Woodshedding

by Paul Rawlins

I first learned about woodshedding in Vancouver.
I tell people sometimes that I did studio work while I was in
B.C. What I did was rough framing: tacking together two-by-four
skeletons, screwing heavy sheets of gypsum board to naked frames
and standing them as walls. But I did this in a studio.
The studio was in Raphael’s backyard. He was converting an
old garage. The outside was weathered brown paint and splinters.
The inside was grey-white walls dotted with the black heads of
drywall screws.
“We’re calling it the Woodshed,” Raphael told me.
“I like it;’ I said.
“Do you know what it means to woodshed? “
I shook my head.
“When you lock yourself away with a difficult piece and work
it through note by note, that’s called woodshedding.”
“So you’ll woodshed in the Woodshed.”
Raphael seemed pleased that I’d understood.
After I learned the word, “woodshed” popped up all over. It
was like when I learned “crest” in the fourth grade, and then later
the same day I came across the word in my library book. I don’t
know if I’m looking for a word because I’ve just learned it or if
fate is running strong, and I’ve learned some new word to deal
with life to come.
I woodshedded learning a tune by Paul Gilbert when he and
Billy Sheehan were in Mr. Big. I worked for three days on eighteen
measures of Gilbert’s solo, living on cheese sandwiches. I didn’t
collect my mail, and when I quit, the garbage stunk, and the
neighbor kids were wading in the swamp the sprinklers made in
the backyard.
“It’s a four track studio, good for rehearsal, good for demos,”
Raphael told me. “Big albums you need a twenty-four track studio.
Only so much you’ll be able to do in the Woodshed.”


Raphael was my brother’s friend growing up. They played
together in garage bands in the 70s, with my brother on drums
and Raphael playing guitar. They made up new bands every school
year and gave them names like “Mother Lode” and “Crankshaft”
and “The Peter Crenshaw Group;’ and they cut school a lot to
practice. I know they hitchhiked from Bend to Boise or Portland,
sometimes even Seattle for concerts. And then my dad would
ground my brother, but he always made it out to play on week-
ends. I can’t remember a Friday or Saturday night he and Raphael
didn’t while I was growing up.
Once I asked Raphael if he had any old guitars. I told him my
mom and dad wouldn’t buy me one. I was seven then, and he
was sixteen. Raphael didn’t have any extra guitars, but he taught
me my first chords on his Strat. I have a picture with Raphael’s
guitar. I have a tough look on my face and a guitar slung down
around my knees. Raphael showed me more chords until he and
my brother left home the next year. “To take it on the road,”
Raphael told me.
My brother was back off the road in three months after he broke
his leg badly in an accident he never would explain. He read me
letters from Raphael. Raphael was floating, sitting in with groups,
looking for a band and a steady gig.
“He’ll make it,” my brother said. “He’s good, he’s so good.”


Raphael hooked up with a Seattle band that started making
a name on the local scene about the time my brother had decided
to try college. My brother quit after his first semester and went
to Seattle to take over for a drummer who’d missed three gigs
because of booze.
“Three strikes,” he told me, ‘I’m up.”
I was eleven when that band broke up with only a demo. When
I was thirteen, both my brother and Raphael got married, and
that ended the next band. My parents let me bus up to hear their
last performance. Raphael wasn’t holding back those last nights;
he was doing all the flashy stuff. He played a nine minute solo
the night I was there that came straight from heaven and the
angels.
Raphael did a classical number at my brother’s wedding, but
after that, I didn’t hear him play live again until almost ten years
later-when I was in Vancouver helping him with the studio.
He was in other bands, and he tried running a club. He was
reproducing tapes when he decided to get “out of the business
and back into rock and roll.”
“So I’m getting out of the business and back into rock and roll.”
That’s what he said the night I pitched up.
I was over halfway to his house when I had called from Tacoma.
“I need a place to hang,” I told him.
“Bring your hammer,” he said.
We sat up in the kitchen when I got there. Anne, Raphael’s
wife, asked about the family, teased me about losing my hair.
She loaded me down with sheets and blankets after we finished
talking.
“Stay as long as you want,” she said. “Raphael can use the cheap
labor.” Raphael gave me a place on the couch downstairs and told
me we’d start in on the studio in the morning whenever I got up.


I heard him play that weekend at the Lamplighter in Gastown.
Raphael was coming up fast in Vancouver. He packed the clubs
he played, and crowds shouted for blues and old rock tunes to
hear him. The older set let him take them back, and the young
ones were caught up in revival.
You had to see Raphael play. He would stand with his feet close
together when he soloed, and you waited to see him lock his knees
and faint. He didn’t close his eyes. He looked down at the stage
in front of him, looking to see if the music was hidden there on
the floor or trying to remember, to hear something faint, way
back in his head. He wrung music from his body and from his
instrument- never coaxed, never faltered.
The band did an old tune for me that night. “Taking Care of
Business,” from the garage days. Raphael called me to the stage
to sing backup, and we had a good time.


I learned about studios when I wasn’t listening to Raphael play.
A studio is a floating room, a room built within a room with no
inner wall touching an outer wall. The drywall can be five, even
six sheets thick, to cut out any noise from outside. A control room
floats in the studio. A studio control room must have no parallel
surfaces, for technical reasons, waves and such things. One wall
is corrugated like sideways Z’s, sections of the ceiling tip and rise,
the windows slant. Like a room in the fun house. You want no
leakage from the outer studio into the control room, so you
double all the walls and doors and windows and plug all the gaps
with acoustic sealant.
The control room is twice removed from the world, adrift in
a sea of quiet, a center with nothing surrounding it, nothing
beyond the lights out in the studio.
I sat up in the studio some nights trying to figure how big a
screwup I was. Thinking how I was supposed to be marrying
a girl named Sadie who’d run off with a friend of hers to L.A.,
and how I wouldn’t go get her. Thinking how I didn’t want the
family janitorial business that had kept me and my brothers in
jeans growing up. Thinking I didn’t like the guilt I felt for not
taking charge, for letting life happen to me. I waited as long
as I could stand for some tragedy or revelation to save me, then
I left school without stopping by the administration building to
withdraw and drove home. Then I left home and headed for
Vancouver.
I liked just working on the studio. I could measure studs, plumb
walls, slit drywall with a utility knife with no one wanting more
of me. I liked building and then sitting with Raphael against
a wall at ten or eleven o’clock at night to look at a day’s work
and talk about the next day’s. Anne would wander out after the
kids were in bed, and we would talk about gigs and old times,
and then I had my couch and a cool night for sleeping with not
even tomorrow to worry about.
It went on that way for a couple of weeks. Me and Raphael,
and the boys in the band over in the afternoons.
I was out picking up chips and sodas when the power saw took
Raphael’s fingers. I came back, and the door to the studio was
open. Byron, Raphael’s bass player, was outside with his head in
his hands. I saw the blood when I went in. I had to sit awhile
before I could drive. Byron was white. He had seen it and been
sick.
Byron and I had to pick up the kids from school. We told
them their daddy was sick but that he would be all right. We
fed them sticky macaroni from a box and let them watch TV until
it was time for bed. Byron went home at eleven with no news
from the hospital. I kept the kitchen light on and fell asleep at
the table sometime in the middle of the morning.


One finger had been cut off. The doctors sewed it back on and
stitched up two others Raphael had cut badly. He was on pain-
killers when Anne brought him home, and he said crazy things
for three days. Anne told me when he first came to he said he
wanted to die. I stayed away.
He called for Anne one day while she was out and I was in
the kitchen eating bread for lunch. I stood in his doorway. His
left hand was bundled up in a mitten of tape and gauze.
“Is Annie home?” he said.
“She’s gone for groceries,’ I said. “She’ll be back just now.”
I refilled his pitcher with water and asked him if he wanted
anything else.
“Bring up my guitar,” he said.
He looked at the window. I went downstairs to get his guitar.
He had a ’64 Strat right then. Sixty-four was a good year for
Fender Stratocasters, like it was the last good year for Winchesters.
This one felt soft to the touch, sweet and responsive, unforgiving.
I brought it up in the case and laid it on the foot of his bed.
“Take it out,” Raphael said. I laid the guitar on the bed and left.
Anne didn’t hold it against me, taking the guitar to him.
“You know,” she said, “a couple of years ago, I woke up one
night, and Raphael’s hand was doing scales on my arm.”
“What’s he doing?” I asked.
“Sitting up in bed. He’s got the guitar on his lap, and he’s
looking out the window.”
“He can see the studio.”
“He watches while you’re inside working. He says he wants to
get back to it.”
“He’s not on pills anymore?”
“No more pills,” she said. She asked if I could stay around
awhile.


Raphael spent his days in the studio when he got up and around
again. He did some mixing in the control room while I worked.
I would call him out, and we would conference on how to turn
the next corner or what materials to buy the next trip to the
lumber yard.
He was moody those days. He brought his guitar out from the
house, and it sat in its case in a corner of the control room. He
saw the doctors often. He would come home after and close
himself up in the studio until late. I would talk to Anne at
dinner, and she would tell me that the doctors talked about
damage-nerves, muscles, bone.
I asked her what Raphael was saying, and she said they weren’t
talking about it yet.
I was framing in the second set of control room doors when
the bandages came off and Raphael started spending his days in
the control room with the guitar. He was teaching the little finger
how to move again, teaching all the fingers, teaching the hand.
The strength was gone, and the speed was gone. He couldn’t keep
it up very long. Anne worried, but the doctors said it might be
good therapy. They said it was hard to know just what he would
get back.
The little finger wasn’t moving well and Raphael didn’t have
much feeling in one of the others when I left. He hadn’t played
for a week, but I’d shrugged it off because we’d been busy
painting. I was shoving my loafers in a canvas flight bag when
he told me to take the Strat. He said he would come see me at
the Lamplighter. He said he could still whistle. I told him no.
I said I didn’t want it.
”I’ll pick it up after your gig,’ he said.


Raphael is engineering and producing now. We finished the
studio before I left for home, He’s very good. He could take in
more money, but he’s soft on new bands. He gives them breaks.
He keeps a gun in a drawer below the soundboard. I think
about it, and think that most days he reaches for both. He pulls
down two levers on the board for a fade-out. He thinks about
his own. There’s an imaginary “X” in the middle of a control room
floor. That’s where the sound is perfect. That’s where Raphael sits,
passing out tips to young guitarists on the other side of the glass.
That’s where he assembles sounds now, piece by piece. He can
favor his left hand.
I want to take the ’64 Strat and play the gig at the Lamplighter.
But I can’t go until I am perfect, until I am how I heard Raphael.
School’s still out, and I’m buffing floors nights. Sadie is alone,
still unsure when we talk sometimes by phone. She says L.A.
isn’t Bend, but she’s getting used to it. And Anne has to think
of something to say every night when Raphael comes in from
woodshedding. We are all still new at it.