I turn forty two years old this coming Sunday. I don't really sweat birthdays that much, but do recognize them as milestones. I usually spend some time during the week to think and reflect. Last week, I came across a lost letter from the wife of a buddy of mine and Jackson
's. Her note informed me that Count M'Butu had recorded an album and dedicated it to him. His name is Brian Spears (it's spelled wrong on the jacket).
Brian was a highschool friend who picked up the drums in his senior year. His sole inspiration was that he simply wanted to rock. He was not a particularly good drummer those first couple of years, but jamming with him during summer and winter breaks from college, he fell deeply in love with music. He was quite the prodigy with all things academic, but music consumed him. Brain, myself, Jackson, and the others in our small circle of musician friends always held strong opinions on the music we listened to, and often times what we were listening to was quite diverse. For instance, Jackson and I were in the beginning throws of our lifelong love affair with the Rolling Stones when Brian was digging Genesis, Gabrial, Yes, and all the other art rock acts during a certain stretch back then. We all weren't quite totally past the "everything sucks except what I'm listening to" phase, but we were mature enough to be a little more open to really listening to other genres. These epic listening sessions are amongst my foundest memories. Brian would throw on some Marillion
record and wax on about each song and the excellence of the drumming, guitar, lyrics, etc... (sounds funny saying this), and then Jackson and I would spin the Stones cover of Chuck Berry's "O Carol" and blather on and on about Keith's ever increasing capability to rob every lick Chuck ever played (my how little I've changed). Sometimes we'd each scratch our heads and wonder why the other person was so jazzed about one artist/song or another, but we acknowledged each others enthusiasm and continued to listen.
By the time we started recording music in my basement, Brian was way deep into the prog rock thing. He was spending a lot of time jamming with likeminded players and had decided to double major in music further distancing himself from what the rest of us we emersing ourselves in which was blues based rock. On one Christmas break, Brain returned to town to discover that we'd been recording over at my place for a couple of days and was a little bummed that we'd left him out. Our response was that we didn't think he was really into what were recording, but certainly would love to have him come over and hang. From that day on, his drums stayed in my basement until the day he packed them up and moved to Atlanta 4 years later.
Brain became an extremely successful banker for a German exchange bank in his day job life. When they offered him a VP's position in a start up branch here in Atlanta in 1989, he said "yes" before they could explain what it all entailed. Atlanta was the booming city for music during that period on the strength of REM and the whole college radio thing that was happening down here. AR guys for all the labels were crawling all over the place. When he got here, he found people to play with the second day. He plied his talents in an excellent production of Jesus Christ Super Star that ran for several months. In that band, he forged relationships with a circle of musicians that would blossom many times over. When circumstances in my life back in NY lent itself to moving, there was only one place I wanted to go and that was to join him here in Atlanta.
Brain, myself, and a couple of other guys ran studios and recorded music for the next few years as we had done back in NY, but Brian was really looking to master his craft and become a working musician. He played with as many people as could, any style, anywhere. He would spend his ever increasing bankroll on annual month long trips to Africa, Cuba, and Brazil to learn first person these distinct percussion styles. Along the way, he met The Count. The Count took an immediately liking to Brian and took him under his tutelage. Brian performed in The Count's African drum troop all over the South. During this period, Brian would become a most excellent and professional drummer. I learned more from him then appreciation for other genre's of music, but how to better listen music. I learned to get something out of anything that I listened to, even if I wasn't particularly fond of it.
We were building the studio of our dreams in the basement of the house Brain had recently bought when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor that took his life less than a year later. I hated music for a long time after that.
It took sometime, but I gained perspective on it all and by happenstance reconnected with my long lost friend Jackson who had never put down his love affair with music and helped me find mine again. That was five years ago.
This record that The Count has recorded, See The Sun
, is very much Brian. I have listened to it a few times through and it is quite good. He even plays with the drum troupe on one of the tracks.
On the eve of my 42nd birthday, I thank Brain, Jackson, The Count, and all the other musicians I've come in contact with since for helping me rediscover something I so deeply love and was missing for a long time.