I began my musical "career", such as it is, when I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, when my grandparents gave me an old electronic organ. I remember it well: it was not much more than a very noisy fan that, when you pressed down on a key, would move a whistle of varying sizes in front of the fan to make the appropriate note.
It was pure garbage, but I remember that, without any formal training whatsoever, how I would sit there and create a story with music. Usually, the story revolved around a woman and a man falling in love. I'd play a few random low notes, to represent the man talking, then the woman would reply with some random high notes. Like the organ itself, this was pure garbage! But, it began my love of creating music.
The real first, important step was around 1985 when my best friend at the time, Jason Viglietta, began to take piano lessons. Around that time, he and I began tinkering with a crappy little Yamaha keyboard and his piano doing almost entirely improvised newage-type music. We'd literally sit there, he on keyboard and me on piano, or vice-versa, hit record on a tape deck, and just try and make something that didn't sound horrible. As you can guess, 99.9999% of the time, it indeed did sound horrible! But, over time we got to know each others' playing style (while at the same time actually learning how to play!) and it actually began to sound like something.
I still had no formal training whatsoever, so I was always a "by-ear" musician (and that's true to this day). I simply learned, over time, what combinations of keys sounded good together, what notes could be played over others, etc. Eventually I did teach myself a little bit of theory, but even now, while I know some scales and chords, it's still not natural for me like for most musicians, and I still cannot read music!
We decided to call ourselves ITSOD, an acronym for In the Shadows Of Dreams. Of course, having a pretty cool name (in my opinion anyway) was as far as we ever got.
If you'd like to hear some samples from that period, here's two surviving songs. Keep in mind however that these are over 20 year-old recording, so the quality is not good (although I've restored them to some extent). Most importantly though, you're listening to two guys who were just starting out! FYI, Jason was always quite a bit better than me, and eventually wound up being a phenomenally good keyboard player, so if anything in these actually sounds good, you can assume it was him and not me!
I promise, everything you might listen to here after these are A LOT better... move on once your ears have recovered!
Jason and I eventually got pretty good, although we still were entirely improvisational, which means a couple of things. First, our recording sessions were just jam sessions that we recorded. Second, a lot of what we did still didn't work at all, although more and more did as we played together more. Third, when we did actually do something cool, it was often hard, sometimes pretty much impossible, to do it again! That made for trying to write an album, which we eventually tried to do, very difficult. It also means that there were A LOT of mistakes mixed in with the decent stuff. You can hear this for yourself in the following MP3s.
Eventually, we managed to produce a song that was 99% perfect and sounded very much like we knew exactly what we were doing all along! I assure you though, this one was still 100% made up as we played.
As bands usually do, we eventually drifted apart. Our music tastes changed and diverged a bit, and unfortunately we're no longer friends or even in touch any more. Don't cry for me though, after that period things got a lot better for me musically!
For a while after I got back from my stint in the military, I bounced around between a couple of different bands. None you'd know, none of any note, but they were valuable experiences because it was the first time, aside from two minor instances my senior year of high school, that I was in a real, working (to some approximation of the word "working"!) band.
After that free-agency period though I settled down, as it were, with a couple of guys from Brooklyn, Jason Donnelly and Dimitri "Duke" Borisov. Jason is a guitarist and Duke is a drummer. They had worked together before and were looking for a couple of band mates at the same time I was. A few ads in the Island Ear and a phone call or two later and we hooked up to form the band Cydonia.
Initially it was just the three of us, but we eventually hooked up with a singer named Anthony (I don't recall his last name). We began to record an album, and here's two songs off of it. Before you listen to them though, understand that we never finished recording an album. These MP3s are what's called "scratch tracks". For those unfamiliar with how music is usually recorded in a studio, it works like this: the band all sets up and plays a song, and this is a scratch track. Next, each member of the band in turn plays along to the scratch track and is recorded separately, so each instrument generally is a separate track on the song. When those tracks are finalized, they are all mixed together and the final song is formed. The scratch track isn't meant to sound perfect, mistakes are OK, and the recording quality isn't what it will be in the final song. All of the following MP3s are such scratch tracks, and they're old and have been transferred from one media to another over time, so the quality isn't great (although some of them aren't too bad). Also, I offer you both instrumental and full vocal versions of most of them. The instrumental versions are generally better if you're interested in hearing the musicians, and me specifically because the mix with the vocals wasn't done especially well.
Eventually we started looking for other band mates and the first was a friend of Jason's named Jeremy Batchelor, a bass player. He was a couple of years younger than all of us so it was an interesting experience. First, we had to literally convince him he was good enough to play with us! We knew he was but he wasn't so sure. We also had to make nice with his parents and always had to consult them when we started to play out! Around this time we also dumped Anthony because we knew he wasn't going to work out long-term.
About this time we started playing live gigs, which is one of the highlights of my life! If you've never been on stage in front of 100+ people cheering for you, lemme tell you, it's something special! We always got great crowd reactions because we were nearly always obviously better than the other bands on that night, and we usually closed the night out because the club owners knew we were going to seal the deal strong. Now, interestingly, we dumped Anthony before we started playing out, which is part of the reason we were well-received! (I don't mean to bash Anthony because he was a real good guy and got us free food as Taco Bell where he worked, it's just that he really wasn't a great singer.) In order to play out we need a singer though, and we found a temporary fix by the name of John Henry, a friend of Jeremy. He was pretty good, but was off doing his own band thing, so it was always just temporary. In fact, if you want to have a look at him, along with the rest of us and a lot of weird stuff, check out our web site for the early years! Incidentally, this is also one of the very first web sites I ever made (umm, and it seriously shows!) Surprisingly, the guestbook seems to still be out there! WOO-HOO!
Eventually, we found a good, permanent singer by the name of James (who's last name again I don't recall!). He was quite a bit better, although the recordings here don't quite demonstrate how good he actually was (there's unfortunately a lot of audio artifacts from having been transferred between various tapes over the years). Unfortunately, he had some personal issues that would eventually contribute to the downfall of the band, but regardless, he was a good singer and we made beautiful music together, as the saying goes! Here are some examples:
Eventually, as most bands usually do, we broke up. To this day I'm not totally sure what the reasons were, but part of it was certainly that I had moved to a different state. For a while I was commuting once a month, and we continued to play some shows. As I mentioned earlier, there were some issues with James that hurt things, and I think he and Duke never really got along. Whatever the reasons, it was definitely a sad turn of events for me.
The good news is that Jason, who it the godfather of my son, is still one of my best friends, and Jeremy and I still talk every now and again too. We've even made jokes over the years about an "inevitable Cydonia reunion", so you never know ;) In any case, I'm proud of the few songs we did, I thought we had a real chance as a band and I have a lot of happy memories from that period in my life.
If you're interested in seeing more recent stuff, here's a link to a quick video I recorded on YouTube. It's just a couple minutes of random jamming with my Korg Krome, which I had recently gotten at the time I recorded this. A little jam session with my Korg Krome