Influence and Confluence

It's been about 7 months since my last blog and once again, a lot has changed for me.  In late August of this year I returned to the IT field, a field which I left 11 years ago.  It was a necessary change both for my family's sake and for my sake as well.  My interest in the IT world has been thoroughly recharged with the new goals I've set for myself in education, training and certification.  I want to accomplish a lot over the next 3-5 years or so.  But you should know, music is a part of me to my core.  It isn't something that I can lose or give up.  It's going to be a part of my life for as long as I live so this website and the various musical outlets it represents aren't going anywhere.

That being said, I've been thinking a lot lately about the music that's influenced me over the years:  the genres, the people, the stuff that leaves a lasting impression.  There have been full-blown revelations, things that I didn't even realize about how my musical tastes developed.  It wasn't until I sat down in the quiet moments and followed the breadcrumbs back to my childhood that I understood what shaped my love for music.

This blog is about those moments, as special or as boring as they may be.

Here we go, itemized by genre:

General Rock Appreciation:  Pretty sure I got this from my dad.  When I was in grade school, my dad used to take me and my brother in the car with him to run errands on the weekends.  Up to a certain age, we were only allowed to listen to the Beach Boys because they were squeaky clean and my parents didn't have to worry about the content.  I remember clearly that my dad had a carrying case for all the Beach Boys cassettes we would listen to together.  But from time to time, I noticed that there were one or two other carrying cases under the car seats that had music I didn't recognize.  Stuff like Van Halen, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and on and on.  One day I asked if we could listen to "some of that other stuff" and Dad said no.  As we got a little older, he would occasionally play us some of the safer tracks from those albums.  But nothing stopped me from trying to find those songs on the local radio stations and making my own recordings.  Two of the songs I can remember trying hard to record on my own were Van Halen's "Jump" and Michael Jackson's "Beat It".  I couldn't sit still when those two songs were on.

Years later, when my dad came to visit me at Virginia Tech one weekend, we were driving around in his car listening to Van Halen's "1984" album and the opening drum part to "Hot for Teacher" came on...

...he still fast-forwarded through the song, just like when I was 6.

Funk, Disco and Soul:  This was one of those revelation moments I was talking about earlier.  For years I mistakenly thought that my love for Funk, Disco and Soul only went as far back as high school and that it stemmed from my appreciation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Starting to learn bass at that time I was impressed with Flea and, in the process of studying his style, I began looking back through his influences to help improve my connection with the bass.  It led me to guys like George Clinton, the Ohio Players and many others.

But in a conversation with one of my students this past summer, it dawned on me that the true source for my appreciation goes back to grade school... and Saturday morning cartoons.

Every Saturday, I'd watch the morning cartoons.  Probably just like every other kid in my generation.  My brother and I would skip around to the different networks depending on what was on at any given time.  One of the last cartoons we'd watch every Saturday was on CBS and when it was over, do you know what came on?

Soul Train.

As a kid I remember catching glimpses of the show and being thoroughly fascinated by it.  Everyone was dancing, smiling and having a good time.  I wondered, "Woah.  What IS this and how do I get in on it?"  Of course when Soul Train came on, it also signaled the beginning of the afternoon and my parents would usually come by to tell us to go outside and play instead of wasting the day sitting in front of the TV.  Despite being shooed away from the TV in the beginning or middle of a given Soul Train episode, those infectious songs, carefree attitude and very active basslines stayed with me to this day.

Progressive and Instrumental Rock:  Living in southern California in the late 80's/early 90's was an interesting time.  Radio stations still played the glam stuff and were starting to push grunge when it came on the scene.  I still have the perception that the radio stations back then were more versatile with their music selections... or maybe they just had more freedom to choose what to play without fear of penalty.  Whatever the reason, in 1992 I heard "Pull Me Under" by Dream Theater on a local radio station and I was instantly hooked.  This was one of the first albums I bought on my own, with my own money and it marked the beginning of a time where I started to stretch away from my parents' musical influences.  I bought the "Images and Words" album on cassette and played it non-stop for maybe 3 months straight.

Also getting airplay around the same time, I'd occasionally hear these wild guitar songs with no lyrics, and I liked it.  It was like there was more space for the music to move.  There was no more verse/chorus/bridge structure, and I liked the idea that music could live and thrive outside of those industry-imposed boundaries...even though I didn't know what all that was back then.  I just knew what I liked.

Things started clicking when Sony aired this commercial for their new Discman:

That little title block in the lower left corner pointed me to Joe Satriani.  Satriani is legendary as a player AND as a teacher, having taught Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Larry LaLonde of Primus, Alex Skolnick of Testament, Charlie Hunter and many other famous guitarists.

Between the prog rock of Dream Theater and the instrumental rock of Joe Satriani (and Gary Hoey), my eyes and ears were now open.  These guys and their music were HUGE influences on me well before I even thought about picking up a bass.  Epic, guitar-driven songs held my interest 20 years ago and they continue to do so today.

Metal:  This comes from my brother.  In high school, as I was delving deeper into learning about funk and how to play it on bass, my brother was (and still is) fully into metal.  In fact, I used to make fun of him for listening to it.  My thoughts were basically like anyone else who happened to look at the music without deeper analysis:  "I can't understand what he's screaming about."  And that was where I tuned out.  I couldn't find anything appealing about it musically, certainly not when it came to the basslines which I always thought were too low in the mix or absent altogether.

While my family was on a trip in the mid-90's, I was unlucky enough to have the batteries in my discman run out at the beginning of the trip so I had to listen to my brother's discman.  One of the CDs he brought with him was Pantera's "Vulgar Display of Power" album... you know, the one that has the album cover of a guy getting punched in the face.  The first track was "Mouth for War" and at the end of the song, around 3 minutes in, there's a build-up into the fast ending.  I remember rewinding the track back to that part over and over and over again until my brother asked for his Discman back because I was hogging it.  I can point to that moment as the source of my love for metal.  Over the years, I came to appreciate metal in a big way.  The guitar and drum work in metal music is virtuoso and if people weren't turned off by the screaming vocals, I think they would recognize it more as the art form it is.

That's it for now.  It's 3:30am and it's time for bed.

- Mills

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