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Culver musician Baker will share lengthy recording background at Nov. 19 workshop

November 16, 2012

Culver's Don Baker has a veritable lifetime of musical experience under his belt, something he hopes area musicians and anyone interested can benefit from by way of “An Introduction to Music Recording and Production: Recording Your Music at Home on a Budget,” this Monday, November 19, starting at 6 p.m. at the Culver Public Library.

Baker, who with his wife Janet may be best known to present-day Culverites as the former owner and proprietor of the now-defunct Bike Barn on Lake Shore Drive, grew up in a musical family. Many in the area will remember the late J.C. Beck, Baker's grandfather, who with wife Olive sang and played guitar.

"Our family had a lot of sing-alongs," recalls Baker, who notes his mother, Janet Beck Baker, also sang and played guitar.
In 1980, at the end of his 5th grade year, Baker moved to Culver with his mother, to live with the Becks where J.C. was "a big influence on me. He always wanted his sons to play guitar, but it ended up being his grandson instead."

Baker played clarinet in the Culver Community junior high under Charles Byfield, another big influence, switching to drums in the 9th grade and playing the snare drum in the CCHS band and tri-toms in the CCHS marching band.

Another influence was the late Bill Wagoner, of Wagoner's Music in Plymouth, who gave Baker advanced guitar lessons and encouraged him to play in bands.

In 1985 at age 15, he took Wagoner's advice, partnering with classmates Scott Ready (drums) and Tracy Mevis (bass) to form classic rock cover band High Voltage. The group began with a party at the Culver beach lodge, played at a CCHS dance in 1987, performed at Lakeside Cinema with FUBAR (a band comprised of Don Kline, Rick Patrick, Jamie Vantwoud, Jeff Thomas), and Lakefest 1987. The band recorded its first song in the studio in the back of Wagoner's, with Bill producing.

Baker also became involved in theater, both in school and via the Maxinkuckee Players in the summer, where he says he was exposed to musical harmony and "proper singing, along with the idea of rehearsing over and over again to be your best."

Ann Bigley of the Players was also "a big influence on me," he adds.
Roy Shepard of the Players noticed Baker's interest in drums and helped him transition into becoming the Players' drummer, a role he continued through high school and early college.

"Music was the way I expressed myself and had a lot of fun," Baker recalls. "I was always a quiet kid who didn't talk very much; it was my outlet for creativity and expression."

In school at Purdue, Baker and some co-workers at the residence hall cafeteria started a "loud, obnoxious punk and noise band" called The Mange.

By 1988, the band was re-dubbed The Varmints, and the following year as Meet John Doe, which he says "had a little more serious tone. We started writing our own songs as well."

The group played about three years, between 1989 and 1991 on "the house party circuit" as well as benefit shows in the area.
It was also during this time that he met future wife Janet, of whom he was technically boss at the cafeteria.

"She did make a big impression on me, and we're still together today," he says.

It was also during this time that he met future wife Janet, of whom he was technically boss at the cafeteria.

In 1992, Baker formed the "droning noise power trio Slingshot," with Nick Adams on bass and Terry Gable on drums. Though graduated himself, Baker was awaiting Janet's grad and managing popular Von's Records near Purdue.

Baker purchased his first cassette four-track recorder and began recording a solo project called Roman Candles.

"Three hundred dollars (for the recorder) was a whole lot of money in those days," he recalls. “I was pretty thrilled with that, and I turned a lot of my attention towards recording my songs. It would be considered really primitive nowadays."

Baker and Janet (who had picked up a bass guitar lying around Baker's apartment and learned to play the instrument) then formed a "fuzz guitar noise band" called Fuzz Factor, playing coffeehouses, concerts, and festivals in the Lafayette area.

He laughingly notes a friend recently unearthed a TV clip of the band on Lafayette television in 1991, complete with "1991 hairstyles, production values on the TV, and the noisy alternative band. It must have been a slow news day!"

In fact, a recent Facebook page, "Lafayette Bands from the Grave," celebrates Bakers' and other groups playing in the area in the past.

"It's funny how many of those bands I was in!" he reflects.

Hoping to break into the Chicago music scene, Don and Janet moved to Hobart, Indiana ("We weren't quite ready to move into the big city yet!"), where they lived from 1994 to 1997. They formed a band called Indoor Boy, which reflected the "noisy, moody 'shoegazer' style of the time."

Indoor Boy gained a large following playing benefit concerts in Northwest Indiana and eventually in Chicago clubs. They garnered a few hundred fans for shows such as one at the Metro theater in Chicago.
In keeping with the edgier aesthetics of the genre, the band released a double seven-inch EP on clear blue and clear green vinyl, with "pretty elaborate packaging. It was a limited edition, hand numbered...for a young band that was unsigned to a major label to put out a seven-inch was pretty cool."

In 1997, with new drummer Bob Bihlman, the band moved to Chicago where they did some professional studio recording. In 2001, they headed into Chicago's Playground Studios with Flaming Lips producer Keith Cleversley to record the "Everything is Okay" EP. The studio sessions began Sept. 7 of that year, and of course "we woke up on Sept. 11 to the news on TV."

The studio time booked, the band had to go in the next day to cut the song, "Everything is Okay," with Don on lead vocals.

"I had to sing, 'Everything is okay,' over and over again. It was kind of hard to sing that when we had been attacked, basically. It was a strange time, but we soldiered through it and were able to put it out."
In 2000, a friend had built Baker a computer and encouraged him to start recording at home, where he realized the power of digital recording.

The technology also allowed him to explore his growing interest in hip-hop music, and he began creating his own beats and rhythms in that genre digitally. The band made its final album in 2003, utilizing the home recording techniques made possibly by the computer, releasing the album even as the band played its final show.

Janet, notes Don, was "an important part of that experience" as bass player and vocalist. "She would do karate kicks while she was playing bass. People remember her for that and for her spirit onstage."

And, though he'd really gone to Chicago to make music, Baker landed a "great job" there with a consulting firm, though he was "really more interested in music."

Don Baker added funk, reggae, and soul to his musical appetites and put his increasing digital knowledge to use as a deejay. Under the moniker DJ Easygo, he began performing around Chicago, sometimes teaming up with a rapper friend from Purdue.

In 2005, that reggae passion evolved into a band called Hostile Roots Takeover, with Janet on bass and a couple of friends joining in, including briefly, a horn section.

"We weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. We referred to our ourselves as ‘the wickedest reggae band of the Caucasian persuasion.’ People were really surprised to see these geeky hipsters play reggae and be a little bit tight on that!"

Janet played with the band right up to the birth of their son Graham in 2008, when she moved to Culver in anticipation of Don joining her. Add baby Leo (born in 2011 with little enough warning that he arrived at the Bakers' house on Davis Street, rather than in the hospital!), and Don says the family has shifted its focus to playing music together for fun.

"Our home has many instruments for kids to play, and we've had many family sing-a-longs. We took our act on the road in 2012 at the 'Wesley's Got Talent' show at Wesley United Methodist Church, where son Graham sang his first solo."

Since Leo came along, Don's been producing music on his home computer in what little free time he has.

"Since I don't have time to play in a band, I felt inspired to develop a presentation on recording and producing music with the aim of inspiring area musicians," he says of the upcoming library workshop.

In it, he says, he'll discuss how musicians can put together a recording system using an ordinary computer (even an older one not getting much use), free or inexpensive software, and modest gear.
He'll also discuss three major methods of recording music, including live recording for a soloist or small group, a live band from basic tracks to finishing touches, (using a song he's recording especially for the program), and 'sequenced' music production, that one person might produce working alone.

On the agenda as well will be when it makes sense to reach out to professionals, such as session musicians, mixing engineers and mastering engineers, in order to bring out the best in the music.

"This is an exciting time to be a musician," Baker muses. "With an old computer, a free program and modest equipment, musicians have the power of a recording studio at the click of a mouse. All it takes is a bit of learning and practice to make great sounds at home.

"I'm hoping the program on the 19th will inspire and empower musicians to record and produce their own music."

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