Ignored Obscured Restored
Today’s SotW was written by my buddy, guest contributor Steve Studebaker. His band, Blind to Reason, gigs regularly in San Francisco’s East Bay. He’s also fun to be with when exploring the music and food scene in New Orleans.
Electric guitar players are tone seekers and gear junkies, always searching for that next piece of kit that will transform their thin, plinky sound into the psychedelic roar of Hendrix or the down and dirty funky blues of Billy Gibbons. There are many Youtube channels dedicated to this quest. One of my favorites is ‘That Pedal Show’ hosted by Mick Taylor and Dan Steinhardt. They do deep dives into pedals, amps, and how to combine them to find that magic tone. They also will shout out guitar players that have sounds that move them.
I was watching a show from 2019 where they were hosting the guys from Walrus Audio, a boutique pedal company. Mick started blasting fuzz and delay and harmonic tremolo and some other cool stuff mixed together. He then said he was getting all ‘Blake Mills’, and the Walrus guys mentioned Blake and the ‘Heigh Ho’ album. I said, “Hmm, maybe I should check this out.” Which started a deep dive into all things Blake.
According to Wikipedia:
Blake Mills was born in Santa Monica, California, and grew up in Malibu, where he attended Malibu High School with Taylor Goldsmith. Mills and Goldsmith began their musical careers in a band they co-founded called Simon Dawes. After the band broke up in 2007, Goldsmith and his younger brother, Griffin, formed the band Dawes with Simon Dawes bassist Wylie Gelber, and Mills went on to serve as a touring guitarist for Jenny Lewis. He went on to tour with Band of Horses, Cass McCombs, Julian Casablancas and Lucinda Williams. As a session musician, Mills has collaborated with Conor Oberst, Kid Rock, Weezer, The Avett Brothers, Paulo Nutini, Norah Jones, Carlene Carter, Jesca Hoop, Dixie Chicks, Zucchero, Pink, Lana Del Rey, Dangermouse, Vulfpeck, and more. He has been nominated for two Grammys for producing, including the sophomore release from Alabama Shakes. He also famously produced Fiona Apple, who he has also toured with, and who legendarily recorded the not-so-happy song A Rack of His about him.
From time to time, Mills hosts invite-only musical performances at Mollusk Surf Shop, in Venice, California. Previous shows have seen Mills accompanied by musicians such as Jackson Browne, Billy Gibbons, Jenny Lewis, Charlie Sexton, Benmont Tench, and Tal Wilkenfeld.
This SotW is focused on his 2014 album Heigh Ho. Guests include Fiona Apple, Jim Keltner, Don Was, Benmont Tench, Jon Brion, and Mike Elizondo. Mills recorded Heigh Ho at the legendary Ocean Way Recording studios in a room built for Frank Sinatra. Every song on the album is good, ranging from indie ballads to fuzz-drenched roots music. It’s hard to pick one, but the track I keep coming back to is “Gold Coast Sinkin”. It’s got a cool, mid-tempo groove, some fuzzy guitars, and a feel that somehow makes me think of one of my favorite Beach Boys songs and a former SotW, “Feel Flows.”
For me, a song is usually 80-20 music to lyrics, so I didn’t know what the song was about until I sat down to write this. With Blake being a California surfer, it’s not a stretch to figure out why he would be on the Gold Coast of Australia:
Ain’t no better way to spend our time
Warm my bones with your steady breathing
Put a worm out on a line
Make a home that we’re never leaving
A door wide open all the time
Go to Spotify and check out the rest of Heigh Ho. It’s a lost gem full of good writing and cool guitar sounds with superstar drummer Jim Kelter’s drunken grooves throughout.
If you like what you hear, go deeper and check out the Tiny Desk Show with Blake and superstar bassist Pino Palladino. Freeform jazz from outer space? Maybe, but very cool nonetheless.
An interesting read is the 2020 Washington Post article “How Blake Mills became good at everything.”
I hope you dig this record as much as I do. If not, there will be another SOTW next week.