Hell yes! Absolutely! The fact that these two kids with a dream brought that dream to life, even beyond what they had expected, is a true measure of success in any book. Being successful in business may include not only enjoying what you do, but also creating value for others. Wether or not it is profitable, for you to accurately measure success, you would also need a way to gauge whether or not you are truly creating value for other people.

"When we set goals in any area of our life, we need to determine what our intended results are and how we will know when we get there.  Establishing ahead of time what success looks like and feels like gives us the opportunity to program ourselves with the feelings success will bring. Having a way to measure success and keep track of progress helps us stay motivated and focused. When you know where you are going and the progress you've made, it creates anticipation and excitement. This positive energy helps you to take consistent action in the direction of your goals which multiplies your results. One feeds the other."

So what exactly is success? How do we measure success

That brings me to myself. What goals did I set for myself? I always wanted to be apart of wrestling. Check. As much as I never thought art would pay the bills, I ended up tattooing for the past 15 years and was blessed with a job that I loved. Check. I always wanted to be a rock star from a very young age, and I ended up playing in countless bands since my early teens. In my younger years I dreamt of riches and stardom, but by the time I was in my mid twenties I had a full understanding of how the music industry worked, and I didn't want to be apart of it. I also learned why I had been doing music all of the while, because I loved it! Music is my deepest passion in life beyond creative arts, it's always been there for me, my earliest and most fondest childhood memories involve it, and I am attached to it and apart of it forever. Some of the bands I played in had moderate "success" on the Indy scene, but I really didn't care about status. To have that one person come up to me and tell me how I've changed their life is worth more than all of the money and fame in the world, and that's real talk. I can totally relate to that because I've felt the same way with so many musicians who've inspired me, or helped uplift me in times of trouble, and to be put on the same level as those people is the ultimate success to me. Check. 

Many people may not know this, but growing up I was the last male with my family name aside from my Dad's brother, but I always knew he would never have kids, as he had always been a bachelor and lived his life the way he wanted. A success if you will. From a young age I felt the pressure and the need to one day have a son and carry on the family name. I often questioned wether I'd even live to have kids, or if the planet would even live to see me have kids. I also often questioned if I should even bring a child into this world the way things were going globally in society. I never saw myself as the type to settle down in the house with the white picket fence, married with children, yet I still yearned for a son. I eventually did get married and gave my life to someone for 8 years, and I got the son I always wanted. I honestly couldn't of asked for a better boy. My son Gabriel is an old soul, he is kind and generous, he is articulate, he is intelligent, he is imaginative, and he is creative. Gabe reminds me so much of my childhood self, and he makes me proud every day, regardless if he is with me or with his mother. Check.

I changed for the better in many ways, yet I also changed to appease my partner in ways that weren't me, all for the greater good of our family. In the end things didn't work out, we went our separate ways, and I honestly feel it was for the better, as we are both much happier and in better places. The only obvious downside is I don't get to be with my son every day of his and my life. Looking back on it all though I wasn't truly happy or myself. I went back into a mainstream work environment and continued to tattoo in the evenings, all while maintaining a household, bringing my son to and from daycare each day, and preparing dinner. At the end of my day Gabe was already in bed most times and I'd barely gotten to spend any time with him. Financially we should of been ahead thousands of dollars each month yet we were in debt. Was this success? Is this what life was meant to be?

After we separated I continued to work my day job and tattoo part time for 3 more years. It finally hit me that I was not happy. Why was I still working at a job someone else wanted me to have? For the first time in my life I was not happy with my situation and I was experiencing stress from my job. One day i had a small spec of blood in my urine so I went to see my doctor about it. They ran the usual blood and urine analysis but found nothing. From there I spent the next few weeks undergoing tests, ultrasounds, X-rays, and so forth. I awaited anxiously to hear back from my doctor and it felt like an eternity. His office finally called me and they asked me to come in. I assumed the worst as they usually don't give you bad news over the phone. When the day of the appointment arrived I honestly had no idea what I was in for. 

The doc proceeded to tell me that they could not find one thing wrong within me, and that my insides were unremarkable for my age. I found that odd and strangely funny considering my track record of not eating the healthiest, never exercising, and the abuse I have put my body through over the last fourty years. The doctor was genuinely amazed by my condition and asked me what my secret was. I replied "I've always lived my life the way I've wanted, never sweated the small stuff, and never stressed over needless things. I have heard people can give themselves cancer from stressing over issues" to which he responded "You're absolutely right!" Needless to say I was quite thrilled by the outcome of my visit, and to me it was a testament that I'd been true to myself. A success in its own right. Check.

I decided to leave my day job and fall back on my art. The past two years haven't been rewarding financially speaking, but I'm getting by no problem, bills are getting paid, and my son and I have the necessities we need. The true reward has been getting back in touch with myself, doing what I want to do, and living my life the way I want to live it. I've had more time to enjoy my life, enjoy my time with my son, and more time to explore my creative outlets. I never thought I would love again or settle down, yet I was blessed enough to meet a woman who I can truly say is my soulmate, as cliche as that might sound. Check.

 I am at a point now though where I feel like I need change in my life. My passion for tattooing has faded as the industry has grown into an abomination I don't want to be apart of. As much as I still love the art-form and love doing it, I feel like I was put on this planet to do so much more than just ink people until my eyes and/or hands no longer work. I really have no clue what my future holds but I feel I'm destined to do many more things before my time here is up. No matter where my path takes me, as long as I am doing what I want to be doing, living my life the way I want to live it, then successful I shall be. So to sum this up, all of the goals I have set for myself thus far in life I have achieved. I'm not quite sure what future goals I have or what direction my life will go from here, but rest assured I will continue to achieve any goals I set for myself in the future.

In closing, everyone has their own definition of success in life and in business. It’s not your job to live up to someone else’s idea of success. Your accomplishments and successes are yours, not theirs. YOU get to measure success by YOUR own standard. YOU are the one who decides exactly what it means to be successful in any area of YOUR life. Thanks for reading.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Dying Breed In Brampton

Shortly after our Halloween gig, John McCuish decided he didn't want to play drums in the band anymore, and we now had a total dilemma on our hands. We didn't want to revert back to the rap band we once were sans instruments, and for the life of us we couldn't find another drummer despite all of our friends who were musicians. The main problem was all of the drummers we knew were already drumming in other bands. We were left with no choice but to pull the plug and call it quits with 3 n' Pass. I was pretty bummed out about the whole situation, but I always try to make a positive out of a negative. At least now I'd finally have the time to get to the project my heart truly desired, my solo rap album.

I don't know exactly how long it had been, but it seemed like in the same week, or perhaps in the same month, I spoke to Pauly from Demon Barf to let him know that 3 n' Pass was no longer a band. I was very shocked when Paul retorted with "Neither is Demon Barf dude, we broke up!" I truly couldn't believe it. I really didn't see that one coming. They were all such tight friends, they had been dedicated to their band for years, and they were basically at the top of their game. I was flabbergasted.

I don't remember exactly why they broke up to be honest, but there was never any bad blood between them as far as I know. I personally think they had just grown as people, each now with their own different tastes and interests. Or perhaps they'd just got tired of the hustle and bustle of the thankless job that is being an Indy musician. They had been attached to each other for so long, I suppose it was time to grow up and explore the world as individuals. That is my theory on the entire situation at least. I could just ask them, but I'm deeply involved in this post and don't want to stop writing while the creative juices are flowing.

None the less, it was pretty mind blowing that three of the biggest bands in Brampton at the time, had all folded within the matter of a year. 3 n' Pass, Demon Barf, and the original incantation of Grasshopper. Was there something in the water? Something in the air perhaps? I guess we shall never really know. Call it fate if you will. As it stood now, there really wasn't much of a Brampton music scene anymore. 

Anyone who creates music, or any form of artistic creation, be it drawing, writing, needle point, etc. can relate to the fact that when something is such an integral part of you, you can never truly let it go or give it up. And that's exactly what happened next. I don't even think I'd gotten anymore work done on my solo project, when Pauly reached out and got in touch with me. His parents had gone away on vacation, and he had the house to himself. Paul proposed having an open jam session, where all were welcome, just so we could do something creative musically since none of us were doing anything now. The music bug had bitten so to speak.

I was totally on board with the idea, as were many of the other guys, including my former band mates Mike & Mike, along with Kev & Gregg from Demon Barf. On top of that Paul had a few other friends who wanted in on the action including Dave McCracken, Eric Powell, Justin Eckersall, and a few others whose names escape my mind at the moment. Regardless, it was safe to say this was going to be one hell of a jam session...