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musician, performance / film / theatre, U.S.A.
I started taking formal lessons on the drums when I was 11 and learnt
the rudiments of reading and writing typical American orchestra drum
music. Then the teacher brought me a book on syncopation and then I
started learning some of the jazz styles. But I was really drawn towards
rock and roll. This in about 1957, and I played the drums to records I'd
bought and played in rock and roll bands at high school.
I played in
various bands and then wound up playing the drums in the band with
Sunny Terry and Brownie McGee. We performed and travelled around
the world for 6 years straight, living out of suitcases. We performed in
45 countries around the world, and made recordings that are still
available for sale. I made an album called Whopping on Alligator records, with Sunny Terry,
Johnny Winter, and Willy Dickson, and it won a number of blue
awards as a recording. I'm happy with this album because it
summarized all the drum work I had done up to that point with Sunny
Terry. After that I performed in my own band, Styve, for another 5 or
6 years, where I sang and played the harmonica. We performed very
diverse music that was highly rthymic - a melting down of blues, folk
and rock. The major themes we dealt with in our music were fear and
innocence which were reflected in the lyrics. These issues came out
naturally when I wrote.
Dizzy Gillespie gave the second Bahá´í fireside
I attended, and his talk made a great impression on me. He said
that all the Prophets play in the same band. He also said that God is
one, humanity is one, all the religions are one and music is one, and it
is a world language....
Can you imagine Jesus playing the
trumpet, Buddha on the drums, Mohammed on the piano, and Moses
playing the bass fiddle? Dizzy said they wouldn't be arguing. They
would be making beautiful music together.
I got to know Dizzy fairly
well because I travelled a lot on package tours performing at music
festivals and often his band was also at these festivals. We used to play
cards a lot in between sets. I only ever played once with him in a band
and that was a special occasion, where I was on the harmonica and he
on the trumpet. It was a fundraising concert for a Native American
We didn't play together because our music is quite different.
found my niche in incorporating drama or performance art (gained
through my years of experience in theatre) with a band, so that the
performance is a theatrical event rather than just performing music.
These performances are a combination of a planned form with
improvisation. It might be a planned monologue or little theatrical
pieces or a chosen poem. So perhaps a poem is read, then suddenly the
lights come out as someone rushes out into the crowd and then
someone dances and then the song begins, which also might stop
suddenly because I might decide to say something.
performances are thematic and sometimes they are chaotic. The thread
that holds a performance together is the selection of pre-written songs
that we decide to perform.
I have performed with various people
but for the last 2 years I have been working with Julian Levens who is
a guitarist and we write the songs together. We do not have a name for
ourselves but rather name our performances, with names such as
performance number 2M or number 3L. So that the focus is more on
the event rather than on the band - more like an art experience than a
music experience. Such as the last performance where we got 2 people
to buy eggs in the grocery store next door to the theatre, and then
Julian pulled off his shirt and broke the egg on his chest. This act
related to a song that was performed. Or such as inviting strangers off
the street to come into the middle to join us. It's very fresh and a lot of
I'm not focused on establishing a particular style or approach but
rather I'm playing around with situations as they occur and expressing
this as creatively as I can. A lot of my work is biographical, and I aim
is to express myself while entertaining the audience by providing a
means of contemplation. At the moment we regularly perform in the
Nada theatre space on the lower East side of Manhattan, and a CD of
about 10 songs of my music is coming out in the next 6 months, and
will be available for sale.
As well as performing, playing and
writing I am also am involved various Native American projects which
are an important part of my life as well. For example I am in the
middle of producing a film with the Mescalero Apache tribe, along with
my son, Joshua. It's an educational film targeted at the Mescalero
Apache youth and its aim is to familiarize the youth with their heritage,
and to stimulate them to seek out their roots, and to strengthen their
spirit. A lot of the film will consist of interviews with the youth who
are working with us, as well infusing it with clips from archives of the
tribe. We will take a survey and choose Mescalero Apache youth who
are looked up to by their peers, as well as creating work booklets which
will be used as an aid in the discussions and interview. The whole film
will be edited in a youthful way. My son is a good editor, director and
writer, and he wrote the proposal for this project, which is funded by
the US federal government.
To finish, I think communicating the
history of the Bahá´í Faith through the arts is extremely important, and
we need to work together more and more creatively to achieve this.
will be doing the technical side (the sound and the lighting) of Bill
George's "Kingfisher's Wing", a solo theatre piece based around the life
of Badi, which will travel throughout the U.K. during August
Excerpts from Arts Dialogue, September 1995, pages 7 - 8.
Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands