Band Element of Surprise, Ventura County CA

Do you <3 classic rock? Strange pairings of music, such as Richie Valens & the Ramones meet Deep Purple? You may appreciate us. We're the band Element of Surprise! We may get thru the song-or it may go horribly AWRY. You pays yer money & you takes yer chance! We play a very eclectic mix of classic & alt rock...if you live in the SoCal area & listen to either KLOS or KRTH-101, you've heard most of our songs. We're a 6-piece consisting of Pat on vocals & percussion, James on lead guitar, Hector on bass, Rob on drums, newest member Danny on acoustic and electric guitars, and your humble scribe Rita on rhythm guitar/keyboard/harmonica and vocals. We've been together for 5 years (longer than some marriages!) and have had some memorable gigs. I started this blog to keep a list of them--and to chronicle our RISE-TO POWER! Well, not really--all of us have a day job, and we're all over 45 (except for Danny, who is young and impressionable!) so this is more of a hobby. But we all have an abiding love for music, and we have healthy self-images, and some of us are major hams, so here we are. Walking down the street. We get the funniest looks. From everyone we meet. Hey hey--no, stop, that's plagiarism. Anyways, I don't expect anyone (other than MY FRIENDS & FAMILY) to ever read this, but if you do and you have an interest in an elderly garage band on the first level of getting started gigging, welcome and well-met. If YOU have an interest in starting a band and are curious about equipment, etc-let us know. Maybe we can help you avoid a TON of trouble.
Well, cheers, and see you "on the cover of the 'Rolling Stone,'"
Rita aka MrsMMars :-)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mia's Place!

dang it, the sign was supposed to say "ELEMENT OF SURPRISE" or "Rita McKinney Enterprises PRESENTS ELEMENT OF SURPRISE" LOL!!

Had a BLAST at Mia's today. Some good friends showed up and we were really grateful!
<--isn't Pat pretty? Love her "Betty Page" look LOL!

We went easy & just used the majority of the setlist from the 4th. Jim & I were scrambling to get out of Santa Paula early on; Jim didn't realize that we were going on at 3 (not 4) and at noon he realized we still had to get our kid to the Citrus Festival (where she was doing volunteer work for the FFA) so we went into super YIKES! mode and got everything busted down and into the Element, while I took Lilli to her job. We made it to Mia's about 1:15. Setup took about an hour, and we actually started our first set at 2:45. Laurie, whose hubby Bruce is an awesome singer BTW, was at her sister's salon next door! And came over to say hi & let us know she'd be doing her homework outside, so could we keep it down LOL! Just kidding!

<--Elba, Hector's wife, sits in for a couple of numbers, while Hector was doing something else.

Here's a little secret about us, folks: Element of Surprise are a bit superstitious and have a few traditions we are religious about following, in order to ensure good luck for the gig. One is that the Colonel and I always have Taco Bell before we go. I figure the stomach ache will neutralize the nerves LOL. Another tradition is that the Colonel always provides the crew with a couple of shots of teh-kill-ya prior to going on. If the Taco Bell doesn't eradicate the nerves, the tequila does. HURRRRRR. It's pretty raspy but it does make your hands stop shaking.
<--Los borrachos! (Google it!)

We played for about a half hour--then the proprietor Gina's friends showed up with some homemade eggrolls and Gina invited us to have some. THEY WERE AWESOME. We took a 5-minute break and just as we did, my friend Laura & her hubby Barney walked in. She was amused--"Break already, huh?" but we explained we were about to scarf eggrolls. They went on the patio and we resumed.
I was really, really happy to see Krishna and Marla show up--Kris has been reassigned to a different campus and I miss his wry viewpoint and hysterical running commentary on all that is crazy about work and life in general. He informed me he was going to yell 'Freebird!' but knew that unfortunately, it no longer fazes us; if you play covers and classic rock, you hear it every gig! ;-)
Marla is my next-desk neighbor (she's in IT, I'm in the Police Dept at work) and she probably hears the most about the band, other than those who are actually in it. She even goes with me to the beach at lunchtime and endures while I practice my guitar. I was very happy to see her there and able to see what all the hoopla is about.
Another couple of folks I must give a shout-out to: some of you may know I've been translating children's online books into Spanish for this awesome company, MightyBook Jr. The Colonel & I have also sung some songs and written music for this outfit. These folks are teaching early childhood literacy and really doing good work. Well, Greg and Cliff (and his lovely girlfriend Nancy) actually came out to see us. I was blown away; Greg came from the San Fernando area (understandable why he'd want to come out actually--he said it was 102 in the Valley :-( ) and Cliff and Nancy came from the eastern County area. I was very pleased to meet these guys and have them check out what we can do (besides 'Itsy Bitsy Spider' LOL. ;-) If you have little ones that would benefit from learning how to read at an early age, or love music, or like to write their own stories! Check out They have literally hundreds of books, music, games and puzzles, and are very entertaining. Our contributions are: "Alberta La Gorrion," "El Fulgon Dijo," and a couple of songs: "Cinco Elefantes" and "Elefantes Balanceaba." More to come and I'll be talking about that later, because this is a really cool website that your little ones can benefit from (and not just because the Colonel & I are involved, ha ha.)
We started playing 'Smooth Operator,' and the Colonel informed me that it was his song, as he is The Smooth Operator; then when we finished up, he realized that Gina was much Smoothier than he is. So we dedicated it to Gina and her delicious concoctions. Here's to you, Gina -- The Smoothiest Operator. ;-)
Some friends of Pat's from her work showed up, too, as well as Hector's favorite sister Amy and his lovely wife Elba. Elba held Hec's bass while he ran a errand; we got some cute shots.
This is probably TMI, but we have a 'schtick' for 'Smoke On The Water.' We get a big kick out of this; we announce we're going to do a Deep Purple number. Jim immediately launches into 'Burn' and we stop him; he appears befuddles, apologizes and then immediately launches into 'Lazy.' We stop him again; and I tell him, "No, honey--the one they won't let you play at Guitar Center anymore!" He goes, "Oh yah," and starts Smoke On the Water. Corny but fun! One guy in the audience 'got it,' then asked Jim to play 'Burn.' For reals. :-(
It was warm, and it was work; but ultimately it is very rewarding. There's something very (dare I say?) elemental about performing in front of people. It's so cool to show people "hey, this is what we love, hope you like what we are doing" and get their feedback. And of course, it's always a rush to hear people clap and yell for you.
I probably liked 'Wicked Game' best. Danny can play this already very well, and it frees me to concentrate on my singing; probably the best number I did all day. I screwed up the ending to '29 Palms' but thought I did fairly well on the vocals. Pat's best number was undoubtedly 'I Got The Music In Me,' and we got through it ok.
There was a fellow in the audience from Florida (a singer/songwriter in his own write) who was
offering quite a bit of sage advice; at one point he said "Why don't you guys do The Romantics' 'What I Like'?" I told him he had to be patient and wait, and just smiled. When we busted it out, he clapped and cheered. We also performed 'Seminole Wind' for his edification, and he was very appreciative.
Danny (aka Esteban) has a new fan! One of the gals in the audience took a shine to him and told him, "You are SO CUTE!" Then she looked at the rest of us and said, "And you're all cute, in your own way!" LOL well, it's better than being told, "DAMN you're all a bunch of old farts!"
Lessons learned: #1. The Colonel MUST have a mic to make witty repartee; otherwise the poor folks just sit there and watch us go, "What's next?" "Wait, I have to tune." "What key is that in?" "Do I play on this one?"
#2 - In a small venue like this, we can perform the more 'radio-friendly' numbers; no one's dancing, so the songs you would normally save for the beginning of the set (when folks are eating, not there, or being otherwise distracted) work well. Examples would be 'Can't Get Enough' by Bad Company; 'Cinnamon Girl' by Neil Young & Crazy Horse; and 'Runaway Train' by Soul Asylum.
We closed with 'Volver Volver' (the Mexican version of Freebird) and 'I Saw Her Standing There' by the Beatles. Gina was very gracious and appreciative, and told us we could practice there ANY TIME. She even sent us all home with tasty eggrolls :-) mmmmmm, eggrolls.....
We plan on being back there in a month or two, and will let everyone know when we're out again! Looking forward to it!
I want to thank again, all my friends who came out to support us. We TOTALLY LOVE YOU GUYS and really appreciate the kind comments on Facebook (NOTE: I post as Metalhaid.) You've all gained super uber mega-Karma-points and I'm sure you've all contributed to your mansion in Heaven. See ya around!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July 2010! =oD

We had our gig up in beautiful Ojai, and the weather was all one could ask least 20 degrees cooler than usual, and a light breeze made it all the more appealing. Our host, Trent, has a gorgeous home on a 2-1/2 acre spread...and the view was KILLER. We set up at the foot of the stairs going up to the top patio. There was plenty of room for all, which in this line of work, rarely occurs. Unfortunately, the Colonel ran over the host's prize tomato plant within 15 minutes of arriving. He didn't do it on purpose, though--he was trying to get out of the path of some of the parked cars, while angling for the best spot from where we could unload our stuff.
Naturally, the course of true love never runs smooth...neither does the course of gigging. Our first challenge was power. Our host gave us a cord from his daughter's room, however due to it not being grounded, made our equipment hum like vuvuzelas wielded by angry South Africans.
We set up the amps according to our host's specifications (pointing away from the patio) and then had to deal with folks asking us the rest of the evening, why we didn't turn them around. There were 2 reasons: 1, that the configuration of the speakers, cords and mike stands made it almost guaranteed that we would have issues with feedback, were we to put the speakers behind the microphones; and 2, that's how we had them set up, so that was that.
While we were waiting to go on, we asked our host for an iPod to play their choice of tunes, and that made for some hilarity as some of the less inhibited (and unsober) guests made their way to the mikes and sang along to such hits as, "I Can't Fight This Feeling" (by REO Speedwagon.) It was absolutely hilarious, and a tragedy that I didn't have the opportunity to invade some privacy by recording the performance.
There was a large trampoline in the field across from where we were playing, and a lovely tennis/basketball court to our left. There were guys of various ages and stations in life who were courting death by playing basketball in the warm sun as we pulled up. We began unloading, setting up, and were ready to go by 4...when a couple of band members said they needed to go get food and "run errands," meaning obtain the preferred brand of beer for the festivities. We actually started at 5, right when we were supposed to.
We opened with our usual "Big Me/Runaway Train" medley; our host and his guests were excited about us playing songs they recognized as from only 15 years ago. We managed to pull it off without too much trauma, then launched into "29 Palms..." and all hell broke loose. Or didn't, depending upon how you look at it. 3 bars into the song, for some unknown reason, the power cut out. We looked at each other with the deer in the headlights look, and then the power came back on. We shrugged, said, "Mulligan!" and started again. This time, we got through the first chorus before it cut out again. It was like that game you hear on the radio where the folks are singing, the song cuts out, and they have to continue on. We limped through the song, then tried to route power a different way, only to find we didn't have an extra grounded cord. So we soldiered on.
I must point out here that there were several attractive, VERY young ladies (<18) on the trampoline at this point, making it difficult for the male band members to focus on the songs. Later, some boys got on the trampoline, and the focus became waiting for one of the kids to bounce off the trampoline and break a limb. It was kind of hard to watch.
There were also a couple of guys playing Frisbee, that let the thing go by a few times; we were kind of waiting to get a Frisbee in the teeth.
There were also a couple of dirt bikes and enthusiastic riders (shirtless, and tanked up) zipping by. I was concerned that one of them would wipe out, wind up in the dirt, and have to go to the hospital to get his back tattoo reattached. Fortunately, that didn't occur (at least, while we were watching.)
My brother (to whom we owe the gig) showed up a few minutes after the third song, and it was good to see him; he's one of our biggest fans, besides talking us up to the folks there. I look forward to getting some referrals from today.
Another issue that occurred was for some strange reason, my amp (through which I was running both my guitar and keyboard) was making HORRIBLE noises, and I couldn't figure out what the heck was the problem. I eventually just turned down and unplugged and re-plugged, as we switched songs; it was kind of a pain because deviations from the set list made for last-second adjustments which made the rest of the band wait, and kept the crowd waiting, too.
Our 'shtick' of the evening went off well, too...the Colonel announces he is going to do a Deep Purple song--then he launches into "Burn." We stop him, remind him that he's doing the OTHER Deep Purple song...and he launches into "Lazy." We stop him again, ask him to do the Deep Purple song that he's not allowed to play in Guitar Center anymore--and there he goes.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the evening (besides the food, which was absolutely delicious, and the beer, which was also delicious and plentiful) was the Bicycle Polo Match on the tennis court. The Colonel was called into service to do the play-by-play reporting, and he shone. I believe he has missed his life's calling. The teams were The Green Shirts and The Non-Green Shirts, and the usual amount of smack talk was flying about. The Colonel made some clever observations about Jonas Brothers- and Harry Potter-look alikes. The game was made all the more interesting by the judicious application of water bombs, on winners and losers alike. There were also some fireworks that went off at random periods, usually under the tires of the players at the least opportune moment.
We resumed our set after this break, and leaped right into the dance set. The guests came down and settled into some serious fun. We went straight through for about an hour...then ran out of light. We closed with "La Bamba," per our usual way.
Our host was very generous and gracious as we started to tear down, and invited us to stay and watch the fireworks (and enjoy some more libations.) We, however, were anxious to avoid the crowds leaving town (and even more anxious to avoid the supposed DUI check points on the long way out of town.) We got home by 10 (only a little concerned by our gas light coming on halfway down the back side of a very mountainous, dark, curving road...but the Element persevered and got us to the local Valero gas station.)
All in all, I would consider this a success. Each gig is a learning experience that provides a wealth of opportunity to screw up, and how we recovered from each potential disaster is a sign of how we are maturing as a band.
I want to give a shout-out to Danny, who for his second gig, managed to do a very credible performance. He was the first one to have issues with his amp cutting out, and I know that didn't help his nervous condition; but he pulled through like a trooper.
Pat also did a great job of really selling the songs, dancing about, and visiting each of us and singing with each of us. You could feel the energy coming off her and it was infectious. Some young ladies (the 12-14 year old variety) came up and wanted to sing with her; the Colonel said they could sing along with "I've Got The Music In Me" but warned them not to screw up the singer. The girls all clustered around his mike and whispered their lines as their cue came up. It was really cute to watch.
I got a kick out of Rob the Drummer and Hector the Bass Player wearing matching kangol hats, which they obtained in Las Vegas on their recent trip. They are both Beatles fanatics, and their style of playing reflects their love of all things Beatles.
Well, folks, it was a fun time and a great day...but this chick's beat to a frazzle. Going to go recoup for the next gig on the 17th! =o)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ooops....MY BAD

I really, really dropped the ball, folks. I forgot to mention (in our last gig) that we have a NEW MEMBER!! Danny The Guitar Dude, AKA Esteban (on account of his long hair and his ability to amaze with his fingerpicking skills.) Danny joined us towards the end of April and has been a great asset, allowing me to focus more on my keyboarding and singing abilities and bringing a new dimension to the guitar sounds. His first gig was our last one, in Teh Nard, and I bet no one noticed that he was a bit nervous! He did excellent! He's too modest to talk about himself, so I will put words in his mouth. He likes all kinds of music. He's the guitarist for his church choir and is a very talented young man. Stop by at our next gig and welcome him into the mix! And Danny, I apologize again for not updating the blog sooner...sickness, vacation, and a mix of laziness and too much work got in the way, dude--it won't happen again. :-(