There are many things in my life that bring me overwhelming joy; Jakob, mini Snickers, Pizza, good beer, my friends, long drives listening to good music, and – of course – Netflix. It must be said that one of my greatest joys, ever, is the little duo known only as Tiny Frank.
I first picked up the guitar at the age of 19. AA, DD, EE, DD = the first chords I learned in the order I learned them. Think the song “Wild Thing” by The Troggs, and you can hear it. From there, I sat down with different books I could find and figured out how to play songs that I loved. Next thing you know, I had my first original. A song called “A Lovely Shade of Green”. I was very Catholic then, so the song is filled with deep messages of gratitude and faith. I couldn’t play it for you now if I tried. Only because, I don’t remember how it went.
The next phase in my music was very folk influenced. Lots of songs about being madly in love with beautiful girls. My romantic period, as it were. I remember one song in particular is called “Flower Child” – because, at the time, I was madly in love with hippy chicks. Embarrassingly cheesy lyrics, like “She sits in a meadow…” and on and on. Then there was “Moon Dancer”, written for my friend Anastasia – “Moon Dancer/purple sky and roses blue/these things speak of you”. Blugh! There was one song I titled “Below The Root” that I remember being oddly wise for how old I was. Very Cat Stevens influenced. Sorry, can’t remember it.
It was during this period of writing that I began to play open-mic nights. My friend Todd encouraged me after I reluctantly played my originals for him. I played my first coffee shop open-mic at what was Rumors Coffee House in OB sometime in 1992/3. It was the beginning of the end.
Many years passed before I wrote another song, or even picked up my guitar. I would try, but I felt no inspiration – and everything I played felt boring. I even moved to Seattle to give that a try, but to no avail.
During this period, I looked for a band. Other people to play with, who might inspire me again and help me to grow. No matter how hard I tried, I knew from the moment the first chord was struck that it wasn’t going to work out. And, it never did. I was always left empty and wanting more.
Then, suddenly, a new batch of originals. Songs like “Fat Lady”, “Cheeseburgers Blues” and “Verse”. All a little more blues influenced without a complete folk departure, and personal growth reflected in the lyrics. Also, I finally allowed some of my sense of humor to show, which was a very important step for me as a lyricist. One of my favorites from that time is a song I never play at all anymore, but still love, called “Too Many Times Too Feel”. Inspired by one night sitting on the wall in OB looking out over the surf, it is both beautiful and lonely. Quite possibly the most honest song I had ever written. I find it difficult to play now as it was from another time and feels a little corny.
I decided to invest in a Tascam four track, and in one afternoon I recorded my first ever demo. Terrible quality, and I am trying way too hard to sound good instead of just being honest. I was still very proud of it, and will go back sometimes just to say hi.
I tried many times to, once again, find someone – anyone – to play with. Never once did it work out. Not even a bit.
I am at a party at my friend Amy’s house, and there I meet this group of four people. A guy named Brent, his girlfriend – a hot red-head named Carolyn, another hottie named Sarah, and her obnoxiously tall boyfriend they all called Stretch. We sat in the garage, most of the time, and smoked and talked and enjoyed each others company. Little did I know where this chance encounter would lead me.
Months later, my friend Glen and Lori’s house this time, I ran into Sarah and Stretch again. Oddly enough, the conversation between Stretch and I turned to music. (<- Sarcasm, if you missed it) We had each recorded a solo demo, and exchanged them that night.
The quality and packaging on Stretch’s demo was so much better than mine, and his songs – though covers – were complex and amazing. I started to feel like a douche for my piece of crap originals that were badly recorded in a rushed afternoon. Much to my surprise, when we spoke again he told me he liked them.
Another party at Amy’s, and we are ALL in the garage hanging out. Stretch “happens to have his guitar, and I happened to have mine. So, for the first time, we found ourselves having never played together before all of a sudden entertaining just about all of our friends. I am not exaggerating when I say, it was as if we had played together for years. We knew many of the same songs, both had a natural knack for harmonies, and enjoyed ourselves. Little did anyone know…
As the years went on, and Stretch and I become better friends, i found myself writing again. It wasn’t until sitting in Biology class and going over a strum pattern in my head that I wrote the lyrics, stream of consciousness, to what would become our first original – “Leia As A Slave”. I called Stretch immediately and played it for him. We talked ideas, added some cool musical Star Wars references, and BAM – we were a band… kind of.
I had been hit by some sort of bug, because the songs were flying out of me like poop after too much Olean. “Alabama”, “Monday 6:15”, “Something Strange” and “Opposite of Midas” all within a very short period. And, each time I showed Stretch a new song, he seemed to like it and went on to add his own flavor to each song. To this day, I have difficulty playing a Tiny Frank song without him because it never sounds right to me.
We played and played, and as timer went on our friendship grew into a brotherhood. If I had to pick out the one thing I think makes us a good band, it’s that we are – to this day – just two friends who enjoy playing music. We both love it that it just so happens people enjoy listening to us do so.
To get back on point, I had finally found what I had looked for. I found someone to play music with, whose company in enjoyed even if there wasn’t a guitar in sight. I was in a band.
We needed a name. Threw around a few, but nothing stuck. Somehow, we both kept coming back to a nickname I had jokingly called Jakob one day when he was about three years old. In an Elvis voice, while driving around, I informed him that his name was not Jakob any more, but Frank. Tiny Frank. I then called him that most of the day, still in an Elvis voice. So, while coming up with a name for our little duo, we both kept coming back to that. First jokingly, then it actually started to sound pretty awesome. Possible penis reference aside, I love our name and love its origin. It fits us like a glove. And yes, we have been asked which one of us is Frank.
Now, all these years later, I find myself occasionally sitting across from my brother/friend playing music and writing lyrics that are incredibly reflective of our growth. As people and musicians. Exciting new tales to tell. Songs like, “Ben”, “Pointless”, “Old Brown Funk” and “Got A Feeling (It’s Gonna Be Me)”. And, each one, a collaboration. We are writing them together, and we love them all.
This is my attempt to say thank you to someone who has helped more than anyone will ever know. He has heard me talk about things no one else knows. Has listened with a kind and caring ear, and has been honest with me when I needed it. He always held out his hand to help me up, no matter how many time I fell. He is my brother/friend, and I love him very much.
Thank you Mr. John Christopher Norris. You are an amazing friend, and a mind-blowing musician. I am truly blessed to know you and even more so to be able to make music with you. Thank you for making one of my many dreams come true. You are my brother, and I love you very much for all the times you were there for me.
Oh, and… Tiny Frank RULES!