My musical journey through album covers
Music has been part of my life for a very long time. I remember taking piano lessons from Mrs Mountain in Edinburgh as a little kid. She had two grand pianos in the house. Of course like many kids I gave it up. She said I had something musically. Maybe she was right. Seems to have worked out that way although playing one note at a time, more or less, on bass is a little bit removed from 10 fingers on a piano.
My Dad was a jazz fan when he was growing up and Mum loved the crooners. Frank Sinatra was always a hit in the house. Mario Lanza was another that I remember hearing. There were the Beach Boys, The Carpenters and a smattering of Jesus Christ Superstar at different times in the house. There was even a brief prog rock thing that my Dad went through with the band Focus. Finding my own music was a more than a little difficult. I grew up in Scotland in the mid 70s. Punk was hitting at the time and the cool kids had spiky hair, mohair sweaters and Doc Martins. I was fundamentally not a cool kid. I remember seeing a picture of Bowie’s album Lodger and thinking that I can’t possibly be allowed to listen to that. And what happened to his nose anyway? The cool kids were listening to Squeeze and the Sex Pistols and Bowie. I wasn’t listening to anything.
The earliest album I can remember being mine is the Star Wars Soundtrack. Hardly a good start to being a cool kid. My sister had an ABBA album and I remember having a preteen/teenage crush on Agnetha. What teenage boy wouldn’t regardless of cool or uncool? Somewhere in those early musical years we ended up in Canada in 1980. I got on a British Airways VC10 and woke up in a Holiday Inn in Oakville. I wanted a 747 ride but that didn’t happen. Still haven’t been on a 747.
So it’s 1980. I’m in Grade 8. I feel like everyone has blonde hair and perfect teeth and I’m the only one with a side part and a skin problem. This would have been a good time reinvent myself and shown up at Falgarwood Public School in Doc Martens and a mohair sweater. Probably wouldn’t have done anything about spiking the hair or safety pins stuck in places though. But the moment to reinvent passed. Teenagehead was on CKCO radio. FM? What’s that? The B52’s Rock Lobster was the hit tune at Grade 8 graduation. Time to go to Grade 9 and another opportunity to reinvent myself. Another opportunity missed.
This is where music really begins for me: high school. Stairway to Heaven was the last tune at every high school basement party along with a bit of Meatloaf and REO Speedwagon. But that world got turned upside down when U2’s Boy arrived. A simple album cover with a guitar player called the Edge making new sounds and a singer with the weird name of Bono singing better than anyone else. I remember seeing an article in the Toronto Star from their first Canadian tour and I think they played at Larry’s Hideaway or something like that. Small venue. I wonder if they had any clue about how big they were going to be. I wore the grooves out of someone’s copy of that album. Probably Dave Boyd’s since he was always ahead of the curve on what was coming out.
I can’t remember if I found U2 before The Clash or not but probably it all happened around the same time as me and my new wave punk rock friends listened to anything we could get from the other side of the Atlantic. As far as we were concerned any of the big stadium, traditional rock bands were aging dinosaurs and we wanted something different. Suburban middle class Oakville punk rockers unite! I’m sure The Clash’s seminal double album London Calling is on many people’s top 10 list. It’s still one of my all time favourites. It’s been passed on to the next generation with my son listening to The Clash from time to time. Joe Strummer and The Clash introduced me to politics and helped spark a curiosity of what was happening in the rest of the world.
I was playing bass in bands throughout high school. Section Eight was the name of one band and perhaps in another post I’ll get into my early years playing music. I really had no idea what I wanted to do after high school. Strangely enough I didn’t even take high school music. Probably I thought I shouldn’t since I didn’t read music or play an instrument other than bass but that’s what school is for. As an aside Glenn Milchem was the star drummer at White Oaks High School. I wonder if he knew how successful he would become?
My bass playing at that point was fairly rudimentary. Playing in punk bands, my knowledge of what else was out there was really limited and then Mark King showed up. Mark King was/is the bass player for a British band Level 42. He was the first player that I ever heard do the funk slap and pop technique. The band was the first that really took me in a new direction musically. Not only was the bass playing monstrous but the song writing was great too. I was discovering that there was a wee bit more to melody and harmony out there. I remember Level 42 doing 2 or 3 nights at Massey Hall and going to all of them. I couldn’t get enough of Mark King and what he could do with a bass. Standing in the Light remains one of my all time favourite albums.
So my sphere of music listening was actually very small but I now knew there was more out there. I actually liked Led Zeppelin and Rush but I would probably have been kicked out of my peer group if I had admitted that and I doubt I would have been admitted into the heavy rock peer group either. Although I was smoking Camel cigarettes so that was something in my favour. There were a few clues that there was other music out there. I can’t remember his name but I guitarist sat behind me in math class and passed me a tape of and album called Road Games by Allan Holdsworth. The tune was Tokyo Dream. This threw me for a loop. I knew I liked it but it seemed beyond me that people could play music this complex. I’ll always regret not jamming on Tokyo Dream with that guitarist but it did change the course of my musical tastes and played a part in deciding that I wanted to go to school for music. That, and an ex girlfriend, who was a singer saying that she only wanted to play with serious musicians as opposed suburban middle class punk rockers. Oh yeah, I’ll show her.
My first real jazz listening experience was meeting a drummer in my first year at Humber College. If I remember his name I’ll add it in but I do remember he was Italian and drove a black Z28. The album was Chick Corea’s Three Quartets. This was an ear opening experience to say the least. Chick supported by Steve Gadd, Michael Brecker and Eddie Gomez. I had gone to Humber barely understanding what a 12 bar blues was let alone what these guys were doing. I’m still not sure that I get what they were doing but the album left an indelible impression on my ears and head on where jazz played at a high level can end up. I stayed at Humber for 4 years and probably became a bit of a jazz snob. I went from one extreme to another in a short space of time: suburban punk to jazzer in less than 4 years. In that time I did so much listening. From Miles to Chick, from UZEB to John Scofield, from Coltrane to Jan Garbarek and everything in between. And then I finished Humber College and pretty much stopped playing bass until 2004. I can’t really remember listening to music or buying much music during that hiatus. I’m sure I did. Thankfully music came back again in 2004. I’d probably have jumped off of a building by now were it not for playing music.
I’m no longer a jazz snob. I just play jazz sometimes.