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Non-Prog Interviews

Dale Nickey

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Dale Nickey from 2013
MSJ: Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?
I’ve been playing 42 years so it’s hard to be brief. I took up the guitar at sixteen. Someone told me that if I learned classical guitar, any other style would be a snap. That wasn’t quite true, but it brought a basic proficiency pretty fast. I started singing as a member of the first L.A. Jazz Choir back in 1973 when it was called the “Jazz Chorus.” In my second season with them I quit to go out on the L.A. Folk circuit with singer Adie Grey. Our material was exclusively British folk; which was fairly popular at the time. Adie left for a career in Nashville. At that same time I was going through some heavy drama here in L.A. so I dropped everything, moved to Northern California in the mid ‘70s and abandoned acoustic guitar for electric and started fronting bands up there.

The San Francisco Bay Area was a great training ground. The whole time I lived up there it was a blur of gigging, rehearsing and recording. Mainly, we played the biker bars of Berkeley and the clubs and bars in Marin and Sonoma Counties as well as weddings, colleges, private parties — you name it. Mostly cover tunes, but I was starting to shoehorn in originals as well. At that time, the Bay Area was still in the gravitational pull of the sixties, so I could go to the clubs and indulge my Hendrix fantasies and really work-out on guitar without risking a rebooking. I came back to L.A. in 1978 when the punk thing was starting up. It was strange because the L.A. “punk’ thing was supposed to be so edgy and dangerous, but compared to playing biker bars in the Bay Area, it all seemed pretty tame and dorky.  First band I joined was with the Hollywood billboard queen Angelyne. That didn’t last long but planted a seed about working with a female singer. Soon after, I formed a punk band with singer Virginia Macolino called “Virginia And The Slims” and tried to catch that wave. All the guys in the band were in-the-closet Yes freaks. We were damn good. At one point we even rehearsed with (Ex-Tull bassist) Glenn Cornick. But, the band Berlin poached Virginia just when we were starting to take off. After the “Slims,” I was a sideman with various bands for a couple of years.

My first attempt to front an all original band came with People in Motion in 83-85. I formed that band with Dominic Bakewell (ex-Berlin). We put out a well-received single and EP that got good college radio play here and on the East Coast. But Dominic suddenly quit and that was that. I kept writing and recording and playing local gigs until around 1996 when my friend Larry Dean Embry called me up with an offer to produce three of my tunes. Three turned into fifteen. We recorded an album’s worth of material on down-time at 38 Fresh Studios in Hollywood over the course of three years. These were guerilla sessions: in by midnight out by 5:00 am. I released that record (Time Takes No Prisoners) in 2001. It got some nice press. In 2012 I finally released a follow up A Different Distant Past, which was an anthology of tracks recorded both before and after Time. . . That’s the album I’m promoting at the moment.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
I think pretty much what I’m doing now: writing and multi-media. I’ve dabbled at doing voice-overs in the past and I would love to do that as a side thing. I’m a good orator and I studied Theater Arts in college.
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
ABBA to Zappa and everything in between. I’ve always believed the more influences you smash together, the better chance at coming up with something unique. But my wake-up call was The Beatles. I saw The Beatles’ first Ed Sullivan broadcast and the spirit entered my body then. My sole mission thereafter was to play guitar in a band. Glitter rock and Prog were the two sub-genres that branched off The Beatles and I absorbed and loved both. On the American side, I have always been a Dylan fanatic. His stuff focused my attention on lyrics and led me to an appreciation of The Band and the old blues and country artists.  But as an acoustic guitarist, Bert Jansch made a really big impact on me. I studied a lot of his stuff note for note. He fused all the popular styles with a finger-style classical technique that I could relate to. Syd Barrett and Ry Cooder showed me that slide guitar didn’t have to be a cliché. Daniel Lanois and (Brian) Eno are my heroes as far as unorthodox production and mixing. And, I have to give a shout out to J.J. Cale.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
Right now I’m chiseling away at an album of ambient pieces recycled from my original analog song sources. I’m also interested in producing and editing more videos to that music. An example of that would be my YouTube video “Radio Free Neptune.” I would like to do one more large scale rock album, but if that can’t happen, I would want to put out a solo acoustic album — just voice, guitar and percussion. Also, a proper restoration of the People In Motion recordings is high on my bucket list.
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Oh, I’m not so precious about being labeled anymore. If you want a short and snappy self-description, I would say “Eclectic Anglo/Americana.” Lyrics are the priority in my songs and require the most work. I just deal with the basic poetic themes: love, loss and mortality. Musically, I gravitate towards strong stately chord progressions á la Roxy Music or maybe Procol Harum. But, as far as sonics and style are concerned, I try to use the whole spice rack.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
It’s devalued the currency of music to almost nothing. At the same time, the democracy of digital music distribution has made it possible for obscure artists to save their legacy and implant their musical DNA on the mass collective psyche of the Internet. The majority of my fan-base is international: Britain, Canada, India, Malaysia, Turkey. They love to stream but they seldom buy. The upside is that major labels are taking it in the rear. They have been the dark force in music for the most part. The major labels were loaded with a lot of uncreative people making money off of those who created. I’m glad the old system is collapsing. Maybe, it’s just sour grapes on my part. But really, many of the things I’ve done for myself as an indie artist are beyond the scope of what a major label was capable of doing 25 years ago. The difference now is the market is so glutted.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
Well, it can’t be stopped. It’s probably better promotion for an indie artist than terrestrial radio at this point. If fans are motivated to go to all that trouble to receive and spread the gospel of music, you just got to feel blessed and see the positive in it. The Grateful Dead encouraged it and made it work for them.                                
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
That’s easy: Jann Wenner, a man who couldn’t write a melody if you held a gun to his head. Yet he installed himself as co-founder of the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and controls the nomination committee with his veto. Now he’s custodian of a rock legacy he barely understands. I have a blog called “The Muse Patrol.” I’ve taken my shots at him already. Peter Banks died a broken musician and man. He could have just as easily (and deservedly) passed his last moments as a Hall of Fame member of Yes. But, that couldn’t happen because Wenner doesn’t like progressive rock. Not to worry, at least Brenda Lee and The Dells are inducted...yippee!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?                            
Wow, great question. From my knowledge of sports, sometimes just throwing the best players on the same field doesn’t automatically make a great team. Plus, I think musicians whose styles conflict make more interesting music. I’ve often wondered how McCartney would cope in a band like King Crimson, where he would deal with musicians who would get up in his face rather than kiss his a**. McCartney is such a great musician; I would like to see him pushed by a drummer like Bill Bruford, who would take him out of his comfort zone. Yeah, King Crimson fronted by McCartney with Eddie Jobson on keyboards and violin. And Brian Jones p***ing around in the mix playing whatever. . .
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?  
I would like to recreate that time in the sixties and early seventies when you would go to a concert and the acts would be marvelously mismatched. Like when Hendrix opened for the Monkees, or Yes opened for Black Sabbath at the Hollywood Bowl. I actually attended an “In Concert” taping where the line-up was Abba, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Rory Gallagher.  My fantasy festival lineup is Dylan, The Clash, Kate Bush, Daniel Lanois, Captain Beefheart, Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, The Band and ELP. . . All in their prime, of course. . .
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Biophilia by Bjork was my last record store purchase. It is also the first album in history to be released as an App.  I bought the album and the App which has interactive touch-screen features. It really enhances the experience of listening to a record. Actually the App completely redefines what an album or musical work can be. The App album brings back some of the tactile magic that vinyl 33 1/3 LPs gave us: something you could hold in your hand and look at and interact with while listening. I think Biophilia is  revolutionary, and the most important musical work of the century so far in my opinion. . . Bjork has blazed a huge trail for others to follow. I adore Bjork.
MSJ: What’s the last book you’ve read?
Being a Kate Bush fan and a print junkie, I’ve always felt like a dunce for not reading “Wuthering Heights.” I made a point of reading it recently by my brick fireplace during an uncommonly cold patch of winter weather and really enjoyed the experience.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
My wife took me to see Bryan Adams unplugged. She’s a massive fan and got us second row center seats. Though he’s a bit mainstream for my tastes, I really enjoyed the concert and respect anybody who can stand in front of 2,000 people armed only with an acoustic guitar and make it work. You can’t coast in that format.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
(laughter) I’ll fess up and admit that Abba Gold is in my CD collection. The Monkees are the ultimate guilty pleasure. I played Best Of The Monkees in the office a while back and all my colleagues were cursing themselves for liking it so much. . .
MSJ: What has been your biggest “Spinal Tap” moment?  
As a performer it would be onstage at The International Club in Berkeley in 1976. The stars aligned and three barely pubescent girls appeared at my feet gazing up at me while I was doing my featured solo. This moved me to throw my guitar on the stage, remove my belt and start whipping it. I got the idea from T.Rex. It was silly and stupid. My band-mates, who were all female, were disgusted with me. But, it gave me an anecdote for your article.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?    
Well if I could bring back the dead, that means we would be manipulating time. If that’s the case, I would bring back Hitler before the sorrow and the pity and ask him what the f*** his problem was. Then try to talk him out of the holocaust. Failing that, I would slit his throat with a steak knife. . . Would love to have dinner with Marilyn Monroe, one on one. She was beautiful and complex. I would love to pop the hood and see what made her tick. And since I’m in a time before I met my beautiful wife, I hope we could have a nice cuddle. Also Noam Chomsky; he seemed to have his s*** locked down tight on pretty much every subject. With Noam, I would just sit and listen.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Humble Pie with Heavy Cream paired with April Wine of course!
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?  
Yes, go to iTunes and buy my music! But seriously, it’s the worst of times and the best of times for a musician. For me, it’s the best of times because of the digital distribution of music. Vinyl and CDs and the music on them can be melted or die in a landfill. But a sound file is almost like anti-matter that can’t be destroyed. I feel like my music streams and download files are like little sperms squiggling out into the far corners of the virtual world contributing to a universal collective psyche that will evolve, follow humanity into infinity and other worlds. I now see that it’s possible (maybe probable) that in some coffee bar on a Martian colony or on a Transport Tram on Triton one of my songs might be heard among the millions collected on somebody’s intergalactic Spotify library or whatever. These thoughts make me feel like what I’m doing is connected to something bigger: a continuum. And maybe all these years spent on music haven’t been wasted after all . .OK, Gary — you can bring in the nice men with the lab-coats and German accents now!                                                                           
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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