THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
25th February, 2016 1
Christopher Currell is one of Saginaw’s forgotten musical heroes. He is an incredible talent who learned the ropes from local icons including The Bossmen, Count & the Colony, The Excels, The Pack and the Caravans. The early years of rock & roll were spent in garages across the globe and Saginaw was no exception. At any one time you could find Butch Burden, Larry Wheatley, Bobby Balderamma, Pete Woodman, Clark Sullivan or Dick Wagner honing their skills in garages and backyard barbecues.
This was the canvas in which Chris Currell honed his skills. He would grow, change and learn at a rapid pace, out lasting many of his compatriots with his keen intellect and spiritual base. He possesses an uncommon humility for an artist that has achieved international recognition. His meeting with Michael Jackson in 1985 proved to be prophetic. They became close friends and musical comrades until Jackson’s untimely death on June 25th, 2009 as they were about to embark on the This Is It concert series.
Tell me about your influences in Saginaw that may have shaped your journey in music
I played in a lot of bands when I lived in Saginaw. My experiences playing in these bands prepared me
for becoming a professional musician. I was in junior high school when I had my very first musical influence, which led me to decide to play guitar and play in a band. This was a Saginaw band called the Caravans. Another Saginaw band, which also influenced me was Count and the Colony. The sound of the electric guitar really grabbed me. It was magical to me!
You were with Question Mark & the Mysterians when Question Mark dismissed his original band and created a new type of music, a bit heavier. When did you get involved?
I do not remember the actual year I joined the band. I saw it as an opportunity to actually enter into the professional music industry and do professional recording. That experience was a bit shocking because I found out that the record company would not allow the band to play on the recordings. They only used their studio musicians. I did a lot of concert dates with Question Mark. Eventually the keyboard player left the band and it became a power trio. That is when the sound became heavy.
Was there a new cultural spirit that inspired your quest for other forms of music?
Yes, I really was inspired by how music could bring people together. In my early years, playing big concerts venues and festivals was very gratifying. But I had an epiphany playing a huge rock festival in Atlanta Georgia. I was still playing with Question Mark and the Mysterians as a power trio. Up to then, music had been like a big party for me. That night, I looked out at the huge crowd of 25,000 people and I realized…all these people were looking at me to tell them something. I had no idea about anything. Life was a big party and I was not taking responsibility for anything. I realized, I needed to re-evaluate myself and the purpose of my life. The next day I quit Question Mark. I began a personal quest to find out who I am and what life actually is. Of course this changed my music radically.
Who you inspired you?
Up to then, Michigan bands like The Bossmen, The Pack and The Amboy Dukes heavily influenced me musically. I then started expanding my music tastes. I was knocked out the first time I heard Cream. It was Eric Clapton’s playing that made me develop a vibrato on the guitar. Then along came Jimi Hendrix! He was a revelation for me! After that, the influences are a long list. The types of bands that I became interested in were progressive rock and rock fusion. This led to more Jazz fusion and eventually electronic and avant garde styles of music.
The list of guitarists that influenced me is just as long. Probably the most influential being Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Allan Holdsworth, Al Dimeola and Frank Gambale. The guitarist that influenced me the most though was John Mclaughlin. The musician that inspired me the most is Ravi Shankar.
When did you meet Michael Jackson?
It was in the summer of 1985 that I got a call from Michael Jackson. He had heard about me from the New England Digital company. They made a sophisticated computer based synthesizer called the Synclavier. I owned one. Michael had a huge Synclavier system. He called me on the phone and asked me if I would teach him how to use it. We finally scheduled a time where we could meet and begin my teaching. I went to his personal studio at his house on a Sunday morning. He introduced himself and we sat down in front of the Synclavier and began his first lesson.
What did you think of him?
He was very hospitable and polite. I liked him right away.
Did he hire you on the spot? Or did you have to go to several auditions?
Well, after three hours, I had taught Michael how to power up and boot up the Synclavier, call up his sound library and showed him how to call a sound down to the keyboard for him to play. He said “That’s all I can take for today, can you come back tomorrow for a session?” I said “sure!” I came back the next day and we worked on one of Michael’s songs. He wanted me to come back every day. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of the most interesting next four years of my life! So if that was an audition, I guess I passed!
Did he give you a say in the music once you passed the audition?
He always had a say in the music but at the same time, he respected my input. He was very easy to work with.
What was your opinion of Michael as a singer?
Michael was a great singer! Totally professional! Singing was easy for him. In fact, he could also imitate different instruments with his voice as well.
What about his lyrics?
I always thought he wrote about interesting subjects. Obviously his lyrics connected with people as well as his singing.
A musician – did he play various instruments; was he proficient?
His main instrument was his voice. But he was also very adept at playing percussion. He amazed me one day when he started playing air guitar to Led Zeppelin music in his studio!
Did he prove to be helpful, to open doors so to speak and get better pay, residuals and contracts?
My association with Michael changed my life completely. We became friends and he introduced me to many people. My phone was always off the hook with people calling wanting to do something with me. During the making of the “Bad” album, CBS records said I was their highest paid musician! I will always be grateful to him for helping me! People still call me for projects based on my work with Michael.
Michael had a great sound onstage in their live performances…
Absolutely! Michael was in the position to have the best of everything! We had the best musicians, the best singers, the best dancers as well as the best sound and lighting production crew. We took two Synclaviers on the “Bad” tour and they also contributed to the amazing sound onstage!
Did you play loud in concert?
I did not play too loud. I only played loud enough to feel the music properly. I am very conscious of protecting my hearing! But in front where Michael performed, the sound was bone crushing loud from all the front monitors and side fills! Michael always liked the music loud, in the studio and onstage!
How many shows did you do with Michael?
The “Bad” tour lasted about 16 months. We performed 123 concerts to 4.4 million fans across 15 countries.
Tell me about your life in another country?
I currently live in Japan. I fell in love with the culture when I first came to Japan with Michael. After working with Michael, I continued to travel to Japan for music production work. I was living 50 percent of the time in the states and the 50 percent of the time in Japan. About six and a half years ago, I decided to permanently move to Japan. I currently have 14 albums out and performing my own music. I also am researching how sound can expand consciousness and awareness. I have my house and recording studio in the mountains and forest above the ocean overlooking Mt. Fuji. I like nature and it is a great creative environment.
What was your impression of the seventies/eighties scene? Meet any of the big players?
I grew up in the Saginaw and Bay area music scene. At that time, the music scene was very active with many bands and concerts. It was a very exciting time for me as a growing musician. I was constantly being inspired. There were also many places to play. I did meet many of the big players from the area and all over Michigan. In general, after participating in the music scene and watching it evolve through the seventies and eighties, I think it was the most creative time of the music business. I think the sixties were probably the most creative and eclectic artistically. The nineties up to now has been a time of creative and artistic stagnation for music. It is mostly about fame and fortune and no music content. But of course there are always exceptions and there always have been, and still are, great bands and artists. You just have to look harder for them. You generally won’t find them in the popular commercial rock music scene today.
You mentioned once before that you were interviewed about Michael Jackson and you wanted to set the record straight. Were you able to do that? What did you Say?
My best response to your question would be to have your readers check out an in depth, four-part series published at an online site called headphone. guru. The article is called “Synclavier, Music and Michael Jackson”. In the articles, I tell my story with Michael from the first time I met him, working on songs and recording the “Bad” album, the rehearsals for the “Bad” tour, and my experiences “on the road” with Michael and the “Bad” world tour.
Here are the links for the four headphone.guru Michael Jackson articles:
You’ve been a quiet icon in mid-Michigan. What would you like to say to your former friends, musicians?
I would like to say hello to everyone! I do not get back to Saginaw very often…I miss all of you and the good times jamming together! I keep in touch via Facebook! Anyone that wishes to contact me can find me there!
Any last comments?
I want to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to communicate to music fans everywhere!
I would like to leave you with this message…
“Sound is a vibration. Like sound, the universe is also vibration.
All knowledge we seek resides there. All we have to do is listen.”
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)