A Walk Down Memory Lane

2015 started out looking like many years before and all seemed well. Throughout the year everything was rolling with the flow and life seemed fine until August 27th …

The day started with a recording session with some of Houston’s finest country pickers and ended with the devastating news that my musical brother Joe DeLeon had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer … BOOM …

The shockwave rumbled through the Texas music scene like a freight train, his many friends in Texas and Nashville, TN were shocked by the news and the outpouring of love and help was tremendous.

Joe DeLeon on his famous "burnt cheese" DW drumkit

Joe DeLeon on his famous “burnt cheese” DW drumkit


A Walk Down Memory Lane

The year is 2002 and a bass player who had just moved to Houston, TX from his native Germany a few years earlier visited Blanco’s, a Houston honky-tonk known for quality live music, because people in the local music scene repeatedly told him to go watch a band called “The Tearjerkers” when he asked them for the name of the hottest band in town. They were backing up a local singer by the name of Carl Manchaca that night and sounded absolutely amazing. The band lineup that night consisted of Kenny Jackson (guitar), Allen Huff (keys), Kenny King (bass) and Joe DeLeon (drums).

I was particularly impressed with the way Joe, Kenny & Allen played as a strong rhythm section – unaware that night that these were the same guys that had been the backbone for Country Star Doug Supernaw throughout his heyday. Little did I know that some of these exceptional musicians would become my friends and collaborators on many occasions and one in particular would become my friend, partner and right arm for the next decade.

Clay Farmer and his long-time band: Brian Thomas, Joe DeLeon and Robert DiBlanco.

Clay Farmer and his long-time band: Brian Thomas, Joe DeLeon and Robert DiBlanco.

A couple of months after seeing The Tearjerkers I had joined the band of singer/songwriter Clay Farmer and we needed a drummer to play with us. Our friend Paul Chris recommended a drummer and we were all set. I got to the gig and started playing without having a chance to get introduced to the fill-in drummer and two songs into the set he said to me “… we need to talk” before I could say the same thing to him. We did have a talk after the show and decided that we needed to work together permanently – the conversation ended with Joe’s famous words “… I think I may have found me a new Kenny King …”. Since I knew about his long-time friendship and musical history with Kenny I took that as a huge compliment. Throughout our musical journey Joe would keep reminding me how “… much you and Kenny play/are alike …”. Kenny had made some changes in his professional life that kept him from playing music as much as he wanted to which left the door open for me to team up with “Uncle Joe” full-time at the end of the year.

Throughout our journey Joe and I would always remember “that gig” and the fact that we “clicked” right away. It is one thing to become friends with a musician but sometimes there is a connection that is so deep yet so hard to describe to non-musicians. Every musician interprets ‘time’ a certain and unique way which (hopefully) culminates in what is generally called a ‘groove’. I am not exactly sure what controls our sense of time but I can tell you that there are differences (mostly of minute nature) between different players and if you find somebody who is on the same wave length as you are, you better hold on to her/him. That is exactly what happened between Joe and I – the ‘groove’ was there from the first song we played in 2002 until the last song we played together in 2015. I tried to explain many different ways when attempting to tell people what made Joe so special as a drummer but the closest I could ever get is this: we may not have had perfect time but our hearts were so in sync that we interpreted time the same way all the time. What I mean by that is that although we may not have been in perfect time all the time we would speed up and/or slow down together without talking to each other (and on recording sessions a lot of time without even seeing each other as the drummer is usually located in a separate drum booth). After a couple of sessions of playing with each other it was so obvious to me where he wanted the ‘groove’ to be and what he would play next that I could read his mind and vice versa. We would play diamonds (musician’s terminology for a break) together that were not notated on the number chart and that we had not talked about just because we both felt they had to be there at the exact same time. Throughout our sessions we would never musically step on each other – I could almost always anticipate what he would play and he would always know what I was going to do. It is one of the most beautiful things that I have ever experienced playing music ….. and we both took it for granted until it stopped.

"Bass Face" with brother Joe DeLeon behind me

“Bass Face” with brother Joe DeLeon behind Texas Artist Todd Fritsch @ The Hideout, Houston Rodeo

Occasionally we would look at each other, pat ourselves on the back and commend ourselves to the tune of “… we still got it brother …” when a recoding session or live show went particularly well but overall we always expected good results and never thought that this would ever end. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of half the things that set him apart until he was not there anymore. For 13 years I could count on one hand (maybe two) the gigs/sessions that I played with other drummers than Joe DeLeon and on August 27th 2015 everything came to a screeching halt. We had finished a recording session that day and Joe told me that he wasn’t feeling well at all (which nobody would have been able to tell judging by his performance) and would finally go to the doctor to see what was going on. Hours later he texted me the dreaded news – and we still did not think that this would have been the last time we ever played together. At the end of September Joe texted me that he was planning on coming back to play with us again at the end of November. On October 30th 2015 those plans were finally crushed.


When I got Joe’s famous ‘burnt cheese’ DW drum kit out of the band trailer to return them to his family, I got this really weird feeling that these drums would be silenced forever and to this day I would give anything to hear him play them just one more time.

A year later it still feels like I am playing ‘handicapped’, like there is just something missing – playing music will never be the same. It is a lot harder to get the same confidence and find the same ‘zone’ to play in that used to be so easy to find and was created almost automatically and instantly. I miss knowing what is going to happen right next to me before it actually happens; I miss Joe’s big smile when either one of us would mess up; I miss the post-gig/post-session briefings; I miss the Starbucks runs as much as I miss his late-night story time at Whataburger but more than anything I miss my friend. I miss the guy that would share all of his knowledge and nudge things in the direction he wanted them to go (many times without anybody else noticing). I miss his blue Chevy pickup truck that most people would consider a clunker but he thought would “….. only need a tuneup…” to get him to where he needed to go. Just ask anybody in the Houston Music scene and you will find that “Old Blue” might just be the most famous vehicle around 😉

Joe DeLeon and Robert DiBlanco at Foundry Church. Cypress TX

Joe DeLeon and Robert DiBlanco as part of the Worship Team at Foundry Church, Cypress TX, Christmas 2015

Joe never missed a gig and was never late; I have played many shows with him where one or both us were not feeling well but we always went on and got it done because “….. that’s what we do !”. I have never met somebody that didn’t like Joe because on top of being a top notch drummer he was also a very caring and open person that would talk to anybody and would try to help his fellow musicians as much as he could. Loyalty was also a big thing with Joe DeLeon; if he told you he would play he would be there to play – no matter what else would come up. If he committed to a project, he would be supporting it come hell or high water – even if more lucrative opportunities came along. A man of his word, no doubt about it.
Joe’s last words to me were “… I love you Rob … and sorry about the band …” – go figure !

I have been blessed to be able to play with some of the best drummers in Texas (including Joe’s best friends Walter Cross and Paul Chris) and I love working with both of them but all three of us know that I will never connect with anybody like I did with Joe DeLeon, and that has absolutely nothing to do with them and/or their exceptional abilities.


Going through this past year made it very clear how painful it must have been for one of my all-time favorite bands, TOTO, to first lose their world-class drummer Jeff Porcaro and then their bass player Mike Porcaro. I read the Facebook posts by Milton Sledge (drummer of the famous “G-Men” team that recorded all of Garth Brooks’ music) about his friend and bass player Mike Chapman (also of the “G-Men” team) who passed away a few weeks ago and I know what he’s going through and how much he misses him. When I recently watched one of my favorite all-time movies, “Top Gun”, again I couldn’t help but feel like Maverick trying to throw Goose’s dog tags over the side of the ship into the sea but I just couldn’t let go of the tags …..

On a positive note, it warmed my heart to see the outpouring of love for Joe at the benefits that were held for him last year and I was tremendously thankful to the Country Music Association of Texas to bestow their “Drummer of the Year” award on Joe DeLeon before he left us. I had the honor of accompanying Joe’s daughter Zoe to the awards ceremony and we were able to bring the award to the hospital that same night; there was not a dry eye in the room when we put the trophy in Joe’s hands. The award will from now on be called the “Joe DeLeon Drummer Award” in his honor and be given out to his fellow drummers all over the state. One of Joe’s best friends, fellow drummer Paul Chris (who is currently working with Jody Booth) just deservedly received the Joe DeLeon Drummer Award for 2017 – I know he treasures this Award more than a lot of people realize.

I have so many great memories of and with my friend and I can listen to him anytime I want (according to my personal records we have played together on a little over 500 songs in the studio); I still have his phone number, emails and text messages in my phone. After Joe’s passing I wrestled with the decision to continue or retire but when all is said and done I realize that Joe would have definitely wanted me to continue, after all “….. that’s what we do !”


Very grateful for the continued support from everybody but especially my family (Amy & Austin Billasch, Kathi Buchwald, Heike Rohner, Stefan & Doris Poesch); my musical brothers and sisters (Darwin Macon, Danny Klotz, Ronnie Dobbs, Walter Cross, Paul Chris, Bobby Terry, Jason Rooks, Shane Barnhill, Allen Huff, Billy Hillman, Todd Fritsch, Kenny Grohman, Todd Parsons, Dixie & Skeeter Trahan, Cooper Wade, Junior Gordon, Marty Wolf, Joe Anslik) and most definitely The Foundry church family Joe and I shared for 7 years (especially Pastor Ray & Jacqueline Hughes, Jessica Stephenson, Robert Ashley, Pam & Gary Nelson, Kerry & Paul Babb, Tquan Moore, Kimberly Hanks, Becky Fredrickson, Randy Wall, Joe Busa, just to name a few … lol).

And as for you “JoJo” ….

Joe DeLeon & Robert DiBlanco in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Joe DeLeon & Robert DiBlanco in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

So long my friend, until we meet again. Thanks for always being you and taking a chance on that german bass player in 2002. You have changed my life forever and touched those of countless others. Lots of awesome memories of you will remain and I will carry them with me for the rest of my life.

The latest edition to my bass arsenal arrived just in time to play today’s church service and will be named “JoJo” in your honor. We will open and close both services with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” just like we did when you left us a year ago.

Like I always told you : “Proud to be your wingman, brother …”

“Our love doesn’t end here, it’s forever on the wings of time”
(from the song “Wings Of Time” by Toto)

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Please help Joe DeLeon

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This past week we have all been completely sucker-punched by the news that Houston area drummer extraordinaire Joe Deleon was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Joe is of course best known for his stint with Doug Supernaw during his heyday but has a very long and impressive list of accomplishments. He has worked on hundreds and hundreds of studio sessions with the best in the business and continued playing live shows with artists like Todd Fritsch, Darwin Macon, Cowboy Steel, Shane Barnhill, Cooper Wade, Junior Gordon, The Armadillo Playboys, Patrick Murphy, Randy Meadows, Stephen Chadwick, Abby Gough, Neil Austin Imber, The Spiffingtons and Dixie Trahan, just to name a few.

Having no health insurance, Joe is now in desperate need of our help. The music community and his friends and fans have already shown tremendous support and given with open hearts.

We have established a new Official Website for Joe (which will be constantly updated as we go), Joe’s old friend Doug Driesel has setup a GoFundMe campaign to aid in the upcoming battle. There is also a “Help Joe Deleon Beat Cancer” Facebook page that you can LIKE and get all future updates directly from the source.

Multiple benefit concerts are currently being planned and coordinated, silent auction items are being collected and there is much more to come ……

Official “Jammin’ For Joe” Benefits/Events Schedule:

9/26/2015, 7am-12pm
Garage Sale, 12511 Cherry Point Dr., Dayton TX 77535

10/11/2015, 2pm-7pm
“Jammin’ for Joe Benefit” @ Blue Collar Bar
5626 Red Bluff Rd, Pasadena, TX 77505

10/25/2015, 3pm-9pm
“Jammin’ for Joe Benefit” @ Mo’s Place
21940 Kingsland Blvd, Katy, TX 77450

10/30-11/01/2015
Cooking for Cancer @ Hawg Stop Bar & Grill
11335 Sheldon Rd, Houston, TX 77044

All dates/times are subject to change – please check back regularly !!

If you want to support Joe, please visit any of these sources – any help is needed and much appreciated:
www.DrummerDeleon.com
Help Joe Deleon Facebook page
GoFundMe Joe Deleon Fund

On a personal note:

“I can’t believe we are here talking about my brother Joe being sick because you never think it can hit “any of us”, right? I played a recording session with him last Monday – coincidently for a song called “Let Us Know You Care” – and he told me that he would go to seek medical help because he wasn’t feeling well and hadn’t been quite right for a while. A few hours later I get the news that my partner in crime for more than 13 years has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The World seemed to stop for a minute or two, your head spins like crazy and you wish you could wake up from this terrible dream. Then you realize its not a dream and he needs all the support and help he can get. I know all of his friends have been working 24/7 on putting things in place to support Joe in the biggest way we can and I also know that he is very very moved and overwhelmed by the response. So, for right now I want to thank everybody that has already helped (way too many to mention by name but I do want to send special thanks to the The Foundry Church family, my Cowboy Steel brothers, Doug Driesel, Amy Floyd, Darwin Macon, Walter Cross, Paul Chris and Cooper Wade for their tireless efforts) and hope that we will be joined by many more in the coming days, weeks and months as this will be an ongoing uphill battle. Please keep Joe and his family in your prayers – thank you” — Robert DiBlanco

Darwin Macon LIVE in the Cluttered Corner

Darwin Macon, Danny Klotz and yours truly at a recent performance on the Cluttered Corner segment for the Texas Music Charts (Shane Media) in Houston, TX.

Thanks to Pam Shane and the whole team for making us feel right at home 😉

The old ’89 MusicMan StingRay is getting used on that one – I have been playing it during the recent radio tour for Darwin’s first single release “I Still Drink About Her” and fell in love with it all over again.

DiBlanco in the studio again for Junior Gordon’s next album

Robert DiBlanco in the studio in 2014

Robert DiBlanco in the studio in 2014

Robert DiBlanco was part of the session crew that started working on Junior Gordon’s next album slated to be released sometime in 2015. Engineer Jason Rooks once again enlisted guitarist extraordinaire Bobby Terry (who also played keyboards on the tracks), drummer Joe DeLeon and DiBlanco to track the songs at his facility on Lake Jackson TX.

“These new songs are great and I think a lot of people will be pleasantly surprised by Junior’s song choices – this album really has something for everybody.”, said DiBlanco after the session, “I like it when artists don’t try to make the same record over and over again. Staying fresh and relevant should ensure that Junior Gordon stays around for the long haul.”

Shane Barnhill releases new record “Country Lovin’ “

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Houston Texas based singer Shane Barnhill released his new album – Country Lovin’.
The record was produced, recorded and mixed by Jason Rooks at R/R Studios in Lake Jackson, TX.

The stellar session crew included:
Jason Rooks & Dixie Trahan – harmony vocals
Bobby Terry – electric & acoustic guitars
Tim Crouch – fiddle & mandolin
Jody Cameron – steel guitar
Allen Huff – piano & Hammond B3 organ
Joe DeLeon – drums & percussion
Robert DiBlanco – bass

Track Listing:
1) Rednecks
2) It Don’t Hurt To Ask
3) Pain
4) Country Lovin’
5) Take Away
6) The Note
7) Whiskey Wrote This Song
8) Put A Little Stank On It
9) Creep

The session crew @ R/R Studio, Lake Jackson TX

Here is a current picture of some of the session guys at R/R Studio in Lake Jackson, TX.

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from left to right:
Robert DiBlanco – bass guitars, upright bass
Bobby Terry – guitars, keyboards, steel guitar, bass
Jody Cameron – steel guitar
Joe DeLeon – drums, percussion

Not pictured:
Jason Rooks – owner, engineer, harmony vocals
Allen Huff – keyboards, accordion
Billy Hillman – guitars
Chad Ware – guitars

This crew has been featured on the latest releases by Darwin Macon, Shane Barnhill, Junior Gordon & Bryan Shayne.

Stay tuned for more releases coming soon ….

DiBlanco in the studio with Moses Rangel

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Photo Credit: Dinah Meitzen-Mittelstedt

Robert DiBlanco was part of the team to record some great songs for local singer extraordinaire Moses Rangel. The recordings were done at Little Sound Masters under the watchful eyes of Houston studio legend A.V. Mittelstedt and included Randy Cornor on guitars, Johnny Foster on keyboards, Jody Cameron on steel guitar and Joe DeLeon on drums.

“I can’t wait for you guys to hear this stuff,” DiBlanco said after the session, “Moses is a great singer and picked some really good songs to record for this album. We are scheduled to do another session for the remaining tunes and it was a treat to work with Houston legend A.V.Mittelstedt at his Little Sound Masters studio.”

TheBassLab delivers professional Bass Tracks via email

In today’s fast-paced and budget driven world, sometimes recording projects happen so quickly and under budget and time restraints that it is not possible to get all the session musicians together at the same time to get projects finished on schedule. In the case of songwriters, composers and/or bands they sometimes need a bass track for their new project or get an older or a live recording ‘updated’ with a better sound.

Thanks to advancements in technology we are now able to share projects over the Internet and get tracks recorded in different studios, thus eliminating the time and budget needed for all the session musicians to travel to a certain studio at a particular time.

The tracks are then collected and mixed at the Main Studio (which could be a professional recording studio of your choice or your own home studio).

Robert DiBlanco’s recording studio “TheBassLab” has been doing this kind of Internet work for quite some time now and knows the pitfalls and how to avoid them. We will ask you the right questions BEFORE we get to work on your project to leave nothing unanswered and no chance for surprises ‘after-the-fact’.

“TheBassLab” has been configured and tweaked specifically for the task of getting the optimal sound for bass recordings. This includes top notch outboard gear and plugins that are geared specifically towards recording basses.

How does it work?
It is pretty simple – you contact us via robert(at)diblanco.com and give us the the following information:
– how many songs?
– what style did you have in mind
(i.e. ‘I want it to sound like ARTIST’s name here‘, ‘make it old-timey’, “ballad with an upright..’, etc.)
– are charts or sheet music for the song(s) available?
– which format do you need the recorded file(s) in (AIFF, WAV, MP3, etc.)
– what resolution do you need the recorded file(s) to be in (44.1kHz/16 bit; 96kHz/24 bit; 192kHz/32 bit)
– how quickly do you need the files to be delivered?

You will then send us a MP3 version of a mix of your song(s) (without the bass track) and we will get started recording your bass track. Turn-around times depend on the amount of work that we have waiting at the studio but in general you should see your tracks back in your email box in 3-4 business days. Pricing depends on how much pre-work needs to get done (file conversions, charts, etc.) but on average we charge $100/track – contact us and we will be happy to discuss your project’s exact pricing structure.

Robert DiBlanco’s bass work has been recorded on over 500 songs and he continues to add to his long list of happy clients !!

ADDITIONAL SERVICES:
– chart writing (Nashville Number System and/or Lead Sheet)
– drum tracks
– backing vocal tracks
– production/arrangement support
– editing / mixing / mastering services

Cypress All Star Revue – Live every Thursday

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The Cypress All Star Revue hosted by Tim Nichols and Ken Reynolds also features drummer Joe DeLeon and bassist Robert DiBlanco. This thing will happen every THU night at Cypress Saloon, so grab a bunch of your friends and come on out to have a good time, some cool drinks and listen to some good country music.

You’ll never know who’ll join us onstage 😉

Why use a session musician for your demo?

I found this great article on why to use session musicians for your demo recordings and wanted to publish the link for everybody:

The Advantages of Using Session Musicians on Your Songwriting Demo
(by Cliff Goldmacher)

Why do professional recordings sound, well…professional? There are a number of reasons including high quality microphones, pre-amps, an experienced engineer and a well-designed studio space. But one of the single most important elements in a great-sounding, professional recording is the performance of the session musicians. There is a reason that the job of the session musician exists. It’s these musicians whose talent and studio experience contribute in a major way to the polished sound of a recording. Because there are different rules that apply when you’re recording an artist demo, I’m going to limit the scope of this article to songwriting demos specifically.

Shouldn’t I Be Able To Do This Myself?

While I am a big proponent of wearing as many hats as you can in your musical career, there are certain areas where it makes much better sense to rely on experts. First of all, it’s extremely important that you take ego out of the equation. There is no shame in having someone else play on your demo. Remember that a songwriting demo is supposed to put your song in the best possible light in order to “sell” it to prospective artists or place it in films and TV shows. It is not supposed to be proof of your studio musicianship. Recording your instrument in the studio requires an entirely different skill set than playing live. For lack of a better description, studio recording is more like music surgery than a musical performance. While you might be comfortable playing guitar in your living room or even on a stage in front of hundreds of people, it’s an entirely different ballgame to sit in a four by six-foot booth wearing headphones and listening to a clicking sound. Giving a note-perfect, dynamic and in-time performance in this kind of unnatural setting requires a special set of skills.

Isn’t It Cheaper if I Do It Myself?

Given that we all have to keep an eye on the bottom line when it comes to our recording budget, there is the temptation to save money by playing on the demo yourself. The problem with this method is that often it will take an inexperienced musician twice as long to get a viable take as it would a pro. One of the many advantages of using session musicians is that they are not only good at what they do but fast. In other words, the price you pay to hire a session musician translates into savings on studio time compared to playing the part yourself. Being fast in the studio is useful for another reason as well. When a session bogs down with take after take, it starts to feel a lot more like work. When things go quickly and smoothly, they stay musical and fun. Don’t discount the need for a session to stay enjoyable. My experience has been that everyone does his or her best work when the atmosphere in the studio is light and productive.

Great Expectations

When it comes to recording a demo, it’s essential that you keep your listening audience in mind at all times. In the music industry, there is a certain level of “polish” that record labels, publishers, managers and producers have come to expect from the demos they listen to. By bringing in the same musicians that play on hundreds of songwriting demos and major label record projects, you’ll be giving these industry types what they’re used to hearing. We’ve all heard from time to time industry professionals say that they can “hear through” your rough recordings. My recommendation is NOT to take that chance. You’ve only got one opportunity to make a first impression and you should give yourself every advantage. Also, even if there is one industry professional willing and able to hear through a rough recording, you’ll hopefully be pitching this song to a number of industry people many of whom will be expecting a professional sounding demo.

The Care and Feeding of Session Musicians

When it comes to working with session musicians, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, if you’re not comfortable writing out a chord chart, professional session musicians are perfectly capable of listening to your rough recording (also known as a work tape) and writing out their own charts. For them, charting is quick process that should take no longer than 10-15 minutes at the most. Then, when it comes time for the musicians to play, always suggest that they try it their way first. There are two reasons for this. First of all, you’ve hired them to make your demo sound great so you should give them a chance to go with their instincts before you offer any direction. Secondly, by letting them do what you’ve brought them in to do with a minimum of interference, you’ll create goodwill that will go a long way towards the overall vibe in the studio. In almost every case, what the session musicians come up with will be better than you ever expected. HOWEVER, if you’re still not getting what you want after they’ve tried it their way, you’re 100% entitled to politely ask them to try it the way you were hearing it. The ONLY appropriate response from a session musician to your request is “absolutely.”

Conclusion

It can be intimidating to work with such talented musicians, but remember, they’re working for you! One of my favorite expressions is “the best ones have nothing to prove.” In other words, when you hire pros not only will they be great at what they do but they should be a pleasure to work with as well. There is no reason to hire even the best session musician if they have a bad attitude. This is extremely rare but if it happens, I’d recommend never using that musician again. There are way too many wonderful, friendly and talented session musicians out there to ever settle for one with a chip on their shoulder.

Finally, if you’ve never used a professional musician on your songwriting demo, do yourself a favor and try it out. You’re in for a treat and you’ll end up with a great demo.”
Copyright By Cliff Goldmacher (cliff@cliffgoldmacher.com)
SOURCE: http://tunecore.typepad.com/tunecorner/2008/07/the-advantages.html

It is so true …… and guess what, the time you save by having your songs recorded by professional session musicians will make up for the extra money you may have to budget.

Give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed.

PLUS, session musicians make great friends too 🙂