Rough Notes

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‘A most entertaining hybrid of memoir and cultural history’: Rock-n-Reel Magazine.

More info on the Rough Notes page …or at Amazon UK and Amazon US




Posted in Music, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 184 Comments

184 Responses to Rough Notes

  1. A song to start my day:

    Just remembered this one. I can’t really pin down the style, but it’s kind of Beach Boys/Beatles sounding. I love the bass run at 1:32.

    • Bruce says:

      A most pleasant melodic ditty. I think in another era, maybe with better slightly better production values, the Bears would’ve done very well.

  2. Ed Morgan says:

    I don’t see a kindle version available for download. I suppose I will purchase an actual book for once. Out of curiosity does the book make mention of Mad About the Wrong Boy? I would think that would be good for a page or two.

    • Bruce says:

      I’ll get round to a Kindle version later. Buy a book — it’s an object of beauty. ‘Mad’ does get a mention — it’s good for almost a page πŸ™‚

      • This book, in terms of as a physical object, is well-made and comfortable to read – the size is good, and the front and back covers are coated with some kind of soft, almost rubbery-feeling material that is easy to hold and read – rather than the slick cheap-feeling material of many books today.

      • Bruce says:

        Well … if you’re going get serious about it. It’s proportions are pleasingly closed to the phi ratio embodied in the Golden Rectangle — the most harmoniously pleasing shape for a rectangle. πŸ™‚

      • Mike Miller says:

        And, I thought your take on the reason for it’s creation was very interesting. I never thought about it in that sense.

      • Bruce says:

        Neither did I, till Mr Kent-Isaac started.

      • Ed Morgan says:

        A book it is then. “Mad” is a nice fun listen. I had tried unsuccessfully to find it here in the U.S. some years ago and I actually ended up on Steve Nieve’s web page and on a whim sent a message asking if it was available anywhere. He was very kind to make a copy and mail it to me.

      • Bruce says:

        Very good — I’ll get in touch with him for my royalties πŸ™‚

      • Mike Miller says:

        I was referring to the creation of the Mad album, actually.

        In the old days, designers would use similar Greek ratios to lay out recording rooms and listening halls.

      • Bruce says:

        …And cathedrals, and pagan subterranean resonant sounding chambers, etc etc. I can’t say that the Mad album had any esoteric input involved in its creation. Although the Greeks used it a lot in their architecture, it’s not a particularly “Greek” ratio, it’s found in the relative length of the bones of the skeleton etc. A series of “stacked” Golden Rectangles follows the Fibonacci series of numbers, which in turn leads to the construction of the logarithmic spiral — and the shape of everything from nautilus shells, to sunflower seed heads and galaxies. …Or so heard from my neighbour Mr da Vinci.

      • I am a Freemason and our ritual and mythology contains a great deal of this stuff.

      • Bruce says:

        The house next door to me is Masons Cottage. The village I live in is one of the few English villages with no church. It was built as a secular village — and as a Knights Templar enclave. Temple Farm is just up the road. There is a lot of riualised landscape around here — earthworks, burial chambers and standing stone cirlces.

        In addition it’s the epicentre of crop circle activity in the UK.

        On top of that there is a lot of military activity because of the accompanying UFO anomalies. There are also some “interesting” locals — including a banker with an Β£8 million pyramid built on his land, where the great and good come to meet every so often — our own Bohemian Grove. (I live over the other side of the hill).

      • Mike Miller says:

        I guess I will avoid playing Rectangle Trivia with you guys the next time we’re at the pub.

      • Bruce says:

        You’re so square, or is it that you move in the wrong circle.

      • Mike Miller says:

        In my circle, no one takes a side.

      • Next time you are by Mason’s Cottage or any other building with a similar name, look around to see if you can spot any Masonic symbols carved into the stone.

      • Bruce says:

        It used to be a pub called The Masons Arms. It’s a fairly popular pub name!

  3. Another thing I noticed in Rough Notes was that you used the example of James Taylor as the kind of soft and bland rock with uninteresting bass parts. This is certainly an understandable perspective given the musical environment you came up in – yet James Taylor was one of the artists that first got me interested in bass lines as a kid, listening to the 80s-era Taylor albums that my parents would frequently play in the car during vacations. Taylor actually employed some solid session bassists – Leland Sklar is the most notable – but the J.T. album I listened to most as a kid was “That’s Why I’m Here.” While utterly drenched in uber-cheesy 1980s production and synth abuse, it actually features Tony Levin of King Crimson on a number of tracks, and those were the tracks that helped spark an interest in bass parts in my 6 year old mind.

    In particular, this one, filled with growls, slaps, and glissandos :
    And ‘Turn Away’ featuring a number of very tasteful fills and an interesting line on the mini-bridge (“it was true love, it was etc”) :


    • Bruce says:

      Your input is appreciated — and accurate. You are right in the grand scheme of things. But as you also rightly observe, in the context I was writing about, compared to the thrill of seeing the J Geils Band, James Taylor was as soppy as they come — and definitely what music (and I) were seeking to head away from , not embrace in the comfy rocking-chair slipperdom of premature middle-age. To paraphrse Spinal Tap — Fire and Rain can make steam — but they also make lukewarm water.

      • Also, good show giving props to Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads – she has a lot of great lines, my favorite being “Wild Wild Life” which sounds at times more than a little bit Thomasian with the descending major scale riffs.

      • Oh yeah, I just remembered – one of the other songs I heard as a kid where I really remember the bass line standing out, is Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby”. Which features on the bass none other than J.Taylor’s sideman, session workhorse Leland Sklar.

        You got to admit, it is a great groove and restrained, yet still full of great fills and even some slapping.

        (Sorry to be posting so much….just sequestered inside and bored on this dreary day.)

      • Bruce says:

        Youa’re welcome to post until you have an entire fence πŸ™‚

  4. Well, I finally got around to reading the book. It didn’t me long to finish it, which is usually the case with material that I am really interested in – but I usually go back and re-read it, in bits and pieces, gradually to get a deeper reading of it. And so I will have numerous comments and questions over time. But for now, one thing that stood out to me was the mention of Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders. A blue-eyed soul group which will be unknown to most people, but which will be very well known to fans of Jaco Pastorius, as he got his start touring as the bassist for the C.C. Riders. The biography of him goes into great detail about Cochran’s band and their wild antics. He was only one in a line of several bassists who toured with the group over the years, so you may or may not have seen him.

    • Bruce says:

      Well thank you for that quite astonishing bit of new information — I would certainly have included that nugget in the text of the book, had I known.

    • A further query: that camera given to you by Elton John, do you still have it? What type of camera is it?

      • Bruce says:

        No, I don’t have it. It was a Polaroid folding camera. They broke fairly easily, but it was the thing to have …in 1973! Best thing about them was you could maniuplate the chemicals in the print before it set. Tere was a brief ‘art movement’ along those lines. With social media it might’ve turned into more of a thing.

  5. Jerry Cohen says:

    I see you already contributed to this story, but was My Aim Is True really re-recorded by The Attractions in its entirety? If it was, it’s the great lost EC & The Attractions album – your Smile, as it were.

    • Bruce says:

      I think we certainly re-recorded some of the tracks from MAIT — wasn’t there was a version of Blame it on Cain floating around on an EP with a couple of other tracks, if memory serves? Though they may have been live recordings. Don’t ask me — if you can remember the 70s you weren’t there πŸ™‚

  6. Riding on a bus yesterday through the rural hinterlands of Nova Scotia while listening to ‘Pump it Up’. You need a car to get around in Nova Scotia, and there everyone has at least one, and so most of the people on the bus seemed to be drunks who’d lost their licenses!

    • Oh yeah – almost forgot to mention, the copy of ‘Rough Notes’ that I had ordered SPECIFICALLY to read during this trip….I managed to leave it at home! Although I’d made a point of it being one of the first things in the suitcase, it got shuffled around at some point during the re-arrangement of items, and I forgot to put it back in the bag! Looking through my bags earlier, and not finding it, felt a little like pulling the cord for a parachute and not having one. But I’ve asked my girlfriend to express mail it to my friends’ house in Nova Scotia so I can at least have it for the trip back home!!

    • Bruce says:

      You wanna see something really scary — check out Jeremy Corbyn!

      • Roddy Ring says:

        I get the impression that Corbyn doesn’t like us much over here.

      • Bruce says:

        He’ll be gone by Christmas.

      • Roddy Ring says:

        …….if only in our dreams.

      • Bruce says:

        There’s nothing in the streets
        Looks any different to me
        And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
        And the parting on the left
        Are now parting on the right
        And the beards have all grown longer overnight

        I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
        Take a bow for the new revolution
        Smile and grin at the change all around
        Pick up my guitar and play
        Just like yesterday
        Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
        We don’t get fooled again
        Don’t get fooled again
        No, no!


        Meet the new boss
        Same as the old boss

  7. OK, so a question I have to ask:

    I just heard the studio version of “Big Sister’s Clothes” for the first time, and realized that it was absolutely NOTHING like the version that I have always had. (In fact, I thought it far inferior.) The version I have, I can’t find anywhere on YouTube, but this live version from the 80s (from some TV special?) has the same overall rhythm, a hard-hitting reggae style, which I find to be a HUGE improvement on the album version.

    But it is still not exactly the same version as the one I have, whose arrangement sounds almost like a Roxy Music song.

    Many of my EC&A songs on my computer come from a compilation called “Radio Sessions.” I know that some of the songs among them were originally from Peel Sessions, but all the Peel Sessions songs are up on YouTube. There are 4 Peel Sessions that I can see, and none of them contain ‘Big Sister’s Clothes.’

    Do you know where this version of the song is actually from?

    • Bruce says:

      Here’s a secret. Elvis played bass on the version of the song that is on the album as I didn’t turn up at the studio that day. Maybe that accounts for the difference in quality you cite. That interviewer in the clip sounds Dutch to me.

  8. The other day, I was showing investment properties to a client, and saw a house in disrepair – which had become occupied by a different kind of tenant. I had my camera with my so I took a picture:

  9. Mike Miller says:

    Saw this on your YT channel:

    And I thought people here got pissed off in traffic!

    • Bruce says:

      Yes — a perfect example of what happens when a flood of emotion raises the centre of gravity from its natural place in the pelvis to the upper chest, thus making the person top heavy.

    • Bruce says:

      If it’s in Korea, that’s just before they get eaten πŸ™

      • Roddy Ring says:

        If it’s in North Korea, everything in the CafΓ©, including the people and the furniture, has already been eaten, (or executed for treason).

      • Mike Miller says:

        About 15 years ago or so, a fairly prominent “Japanese Hibachi” restaurant ( although I doubt anyone working there was of Japanese heritage) in Kansas city was subject to a surprise inspection by the City Health Department. The inspectors discovered inside the walk-in freezer, several skinned and gutted canines hanging from hooks. When questioned, the manager reportedly said: “Not for customer…dogs for us”.

      • Bruce says:

        I don’t suppose they came by them legitimately, though.

      • Mike Miller says:

        Whistling from behind the building, I think.

  10. Jerry Cohen says:

    Testing. My last attempt was “blocked as spam”.

    • Jerry Cohen says:

      Per your new book: Where in Penzance was The Attractions’ first gig? I was there in June and had I known I would have stopped by to pay homage. If there is not a blue historical plaque at the location, there should be!

      • Bruce says:

        As far as I know, there’s only one gig in Penzance, which is the Winter Gardens. It’s proabably not there now. (Anyone with a blue historical plaque should visit a dentist.)

    • Bruce says:

      Test successful πŸ™‚

  11. Paul Inglis says:

    It’s finally arrived at my far flung hideaway! I didn’t put it down until page 221, and that was only because it was 2.30AM. Definitely a β€œpage turner”! I will probably finish the rest in one more sitting, and will emerge wiser and thoroughly entertained. Thanks Bruce, for it making it possible.

    • Bruce says:

      Far flung hideaway? Sounds good.Thank you for your kind comments. Perhaps if people are in such a rush to get to the end, I’ll write the next one backwards.

  12. Jerry Cohen says:

    My review just went live on Amazon, but here it is…

    “Anyone wishing to understand what made Elvis Costello’s classic recordings tick need only to look as far as his ace band, The Attractions, and their stellar bassist, Bruce Thomas. Fortunately for us, Thomas’s writing is as crisp and inventive as his bass lines, and he takes us on a trip through four exciting decades of rock & roll, and along the way we get to meet (up close and personal) the likes of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Pete Townshend, Johnny Cash, David Gilmour, and of course, Mr. Costello himself. Thomas turns a sharp and sometimes wistful eye on a surprising career that didn’t always go in one direction, but whose detours and zig-zags were never dull. Musicians will be pleased at the amount of knowledgeable detail about music and recording, but it’s never technically overwhelming for the casual fan who just wants a good read. We are quite fortunate that Mr. Thomas writes as cleanly and inventively as he plays.”

  13. Jerry Cohen says:

    Just finished “Rough Notes”. I have to say it was the best rock & roll memoir I have read, and answered nearly all my questions about what happened to EC and the A’s. Just so you know, my first show was the LA Sports Arena in ’81 where you did a country set as well as played half of the unreleased Imperial Bedroom. I was completely blown away by the performance. Among other shows mentioned in the book I was at all five “live rehearsal” shows at The Beacon in NY (great shows; hence my disappointment when the ensuing ATUB LP sounded so lifeless); and the last Attractions US show in Seattle, before the final shows in Japan. From a musician’s standpoint I also appreciated the inside dope on the recording sessions (would have loved more of that!) and the accounts of the monotony and insanity of life on the road. When people “accuse” me of being a “big Elvis Costello fan”, I always correct them and say that I am an “Elvis Costello and The Attractions” fan, and carefully explain the difference. In future I will just refer them to your fine tome. Thanks again for a great read, and I wish you robust sales.

  14. Neil Jones says:

    I’ve got your book ordered as a wedding anniversary present. I hope there’s a little romance in there along with the drugs and rock and roll? πŸ™‚

  15. BorisBrain says:

    Hi Bruce,

    There’s a few reformation-era soundboard recordings that have found their way onto YouTube recently, none more clear and startling than this from Tokyo ’94:

    That’s some astonishing bass playing going on throughout sir, with New Lace Sleeves and Shabby Doll being particularly sublime. I guess it must have been another day in the office for you, but nonetheless I take my hat off to you.

    Stay groovy,


    • Bruce says:

      it’s the Danelectro Longhorn Bass in there — they record so cleanly. We were playing well at the time because we were all enjoying it — it was the brielf most-postitive period of the reunited band. You’re right, it is an amazingly good sound — but in the end he preferred a quiet life πŸ™‚ (Groovy I shall stay.)

      • Audio Ammunition says:

        Glad that you’ve found and enjoyed this upload of mine. I always was a fan of the more upbeat albums – Brutal Youth, This Year’s Model, Blood and Chocolate. It is the clearest sounding live recording I have ever heard, don’t know if the Japanese audience were particularly quiet or a long way from the stage mics but they are barely audible. Close your eyes and the band could be in the room with you. Been a huge fan of EC & the A’s since they started and must have close to 100 live recordings so thought it would be good to share the better sounding ones on youtube for everyone to enjoy. (Sorry Bruce but you’re not on all of them).

      • Bruce says:

        I should think, as you say that the audience was only being picked up on the stage mikes. That’s a hell of a collection you have there.

      • Mike Miller says:

        Quite a collection, AA! I never considered EC & A’s to be much of a “sing-a-long” group, but check this out at 1:25:40:

  16. A new song by Wilco, one of the best current American bands in my opinion, with a rhythm that reminds me more than a little of ‘Pump it Up.’ Notice also the octave vocals, Squeeze-style – an underutilized technique that I have always loved the sound of.

    • Bruce says:

      I liked the ad that was on before the track, showing my local city bath in a very nice light. You’ll probably have a different ad in your neck of the woods though.

      • I don’t see any ads, because I installed Adblock Plus. It’s a browser add-on that totally eliminates any auto-playing video advertisesments. An ad for a local city bath…wow…if that was all I had to deal with, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered with Adblock, but the ads in the US are hideously obnoxious and annoying.

      • Bruce says:

        Actually — that’s a typo. I meant my local city, which is Bath, and is the most beautiful city in England. No wonder you were underwhelmed.

      • Hah, that makes more sense, I was thinking – “local city bath? Like a pool? Or some kind of spa?” I just assumed you meant something like that.

      • Bruce says:

        That would mean I was an idiot πŸ™‚

  17. happey birthday, broose,i got you this awsome base for your birthday present. some final assembly required. but it comes w/ some nails and a hammer.

  18. David Witherington says:

    Happy Birthday, Bruce! Cheers from Greenville, North Carolina. πŸ™‚

  19. Mike Miller says:

    HBD! Hope you have a great day! It’s only a number….The quality is what matters.

  20. George does NOT like going to the vet. When I took him for his checkup the other day, he was very naughty. He growled and hissed at her, and then when she tried to free his claw from a thread on the towel that it was stuck on, he attacked! Since I knew there might be a chance of such shenanigans, I recorded video of some of the checkup:

    I am always amazed at the video and audio quality of the iPhone, by the way.

  21. Is there anywhere else to get your book rather than from the bastards at Amazon? I feel my desire to read it may be greater than my principles though….thanks.

    • Bruce says:

      It should be on extended distribution — ie, in the shops. You could order it via a shop and let them get it from Amazon. I know what you mean — but if we got rid of all the bastards at Google and Facebook, and all the rest who’d do the CIA’s work for them? If you feel that badly about it I’ll post you a copy. I have principles too, you know — and if you don’t like them — I’ve got several other sets you can choose from πŸ™‚

      • Thank you. I’ll try my local book shop run by an old lady and her four cats – it may be between the Somerset Maugham and books about the Blitz though I don’t hold out much hope. I’ll do all I can to save you a trip to the Post Office – presuming you still have one…..

      • Bruce says:

        No shops or Post Office within 3 miles of me. But at least when I get in to town I can buy fresh sushi in Waitrose. Modern life. πŸ™‚

      • Hi,
        I really enjoyed your book and only wished it was a bit longer as it lasted an intensive afternoon for me – it was a very pleasurable afternoon though! Although I still love Elvis’s music I miss the Attractions as the arrangements and playing were equal to the songs for me. I was wondering what you thought of the analyses of your bass playing from those august fellas from Bass Player magazine (or whatever it was). Was it a case of β€œOh, is that what I was doing?” or ’At last! someone has realised what I was doing”? Thanks!

      • Bruce says:

        Thanks for your kind comments. In answer to your question — it was probably a bit of both. I knew what I was doing, but I wouldn’t have said it the same way.

  22. Ian says:

    Delighted to have just received a fresh copy of your book delivered, ahem, ‘down under’…I know I’m going to enjoy reading it. Thanks Bruce!

  23. Jerry Cohen says:

    Hi Bruce. Just ordered the book. I now know how I will spend my Saturday. Amazon review forthcoming.

  24. Mike Miller says:

    Excellent. I’m glad you’ve found the “clearer air”.

  25. Jerry Cohen says:

    Who’s the mystery backing vocalist? (Or at least the mystery miming backing vocalist). “N-word” edited out.

  26. BorisBrain says:

    Hi Bruce,

    A very enjoyable and insightful read – and you were certainly as good as your word in expanding on some of the stories you’ve hinted at earlier in your blog.

    Certainly many gems to be devoured – the Harley Street gynaecologist (hilarious!); Elton John’s 727 with Stevie Wonder – and EJ’s disappointing reaction at the Grammys; the ‘condiments’ video that never was; and the touching chance encounter with Pete in Marlborough, to name but a few in a collection of many. Thanks for sharing.

    I could be wrong, but I thought I detected a bit of a wistful tone in latter parts of the book, where your Attractions career was viewed as the sum of its tremendous parts, rather than for any individual ups or downs. Was that an olive branch that you asked Pete to deliver, or are those bridges still scorched beyond repair?

    Best wishes, and looking forward to more blog and video,


  27. Earlier tonight I had the rare occasion to play some Jazz w/ my dad (who plays piano) and not wanting to drag the upright bass to his house, brought that Fender Jazz – the one that still has the same strings that were on it when I bought it 14 years ago. I recorded us playing a jazz standard, on my iPhone (!). I told you those strings sounded like an acoustic bass!

  28. David Witherington says:

    Hi, Bruce. It’s getting past my bedtime here, but I wanted to tell you that I could not put down “Rough Notes” until I finished it. Congratulations on writing one of the most thoroughly engaging books on music I’ve ever read. Even though I have followed the careers of EC & A since the SNL debut, this book illuminates that history like no other. Your personal anecdotes and memories made each concert and recording session come alive with a new perspective. And the early chapters reveal your own personal walk through rock and roll history in the making, not just as a fan but as a crucial element to that history. You don’t need that broken trophy, my friend. Your place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is intact in your heart and soul, and on every page of this book. Thank you for sharing your life with us, and for all the great music. This is a 5-star book.

    • Bruce says:

      Thank you David. I had you guys in mind while I was writing. You know, I wouldn’t be disappointed if you could find it in your heart to put that up as an Amazon customer review. πŸ™‚

      • David Witherington says:

        You’re very welcome! I love the book, and have submitted a more in depth review to Amazon US. They’ll probably publish it later today. I got the book in on Thursday, and even had to take it to work with me yesterday. I couldn’t put it down and finally finished it last night. Well done. πŸ™‚

      • Bruce says:

        Thanks, bro.

  29. Last night I dreamed I found a little tiny flying cat with wings, about the size of a fly.

  30. Mike Miller says:

    We had the first political debates last night. This about sums it up:

  31. Mike Miller says:

    Did your hand fully recover or did you have some nerve damage?

  32. joe positive says:

    Will there be a kindle version?

  33. Roddy Ring says:

    Well done, sir but I haven’t read the other one yet. Give me a chance to catch up.

  34. David Witherington says:

    Wow, Bruce…5 excellent and enticing reviews on Amazon UK already! I read the first few “Look Inside” pages and can’t wait for Thursday (that’s when Amazon US says my copy will arrive). I wish you all the best with this. I see that Amazon UK is already “temporarily out of stock” – a good sign for early demand and maybe a second printing already. Go, man, go!! πŸ™‚

  35. Mike Miller says:

    I had to laugh regarding your story about building bass speaker cabinets, because of course, I did the same thing. Large and flimsy, mine was later reduced to a pile of rubble in a “Who-like” moment at a school gym.

  36. It’s OUT already?! I didn’t realize that. I thought you were just now announcing that you had begun writing this. I am very pleasantly surprised to know that it’s published already! I just ordered a copy with Amazon Prime and I will bring this along on my long trip in the Northeast, in September, just as I did the Big Wheel last year.

  37. Paul Inglis says:

    Is ordered, maestro. I await it with bated breath and baited hooks.

  38. David Witherington says:

    Hi, Bruce! Awesome! I just logged in and saw this…and ordered it immediately! You even beat EC to his release date (in October). I am SO looking forward to reading it. Great title too. πŸ™‚

  39. IanS says:

    Any chance of a kindle version? Or a version available in Canada?

  40. Oh man, I can’t wait! This is great!!!

  41. Mr Miller says:

    I influenced YOU for once! Good luck with the book!

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