In high school, I was obsessed with finding and listening to new music. I went to multiple record stores almost every week looking for the latest and greatest. I had over 400 albums when I started college, and they probably helped me get the sweet job of listening to all the new albums that came to the campus radio station every week, rating every song and picking my favorites for radio play, and then running through them with the program director. I loved it. Music production could have been an alternate path for me—it’s bittersweet to look back to the road not taken.
Besides design, music and musicians are my lifelong passion. I’m not a musician myself, but music is seldom background for me. Ideally, it’s with headphones on and engaging my conscious mind. Since part of my workday is late night and creative, music helps shape my process. I like to go back, deeper into my areas of passion from around 1970-2000. Lately, I’ve been building a collection of two of my favorites:
With the passing of British guitarist Allan Holdsworth this past April, I remembered back to seeing him play a small hall in Portland about 1991 with my good friend Jeff Sherwin, shortly after moving to Oregon. As I stood next to the stage in front of the huge speakers, Jeff handed me a kleenex to plug my ears and save my eardrums. I was just too hypnotized by his sound to notice. While not as well known as some of his peers and not a singer, he was an amazing guitarist, an extremely inventive, knowledgeable and uncompromising musician, an early adopter of synths combined with guitars, and known for the SynthAxe he played. His style featured lots of complex chord progressions and intricate amazing solos, not necessarily for the faint of heart or “easy listening”. And like so many of my favorite musicians, he played with many combinations of musicians, always exploring new avenues to develop his amazing talents. From progressive rock to jazz fusion, starting in the mid-’70s, he played with Soft Machine, U.K. and Gong (rock); to Tony Williams Lifetime and Jean-Luc Ponty (jazz). In the ‘80s, he created his own bands and collaborations, including with former Cream singer/bassist, Jack Bruce.
Here is a mini-playlist of Holdsworth history: (band/album/song(s)/date/comments) I think they are all at iTunes. Otherwise, check Amazon.
1. Soft Machine/Bundles/Land of the Big Snake/1975/this band started in the mid’60s, but by 1975 with Allan, were more jazz
2. Gong/Expresso, Vol. 2/Soli/1978/great rock/jazz fusion, Allan solos on cuts #3, 4 and 6. #3 (Soli) is my favorite
3. Tony Williams Lifetime/Believe It/Fred/1975/one of my favorite fusion albums ever. Also check out #6, “Mr. Spock”
4. Jean-Luc Ponty/Enigmatic Ocean/Pt.1-4/1977/in the four part suite of Enigmatic Ocean, Allan trades solos with Ponty’s violin
5. Holdsworth/Road Games/1983 and Metal Fatigue/1985/ first solo EP projects, heavy-duty jazz fusion, buckle up folks
6. Holdsworth/Secrets/Joshua, and Spokes/ two good examples of the SynthAxe era of Allan’s career. If you’ve come this far, you’ll be discovering the last 30 years of his career on your own
My other guitar hero this post is more playful. Adrian Belew is an American singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who can make his guitar do amazing things and make some very unique non-guitar sounds. He’s not into pyrotechnics, as much as creating unique sounds with a guitar. Over the years, he’s been part of Frank Zappa’s band, toured and collaborated with David Bowie, and with Talking Heads, was a semi-permanent member of King Crimson for 30 years. Each collaboration added to his complex musical persona like a patina, layer upon layer. Through that timeline he’s had an ongoing solo career too. He’s a very dynamic musician who certainly has his unique spot on my heroes list.
So I’ll try to give you a mini-playlist that takes us through his constantly evolving sound. All the albums listed are his solo albums except #1, as a member of King Crimson:
1. King Crimson Discipline/Elephant Talk, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic/1981/his first writing/singing/guitar with King Crimson
2. The Bears/Fear is Never Boring, and Figure It Out/1987/this was Adrian’s ‘80s power pop side project, some solid rock hits
3. Young Lions/Pretty Pink Rose (with Bowie sharing vocals), and Men in Helicopters/1990/lots of other great music and sounds
4. Desire of the Rhino King/Big Electric Cat, and The Momur/1991/these show off his playful writing, singing and guitar effects
5. Inner Revolution/Big Blue Sun/1992/solid album that really showcases his singing, songwriting and playing talents equally
6. Side One/Beat Box Guitar/2005/one of his best songs, with hooks and textures that stick to my head for days
So, this is my current night shift playlist. I may not have made a career in the music industry, but I have incorporated a love of music into my design process. I believe this makes it a win/win.
If you appreciate innovative guitar, Holdsworth will be for the deep space folks, and Belew will bring you back home. Enjoy.Share this: