Here's my interview with Frontin' Stunts
1. How'd you get started in music?
I started taking piano lessons when I was about 6 yrs old. I took lessons until I was proficient in sight reading and had participated in a recital. I received a certificate saying I was proficient by the time I was 7. My mother took lessons with me and was a more advanced player. I thought that she was better because she was older and an adult. I didn’t learn until recently, decades later, that she started taking lessons when she was 12. I now have a 6 and an 8 year old who are themselves taking piano lessons.
My piano teacher was a friend and colleague of my mother’s. Her name was Hazel. My lessons were put on hold once she had either gotten far enough along in her pregnancy or it was medically warranted. I don’t remember seeing a tummy and kind of feel like I was given the news that she was expecting and that my lessons would be paused at the same time.
My parents bought a piano so that I could continue practicing until my lessons resumed, but I think it was a rent-to-buy arrangement. Unfortunately, I was too distracted by my brother, cousins, and friends playing outside to practice regularly. As a consequence, my parents decided not to complete their purchase and returned the piano.
Because of the gap in time between this period and the next time I saw the piano again or played another instrument, I lost all of my knowledge and skills. It wasn’t until high school that I picked up another instrument. We all learned to play the recorder as a part of our Music Appreciation Class our freshman year. Then maybe, the year after that, my sophomore year, a bunch of my friends and I started to play guitar. There were four of us, all trying to play the guitar, no keyboard player, no bass player, no horn player, no drummer. It was sad.
Following the lead of one of my friends, Marc, I took lessons with a guy named Austin Sicard. I’d describe him as a rock guitar player but I assume he could play anything. Seemingly, as side gig, he wrote rock and blues guitar oriented music books for Mel Bay. Before I started lessons with Austin, my friend had shown me how to transcribe music by ear into guitar tablature. I continued along that trajectory with Austin, we continued using tablature as opposed to learning the traditional notation system and to sight read, but didn’t really study with him for long. We mostly worked on technique and occasionally he’d transcribe one of my favorite songs for me to practice.
Collectively I would say that these experiences, learning to piano and then starting to learn guitar were basically my start in music with high school serving as a restart. I guess learning to play the recorder even counted though I don’t remember trying to apply any of that in my guitar playing. I feel like I forgot everything about playing the recorder as soon as that class ended.
I played a bit more in college mostly with the jazz students. I changed majors several times including once to music. I was too distracted by my new found freedoms social and otherwise. I performed in the school jazz concert where I was sure I sucked, but later heard a recording of my performance and was surprised to learned that I only partially sucked. The issue was simply that I cut my solo too early.
I performed with a friend’s jazz band in a rural Minnesota town bar. The towns population was roughly 2,000 people not including the students and university’s faculty and staff. It wasn’t bad enough that we were playing jazz in a rural farm community. The bar charged its patrons 50 cent extra a drink to cover the cost of the band on a weekend when the patrons came to drink, so naturally they hated or existence.
On another occasion, I was able to have the band I join to help me perform in class for extra credit. That was the band Super Shaft that I joined to perform in the school’s annual battle of the bands. I played in the battle of the bands 2 years in a row, but not with the same group. As mentioned, the first year I played with was Super Shaft. We played covers, and won 1st place, and then were demoted to 3rd place after the band responsible for organizing the event every year recounted the vote in disbelief and found errors in the tabulations of the judges score sheets.
The next year I performed in 2 different bands and only one of them placed. The winning band, whose name I don’t remember, took 1st place, but it was kind of a novelty act. The band that didn’t place was composed of jazz students and we played pseudo improvised jazz fusion. We had a couple of melodic lines that we played and took turns improvising over. I remember using the baseline from Bitch Brew for one of the songs. The audience was bored out of their minds. The band that won 1st place was composed of a bunch of art students, a drummer from the jazz department, and me. I composed some melodic lines for the 3 songs they played, the drummer followed me, and then everyone else came in when they were ready. The six or so art students, inspired by the Art of Noise, made sounds over the guitar and drums with their art tools some of which were power tools.
2. Who are your inspirations or influences?
Everyone who’s music I’ve ever heard and enjoyed. The truth is I’m not a good musician. I’m not totally in control of my craft. The music I make is just what comes out in the context of my limited skills and knowledge. So from that perspective my inspiration and influences are crucial to informing what I create and my interpretation of it as something good or not.
Like most people, the first music to go into the pot was my parents music, but in my case even my grandmother’s. She had this old record player the size of a dresser drawer. It was about 6ft long and 3ft high. It played records at 3 different speeds, 33, 45, and 78 rpms.
We went through all of her old records. She had a lot of old soul, rhythm and blues, and some early rock-n-roll records. I remember playing Ray Charles version of the Beetles song “Yesterday”, James Brown “It’s a Man’a World”, Dinah Washington, Etta James, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, Elvis, the Beatles, and of course the Jackson 5. That’s just some of what we found in her collection. We had to listen to it all to know what it was, and if we liked it or not.
She also had an old reel to reel player. My brother and I eventually destroyed all of her music players, but we did it with love, besides, I think that her equipments demise had more to due with its age, than any abuse from us. But anyway, that was the start of me choosing what I listened to from a collection of music as opposed to passively taking in what was played for me by my parents radio listening habits.
Advancing several years to elementary school, maybe around 8th grade, a friend named David, with 12 older siblings turned me on to Prince. Prince’s album 1999 was out at the time. David had started bringing a little Casio keyboard to school and playing little melodies he’d learned starting with the little preprogrammed demo melody. Not long after that he was showing us that he could play the intro melody to Little Red Corvette.
Prince’s catalogue, was already a few albums deep, and one of the main themes of his music lyrically was right in line with my burgeoning hormones. This was also right before the album Purple Rain came out. The song Erotic City, a B-side on the Let’s Go Crazy single, sealed the deal my hormones made with the music and I was hooked. I was in awe of his ability to do it all, i.e. perform all the instruments, arrange, compose, and produce his music although I didn’t know what most of those things meant. Musically, two things stood out for me, Prince’s vocal range, particularly those primal screams, and his guitar playing. The more I listened the more I became interested in the guitar. My focus on what was happening with that instrument was because of Prince.
In high school a classmate named John, who sat next to me in one class or another, introduced me to the music of 60s and 70s in a way that it hadn’t before. I don’t remember how the conversation started but I’ll never forget him. I vaguely remember him expressing shock that I hadn’t heard the music of Hendrix, the Doors, and Pink Floyd. The very next day, he basically started preaching the classic rock gospel to me in the form of mixtapes he made on cassette tapes. The first tape started with Hendrix on side A and ended with a few songs from the Doors on side B. My mind was officially blown and so began my love affair with the music of Jimi Hendrix.
Now, whereas Prince had made me take note of the guitar, Jimi Hendrix made me want to play the guitar. In one of the first fake books of Hendrix’s music I ever purchased, one person quoted said that Hendrix’s guitar was an extension of his soul. As I read those words I wanted that more than anything. This was my freshmen year in high school, and until my sophomore year I just listened.
A bit later I was introduced to punk music and the local punk scene of New Orleans. I was probably a junior in high school at this point. I remember a band named Exhorter and another called Graveyard Rodeo. It was all new and a bit weird to me, but this is what my new crew was into so I was down.
During this period I went to my first show from a touring band with a record contract, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. They performed at the Sanger Theatre in New Orleans which wasn’t the best venue for a pseudo-punk show. All the little punk kids showed up and wanted to slam dance, but there were these orchestra seats on the floor between the stage and glory. It was a problem and sadly these riled up teens had the solution. The Chili Peppers went into some popular number and the kids quickly lost their collective shit and started ripping up the seats. The show was abruptly ended and we were all indiscriminately kicked out of the theater. All in all, I’d seen maybe 15 - 30 of minutes of music performed. That may have been the only time I saw the Chili Peppers perform live.
In my sophomore or junior year, my guitar playing friends and I met an upperclassman named Corey, who also played guitar. Apparently he’d been playing since before he could carry the damn thing. Corey blew our collective minds. At this point we were listening to Joe Satriani and Metallica and diverging from there along the lines of our own personal listening taste and exposures. Corey introduced us to a whole slew of new guitarist and told us we needed a musical diet of diverse guitarist. He introduced us to the music Greg Howe, Vinnie Moore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony MacAlpine, and Al Dimeola. While I’m not certain he brought all of these artist to our collective attention, the thing was he could play it all and demonstrated whatever tricks they used in creating their distinctive styles and sound.
We used to hang in the French Quarters a lot as teens. It was one of those places that literally never closed and it was an expansive space full of interesting happenings for the developing teenage mind. We’d often find ourselves strolling through the Quarters on the weekends and would eventually make our way to Bourbon Street at some point in the night or early morning hours. I could never buy liquor or get into any clubs because I looked young, even for my age. My friends had significantly less trouble buying and getting into places as minors, but on Bourbon Street none of that mattered. You could bring your own liquor and drink it as you walked down the street and most of the interesting things going on in the clubs there trickled out and eventually made their way onto the streets.
It was on one such occasion, while walking down Bourbon, I heard Jimi Hendrix’s music blaring from one of the clubs. It was just pouring down the street pushing through the noise of the street chatter and music from the other clubs. I assumed it was coming from a jukebox, but as I listened I realized that it was live. Someone was playing Jimi Hendrix’s music. At that point, I’d never seen or imagined that anyone could play Jimi’s music like that, live, but someone was and they were knocking it out. I began frantically running up and down the street peering into every open door with my eyes and ears looking and listening for the source of the music. Eventually, I found a man named E.J. Phillips who had a head full of locks, which I’d only ever associated with Jamaicans and Bob Marley at the time, beating on Hendrix’s door and tearing down the blues. My friends had continued on but I just sat there in awe as this guy played the blues like nobody’s business and went through song’s in Hendrix’s catalog like they were his own. E.J. left me speechless. He could do it all. He was playing behind his back, with his teeth, slamming the guitar fretboard into the mic stand and of course used the whammy bar and feedback like these were just basic skills every guitarist should have, all while singing and sounding eerily similar to Hendrix.
E. J. Phillips and the Electric Blues Band was the house band for this club called the Original Papa Joe’s when I first discovered him. E.J. was the featured act. Like Hendrix, E.J.’s band was a three piece, with bass, drums, and guitar. E.J. was the frontman playing guitar and signing. I didn’t drive so I couldn’t stay or else I would have. However for the time I had I just sat in front of the club’s door with my jaw dropped long enough to get his attention. When he noticed me I made some gesture of respect and admiration and then took off to catch up with my friends.
I was too young to get into the clubs but every time that I found myself in the Quarters, after discovering E.J., I’d make it a point to swing the Original Papa Joe’s to watch and listen and be seen by E.J., watching and listening to him play. There were a few times I’d catch E.J. on break and he was nice enough to come out and talk to me although I wasn’t a paying customer, but sometime I’d send in a tip when they’d pass the tip jar. This started when I was about 15 years old and continued until ultimately he retired from playing Bourbon Street due to health issues.
At some point when returning home from college on little breaks and during the summers, I realized I was now old enough to get in the clubs, sit at his feet proper, and worship at the alter of his experience, wisdom, and talent. It was then that I discovered one of E.J.’s teachers and mentors was another New Orleans guitarist named Carl Le Blanc who played with Sun Ra for a bit. Now I considered E.J. my music mentor.
E.J. first started playing guitar in his 20s. He started out playing R&B and funk and transitioned into punk. His punk band Disappointed Parents made a beeline to the top of the local punk scene and had a record deal on the table, but lost it after the band leader sustained a serious inquiry in a car accident. That accident led E.J. away from the punk scene and to Bourbon Street where he played reggae, blues, and classic rock covers for decades.
I maybe got together with E.J. once or twice for a formal lesson, but most of my lessons from him came from listening and watching him play live in various clubs on Bourbon Street. The other part of my education came from talking to him and his band members about their experiences. I guess his encouraging me to get on stage with him and play whatever songs I knew, while he sang, counted as instruction as well, but my skill was so far below his own and his band’s level of skill it was embarrassing. Every time I got on stage with him they propped me up. I sucked as I did more listening than practicing, and sadly something about listening to E.J. play was cathartic and satiating. Although I was a horrible understudy, E.J. always gave me encouraging little nudges. We eventually managed to catch a couple of shows together, the most memorable for me was Robin Trower with Eric Gales opening for him at the House of Blues. It was like the handing off of a torch from one legend to a rising star.
Eventually, I went on to manage E.J. briefly, as apparently, I was more frustrated than he was that he was still on Bourbon Street and had not been discovered yet. I watched celebrities stroll into the various clubs he played, doing the same dance I’d done when I was 15, chasing his music up and down Bourbon Street. And when they found E.J., like me, and everyone else, they watched and listened in awe, but also just as often they’d request to sit in and play with him, or they’d be invited up on the stage.
Some of the stories of celebrities coming in were shared with me by E.J. and some I witnessed personally. Some of the memorable names or at least those that readily come to mind were member(s) of Toto, Wasp, and Bruce Willis, who sat in for 2 weeks on harmonica while shooting for Moonlighting. Then there was Carlos Santa, Henry Dean Stanton, Fishbone, Tori Ruffin (touring w/ The Time), John Steward (Fishbone drummer), and Seal. Carlos Santa, however, was directed to E.J. because he was looking for a New Orleans guitarist to work with. E.J. being the humble guy that he was redirected Santa to someone else.
I was actually at the club the night Seal showed up. I think E.J. was playing at the R&B Club at this time, which was also on Bourbon Street. This was after Seal’s first album with the hit song, Crazy. Seal was on tour apparently in Australia at the time. He told me he was in New Orleans taking a break from the tour with his girlfriend and best friend Paul. Paul was also his roadie. He watched and listened from outside for a bit but eventually made his way inside and asked E.J. to perform with him. He sang, Jimi Hendrix’s version of Hey Joe, which he covered on his first album. It was an incredible performance in that little dark intimate club.
Shortly after Seal’s performance with E.J., I was encouraged by Seal to go on stage and perform with E.J. myself. I suspect that I was also motivated by his presence to get on stage and perform with E.J., for the first time, though E.J. would often ask, and I would typically decline. Seal’s encouragement began during our conversation, which had continued at the bar once he came into club. And although I knew the horrors that were in store for him, I felt it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I let EJ know I would play with him and got up during the next set and played Hey Joe after Seal. What was I thinking? I had never played it before on stage and I followed, Seal playing a song he now owned.
In between that time, my next big influences were in college. The cousin that introduced me to Run DMC and the Cure introduced me to Bad Brains. He gave me their live album, Banned in DC to check out. I dug it instantly. And I remember listening intently to their rendition of the Beatles song, Day Tripper among other tracks. That cross over genre hopping mashup thing always gets me. Anyway, I became a huge Bad Brains fan.
I’ve seen Bad Brains in concert a few times and at one of their shows at Tipitina’s in New Orleans, I was able to talk to HR and Dr. Know. I have a crazy surreal story centered around my conversation with Dr. Know, out of that experience. I met HR before sound check and talked to him about their music and its influence on me. I also shared with him that my mentor, E.J. was similarly influenced by their music. Bad Brains not Bob Marley was the reason that E.J. grew locks, and unfortunately he couldn’t he couldn’t attend the show because he was gigging on Bourbon Street. HR was totally cool, he listened and expressed disappointment at not having the opportunity to meet E.J.
During the show I was front and center. During one song, I can’t even remember which, I was frozen in confusion and maybe a bit of fear as HR held the mic down for me to sing a couple of lines. I didn’t know what was happening. He pulled it back to sing the line himself, and then held it down for me again briefly, once, maybe twice more, and just like that I’d missed my Henry Rollins moment. I don’t know how true it is but I heard Henry Rollins had a career making moment like that with HR that help him and his band Black Flag rise in popularity. Bad Brains music is beyond raw. There music is more akin to the primordial forces of creation. I can’t say enough good things about Bad Brains.
I think I found Living Color on my own on just off of the strength of their hit Cult of Personality. I have been a fan of their music and Vernon Reid’s guitar work ever since. Actually, my introduction to Living Color had to come before college because I remember my guitar teacher trying to transcribe Vernon Reid’s solo for me and telling me it was just random notes. I remember feeling like my hero’s talents were being belittled. I was just being touchy. The reality was that’s just how the man heard it. He only had 30 minutes to transcribe the entire song for me, and more students in queue.
In my sophomore year of undergrad I moved from the dorms to an on-campus apartment. There, one of my assigned roommates, another guy named John introduced me to Fishbone. He had a copy of their album Truth and Soul. I didn’t have to listen to that album twice to be completely hooked. I have all of Fishbone’s albums now. Fishbone is my all time favorite group. I’ve seen them live probably half a dozen times, and pound for pound, they are the best band I’ve ever seen perform. I have seen a diverse number of artist and performances over the years and I’ve never seen a show like the shows put on by Fishbone. I love the themes and lyrical content. I love the music and their live performances are as insane as the music. During the 90’s no one could touch them.
I think, some of Fishbone members, if not all of them, would say that ska is the thread that runs throughout their music, but so many different genres flow in the blood coursing through Fishbone’s veins in one song or another, or throughout an album, and are blended so seamlessly it’s a mind fuck. Fishbone is the ultimate genre bending fusion band without equal. I feel like early in their journey it was a collective lunacy directing the nut factory, but later Angelo Moore aka Dr. Madd Vibe took over the asylum. Musically, they can pirouette on a dime backflip into a split and not even break an in key chuckle without missing a beat. There are a lot of tight bands out there but Fishbone is the GOAT nothing I’ve ever seen or even heard about comes close. I’ve also had the pleasure of talking to Angelo about his eclectic DJ sets he sometime puts on between the opening act and their show. Angelo is official.
I’ve had a fling with Depeche Mode and flirted with Massive Attack and NIN off and on. The radiating energy coming off of Janes Addiction is omniscience personified in musical vibration. The Chili Peppers have always held down the punk-funk rock vibe and whenever I need to reconnect with it I know where to get it. Ice-T’s Body Count was a cathartic release and good for what ailed me, in fact most 90’s hip-hop served that purpose, at least the artist I listen too. George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic put me down on the one and I still haven’t gotten back up. The next last and biggest musical excursion for me has been jazz.
My interest in delving deeper into jazz began with my introduction to the fusion of Miles Davis by another friend in college named Paul. His house was the hangout spot. He was a trumpet player and his music collection was expansive. We eventually played in that jazz fusion band together I mentioned earlier for our school’s battle of the bands, but everything related to Miles, and especially his fusion, was brought into my world by Paul. I can’t even begin to explain what Miles’ fusion means to me because I’ll never stop talking about it. From Miles, I inherited the guitarist John McLaughlin, John Scofield, Mike Stern, Pete Cosey, and Reggie Lucas.
During the same period of time, when I’d return home to New Orleans, another friend, a guy who had the distinction of being one of the only DJ’s at the New Orleans public radio station WWOZ with 2 shows, a jazz and reggae show, Mbita, blew my brains out with hardcore reggae, dub, and all this other jazz, both new and obscure artist, filling in some of the gaps. He started to turn me on to Coltrane. He sampled Blues Minor from Africa Brass in his show’s intro. Mbita also turned me on to the music Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The music of Fela was like a black hole. I was unable to escape it for a time but never really tried or wanted to. It was a black hole who’s event horizon I happily dove into and part of me is still there swimming laps.
Finally, in the late 90s I was introduced to the musical universe of Steve Coleman by a Cameroonian friend, Charles. He tried to turn me on to a few other artist around the same time, but one stood out to me and I focused my attention there. Start with Steve’s early work which he makes available on his website (http://m-base.com/) for free and listen to the way he takes a funk groove and turns it out by aligning it with the motion of the stars and planets caught in a galaxy’s spin. That’s only the beginning. The beats and rhythms move against one another and shift directions and speeds, and then the melodies come in and Steve and his band take turns navigating this ever changing sonic landscape they create, while at the same time, playing against it and one another, following each other deeper into the celestial void. Steve Coleman is one of the world’s and history’s best composers. My understanding of his process is that he picks a topic of interest, researches it, and then presents what he’s learned sonically turning it into music. Within the last decade or so Steve won a few different genius awards. He’s like one part polymath, one part musical sorcerer, and one part cosmic adventurer.
I’ve skipped over a bunch of artist and their music, and glanced over whole genres like hip-hop, but these are my main influences.
3. What advice would you offer aspiring performers?
Practice and this would include performing. The experience of performing with others is invaluable. Use the artist who’s artistry you admire and respect to help you hone your skills, but when creating your own art don’t intentionally try to copy or reproduce their work. Their stamp is already on you. Look inside yourself for your own way or path.
Find a mentor. Find your own musical shaman. Find your own E.J. Spend some time at their feet in various settings and most importantly watching them work up close. If they give you the opportunity to perform with them even better.
You don’t need anyone. You can do everything you need to alone, but by finding someone you admire and respect to work with you can speed up your evolution inordinately or conversely, it can slow you down to a crawl depending on how far you want to follow them down their rabbit hole. Just remember you’re a rabbit too. One day you’ll have to dig your own hole or stop pretending to be a rabbit.
4. How do you set yourselves apart from other bands or singers?
To the degree that I set myself apart from others happens because I’m not thinking about others as I create my art. I don’t even think of the art or artist that inspire me. The music I create is a part of me and is born from my own experiences. I just focus on the moment and try to connect with that deeper part of myself and let what’s inside rise to the surface.
5. Any new gigs or albums in the future?
The music that I’ve release to date is actually from my second project. I haven’t released the first project because it’s not finished. Honestly, I’ve just been slow to put it together. I’ve recorded or documented the various parts to a number of tracks along with what I characterize as lyrical themes and impressions. For me documenting a song is basically mapping out the pieces or parts of a song, at least those that come to mind at that point. I just have to commit to finishing them now. The music I’ve put out from this second project is just easier for me to put it together. It’s taken about 5 - 15 percent musical knowledge and skill, which is the sum total of all I’ve got by the way, and the rest, the other 85 - 95 percent is just feeling.
Another factor delaying the completion of my first project is that it involves me singing. I can’t sing, but that’s beside the point. I don’t care anymore. There are a lot of horrible successful singers out there and they have inspired me to express myself vocally. So when you hear it think of your favorite horrible signer and blame them.
I don’t have any plans for gigging. I’ve only just begun to put myself and my music out there. I have to see if anyone else digs it beside me and if I have an audience. If enough people dig it I’d have to put a band together and learn to play the music myself. The guitar solos are completely improvised, so to play them again the way they are in the recordings I’d have to learn them myself.