Black Cat Mass The Building of a Band
Over many years in different situations while I was out playing I would run into a teenager. His name was Drew Ortman. Interested in the Guitar and playing a bit already he also had a wicked sense of humor. I worked a couple of Restaurants and in the kitchen crews of The Harvester and Later our sister business called Hennesy’s you HAD to learn the art of fun to stay sane, or keep up with the insanity would be more proper.
I look around one day and here he is a front of the house co-worker
Back then in either business I would work the kitchen during shift and change clothes and then play the night in the establishment’s bars… Eventually, Both places closed and I lost track of him.
I don’t recall how but several years passed and we were reconnected and he asked if I would teach him Guitar. I agreed with the understanding that he would have to throw all prior thoughts out the window and learn the “Jimmy Tuning” as I was known for. After a couple of sit-downs, it became less me showing him what to do as he could play things back to me after a few go-arounds. It became little jam sessions. One night I asked what he wanted to achieve with his guitar skills. Drew, being always humble and unassuming, simply said “Oh I’d like to be able to go out and play a few songs at open mic nights, nothing terribly big.”
Myself being anything but Unassuming replied, “You realize you are the first person I’ve tried to teach this tuning to who understands it and on top of that you have natural rhythm so what I want to do is put you in a band and go see just exactly how far we can go with it.”
Now I have a perfect thing for me, A guy who gets it and we can play gigs as just a duo, which we did on and off after we formed the band properly. The lineup was all about what the gigs required in the future. At that time we were onto something. I had a small home studio so as things progressed I was working on ideas, writing albums and EP’s, and doing some LO-FI releases for myself. I also had the good fortune to live down the road from a young drummer. Drew and I got together with Brad Rupert and realized we had a sound already without a Bass player. I was an avid Lover of The Doors and The Cramps so the idea of two guitars and a drummer was not unusual to me.
If Brad wasn’t available we had Matt Moon to sit in. We had been offered a show in Dayton, Ohio in its famed “Oregon District” and as a new band without our own songs yet I needed to pull from my back catalog of songs from different projects. We got together a week or so in advance and I thought well I’ll record this practice session and see what we have, much like athletes watching games over again to learn from. After the second jam of simple Brainstorming Ideas Drew conceived the thought of putting it out there as a demo for more work as “Black Cat Mass Vol.1”. We Ultimately took Moon to the Oregon District and then we began to get shows in Columbus, Ohio at places I always wanted to play Like “Ruby Tuesday” On the campus area of Ohio State University. Brad was our man that night.
We went to a friend of ours Joe Click and asked could he take the name and design a band Logo and he came back with The Angry Cat in a Nun’s Habit and it was Perfect for our Humor and a great work of art as well.
We gigged, A LOT….and then the discussion came up that we needed to write our own songs. Then we discussed Making a record properly in a professional studio so Drew and I spent a couple of months writing what became The Born of the Black Tree” cd. Again we called on Joe Click and he delivered a wonderful album cover. By now it had been decided that if we are making a real record we needed a Bass Player and the timing of Drummers was such that Matt wasn’t available due to other band obligations and Brad had gone into the Military. I was told about A guy named Travis Elder and He was an amazing drummer as promised and we brought in David Thorpe on Bass. Both absolute professional players with their own history not many practices were needed to get the grip of the songs Drew and I concocted in his apartment at his kitchen table.
I don’t think we spent much more than two long sessions at Chilliworks Recording with Owner and wizard Chad Uhrig at the controls and the tracks were done. Drew’s guitar panned right and mine panned left drums and bass perfect center as it would be live in your living room. David sparked a little background vocal on “Cradlehead” and made it have that extra dynamic. Not many overdubs were needed.
I personally had to wrap my head around how different this was. I had found some balance between writing some more commercially viable songs that didn’t lose the integrity of a band that could just jam and explores.
I caught the “aha” moment not long after as I had been involved with many a “StoutieFest” over the years. This was created in memory of Tim Stout, a local Drummer who had passed away and was the father and husband of some important friends of mine. It was a multiple-day Festival that all $ went to help the community, and canned food was the price of admission.
We took the stage to play the songs from this record to a couple of hundred friends, and I was stunned that a guitar-based album made these people move forward and begin to dance like mad. I also began to get calls after I submitted the record to one of our most popular Rock radio stations 99.7 “The Blitz” that they were not just playing a song, over time they pretty much played it all at some point during the years. It became in my friend’s view their favorite work I had been involved in. As musicians and writers know we can be our own worst critics, so It took me a while to take a step back and I now tend to agree with those opinions.
As often happens with bands there are disagreements and changes and in time we were lucky enough to have Matt Moon grab a Bass and jump in as we would be taking the Band to Play another fest in North Carolina at “Little Creek Vineyard” a place many of us consider our second home. I highly recommend a trip thereafter we get through Covid, You may not want to ever leave and you will never hear a band on that stage that isn’t amazing.
We attempted to record a live album and through no one’s fault we got the first song of the night downright “Creeping Crow” but something went haywire and just didn’t translate over during the recording.
In time my health began to decline, I have a Neuro disorder called Dystonia, and I was also Dad who had M.S. and numerous other critical issues. So Black Cat Mass never broke up officially, Life just happened. As for a possible return? Never say Never. The Globe needs to spin around a few times and if it’s supposed to happen, it will be a Mighty reunion.
You can find the album “Born of the Black Tree” on my amazing radio account in my collections with more of my music.