|After the Field of Zaad broke up, I was still hanging around with Kwame (Field of Zaad) a lot. He was my hero and my teacher. He taught me the simple pleasure of being homeless, a pan handler, even a street wino. Of course, I always had a home I could go back to, and parents that would help fund whatever my next move would be, and I had real friends and didn't need the companionship that many winos give each other. But it was a learning experience.|
Meanwhile, it was June of 1971, and it was time to get another group together. I was in touch with Bruce Robinson (Music Bachs, Feel) who had moved into a 4 floor brownstone in Roxbury, MA. There, the residents had set up a bonafied commune. I slept there a few times, but never became part of this commune. However, in the basement, we set up equipment where we started a band.
The emphasis on the band was to be original music. Members in the band were Kwame (vocals), Stephen (guitar), Douglas (drums), Willie Novick (alto), Brad (trumpet), Bruce Robinson (tenor/flute/guitar), Michael Workman (keyboards/vocals). I cannot remember the bass player.
We started rehearsing without vocals. We worked up songs that Feel did since Bruce & I were familiar with them. And we worked up R&B from Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, etc. that Kwame & I did with the Field of Zaad. And then there were the originals. I think Stephen had a couple. But I was fresh out of a great semester at Berklee and had charted 10-12 songs I had written - for THIS band. And as we rehearsed them, they sounded great! The horns, the rhythm section, EVERYTHING was kicking hard. Like a stubborn old mule.
Since we had such a kick, I suggested the name of the band to be Jackass. Bruce didn't like the name at all. Actually, I don't think ANYONE liked the name. But we never came up with another. It didn't matter since we were never to get out of that basement.
The problem came when Kwame joined our rehearsals. When he started singing my originals, they were my lyrics as well. I must have written 50-60 songs in my life, and they have certainly got better through the years. But even my best lyrics are probably not all that great. And back when I was 20 years old? The lyrics were the worst.
We were cooking through one of the songs - and it SOUNDED great. Kwame was singing the 2nd verse and then he just stopped. Without the singer, the rest of the band all dropped out. When asked what happened, Kwame just said, "Michael, I can't sing your words."
I didn't understand at first. I explained to him the phrasing, asked if he could read the words okay (back in the day of handwritten words). I got the band started again and Kwame sang the first line of the song and then stopped again.
What's wrong? Kwame just looked at me with the big smile he always seemed to have whether he was happy or sad and said, "Michael, I just can't sing your words. I can't feel them." It still took me a moment before I realized that he couldn't sing them because they were stinking up the room.
That was just the biggest blow to my confidence. Before that, I was trying to write songs that would eventually be recorded and then listened to and enjoyed by millions. And my best friend couldn't sing them because the words were stupid.
With the air let out of the tires, the car was going no place. The band stopped rehearsing. Willie went back to New Jersey, Brad left to upstate NY to follow his guru. Stephen became a teller in a bank. Kwame even decided he was ready for a change and wanted to be called by his given name again - Ruben Griffin. It was too much for me. The jackass was dead.
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