Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Musical Life - Part 5

So Middleman broke up in June 1992, and I was at a loss for what to do next. I would have been most happy to keep making music with Gary, the saxophonist - we'd become good friends and really dug each other's sound. But Gary decided to head out to L.A. to try his luck. For the rest of the year, I did pick-up gigs here and there, including a stint on keys in a blues band, and wrote some more music. You'd think I'd have kept writing contemporary jazz, since I'd made the switch from rock comfortably while in Middleman and had been studying a lot of jazz at home. I did a little of that, but mostly I went back to writing hard somewhat progressive rock and metal. I'd become a big King's X fan, and that influenced what I was writing in late '92 and early '93. The material was broadly more '90s sounding that what I'd been writing a few years before, because I was still keeping up with current trends in music pretty well.

I wrote maybe seven or eight hard rock tunes, but I didn't have anywhere to go with them - I wasn't playing with a band, and I was having financial trouble and couldn't afford to get a good enough guitar rig to take this stuff to the stage anyway. But Gary had returned to town from L.A. in early '93, and he'd started working with a bass player, Mike, that he'd been playing with before Middleman. That band was called Flashpoint, and did the same sort of material Middleman did (excepting Middleman's vocal tunes) - the main difference was that Flashpoint used sequenced tracks onstage. So Gary and Mike were resurrecting Flashpoint, and the drummer John from Middleman joined up and so did I. Sort of a Middleman II, with me playing both guitar and keys instead of just keys. We wrote a few new tracks, but most of the stuff we played was Mike's since he'd already sequenced the backing tracks to it. We also did jazz covers, some cool stuff - Miles, John Scofield, Herbie Hancock; Flashpoint got closer at times to actual jazz than Middleman ever really did. We didn't practice a lot, but we played a lot of dinnertime gigs at a couple of different restaurants. We talked occasionally about going further, we went into the studio to record a few songs once, we had a few feelers from various regional and national acts looking for backing bands that didn't come through...overall it was an enjoyable gig. Gary's sax playing was getting monstrously good - just sharing a stage with him was enough to make the venture worthwhile for me. And I liked getting to play musician's music on multiple instruments.

The other thing I started doing more of about this time is fill-in gigs. Now that I'd played with a few bands, more people knew me, so I'd get some of those calls, and I pretty much always needed the money. My ability to learn quickly by ear was a big help here, as was being able to play guitar, keys or bass as needed. Over the years I filled in doing a little of a lot of different things: reggae, country, rap, Latin, R & B, straight-ahead jazz, blues, rock....I didn't do everything all that well, but I could fake it well enough in a pinch. A utility infielder.

I only wrote a little bit for Flashpoint - my jazz writing was really feeling blocked. But in late 1993, I did start a new writing project at home. Wrote and recorded five songs in about a month, which is a whole lot for me. The music for the new songs was hard rock, but not guitar rock: it was done entirely with my two synthesizers and effects pedals. Lots of wild, busy parts. The craziest of the bunch was a song called Alpha Male, which featured a sequenced bass line at breakneck tempos, samples from a radio preacher, barked spoken-word vocals (some might call it rapping, but I wouldn't), heavily distorted harmonized keyboard comping and leads...gruesome fun, way over the top. I'm not sure it was even playable live. Another one I wish I still had a copy of and might remake sometime...the project as a whole fired me up again musically.

The lyrics for the music I wrote in 1993 were often scathingly cynical, not that cheery jingles emerge from me in the best of times. I'd had a relationship go bad early in the year, and I had money problems, and the whole year hurt like hell.

Back to the all-synth project, I had the thought that I'd like to finish this project and then get a band together to play it...but as with other projects before, that didn't happen. The next year, year and half was a lot of drifting. I ran out of good ideas and motivation for the synth project, and I found my tastes going further into 70s funk and soul (regular and blue-eyed). Isley Brothers, late 70s Hall and Oates, the O'Jays, the Spinners, Boz Scaggs, Stevie Wonder. Also listened to a lot of mid-70s Black Sabbath. What that cloud of music suggested to me was a dusty, desperate, resigned sort of sound. And I was getting pretty used to the feeling of resignation about '94 I did a lot of scratch-pad demos at home, just brainstorming, and what started coming out was a cross between those soulful sounds, with some Steely Dan influence thrown in, and my usual harder guitar rock sound (though with a more classic, bluesier, less metallic tone). I got the sense even in the earliest days of that brainstorming that I might at last be finding my voice as a composer. Up to that point I'd tried many styles but none really seemed to be uniquely me.

No comments:

Post a Comment