Let’s just say that, in a way, Prog found me. My first “official” exposure to the genre happened when the drummer for the band I was in at the time came home with an import copy of Gentle Giant’s Three Friends. We played the album in its entirety and once the dust had settled, I looked at him and said, “I’m not sure what that is, but I want to play music like that!” And so it began. I think that what drew me in was the syncopation, counterpoint vocals, brilliant lyrics and overall musical gymnastics on display. Yet, with all of that going on there was always a common thread that bound the whole thing together.
After running the gamut of listening to “all things Prog” I made a promise to myself that if and when it came time for me to write my own material, I would acknowledge and allow my influences to exist, but never penetrate my writing process. Rule number one; if a new part reminds you of something else you’ve heard before, trash it and move on!
The beauty of having such a diverse collection of songs to perform is that, as the singer of the same band for over four decades, I now have the chance to sing a very varied assortment of styles, originally performed by other singers, each with their own particular style and personality. The (welcome) challenge for me was finding a way to strike a balance between inserting as much of my personality as possible into each of the songs without compromising the integrity of the original performance. Having said that…My favorite song to perform? That would be a toss-up between “Squonk” and “Rendezvous 6:02”. “Squonk”, just because it’s one of those songs I’ve always wanted to try, and “Rendezvous 6:02”, simply because it’s a beautiful song and also the chance for me to tip my hat to a good friend who has sadly gone on his way.
The moment I discovered Jimmy “The Cat” Smith when I was 10, I felt sure that I was destined to become an organist. After I heard Deep Purple’s Machine Head, I bought a Hammond organ and a Marshall amp, and somehow managed not to lose my hearing in the process! When I saw the band U.K. live in concert on May 30th, 1979 at Sun Plaza in Nakano, Japan, I knew my heart belonged to progressive music.
Playing in the top rock band in Japan wasn’t good enough so I moved to L.A. After I graduated school with courses in Jazz Keyboards, Composition and Arrangement, and Film Scoring, I started playing and recording with a wide array of artists in every genre of music.
It was in 1995 that I joined Spock’s Beard and my journey into Prog was set in stone and my fate was sealed. All I want to do now is to play organ with passion and wild abandon, play intense and moving and memorable synth melodies with my Moog and envelop people in the unmistakable sound of the legendary Mellotron, all while climbing atop my keyboards screaming, “Yeah! Look at me up here, I’m PROGGING!”
There are so many to choose from, but these are some of the most important ones to me: Genesis, “Firth Of Fifth”, “Cinema Show”, “Dance On A Volcano” and “Los Endos”, and of course, ELP “Karn Evil 9”.
My first instrument was the Magnus Chord Organ I got for my seventh birthday and I got serious about it right away, so my parents started feeding me a succession of Hammond Organs, gradually introducing me to the concepts of bass pedals, drum boxes, timbral varieties and most importantly, the headphone jack. I spent many happy hours joyfully trapped inside audio prisons of my making.
One day when I was nine years old, the most adventurous of the local stations played side one of the then-brand-new ELP album Tarkus. I had no idea you could do that with a Hammond Organ, and it was absolute love at first listen. The stuff Keith Emerson was writing and playing, combined with the way he was recorded and the aggression of the hard percussion sound on his Hammond reached to the deepest part of my being and took up permanent residence there. During that same year I heard Frank Zappa for the first time, and the one-two punch of FZ and KE set me off on a lifelong journey in constant search of the adventurous and the unpredictable in music.
I started playing guitar when I was 11 and tried to import the experiments that I was doing on the keyboard over to the fretboard. When I was 16, I taught myself every released Gary Green guitar part, which gave me important insight into the architectural arrangement aspects of Gentle Giant; from there my tastes just went further and further out.
When I saw that Jonathan had chosen “Up From The Deep” by The Tubes as an opener, I just thought, “YES. My people!” I’ve always felt that was an incredible opening salvo on The Tubes’ debut album, and the song just has an indefinable magic to me. But right now, the Crimson medley is the one that’s really got me by the brain, with the outlandish never-ending Fripp tangle that decorates “Larks’ Tongues Part 1”. At this stage in my life/musical development it’s a pleasure to take on music that has meant so much to me, but which I’ve never attempted to play until now. It’s important to keep growing as a musician and I relish how I can feel myself being stretched and challenged by these songs I already love so much.
I started playing bass at 15 and being a huge fan of The Police at the time, I learned their entire discography by the end of my first year. Then someone played me Moving Pictures. That took another year alone. What an album. What it said to me about what was possible with the most basic rock format of guitar, drums and bass was transformative. Savage creativity that rocked so hard and sounded so good. There’s a raw, electric energy that feels like you’re touching live current; it’s literally a rush. I was hooked, and that was my gateway to other Prog giants like Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd.
“Siberian [Khatru]” into “Gates [Of Delirium]” is an absolute blast. Pretty much anytime I get to play Chris Squire bass lines I’m downright giddy. His lines are like playgrounds–jungle gyms with ropes and rings and slides and everything else that’s cool; so joyful and fun. And rocking. I mean, his tone is madness. “Roundabout” and “Heart of the Sunrise” for the same reasons. “Dance [On A Volcano]”, “[Los] Endos” and “Squonk” have been a fun challenge, and “Solsbury Hill” is always a personal favorite. This really is a dream set of music. So far, at least. Who knows what Mover will propose next?
It was hearing “Lucky Man” on the radio when I was a kid, and Keith Emerson’s Moog solo during the outro just blew my mind. I asked my parents to buy me the record, but when we got to the store and found the ELP bin, as soon as I saw the cover of Brain Salad Surgery, I had to have it–even though “Lucky Man” wasn’t on it. I put it on and my mind was blown just the same; as soon as I heard Carl Palmer’s drum solo in “Toccata”, which incorporated synthesizer drums, it was settled.
From there, it was drums and all things Prog–ELP, Yes, Genesis and King Crimson, followed by Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Rush, U.K., Bruford, Dixie Dregs, Pink Floyd, 10cc, Happy The Man, FM, Camel, The Tubes, Utopia, PFM, Nektar, Triumvirat, etc. That being said, if you really take the word ‘progressive’ for its true meaning, then there’s the be-all and end-all of music for me: Frank Zappa, and my favorite band of all time, The Beatles.
And, Prog record covers were the best! As mentioned, it was HR Giger’s ELP cover that caught my attention, and undeniably, all of Roger Dean’s work for Yes (and others); King Crimson’s In The Court…, Genesis’ Seconds Out, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side…, etc. And let’s not forget, Roxy Music’s Country Life!
I honestly love playing them all, but if I have to choose, it would be “Firth of Fifth” and “Cinema Show”, which include elements of various live versions from several tours. These are favorites because Genesis is my favorite Prog band, and I remember, as a kid, when being able to play Seconds Out from start to finish–nailing all of Phil’s, Chester’s and Bill’s parts, and especially in those two songs–was a monumental accomplishment.
Another choice for pure nostalgia is “Siberian Khatru”, which, believe it or not, was the very first song I ever played start-to-finish when I got my first drum kit at 13 years old. Definitely have to mention the “Bruford Medley” as I’m not only a huge fan of Bill’s (and that band), but that music in particular is just so much fun to play. Anything from King Crimson, because there’s just so much going on and so much you can do. And of course, it’s impossible not to mention “Karn Evil 9” – what a truly epic masterpiece.
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