"A career was almost taken out In Cold Blood."
(In Cold Blood CD cover, 2006)
When the band was finally finished, Ellen and I worked a lot of different places.
For a while we played at all of the Bay Area Barnes & Nobles.
I hosted a few open mikes, one in Ybor City at Baby Doll Art and another at a restaurant called The Ramblin' Rose.
Appeared a few times with Randy Wynn at WMMR here in Tampa and took my old Monk routine on the road during Halloween gigs like The Ramblin' Rose.
I ended up having to give up the singing in 2001 when growths on my vocal cords sidelined me as both performer and teacher.
It took several surgeries to get them gone, so I turned my reptile hobby into a business.
When my voice was finally healed, I started to plan the next album.
It was going to be called Merchants & Mercenaries after a popular song the band played.
I wrote it too late for the last album, but I was perfectly poised to use it as the title track to album number 7.
A strange thing happened.
I was doing reptile expos across the country, and one of those promoters talked me into changing course.
He said there had never been a rock 'n' roll album dedicated to reptiles.
The expos were pulling in plenty of money, so I thought it might be a good idea.
So Merchants & Mercenaries got put on hold, and I wrote 10 reptile songs to create a concept CD called In Cold Blood.
It didn't really go over well with the remaining band members, who felt, fairly, that the rug got pulled out from under them, and none of them were really into reptiles.
I had a lot of encouragement from the industry and decided to make the change.
Donnie and Keppley remained on board, but Jeff had disappeared in the last few years,
and Donnie brought along a friend, Reuben Cournyer, to fill in the bass.
Daniel Swartwood owed me money and agreed to do the CD to pay me off, but his heart was never in it.
A fellow reptile breeder named Paul Belmore played dobro and also signed on to do the CD.
But it was a disaster from the start.
When I say everything went wrong, it was no joke.
Russ was no longer in the business and agreed to sell me his studio equipment.
He also agreed to mix the final product with me.
But the recorders failed almost immediately and had to be replaced with another recording system.
I ended up paying over $2,000 to upgrade my home studio to be up for the task.
But that wasn't the only issue.
New bass player Reuben didn't believe in rehearsal.
He said the pros never rehearse.
So it was like pulling teeth to get the band to learn the material.
We also sent a booklet to a printer to be done in time with the CD which also had a hard deadline.
It had to be ready for the Expo in Sept 2006.
It wasn't looking good.
It didn't help that when we went to collect the printing I discovered they were gone.
Went out of business, and never a phone call.
Bill Love, a household name in the reptile industry, came to the rescue.
I had less than 24 hours to create a booklet so the duplicators could have the CD in time.
Bill stayed up all night from 100 miles away, and we worked through email together all night to create what turned out to be a pretty cool booklet for the CD.
He gave me unrestricted use of his iconic photo library and came through in a huge pinch.
I wish I could say the same for everyone else.
The entire reptile community expressed great support as our struggles increased.
But they disappeared when it came time to actually pony up $10 for the disc.
Belmore expressed disappointment in how his tracks were used, and I never saw him or heard from him again.
We went from "Our new best friend" to not a phone call in one night.
We also found out that the promoter who promised a release party at the Tampa Hard Rock Hotel and Casino lied.
He never booked the gig, and we were months out with no venue to play.
My neighbor Vince, who was co-owner of one of Tampa's best music venues, offered up Skipper's Smokehouse as a place to have the party.
It was going to cost money to feed all of those hungry reptile industry VIP's that we still thought were with us,
and Jeff Armstrong from Armstrong's Crickets came through and paid $250 to host the concert and make sure the folks were fed.
He had done so for several concerts leading up to the big one, and between Vince and Jeff we had a wonderful place to perform.
Of course, Reuben's no-rehearsal philosophy backfired, and we sold only four copies of In Cold Blood that night.
Remember at CAMS we sold 67 copies when Ordinary Nights was released without the benefit of a full band to play the stuff for that crowd.
The ordeal left me so angry that I gave up playing immediately after the concert for a year or more.
In Cold Blood featured 10 tracks along with two hidden tracks: A Lizard's Life, Chameleon, Indigo, Expo Blues, Philadelphia Phil, Tropical Rainbow,
The Hard Shell Cafe, The Legend Of Pirate Joe, Herper's Dilemma, and Mario Andretti & The Kid.
The hidden tracks were Passage and Man Created A Man.
The CD featured
Dale Keppley on lead guitar,
Ellen Sassani on cello,
Reuben Cournyer on bass,
Paul Belmore on dobro,
Don "The Animal" Melvan on drums, and
Daniel Swartwood on keyboards.
Chameleon was the song I was actually proud of.
It was what I had hoped to make the entire CD, but there wasn't time.
It was actually a love song written for Ellen that used the reptile theme in metaphor and is hands down the best song on the CD.
Tropical Rainbow featured another one of Ellen's brilliant ELO cello solos that truly make this song.
Passage was a Christmas song I wrote and recorded with Ellen and Daniel a couple of years earlier
and was released here because it deserved to be on an album but was recorded on its own.
Man Created A Man was written as a Boris Karloff tribute and took a prize at the 2000 Horror Awards.
I got to present it to Boris Karloff's daughter Sara, who nearly crushed me to death in a hug she gave me there on the stage
where I presented it to her, Bela Lugosi, Jr., and Lon Chaney Jr.'s grandson Ron.
It was a touching night, and Sara helped to promote and sell copies of a CD single where it was first released.
Craig Johnson helped me put together a music video in a Kentucky hotel room a year later.
The CD would be dedicated to a fellow teacher and mentor Mike Kremer, whose name was auto-corrected by the printers and misspelled in the credits.
He passed of cancer and was a great supporter of my teaching career, reptiles, and music.
Had I known my own father would pass while we were working on the CD, I would have likely included him, but I had already promised Mike's wife Carol.
My dad would have to wait to see if there was a Number 8.
The CD featured several styles of music.
I knew it was going to already be a limited audience, so I decided I had to represent as many styles as I could to sell any CD's at all.
It would become the least-selling CD of my career.
The music stopped until I read a book on leadership written by Rudy Giuliani.
That book turned my life around and got me back to playing guitar.
It was back to the ice cream shop and more solo years for me and Ellen.
Donnie still felt like we had some unfinished business and hounded me over the years to finally do the Merchants & Mercenaries CD.
After 12 years, I finally considered doing it.
During this period of time we lost Nolan to a motorcycle accident just a week after spending time together having a jam reunion of the band.
We adopted his 8-year-old dog Baby, who became a huge part of our family.
We had Baby for eight years before cancer took her.
She was a constant feature at the jams and loved having musicians gathered around her.
At least she liked to lie down in the middle and believe we were gathered around her.