Play The Piano Drunk…

"Your setting of [Bukowski's] words is masterful. Multi-layered, funny, touching, great recording. Play it loud! I recommend it highly." (Philip Aaberg, composer & pianist, MN)

"The interlocked harmoniesd polyrhythms just blow me away. Why have you been hiding out all this time?" (Phil Stone, composer, Bay Area, CA)

Discovering Charles Bukowski’s work in a San Francisco bookstore in the 1980’s, I didn’t know what to make of it. Poetry had always been a difficult read, something to absorb in small bites in a quiet room, with total concentration. Yet the clarity and visceral intensity of his writing grabbed me instantly, and images from those first poems are still vivid. But I had little money for books back then, and after a while I forgot about it.

I rediscovered his work in 2005, and I couldn't get enough of it. I was struck especially by the lyrical quality of the writing. Melodies and rhythms seemed to jump off the page and into my ears, and so I started making (musical) notes in the book margins. Plans for a song cycle soon developed.

Nearly five years later, twelve songs have been completed. These are generally word-for-word adaptations of his poems from several published volumes: Love is a Dog from Hell, The People Look Like Flowers at Last, Bone Palace Ballet, Betting on the Muse, Slouching Toward Nirvana. The album cover lists the name of the original poem next to the song title, for those inclined to look them up. In several cases, a few words or phrases were repeated. The songs are enclosed by a short Prelude, beginning with a quote from The Celebrated Chop Waltz (aka Chopsticks), and a six-voice Fugue lasting nearly eleven minutes.

Whenever a dead poet’s work is set to music, the composer runs the risk of imposing his own ego and interpretation on words meant to stand alone, often to


the detriment of both words and music. Thus, the greatest musical challenge is to hear the music in the poems and write it down, in the style that best serves the text. Just as Bukowski’s words flow without being forced, so must the music, In fact, most of his poems don’t lend themselves easily to translation as musical lyrics, but there are a few exceptions here and there. In any case, these are, I believe, the first musical settings of these twelve poems.

The title comes from another one of his volumes: PLAY THE PIANO DRUNK LIKE A PERCUSSION INSTRUMENT UNTIL THE FINGERS BEGIN TO BLEED A BIT. The album cover illustration is Bukowski’s own drawing for the first edition (provided by The Huntington Library in Gardena, California, with the permission of Linda Lee Bukowski). None of the poems from that book have been used here, but the title's image was overwhelming. Although Bukowski never (to my knowledge) learned to play the piano, he was a “classical music freak”, and the piano was often used as a metaphor for his “typer,” or his work in general. Many of the poems selected for this set discuss creatvity and its side-effects.

Except as noted on the song list, all parts were performed by a virtual orchestra of digital instrument samples. Each song is scored for a subset of the following instruments:flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone (doubles baritone); trumpet, trombone, tuba; electric guitar (doubles steel-string acoustic), electric bass guitar; keyboards, 6 players (2 pianos, Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, synthesizer); percussion (timpani, marimba, trap set (kick, snare, toms, 2 ride cymbals, hi-hat), bass drum, snare drums, tom-toms, timbales, gongs, suspended cymbals, temple blocks, wood blocks, maracas, castanets, shaker, tambourine, triangle, agogo bells); 2 harps; 2 violins, 2 violas, cello, double bass.

Andy Hagerman performed the bass guitar parts on four songs (as noted), and Latin percussionist Steve Thornton added several ad libitum parts (congas, shakers, bongos, cascara, cymbal, triangle, rain stick, cymbal, wind chimes).

Critical to making this music work is the right kind of singer, someone with a less "classical-sounding" voice but with formidable technical skills and a wide vocal range. As the composition neared completion and I began considering the possibility of actually erecording it, I realized that my friend Pau Amrod would be the ideal vocalist, and he graciously agreed to the task.

When the vocal recording was finished, I suggested the possibility of him writing something to fill out the CD album that was related in some way. He responded with a piano composition, Variations On a Drunk Piano, included here as a bonus track.

"... would love to pick your brains for more details about your amazing work. I’m a big fan of your music and artistry! I'm especially fond of tracks 13 & 14." (Randolf Arriola, guitarist & composer, Singapore)

I thoroughly enjoyed the CD. I knew from the opening that I was in for something unpretentious and fun, yet sophisticated. And I laughed out loud when I got to 'This Poet'."(M.O., New York, NY)

Track List - Click on titles to hear excerpts

* Complete version and full score at

1-14 Play The Piano Drunk... (John Melcher) 62:37


    (original poem)      
1 Prelude (2)(3)*   3:44    
2 Christmas Eve Alone Christmas eve, alone 3:33
3 This Poet this poet 1:53    
4 You Beast (2) you 1:42    
5 My Piano Chopin Bukowski 3:36    
6 Play The Piano Drunk inverted love song 5:59    
7 The Composer (1) how to get rid of the purists 3:11  
8 Beer Is All There Is (3) beer 3:49    
9 Schoolgirls (3) girls in pantyhose 6:33    
10 The Girls We Followed Home the girls we followed home 5:22    
11 Nights You Fight Best regardless 2:38    
12 Once Young so now? 5:20    
13 A Good Poem (3) defining the magic 2:39  
14 Fugue (Fingers Begin to Bleed) (2)*   11:12  

The Lomluka Foni Sinfonia:

  Paul Amrod, lead vocals      
  John Melcher, narrator (1), orchestra programming, background vocals      
  Steve Thornton, Latin percussion (2)      
  Andrew Hagerman, bass guitar (3)      
15 Variations On a Drunk Piano (Paul Amrod) 9:00    
  Paul Amrod, piano solo      


"... incredible new record ... the music, and Melcher himself, are the real deal..." (Michael J. Philips, Los Angeles, CA - moderator of

 "Love the tune (Christmas Eve Alone)... Bukowski runs into someone influenced by Zappa. Dig the interval jumps in the melody." (David Gennaro, New York, NY)

Henry Charles Bukowski was an American poet, novelist and short-story writer. Born in Andernach, Germany in 1920, the son of a US soldier and his German wife, the family immigrated to the US in 1922 and settled in Los Angeles. After graduating from high school, Bukowski studied for a year at Los Angeles City College. He left home in 1941, after his father read his stories and threw his possessions onto the lawn. During World War II, he lived as a hobo and skid row alcoholic, travelling across America and working odd jobs. His first story was published in 1944. Working at the Post Office, he nearly died in 1955 from an alcohol-induced bleeding ulcer.

In 1955, Bukowski began writing poetry. His first self-published volume, Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail was published in 1959. He gradually established a small but loyal following for his raw and honest depictions of down-and-out people. He left his job in 1970, when John Martin, founder of Black Sparrow Press offered him $100 a month for life to write full time. Soon after, his first novel, Post Office was published.


photograph by Linda Lee Bukowski

By the end of the 1970s, he was perhaps the most popular American writer in Germany, and also had a large following in France and other parts of Europe, Yet he remained virtually unknown in the US except among his hard-core fans. In 1985, Bukowski married Linda Lee Beighle, a health food store owner. beginning a more stable period of his life. The Last Night of the Earth Poems was his last book published during his lifetime. He died of leukemia on March 9, 1994 in Los Angeles.

In his short story collection Hot Water Music, Bukowski wrote: “There are so many … who go by the name of poet. But they have no training, no feeling for their craft. The savages have taken over the castle. There’s no workmanship, no care, simply a demand to be accepted.”


John Melcher has spent most of his life outside the world of “New Music”, preferring to follow a creative path free of financial compromises, and “all the traps that come with being labeled a success.” Born in Indianapolis in 1951, Melcher studied violin and clarinet, played guitar in a school rock band, and then began writing orchestra music in high school. After graduation, he studied privately with composer and lifelong mentor Thomas Briccetti, followed by two years at Juilliard, simultaneously working with the Buchla synthesizer at New York University’s Intermedia Studio.

Returning to Indianapolis, he held various jobs while composing in his free time. He moved to San Francisco in 1975 and worked as a piano technician, whose clients included The Grateful Dead and other local bands.

Soon after arriving in California, he began developing a different style of tonality and rhythm, with extremely complex metric structures that presented major performance challenges. After several under-rehearsed and disappointing performances, and tiring of the politics of trying to get a new work performed, he gradually gave up trying to have his music played, piling up completed scores on a shelf, unplayed,

photo by Piroon Somboonsup

In 1981, he borrowed an Apple II computer that was equipped with special sound synthesizer hardware and some rudimentary scoring software, which held the promise of complete control over the performance process, and he soon began writing music software for Passport Designs, including the first MIDI recording applications available in the US. In 1985, he produced a concert of hismusic for MIDI synthesizers, plus pianist Philip Aaberg and avant-garde vocalist Pamela Z, one of the first concerts to feature computers as a "live" performer.

But by 1994, Melcher had lost all interest in performances or recordings of his work. After producing a private album using then-new direct-to-disk recording technology, he made a few cassette copies, erased the master files, sold his equipment and moved back to Indianapolis, again holding down a day job and composing at night. A job opportunity sent him to Thailand in 1997, where he currently lives and now composes full time. Many examples of his work may be found on his web

Paul Amrod is a symphonic composer who has successfully integrated his passionate interest in many popular music styles with a rigorous classical training. Born in Chatauegay, New York in 1951, he began his musical career as a rock-and-roll piano player. After earning a Master’s Degree in composition from Juilliard (where he and John Melcher were close friends, and briefly, roommates), he spent several years in New York performing jazz and rock piano and arranging for A&M Records.

Amrod moved to Germany in 1981 and now lives in Konstanz, where he remains active as a composer, conductor, pianist and singer in a wide variety of genres. His orchestral works have been performed and broadcast by many German orchestras, and he performed and toured North Africa in an ensemble with Sudanese musician Mohammed Badawi.

An extremely prolific composer, Amrod has completed (as of 2011) 18 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 60 piano sonatas and dozens of other works in a variety of formats. Many of his scores are available from LOAD.CD, and his web site



Steve Thornton is a Brooklyn, New York native who moved with his family to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1997. A long-time member of the Sadao Watanabe Group, he’s also performed and recorded with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Mongo Santamaria, McCoy Tyner, Tracy Chapman, Mariah Carey, and Michael Jackson.

He recently released a solo album, Nature’s Plan, and appeared on a CD with Japanese jazz vocalist Keiko Lee. He also performs locally with Rahan, an Islamic group that sings nasyids, traditional religious hymns accompanied with percussion.

His DVD, The Rhythmic Construction of World Music, is available from Latin Percussion (

Andrew Hagerman is an American bass guitarist, classical tubist, music arranger and technical writer currently making his home in Tokyo. Born in upstate New York, his musical experience ranges from work with the Disney Corporation to the American Museum of National History.

In addition to his musical pursuits, he is also deeply involved in music production, and he manages Asia-Pacific training programs for Avid Technology.


The Lomluka Sinfonia is the name of the “virtual orchestra” that John Melcher has used to realize most of his compositions since 1990. It’s both a physical collection of interconnected computers running music synthesis, recording/editing and notation software, and an approach to composition and orchestration that attempts to emulate the sound and texture of a real orchestra; none of the basic orchestra parts were performed in real time. Constantly evolving, this recording used Gigastudio 3.0 with several sound libraries, Reason, and several Pro Tools virtual instrument plug-ins ( Strike, Velvet, Xpand, Hybrid, Vacuum). The pianos are actually Gigapiano, a sampled Yamaha grand piano. Digital 48 kHz, 24-bit audio was input to a Pro Tools HD system for recording, mixing and mastering.  More information about this technology is available at



"Christmas Eve Alone shines most because of its orchestral part and percussion underpinning. However, all three tracks[posted on] are quite good... These tracks develop as they go. Yes, it's experimental music. Nevertheless it is also melodic and quite interesting." (Dan MacIntosh,
"I got your CD about a month ago. It's great travel music for cruising home from work at 2:00 am. I would classify it as Indie-Experimental. I can really hear your love of Zappa's music in it, while still being its own style." (J.C., Dallas, TX)

Where to buy Play The Piano Drunk..


  Worldwide Worldwide Austria Thailand


Digital downloads:












"A very unique and original project..." (P.Y., Gardena, CA)
"You are a wild and crazy guy! Very innovative." (C.A., Bangkok, Thailand)

"Congratulations on your work. Good job." (Miguel H. Fort Worth, TX)

Album credits

Produced, recorded and mixed by John Melcher in Pathum Thani, Thailand.

Vocals recorded at Hubl Greiner Studio, Konstanz, Germany.

Cover graphic design by John Melcher.

Cover illustration by Charles Bukowski, provided by The Huntington Library, San Marino, California and used by permission.

Photograph of Charles Bukowski by Linda Lee Bukowski, used by permission.

Photographs of John Melcher by Piroon Somboonsoop.

Special thanks to Paul Yamamoto, Jeerasak Roopleykha, Marc Ostrow, Esq.

Special thanks to The Literary Estate of Charles Bukowski and to Linda Lee Bukowski for their support.