Some of our favorite Talkhouse writers remember musicians who passed away in 2013.
Chi Cheng (1970-2013)
Although it was a head-on collision back in 2008 that left Deftones bassist Chi Cheng in a semi-conscious state of semi-improvements and setbacks, it wasn’t until April of 2013 that he passed, leaving many feeling like they had lost him twice. I never had the pleasure of meeting Chi, so admittedly I feel a bit uncomfortable eulogizing him as if I had. However, while on tour opening for the Deftones post-accident, the band and crew would often fill space with personal stories about Chi, sharing a deeper sense of his still-water vibe and crunchy ethics — reasons why we supposedly should have been fast friends beyond our basic bass-brotherhood — and for that I feel a personal loss. It’s not an ideal way to get to know someone by retracing their negative spaces; to have only gathered an abstract awareness of Chi’s on- and off-stage presence through these fingerprinted moments was bittersweet. It was also hard to avoid equally candid conversation with his succeeding bassist Sergio Vega about the awkward baggage associated with joining our respective bands, and how our lives were made more fortunate as the result of someone else’s sudden and tragic misfortune — it was an injury suffered in a car accident almost 16 years ago that left Dillinger Escape Plan’s original bassist, Adam Doll, partially paralyzed and consequently opened a door for me. The overarching impression I got of Chi was that of a good Samaritan whose love for all was most clearly manifested through his charitable works, and in turn, the response from those whose lives he affected when a charity was set up for his needs. Ultimately Chi’s legacy stands as a testament to the notion that it’s the relationships we cultivate both locally and globally, and the creative energy we focus on doing greater good that defines us, and the space we hold when we’re gone.
—Liam Wilson (The Dillinger Escape Plan)
George Jones (1931-2013)
I grew up in a small town. Not the kind of small that conjures up a rustic image of living off the land and happiness, but the kind where you feel like you’ve been raised in the wrong place, and are constantly trying to figure out where home is. Country music was all around me, but not the kind I’d like to boast about. Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Jeff Foxworthy… this is what I thought represented where I was from; music for the blue collars. I can’t complain too much; after all, the first songs I ever wrote and the first time I learned to harmonize were all influenced by this godforsaken nu-country genre. But something just didn’t feel right. This is where George Jones comes in, and why he was important to me. George was my gateway drug to outlaw country and beyond; the music that, at risk of sounding profound, saved my life. It made me proud of where I was from, and shaped the way I saw country music. He was the original sad bastard, the battered king of excess and glamour, the man who introduced me to the loves of my life: Townes Van Zandt, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson. I haven’t (yet) been through a tough divorce, had a problem with drinking, or anything that most of George’s fans find solace from in his music. But finding pride in where you come from is a wonderful thing. 2013 was a good year for the roses. Thank you, George. See you in the great honky-tonk in the sky.
Reg Presley (1941-2013)
Four years after “Wild Thing,” the Troggs went into the studio and had a great big meltdown with the tape rolling. Four decades after that, my old band discovered The Troggs Tapes on a European tour full of cancellations, fuel shortages, and scabies. The tapes, an 11-minute free-for-all between West Country lads who sound like a belligerent tribe of hobbits, instantly took over our repertoire of running jokes. Especially Reg Presley, the helium-voiced singer, who hopelessly tries to scat a beat to the drummer (“Dubbuh dubbuh dubbah cha! Dubbah dubbah dubbah CHA!“) and gives us what might be the most epically incoherent quote in music history: “What about trying it not only just on that top skin, floor, and then your floor tom-tom, but try it on — split your hands…” Despite getting called a “cunt” and a “big pranny,” Presley manages to laugh (or at least titter maniacally) and goof off a bit — a far cry from Casey Kasem and Buddy Rich and their famous meltdowns. For us, screeching “You’re doin’ it fuckin’ wrong!” at soundcheck became a way of getting through the tour. But The Troggs Tapesare more than band therapy. Everybody knows the giddy highs and tooth-grinding lows of collaboration; you, too, might someday find yourself screaming, as Presley does over a short-lived guitar riff, “Yeeeaaah!… NO!”
—James Rickman (People Get Ready)
Cedar Walton (1934-2013)
Really exquisite straight-ahead jazz is hard to capture on record. The music that Cedar Walton made was partially dependent on a communal feeling. It has less to do with Art than Culture. You needed to be there, close to the bandstand, preferably in a small club, hopefully surrounded by other patrons who really love and understand the language. I saw Cedar at least a dozen times during 20 years of living in New York, but now that he’s gone, I wish I had been there another dozen, or two dozen, or three. He was a consecrated, authentic genius and one of the last of the line.
—Ethan Iverson (The Bad Plus)
Butch Morris (1947-2013)
It’s never enough to say that Butch Morris was a brilliant musical thinker who created Conduction, a system for spontaneous musical composition. More importantly, using Conduction, Butch composed beautiful, visceral, and expansive music in real time. To hear or perform Butch’s music was a transformative experience — it opened the ears and heart. Conduction began as a thought process about music-making but then became the music. Butch didn’t just theorize and analyze but acted firmly in the belief that his ideas could positively affect our lives through sound. Conduction is not just Butch’s personal syntax, but a universally applicable approach to the architecture of extemporaneous sound. Butch the Conductor was exacting in his use of Conduction and demanded that it, and he, be taken seriously. But this desire for perfection in sound never contradicted Butch the person: warm, funny, spontaneous. These qualities were always evident in the music — there was no separation from the personality. He was a fearless musician, trusting his ears and instincts and able to conjure deeply soulful sounds from diverse musicians with literally a wave of his hands. Butch and I first met in 1981 and over the years shared many great times, both making music and hanging out, whether in Istanbul, Saalfelden, Paris, or home in NYC. It’s difficult to believe that he’s left this plane but he gave us a vital legacy to work with and share.
— Elliott Sharp
Scott Miller (1960-2013)
A couple of years ago, I kept hearing that the music I made with my band Get Him Eat Him sounded like the work of singer-songwriter Scott Miller. A cursory search revealed that Miller fronted a band called Game Theory in the ’80s and another called the Loud Family in the ’90s and ’00s, that most of his work was out of print, and that he had often sported era-appropriate feathered hairdos. I was hesitant to explore much beyond that; after all, I had never heard of this guy, let alone been influenced by his music… except that I absolutely, unequivocally had. As I waded, then dived head first into Scott’s catalogue, it became clear to me that many of the specific moves, gestures, vocal turns and chord changes that most resonated with me in songs by Ted Leo and Carl Newman were those most directly inspired by Scott’s work. Scott had a singular way of making unexpected and counterintuitive chord changes sound downright inevitable. His writing, compiled in the excellent book MUSIC: What Happened?, showcases an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music past and present, articulated in disarmingly unpretentious, empathetic, and generous terms. In the months leading up to Scott’s sudden passing last April, I was so deeply engrossed in his words, his songs and his voice that he felt like a dear friend, even though we had never met. He will always be one of my very best teachers, and his unique perspective on pop music — which likely found its way second- or third-hand into at least one of your favorite songs — will outlive us all.
—Matt LeMay (Get Him Eat Him, Kleenex Girl Wonder)