It started with a phone call. My friend from high school, Larry Wang called me up one day and told me his co-worker was looking for a bass player.
That was the beginning of it.
Abbot McKinney called sometime within the next week and we talked about jamming. If I’m not mistaken, this was August 1994. Perhaps even August 13, 1994. I think it was about a month before we actually got together.
I don’t recall if I got a ride, or if Abbot came to pick me up with my bass amps and bass to go down to Secret Studios on Cesar Chavez. I knew the place. I’d had a studio there from late 1992 to Easter of 1993 when my band at the time, Not Gonna Do It, recorded and broke up. That room, in the back of the building was very cold. Of course, probably most of that time I remember was playing during winter so, whatever.
Fred Barryessa was there at the studio to meet us. They shared a room down the first hallway in this place. The studio building was once used for filming the NBC show Midnight Caller with none other than the actor who played Lumbergh from Office Space. I remember it because some schoolmates from middle school had been extras on the show, but I digress.
We jammed for the first time that night. And I agreed to come back. I think the second or third time, I just decided to leave my amp there. It was a message to them that I was serious about working with them. I seem to recall that it was going to be a few days, or another week and I probably didn’t want to move my gear back home and then bring it back again. They were cool dudes.
We set about playing together every week, 2 or 3 times a week. It was fun. Abbot had some parts they had been working on, so we worked those up a bit, and jammed on other things. I think I started throwing some of my stuff into the mix. There was one thing I had which I had on a tape labeled Number 6. It was something I recorded after I’d broken up with a girlfriend, and was very inspired and fiery. Eventually, we had worked it into a proto-song. By November, we’d started talking about getting a singer, and since I’d worked with one in two other bands, I suggested her. Mary Deschevan was tiny, but had a big voice. Although, she wasn’t the greatest singer, I thought maybe she could work. I suspect we brought her down to meet us, listen to some stuff and then we sent her off with a four-track recording of tunes. She was going to try to work up some versions of her singing over the tunes. We didn’t know what we wanted so it was hard to tell her what she should do. I still think some of that is interesting, but ultimately we opted to keep looking. Later, we did find out she had mentioned us to a friend of hers.
Sometime in early 1995, we’d connected with a singer. I don’t remember his name at all, but I remember that he was from New York. His room was down the halls from ours at the studio and we arranged a time to meet and listen to some of his stuff. I don’t really recall what it was like but maybe I vaguely think it was along the lines of Bono from U2. You know, that style. It seemed like maybe our two styles could morph into something cool and set a time for him to jam with us. He brought his P.A. down the hall to our room. But before we got started playing, Fred said something wrong. If I remember correctly, he said “well, we’re not going to play your songs”, which brought immediate discontent to the room. I think what Fred meant was that we were going to come up with new songs. Later, I would understand that Fred would say things that others might find offensive, but clearly, it was miscommunication, not intent to insult. But that isn’t what was realized then. This guy flew off the handle. “What do you mean?! I just brought my P.A. all the way down here and set it up!” He was upset, and as fast as he’d come down the hallway to our room, he was gone. Back to his room fifty feet away.
Sometime later, Fred had run into a singer at a party. Turned out, this guy, Michael Valley, was friends with Mary. She had mentioned us to him back when it didn’t work out with her. They talk and maybe a week later he comes down to the studio. We jam on some stuff of ours and he sings over it a bit. He must’ve played some of his music as well. It sounded good and I knew right away, this could really work. Abbot was way into it. Maybe a little too excited. But, you need to understand, we’d been looking for a good singer, and here he was. He had a great sound to his voice. Michael was taken aback a bit and told us as he packed up “don’t call me, I’ll call you”. It wasn’t exactly like that, but that was the gist of it. We didn’t hear from him.
Again, back at some party, weeks later Fred runs into Michael again and this time Michael is asking if we’d like to be his back up band to record some of his songs. He would pay for the studio time, and any costs, and we’d get the experience. Plus, we’d have this studio recording of us. Of course we jump at it. We begin rehearsing with Michael and going over his songs. There were about seven songs that we worked on for a couple months. The recording studio was just down the hall, maybe even next to that other guys room. We went in early June 1995 to lay down the basic tracks. Drums, bass, guitars, and scratch vocals. The guitars may have been re-recorded but I’m not sure as I wasn’t in those sessions. I was done with my part the first day. I heard that there were some intense lead guitar sessions with Abbot and Michael. I’m not sure Abbot was doing what Michael really wanted and well, Abbot wasn’t really a lead guitarist. At least he wasn’t at that point. But after that first day of recording, it sounded so good, we discussed perhaps actually becoming a band and playing these songs out live. It was what I wanted to do. I had been in three bands at this point that had played gigs.
We worked the rest of that summer to get in form, rehearsing those songs and re-working the proto-songs which Fred, Abbot and I had prior to meeting Michael. At least one of them was just kept as an instrumental, but one of Abbot’s songs “No Son Bienvenidas” worked perfectly with vocals. It became a staple in our future live sets, and I would even sing back up vocals in it. Somewhere along the way, we settled on our name Shift Vision. I’m not sure who came up with it. It was one of those situations where everyone put names down on to a sheet of paper and we went through them all. I think I had come up with the Shift part of it. It was from some comic book character which I’d had a collector card of. After a couple months of rehearsing several times a week, our set got tighter. Our first gig was at the Alameda Saloon in August of that year and was a total blast, and well received among those watching. It would be the last one where Michael would have hair. He showed up at the next rehearsal with a shaved head, while it was strange at the time, made total sense. My hair was halfway down my back at the time, not having cut it for about six years.
The band continued on performing gigs. The recording we made was fashioned into the last great demo tape. While CDs would take over not soon after, people still had tape cassette decks in their cars at this time. It was five songs of ballsy rock. If they had put us on stage with STP or Soundgarden, we would’ve fit right in. At least that’s what I thought. We might have needed some more work, but I knew I was doing everything I could. I would listen to rehearsal tapes all the time, getting better at singing and playing my parts on bass. I wanted it to be the best it could be. And I knew that required work.
We continued to play into 1996, playing more and more shows. We started recording another batch of songs that summer. This was now us as a band, not just Michael’s recording project so it had a different vibe to it. We’d been working through the songs for months. Everyone had input. Musically, it was mostly Michael and Abbot. I did throw in one song. There was another I had which I would’ve loved to have recorded, but for some reason it wasn’t considered. Eventually, we considered a manager. There were band photos. More gigs. Girlfriends. Sometimes, it was only girlfriends at the shows. I knew to have a following, you needed to do promotion. You needed to sound good, but you had to get your name and music out there. You couldn’t just book the gigs and expect that people would show up. This was 1996 and things were changing fast. I was unaware of the electronic music scene which was happening and clearly taking over. Rock music was taking a back seat in our local area. I just know, shows weren’t full. Then, it became almost a chore. We played a gig in Fremont at a club which called itself, the only club that didn’t suck. When we got there, there was something else going on, a band was shooting a video and we couldn’t go in. They weren’t finished. I remember being pissed off. When we finally played, I don’t think there was anyone left in the club. It was frustrating. Unfortunately, this became the norm with this band. Almost no one was there to see us. I couldn’t understand it but it was happening.
In early 1997, we had a gig which was a battle of the bands. This would be the first one I would experience. I would grow to lothe them, but this was a really good experience. Maybe even the best. But not for the reasons I expected. Let me backtrack. Our guitar player Abbot had been stranded in Reno with his fiance. There was rain and some biblical flood and they couldn’t get out of there because the airport was closed so Abbot would miss this gig. We played it as a trio. Guitar, Bass, Drums, Vocals. No lead guitar. No noise. It was the first time I’d heard it. It was the first time I’d not played with Abbot since we started in September of 1994. That sound would change things down the road. But for the battle of the bands, we just won, and moved on to the next round. The only thing, they told us, was that we would have to play the next round as a trio. We couldn’t bring in our missing guitar player. While we opted out of the next round due to a more important gig opening for Gary Hoey at The Edge in Palo Alto, I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened if we’d played the battle of the bands. I can’t imagine the prize was worth much. But I suppose I was the one who won when I heard that sound.
The Gary Hoey gig was stellar. It was a high point in the band’s career. The roar of 400 people in that club on a sunday night still reverberates in my ears. Despite one major flub during our set, we filled that hall with our rock like no others. I still think we played better music than the supporting act, whomever they were, but that mistake was friggin’ hilarious. What happened was that we would normally have scheduled breaks in sets. Usually after three songs, there would be a minute break for tuning or to catch breath or whatever, then back into the music. But, something happened after song two where we had to take a short break. When we went back into the music, I started song three, and Fred started song four. There was a moment that didn’t sound right. I just kept driving the bass, and Fred recovered quickly enough after a pause. We probably noticed it the most, but the key there in that is no matter what you do in life, something is going to go wrong, and you have to roll with the punches or keep with the old adage “The show must go on”. And it did. We were on a high after this gig. But, that ended up being the peak with this band. We kept playing that year and tried to keep things going but there were some personal issues which kept us from realizing our potential. Abbot would get married that summer, thus keeping his guitar sound out of some rehearsals. At this point we had a manager and booking agent. I don’t think we paid them much, if anything at all. We had finished our second recording and made it into a CD, complete with a case, artwork, lyrics, and thank you’s. This was another tool to get gigs, or if a miracle happened, a following. We had a band meeting at a pizza place for us all to get on the same page, but I realized by the end of it that we weren’t on the same page. I had had some issues with Fred. He had said something to me which bothered me. Once again, probably not his intention to insult or belittle, but I took it that way. I was only 25 at the time. It festered and we almost came to physical blows one night at our managers house. I don’t know how we resolved it. I’m not sure anyone was to blame, but I’m sure I could’ve handled it more maturely. Then, the worst happened. The gig that ended the band.
Friday, October 3rd, 1997 the San Francisco Giants were playing the Florida Marlins. I’m not sure if it were game four or what, but the Giants lost that night. The Marlins would go on to win the world series. That same night Shift Vision would be performing at Route 66 in Burlingame with Dixie Star, a band that I admired quite a bit. I had hoped we would play well, enough for them to notice. Our booking agent was friends with them, and they just had a real cool sound. Well, something happened on stage when we played that was akin to someone knocking down that first domino, and them bones would keep falling. Abbot broke a string. Instead of proceeding with the next song, we decided to jam for a bit while Abbot, who should’ve had his back up guitar tuned and ready, was replacing the string. But he chose the wrong gauge string, which then broke not soon after in that next song. At this point, he reaches for the back up which isn’t tuned, and tunes it up. The thing was, I felt a bit mortified by this. It just felt unprofessional. I had been trying my best to be as good as I could be. It wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t understand then what I know now. You have to let go. We didn’t. Well, no, I guess we did let go. After that gig, Michael disappeared for some time. We watched as the Giants lost. Dixie Star played. Then we packed up our gear and headed back to Secret Studios. I remember driving back with Michael in his truck with my girlfriend in the middle, looking up at the stars and thinking about the band “it’s not in the stars”.
We had another gig coming up that Tuesday so because we played so bad that night, we’d all agreed to rehearse on our usual Sunday afternoon/evening schedule. But this was going to be different. I remember Fred coming into the room saying “Well, I guess I know what everybody is thinking”. He said what we knew already. The band was over. Or maybe, he knew it wasn’t working with him. I think he said something to the effect of that he would leave, and we could get a new drummer. But I knew, and I had suspected Michael had known as well, this band was over. It wasn’t going to work anymore. We talked about it for awhile and agreed that it was for the best to play the last couple gigs and end it. Abbot later told me, he did not see it coming and that it felt like a girlfriend dumping him. I understood, but knew for some time that overall the band wasn’t working. However, I did feel that I had a good thing going with the vocals with Michael. I had tapped into something besides bass guitar, musically – harmony vocals. It had happened for awhile within the band because Abbot and Fred did not sing. Besides Michael, I was the other voice of the band. Actually, that’s not entirely correct. Abbot did sing a bit, but what Michael and I had going on really worked musically. For me, it worked best when I’d been listening to rehearsal tapes and singing over them, stretching my own voice to new limits.
October 8th, 1997 we played the best performance of Shift Vision’s existence. There were other memorable ones, but I think musically, the show we played at Club Cocodrie was by far the greatest. It was a rainy night, and a Tuesday so there really weren’t that many in attendance. We’d broken up so everyone was relaxed. We’d only be playing these songs a few more times. It all worked that night. It just flowed from song to song. Somehow it was perfect. I remember telling someone at the gig that we had broken up but we had a couple more gigs to play and they were baffled at why we would be breaking up. During the next few weeks, I’d start to suss out my next group, and also discussed working with Michael on another recording project of his. By the time we played our last gig on October 25th, it looked like I was joining a blues band. The guitarist was personal friends with John Lee Hooker and we were going to be able to play at the Boom Boom Room.
But that wasn’t to be. As soon as I had agreed to join that project, I declined it. I loved listening to that music, but I thought it was going to be difficult to play – being monotonous compared to what I’d just been doing. Michael and I had agreed to keep the rehearsal room for at least one more month, and were looking for a drummer.
Shift Vision’s last gig was pretty damn good. We had every wheel going on this. People came out for it. Even my cousin drove up from Santa Cruz to see us. It was our last gig. There would not be another. There would never be a reunion show. It was a good set and I can still remember being on the stage at Club Boomerang on Haight Street looking over at Abbot yelling into the microphone as we whipped out a new tune for the last time. It was fun. This is what it’s supposed to be about. Playing for a bunch of your friends, with your friends on stage in the band with you. That’s what music is about to me. Let’s play and have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously. I talked to a drummer after that gig, telling him that Michael and I were looking for someone for a project. I also may have had words with my cousin about the same subject.
And Shift Vision blurred from existence.
– George Sherman, bass player.
(P.S. all names have been changed to protect the innocent, or not-so-innocent)