By Devon “Doc” Wendell
Many fellow musicians or fans of my music and journalism assume that I’m a “purest” based on my love of blues, jazz, classical, and old R&B, not to mention my very open disdain for the everyday, nauseating, chart topping, American Idolized hit. Yes it’s true, I think the crap that the music industry dummies dump on the masses is as bad for the brain as drinking gasoline, I have a love for all kinds of music. This wasn’t always the case however.
I tried the “purest” route as a teen when I first discovered the music of Muddy Waters, Son House, Robert Johnson on the blues end, and Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk on the jazz side of things. I adopted a carefully crafted snobbery that made me feel and appear less of a geek in the eyes of my classmates than I truly was. But I was far too uptight.
I was deadly serious about learning the guitar, practicing up to 16 hours a day most of the time, but something was missing — Fun! It was easy to fall into the doomed romanticism of Robert Johnson. But when I got to a party (on the rare occasion I got invited to one) I was a depressing, sullen wall flower. People who danced and the music they danced to made me sick. Plus I refused to listen to the ‘60s rock music that my parents preached about (except for Hendrix) because I felt it was just watered down versions of the much older and “pure” stuff. I was a real downer.
Two things happened to shake my tree and change my rigid perception of life and music. The first was my introduction to LSD and marijuana, the other was the formation of my very first band in high school in Brooklyn. The two happened almost simultaneously.
The drugs had me smiling for the first time since I was practically an infant and the bass player of my first band introduced me to the world of funk. While I brought my blues influence to the band, he brought that nasty funk. I was introduced to the recordings of James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, and Bootsy Collins. I had heard these grooves before at parties when DJ’s would spin hip-hop records by artists who heavily sampled the funk artists of the ‘70s. But I never knew it came from a purer (there’s that word again) and older source.
Between my lazy and destructive attempts at mind expansion and these infectious rhythms that were accentuated by the one beat, everything suddenly made sense and I was wide open to all musical possibilities. I felt the musical and cultural link between all genres of music. Funk had opened the flood gates.
From then on, on any given night in my tiny Brooklyn bedroom, you could hear me listening to plethora of artists such as: Eric B and Rakin, Ultra Magnetic MC’s, Sly And The Family Stone, Motown, Cal Tjader, Eddie Palmieri, Weather Report, Albert Collins, The Velvet Underground, Prince, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Charles Ives, Chopin, Eric Dolphy, Mingus, Stockhausen, and even The Renaissance composer John Dunstable.
The doom and gloom of the blues mystique had softened and I now found the fun in music while still being able to cling to my geekiness. My playing accelerated to a new plateau as well. The drugs made it feel as if I had improved much more than I actually had. But I had broken free of living a life of “Pure” misery, only listening to the oldest recorded forms of a musical genre. My curiosity of the musicology of everything I was now hearing was also sparked.
Now the drugs are gone but I still try to be as open as I can. I may often be highly critical of current and past pop culture trends in many of my articles, interviews, and op-ed pieces, After all, if I weren’t bitter, pissy, contradictory, and slightly insane, I wouldn’t be in the music business. But it’s all music to me that’s connected and when I open my guitar case, I say a prayer for the dead “purest” in me. The “purist” who would have kept me playing one style for one person instead of many styles for at least two people.
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