What I've Learned
from 10,000 Musicians
I'm a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer.
I have played and recorded in international settings, a multitude of percussion instruments, guitar, bass, harmonica, some flutes, keyboard, and if you push me - a very fine jaw harp.
In fact, if I break it down.... I just love to offer-up music, in a living room, a bar, a concert hall or an intercontinental, interactive satellite coordinated concert.
I was born in the Yukon, Canada where my nickname "Kluane" got it's start. While I lived just a short period in Canada's north, the mountains, lakes, streams and weather certainly played a role in who I am today.
At an early age, my father showed me some moves on an old handmade, nylon string guitar that he had traded for a couple of packs of cigarettes on the WWII Dutch warfront. I am forever in his debt. My greatest recording accomplishment is, and will always be, the recording I made of my father.
What I learned? You never forget your first song. And, while there may only be a total of twelve notes to learn, you never stop learning how they are supposed to go together.
Then, I became fascinated with percussive sounds from around the world… especially African and Latin American rhythms. I fanatically traveled the world collecting anything that you could bang, scrape or hit.
What I learned? Border customs people really don’t appreciate the true value of handmade African caxixi shakers or a Brazilian berimbau. They just want the serial number.
More importantly, a single clicking or ringing sound in a song can make or break that song.
My very early 'professional' musical career consisted of touring with various rock and pop groups, often in questionable bar venues.
What I learned? The drink in hand is often more important to many people than the band or talent on stage. But you still put your heart and soul into playing for the few who actually listen.
I toured Canada, USA and Europe and recorded many “world music” albums (before it was called that), with my late, musical soul mate, Dario Domingues. We played in grand churches, the water reservoirs under Munich, on an island where 100,000 doves were released at the climax of our performance, the first-ever “simulcast”, live satellite, intercontinental concert and then, the humbling experience of being involved in Berlin, in front of 500,000 people, for a series of anti-apartheid concerts featuring ‘Sting’. For our 'world music' efforts, we were awarded the Deutscher Schallplattenpreisan (1983) accolade by the Deutsche Phono-Akademie, an association of recording companies of Germany that recognizes outstanding achievement in the music industry.
What I learned? Music is truly a universal language. Around the world people are drawn to music. Of course, different strokes for different folks!
I remember the time we were on a very successful European tour and had the privilege of playing in communist East Germany just before ‘The Wall’ came down. The audience was hard-working, lovely farm families, but they sure didn’t 'get' us… at least, in those times ☺ But wow, that didn’t keep them from serving us the most delicious Spätzle … ever.
Also, whether you play in front of a half-million people in a field, or 10 people in a bar, your role as a musician never changes.
“Dream of the Drum” – I was commissioned to compose and conduct a score for 40+ percussionists from all corners of the world... Jamaican fire dancers, Trinidadian steel drummers, Japanese kodo drummers, African djembe players, military drummers,... the list goes on.
What I learned? The language of music respects no geographic borders.
Also, never start your outdoor concert, with a lone Native Elder's rain drum song. The drum's magic works!
I helped build three innovative recording studios plus, my current production studio. I academically taught musical acoustics and production for several years.
What I learned? All the mathematics and physics in the world can’t replace a good ear.
Recording studio co-owner, engineer, producer. I had the honour of recording musicians of every calibre and every style imaginable.
What I learned? The talent in this world, locally and internationally, is phenomenal. Most musicians selfishly lay down their talents and their lives for the pure enjoyment of others!
However, I also learned, there is no safe way to record 31 inebriated, fiddle and bagpipe players. But, there is also no other way to have that much fun.
As a producer, I've had the wonderful opportunity to work in great studios in NYC and Nashville with amazing session musicians such as: Eric "Roscoe" Ambel - best known as lead guitarist of Steve Earle’s band the Dukes; Dan Baird of the chart-topping 'Georgia Satellites'; guitarist extraordinaire, Warner E. Hodges, founding member of 'Jason and the Scorchers'.
What I learned? Great musicians tend to be humble but they sure have opinions! In Nashville, I was bluntly told -"No, I won't raise the tom level - in country music, we use toms for holding our bourbon glass." I never did get the toms louder.
I spent many years as President of the Ottawa International Jazz Festival and met some of the greatest musical geniuses in the world.
What I learned? "Man, if you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know."
Music for jingles on radio and TV. Documentaries.
My personal favourite was coming up with suitable music for the mating rituals of pigs or, how to create 60 minutes of Arctic wind sounds for the movie 'Never Cry Wolf'.
What I learned? You can tell an entire story in a 29.5 second radio jingle and music is the glue that holds a great video together.
Presentations to school kids: Through a wonderful organization in Canada called “MASC”, I delivered workshops to thousands of school kids and got them involved with the pulse of the energy and mystique of music.
What I learned? Teachers don’t really want to lose control of 100 students passionately banging percussion instruments. But, the kids really do have a true, innate passion that is just begging to be released and directed.
Wedding bands, survival gigs and house band stints.
What I learned? It didn't matter how good a musician you were. If you couldn't play the “Duck Song” for weddings, then you just weren't a good band. It didn't matter that you could play a ‘diminished 7th chord’ - what really counted was that the drummer was cute:-)
Jam sessions in the living room, garage, basement, attic, school stair-well, or wherever... with friends and family.
What I learned? That is what life should be about.
What I learned? No matter how many gigs I play and how much I practice, I'll never be as good as my sons.
That's a good thing.
In the end...
What I learned?