I promised Zombieslayer a post about my short venture into the world of record producers, fusion guitarists, “shred-heads” and, of course, those vultures who bring all fun to a halt — lawyers and record distributors. Dear ZS… I hope this meets with your approval.
One day sometime in 1990, I believe, I came home from work and Denise told me she had met some new neighbors and they were real nice. She said that “Mark” produced and recorded music – he was working on a children’s CD. I remember thinking to myself, “So, what’s new… everyone in Nevada City is recording a CD.” Well, we got together for dinner and I met Mark Varney and his charming family. He was a school psychologist and we talked about everything except music. The conversation turned to faith, so we invited them to church. One Sunday, Mark and I were chatting after our gathering and he told me that his brother was a record producer – Mike Varney. I said, “Do you mean Mike Varney of The Nuns?” His mouth dropped open and he said, “You’ve heard of The Nuns?” I said, “Sure, I’m a huge John Cipollina fan.” Well, we were instant pals and began gushing on about shared guitar heroes. he asked if I’d ever heard of Allan Holdsworth. “Sure! Gong and UK!”
As it turned out, Mark had his own record label, Legato Records. He had signed Frank Gambale and was about to produce a CD with Gambale and Holdsworth shredding over some fusion standards, with Chick Corea’s Elektric Band.
Here are some of the highlights of our association with Legato Records:
- Denise became the office and business manager, the FAX machine and phone were in our closet and much of the Legato catalogue resided in our basement!
- As the office and business manager, Denise had a wonderful phone relationship with some of the hottest young guitar talent of the late 80’s and early 90’s. As one unaffected by stardom and fame, she was the perfect “mother figure” to shepherd many a young, aspiring Berklee student through the contract process and into the grinder, er, I mean the music business.
- After proving ourselves competent and discriminating in our taste for searing guitar solos, Mark delegated to us the responsibility of picking up the five or six demo tapes we received daily at the PO Box and screening them. Mark was a busy man. I remember fondly coming home from work and playing speed metal, fusion and other forms of guitorture, full blast as Denise cooked supper.
- I drove Mark to Los Angeles to record Truth in Shredding and we stayed at my in-laws house for the weekend in the studio. I got to carry the master tapes (joy!).
- We found Frank Gambale at his home… he had just finished tiling his bathroom floor… part of a remodel he was doing himself. Frank was absolutely wonderful.
- We sat in the sound booth through the entire recording, with Frank Gambale soloing within a few feet, while the Elektric Band shared the studio. It was recorded live with very few retakes or overdubs.
- Mark and I drove the masters to Allan Holdsworth’s home, where we met his wonderful wife and children. Alan, his wife, Mark and I went out for supper at a posh Indian restaurant in Costa Mesa.
- Alan is a huge brew fan, so I joined him for a beer at his home.
- We left the masters with Alan, who recorded his solos and mixed the final CD in “The Brewery,” his private studio.
Another highlight was going down to the NAMM show in Anaheim in January to hobnob with the industry big-wigs and legendary musicians. I rubbed elbows with John Sebastian, Steve Morse, Neil Schon, Jorma Kaukonen and another hero, Harvey Mandel… In 1993, we got VIP passes to the Ibanez Axe Attack, a jam featuring Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Shawn Lane, Paul Gilbert, Reb Beach and a few others I don’t recall… Lanny Cordola, perhaps?
But, it was really fun when the guys signed to Legato or appearing on Guitar on the Edge stopped by our booth. For example, here’s Mark with Blues Saraceno. As I recall, he was there with his dad, because he was too young to get his driver’s license. Quite the prodigy! And, he was very nice… In fact, all of the guys we met were smart, focused, polite and a pleasure to work with.
Renowned finger-picker Muriel Anderson was as sweet as could be. She and Denise got along very nicely. She’s also tiny, so we took a photo of her standing next to Mark on a chair.
Mike Varney, Mark’s famous brother and creator of Shrapnel Records dropped by to hand out promotional goodies! The fellow laughing on the left is Todd Duane, my personal favorite of all the guitarists Mark worked with. I spoke to him about his style and he explained that what I described about his music was the result of his being a drummer before he played guitar. He approaches the guitar as a percussion instrument! And, a heck of a nice guy… a real gentleman.
Tom joined Mark and I for this show and we got a photo of him with the legendary, now deceased, Shawn Lane.
But, best of all was our “trophy girl,” Denise. The guys all got a kick, finally meeting the “office manager” from the closet!
Yes, there we have many fond memories of the few years we were “in the music business.” But, the best thing of all was finding lifelong friends in Mark Varney and his family.