Looking back at one's self at such a young age, I can't imagine that I had any idea what I was doing at that time, but I have always felt centered in the present, even as a child. So when I joined the Jukes at 20 yrs old, I already knew that it was to be a mere stepping stone to whatever lay beyond.
I grew up in the shadow of my older brother, Gary - a founding member of John Cafferty & Beaver Brown. He has been the prime "inspirator" in my musical life. I used to watch his high school band rehearse in my living room ~ I would lie in front of the kick drum and fall asleep. When JC & BB came into being, around '72, they became the prime gravitational pull in my universe. I fell in love with the the life - the smells, the colors, and the sound of it all. I was already quite sure of my own ambitions towards a musical existence, even if I was not completely aware of what that meant. It was my brother who alerted me that the Jukes were looking for a guitarist. I asked "do you think I'm good enough?", and he said "That's up to you." . . the perfect words, the very words I expected he would say.
I drove down to NYC to audition, and during the audition, I mentioned that I had tickets to see Bruce in a few weeks at the Garden (The River tour) .. someone who was there at the audition (who I came to know well, but at the time was a complete stranger), said that she would arrange for me to have back stage passes. At that time, JC&BB had become quite a force of nature on the east coast bar scene, which had a delightfully fluid continuity, from Maine to DC ... a network of joints and music fans that no longer exists today. JC&BB had been orbiting the Springsteen camp with a respectable degree of welcome. They were also going to the show, so it was family night on the town. I remember standing in the Garden foyer, there to collect my tix and passes, when Cafferty came up to me, having always been the epitome of a "star" in my eyes. He had this strange look of respect, and said "you're big time now ..." (Me! having always been "Gary's little brother?")
I hadn't even gotten the gig yet - I figured maybe he knew something I didn't.
After the show, big bro came to escort me back stage (I'm not sure I would have gone if he hadn't), waltzed me right up to Miami Steve and introduced me ... Miami's response was "I heard about you .." I don't think I'd have scripted the whole thing any better. At the time I remember thinking 'of course, this is the way it's supposed to work'.
Nice story ... but to actually answer your question, I pretty much had my "ambition" established well before the Jukes, encapsulated in the operandi of focusing on the music and everything else would simply happen. This is by no means a recipe for success as is defined by industry standards, but it has worked perfectly for me in living my life fueled principally by music.
I was still in the Jukes when I placed an ad in the Phoenix and began searching for the musicians that would become my idea of the ultimate band. This made it easier to get the people I met and liked to join up (You play with them?!) That was how Big Sixteen came into existence. We were a meat 'n potatoes band playing mostly original music steeped in the influences of Motown and backwoods flavored Rock & Roll in the era of the synth and top forty bands. Examples of the more interesting local bands to me at the time were Private Lightening and Devon Square.
I had no eyes for the mechanism of the industry ~ the bassist one day said to me that we should be recording and shopping our music to labels .. it seemed meaningless. For me, it was about the writing, rehearsing and performing of the music ~ the rest was all ... something else. I suppose I was waiting for someone to come along and do it all for us.
The musicians were, to my taste, the best around, and we almost created that family vibe that I believe all bands must strive to achieve .. almost. Not quite though, and that cohesive shortfall was our weakest link. But as to highlights, playing with those guys tops the list.
There were other bands in that time as well, all for me about the same thing - the people and the music. Great musicians. I was writing with no greater creative acclivity or prolificity than I do today.
The Subterraneans were, to be precise, a nineties band... the last of my making. The hope and promise of the SubT's, as I saw it, was that there were members in that band who were more acclimated by their nature toward working the system, so that aspect of potential success didn't go quite so ignored. Another group of exceptional musicians, but too disparate personality-wise ~ there was too little human connection, and way too much attention put into the effort to "be hip". To me, "hipness" should be an unintentional byproduct. The more you try to be hip, the less hip you are.
But hey, I'm just talkin' here ...
I always had a vision, not so much of stardom, but hopeful of some place within the webwork of humanity that my music might take hold. To say it was "just the ride" would be anemic. To me it's living amidst a feedback loop if ideas that fold and unfold, drawing into the maelstrom past and present, the architecture of the song, the music, the band, and the performance experience - it's the viscosity of living in the moment.
First I hear the music, then I write it - this is not unique. But it affords one the luxury of hearing it in it's finished form before ever having to put it into physical form. I still have a tendency to write for a full band, and then record it in that fashion, knowing that it will likely never be performed that way. The music is what it is ~ that's my aim, that's my "art" , if you will ... the rest is merely circumstance.
Musicians, for the most part, are tweak-addicts, so the refinement of an idea is an ongoing process. I see a song as a living entity, sort of like a child, and once written in it's first form deemed "complete", it becomes no longer 'mine' but rather something with which I coexist. Subsequently, every performance of the tune is a new experience, taking on a new iteration dictated both by my current state of being, and whatever it seems the song wants to be in that particular moment. It is this breathing mechanism that keeps it all fresh, and in bitter contrast, it is a sad day when it comes to pass that the song must be recorded, and thus jailed within the shape and size of the final outcome. This is, no doubt, the origin of the perception that I "don't rush the process." Recording is like the last day of freedom before surrendering to a prison sentence - you want to stretch it out as long as you can, and be absolutely sure you have dotted all the t's and crossed all the i's before the cell door slams and locks it all into a neat
3-1/2 minute stone cylinder. Once recorded, I derive little pleasure in performing the song live in that format - instead, I put it up on blocks until I have forgotten how to play it ... one future moment will come along and I'll whip it out on a whim, feeling my way through it blind, and usually when that happens, I find its 'newness' all over again, as if I had just written it. Self interpretation is excitingly liberating.
As to dry spells, or 'writer's block' - the dreaded infliction .. to me it doesn't exist. Writer's block is a precipitation of the perception that one's music is a product designed for sale in a marketplace. If you're pumping out tunes for the sole purpose of getting them on to CDs and selling them, then it is entirely probable that you will become a slave to the reactions of others to your music, and the concern, aka the 'fear' that others will react negatively will ultimately cause you to begin crafting your music around what it is you think they want to hear. To me this is a dead end street because the truth is you never truly know what others are going to think. One can only guess, and when you reach that brick wall of realization that human response is ultimately unpredictable, that's when you draw a blank.
Forgive me as I wax idealistic, but in my universe, the true artist plies his creativity solely as a means of self expression, and as long as you exist, perceive, observe, opine, and theorize, you will always have something to express, and as long as you don't lose interest or cease getting enjoyment from the process, you'll always have a means of expression.
Clearly there are righteous arguments to this philosophy, but I seek not this debate. The Industry of Music has aptly illustrated that structure and predictability are viable concepts in the manufacture of, and force-feeding to the public, music that is designed to generate sales. The 'Art' of Music is my chosen purview, and I am well aware that I do not stand as what one might deem 'successful'. I am, however, free from the need to comply to any industry standard, thus not subject to the fear of failure to do so, and am, by my own standard of expectation, living large. For that I offer many thanks to the cosmos, and to those good folks who come around from time to time and show their interest in what I do.
The '3rd album live' was me mimicking the pattern so many artists followed as I observed in my youth, It seemed fun and appropriate. Professional Stranger was indeed a response to the enthusiasm so graciously shown me by folks at the gigs for the covers that I play. These two releases were intended to come fast and loose, but I ended up slaving over them as much as I do for any recording. I guess it's just my nature.
As far as the "career move" is concerned, I remember when I was young, the supreme benefit of achieving the monumental success & stardom I was wont to imagine in my wildest fantasies, was the freedom to do 'whatever I want'. While I may have strayed from the road I needed to travel in order to reach this goal, I never lost sight of the goal itself, and so, in retrospect I find, that 'doing whatever I want' is exactly what I did. I found it far more enjoyable to do that than to do what I thought I 'had to do' in order to reach the point where I could do 'whatever I want'. The least enjoyable period of my musical life was a 15 month span where I was signed to a label. Although the contract was willfully signed based on the caveat that I would do 'whatever I want' I was immediately besieged upon with calls dictating to me what I 'had to do.' While my noncompliance was irksome to them, their insistence that I do what they wanted was in breach of our agreement. I was eventually 'bought out' ~ easiest money I ever made, except for the fact that the entire time I was annoyed by the existence of this troublesome thing in my life, in which I was otherwise ridiculously happy.
So you could say that doing 'whatever I want', is the only career move I have ever made.
I never thought I would think or say this, but I miss the generation gap. If I see one more 30-something mom with her identically dressed preteen daughter dancing to Katy Perry ... the human race will never evolve if we seek to raise carbon copies of ourselves, or try to become carbon copies of our children . . . I digress . . .
Feathers in the cap are only as useful as you choose to exploit them. It never hurts to win a contest, but the prize is likely most valuable thing you're gonna get. Accolades look good on the promo and webpage. There are managers and record label personnel who will tell you "this stuff is gold!" And to them it is - their job is selling. It's interesting, to me, that at the dawn of the industrial age, the job of the businessman was to find out what the people wanted and make it for them. Nowadays, the job is to make something and then convince people that they want it. This is why I am a cynic in business - I have no desire to convince anyone of anything. I write, I play, I sing, I make CDs. If you don't care for it, thank you for listening, good day to you, kind madam or sir. If you do, then good morning, brothers and sisters! My life and welcome to it.
When John Lennon began releasing his love songs for Yoko, as a young, leather clad street rocker, I found these tunes to be too sickly sweet. I now see them as courageous and genuine, and when I listen, what I hear is music the likes of which will never be made again. Dylan is similar ... if you listen to songs he wrote on his first recording, and his most recent release, you will find something that has never changed. That something is the "to thine own self be true" factor. Maybe is was easier back then, but once the big money got involved, the craft of song sculpture eclipsed that art of music.
These days I seek 'absolute introspection'. It's frightening to strip yourself naked in a pubic forum, and that door can seem difficult to open, but once you open it, everything is in there ... an infinite supply of ideas... including the cure for writer's block.
I remember, as a child, the album covers I would look at while listening, their backsides were filled with text, like a newspaper article. I'd stare at all those words thinking one day I'd read them - might be interesting - but I never did. Prose is a great breeding ground for poetry, and many of my lyrics are born of my more journalistic meanderings. Serving up a bit of such doggerel seemed an apt way to paint a more complete picture. And, as it so sayeth in the text, if you can't read it, there is a pdf on the website which you can enlarge to taste and need. User interactivity - wave of the future ...
In the grand scheme of things, I am inclined to believe that it was meant to be.