[Interview] Kurt Michaels: “10 records that changed my life”

From The Beatles and Beach Boys to YES and Pink Floyd passing through Jimi Hendrix, the US Prog Rock artist Kurt Michaels picks the 10 records that changed his life.

01. The Beatles – “Meet the Beatles!”
02. The Beach Boys – “Pet Sounds”
03. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Electric Ladyland”
04. The Beatles – “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
05. Woodstock 1969 – “Music from the Original Soundtrack”
06. YES – “Yessongs”
07. Pink Floyd – “Dark Side Of The Moon”
08. The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin – “The Inner Mounting Flame”
09. Jeff Beck – “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop”
10. Kevin Gilbert – “The Shaming Of The True”:

1. The Beatles – “Meet the Beatles!”:

The Beatles showed up on the Ed Sullivan when I was 9 yrs old following unprecedented hype. I was already an avid listener of Top 40 radio here in Chicago which at that time was watered down hangover from the 1950s. For me at that time in 1964 the Beatles sealed the deal I made with myself that one way or another I was going to have a life in music. It all seems kind of quaint now, but it surely was anything but that at the time.

The Beatles – “I Want To Hold Your Hand (live)”:

2. The Beach Boys – “Pet Sounds”:

I was originally on to the Beach Boys when they first showed up on the radio with all those surfing and car songs, but it was this album that really made me a fan, of Brian Wilson in particular. I think it was even influential on the Beatles who were working on Sgt Pepper at the time. This era was the doorway into more progressive musical influences into our popular culture. Interestingly, I think it was their Great American Songbook influences that gave them a foundation to experiment with. And I believe the Beatles were traveling in a parallel universe along with a lot of help and influence from George Martin. The Beach Boys didn’t have a George Martin. They had Brian Wilson, and at that time it was unprecedented for a major label to let a kid essentially produce his own record. That’s how strong he was.

The Beach Boys – “God Only Knows”:

3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Electric Ladyland”:

Jimi Hendrix had a massive influence on me, and I think that Electric Ladyland was his Sgt Pepper moment. He had Eddie Kramer by his side as a producer/engineer facilitating what still holds up as a top tier representation of the psychedelic era of music. Hendrix showed up with a lot of blues and R&B influences, but his ears and imagination had innate jazz/improvisational leanings that transcended his more down to earth directions. At his best, he was really his own private genre, with what he did. Nobody even came close to the vibe that just seemed to flow naturally out of him.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Voodoo Child (15 Minute Album Live Version)”:

4. The Beatles – “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”:

How do I not include this record as amongst the most influential on me? How do you transform from the Four Mop Tops to a serious musical excursion like this in 4 years? You have to give George Martin a lot of credit as producer (and effectively their boss at the label) for having the insight and sense to encourage and facilitate their growth. The results of that good faith effort were stunning.

The Beatles – “A Day In The Life”:

5. Woodstock 1969 – “Music from the Original Soundtrack”:

This is the soundtrack to the movie of what had to be the first mega huge rock festival. The entire counter culture of music at that time appeared in it. When the record came out, I totally ruined my vinyl copy trying trying to teach myself some of the iconic music featured in this album. And that was pretty much the music that we tried to play in my first band with the kids on my block. Of course Hendrix’s performance of the Star Spangled Banner was a highlight for me.

Jimi Hendrix – “Star Spangled Banner”:

6. YES – “Yessongs”:

Yes was another huge influence on me. Nobody was even close to what they were doing at the time, and I loved Steve Howe’s role in that band. I didn’t know how I was ever going to approach anything like that with my own music, but it sure lit a fire in me to try. Yessongs was a 3 disk collection of live versions of all their coolest songs at that time and there was none cooler than their live version of Close To The Edge. Yessongs was my first of many Yes music purchases over the years.

YES – “Close To The Edge”:

7. Pink Floyd – “Dark Side Of The Moon”:

It took a longer time for me to realize how influential Pink Floyd were on me. The songs were great, and the production even greater. They broke all kinds of ground with their level of production, but all starts with having great tunes. As a guitar fanatic, I really enjoyed David Gilmour a lot. His approach was a very elegant and important sounding one that impresses me even more now than it did at the time!

Pink Floyd – “Time (2023 Remaster)”

8. The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin – “The Inner Mounting Flame”:

John McLaughlin was another musical nuclear explosion on me that I’ve never tired of. While in 1971, my ears were pretty wide open to improvisation (as was the fashion in rock music at the time) John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra formally introduced me to jazz harmony in a rock context (amongst other things). I still can’t even think what that guy can do falling out of bed in his 80s. The Dance Of Maya was my favorite track on this album. Got treated to see them at Ravinia when I was 16 and for sure my inner mounting flame was further stoked with this influence!

The Mahavishnu Orchestra with John McLaughlin – “Dance Of Maya”:

9. Jeff Beck – “Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop”:

Big Block

Jeff Beck is another guitar influence on me that came much later on in my development. He’d been on the scene for decades by the time I was motivated to buy Guitar Shop. What a great record! He was the ultimate flash/finesse kind of player, but he also had great tunes to unleash his playing on and knew how to let it breathe as well. I had no idea he was gonna blow the roof off at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival when it came to Chicago. He was the penultimate act of the night, because of course Clapton had to close the show. Following Beck that night was an exercise in futility. Big Block was a part of that memorable performance by Beck. Glad I was there to witness it!

10. Kevin Gilbert – “The Shaming Of The True”:

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any video from this record, but Kevin Gilbert is another huge influence on me…more as a songwriter and arranger. Once upon a time, The Who introduced the idea of a rock opera into being. Others have tried, but for my money The Shaming Of The True is the one that resonated with me the most. As a writer, I aspire to his level of expression. It’s a largely autobiographical narrative I think, telling the story of the rise and fall of a mythical “rock star” named Johnny Virgil. Kevin Gilbert himself was a studio whiz who found himself working on projects with the likes of Michael Jackson and Madonna. He was instrumental in launching Sheryl Crow’s success and was of course kicked to the curb pretty quickly. He came close to finding his own fame, but it never happened. Sadly, his end was very Johnny Virgil-like, but his influence lives on in me!

Kevin Gilbert – “Suit Fugue”: no video available…estate has it all under lock and key

Kurt Michaels new album “Stones From The Garden” was released on July 07, 2023 and is available on Bandcamp: https://kurtmichaels.bandcamp.com/album/stones-from-the-garden

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Author: Jacopo Vigezzi

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