Brno, Czech Republic

Brno, Czech Republic

Last night Eva and I arrive in Olomouc and go to the Hotel Alley – kind of an odd name. There we see our friend Eva – head of Kiwanis of Ostrava. She gifts me with a bottle of slivovice and I reciprocate with a bottle of burcak. We’re sitting in the lobby waiting for the band to return from rehearsal. Steve Howe is first in the door, spryly speeding up the steps looking like an old, mad scientist. He has no interest in socializing. After they all return we go to the restaurant for dinner before this “party” that nobody seems to know much about. The party turns out to be a concert at a local nightclub featuring Petr Siska’s band, Legends. Yes are whisked upstairs to a room where posters are signed and a video interview takes place for Czech TV. The mayor is there – a very friendly guy and not a bad guitarist, as he demonstrates on a guitar that’s nearby.

Next, the band is brought to the stage as the mayor formally presents them with a bottle of slivovice and some official paper. The 700 people in attendance voice their approval. Alan later asked the mayor for the key to the city, so we’ll see what happens regarding that.

Tonight, Eva’s brother, mother, and grandmother are in the car with me. We gave Paul, Yes’s road manager, a list of 23 people for the guest list. He tells Alan, “I didn’t know you had so many friends over here!”

We arrive at the venue, pick up our after-show passes and locate our special seating area just to the right of the stage. I’ve seen the band three or four times before, and once again am amazed at what a grand soundscape they create. The young blood of Benoit David and Oliver Wakeman are a life-giving addition to the band. It’s a beautiful thing to see a group like Yes in a foreign country. They speak a universal language that amazes, uplifts, humbles and endears people of all languages.

Petrovice, Czech Republic: The Sauna

Petrovice, Czech Republic, 8:45 AM

Had fun last night (of course). Went to the sauna with friends Mojmir and Milan. There were a few familiar faces there, and I’m getting better at communicating, so this was my most enjoyable sauna experience. There’s just something surreal about being in a funkilly rustic 200-degree room with worn wooden benches and 8 naked, plump men who don’t speak your language. Maybe it has something to do with the rush of blood to the brain after climbing into the 40-degree water… back and forth.

After the sauna I was one of the “men” escaping their wives, meeting at the restaurant/bar in Krumlov, drinking, eating breaded meats, joking, talking (I was mostly listening, Milan my translator) about lewd sex acts, talking about women, talking about whores, talking about sex… HA!

Petrovice, Czech Republic: “Young Wine”

Petrovice, Czech Republic

I hope I don’t come off as some kind of misguided proponent and perpetrator of partying. I love being loose and free with friends, but in “home mode” I generally drink only on the weekends, preserving clarity during the week for work.

We just stopped at an unassuming place in a village near Petrovice to get some burcak. They are closed. Seeing people inside, Eva explains I am an American who really wants to try the “young wine.” The lady says in Czech, “Well, in that case, come here.”

She welcomes us in to the bowels of an underground winery carved out of sandstone. She says this is a very rare exception and gives us tastes of two kinds of burcak and then a tour of amazing lengths of tunnels containing tens of thousands of gallons of red and white wine. She siphons off 8 litres for us and we give her 340 crowns ($19.39).

Shaping the New Album

Petrovice, Czech Republic, 8:09 AM

Earlier this year I put some musicians together to go play a few gigs. I realize I have no real “draw power,” and decide to continue only with solo shows until I feel rock solid about my ability to be on any stage and pull it off alone.

I send bro Mike over 100 songs I’ve written and recorded over the last 40 years. In a few days I get a call, “Rog, you’ve gotta come hear this!”

I drive down to Fall City and we go for a ride in his Lincoln SUV, which has a nice sound system. By the end of the 13-song collection he has put together as our next album, I’m in tears, stunned by the emotional impact of what I consider to be a great and important body of work.

Since April I’ve been living with Linda in her new home in Monroe. Her living room taken over by son Rogie’s DW drum kit, my control room has been an upstairs bedroom. I make do, but one day, while meeting for lunch in nearby Duvall, Mike and I are saying how much we wish we had a real studio space to be working in. [*light bulb*] “Ya know what? I know a drummer just over the hill here to the east who built himself a drum studio… a geodesic dome.” A short phone call and next day I’m moving my studio.

Mike McGinnis is an acutely intelligent, talented and fun guy I’ve known since the ‘80’s. His generosity is apparent as he welcomes me and my gear – ProTools HD and Logic, w/Apogee Symphony recording platforms; Mackie mixer; mics and stands; four guitar amps; 10 guitars; and HD video camera with lighting. We spend a day setting up, fine tuning things, believing we’re finished and ready to go the next day. We actually rearrange, re-mic and redo everything several times and even tear out the old carpet and install new, as a result of a chemical-sensitivity I have to the old carpet.

Finally, we mic up his awesome Tama drum kit, begin recording at 192K Hz and voila! Because this is an anechoic room, it sounds amazing. Another reason it sounds amazing is because Mike is a madman. Obsessed with quality and perfection, he has invented a drum tuner that is instantly in high demand by DW Drums and other retailers. It will be on the market soon and will be a must-have for every discerning skin-beater. His drums are tuned using a method very few other drummers use. They sound better than any other I’ve heard. Mike and I have been having jam sessions that are musical nirvana for me, as I throw him curve after curve ball, he responding by adapting and then throwing me something messed up. To adapt to this crossfire of musical wackiness, I learn to perceive rhythm as an open playfield with no time signature or rules, just reaction. We’ll play some gigs soon, using Aaron Balsley on bass guitar.

I was introduced to this 21-year-old swashbuckling talent at a Spike And The Impalers show early this year. I liked him instantly… a lot! His magnetism became more understandable as I spent time rehearsing and writing with him (I’d invited him to join me for a few gigs). Then, in the recent weeks he’s come over to record backing vocals on the new album and we have an excellent blend, almost as if we’re brothers. His forte is electric guitar. He’s a monster – in a special category confined to those who live and breathe their craft -hopelessly dedicated.

Most of the songs bro Mike has chosen for the album are finished, products of the work I did at MARS recording studio, from our home of 20 years in Woodinville, Washington. Song by song, I’m converting them all up to a 192K Hz sample rate so that we can then re-record certain parts and add parts that will show off the high resolution. This is the closest digital can come (at present) to analog, and Mike and I intend to make this ear candy.

Jet Lag, Jägermeister

Petrovice, Czech Republic, 3:30 AM

The family and friends dinner on Sunday is truly fun. Alan and I are “Lag Zombies” on the way back from the airport, both in and out of sleep on the challenged Czech freeway. Alan had been up for 24 hours and now had to go to a party! “We’ll make it through OK.” He said. I’m sure he’d rather I not post videos of the fun, ha, ha, ha!

Yesterday Eva, Alan, and I go to the school where Eva’s mom teaches, in hopes of saying hi to her students. They’re gone swimming so we miss out, but Alan entertains us with the piano in her room. We then make the one-hour drive to Olomouc to check Alan into his hotel. After checking in, we go straight to the bar for a beer and a couple Jägermeisters, as we’re talking about Steve Fossen. Soon Benoit David, Yes’s new lead singer comes down to join us.

Benoit and I have a very personal conversation and touch on some very nice things. I think he’s a beautiful spirit and am honored we get to know each other a bit.

“They lost my luggage.”

Petrovice, Czech Republic

I’ve been up since 2:30 this morning, an obvious product of jet lag. Busy entering in all the handwritten text I’d created over that last few days.

Yesterday proves to be another interesting page in the ongoing adventure. We get to Prague airport at 10:00 AM, ready to meet Alan’s arrival at 10:15. I think it was about 11:30 when he finally comes into view.

“They lost my luggage.”

A feeling of, “Oh no, here we go again,” fills my head as we begin the process of choosing to go home and have it delivered or stay another three hours at the airport to make sure we get it. In light of the fact that Alan has important things for the Yes concerts in his suitcases, we decide to stay.

We go to Coffee Heaven and order three Pilsener beers, sit down and pour a shot each of slivovice into plastic cups. Once finished, we decide to drive downtown to Wenceslas Square for some lunch. We didn’t want to eat too much because Eva’s family and friends are coming over for dinner. Daja is making some kind of rabbit dish. Appetizers and beer will be the order at this restaurant. Alan chooses octopus and I’m glad he did because he’s then inspired to tell us stories of diving in Hawaii.

In one of them, he and his diving buddy are in about 20’ of water when his buddy points at the ocean bottom. Alan is holding a Hawaiian sling, a kind of harpoon device. He thinks his partner means he should shoot the octopus below, which he does. In a flash, the octopus is wrapped around his head, black ink shrouding the scene. His partner is able to wrestle it off and get it into the boat. Alan is informed it is very difficult to kill an octopus, as they simply re-grow tentacles. They turn it inside out to accomplish the deed.

Czech Hospitality

On road to Prague airport

So yesterday, after being in the air for 13 hours, I waited at the Prague airport for more than four hours so I could make the two-hour drive to Petrovice, home of my Czech family.

Last night, Eva and I went out for drinks with friends Jana and Lada. While enjoying slivovice, gin and tonic, and beer, we played Yes songs on the jukebox in the Pizzeria in Moravsky Krumlov. We then visited neighbors up the street – Petra and Ota and son Kuba.

It’s easy to remember why an American would feel compelled to move over here as we open the door flap to their entertainment outbuilding. To our right is a raging fire in a recently added fireplace that stands waist-high. The smell of the oak-burning fire mixes with a mélange of fragrance: homemade wine; grilled meats; lightly-grilled bread with a garlic-heavy spread; and humanity. Four men and three women, dear friends of Ota and Petra, familiar to me, sit on homemade benches on opposing sides of two tables. The 18’ by 12’ room has ample countertops, drawers and cupboards to handle all necessary for entertaining a large group. The construction is all wood with a very pleasant rustic look. To our left is a 7’ square projection of TV. Teenage Kuba is playing a variety of music videos including Metallica and Rammstein. The most noteworthy thing? Friends enjoying each other’s company – in style, something they’ve been doing regularly for centuries.

Brother-in-law Jarek, Lada and I are almost to the airport to pick up Alan White. Lada brought a flask of slivovice.


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