In my second full year, my music began to take on a somewhat mystical – magical – quality. It was almost as if I could weave spells with sound. Musical voodoo.
Drum rhythms, unique to me, formed from the fusion of African, Native, and Caribbean sounds. Complex and mesmerizing, they wove an underlying pattern beneath the harmonies of the melodies that built the sound. All three cohered well.
My guitar style, an eclectic mix of styles already being used in all the bands. Swampdog blues, a Cajun blues-rock style, was slightly more complex than the blues from which it had grown. Creole shaman’s blues, a mix of zydeco, voodoo drum rhythms, and blues, was just as complex…and a sight more psychedelic. Atomic blues, a blistering metallic blues, was darker and even more complex and fed off Native rhythms. Midnight blues, also a Native form of blues, was slightly less complex. Smokehouse blues was a wild raucous style that spoke of naughtiness. While, psychedelic blues was just that…a remnant of 1960s psychedelia that just happened to be more blues than anything else.
I combined them all into a sound unique to me. Voodoo blues. And I became the ‘master mage’, weaving my spells through my guitar. Or so it was claimed.
My music was just the language of my soul. I had never intended it to weave anything. Except maybe a story. My story.
And a beautiful story it was. At least, in the beginning. Just a boy and his instruments.
But Cajun, Creole, and Native sounds weren’t the only influences on my music. There was the Spanish, South and Central American, and the Romany…not to mention the Klezmer music of my Jewish friends who thought I was the bomb. In many ways, my style was a musical gumbo of everything I came into contact with.
I suppose it was this fact that made it so magical. So hypnotizing. Spellbinding.
At the same time, I was learning the finer points of the Voodoo religion. The nature. The concepts of magic. Its links to music, art, and nature.
And the concept filtered into my music. Causing it to become even deeper. Even more magical.
“Kisa w’ap fè?” Mama Tibideau inquired. (what are you doing?)
“jwe ak konsèp,” I replied. (playing with a concept)
“…ak majik?” She peered at me over her spectacles. (…and magic?)
“Wi,” I replied simply, “gaye zèl mwen yo.” (yes. Spreading my wings)
“Don’ know what I’m gon’ do wit’ you, Chile,” she giggled, “you be natural at it all. It jus’ flows from you. Like life itself desires you to cast a spell.”
“Wi, manman,” I replied. (Yes, mama)
“You gon be a formidable man o’ wisdom when you get older,” her thick Haitian Creole accent was both comforting and stern at the same time, “would hate t’ be de one who gets on yer bad side when you become a man. I have never seen such a chile, not one dat was a perfect union of body and soul and in such complete control of their abilities. My, my.”
Mama Tibideau had come to the States with Mac Tibideau back in the early 1960s after one of his successful tours. She was one of the most powerful Voodoo priestesses in Louisiana and believed that all her children should know what she knew. It did not matter to her that I was a white child, I was her adopted son and that meant I was to be taught the same things as she taught her daughters. I was family.
Looking back, I am grateful for this. It taught me that we are all one race. We are all of the human race. Color, creed, place of origin, gender, sexual preference, and gender identification mean absolutely nothing. Never, in my life since, have I ever been in the presence of another person as beautiful as her…though my third wife would come close.
But at the time, I was just ‘Baby Jay’, the blond haired, hazel eyed boy child that was everything and yet none of them. I was an adopted member of all the families who raised me and an adopted son of Louisiana.
And at that moment in time, we were backstage. I had been practicing a song I had played since the beginning of my career. And though it was not mine, I was determined to put my mark on the song.
“I came, chile,” she smiled, “to remind you dat you have three minutes and dey wants you onstage.”
“Wi, manman,” I responded, getting up from the chair I was sitting in, “I will head that way now.”
“Come, chile,” she put her hand on my shoulder, “I’ll take you.”
I loved the stage. I loved the sound of the crowds. It was a rush just knowing that I gave them such pleasure with my music.
I hated being in a crowd, mind you. But being in front of a crowd was different. At least back when I was too young to know the danger they potentially represented.
The sound of fans screaming for their favorite songs put me into a state of euphoria. It drove my innovations and improvisations on those songs. It drove me to make them my own.
I came up with the concept of ghost notes, notes that sounded even though they had not actually been fretted. I could make my fingers dance on the strings so fast that most people could not see what had been fretted. Sometimes, it seemed as if I had a second set of arms that allowed me to play double what anyone else could. Or pound out rhythms on drums that were seemingly more complex than anything ever done before.
Academically, I had learned three times more than any adult could. My accelerated courses were far more advanced than any high school graduate who was at my level, Sophomore year studies, in college. Some involved in the research project I was participating in had even begun hinting that I was a born prodigy…a genius. But I knew I was no genius. Just someone who was extremely fortunate
As a musician, I had already been to Europe once. As a solo artist, I still had yet to get started touring. And yet, my solo music was almost more popular than the bands I was touring with. I believe that, even then, those who had taken it upon themselves to teach me had begun to realize that the bands they fronted had come to their end and it was only a matter of time before I would have to go on alone.