See Steve's Hand-Written Lead Sheet
Though I can't say for certain, it is my sense that "Duck Ankles"(originally horrifically titled, "Do the Grunt") was probably written between 1971-72. Somewhere during that time, miracle of miracles, I had formed a band with some of my earliest friends and musical cohorts in New York City. The band was known as Future Shock, and it consisted of: Randy and Michael Brecker; Don Grolnick; John Miller(Ac. & El. Bass) and Bruce Ditmas(Drums). For a time, we played around the New York/New Jersey area, and played many of my tunes, along with some of Hal Galper's. Some years later, when after a couple of wonderful guitarists had turned down the gig, I was selected to play for Yoko Ono's historic return to Japan tour in August of 1974. Believe it or not, that band consisted of: Randy and Michael Brecker; Don Grolnick; Andy Muson(El. Bass), and both Rick Marotta and Steve Gadd on drums!!! For some insane reason, Yoko allowed the band to play two instrumentals before she would hit the stage, and, amazingly somehow, Don Grolnick's "The Whisperer" and the aforementioned "Duck Ankles" were chosen. How did I get so lucky?!?!?! During those two different incarnations, I would say that, with the great input of spectacular musical minds like Don Grolnick and the Brecker Bros., my tune got some help in the arranging and structure department, and it was those touches that turned it into something of a serviceable piece of music. That's how it all began!!! Sometime later, when the Brecker Brothers Band was formed, adding David Sanborn to the mix on alto sax, we continued to play this tune during our performances when they involved 2 sets.
It is rather hard to forget the first time that you are going to have two of your compositions recorded. And though the years have done their best to blur the specifics of some of these memories, lucky for me, I have saved all my Datebooks since my move to New York in January of 1970. It was on the afternoon of April 16th, 1975 that we all walked in to one of New York's temples of recording, A&R Studios, which was then located at 799 7th Ave., to record with David Sanborn for what was to be his first LP as a leader, "TAKING OFF." On that day, we were to be in the smaller of the two rooms, Studio A-2. The band consisted of a list of close friends, and very solid musical connections, which would include: Buzzy Feiten: Guitar; Don Grolnick: Keyboards; Will Lee: El. Bass; Rick Marotta and Chris Parker: Drums; and Ralph MacDonald: Percussion; all played live with a small horn section, which, of course, included, Randy Brecker and Michael Brecker. And yes, you read this correctly, we played my two tunes with two drummers! Just to keep the festivities under control, we were to be under the watchful eye of arranger, Dave Matthews. As it turned out, David Sanborn was to re-title both of my tunes! "Mr. Butterfat" became just "Butterfat" and, thank goodness, "Do the Grunt" became "Duck Ankles." As you have read, we had been playing these tunes for quite some time, so it felt very natural to be recording them together.
During the earliest days of the Jazz-Rock Fusion Era what could pass for a tune was not all that much. It seemed as though the goal was to get through the tune, and get to soloing as quickly as possible. Usually that form of soloing, during the late '60s and early '70s, was over one chord, often times, just a minor 7th chord or a dominant 7th chord. Despite the rich history of standards and Jazz standards by great and prolific composers like Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver. and not too much later, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, it did not seem that many newly written tunes were reaching that level of compact sophistication. For me, I didn't come face-to-face with this reality until I began to play Randy Brecker's compositions as they began to appear on the early Brecker Brothers Band recordings. Compared to his level of melodic ideas, rhythmic details and interesting solo formats with interesting and difficult chord changes to negotiate, I was just a rank neophyte, and most of my early tunes were way too connected to my instrument, the guitar. Within the format of this particular writing style, it was always crucial that there was a very funky underpinning from the rhythm section. I believe that the bass part, as performed to perfection by Will Lee, was probably more of his design than anything that I had originally written. Then, when doubled by Don Grolnick's clavinet, that took it to another level. Then, you add in Rick Marotta and Chris Parker, and the groove is BIG and SOLID.
"Duck Ankles" offers a short but powerful fanfare of an Intro, letter [I], which is filled with the slash chords, triads over specific bass notes, of that time. If you look at the melody notes for this section, no matter what the chords might be doing, the melody notes are derived from C minor pentatonic[C, Eb, F, G, Bb] which keeps things closely connected to the blues. And that is often where you would want to be, especially when the tune is being played by such a great soulmeister of the alto sax as David Sanborn. After that, we're into our guitar riff oriented 8-bar melody for letter [A], which is played twice before the reappearance of [I2], which now serves as a send-off into the 1st solo section, [B], which of course belongs to the artist, David Sanborn. I suppose that, in defense of my tune, it's hard to deny that people used to really like it, and, in the end, that has to count for something. Maybe it's just that, being repetitive, the melody becomes singable, and this is always a good thing. I remember Sanborn once saying to those assembled, and I'm liberally paraphrasing here: "you can't repeat something enough for the audience!" I suppose there's something rather cynical about that, but when someone could reach an audience like David could, you just can't ignore what he has to say.
For David's solo, there was no prescribed amount of bars, with Dave Matthews there to maintain a sense of order, we simply moved ahead to [B2] when it seemed that Dave was ready. It is my sense that [B2] was one of the by-products of years of playing the tune live, and wanting to make more of it than just blowing over a Cm7 chord forever. So, my guess is that this was probably a suggestion by the ever wise and musical, Don Grolnick. The 5-bar section simply puts to use the changes from the Intro, and Dave played great over them. This leads us to the 2nd solo, [C], which featured Randy Brecker, again just blowing over the same Cm7 chord, but with Randy's unique linear inventiveness. On cue, out of Randy's solo, we play a unison shout motif, again, like the melody, based upon blues related material. Out of this section we reprise [I3], which takes us back to the final statement of the [A] melody section.
On this particular melody, I was using my little Funk Machine box, which was the precursor to the eventual Touch-Wah and other such pedals. Certainly, this pedal gives the melody a very fowl sound. I remember being on the road with the Brecker Brothers Band, and we would stop somewhere for some fast food at a chain restaurant, and Sanborn would look at the menu and sometimes make us convulse with laughter when he would order a plate of some chicken lips with a side of duck ankles thrown-in!!! You can now see where the eventual title came from.
Over the years, I have always felt very grateful to David Sanborn for his faith in me and in my humble little tunes. I am really glad that I was able to play a small role in the launching of his career. As his longtime friend, I am most proud of what he has been able to accomplish. I suppose it's not so surprising that he has become the most imitated alto saxophonist of his generation. Some of his shameless imitators, in some sense, have actually become bigger sales magnets. This is absolutely remarkable to me. But, standing alongside David all those years, whether we were part of the Brecker Bros. Band, or my occasional role as a sideman in one of his touring groups, it was always easy to feel that he had the capacity to reach people, to move people. I hope that everyone enjoys having this view of one of my first recorded tunes. Wishing everyone a very Happy Summertime 2014!!!
Addendum: In the analysis for "Some Down Time" from "THE BLUE MAN" recording, I mentioned that unfortunately, due to my own naïveté and complete lack of self-confidence, I allowed myself to be bullied into giving-up the copyrights and the publishing to both "Mr. Butterfat" and "Duck Ankles" to the dishonest and unscrupulous producer of "TAKING OFF." I had good friends around me, begging me not to sign those papers, assuring me that it was easy for someone, anyone, to have their own publishing company, but I was afraid and intimidated, and couldn't 'hear' their words. Those dear friends included Randy Brecker, who contributed the wonderful ballad, "It Took a Long Time" to the LP; and Don Grolnick, who contributed the very funky and popular tune, "The Whisperer." Both Randy and Don had much more experience in these matters than I did at that point in time. I was sadly under the false impression that, in order to have one's own publishing company, it would require me to get an office on Madison Ave. with 5 secretaries, etc.!!! How very wrong I was! I simply did not realize then that one can actually do everything from their home. In those days, all you needed was a typewriter, now one can do it all with a computer, or just access to one, and the Internet!!! It is all so easy. Back then, another one of my dearest friends, Christine Martin even offered to do all the paperwork for me. How stupid was I to have refused that?
As if it was yesterday, I remember the phrases this guy used to try to bully me into relinquishing my publishing. First, there was this one: "You know Steve, 'we' would be more inclined to promote the record if 'we' had some of the publishing!" Then, he went on to intimate that if I didn't see things his way, the tunes might not end-up on the recording. Had it not been for my lack of self-confidence, I might have known that "Mr. Butterfat" was the most appealing tune of everything that we had recorded. In the end, it was all for naught, and I signed those damn papers. After a couple of days, and some regret on my part, and perhaps guilt on his part, he agreed to give me back 20% of the publishing. Of course, that didn't matter, because I was never going to really see that income either!!!
For nearly 25 yrs., after a couple of initial payments, this producer just decided that he no longer was going to send me whatever royalties were accumulating, nor was he going to send me the quarterly statements which I was owed by contract. This situation became a source of constant frustration and anger for me. I really wanted my copyrights back, and the money issues became secondary. I wanted to leave these copyrights to my son, Heath, because one never knows what their future value might be. And so, with the sage advice of my good friend and lawyer for many years, Mike Selverne, I sought out the legal muscle, and expertise in this area, of Jeff Gandel and his fantastic organization known as Royalty Recovery. And, after some detective work, and the very serious threat of legal action, a small settlement was agreed upon, and my copyrights have now been returned. Speaking from the heart, if I could have somehow seen this man lose everything, his house, all his possessions, and known that he was standing in the street, with nothing more than a toothbrush and a bathrobe, I would have done it in a heartbeat. But sadly, in cases like this, our legal system doesn't work that way, and one is not entitled to penalties, whether or not they might have been merited.
Again, the case of these two tunes is one of the great business errors in my musical life, and it is important to share it here, so that the same fate might not befall a younger and fellow musician. If the story serves to help someone from making a terrible error, then I will be very glad. In the end, you must have confidence in yourself, and faith in the quality and value of your work. Never allow someone to bully you, nor intimidate you out of what is rightfully yours.
[Photo: Plastic Ono Super Band, Osaka, Japan 1974
Photo by: Unknown Female
David Sanborn @ Ottawa Jazz Festival, 2013
Photo by: Chris Mikula]