OOR Magazine (Netherlands), February 2021Review of "The Essential Gary Lucas"
The American Gary Lucas is a remarkable guitarist with a remarkable career, which started in 1980 in the band of Captain Beefheart. Forty years and about as many albums later, he's left his mark on almost all musical genres, and collaborated with a huge amount of people.
On the double CD THE ESSENTIAL Gary Lucas, he's collected 36 tracks that gave color to his 40-year career.
Many of these tracks have never been released before, including a live version from 1980 of "Flavor Bud Living", a solo piece from the Beefheart album "Doc At The Radar Station".
Lucas has developed his own style of fingerpicking. Which is strikingly present in the primal version of Jeff Buckley’s "Grace" here, but also in songs he recorded with funk singer Nona Hendryx, Alan Vega ( Suicide) and David Johansen ( New York Dolls).
The most notable track is his version of "All Along The Watchtower", sung in Mandarin by Chinese singer Feifei Yang.
Gary is a welcome guest in our country. He's done a number of projects with the Metropole Orkestra, from which the beautiful recorded at the Paradiso performance of Buckley’s "Story Without Words" originates. These kinds of live tracks, giving a unique view of the artistry of Gary Lucas, makes this album essential.
Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter, January 2021Review of "The Essential Gary Lucas"
GARY LUCAS with GODS and MONSTERS / ERNIE BROOKS / BILLY FICCA / JONATHAN KANE / JERRY HARRISON / JASON CANDLER / FRANK LONDON / JEAN CHAINE / JARED NICKERSON / ALAN VEGA + DAVID JOHANSEN / ROLO McGINTY / DINA EMERSON / MARY MARGARET O’HARA / FEIFEI YANG / NONA HENDRYX / NAJMA AKHTAR / et al - The Essential Gary Lucas (Knitting Factory Records 018; USA)
The collective personnel for this collection features Gary Lucas on guitars & vocals, Ernie Brooks & Jean Chaine on electric bass, Jerry Harrison on keyboards, Jason Candler on sax and Billy Ficca & Jonathan Kane on drums. For as long as I can remember (mid-sixties), I have been on a mission to find the perfect rock guitar solo. Starting around 1966, I became infatuated with lead guitar plays: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, Jorma Kaukonen, Jerry Garcia, etc. I can still feel that adrenalin rush when one of those pickers plays that classic solo that tells a short story and leaves you breathless. I’ve been checking out Downtown guitar great Gary Lucas, since his days with Captain Beefheart (around 1980) and then emerging as part of the Downtown/Knitting Factory Scene in 1990. I recall his early solo sets at the Knit as well as when he put together the amazing Gods and Monsters band, a band which had some revolving personnel which included the late Jeff Buckley. New York has long been a stronghold for gifted electric guitarists: from John McLaughlin to Danny Kalb to Leslie West fast forwarding to the early Downtown Scene: Fred Frith, Eugene Chadbourne, Bill Frisell, Sonny Sharrock, Robert Quine, Elliott Sharp, Marc Ribot, Vernon Reid and Nels Cline. What makes all of these players great is that they are all unique and beyond the regular categories. Making great music as well as taking powerful guitar solos. Gary is the king of this.
Gary Lucas never ceases to surprise me. Mr. Lucas has recorded around 30 discs since his early solo efforts around 1990. His playing is consistently strong but not so easy to pin down, to any one category. This splendid two CD set starts in 1980 and shows many different sides of Mr. Lucas’ vast palette. Disc One is called ‘Gods and Monsters’ and it consists of several versions of Gods and Monsters, each one very different sound-wise and personnel-wise. “Fata Morgana” opens and shows off Mr. Lucas’ spirited acoustic guitar prowess with some sly slide lines thrown in for good measure. “Evangeline” sounds like a King Arthur-ish fairy tale with nifty laid-back vocals and layers of swirling guitars buzzing together. Although Mr. Lucas vocals have a limited range, he knows how to use them just right by becoming a different character on each song. Lucas also does a fine job of adding various layers of acoustic and electric guitars with selective use of effects, which change from song to song, both his voice and his guitar(s) use different shades and effects throughout. There a number of highlights here: the soul chorus on “Chime On”, the horn section on “Climb the Highest Mountain” and the quietly cosmic e-bow guitar solo on “Let’s Go Swimming”, a rare Arthur Russell cover. Considering that Disc One has some 17 tracks and 78+ minutes long, there is quite a bit to recommend here.
Disc 2 is called ’Solo, Rarities and Collaborations’ and it is again very long with some 19 songs. Mr. Lucas does a number of select covers on this disc: Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, Chinese pop music, Dollar Brand and Leos Janacek. The two Chinese pop songs are done with great care and are touching. The three Captain Beefheart covers are highlights for me. Mr. Lucas was both a manager & a bandmember of the Magic Band in the late seventies/early eighties. Beefheart’s song are idiosyncratic and often difficult to play but Mr. Lucas does a great job of bringing them back to life. Again this disc is very long, more than 70 minutes and I thought it was completely captivating throughout! Mucho bravo to Gary Lucas and his Cosmic Clan!
—Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
Rolling Stone (Italy), 1/29/2021Gary Lucas, La Mia Vita in 10 Canzoni (My Life in 10 Songs)
Translated into Italian, in which I discuss 10 songs from my new 40-year retrospective album that their editors selected—big thanks to Verdiana Garau.
Here is my original piece in English:
Most people probably know my songwriting through “Grace” and “Mojo Pin”—the first two songs on Jeff Buckley’s 2-million selling “Grace” album.
Which is a pity as I have written several hundred songs—in checking now, I see I have 340 compositions listed on the BMI data-base.
And in all modesty, I think some of these songs are right up there with my Jeff Buckley collaborations.
All of these songs of mine are there waiting to be discovered—hopefully via my new 40-year retrospective double album THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS.
Of course I'm very proud of the songs I co-wrote with Jeff, which were 50/50 collaborations.
In fact I wrote a dozen songs with him, which were finally realized in the studio last year on an album I recorded with two great Italian artists, The Niro (Davide Combusti) on vocals and producer Francesco Arpino on keyboards.
Our album “The Complete Jeff Buckley and Gary Lucas Songbook” on the Esordisco label was named Album of the Year by Classic Rock Italia.
The key takeaway here is that all of my song collaborations with other artists—as well as my own songs, where I've written all the words and music—began originally as my own solo guitar instrumentals.
In creating songs, the music of these guitar instrumentals always come first—the lyrics, second.
My rule of thumb generally is that after writing what I think is an intriguing instrumental, I sleep on it...and if I can remember the music the next morning, I have a solid foundation for a new song.
I believe if you strip these instrumentals away from my songs, they can stand alone as evocative, pictorial music.
I have many influences instrumentally. I am passionate about all sorts of music from all over the world, in pretty much every single genre—including rock (especially psychedelic rock), blues, jazz, folk, electronic, classical, and world music.
Regarding my acoustic guitar-playing, I revere folks like the great Deta bluesman Skip James, and English folk guitarists like Bert Jansch and Davy Graham, as well as the American folk master John Fahey.
All these artists used open tunings and very active fingerpicking—a hallmark of my guitar instrumentals—and subsequently most of my songs.
On electric guitar, I love the frenetic “going for the Godhead” approach of folks like Syd Barrett, Lou Reed, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Peter Green, all the guitarists who worked with my original mentor Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart), Hubert Sumlin, Freddy King, and on and on.
The overall main influence on my music is the Blues—the foundational of just about everything I ever have composed or arranged.
The essence of the blues is sliding pitches, microtonal slurs, the cracked or slightly bent note—and I know how to do this expertly on guitar.
It's an emulation of the human voice basically—sobbing or wailing in pain or ecstasy.
This is the essence of humanity to me, the common ground upon which everyone can claim, as we’ve all been there—and which we repeatedly visit throughout our journey forward.
I believe the experience of the Blues is something that unites us as fellow humans on This Island Earth.
Even when I am playing such seemingly disparate music as operatic themes of Richard Wagner, or 30’s Chinese pop on the guitar, there is always a blues element underlying it.
Re my lyric writing. I have been a voracious reader and writer since I was a little boy—writing is second nature to me. Playing with language in my lyrics is in my blood.
I actually was accepted by Yale University after winning a National Council of Teachers of English Award while in high school—and when I arrived at Yale I naturally chose English literature as my major.
So I would cite James Joyce, Shakespeare, Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, Vladimir Nabokov, Wyndham Lewis, TS Eliot, and both the Old and New Testaments as significant influences on my lyric writing—particularly in the songs I write for my longtime avant-rock band Gods and Monsters.
These writers are also an influence on my music as well, in spirit. As is the influence of cinema. It all goes into the mix!
James Joyce, who passed away 80 years ago, is my all-time favorite writer. And “Ulysses” is my favorite book. I have found a lot of strength and comfort reading this book, and have re-read and studied it intensely over many years.
Some of my favorite lines from this amazing journey into the heart and mind of Leopold Bloom, a lower middle-class Irish-Jewish person, include:
“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”
“Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.”
And my favorite:
“God is a shout in the street.”
The spirit of these sentiments animates my songs, although I have never quoted from them directly in my lyrics.
But they are a big influence on my songwriting, as they view the Game of Life as an ongoing mythology—the quotidian behavior of us all mirroring the cosmic dance and struggle of the Greek and Roman gods.
Here are some thoughts on 10 of my songs featured on THE ESSENTIAL GARY LUCAS as told from the inside:
FATA MORGANA—The Italian name given to a particular kind of optical illusion—a chimera, a will ‘o the wisp. In nautical terms, a Fata Morgana is a mirage of land that appears upon the surface of the ocean when meteorological conditions are ripe. Such a mirage has been known to lure sailors to their death—sailors who think they have spotted land in treacherous, uncharted waters, and then run their ships aground on hidden reefs. The name itself comes from Arthurian legend and concerns Morgan Le Fay, an evil sorceress in King Arthur’s Court who was condemned to live in a palace under the sea, where she plotted to shipwreck unsuspecting vessels who came to close to the mirages she summoned up. I was inspired to write the music for this song in 2002 while I was Artist in Residence at the Quebec City Summer Festival for an entire week. One night in the hotel (hotels being my favorite place to compose and write new music), I hit on the fingerpicked guitar motif in a C modal tuning of my own devise. They suggested a turbulent emotional storm, and conjured the image to me of a Succubus, a Femme Fatale, a malevolent temptress whose sweet and deadly allure summons deluded men to their doom. Gods and Monsters really rocked out on this one in the studio, with drummer Billy Ficca (Television) particularly doing a cool take on a Gene Krupa style of drumming, and Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers) seriously pumping that bass. One of my better vocals I think (I had to perfect my singing when I realized I could not count on permanent singers over the long haul).
EVANGELINE—This song was written when I was at a very low point around 1995. I first recorded it for a solo acoustic album of the same name which came out the following year. After releasing three well-regarded albums—“Skeleton at the Feast”, “Gods and Monsters”, and “Bad Boys of the Arctic”—I felt that I'd exhausted my creative faculties—and was seriously worried about my future in music. I’d left a very boring but secure day-job in order to immerse myself in music full-time at the ripe old age of 36—and now I was up to my neck in music! And I felt like my prospects were dim. The whole enterprise just seemed so unstable, the financial rewards few and far between. I loved touring, especially in Europe, but my shows didn’t seem to be leading anywhere, reliable agents turned out to be not so reliable, etc. At what I thought was the very end of my tether, somehow I was inspired to write this song, which is really a paean to the Holy Spirit of Creativity—in my case personified by an unknown Female Muse whom I called Evangeline in this song—whose very name implies the divine and the numinous. This transcendental female energy (known in the Jewish faith as the Shekinah) in my view is the underlying spiritual force of the Universe—and drawing on Her energy pulled me through some very hard times, and gave me the strength to keep going in music when I was ready to quit. I re- recorded this song with Gods and Monsters around 2003 which came out on my album “Coming Clean”—this is the version you are listening to here with Ernie Brooks and Jonathan Kane on bass and drums respectively, and my recording engineer Sasha Van Oertzen providing the wordless background vocals. “Trust in Her / you must endure / the seasons ever changing / face the frost / the hollow cost / of life spent re-arranging / evening bells and wishing well the one who won’t need naming / Evangeline comes claiming”—did you notice the Holocaust reference in line 4? As well as the reference to the Beefheart solo piece that put me on the musical map as a guitarist in line 8? I thought you did!
COMING CLEAN—the title track of my 2006 God and Monsters studio album, the lyrics have a similar theme as “Evangeline”: “Riding on a steel rail / twisting past oblivion / you bend before the wind so frail / giving me the strength to live again.” Strength given by one to the Other, and vice versa. This song also posits the notion of spiritual rebirth and reincarnation: “Like a pebble on the beach / unto a grain of sand / thrown and sown just out of reach / moving freely in His hand / All of us come clean you know / There at journey’s end / waiting for the wave to flow / waiting for a sign to start again”. Although unlike “Evangeline”, here it’s a He, not a Her, that’s being referenced (God is a shout in the street). “Journey’s End” was a play by R.C. Sherriff set in the trenches of World War I and later made into a film directed by the great James Whale (“Bride of Frankenstein”). In fact the very name of my band Gods and Monsters derives from a line in “The Bride of Frankenstein” (one of my favorite films) when one mad scientist toasts another—“To a New World of Gods and Monsters!" “Rising from oblivion / Do not go gentle into that good night”—one of Dylan Thomas’ best known and most beloved poems, and one of Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart)’s favorite quotes (Don was no slouch with lyrics himself). See how everything cross references everything else in my songs? It all adds up. I really enjoyed recording this song and layering various guitar leads in the instrumental break. I then sent it to our friend Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) to re-mix it, and he and his engineer ET Thorngren did an incredible job. So much so that I invited Jerry into the group as keyboardist and producer for our next studio album “The Ordeal of Civility”—and took him with us on tour to the Netherlands and Russia. But that’s another story...
FOLLOW—This may be my most gentle ballad. It was written to be a comfort for people afflicted by AIDS. Since 1977 I've lived in the West Village of Manhattan, where the community was heavily hit by the AIDS plague in the 80’s. My best friend from my college days was one of the first victims. I had him in mind when I wrote this song. It starts very gently and rocks out as well. “When you're feeling low / got no place to go / when the love light doesn’t show / and your friends don’t want to know / Follow “. A lot of my song lyrics are filled with positive energy meant to uplift folks afflicted with feelings of despair (we’ve all been there—the price of being Human). A quiet anthem to cheer people up and hopefully help heal them, which is the best thing I think one can do for anybody. I wrote the words and music in the early 90’s and used to perform this song with the singer Richard Barone, who was my immediate vocal replacement after Jeff left my band in 1992. Richard sang it beautifully and then he too departed. So when it came time to record this with Gods and Monsters in the early 2000’s, guess who the vocalizing fell on? The song has resonance for a lot of folks, even though I never spell out AIDS directly in the lyrics—there’s only an allusion in the line “And you will fast endure / the sickness without cure / Follow free follow sure / In this run through in this race / in this time and in this space / rise to break this petty pace / choose to find a state of Grace”. This line references both a famous passage in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (“and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / creeps in this petty pace day by day / to the last syllable of recorded time”) and also Jeff and Gary’s song “Grace”. I can’t help it, it’s the English literature major in me! Some years after I released this, the comedian Sandra Bernhard, who was so good in Martin Scorsese’s film “The King of Comedy”, invited me to perform ivy song with her singing at a rally in support of Gay Marriage here in NYC, where my friend Lou Reed also performed. She introduced me as “This is the guy who wrote hits for Jeff Buckley!” I was really touched by the crowd response.
GRACE—Perhaps my best ever, certainly my most famous, collaboration. Working with an artist of the caliber of the young Jeff was a total joy, at least in the beginning. I applied my same rule of thumb as I do with everyone I collaborate with in a one-on-one; namely, let them have their total artistic freedom to do whatever feels right to them regarding the music I give them. I am not a dictator—and when it comes to a collaboration you have to respect the choices of your partner, especially if you are not in the same room with them hashing a song out line by line (something I rarely have done). With “Grace”, I had the underlying instrumental halfway written already before I even met or knew that there was a Jeff Buckley. After we hooked up and Jeff agreed to be the singer in Gods and Monsters when my major label deal with a female singer went south, I had to come up with song material for my new partner. In one week in June of 1991 I finished composing this instrumental, which I titled “Rise Up to Be”, and wrote another instrumental which I titled “And You Will”. I gave them these provisional titles as place-markers only—but you can see from their positive message as titles alone that I was trying to “vibe up” Jeff, encouraging him to come to NYC to fulfill his potential in our new collaboration as Gods and Monsters—a name he loved. In August that summer Jeff passed through NYC and come by with full lyrics and top-line melodies for these two solo guitar instrumentals I’d mailed to him on cassette. They sounded totally cool to me—so I arranged for us to go in to Krypton Studios with my then rhythm section—Jared Nickerson on bass and Tony Lewis on drums—to demo them up. This is the “Grace” demo. Sitting there in the studio listening to Jeff wail the lyrics and add some Dylan-esque harmonica gave me chills—and when I left the studio with the rough mixes of the two songs on DAT I thought to myself: “This music is going to shake the world!” Which it did!
AFTER STRANGE GODS—the title of an infamous 1934 book by the iconic poet T.S. Eliot (“The Wasteland”)—the full title of which is “After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy”. Here the conservative modernist with a strong Anglican Church bent delivers an overview of contemporary literature in the form of a book-long essay in which he delves into what he considers moral and immoral fiction. It contains the following line, widely interpreted as being anti-semitic: “ Reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable”. Eliot later recanted this sentiment, but the shock of this line was a stain on his career for many years. As a free-thinking Jewish person with a fierce passion for literature I happen to like most of Eliot’s poetry a lot, but abhor the traces of anti-Semitism in his early poems. The title of his book stuck with me though, and I thought it would make a good title for a song about my band, given the name of my group—and as you can't copyright a title…”Around the world / around the horn / the cup is filled / the lamb is born / into a flock / a herd a show / of hands now please / mind how you go.” There is plenty of Biblical imagery and a little bit of Arthur Miller in my lyrics : “After the climb / before the fall / you feel a chill / the hounds all call you” and “So take up fast / thy staff and rod / and hurry now / After Strange Gods”. And a little Led Zeppelin reference: “Outside the pearl / inside the song / remains the same / until it's gone”. Leading the charge is the exceptional avant-garde vocalist Dina Emerson who had previously worked with Meredith Monk before hooking up with me, and she really gives her all here. Plus Jonathan Kane drums and Ernie Brooks bass—and Jonathan’s brother Anthony on wailing harmonica and Gregg Bendian on percussion. This song opens my second Gods and Monsters album “Bad Boys of the Arctic” released in 1994—an album which received an A+ in Stereo Review for both the songs and the sonics (go figure, as much of that album was recorded in dodgy demo studios and jingle houses for very little money).
KING STRONG—this was the first “official” Gods and Monsters track, which was recorded around 1988 at Unique Studios here in NYC. The group at this time was purely a construct of my imagination, which I then envisioned as a kind of jazz-rocky fusion ensemble with two basses. A couple of years earlier in London I had recorded two songs, “Skin the Rabbit” and a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” with Rolo McGinty of The Woodentops on vocals—and, happy with the results, I got the bug to keep going! I was looking to burst out of the confines of my boring day-job as a copywriter at CBS Records after 5 years spent playing with and managing Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) on the side. Don Van Vliet (an excellent painter as well as the most visionary composer, singer and poet) and I had split up in '84 after I'd placed him with a big-time art gallery in NYC. I'd joined Captain Beefhart and the Magic Band strictly for the music, not to become his art pimp—and all he wanted to do by 1982 after a long hard slog in the avant-garde rock game was paint. We parted, and I plunged full steam ahead with an eye to making my own music—an idea which was strictly verboten if you wanted to play with Don, who did not take kindly to his charges making their own music. On this instrumental I decided to act on an idea I'd had for a souped-up and metalized “jazz-waltz” a la John Coltrane's version of Mongo Santamaria's “Afro-Blue”, which imho was the inspiration for Zappa’s “King Kong”—both of which themes I quote smack dab in the middle of this track, once and once only, just to see if anybody was paying attention. 95% of the rest of the music on this track is my own. Joining me on this excursion is the amazing Keith Leblanc (Tackhead) on drums, and Jared Nickerson and Paul Now on bass. Tackhead’s guitarist Skip McDonald ws very helpful also in the recording in helping me format the track. Basically after recording the drums and bass, I just plugged into a Marshall and let her rip, layering track upon track—a real wall of wailing guitars. I took a rough mix given to me on cassette, had some copies duped up, and left the cassette at a few of the more free-form radio stations in the area, like WFMU, WKCR, and WNYU. And by God, they played the hell out of this track! It even got a write-up in Billboard Magazine. I was encouraged. I was on my way.
DREAM OF A RUSSIAN PRINCESS—New Year’s Eve 1991. I woke up in my Dutch friend Joep Ver’s atelier in Amsterdam at 4am (technically now 1992, in the Netherlands anyway). Joep was my very best friend in the Netherlands—my very favorite country to play in Europe at that time. The first country in Europe I had been recognized successfully in as an artist—the Dutch "got me” and my live solo act right away, going back to my earliest appearances there in 1990 when I was more or less discovered. I’m sure the Beefheart connection helped shoe-horn me through the door, as they revered Don as a fellow Dutchman (albeit his being born in the USA)—and in fact I had toured with him in 1980 all over the country. Flash forward to 1991. I'd just come off a grueling 3-month solo tour of the UK and Europe and was catching some r&r in the studio of my friend Joep, a fantastic painter who many years earlier had squatted an old disused mustard factory set on the edge of a canal and converted it into artist studios and living spaces for his friends. So at 4am on the dawn of the first day of the year 1992, I awoke from a dream whose central image was the radiant visage of an elegant, bejeweled Russian noblewoman out of the 19th century—a beauty further illuminated by strange and intense acoustic guitar music that rang in my ears. I rolled over and picked up my acoustic guitar which lay on the side of my mattress on the floor, and began working on my composition. It was mournful and sad, with intense fingerpicked passages and passionate strumming—and it rose to a positive surge of triumphant, almost noble emotion—before sinking back into the dissonant gloom. Bittersweet! Like most of my music. I think it’s one of my most memorable compositions—a love letter to an unknown and mysterious lady. Maybe the fact of her being a Russian princess was something planted deep in my subconscious mind by Don Van Vliet, who once told me that his ideal female would be of Russian-Jewish extraction.
FLAVOR BUD LIVING—this is a composition by Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart) which put me on the grid as a guitarist. I’d wanted to join Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band ever since catching their debut concert in NYC over three nights at a little club called Ungano’s on the upper west side of Manhattan. I’d first heard about this guy while in high school from a new acquaintance named Fred Perry, whose brother Richard had produced Don's first album “Safe as Milk” in 1967. Fred spotted me on a street corner near Syracuse University and (a fellow Anglophile), noticed that I was carrying the first album by the English group The Move under my arm. He was carrying an acoustic guitar in a cardboard case upon which was written in red magic marker CAPTAIN BEEFHEART AND HIS MAGIC BAND, who I'd never heard of before. A few years later after seeing their NYC debut live, I walked away from the club thinking: “If I ever do anything in music, I want to play with this guy!”. He and his group were that amazing. I’d seen some excellent rock shows in my life up to that moment, including the Rolling Stones with Brian Jones, Janis Joplin and Paul Butterfield, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers—but this was in a completely different category altogether —they were just so outrageously good, and very very tight as an ensemble. As a result of this first concert, any time the band toured anywhere near me I would make a point to go and see them play. I later interviewed and began hanging out with Don, who was exceedingly friendly. Meantime I was working in secret trying to master some of Don's very complicated music. In 1974 Don appeared onstage in my hometown as a special guest vocalist with Frank Zappa at the Syracuse War Memorial. I took him for a midnight snack of spare-ribs at a fugitive barbecue joint operating out of the backyard of a rickety house located in the Black ghetto of Syracuse. During our meal I told him I wanted a shot to audition for him for his new Magic Band lineup. He invited me to come up to Boston a few days later with my guitar, and I played for him in his hotel room after his gig with Frank. It still took a few years to get into his group, but eventually he invited me out to LA for the recoding of his 1980 album “Doc at the Radar Station”—where I nailed this instrumental he’d sent me called “Flavor Bud Living” in one take! My performance of this on his “Doc at the Radar Station” album received much attention in the international music press., and I was bumped up to full Magic Band member status for his next album, 1982’s “Ice Cream for Crow”. The painstaking process of learning his music on guitar forced me to stretch out and develop an extended technique on guitar which I applied to my own music once I split with Don. The version on this retrospective album was recorded live at the Beacon Theater in NYC in NOv. 1980 during our extensive US and European tour which took place from the full of the year to the end of January 1981. The theater was packed, and I recall David Byrne sitting in the audience. During this tour Don would introduce me on stage, I’d walk out and then he and the band would walk off stage and leave me to face the crowd on my own. I was always nervous, but truly I loved the feeling of playing solo on stage—one man against the world—I felt like a gladiator in the arena. You can hear the crowd roar at the end—the most gratifying feedback an artist can get. From this experience I became addicted to playing on stage—and I can’t wait to get back on the road and play for people again once we get through this pandemic.
MUSIC FOR “THE GOLEM”—I love film music soundtracks—a passion inherited from my folks who collected many: Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack to “Exodus” and Michel Legrand’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” for starters. Following their lead I began collecting many of John Barry’s James Bond soundtracks (“From Russia with Love” was my particular favorite). From this it was a short step to creating my own soundtracks, which I began realizing at a very tender age with my childhood partner in crime, keyboardist/composer Walter Horn. We used to make dark musique concrete tapes together—and then on Halloween perch on the second floor of my parents’ house over the entrance and play the tape loudly to frighten unsuspecting trick or treaters! Fast forward many years later to 1989, when I was one year into my solo career. I received a commission from the Brooklyn Academy of Music to combine my music with another art-form—and I immediately flashed on composing a live score to accompany the 1920 German expressionist silent horror film “The Golem”—and then invited Walter in on the project. I’d read about this legendary film as a boy in the pages of a horror movie magazine, and thought to myself then: “A Jewish Frankenstein! How cool is that??”. Because of my love for both classic cinema and Jewish folk legends, I somehow intuitively knew that this was the film for me to score—it was calling out to me! I tracked down a print at the Museum of Modern Art here in NYC, had it transferred to VHS cassette, and duped a copy for Walter, who had moved to Boston. We were like a pair of tag-team wrestlers! We divided the film into various sequences which we worked on apart from each other before combining forces to work the whole thing out as a seamless live score—which we debuted at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria in Fall of 1989. Included here is the opening sequence of themes, which is taken directly from the live recording made that night at the world premiere. Our live score was a big hit, needless to say—and I subsequently worked the whole thing out on solo guitar, as Walter had a day job which precluded ongoing duo performances—and I am in the Golem business (amongst other things)...I’ve subsequently played the soundtrack live to the film at festivals and venues all over the world, in over 20 countries—at Royal Festival Hall in London, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Moscow and St. Petersburg, at the Venice Biennale and the Teatro Verdi in Firenze—and in Prague, home of The Golem. In fact, my last concert before lockdown last March was playing with the film up at Cornell University in Ithaca NY. Ithaca as you may recall is a small island in the Ionian sea—an island where the warrior Ulysses (Odysseus) is sailing home to in the famous Greek and Roman myths. It all adds up!