Written by Bevis M. Griffin
“Intellectuals ought to study the past, not for the pleasure they find in so doing but to derive lessons from it”. ~ Cheikh Anta Diop
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I can honestly attest to that! I shudder to think back upon all of the enthusiastic, benevolent, well-meaning souls, who all invariably impacted my life in the guise of “managerial advisor”. Franklin’s Mast attracted Van Brooks and the infamous Diamond-Joe Siddons, The Skyscrapers had Wizard Entertainment, The Bats engaged Alisa O’Leary, who financed our recordings until 1983 before the great Ron Backer swooped in to course-correct the late Fermin Perez at the behest of Mr. Ray Benson.
Between 1984-85 alone, I’d been approached by Betty Hessinger, Janet Roeg, Mike Abbot, Gene Gagliardi, and even a consigliere to avant-garde “artist du jour”, Jean Michel Basquiat. Obviously, the ascension of Prince to the forefront of the mainstream bolstered my image. The irony of this was not lost upon me, since I had pioneered glam-punk style since 1971!
The critical excitement generated by Prince’s Dirty Mind and Controversy LPs inevitably created an unexpected yet inadvertently daunting perplexity within my egocentric psyche. I was hyper-conscientious about my daily sartorial decisions and always dressed like Bevis. Fortunately for me, the fashionista mean-streets of New York City were big enough for both.
Roughly a year before making the fateful decision to bite-the-bullet and test my luck in NYC, I came upon an article featured in Musician magazine titled “The Two Best Guitarists You’ve Never Heard”, written by esteemed music author, and cultural professor, Greg Tate. The story focused upon the prolific talents of guitar masters Ronnie Drayton and Vernon Reid, weaving a highly intriguing tale of the lower eastside’s Avant-jazz-punk “no-wave” underground scene.
By 1986 I’d compiled an impressive demo catalog of new recordings via Media Sound NYC and it had become my habitual routine to peruse the weekly Village Voice newspaper for prospective talent acquisitions, art exhibits, live club listings, indie films, and fashion events.
While digesting an article examining the nascent musical validity of comedian Eddie Murphy, I recognized the name on the byline; Greg Tate. At some point in the article, I also caught a glimpse of a phrase that would eventually influence my life, and dramatically, for the better. Greg’s article went on to elaborate upon the burgeoning concept of a “Black Rock Coalition“; a New York-based political-activist group dedicated to the creative freedom of Black artists.
I felt emphatically compelled to learn more about this concept, so I called Greg at The Voice. Amazingly, the receptionist connected us right away, and so I audaciously introduced myself. Upon absorbing the enthusiastic recitation of my oral history, he politely asked me to pause and after a brief interlude of suspense, he promptly introduced me to Vernon Reid, who just-so-happened to be onsite that afternoon working on an assignment as a part-time staff writer.
This serendipitous series of events resulted in Vernon’s personal invitation to meet the BRC. The following Saturday, I found myself in Chinatown, surrounded by the seminal contingent of the newly formed Black Rock Coalition: Konda Mason, Vernon Reid, Greg Tate, Bill Toles, Craig Street, Jarad Nickerson, Lewis ‘Flip’ Barnes, and legendary jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, as our highly esteemed guest-speaker/mentor.
After Lester’s sagacious dissertation on the importance of remaining true to one’s inner voice, the formalities adjourned as we huddled into a round-table setting to strategize future plans. Vernon Reid and I set directly adjacent to one another, and he inquired if I’d brought a tape. Without missing a beat, I loaded my freshly minted studio mixtape simply titled “Noisy Music”.
The room exploded with huge incendiary, metallic power-chords, and hyperbolic Linn drums! A nightmarish wailing-banshee scream permeated the atmosphere as Vernon’s jaw dropped!