I Still Miss Hal Daddy’s!

HalDaddysYou know, it’s been almost ten years since Hal Daddy’s closed for the final time, and man I still miss it!  I remember well the night the wheels came off the place.  Fuck You All and Severed Head played the bill that Friday night and the basement was packed, a sweaty throbbing pit of hurtling bodies, the air thick with lightning fast riffs and punishing blast beats.  The Natty Boh flowed freely and the pungent aroma of skunk mingled with the perfume of women brave enough to test the basement and wise enough to stand in the elevated section to the back of the room, mostly safe from the melee below.  By the end of that night a chapter in the annals of Baltimore rock music would end, and an entire scene would scatter to try to find new digs somewhere else.  While there have been a few places that, for a while, could almost claim to be “the new Hal Daddy’s” there just never will be anything like it again.

The casual observer or first-time visitor might well have been put off by their initial impressions of the place.  It surely wasn’t up-scale pretty.  But for my money it was THE coolest place to hang in Charm City.   To begin with, there just isn’t a more affable and people-smart bartender anywhere than Hal himself.  He’s the main reason nobody ever died in that place.  By the time you’d walked (or stumbled) through the door and found your place at the bar he had you figured out and knew just how to make you feel comfortable.   That was key as the place had a pretty diverse clientele.


Johny Love & Speed tearing it up at Hal Daddy’s on a Saturday night in August, 1998

There are so many bands which would become favorites that I saw for the first time while at Hal’s:  MeatJack, Buzzard, Johny Love & Speed, Dark Water Transit, Trephine, Compression, Swarm of the Lotus; even saw Dillinger Escape Plan there one night playing in front of maybe fifteen people.  Dying Fetus and Severed Head taught me some respect for death metal.  Quarter Inch Microbomb, Chapel Blaque, The Rock Stars, The Penny Regime, Pimp Daddy Longstockin’ … all churning it out in a 12-foot by 20-foot concrete hole under an old row house in east Baltimore, where the upstairs toilets dripped onto the stage and the single upstairs window air conditioner barely touched the summer heat.

Remember the jukebox at Hal’s?  Lots of Beatles.  But also some Mr Bungle, Buckethead, Behold the Arctopus, lots of local band CDs as well.  And woe be the newbie who found that perfect parking spot across the street (at Tiffany’s).  Then there was door guy Jack, the original “Grumpy Cat”.  No matter what he hated your band.  Usually for good reason.  There were, after all, some really breathtakingly awful bands that played there.  On occasion.

Every so often I read of or hear someone mention the possibility of a Hal Daddy’s reunion.  It certainly would be a fun time.  But maybe it’s all best left in the memory vaults.  After all, it’s been ten years now.  Some of those barely-not-legal scruffy punk/deathcore/grindcore musicians now have families and “respectable” careers.   It might end up being like a bad high school reunion.  But somehow I don’t think it would be a bad time.

HalDadWell, look at the time – I can hear Hal hollering last call and perceive the strains of “Sleepwalk” issuing from the jukebox.  “Mount up regulators!  If you don’t work here or sleep with someone who does it’s time to go!”



The Perils of Recording Your Own Band

Over the past couple of decades various technological advances have made it possible for just about anyone to pickup, for astonishingly little money, the essential pieces needed to begin recording at home.  The question I’d pose, however, is whether that really makes sense as a way to produce your band’s next recording?  On the surface it would seem to be an economical solution.  That is until you begin to understand the real costs involved, costs which often aren’t measured in dollars.

The first thing to understand is that technology giveth and also taketh away.  Much of the software and hardware you purchase for music production these days has a useful lifetime shorter than a Justin Bieber hit single.  Not long after installing that new software on your new computer you’ll find yourself doing the “update shuffle”.  Not long thereafter the software updates will require a new operating system.  And one or two operating systems later you’ll need a new computer, assuming the computer you’ve got  lasts that long.  All that is added to the cost of acquiring those items which might just last you a while, such as microphones, monitors, cables, preamps, mixers, room treatment, stands, and so on.

Perhaps the biggest hidden cost is the amount of time it will take to learn how to effectively use all of that software and hardware.  Especially in the case of software you’re trying to hit a moving target.    After mastering all the software and hardware and acoustically treating and tuning your recording space so it doesn’t sound like a basement, just how much time are you then going to spend actually recording and mixing your band?  You’ll have all the time you need since you can work on the tracks any time you want, of course.  But that’s actually part of the problem!  I can’t tell you how many times I get calls from frustrated band members telling me how they’ve been in the (guitarist/bassist/drummer’s)  basement for months recording and re-recording track after track while the mix is redone again and again.  All that time spent recording and mixing is time the band could have been writing new songs, rehearsing them, and getting on stage to perform them.

So, you’re going to be spending a lot of money.  The ” $999 Home Recording Package” sold by your local music gear retailer is purely an entry-level drug.  And you’ll spend a lot of time.  And you’re going to have to dedicate a space in your house or apartment and do what you can to improve it’s acoustical properties.  And you’ll need to learn to how to install, use, and maintain lots of software and hardware – which often times do not play together well.  Consider too the costs of insuring your investment.  Decide to record other bands as well to help mitigate all the costs?  Just how many strangers do you want in your home?

No doubt, home recording can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby.  If you’re really really good at it you might even be able to make a living offering your services to other bands and musicians.  But then you’ll be a studio owner who occasionally plays music, not a musician who occasionally visits a studio to record.  It’s the rare person who has the time, energy, and skill to do both really well.

At some point it comes down to a question of just what it is you’re trying to do.  Most bands want to play music, to write songs, and play out as often as possible.  But if you’re constantly suck in the basement re-recording old ideas you’re not really doing what you want.  You’ll also be spending a significant amount of money, time, and creative energy buying and learning how to use recording gear rather than upgrading the gear and skills you actually use to play the music you want to record.

That’s my two cents?  What do you think?