The Spinning Vortex Into An Overnight Success
by Kevin Allison
After years as the most important alternative music band in the kingdom of the blessed meek Terry Scott Taylor gives Da a face lift.
Escalators move up and down. Fast food establishments accelerate in and out. Our public thoroughfares usually don't accomplish either. My first pet, a spotted goldfish, met an untimely death on the bottom of the aquarium. Experts told me that he experienced a rare disease known as isolato-frustrato, commonly known to the adult population as severe loneliness.
Daniel Amos in comparison, moves side to side. They've slipped past the authorities on more than one album, held a small nation of devotees hostage without the use of handcuffs or heavy artillery and challenged the creative establishment with tough, cynical love... 19 times.
These are the guys, whether Amos or Eddies, who basically ignore their musical compatriots for fear of losing the unabashed spontaneity found within the secular marketplace of sound reinforcement. It's not that Terry Taylor and the boys of symmetry don't monitor the Christian rock scene. In fact, bass player Tim Chandler plays for several touring groups and Taylor himself has spent many a night producing albums for inspirational artists. But if you ever needed to find them in a pinch and had personally exhausted every square inch of the world, they still wouldn't be anywhere near Nashville, Tennessee.
Da has been categorized and pigeon-holed under the smoldering umbrella of a big brother musical theology ("we're of like spirit, like mind and like, why shouldn't we all sound the same?"), which accounts for their overall oblivious attitude towards the surrounding elements.
For guitarist Greg Flesch, Elim Hall might have been a small venue in Maine during the Vox Humana tour. Ask Ed McTaggert about Scott Wesley Brown and he'll probably comment, "Didn't he promote civil rights during the Lincoln era?" And knowing the dead-pan of Taylor, One Bad Pig must be a barbecue joint on the Coast Highway, three miles south of where Jan and Dean once choked on a gnarly water monster before hitting reef.
Daniel Amos (Da) has had to move sideways to avoid the clutter. Don't touch the garments people, we just want to rock 'n' roll.
Five-year member Flesch, who shared guitar responsibilities with original member Jerry Chamberlain on the Eddies project capsulizes the feeling of the band and mood of Taylor's latest solo(?) offering 'Let's Spin', which was originally entitled 'Crime Horse', a more serious offering that was reformulated. "The fact that a good deal of the Christian industry doesn't like us makes me feel good," he admits. "Because I feel that some of the minds in the industry are the most lazy and narrow. We're in touch with the Creator of the universe and we have to play these same cheesy licks three years after the secular world and I hate that."
Some artists really need to get ticked off before they can complete an album that accomplishes what the Swirling Eddies mystery theater has. Once known as the "darlings of the church circuit," Da has unconsciously and almost fictitiously risen to the ultimate level of respect with 'Let's Spin,' an album that reunites past Da members Jerry "Spot" Chamberlain and Rob Watson with Tim Chandler, Greg Flesch, and warrior Dave Raven (due to Ed's vacation) and of course Mr. Taylor, sir.
It was probably a good thing that Taylor (Camarillo Eddy) and I didn't meet at one of his favorite snack barns, the infamous Wally's Wiener World, centrally located behind the Orange Curtain. I personally refuse to play straightman for a menu that spouts more innuendoes than a junior high gym class during physicals.
With over 14 years of recorded history (nine Da albums and three solo projects) and enough comedy material to start a late night talk show, Terry S. Taylor is a man of many, carefully chosen words that emerge from a life full of irony, disillusionment, victory and prayer. Even though 'Let's Spin' is a drastic departure from Taylor's two previous ventures, 'Knowledge & Innocence' and 'A Briefing For The Ascent', it comes the closest of any Da album in regards to public accessibility. Sales figures and consumer response to the "Guess The Eddies" contest prove this bizarre but welcome twist.
Even Taylor has to laugh, "It's kind of a Da record, but it fills my solo obligations as well. The Da fans know who the Swirling Eddies are, but there are a lot of people out there buying the record who have never bought a Da album. It's really kind of ironic."
Jerry Chamberlain, who's last contribution as a member of Daniel Amos was on 1982's 'Doppelganger', enjoyed the renewed chemistry which resulted in a "twisted western-calypso-nightclub weirdness." Since his earlier days with the band, Spot has been working with Canon USA, played in a band called Boy Oh Boy with wife Sharon McCall and completed studio work with Taylor, Randy Stonehill and the Choir. "I think we did a lot of things to alienate people which makes it hard to be a fan," Chamberlain recalls, looking back. "We were always innovative and on the edge. There's a certain route you have to take in the industry and Da would never go the obvious or tried and true path."
Come to think of it, neither would the Swirling Eddies, who add another link to the chain which has kept the Da family at a safe distance from their contemporaries. Just look at the green and red album cover, the fictitious credit sheet and a more entertaining sound than ever before. What other group would sing songs mentioning dirty underwear ("The Big Guns"), doing curly's on the dance floor ("Let's Spin") or having the devil drive down Rodeo Drive ("Rodeo Drive")?
And all this without the family man of the decade, Ed McTaggert. It wasn't an easy decision for Taylor, "He (McTaggert) needed a vacation. On one hand I wanted a sort of Da reunion but I didn't want just another Da record so I had to change the configuration a bit. Ed was actually gracious about it." Ed hadn't missed a project since the 1976 debut of Daniel Amos, an album that really didn't utilize a percussionist.
Because he's just an ordinary guy, McSwaggert (as listed in the Eddy linear notes) "took it all in stride." "'Ed Takes A Vacation' really wasn't about me, it had been an inside joke in the band for years," he notes. "I missed playing but I was involved with the project because I did the cover work. It was no big deal. This wasn't Da and I needed the break."
Many other bands have attempted to hide behind an alias in order to experiment with new material and have a little fun. For example, do you remember The Bunbury's (BeeGees), Dukes of Stratosphere (XTC), the Coward Brothers (T Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello), iDEoLA (Mark Heard), Power Station (Robert Palmer and some of Duran Duran), the Traveling Wilbury's and of course Spinal Tap? In a way, Da has been keeping the consumer market on their toes for years with their myriad of group pronunciations, variable music styles and sporadic tours that often attract fans from up to eight hours away. It's that kind of devotion that causes Taylor to keep trying, until the mainstream arena beckons.
"I'd like to see Da with a small, loyal following," he envisions. "Our fans want us to get out in the real world and they're not offended by that. Their frustration is our frustration and we're going to keep trying. We made a conscious decision that we are not going to put out another 'Darn Floor-Big Bite', put all of our heart and soul into something and have it just lay there. Next time we do an album, we want it to get out in the real world."
Taylor points to such groups as R.E.M., the Talking Heads and Graham Parker as examples of bands who are not on a "star trip", yet have devoted fans and critical acclaim. If Taylor is serious about a secular venture, 'Let's Spin' appears to have been a stepping stone or political platform that will drastically effect the outcome of Da's next album, which is currently in production. The groups contract with Frontline Records has been completed, leaving Da free to pursue outside interests. McTaggert speculated that the next release would be on a new label this summer. In addition, a compact disc featuring Daniel Amos' first two albums ('Daniel Amos' and 'Shotgun Angel') will appear with an additional track, "Happily Married Man" (which can be found on a Maranatha 'Country Roundup' album), on MB Digital, a small independent distribution company in Wisconsin.
Rumors of an album featuring some of Da's hottest cover tunes have also been circulating. According to McTagger, the upcoming Da album may feature a couple of cuts, such as "Pump It Up" and "Revolution", yet Taylor isn't quite sure. "This reminds me of a party game where one person whispers in somebody's ear and by the time it gets to the person at the end it comes out totally different," he says. "I really don't know yet, all is subject to change when it comes to Da."
Most importantly, Terry Taylor wants a little respect, a piece of historical rhetoric that he can share with his son and daughter some day as the Victrola blares old Beatles tunes. The Fab Four have definitely had an influence on a majority of today's popular music, including that of Da. Taylor acknowledges that the Beatles diversity and appeal is not unlike his own band. "I think Da is sort of like that in one regard," he thinks aloud. "We stretched beyond the limitations involved in contemporary Christian Music. Larry Norman did it, we did it, Randy (Stonehill) did it, Love Song did it. We're part of that history and we definitely broke it wide open musically and I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting to take credit for that. We deserve a rightful place in history with this medium that I have a real love/hate relationship with"
While the ironic success of the Eddies can only cause Taylor to sit back and smile, it still doesn't erase the misconceptions about what the boys are all about. For Flesch, it really doesn't matter. "There's an idea out there that theses guys are radical and cynical and they hate everything, which may or may not be true. I don't know," he quips. Attempting to understand or appease the public sector is usually futile, especially in the Christian market. If your not safe, you may be sorry. Yet none of this affected the outcome of 'Let's Spin', an album that didn't get too heavy or complicated for the average music potato. "The Swirling Eddies are lighter and not as deep a record which might be indicative to of how closely people are interested in digging into lyrics," Flesch adds.
"It's baffling," Chamberlain notes. "You never know what people will like. It has been real great and a treat to come back and do this. There's a real chemistry between Terry and I."
That old Da magic was evident with former member (1984-87) Rob Watson as well, who has recently produced Mike Stand's solo project and worked with Sheila Walsh, among others. His presence, along with the solid rhythm corps of Dave Raven and Tim Chandler, brought back a nostalgic vibe not unlike that found on 1980's 'Horrendous Disc', which also featured a unique crew of six talented musicians.
Taylor has fond memories of his fellow mental mercenaries, who have traveled the world in search of a few good ears who desire to hear the gospel with a taste of honey.
It was about five years ago when he met up with Raven, who was working on a Tom Howard project being co-produced by Taylor and Mark Heard. The album never came out yet Taylor sensed that Raven "had always wanted to do something with us."
When bassist Marty Dieckmeyer left Daniel Amos around the 'Alarma' era, stunt duck Tim Chandler moved in to assume rhythm responsibilities. The tall, lanky, Harvey Award winner, was playing bass in a rhythm and blues band when Taylor tracked him down. Chandler was virtually out the door for a weekend retreat when he heard about the opening in Da. It didn't take much to convince him, so he canceled his trip and has been on board since 'Doppelganger'.
Trying to fill the big shoes left by Jerry Chamberlain in 1983 was a difficult task for the young Greg Flesch, yet he and Taylor hit it off from the beginning. "It's amazing how God puts people together," Taylor says.
Chamberlain first met Taylor at a musicians fellowship at Calvary Chapel in 1976 and was at the first rehearsal held for this band of nomads. Uncle Terry remembers how difficult it was for Chamberlain to adjust to the spotlight. "He used to get so absolutely petrified about going on stage that he had to take aspirin and lay down because he used to get headaches." This malady no longer bothers Chamberlain, who compared the beginnings of both projects. "there is always that newness and freshness that is a brand new thing," he ponders. "It was definitely a lot easier this time."
How did the "rookie" feel about the two collaborating? "Jerry and I are very different," Flesch analyzed. "On 'Let's Spin' there was one line of mine and one for Jerry and there's this little crummy amp that he likes to drag around, but he did some really great licks like Jerry does and it was a real bonus."
Since Flesch had already collaborated with keyboardist Rob Watson for a year-and-one-half during 'Vox Humana', it wasn't a difficult transition. Taylor met Watson a few years back through engineer Sir Douglas Doyle. "Rob's got a lot of talent and is very smart," he adds. "He's a joy to collaborate with and an excellent keyboardist."
Somewhat similar to a closing scene from Dragnet, where the names and or identities have been changed to protect the innocent, the Swirling Eddies are a crew of religious rebels who on one hand fear being entrapped within the confines of ccm, yet also feel deserving of more credit and critical justification. What did Taylor accomplish on this solo project that has escaped him on previous group efforts?
"The possibility of a greater audience for one thing," he feels. "It doesn't put us in a box because we're stepping out and taking a chance of pleasing some people and not pleasing others. It's the story of our lives." This is a more serious Taylor than usually depicted, one who is contemplating and absorbing new material as we speak. "I've always wanted to write under a new chapter and time, under that pressure. Most of my time up to the point we go in the studio is spent cultivating the state of mind that it will take to go and do a good record. It's like Magic Johnson putting on his game face. It could take months for me to get emotionally ready."
It is that type of critical and creative awareness that once brought teen-ager Steve Taylor and the boys from Undercover to the sanctuaries of Southern California years ago to view the masters of imaginative whim and wisdom. What they and thousands saw on stage was just one side of Terry Taylor and band. Behind the cynicism and schoolboy antics lies a man who cares too much. U2's Bono once wrote that he couldn't really change the world, yet he could change the world inside of himself.
Amos 'n' Eddies Terry Taylor sees it slightly different. "Those of us who are in rock 'n' roll can have a part in changing the world, but it doesn't have to take part in rock 'n' roll. We can make a difference by feeding a child or visiting the sick. In that respect, yeah we can change the world."
That sort of freedom could be expanded to a larger group of people if the next album escalates as planned. Taylor elaborates: "I would like for this band to experience one time the breaking out of this process that keeps us spinning our wheels before we break up some day and that day will come. It would be nice to experience the real thing, a record that gets out there, to get a critique from those that review albums every day. I think the band deserves it."
This world need more people who are willing to look outside of the fishbowl rather than stay trapped on the inside. No turbulence, less glare and a greater ability to move side to side. That's what survival is all about, unless you're a spotted goldfish without a choice.