Brian and I ended up co-producing my first solo album, Dog Days, over a three-year period, during which I strengthened my voice and the songs by performing in area cafes and clubs as a solo act, and Brian sharpened his ears at The Recording Workshop in southern Ohio. "I call it my audio boot camp," he says, "since it was 12-hour days and I lived in a tiny cabin in the woods with four other dudes."
When we celebrated the release of Dog Days in February 2008 at Akron's Musica Concert Club, Brian both played guitar in my "Sad Bastard Band" and performed a set of his own as The Fascist Puppeteer. These were the days of MySpace, and Brian had been posting music under this cheeky, one-man-band production pseudonym that people seemed to love, especially his rap song parody, "Shit Son".
The CD release concert was surprisingly well-attended. Brian hadn't played a live show in ages, and his stealthy draw, combined with the audience I'd been building through the 130+ gigs I'd played in the area over the previous couple of years—plus some relentless promotion aided by a friend who was working in public relations at the time—lead to a crowded event that paved the way for us to continue putting together our own concert bills at that club for years to come.
"Secondhand" music video, filmed at the DOG DAYS CD Release show on Feb. 23, 2008
Uncle Jack lost his wife Debbie to cancer in April of 2008, and he, too, turned to music for solace, strength, and community. Jack got back behind the drums and began sitting in on Hartlaub family jam sessions that also included his old Bushmen friends Ronnie and Larry. When putting together the lineup for my next CD release show, I seized on the opportunity to reunite The Bushmen as the opening act and to do a few songs in my set with an "All-Ullman Band." This excerpt from the December 2009 press release captures the excitement I was feeling in the lead-up to the gig:
"Rehearsing with my dad, uncle, and brother for this show has been amazing. Music has always been a big part of our family. My dad taught my brother and I to play guitar when we were quite young, but he hasn't played as much in recent years. It has been so great working together like this. I sometimes jokingly refer to my music as 'Sad Bastard Songs,' but you should see the smiles on our faces during practice!"
It was a special evening for us. Wearing a Beatles ball cap, my dad led The Bushmen in a rockin' set of songs from the likes of The Rivieras, Eddie Cochran, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Eric Clapton, and (of course!) The Beatles—ending in a rousing rendition of "Wipe Out" with Jack drawing uproarious applause. Watching the OG Ullman Brothers step into their on-stage roles for the first time in my life was transcendent. Dad was squaring off with Larry for guitar-dueling stage shuffles, making middle-aged musician jokes, and peppering the setlist with tales of their group origins and poignant tributes to those who couldn't be in attendance. At the end of my set, Jack got back behind the drums, Dad threw on the bass guitar, and Brian joined in on lead for a couple of my originals before closing the mini All-Ullman-Band set with a crowd-pleasing cover of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline".
December 19, 2009. Photos by Matt Jackson.
We followed up this reunion show with a couple of other area appearances, including one hometown tavern gig in Rittman that was so well attended that the bar actually ran out of beer!