Friday, November 30, 2012
Dee Lusk and India
The technological changes, advances, innovations, and inventions our global community has witnessed throughout the twentieth century and the onset of the new millennium are nothing short of astounding. We read in Music of South India, by T. Vishwanathan/Matthew Allen about the manufacture and sale of gramophone recordings done on 10-inch plates in 1910; followed by 78 rpm records in the 1920s. By the 1930s, electrical recording came to India, and in the relatively short span of twenty-five years, mass production and access to performances never heard before became available. This was only the beginning of a remarkable transformation. At approximately the same time, a new world of performance, signified by concert halls, media, and audiences in the urban environment began to emerge. During this period, the development of radio spawned an enormous number of employment opportunities for musicians as staff artists, and the founding of the Madras Radio Club in 1924 led eventually to national network expansion via All-India Radio. A chain reaction had been set off. Though reluctant, resistant, and apprehensive about this fledgling arts advancement, the predominantly male keepers of knowledge and tradition gradually succumbed to the pressure of financial gain and public demand and began recording the music of their ancestors. By the 1940s males and females alike were fully engaged in the growing recording industry. Parallel to the advent of radio and records was the birth of silent cinema, which initially involved actor/singers for the songs necessary. Yet again, however, technology made it possible for audio to be recorded independent of video, and voila, the playback singer projected music onto the screen simultaneously with the action of the characters, and the outdated, obsolete mode of musical sustainability shrank into a dim and distant memory. The continuing technological breakthroughs in recording, radio, film, and ultimately TV, paved the way into the computer age, to the point where presently, free musical access in India is virtually guaranteed. In stark contrast to the miraculous metamorphosis that occurred in South India through the transcendent technologies discussed already , stands my personal choice of a living, local musician, Leonard “Dee” Lusk. To lay the groundwork for this entry and future blogs required by this assignment, I am going to, as succinctly as possible, touch on topics such as Dee’s musical inspiration, education, training, band history, memories, and motivation to continue his craft. As I interviewed Dee for this project, I got the clear sense that his family was undoubtedly the single, most influential factor in his decision to become a musician. He was blessed with talented parents and siblings. The entire family sang (Sacred Harp shaped-note gospel songs and hymns), and amazingly enough, also made “homemade” records. As he remembers it, “My mom and dad even bought one of those ‘record makers’ that came out on the market. It had blank vinyl LPs, and you just set the needle down, turned it on, and it literally cut the record as you played/recorded. That was wild!” Being close to the same age as me, I was barely surprised by Dee’s recollection of boyhood idols—Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, your basic “British Invasion”, and later on Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and ZZ Top. What I didn’t see coming was his mention of Burt Bacharach, The Carpenters, and, to a lesser extent, Chicago and Blood, Sweat, and Tears. After earning All-State Band recognition in high school, Dee went on to matriculate at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Graduating with a Bachelor of Music Education degree, he began teaching in the Edgewood school district as a band director. Subsequently, he returned to college to study English and Theater Arts, and has taught all three subjects at various stops in his professional caree r. This abundance of formal training and experience notwithstanding, Mr. Lusk is fond of saying, “Teaching just gives me the scratch to gig on the side!” His list of bands in which he has played includes Dark Star, Flying Blind, The Larrys (who toured briefly in LA), The Leans, and Big Melvis and the Fabulous Tone Daddies. Currently, Dee plays guitar and sings for two bands, one a Beatles cover group called the Blue Note Ringos; the other a variety jazz/pop group named One Minute to Midnight. In addition, he has done numerous open mic gigs as a solo artist with his acoustic; showcasing some of his original songs. Although I have digressed from the parameters of this project for this blog, I felt it necessary to frame my comments on Dee’s connections with the course material with pertinent background material in order to provide a credible comparison of such disparate genres and styles. I conclude this segment with some selected quotes as Dee shared with me a look back and a peek ahead as he pondered his journey beyond the present and his pleasures from the past…”I started with OMM when Big Melvis stopped gigging…they had been inviting me over and it gave me an outlet to keep my playing chops up…The Larrys LA trip is a special memory…we played the Palomino Club in Hollywood (George Harrison played there!)…one of my best friends, Steve Hartwell and I went to Texas Tech together, formed Dark Star together, and formed The Leans together, so I have very poignant memories of Steve and I…he’s one of the best drummers ever…I’ll never retire from playing…I long as I am able to make music, I will…I was lucky to be born with talent, I nurtured that talent, and it continues to give me great satisfaction…the stories I have entrusted to you are only the tip of the iceberg…thanks for the opportunity.” How has technology impacted and affected Lusk over his forty odd years of playing and performing? First, consider that in the early 1970s vinyl albums with psychedelic art on their covers was still the norm, and the live recording of Woodstock on 8-track was the latest craze. Then came tape cassettes you had to flip over at the end of each side. The progression slowly but steadily stumbled and bumbled along until the explosion of the internet and its resulting social networks consumed heretofore unimaginable amounts of our daily time and energies. As Dee pointed out to me during this interview, “Back in the day, unless you had the good fortune of being seen and heard live and then being offered a recording contract, you had no way of advancing or of getting your songs out there…nowadays, through my website, I can get hired, sell my tunes, and market my brand. That was never possible before.” Lest I forget, the recordings on the website, both studio cuts and live sessions, which were originally recorded in analog, have now been converted to digital, a nearly neglected benefit of technology’s powerful place. In tomorrow’s entry I will discuss the relationship of Japanese and Chinese music to my LLM.