Recording "My Aim Is True"

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by vonwegen, Apr 26, 2009.

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  1. vonwegen

    vonwegen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    This was posted to Bob Lefsetz's newsletter by John Ciambotti, who played with Clover, the backing band on that album. You'll have to excuse the lack of caps, but I'm re-posting it here because it is a good "fly on the wall" perspective:

  2. johnfoyle

    johnfoyle Forum Resident

    Dublin, Ireland
    John Ciambotti RIP,0,5896080.story

    Elvis writes-

    Elvis' site has a clumsy scroll-down format so I'll paste here -

    John Ciambotti
    26 March 2010

    There is no easy way to receive bad or shocking news but there seems
    to be something especially cruel and abrupt about electronic mail. It
    is the modern equivalent of the curt bereavement notices of the
    telegraphic era.

    So it was that I read of the sudden passing of my friend, John
    Ciambotti. He was a wonderful bass-player, songwriter, some-time
    manager, record producer and all around great guy.

    The fact that he had also latterly thrived in his second vocation as a
    chiropractor and in holistic medicine meant that he could jokingly
    claim to be "the Real Dr. John". All of which makes his absence seem
    all the more unlikely.

    The rest of the day was given to conversations on the phone and
    messages shooting back and forth between friends who shared even more
    musical time with John and in those whose lives and careers he had
    played an important part.

    The news first arrived from Alex Call, chief vocalist and one of the
    several talented songwriters in John's former band, Clover.

    Some of those reading this will know that Clover were the Marin County
    group, who were persuaded to take up residency in England by our
    former managers and Stiff Records founders, Jake Riviera and Dave

    Despite all grand schemes and good intentions, the London scene of
    1976 might have been the worst place for a band of relatively
    longhaired, highly capable American musicians to suddenly pitch up.

    Clover's early 70s albums on the Fantasy label, "Clover" and
    "Forty-Niner" were very rare and fine but only appreciated by a tiny
    group of admirers. I had finally found "Forty-Niner" in a Wandsworth
    second-hand store, just a vinyl disc without a sleeve. I played it
    until I knew every note in the grooves.

    The relocation of the band to Headley Grange - a rat-infested, English
    country house and former rehearsal haunt of both Led Zeppelin and Bad
    Company - did nothing to change the band's fortunes but proved to be
    greatly to my advantage.

    Newly signed to Stiff Records, more as a songwriter than a recording
    artist, I soon found myself working with players whose records I had
    previously hunted down in those cut-out bins.

    Once it was decided that more than one session should take place, I
    was introduced to the full line-up of Clover instrumentalists:
    guitarist and pedal steel player, John McFee, keyboard player, Sean
    Hopper, drummer, Mickey Shine and on bass, the most outgoing and
    wickedly-humoured of the outfit, bassist, Johnny Ciambotti.

    Musicians often speak with shorthand references before songs are fully
    remembered. I think it might have been John who first said, without
    out any apparent malice, "Let's do that one that sounds like The
    Byrds", referring to "(The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes", while a
    novice songwriter was busy trying to cover his tracks.

    Given my almost complete lack of studio experience and the cult status
    of Clover, it was pretty intimidating to ask for changes in the
    arrangements but it is not as if we had the resources to belabour
    anything in the recording process.

    "My Aim Is True" was recorded in a total of six, four-hour sessions,
    yielding the original 12-track sequence and three completed outtakes.

    It transformed me from someone who recorded his songs in a bedroom to
    a pop singer with an odd name, who had the chance to appear on
    television and radio, perform on club and theatre stages and
    eventually make his way in the world.

    The recordings with Clover were the first thing that most people heard
    with my new name attached and whatever naiveté I now detect in my own
    performances, their impact and the debt I owe to the players, is

    Although, I had seen Johnny at gigs over the years - he introduced me
    to Lucinda Williams in the mid-80s, when they were working together -
    and while his colleague, John McFee also appeared on the albums,
    "Almost Blue" and "The Delivery Man", I never really expected to be in
    a room again with the band, Clover.

    Just three years ago - and some thirty years after our last recording
    session - our mutual friends, Austin and Lesley Delone had asked us to
    play a show in benefit of the Richie Delone Housing Fund, to assist
    those, such as their son, Richard, who have Prader-Willi Syndrome, a
    very rare and immensely challenging genetic disorder.

    I'm not given much to nostalgia but this event seemed a fine reason to
    reconvene as much of the "My Aim Is True" line-up as could be

    Legal reasons meant that Clover had not even been credited on the "My
    Aim Is True" sleeve, nor had we ever made any public appearances.

    In advance, I suppose I thought it might be a lark to perform the
    songs in recorded sequence and not have it be a complete indulgence,
    as it served some more worthwhile purpose.

    I was completely unprepared for incredible wave of emotion that came
    over me when I found myself in a room with Johnny, Sean and John.

    Whatever other adventures I have enjoyed in the succeeding years, none
    of it could have happened without that first step, when I was
    effectively a student and they were the masters.

    After the greetings and embraces, I strapped on my guitar on started
    "Welcome to the Working Week". It sounded just as it should.

    Pete Thomas was deputizing for drummer, Mickey Shine, who had become a
    painter in central California. I asked Pete the count off the second
    number, "Miracle Man".

    That couldn't possibly be the tempo...

    His metronome must have been set incorrectly...

    But no, it really was this slow.

    Time may have altered all our appearances slightly but the sound was
    instantly recognizable. Any doubt one might have had about, "Dr. John"
    no longer being a full-time player, was quickly put away.

    Johnny had always established this great rolling motion when the music
    was moving the right way, with the player and his instrument making
    one big wheel and there it was again, after thirty years.

    The pace of music and life certainly picked up after the Attractions
    and I took these songs out on the road in 1977 but once I trusted that
    Pete Thomas had really noted Mickey Shine's original tempi correctly,
    a groovier, more swinging version of songs like "Sneaky Feelings" and
    "Blame It On Cain" started to emerge.

    The show was a joy to play.

    Bonnie Raitt - who had been at one of the Attractions first London
    club shows in 1977 - was once again leading the cheering. We played to
    two houses in one evening and people's generosity towards the event
    was extremely impressive.

    "My Aim Is True" doesn't last but 30 minutes, so I played some
    acoustic songs from the same period, the trio of outtakes and we ended
    with two Clover songs, "Mr. Moon" and "Love Is Gone", both from that
    album without a sleeve.

    The next morning, I got a thank you note from Alex Call - Clover's
    lead singer and therefore like his harmonica-playing colleague, Huey
    Lewis, unemployed on my album. Alex is a resident in Nashville and had
    heard overnight about us playing two of his songs.

    Yesterday afternoon is was Alex who wrote to me to let me know of
    Johnny's passing.

    And so the calls went back and forward between other friends and
    colleagues; Jim Lauderdale, Lucinda Williams and after flying home
    from New York to Vancouver, I placed a call to Nick Lowe.

    I felt sure the news would have reached London but I also knew he
    would understand the good fortune and blessing that we once shared in
    having a cohort like Johnny, especially when the way ahead was
    uncertain and unknown.

    Rationally, it is all in the process of life to lose friends before
    their time but perhaps because music can deliver such a sense of being
    alive, it becomes hard to accept the absence of a vibrant spirit.

    John Ciambotti and I only ever shared the stage on three evenings. The
    most recent of these was that "My Aim Is True" show at Great American
    Music Hall in 2007.

    Prior to that you have to go back to a couple of nights in 1978, when
    Johnny was drafted to deputize in the Attractions for Bruce Thomas,
    who had injured his hand in a bizarre juggling accident.

    It was the very start of our third U.S. tour. That was to be our
    second trip around America of that year and it was only April.

    Johnny not only joined us for our first two Mid-Western dates but also
    found himself captured in newsreel footage as we and Rockpile
    travelled together with a "20/20" camera crew lead by future tabloid
    news anchor, Geraldo Rivera.

    Looking at the footage now could either make you laugh or cry, it's
    hard to tell.

    In the late ‘70s, the Attractions and I were hardly ever mistaken for
    rock and roll musicians, given that we had short haircuts and
    thrift-store threads. At least two of us might have been seminarians.

    Meanwhile, Johnny had this longer, perfectly-coiffed, West Coast
    hairstyle, a red leather bomber jacket, mirrored aviators and
    snakeskin boots, a look that can now be found in a many a magazine
    spread, as the styles of past decades comes back into fashion.

    I think we probably teased him about being such a dude but it was a
    look none of us could have carried off with any aplomb, any more that
    we would have risked treading the planks as a trio.

    Geraldo is still up there on some dire network, twirling his pantomime
    villain moustache, scaring up some bogus indignation and I'm going out
    on the road in a couple of weeks and will mostly likely find a place
    in the show for a couple of songs that I wouldn't have at my disposal
    if Johnny and his colleagues hadn't been around to originally lay them

    Wherever John is right now, I hope it is peaceful. My thoughts and
    love go to his family and friends. They aren't any more like him.
  3. Steve Litos

    Steve Litos Forum Resident

    Chicago IL
    That's too bad about John. I recently checked out the first couple of Clover albums and they were pleasant surprises.

    I especially like Fourty Niner. The whole album is solid front to back.
  4. johnfoyle

    johnfoyle Forum Resident

    Dublin, Ireland
  5. johnfoyle

    johnfoyle Forum Resident

    Dublin, Ireland
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