Matt Gray – The Last C-64 Music Ninja

Anyone’s top 10 list of C64 game music is bound to feature a few efforts by Matt Gray, with a long and engrossing list of tracks to his name ranging from the legendary The Last Ninja 2 to the likes of Tusker and Hunter’s Moon.


Quedex was his first published work for Thalamus’ puzzler featuring a chrome ball having to overcome a lot of tricky levels in 1987.

Coming a little later to the scene than many of the musical heroes we’ve covered, he knew the bar was set very high and aimed to top, or at least match them with a blistering mix of modern sounds.

Quedex was scratchy, fast-paced, and had an insistent hook with plenty of bass.


Gray’s follow up was the music for Driller, a 3D game with destructible scenery that helped raise the profile of polygons and set up the 16-bit generation as the must-play system.

Even so, the C-64 soundtrack was an epic that could grace any sci-fi film today, with strident tones and perfect pacing for the levels where mining was a tactical puzzle as part of the game.

Hunter Moon

With more work heading his way, based on the success of those early efforts, Hunter’s Moon was one of the next projects.

With Gray showing he was king of the loading screen and those initial pieces of music that kept gamer’s rapt as the slow but sure tape loader crept along.

Hunter’s Moon packed in plenty of depth to the track with amazing levels of fidelity for the SID chip. The shooter/puzzler lacked in-game music, but every other part of the game was an aural delight.

Treasure Island Dizzy

Most of Matt’s game music was for titles that had a darker, edgier side to them, but he was able to play to a lighter audience with the soundtrack to Treasure Island Dizzy from Codemasters.

The eggy hero has always been one of the jollier characters in gaming, and his music, still with depth and some complexity helped bring this episode of the series to life.

Rambo First Blood Part 2

A lot of Gray’s music has been remade by fans, and the man himself has always worked on remakes of other artists’ work, such as this example of Rambo First Blood Part 2, originally by Martin Galway.

This all helps keep the community alive and interest in both the games and the soundtracks that people loved.

Matt’s story ended on a sour note in the games industry, when working on the NES version of Micro Machines, he was promised a credit and royalty on sales, none of which emerged, causing him to leave the scene.

But, many years on, the man and his music is back, which brings us to the man’s latest project.

Matt Gray’s C64-Era Tunes for the Modern Age

Some musicians faded away from the gaming scene, others went on to do bigger, bolder work in different media. But, once a tune is exposed to the world through thousands or millions of sales, it never dies.

The Last Ninja

So, the musicians are remembered and, sometimes, they bring back their memories for a new listening audience. Matt Gray’s Reformation was a successful Kickstarter project, raising over $100,000 to get the tunes from The Last Ninja and more to a modern composition standard.

Check out some of the tunes on Soundcloud and hear them in a whole new light, while the originals, both his own work and those of other famous C64 music artists, will never fade these are truly something you can listen to in the car on on run without anyone looking at you in a funny way. 

David Whittaker – C64 Composer Legend

Last week we took a listen to the fantastic tunes from Rob Hubbard, surely regarded as one of gaming’s more prolific composers. This week’s British video game musician legend, David Whittaker, might not have the range, but certainly packs in the quality when it comes to memory-making chiptune and SID music.

Whittaker was a coder by heart, and started making his own games in the early eighties, before rising to prominence as a musician. Playing on a Yamaha CX5 back in the day, he coded in most of his tunes directly without the benefit of MIDI or other tools. His early works are still popular to this day, including Street Surfer, which has a bit of an Oxygene feel to it, as many of the 80’s digital musicians seemed to like to borrow from.

While he is famous for his C64 and Amiga work, David dabbled on most systems across the generations and could even make the humble Spectrum beeper produce some decent music like this ATV Simulator effort. And if you look hard enough you’ll find games on most systems with his work in the audio department.

Shadow of the Beast

Shadow of the Beast is probably his most famous work, tied to the gorgeous if tricky-to-play Amiga game from Psygnosis. With its haunting use of panpipes and sliding notes, it perfectly set the atmosphere for an alien world that made it all the way through to the recent PS4 update that brought a depth of gameplay that the original was perhaps lacking.

The developers of the new version said that “Fans of the 1989 game’s music will notice many elements and themes familiar to them have been subtly woven into the soundtrack for our modern take. Music is incredibly important to the atmosphere of Shadow of the Beast. Talented composer Ian Livingstone has produced a fantastic dynamic soundtrack specifically designed to complement our take on Shadow of the Beast’s universe.”

While he wrote music for games across many 8-bit and 16-bit formats, this really set the stage for Whittaker, and he took on future projects more sparingly to concentrate on bringing a fully fledged musical landscape. Notable hits include The Bitmap Brother’s Speedball, a futuristic world of chrome and sporting violence.

Panther is another classic, a MasterTronic game of vehicular exploration. It is a much remixed piece, with a fine building backline and commanding keyboards creating a dominating piece of music that begged to be listened to in an era of digital music.

For comparison, check out a recent remix here with a full layer of samples, voicework and more laid over. It just shows how sophisticated the original tune was and how well it stands up to modern music.

David wasn’t just a musician and also worked on sound effects for games at Psygnosis for the likes of Ballistix and Blood Money where the developer’s use of heavy metal and chrome features in the visual design of game allowed him to explore a full world of metallic audio.

Having found fame, David moved to EA and worked in a wider role covering sound effects on the likes of the NHL series, Road Rash, the multimedia epic of Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger and the likes of the PGA games when sports games were more than just a list of licensed tracks. As speech became more prominent in these games, he worked on the likes of John Madden Football, Tiger Woods Golf and others as the technology matured to help give convincing commentaries and immerse players in the games.

He continues in gaming to this day, working for Traveller’s Tales on the LEGO series of games, recently credited as Dialogue and Cutscene Co-ordinator on LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. 

Lots of fans have taken his music and remixed or remade it over the years, you can find a full hour of his tunes below.

And we may as well throw in this great remix of his Enduro Racer tune hat made the Sega racer great fun.

Check out a recent interview with David that discusses the range of his work and how risky life was as a game music writer back in the day.

Thanks for reading!  If you love this stuff, or have a story to share, leave a comment below as we always like to hear from you.

Napster – P2P’s Sacrificial Lamb

Napster was a pioneer in peer-to-peer file sharing services. The service specialized in sharing audio files, especially music files encoded in the still-popular MP3 format.  

The service allowed its users to easily exchange songs through a decentralized file sharing system – the first of its kind, really – which changed the way everyone got their music.  What seemed like an amazing breakthrough in accessibility to all music eventually led the music industry to lay charges of massive copyright infringement against it. Napster then had to cease operations.

The original Napster service ran between June 1999 and July 2001. Although the service was closed by court order, it opened the way for many other peer-to-peer programs: Gnutella, Freenet, Kazaa, LimeWire, Scour, Grokster, Madster, eDonkey2000, and many others. Many of these services were based on the Napster model and implemented the same decentralized peer-to-peer architecture, which has made them similarly despised over the years by those who believe the Napster model is nothing more than a platform for piracy.  The battle rages on…

History of Napster

The idea for what Napster would do (share files in a decentralized system quickly and easily) was the brainchild of creator Shawn Fanning, a computer programmer from Brockton, Massachusetts who came up with the basic code for Napster when he was 18 in a broom closet in his uncle’s office.

It all began when Shawn Fanning, nicknamed on a hacker chat forum because of his nappy hair (I guess before she shaved his head), had a room mate at Northeastern University in Boston who was having trouble downloading his favourite music from the internet.  Even though Shawn disliked his roommates taste in music, it gave him an idea.  Hmm…

The internet itself had only been in available to the public for a few years by this point, and was still in the “dial up” era, where connections to the internet were quite slow still. 

Some people, like Shawn Fanning and his buddy Sean Parker, had met through early internet forums, and bonded over this new social connection the internet provided.  This way of connecting to people was still a novelty at this time, and Shawn and Sean were like cyber penpals.  Today, people meet in this way all the time and it’s the norm.  Back then, it was rather unusual to make friends in such a way.

Thanks to Shawn’s roommate’s issue with downloading music, Shawn figured he could make file sharing easier, and set about creating Napster by roughing out some code which would constitute the basic gist of what Napster was meant to do. 

After a while, Shawn, his brother John Fanning, and Sean Parker decided to turn Napster into a start-up business and take some serious action on the idea.  Tech start-ups were just starting to become a thing back in those days, and Napster was just another kooky tech start up.

Before Napster, services such as Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Hotline Communications, and Usenet facilitated file distributions over the web, so the idea of sharing files was not entirely unprecedented.  But Napster was subtly different from these communities in a few different ways, even though the code still needed work. 

Shawn then handed the code over to some more expert coder dudes, like Jordan Ritter, who became the chief server architect for Napster, and that’s when the real fun began, because Jordan was able to take Shawn’s idea and make it actually work, even without Shawn showing him the source code which he presumably wanted to keep to himself.  

Downloading in Dorms

Once the Napster system actually worked, Shawn was quick to share his creation with the students at his university, who took it for what it was – a way to get free stuff!  With its friendly interface and growing base of users, Napster began to catch on quickly and soon thousands of kids were using the service.  The MP3 was the new file format which made the sharing of music files super easy, and soon MP3’s were being shared en masse.  

MTV, the gossip hounds of the music biz, were there to interview students about this new “fad” that was starting to catch on.  What was this whole “Napster” thing all about, anyway?  LOL.

The service was an interesting combination of centralized / non-centralized system models.  For instance, Napster had their servers which contained their growing user base, but the servers didn’t hold any songs.  The users downloaded the Napster application to their computer and they became the servers, while Napster just facilitated the interaction of those users.  Hence, once music companies started freaking out, it was hard for them to know who to sue – the users themselves, or Napster.  Well, they of course started with Napster and tried to nail the users later.

It’s A Small World After All

While Napster was starting to catch on with users in colleges and universities, there was, around this time in the late 1990’s, a strong desire for people around the world to connect with each other, and Napster gave them an excuse to do that over sharing music with each other.  This made Napster practically the first successful social network, albeit for more introverted music-loving types of people.  It was no Facebook, and yet it sowed the seeds for such interactions to happen later.

It should also be mentioned that Napster as a company was basically a not-for-profit, in that it wasn’t designed to make money, and it didn’t – the entire time it was online – except for some T-shirt sales.

The MP3

As Napster was going viral (as we call it these days, but that slang didn’t exist then), people concurrently were making new ways to play and store music, so that users could take advantage of file formats like MP3.  MP3 players becoming a big thing, and soon enough, MP3 was the de facto file format for songs to be encoded in, so they could be played or stored on a computer lickety split. 

This was despite them being inferior audio-wise to most other forms of audio that had been created up until that point, such as the CD, tapes, and, of course, vinyl records.  Audiophiles to this day do not prefer the MP3, due to it’s overly compressed nature and loss of audio quality in order to shrink down the file size to be more easily shareable.  Regular people who aren’t listening closely for audio quality still don’t mind MP3’s, and they are still hugely popular today.

Making History

One thing that should be pointed out is that Napster was making available for the first time ever, all of the music that was in a digital form from all of human history.  Never before had this been done, and for free.  It was a moment in time that some saw as a great moment, since it was tapping into everyone’s collective vaults of digital music and exposing them to the world.

As part of this, Napster made it so that if you wanted to share in the fun, you needed to download the application, and so expose yourself and your hard drive to all the other users, who were connected through the application as well.   This seemed rather risky, but since Napster made it seem like you were just joining their fun little community, users didn’t really think much about the risks involved.

Even Shawn Fanning’s friends had their doubts that people would want to share the contents of their hard drive with total strangers, but, as it turned out, music lovers said “OK” to this possible breach of privacy for the chance to search through others’ music libraries. 

As a user of the software, you simply “asked” Napster if the file was out there (ie. typed in a song you wanted to get), and Napster would quickly and easily point you to someone who had the file, if anyone in the network did.  Usually someone did, but their connection might be slower or faster depending on their computer set-up.  From there, if that person was online, you could then download the file from them right then and there, and then you had it as a file on your computer.  Kind of like trading baseball cards, except with songs, and online… and somewhat anonymously… and ignoring all copyright laws. 😉

The Age Of File Sharing Innocence

As the service caught on more and more, the ease of finding and downloading music files quickly made Napster very popular among basically everyone who tried it.  Some liked the service because it allowed them to find copies of songs difficult to obtain otherwise, such as old songs, unpublished recordings and amateur recordings made at concerts.  

Others felt justified in downloading digital copies of recordings they had already purchased in other formats such as albums or cassettes.  Still others used the service to protest record companies forcing them to buy a full album when they only wanted one or two songs of an album.

Finally, many Napster users simply appreciated the opportunity to exchange or download music for free.  Some called it a revolution.  Some called it piracy.  Whatever it was, it wasn’t stopping once it started. 


Napster quickly created problems for institutions, like colleges and universities.  The high-speed networks in universities and high schools had by this point become overcrowded with file sharers, with Napster hogging up 60% of the traffic to these networks.  Little work was getting done, as people were becoming addicted to the service and downloading all they could in a manic free-for-all.

As a result, many colleges blocked the service because of the congestion it caused on their network, before they even worried about their potential complicity in a potential copyright infringement on their network.

At its peak, Napster service had about 80 million registered users.  The music industry was starting to get wise to the service, and objections were getting louder by the day.  Meanwhile, Shawn was getting his moment in the spotlight as an influencer and game changer.  And it’s not like he wasn’t that – he really was.  He was a kid that had a great idea and made it a reality, and changed the world.  

The ease of downloading individual songs with Napster and subsequent services is often cited as the cause of the end of the era of albums in popular music, which, to be honest, never really “recovered” after Napster.  Like it or not, everyone was forced to look at music differently after that.

Mac Version

Initially, the service was available only on Windows. In 2000, Black Hole Media wrote a Napster client for Macintosh called Macster. Macster was later bought by Napster and named the official customer under the name Mac Napster (Napster for the Mac).  At this point, the Macster name has been dropped.

Even prior to Napster’s acquisition of Macster, the Macintosh community had a variety of Napster customers, developed independently by various groups. Most notable were the client open source MacStar, released by Squirrel Software in early 2000 and Rapster published by Overcaster Family in Brazil.

The release of MacStar’s source code has paved the way for Napster customers across all computing platforms, giving users ad-free music distribution tools.

The Real Problem

The argument for Napster being innocuous and innocent (ie. fun) seemed to stem from a certain naivety on the part of its creators.  The desire to “share” media of all kinds and make it “universal” to anyone who had the Napster software seems like a nice idea, in the same way you might loan an album to a friend.  There seems to be no harm in sharing music between “friends” or “peers”, as this was a peer-to-peer system, with the little smiling Napster guy being the facilitator of all of this innocent “sharing”. 

The problem with the whole concept seemed to come from file duplication, not so much the sharing itself.  Since sharing MP3’s was essentially copying them, which has always been illegal in most forms of both print media and digital media, this posed a problem because it took the idea of demand away from the artists who created that media in the first place.  And so, even though Lars managed to piss off Metallica fans and everyone else by calling them thieves, he did have a point in some way. 

In 2001, Dave Grohl was on the Dennis Miller show and had a decent retort to the Lars argument of millionaire rock stars being pissed at their fans for stealing their hard work from under their noses.  Should music be free to everyone, or a privilege to those who could afford it? 

Clearly, one could argue either way that Napster was good or bad, but, of course, when it comes down to the matter of pure capitalism, the big music companies weren’t about to take this file sharing bullshit any longer, and they eventually did bring the hammer down on the whole situation, and the Napster software was eventually forcibly taken down in 2001, after several years of legal proceedings in the United States for infringement of copyright law.

What happened?  Just to recap, from the outset, the role of Napster in the transfer of music and service efficiency had raised the ire of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which very quickly, on the 7th December 1999, filed the first lawsuit against the popular file-sharing service.

This initial lawsuit aimed at snuffing out Napster ASAP, but only offered it free publicity instead – at first. The media coverage of the lawsuit has inflated Napster’s customer base by millions of new users.  But that didn’t stop various entities from taking the revolutionary idea of making music free for everyone that Shawn initially thought of, and basically beating the shit out of it legally.  As mentioned earlier with Lars of Metallica, certain artists absolutely HATED Napster (Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and many many more), and sided with the music industry in an effort to destroy Napster.

The plaintiffs alleged that Napster facilitated copyright infringement, and filed an application for a preliminary injunction to stop the exchange of musical selections immediately.

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California  granted the preliminary injunction on the basis that the plaintiffs demonstrated a reasonable likelihood of success.  It did take years to grind Napster down, with the help of a memo written by Napster co-founder Sean Parker who mentioned the word “piracy”, basically giving everyone enough evidence in that one word or sentence to assume that Napster was never about anything but theft.

Napster Goes Offline

Napster was forced to shut things down in July 2001, but even after they did that, it wasn’t dead yet because people had Napster appendages running off site that kept the system going even without the main hub being active.  Eventually though, those were stamped out too.

Napster then filed for bankrupcy in June of 2002, they had to raise 100 million dollars to essentially pay people off, including Dr. Dre and Metallica (two of the more vocal and powerful opponents of Napster), including investors and so forth.  In the documentary Downloaded, they said it was about 500 million that needed to be raised and then just as quickly the funds were absorbed back into the industry, as Napster was on its way out the door. 

It was shortly after that that new file sharing systems like Limewire, Gnutella, and eDonkey came about, effectively replacing Napster and being even harder for the music industry to eradicate.

After Napster ended, the co-founders went their separate ways, entering into new enterprises and continuing to explore the potential of the online world. 

Shawn Fanning, for his part, did what he could to try and restore some of the rights that Napster had “taken away” from artists, by creating an “independent copyright database” called Snocap.  The idea here was to give artists a chance to register their work, and then whatever wasn’t registered was then considered “free”.  Unfortunately, this business didn’t take off, due in part to iTunes beginning its ascent at this time. 

From there, Shawn created Rupture, a gaming company, which he then sold off to EA for 30 million dollars. 

Co-founder Sean Parker went on to create Plaxo, which never reached its full potential, and then got involved with Facebook, where his career really took off.

The Changing Music Industry (2002-2010)

In this interim after the death of Napster, many things happened.  For one, music fans started to resent the music industry for killing off Napster, and refused to support them.  Record sales dropped and dropped and dropped, so that by 2010, the record industry as it was 10 years prior was no longer existed. 

As many predicted, the offspring of Napster in the form of various decentralized peer-to-peer networks rose up, taking the place of Napster and being even more virulent and impossible to shut down.  The music business actually took the time to sue the pants off of regular people for illegal downloading using these new services, further instilling a sense of resentment to the big record companies. 

A culture war had begun, and even though the creators of Napster were forced to pay their debts (both real and imagined) and move on, there was no stopping what had begun. 

As people became more tech savvy, the dinosaurs of the industry who wanted to keep the old model of the music business happening were being laid to waste by a new population of creative thinkers thanks to what Napster started.  This battle continues on to this day, with websites like the Pirate Bay being shut down by authorities and re-spawning not longer after. 

Big companies still try to sue people, and file sharing networks get more sophisticated all the time.  Free music and other media (movies, etc) is still very much available, although you may be punished if you download it.

Napster Today

After all of that, you’d think Napster would be dead and gone.  But nope.  Today, in 2018, Napster has 3 different headquarters in different parts of the world (Seattle, Frankfurt, Sao Paulo), and operates 100% legally, with a number of patents under its belt.  Here is their motto on their about page as it stands right now:

“Napster’s leading streaming music services give members ad-free access to millions of songs. Whether they’re listening on their phone, at home, at work, or in the car, Napster goes where they go. Our expert team of editors create a curated music experience that’s easy for members worldwide to gather and enjoy new original content including videos, playlists, reviews, and radio stations — anytime and anywhere.”

This is quite the change from their early days of distributing pirated music, but it is also a 180 degree turn from the user base they once had, who were morally, let us say, flexible.

Downloaded Documentary

In 2012, a documentary made by director Alex Winter  was released to much acclaim, and gave an in depth look at the cultural shockwaves that resulted from the Shawn Fanning’s original creation.  I highly recommend anyone interested in learning more about file sharing, music, culture, or human rights check it out, as it is brilliant and will give you a whole new understanding of our changing world.

Rent it on Amazon (or torrent it, you sleazy pirate you)

Here’s an interview with Alex Winter about the documentary.  Worth a watch!

Here’s some guy in 2016 trying to use the old Napster client.  Somewhat entertaining if you’re a computer geek!

Well thanks for reading.  Bye!

Rob Hubbard – C64 Music Legend

Rob Hubbard is pretty much synonymous with creating music on the Commodore 64. In his native England, his name is up there alongside many rockstar developers and publishing houses as favourite 8-bit memories. Those tunes are cherished and revered today, with many appearing in all-time C64 top 10 lists.

Not only a great musician, he understood the technology within Commodore 64 and its SID chip registers to enable all sorts of fast-paced changes, and even managed to cram in guitar samples and other effects into his music that few could match.

His first game was Thing on A Spring, with Rob writing the music using assembler and editing the source code.

After finding fame through his music, he went to work at Electronic Arts in America, last seen as an audio technical director and a part of the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IASIG).

SID and Rob, A Perfect Match

A fan of Jean-Michel Jarre, his natural leaning was toward synthesiser tunes, which matched the output of the audio hardware of the time. Even so, he could add rising and falling progressions to make a relatively simple tune feel epic and far longer than it actually was.

Check out Chimera from Firebird as a fine early example, and see if you can spot any Jarre-inspired themes within the track? The game was an early effort by Shahid Ahmad, until recently a key mover-and-shaker at Sony in the drive for indie games on PlayStation formats. He asked Rob for some fretless bass work on the track, an innovation at the time.

One of Rob’s most famous tunes belongs to International Karate by Archer MacLean, thanks to the huge sales of the System 3 beat ‘em up. His effort that captured the Japanese spirit of Karateka, with a little help from Forbidden Colours by Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian from which he borrowed the rhythm line…

Lightforce was an fast-paced shooter, one of endless numbers that flooded the early games machines. But Rob’s music made it stand out and is still a well-loved tune today. This along with Warhawk turned many a generic title into something more of an experience and there are people who used to buy any game with Rob’s name in the music credits, no matter how bad.

At the time, Rob composed the tune, either borrowing from the arcade original, or based on early gameplay but with no idea how the final game would turn out.

Sanxion is one of Rob’s favourite C64 tunes, with endless depth and playful bass notes zipping in and out of the main loading theme, plus break beats and so much more crammed into the tiny amount of resources he was dealing with.

You’ve heard the tunes, now hear Rob talk about his experiences from the documentary Bedrooms to Billions. This look at the scene as kids at home turned into the legends that built an industry. Definitely a must-watch for anyone interested in just how random and ad hoc things were back them.

He also recently ran a Kickstarter campaign called Project Hubbard: Rob Bounces Back. It offers remixed albums, a book and possibility of a live concert.  Rob has played some live tunes over the years, you can find online, and there are plenty of remixes of his work, or modernized versions that you might enjoy. Not bad for a guy who often had just a day or two to compose a track for a game he’d hardly seen.

Interview with Sarah Jane Curran of The Violet Stones

Today I spoke with Sarah Jane Curran, an alternative rocker and lead singer for the band The Violet Stones out of Sydney, Australia.  I came across her music recently on Youtube (where she goes by Sarah Jane Music) and was impressed at all of the material on there, from original songs she’s written herself and with her band, as well as vlogs, live cuts, and a ton of cool covers of everyone’s favourite grunge rock classics (including weird B-sides and deep cuts).

Not only is Sarah a talented songwriter, but she can sing and pull off a number of different styles.  Her channel is gaining momentum as I guess people like me stumble across her looking up old and new grunge style rock and metal, and her following grows as her band The Violet Stones do more gigs across Australia.  A new album is also in the works.  Here is our conversation which touches on a number of topics from this to that (and even *that*).  Hope you dig it!

YC: Hey Sarah, how’s it going tonight?

SJM: It’s going pretty good thanks!

YC: Cool cool.  So how’s the Australian music scene these days?

SJM: I don’t really have anything to compare it to honestly but I’ve just started playing around the scene last year and I think it is struggling a bit (mostly around the Sydney area). Although with bigger artists, I think it’s pretty good but it’s harder for smaller acts to get a following around here.

YC: Who’s big there now that everyone loves from the rock world…ermm.. Jet?

SJM: haha I don’t really hear about them tbh. But there’s this one band in particular called Tired Lion and they’re probably one of my favourite bands at the moment but they’re from Perth & I watched them gain more and more people at their shows every time they come back and they have a pretty decent following in every state I think.

SJM: Other bands that are big are bands like Violent Soho & Dune Rats. I guess that’s the sort of genre that is dominating the ‘alternative’ music scene at the moment. (Heavily influenced by grunge).

YC:  Silverchair are done right? They’re like classic rock now i guess.. but they’re like a year younger than me so I remember when they came out I was like who are these little geeks?  That was the second wave of grunge… post Cobain

SJM: haha the early Silverchair albums are probably a huge influence of Australian ‘grunge’. I’ve seen soooo many bands trying to be them

YC: And meanwhile they just wanted to be Helmet

SJM: If they were still around I’m sure they’d be one of the biggest bands here

YC: I think they were always slightly misunderstood in that they were more like Helmet than Nirvana but people just saw them as a mini Nirvana in the 90s

SJM: Yeah I never thought they sounded too similar to Nirvana but that’s what they’re sort of known for (for being the Australian Nirvana). My dad calls them ‘Nirvana in Pajamas’ hahahha

YC: awww.. cute.  they’re a solid band.. I heard Daniel’s solo album and i thought it was half decent, even though it was like not rock at all as i recall.  First few albums were pretty ass kicking.  So your band.. is playing shows and such?

SJM: I actually saw Daniel Johns live! Yeah we are playing shows, and actually in the middle of recording our first album

YC: Daniel has a killer voice and rocks some mean riffs…anyway…How’s that going? I’m listening to Sheets of Denial.. pretty good for a demo…

SJM: It’s going pretty good, we’re getting our name out slowly amongst the Sydney scene. Thanks!

YC: I mean it sounds like not really a demo…how did you record that one?

SJM: We practice with an electric drum kit and plug our guitars straight into a console and it comes out into headphones that we all wear (so basically we can practice without making a lot of noise). And that demo was actually made I think the night we made the song, cause we record the songs so that we remember what we did ?

YC: Yeah. i can relate.. it’s easy to forget stuff…so wait that song has electronic drums?  nahh

SJM: yeah it was recorded on an electric kit haha

YC: so what made you want to learn like 8 million covers?

SJM: hahah I guess in my early teens when I was just getting into Nirvana I decided to learn a lot of the songs cause you know, being able to play your favourite songs is pretty cool. So I did that and my friends and family were encouraging me to post them on youtube and I eventually did and people actually wanted more! I still post them because I guess it forces me to still learn songs even if I don’t feel like it and I guess it’s good for me to listen and try out new things with the covers

YC: lol yeah that makes sense…i mean having people pay attention helps motivation

SJM: yeah definitely hahah

YC: i’ve learned a lot of covers, but i can’t seem to get up the motivation to post them on my channel…i just post originals that no one listens to ? but you probably are aware that youtube’s algorithm kind of craves the stuff you’re doing.. ie. covers of famous songs…that’s how i came across you i think.. i was randomly looking up people covering Alice in Chains songs…

SJM: hahah yeah it really sucks how no one really cares that much about originals unless you’re already known for something else. Yeah, I guess thats part of the reason I do them still.  Cause of course I don’t wanna always wanna do covers, I much rather play my own songs

YC: i’m in a band with a guy that actually despises doing covers. like, i’d be game to be in a covers band if it was cool covers.  but he’s got a real hate for covers bands. cause it pushes original bands out of venues. he has a point i think

SJM: Yeah and theres a real market for cover bands over here.

YC: but people want covers…it pays the bar’s bills and shit

SJM: Yeah guess so, but it sucks. It’s really a hard market to break through in with your original music

YC: but your channel seems to be doing really well from what i can tell

SJM: Doing better than I ever expected like I had no idea what I did right

YC: well i do internet marketing for a living, so i know what i think you’re doing right

SJM: what did I do right then? hahah

YC: well…for one, youtube likes consistency. so you keep doing the same thing in the same format and that’s something youtube likes .. or like, the robots that control youtube. most people are unbelievably retarded and inconsistent

SJM: hahah yeah i knew that consistency was important, thats why I try upload once a week

YC: google / youtube likes to see a really consistent thing happening.. same look, same room, person, blah blah

SJM: ah cool thats good to know

YC: like if you’re too scatterbrained, and everything looks crazily different, youtube will be like “sorry bro”…it’s just like a theme, and also you’re not pissing off the family friendly part of the algorithm…and you’re a girl

SJM: True

YC: so the millions of freaks out there like girls as a rule…i’m not trying to say anything sexist lol but i mean.. it’s not my fault the world is sexist ? there’s probably some marketing thing where people trust girls more or something

SJM: No I know what you mean and I totally agree like I think people can’t get over the fact that a girl is singing and playing guitar on a System of a Down song. I think like 80% of my audience are dudes as well. think thats what my youtube stats say

YC: yeah.. it makes sense. well the other thing is musicians are notorious for not understanding marketing. it’s just not part of their mentality. so for instance the fact you can even interpret youtube stats .. or even know they exist. people in bands could give a fuck about that shit and when they do look at it, they don’t know what the fuck to make of it, and musicians from older generations are double screwed cause they just don’t get technology as it is today

SJM: hahah I think I’m very on top of things and very organized. Like I keep my band in order and I used to be the only one posted anything to our facebook page (they’ve started contributing more recently). my dads one of those people who doesn’t understand how to advertise or anything. 

YC: yeah my band has a FB page but even i hate using it


SJM: it gets tiring but Facebooks been pretty good for my band. but I don’t think it does much for my youtube channel besides advertising and such

YC: i think it’s cool you have a really well rounded social media thing going on.. even on your youtube, you have the vlogs too, originals, covers, live shit

YC: it’s basically a sign that you and your band have your shit together

SJM: hahah I guess so

YC: so who are your biggest influences? i guess you’re big into Nirvana

SJM: yeah well I don’t really listen to them much now, but they’re basically my roots

YC: you’re covering b-sides and whatnot.. so not like.. average fan of Nevermind type thing. i notice with Nirvana you kind of sing the stuff he screams

SJM: um yeah. It’s because I can’t scream at the moment. I really want to though

YC: well you have the kind of voice that might get wrecked if you scream your lungs out

SJM: yeah I have tried and every time I do it, my throat hurts and thats not suppose to happen. But I got really into Korn recently..And other bands System of a down, Incubus, Hole, Foo Fighters, Tired Lion.



YC: how do you go about learning a korn song?

SJM: well its way more difficult since the guitarist use a 7 string so I basically find the tabs and have to transpose it into a way I can play it in standard

YC: yeah i was thinkin.. this isn’t standard. Who are some of your favourite players? like.. did you learn Korn because you’re obsessed with Fieldy? Fieldy crush?

SJM: haha nope I have a young Jonathon Davis crush. nah but I really love their songs and melodies and how its still heavy

YC: ah i see.. yeah chicks dig Jonathon

YC: I see your Cranberries cover got some traction eh

SJM: It did only after Dolores death though

YC: right.. yeah. who’s your fav guitar player at the moment?

SJM: I don’t really have favourite guitar players to be honest. I focus more on people’s ability to write songs and melodies


YC: yeah i feel ya on that.. it’s more about songs. so to tie it back to your album for a sec, when’s it gonna be done?

SJM: the bands album?

YC: yeah..

SJM: Should be done by the end of the year. We’re doing it diy so it doesnt really have a deadline or anything

YC: is there kind of a goal you have with this album? ie make it the heaviest fucking album of all time

SJM: We just want to get our stuff out there and have something to give to people when they ask us if we have an album or EP. Like we get asked after gigs often if we have anything released and we have to say no

YC: man.. you have nothing? for someone who records so much shit and does so much youtube, you should at least have something…….

SJM: That’s what we’re doing now hahah I guess because we didn’t know how we were gonna go about it like we’re broke and so we needed to find a cheaper option to record and we found it eventually. and we have demos and stuff out, enough to keep people somewhat interested

YC: so what do you give people? a USB? with demos? or nothing

SJM: Nah we don’t give them anything, they can just check out stuff online if they really wanted to

YC: hm well then!  one more question – what are you recording stuff with ie. software?

SJM: We’re using Sonar X1. Basically my dads helping us out a lot with this and we’re just using what he has. We recorded the drums in a church and we had to set up everything from scratch and that was very interesting haha

YC: So you’re tracking things one by one, not doing live off the floor. that’s cool though, sounds like fun

SJM: nah we don’t have the set up for that and yeah it’s kinda good not having a deadline but also we just want it done. we kinda just want this album out of the way so we can start our next one because we like the new songs a lot more. just gotta do guitars, vocals and the mixing/mastering.

YC: Awesome.  well it was cool to talk to ya.  thanks for taking the time

SJM: yeah dude, thanks for the chat!

Who Is Aphex Twin?

“Forget all the equipment, forget the music, at the end of the day it’s just literally frequencies and their effects on your brain. That’s what’s everyone’s essentially after.”

Aphex Twin, born Richard David James, is an electronic music artist born August 18, 1971, who has come to be associated with genre descriptors such as IDM (intelligent dance music), ambient, techno, and overall “experimental” music.  He can be described in these ways, yes, but his resume goes on…he is also a record producer, composer, performer, remixer (sometimes for ca$h), DJ, and just an all round musical fellow who grew up dreaming of beats and tunes.

Richard D. James has been making groundbreaking tracks for decades now, and is generally considered on of the most important electronic music makers of all time and is loved by fans and musicians alike.  However, it would seem that Richard doesn’t take himself quite so seriously as an important musical figure, preferring to remain in relative obscurity and to troll as many people as he can.  Sometimes his music can even seem rather troll-like.  This, to some, gives him his particular charm… but can you really trust this face?

Of course not.  In any case, we figured, hey, let’s look at the convoluted history of the man behind the slightly off-putting visage. Who is this Aphex Twin guy, anyway?  He seems to not want to really be known at times, and other times he is hard to escape, but that only makes us wonder… Is he perhaps a Satan worshipper?  Your garden variety techno knob-twiddling dweeb?  Some kind of hacker dude?  A EDM bigshot like Hardwell?  An actual twin to a brother who died at birth?  Who??

Sweet Baby (Richard D.) James

Richard D. James grew up in Lanner, Cornwall, in the United Kingdom, but was born in Limerick, Ireland.  He has two older sisters, and his parents are Welsh.  While the demonic emblematic omnipresent face may suggest otherwise, the future AFX was a fairly contented child according to James himself, who was generally left to his own devices in this scenic area of England.  Let’s check it out for ourselves, shall we?

Left to explore the countryside and feeling apart from the wider world, Richard was a curious sort with an active imagination enjoyed doing his own thing.  These qualities remained with him into his adult life.

An 11-year-old Richard took an early interest in electronics and, after winning a competition in school where he farted around with a Sinclair ZX81 and got this machine to make some sort of “really weird noise” when the volume was cranked, even though it was apparently incapable of doing so.  This netted Richard 50 pounds, and his career in music was thus launched!  For anyone wanting to geek out a bit, here’s the “Grandaddy of Computers”.

Ah, that hit the spot.  Anywho, the story goes that Richard began composing and producing his own tracks early on, in his pre-teenage years, and, one the hormones were in full swing, he became a DJ and spun tracks in several locations around his neck of the woods, ie. the Shire Horse Inn in St. Ives, as well as the Bowgie Inn in Crantock, as well as at some local beaches.  Here is that very same Inn as seen through a very strange neon lens.  Could this be how Richard saw it? 

College Yrs

In college, his interest was electronics and engineering, which naturally connected him closer to the music he was already making.  At Cornwall College, where he studied in his late teens, Richard received a certificate for engineering.  He was known, according to one of his teachers, to wear headphones a lot, even during class.  Scrutinizing audio was obviously a primary concern for Richard.

Being in such an isolated part of the country, it was difficult for Richard to gain access to the types of music that interested him the most, namely techno, electronic shit, and the like.  This lead to him making tapes on his own of this type of music that was not common where he was from, so he could play it for friends and immerse himself in it fully.  While working as a DJ at the Bowgie pub, he met Grant Wilson-Claridge (the dude giving the finger above), who was also a DJ. 

“I’m just some irritating, lying, ginger kid from Cornwall who should have been locked up in some youth detention centre. I just managed to escape and blag it into music.” 

Grant was interested in what Richard was up to, and, after hearing some of his original material, encouraged Richard to make records with his involvement.  This got Richard more interested in vinyl, as he was now entering the world of record producing.  The two friends were beginning to create their own little world of unique electronic music in a more rural part of the United Kingdom.  Keeping it interesting, no doubt.

First Releases and Rephlex Records

If you’re a fan of Aphex Twin, you’ll know that his first release was called Analogue Bubblebath, released as a 12-inch in 1991 on Mighty Force Records.  Here he worked alongside Tom Middleton, AKA Schizophrenia, to produce the track En Trance To Exit.  A popular radio station in London, called Kiss FM, picked up the EP itself, which did help it to become a success.

Rephlex Records was founded in 1991 was Richard D. James and his friend Grant Wilson-Claridge, who both had a strong love of Acid – not the drug, but the musical genre – which was both much maligned and much loved by the people of Britain.  In fact, many people were wholly unfamiliar with it, and so Rephlex set out to expose this genre to new ears and change others’ minds about it.  Can you teach a farmer to dance?

Two Analogue Bubblebath’s were released between ’91 and ’93, with one credit to AFX and one with no name on it.  Another EP, released under the name Bradley’s Beat, also emerged, as did yet another of Richard’s monikers, Bradley Strider.  It was around this time that Richard went to Kingston Polytechnic to take a course in electronics, however, he was quickly being consumed by techno music and would soon focus on his career in music exclusively.

Alternate Egos and SAW 85-92

More alter egos surfaced at this time when Richard was staying in London, having left school – Blue Calx, The Dice Man, Polygon Window, Power-Pill… more tracks were created, found their way on to releases by Warp Records, as well as a number of compilations.  Meanwhile, Richard was seemingly without permanent residence, living in both an empty bank and near or actually on a roundabout in Elephant and Castle in South London.

“Well, I just bought a massive bank and I’ve moved into it on my own.” 

It was in 1992 that Aphex Twin started to really get the praise heaped upon him, with the release of Selected Ambient Works 85-92, which was his very first full length record under the Aphex Twin name.  It was sited as a landmark album for ambient music, and was seen by some critics as taking what Brian Eno had done for electronic music to the next level.  That said, although many consider this to be Aphex’s first big breakthrough album, it wasn’t the highest quality as it had been compiled on tape and lacked fidelity as a recording. 

But this didn’t stop 1992 from becoming Aphex Twin’s year.  This was also the year that Digeridoo came out, and enjoyed airplay on Kiss FM in London thanks to DJ colin Faver, and even charted on the UK Singles Chart coming in at #55.  As well, the now famous Pac-Man EP came out under the pseudonym Power-Pill, and Caustic Window released four Joyrex EPs.  These tracks seemed to hint at what drum and bass music would soon become, although Richard claimed that Digeridoo was designed to make obstinate ravers go home.   

Outpouring and SAW Vol.2

1993 and 1994 were also big years for Richard in terms of creativity, with a formidable outpouring of songs that came out under his various guises, including Bradley’s Robot by Bradley Strider, the Quoth EP and Surfing on Sine Waves by Polygon Window, a couple of EPs by Caustic Window, a 3rd Analogue Bubblebath, the now-legendary “On” EP, and, as if that weren’t enough, Warp released Selected Ambient Works Volume II, which is an album that continues to inspire, amaze, and confuse as time goes on.

Richard has credited the creation of these tracks to lucid dreaming and synaesthesia, which does make a lot of sense when you listen to them.  They are quite abstract as far as songs go, and extremely ambient, buoyant, and dreamlike.  They even messed with Gracenote, the worldwide music database that makes it its mission to catalogue tracks in the most detailed way possible.  Without simply stated titles, even Gracenote was given the slip on many of these tracks.  Following this Aphex Twin Classics and a 4th Analogue Bubblebath (he just loooves to bath in analogue with soap, doesn’t he?), as well as GAK. 1994 was, as mentioned, a big year for Richard creatively speaking, and this basically solidified him as not only a force to be reckoned with in the music industry, but a real gamechanger.

“There’s a lot of melancholy in my tracks.”

He Cares Because You Do

1995 was hot with anticipation.  Could Richard keep ’em coming?  Turns out, yes, yes he could and did.  …I Care Because You Do was the beginning of the scary sort of mocking play on Richard’s face that began adorning future works, as well as videos.  This one came in the form of a rather creepy looking painting on the album cover. 

The tracks on this album had been brewing over the past 5 years, but they were a major leap forward as far as Richard’s overall work was concerned.  They range in styles, with some of Richard’s most beautiful melodies and beats, not to mention the crowd pleasing Ventolin (above). 

Analogue synths were the instrument of choice here, and this was to be the last time that Richard was entirely dedicated to them.  Famed composer Philip Glass also makes an appearance around this time, creating a version of the album track Icct Hedral, which came out on Donkey Rhubarb.  1995 saw Richard also dip into a style called drill ‘n’ bass for a release called Hangable Auto Bulb EP.

“The best musicians or sound-artists are people who never considered themselves to be artists or musicians.” 

In The Jungle…

1996 saw further development of Richard’s musical approach, as he released the innovative Richard D. James album via Warp Records.  At this point, the beats became crazier, the synths became synthier, and the overall feel was that of a wild experiment, with moments of abandon balanced with moments of sublime melody, and then other seriously weird stuff thrown in just because.  Around this time, there was a proliferation of “jungle” music entering the zeitgeist, with even the likes of David Bowie beginning to toy with the genre (ie. Earthling at the beginning of ’97), not to mention The Prodigy and other lesser known acts like Omni Trio and Tango and Ratty.  Aphex Twin trumped them all with his self-addressing album, adding more speed and some aggression by way of full throttle beats and snare rushes that blurred past you as a listener tried to take stock of the music aurally. 

That said, this album was not the same as Atari Teenage Riot and it was not really designed for raves, but for headphones.  Whatever this album is, critics latched on and it was added to many best lists including all time best electronic albums list that continue to crop up.

Come To Daddy

Come To Daddy EP came out in ’97 and drew even more attention, as by now Richard was officially considered a genius in music circles and people were waiting to see what would be next.  He made a video with Chris Cunningham for the album’s first song and title track, Come To Daddy, featuring some rather disturbing stuff. 

At the same time, Richard has said that he thinks it’s basically just his version of bad death metal, saying it was basically the product of some drunken nights and joking around.  Still to this day, the song has its distinct fans who take the song a bit seriously, such as Dillinger Escape Plan who covered the track both on disc and live.

“Sometimes I just hit the keyboard in a way I’d like the rhythm of the tracks to sound.”

It was around now that Richard was starting to take less enjoyment out of the whole MTV thing and being famous, and started to creep back into his natural state, which seems to be one of relative obscurity.  But not before releasing Windowlicker in 1999, his hit video (again with Cunningham helming it) that features a very long limousine and some what-was-now archetypal creepiness from RDJ.


There was a slight pause of 2 years, and then in 2001 Aphex Twin came back with Drukqs, featuring heavy influence from John Cage and Erik Satie with experimental piano music combined with computers.  Ever perplexing, there were some tracks with titles written in Cornish, and this was a double album at that so it was somewhat hard for fans and critics to grasp what exactly Richard was going for here, except maybe to keep them on their toes with something completely unexpected.  Reviews for this album were mixed, but it was generally agreed upon that many of the tracks had merit at least in terms of melody.  All in all, it was not what you’d consider a “hit” album and maybe that’s how Richard wanted it.  The next time fans would hear from Richard was via his Rephlex Records label.


2005 was the year of the Analord, which came out in eleven EPs and brought Richard back to his AFX moniker.  Over the course of these albums, 42 tracks were released featuring both digital and analogue equipment, heavy on drum machines – in particular Roland machines such as the classic 808. 

But also weaving through the mix was a number of rare vintage synths and beat making machines, including Roland’s MC-4 and the TB-303 and then we can’t forget the Synton Fenix.  Tracks were pressed according to James’ specific tendencies at the time, going straight to vinyl, although he was convinced to also create a compilation on compact disc called Chosen Lords, featuring 10 tracks culled from these sessions.  An additional 20 tracks appeared on the Rephlex website in 2009 for download, beefing up the series significantly.

“I’m a really good hacker, but I’m not a sensible person.” 

The Tuss

In the years prior to Syro, which was released in 2014, Richard was busy being unfamous and trying to throw people off his trail by working under the name The Tuss, and having Grant Wilson-Claridge state that this was not Richard, but two other artists.  Later, it seemed that it was in fact Richard as both Brian and Karen Tregaskin used one of Richard’s rare synths – the Yamaha GX1.  Later, Richard finally admitted that he was The Tuss.  Coming up to 2014, Richard played a few select shows – one was a tribute to Krzysztof Penderecki, and another paid tribute to Steve Reich.

Syro, Soundcloud, and a blimp

With some interesting marketing in 2014 including a blimp and the dark web browser Tor, Aphex Twin finally came back with his first album since Drukqs, called Syro. 

This was followed by Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 EP, and then a flurry of random users on Soundcloud released tracks that seemed to be by Aphex Twin, but there was some confusion around this.  Eventually, it was clear that Richard was at it again, doing subversive things involving his music, his fans, and the internet.  His presence on Soundcloud gave way to previously unheard tracks, and entire unheard albums with Richard making brief but insightful comments along the way.  His Soundclouds were going down, and returning, with tracks popping up here and there under different accounts.  His fans seemed to be keeping pace with him quite admirably, despite the haphazardness of his online behaviour here.

In most recent years, Richard launched his online store featuring a slew of new tracks.

With Richard starting to play the odd show, and releasing more tracks, we may have entered a golden age of Richard’s music, with more of it now available directly from the artist himself.  Being the enigma that he is, it is difficult to say what will be next.

5 Famous Female Mandolin Players

Sierra Hull

 Sierra Hull is an American bluegrass musician. She sings and plays guitar and mandolin. She was signed to Rounder Records at the very young age of 13 and released a debut album three years later at 16, which hit #2 on the Billboard Top Bluegrass Albums chart.

She is from Tennessee, where she attended high school before accepting a scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music.

She began playing mandolin at the age of eight, and was surrounded by a family of music lovers who play with her and took her to bluegrass festivals. She performed with Alison Krauss at the White House in 2011.

Her talents are recognized internationally: she has received five International Bluegrass Music Association nominations and received the Bluegrass Star Award in 2013.

This award is given to musicians who serve to advance traditional bluegrass music by bringing it to new audiences while preserving its heritage.

Rhonda Vincent

Rhonda Vincent is an American multi-instrumentalist, singing and playing mandolin, guitar and fiddle. Her career has spanned more than four decades, achieving success in the bluegrass genre in the 1970s, exhibiting progressive chord structures and multi-range vocals. In this time her peers were mostly male, and they respected her for her outstanding vocal and instrumental talents. Over the years, she has appeared on records with Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson and Tanya Tucker.

Her entire family is musical; the family sang on the Sally Mountain Show. She began playing mandolin at the age of eight, guitar at 10 and later the fiddle. She lived in a small town, but her family was full of musicians, so whenever she was home, they would all play together.

She sings bluegrass, folk and gospel, performing solo as well as with her band Rhonda Vincent & The Rage. She has won several awards from International Bluegrass Music Association and Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America. She is known as the Queen of Bluegrass. 

Sarah Jarosz

Sarah Jarosz is another young musical prodigy on our list. Born in Texas in 1991, she began playing mandolin at the age of 10 and released her debut album Song Up in Her Head, which she co-produced.

This album was released in 2009, and in the same year she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music, graduating with a degree in Contemporary Improvisation.

To this day, she has released four studio albums, her most recent winning a Grammy award for Best Folk Album. She has seen a lot of success and has been widely received with awe and admiration at her talent.

She has been referred to as a contemporary-bluegrass prodigy and is revered as one of acoustic music’s most promising young talents.

In addition to mastering the mandolin, Sarah also plays the clawhammer banjo and octave mandolin. The octave mandolin has four pairs of strings in G, D, A and E, but is an octave below the mandolin.

She has covered many well-known songs in addition to her own written pieces, and has collaborated with many artists such as Jerry Douglas and Darrell Scott. Critics greatly anticipate what is yet to come of this young woman.

Caterina Lichtenberg

Caterina Lichtenberg was raised in Germany and graduated from the Music Conservatory in Cologne with the highest honours, where she now teaches as Professor of Classical Mandolin. Interestingly, this is the only position of its kind in the world today.

For over two decades, she has been recording, teaching and touring throughout the world including Europe, Japan, Taiwan, and South and North Americas. She is regarded as one of the most important mandolinists on the planet. She has covered pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and collaborated with Mike Marshall, American mandolinist, combining their bluegrass, classical and jazz styles.

Caterina has released 10 albums to date, all in chamber music settings. She is a specialist on early period instruments, and has recorded on a 1775 mandolin as per invitation from the Ferdinandeum Museum in Innsbruck. She has performed with many orchestras internationally, and festivals. Her talents have also landed her positions of juror and lecturer at mandolin conventions and academies.

Sharon Gilchrist

Sharon Gilchrist is an American mandolin player and instructor. She also sings and composes in the bluegrass style. She was raised in Texas and began playing mandolin when she was eight years old. At just nine years old, she and brother Troy Gilchrist played in a band together, which went on for another seven years. she had even played in this band with forming members of what would become the Dixie Chicks.

She moved to Nashville Tennessee to study mandolin after graduating high school. Since then she has performed and arranged music for several musicians. After her band Mary and Mars disbanded, she joined Uncle Earl, a team of female musicians who incorporated dance into their performances.

She plays bluegrass/Americana roots style, and is currently writing and recording music for films. She also teaches private lessons and mandolin workshops at music camps.

The Smiths – A Brief History of the Legendary English 80’s Rock Band

The Smiths is an English rock band that formed in 1982 and separated in 1987. It was a musical quartet of lads from Manchester, originally founded by two people – Steven Patrick Morrissey (born on May 22 , 1959), the flamboyant and controversial singer and lyricist, and Johnny Marr (born October 31 ,1963), the ground-breaking wizard guitar player. 

The band lineup was soon after completed by drummer Mike Joyce and bassist Andy Rourke.  They made 4 official albums together, and rival The Beatles in terms of popularity in the UK.  Of course, the world loves them, too.

Morrissey and Johnny Marr (whose real name is Johnny Maher, but he changed it to not be confused with the Buzzcocks drummer) officially met each other on May 20th, 1982, at Morrissey’s home in Stretford (384 Kings Road).  They had seen each other previously, at a Patti Smith gig where they were first introduced.

Here is a Smiths fan doing a drive-by of the Morrissey’s old house.  It all started right there!

The Smiths – Band History

Before The Smiths came together, Johnny Marr was looking for a good lyricist and singer, having been in a few bands that didn’t work out, and he met with Steven Morrissey, whose lyrics he’d heard through a friend, Billy Duffy, future guitarist for The Cult and former member of a band whose Morrissey was briefly the singer, The Nosebleeds.  Hard to believe Morrissey sang in this band, even for a short time.  Ladies and germs – the Nosebleeds!  (without Morrissey singing, sorry)

Marr one day showed up on Morrissey’s doorstep to implore him to join his band, which Morrissey eventually agreed.  In the beginning, the two songwriting partners were truly on the same wavelength, although Morrissey was several years older than Marr.

Morrissey presented Johnny with some lyrics he wrote, including “Suffer Little Children”, a dark-themed set of lyrics inspired by the infamous Moor murders, and the two worked on several other songs as well, such as the cast off “Don’t Blow Your Own Horn”, and “The Hand that Rocks The Cradle”. 

After recording several tracks with Simon “Si” Wolstencroft (future member of The Fall) on drums, Morrissey and Marr recruited drummer Mike Joyce in the fall of 1982 after Wolstencroft failed to show interest in joining the band.

Joyce was once a member of punk bands The Hoax and Victim. They then recruited as bassist a fellow named Dale Hibbert, who provided the group with the use of the studio where he worked as recording engineer.  Here is a more recent picture of Dale Hibbert.

And here is a song they recorded with Dale on bass at the time, “I Want A Boy For My Birthday” (1982), which was a cover of a song by the band The Cookies, a girl group from the ’60’s.

According to Marr, neither the personality nor the musical style of Hibbert were well suited to the group (Hibbert thinking the band acted too homosexual on stage) and they replaced him after The Smiths’ first concert, which took place at the Manchester Ritz on October 4 , 1982, put on by a friend of Marr, Andy Rourke.

The group was to be called The Smiths, from that point on. According to Marr: “We wanted a very normal name…not something that would have sounded like space men or that kind of bullshit”.  It was also around this time that Steven Morrissey became simply “Morrissey”, and forbade people from calling him Steven, which he always hated.

The band were beginning to gig more, and had a new swath of demoes, including “Miserable Lie”, “Handsome Devil”, and “What Difference Does It Make?”  They used this demo to hopefully get signed by EMI, but they were declined.  Not deterred entirely from making it to the bigtime, they then approached the indie label, Rough Trade.

Their first single, “Hand in Glove”, was released in May of 1983 on Rough Trade, who had agreed to cut that single only and see where it went from there.  The single did not chart, but it made an impact nonetheless, with its evocative cover art suggesting homoeroticism. 

In turn, this small buzz lead to them appearing on John Peel, who loved the band, and eventually having their first interviews with Sounds and NME.

Here is a live version from 1984 of “Hand In Glove” when The Smiths performed on The Tube.

“Hand In Glove” was then followed by “This Charming Man”, which reached number 25 on the British charts in November 1983, and then “What Difference Does It Make?”, reaching number 12 in January of 1984.  It was at this time that The Smiths started cracking the chart positions and gaining a fanbase.

In February 1984, their first album, simply dubbed The Smiths, sold 300,000 copies, taking second place on the British charts. Two songs, “Reel Around the Fountain” and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” were considered controversial, because some tabloids claim that they evoked pedophilia, an assertion vigorously denied by the group.

The first Smiths album is followed the same year by the “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” (the first top-ten hit of The Smiths) and “William, It Was Really Nothing” singles, which includes the future mega hit, “How Soon Is Now?” on side B.

Around this time, The Smiths toured a lot in the UK, but rarely in the rest of Europe (for instance, their concerts in Paris on May 9th, 1984 at the Eldorado, and on the 1st of December that same year at the Exhibition Center, Porte de Versailles, are the only French dates in the history of the Smiths).

In late 1984, The Smiths released their first compilation, called “Hatful of Hollow”, featuring singles, B-sides, and songs recorded for the BBC.  At this time, The Smiths is voted best group of 1984 by the readers of the NME (a title that the group took every year until their break up in 1987).

In 1985, the band released their second album, the socially conscious “Meat Is Murder”. At this time, the band was touring extensively in the UK and the US and were working on their next studio album, the eventual classic, “The Queen Is Dead”. 

Meanwhile, controversy abounded as Morrissey said and did things to draw attention to the group, such as make provocative statements of all kinds to the media, arousing their ire while simultaneously giving them things to talk about.

However, the group was having a number of difficulties. A dispute with Rough Trade delayed the album, completed in November 1985, by almost seven months, and Marr begins to feel stress due to an exhausting schedule: many recordings, and tours. He will say later: “I was very sick … I drank more than I could handle”. Andy Rourke was fired from the group in early 1986 because of heroin use. Andy received the notice of his dismissal by a post-it glued to the windshield of his car, penned by Morrissey.  Andy still claims that this happened, while Morrissey denies it.

Rourke is replaced as Smiths bassist by Craig Gannon (former guitarist of Aztec Camera and The Bluebells), but is restored to his original position after a fortnight. As a quintet, with Gannon on rhythm guitar, The Smiths recorded the singles “Panic” and “Ask” (with Kirsty MacColl on chorus), and did concerts in the United Kingdom and the United States. Gannon left the group in October of 1986.

“The Queen Is Dead” was released in June 1986 with Alain Delon on the cover of the album. This album would go on to be what many consider to be their crowning achievement (no pun intended), with many of their most beloved songs on the album, with perhaps “There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out” being perhaps the perennial Smiths track. 

At the end of 1986, the band changed labels and, after some tug of war between labels, The Smiths ended up with their original dream label, EMI, stirring the brewing discontentment among fans and media alike.

The Smiths put out two new singles (“Shoplifters of the World Unite” in January and “Sheila Take a Bow” in April), performing at the San Remo Festival in May, but it seems that at this time, the man behind the guitar sound of The Smiths, one Johnny Marr, was severing his ties with the band.

The guitarist felt stifled in a band which was, at that time, focused mainly on Morrissey’s persona. Also, Johnny’s enthusiasm for other forms of music such as dance and electro did not find a field of expression: “The Smiths had become a kind of club where all new influences were discredited, even taboo,” he confided to Johnny Rogan for his book on the Smiths, “Morrissey and Marr”: The Severed Alliance (1992).

The August 8 , 1987, Johnny Marr announced that he left the group by sending a message to the NME: “What in the past made me happy makes me unhappy, I had to leave”.

So, “posthumously”, The Smiths released on September 28th, 1987, their last album, “Strangeways, Here We Come”. 

As an epitaph, the band decided to release a live album called “Rank” (1988) from a concert given at the National Ballroom in Kilburn on October 23, 1986.

Legacy of the Band

Although their level of commercial success was relatively modest in their day, The Smiths became one of the most celebrated groups in the British rock pantheon. According to the BBC, it is “the group that inspires a deeper devotion than any British band since the Beatles”.  According to music journalist Simon Goddard, the band is “the most influential guitar band of the 1980s”.

In 2002, The Smiths were named the most important musical artist of all time in a survey conducted by NME. In 2013, The Queen Is Dead was voted best album of all time by NME as well. In both cases, The Beatles took second place. In 1996, The Queen Is Dead was voted Best Album of the Decade 1986-1996 by the inRocKuptibles, which was the subject of a tribute album, The Smiths Is Dead.

Johnny Marr, Post-Smiths

The band split the following year after the departure of Johnny Marr, who would accompany various artists for the next two years (Midge Ure, Kirsty MacColl, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, Pet Shop Boys) before joining The The (Mind Bomb album in 1989, Dusk in 1993) and then founding the group Electronic with Bernard Sumner of Joy Division and New Order and Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys . The single “Getting Away With It” by Electronic went on to be a success, a meeting of pop icons.

He also joined Portland alt-rock indie legends Modest Mouse in 2006 for a few years.  Music fans didn’t see that one coming, but he stayed with them for years touring, making TV appearances, and working on at least one popular album.

Marr’s first attempt as a front man came under the band name of Johnny Marr and the Healers with the album Boomslang in February 2004. 

Johnny also continued to broaden his horizons at the beginning of 2006, adding some instrumentation for Jane Birkin’s album, Fictions.

Johnny Marr then joined the band Modest Mouse, where he composed some songs from their album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank LP.  In 2008, he joined the The Cribs as a member of the band, with whom he participated in the recording of the album “Ignore the Ignorant”, released in 2009.

Since 2010, Johnny has been working on all sorts of projects, including recording solo albums (The Messenger, Playland), working on film soundtracks (Inception, The Amazing Spiderman 2, , and guesting on others’ albums (Hans Zimmer, Noel Gallagher, Blondie).

Morrissey, Post-Smiths

After The Smiths ended, Morrissey hooked up with Stephen Street, producer of the Smiths, and begin to work on new compositions with Vini Reilly of the band The Durutti Column as a guitarist.  Thus, he began a solo career in the spring of 1988 by releasing the excellent album “Viva Hate” which, not surprisingly, sounds very Smiths-like, and which spawned the hit singles “Suedehead” and “Everyday is like Sunday”.

The next album was released in 1991, that being Kill Uncle (anti-American plea), recorded with guitarist Mark E. Nevin of Fairground Attraction. Unlike the first album, Kill Uncle is met with less fanfare and it seemed that Morrissey’s career might be behind him, according to the media at the time.

Then, in 1996, Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce sued Morrissey and Marr, arguing that they unknowingly received only 10% of the album royalties from The Smiths’ albums each, whereas 40% went to the “composers”.  This was what many consider to be the final nail in the Smiths reunion coffin, as it drudged up a lot of confusion and ill will between the former bandmates. Rourke and Joyce eventually got what they wanted, with the law being on their side in the end.  Morrissey held a grudge since this took place, especially as he ended up looking to the public like a greedy control freak.

With Morrissey’s next album, “Your Arsenal”, containing very rockabilly tones (thanks to the contribution of guitarists and composers Boz Boorer and Alain Whyte) and glam-rock (via Mick Ronson, former guitarist and producer of David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust era), Morrissey returns to the foreground and is considered by many to be back in fighting form.  A comeback has officially occurred.

In 1994, “Vauxhall and I” comes out and the single “Interlude” is recorded as a duet with the singer from Siouxsie and the Banshees.

The next two albums, “Southpaw Grammar” (on RCA) and “Maladjusted” (on Island) are commercial flops, and Morrissey’s creative vein seemed to be drying up (again, according to the media, who know nothing of art).

Then, as the pheonix is reborn from the ashes, Morrissey, now based in Los Angeles, then made a successful comeback with the album “You Are the Quarry” on Sanctuary Records.

A live “Morrissey Live at Earls Court” album was released in early 2005, playing songs from all throughout the Smiths and Morrissey’s solo career. Finally, a new album, Ringleader Of The Tormentors with the participation of Tony Visconti (Bowie, T.Rex , The Sparks, Rita Mitsouko and Ennio Morricone), was released on April 4, 2006, and in February 2009 Years of Refusal, with “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” for the first single. In July 2014, Morrissey returned to the front of the stage with an album recorded in the South of France, World Peace is None Of Your Business.  2017 sees the release of Low in High School.

Mike Joyce – Post Smiths

Although Morrissey and Marr tend to get most of the attention when it comes to The Smiths, drummer Mike Joyce has also been heavily involved in music since the band’s breakup way back in 1987.

After the Smiths packed it in, Mike went on to tour with Sinead O’Connor in support of her classic album, I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got.  Here’s Mike playing drums with her and her band at Pinkpop ’88.

Since the break-up of The Smiths mainly revolved around Morrissey and Marr not getting along, it was not surprising that Mike recorded on some of Morrissey’s solo material after the band split, such as his songs, “Interesting Drug”, and “The Last of the Famous International Playboys”.  You can clearly hear his tight, crisp drumming in the mix.

Mike Joyce has also worked with a number of well known bands over the years, such as Suede, Public Image Limited, and The Buzzcocks, in addition to other projects.

The lawsuit that was mentioned earlier which occurred in 1996 was a big deal when it happened, as it pitted Mike against Morrissey and Marr over past band royalties, and things got ugly fast – particularly with Morrissey, who seems to hold a grudge to this day (as you’ll notice if you read Moz’s autobiography).  The sad truth of the matter seems to be that none of the members of The Smiths knew anything about contracts when they started out, and it came back to haunt them later on.

In 2007, “Inside the Smiths” was released, featuring Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce in a documentary about the band that lacked the other two members.  Despite the wrath Morrissey seems to have for Mike, both Mike and Andy put a more positive spin on The Smiths and the two star members.

More recently, Mike Joyce is a DJ and has been known to play shows as such.

Andy Rourke – Post-Smiths

Like the rest of the band, Andy Rourke has kept busy doing music and is still heavily involved in it.

After the Smiths broke up, he and Mike Joyce followed the same path for a while, performing with Sinead O’Connor for her seminal album, I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got, and then recording with Morrissey for his first deluge of solo recordings.  In addition to what Mike did, Andy also appeared on a few other tracks like “November Spawned a Monster” and “Piccadilly Palare”.  He also wrote music for several Morrissey tracks as well, including “Get off The Stage”, “Yes, I Am Blind”, and “Girl Least Likely To”.

Andy has also performed with several well known acts, like Ian Brown (of Stone Roses fame), Badly Drawn Boy (with whom he toured for two years), Moondog One (with Oasis member Bonehead, Mike Joyce, and Craig Gannon), as well as recording with The Pretenders.

Andy was also responsible for forming Manchester Vs Cancer, which became a series of concerts, which began in 2006 and, at one point, saw the on stage reunion of Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke playing several Smiths tracks, including “How Soon Is Now?”

More recently, Andy Rourke has a band with Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries called D.A.R.K.  Here is footage of that band practicing.  It’s not perfect, but it’s cool!

The Smiths – Discography

The Smiths – Rough Trade (ROUGH61 – February 1984)

Meat Is Murder – Rough Trade (ROUGH81 – February 1985)

The Queen Is Dead – Rough Trade (ROUGH96 – January 1986)

Strangeways, Here We Come – Rough Trade (ROUGH106 – September 1987)

Live Albums

Rank – Live at Kilburn National Ballroom (10/23/1986) – Rough Trade ROUGH126 – September 1988

The Peel Sessions (BBC, May 1984) – Strange Fruit SF PS 055 – October 1988


Hatful of Hollow – Rough Trade ROUGH76 – November 1984

The World Won’t Listen – Rough Trade ROUGH101 – March 1987

Louder Than Bombs – Sire 9 25568-1 – April 1987

The Sound of The Smiths – November 2008

Trivia and Such

The Smiths has also influenced many bands / artists, such as:

  • Peter Doherty / The Libertines / Babyshambles
  • Oasis
  • The Kooks
  • The Stone Roses
  • The Drums
  • Sweden
  • Placebo
  • Kaiser Chiefs
  • Blur
  • Radiohead
  • Coldplay
  • Belle and Sebastian
  • Supergrass
  • Pulp
  • Chelsea

Watch this video showing bands talk about their favourite Smiths track.  Hard choice!

The song “How Soon Is Now?” has been covered by Love Spit Love, a version that was used for the television series, “Charmed” for the theme song.  This song has been referred to as a seminal ’80’s song and known for its groundbreaking sonic structure on many occasions.  

Johnny Marr has also been known to play “How Soon is Now?” during his concerts in recent times.

The song, “Asleep” was covered by Emily Browning, for the soundtrack of the movie “Sucker Punch”.

The song “Asleep” speaks of the loneliness that accompanies the last moments of a dying person, and his desire to die to go to a better world. The song is part of Charlie’s playlist, who is the main character from the movie Charlie’s World.

The Smiths are a part of the plot in the movie “500 Days of Summer”. The first thing Summer and Tom have in common is their passion for the Smiths. Summer sings “There Is A Light And It Never Goes Out” in the elevator scene.

The Austrian band Mika has a song called “Now I Know How Morrissey Felt”, recalling the phrase about Joan of Arc from “Bigmouth Strikes Again”.

Kittens (Winnipeg Band) – Step Inside the Hardcore Haunted House

kittens the night danger album

Kittens are one of Winnipeg, Manitoba’s legendary noise rock bands who saw prominence in the 1990’s as part of Sonic Unyon‘s roster, releasing a series of heavy, brutal albums that featured thick, drone-y riffs, phat prickly basslines, and pummelling-you-in-the-face drums.  Oh, and let’s not forget the hound-from-hell vocals and puzzlingly incoherent lyrics, that sounded like someone tried to translate animal noises into english.  Or, if you don’t like that analogy, the lyrics just sound like the ramblings of some lunatic, but strangely appealing.

kittens winnipeg hardcore band

The band was a three-piece, featuring Shawn “Pony” Fedorchuk on guitar and vocals, Jahmeel Russell on bass, and David “Bazooka” Kelly (R.I.P.) on drums.

Here’s a live clip of the band playing their song “Carpenter”, so you can see the frightening intensity in action.

Kittens released several EP’s, singles, and LP’s throughout the 1990’s, beginning in ’92 with “Like A Plough” and their last release being 1998’s “Low-Fi Classics and Other Rarities”.

Here is Kittens’ full discography:

  • 1992 Like A Plough
  • 1993 Calico
  • 1993 Pony
  • 1993 Grizzly
  • 1994 Doberman
  • 1995 Tiger Comet
  • 1996 Rhinoceros Love
  • 1997 Bazooka and The Hustler
  • 1998 The Night Danger Album
  • 1998 Low-Fi Classics & Other Rarities

I’ve never heard a Kittens song I didn’t like.  Their lyrics are great to me as well.  Kittens was basically the band that got me more into hardcore music when I was a teenager in the ’90’s.  In my little area of southwestern Ontario, there was actually a similar hardcore scene happening in the 1990’s, likely spawned by the same oppressive long winters and hard-to-find-a-good-job hopelessness that I guess is prevalent in Winnipeg as well as it is here in Ontario (I’ve never actually lived there so I can only speculate).

In any case, I was beginning to tune in to more hardcore music as a way to express my own teen angst and there, perched innocently on the shelf at the local record shop, was Rhinoceros Love, the split Kittens / Shallow North Dakota E.P.  I snapped it up immediately, I think based on some of the song titles.  I really had no idea what I was in for.

rhinocerous love kittens

I suppose the reason I kept seeing Kittens records around my local vicinity at that time in the mid-1990’s was because Kittens’ label Sonic Unyon’s headquarters was (and is still) near to where I’m from, one city over in Hamilton.  So, even though the band themselves was from Winnipeg, Manitoba, their distribution was coming from Ontario and hence they kept cropping up in stores.  I had no idea how big the band was or wasn’t.  When you see an album being sold at your local record shop, you kind of just assume the band must be at least somewhat famous or well-known.

Although the band is extremely non-mainstream in terms of their style, there was a small but devoted fanbase who loved heavier music who would watch shows like “Loud” on MuchMusic, and this is where Kittens found fans like me as well.  I remember getting a huge kick out of their song “Jack Knife”, which had the great lyrics “Gotta face, gotta face, gotta face like a…got a face like a jaaaack kniiiife!”  I couldn’t get over it.  Their other songs had lyrics that were just as bizarre, if not more so.  Here’s “Great Dane”, for instance.

I’m not going to claim that Kittens is a completely original band – they are, ultimately, a guitar / bass / drums unit – but there is something highly unique about them, that’s for sure.  Their blend of hardcore music, wacky lyrics, tortured animal vocals, and weird sense of humour made for quite the artistic goulash.  Plus, their live shows seemed authentically hardcore beyond question, so it didn’t really matter how zany some of their songs seemed on record – they literally tore everything to shreds live, to the point of almost being comical.  Anytime I’ve seen a clip of Shawn Fedorchuk performing with his cowboy hat as “Pony”, it makes me wonder what the hell is going on with that dude.

That said, for all their ferocious intensity as both a live band and as a recorded act, I never knew if Kittens were 100% serious.  They seemed, to some extent, fairly tongue in cheek about things if you look at some of their album covers and song names.  Also, just their band name.  Kittens?  LOL.  Come on, that’s funny.

Most of their stuff, if it’s not somehow absurdly funny, has a fairly high WTF?! quality to it.  You know what?  I’ve thought about Kittens long and hard, and, to this day, I still don’t really get where the band is coming from. They just seemed really fucking odd – must be a Winnipeg thing.  And if they weren’t screaming bloody murder, they’d release the odd track that was like a bunch of weird noise.  Always a good time with these boys.

According to some dark web files we’ve found, some people believe that their sound originated from a collaboration album they did with an artist called Aldo Pimptronic. The four track EP called Spazzabazza, apparently warmed up Kittens to the sounds of the blatantly absurd. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate a copy of the album on either of the normal or dark webs.

So, where are Kittens now?  I’ve tried to figure this out, but information is scarce.  I know from looking into it that David Kelly the drummer sadly passed in 2008, and I think that’s when Kittens stopped, shortly after they were making a comeback a couple years previous.

david kelly kittens drummer

Jahmeel Russell, the bass player, was in a band called Projektor, which is either defunct or well-concealed somewhere on the web.  Can’t find them anywhere. As for Shawn Fedorchuck, he has a Vimeo page where he posts his video creations, which seems to be fairly up to date, to my surprise! I read he won some awards as well, so that’s awesome. Oh, and I also found the Kittens Myspace page, which is still up and has some media to check out, not to mention connections to some of their related projects.

The bottom line here is, I figure, that you should check out Kittens, because they are a really special blend as far as music goes.  If you like hardcore stuff, and general bitchin’ riffs that have a weird nordic rural slant, then hey, you might dig this.


Who Is Louis Armstrong And Why Is He Important To Jazz Music?

who is louis armstrong and why is he important

If you were to ask a non-jazz listener to name one jazz musician, especially a trumpeter, that they know of by name, then chances are they would state ‘Louis Armstrong!’ boldly and confidently. However, if you ask many members of inner jazz circles to speak on great trumpet players and jazz musicians, it seems that Louis Armstrong’s name is left out of the conversation or merely added in as an afterthought without too much detail included. Here in this article, we’ll make an attempt to dissect the reasons behind this and explain what made Louis Armstrong so influential and popular in the world of jazz.

But first, let’s start out with a tune…

Early Life

Born in the birthplace and jazz capital of the world, New Orleans, in 1901, Louis Armstrong was able to capitalize on the eclectic sounds and transformative music that exuded forth from that area. Similar to present day, much of Louisiana was in dire economic straits, and Louis Armstrong’s birthplace was no exception. To make matters worse, his father left him immediately following his birth and his mother resorted to prostitution in order to make ends’ meet. As a result, he was frequently left in the custody of his maternal grandmother during his mother’s excursions and trapped within a financial situation that forced him to leave school in just the 5th grade to begin seeking a working wage.1

young louis armstrong as a child


It was at this point that fate intervened with Louis Armstrong and pushed him towards the trumpet. A Jewish family that acted as surrogates for Louis Armstrong presented him with his first cornet right around the age of 10 years old. This gift, coupled with Louis Armstrong’s already present affinity for the musical sounds of the local New Orleans street bands and brass players that lingered around, helped to brew the perfect storm that would create one of the most prolific players of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, tragedy soon struck and Louis Armstrong was apprehended for the simple celebration of shooting a pistol up into the air. It was at this point that the local courts in New Orleans had determined that his mother was unfit to raise him and pronounced him a ward of the state.2 Louis Armstrong was also sentenced to reform school. While on the outlook, this appeared to be a major setback it actually was the catalyst that served to boost Louis Armstrong into his career as a professional trumpeter and composer. He received some degree of formal training on the bugle and easily outshined the other students there on the instrument, becoming the leader of the school’s band.3 

louis armstrong jazz trumpet


After finishing his tenure in reform school, Louis Armstrong subsequently took to the streets to begin his career as a musician. At first, he ran into significant trouble until he was taken under the tutelage of Joe ‘King’ Oliver. When Joe moved to Chicago, he was able to somehow convince Louis Armstrong to undertake the pilgrimage with him. At this point, Armstrong met his wife ‘Lil Hardin’. While this may not seem like a big deal, it was substantial for his career. His wife received a great deal of formal education and training in music, graduating from Fisk University and establishing herself as an acclaimed pianist.4 She bestowed a great deal of this knowledge directly onto Louis Armstrong and he benefited in a great way.

louis armstrong and wife


Despite the great strides that Louis Armstrong made developmentally in music, the Great Depression served as a major impediment to his financial progression, consequentially resulting in a struggle to gain steam in his career. However, the 30’s served as a much more promising decade for him, musically and financially. He relocated to Los Angeles during 1930 and served a small tenure at the Cotton Club, rubbing shoulders with some of the rich and famous that were located there at the time. Afterward, Louis Armstrong trekked back out to Chicago to continue establishing his career and building his growing popularity. Throughout this decade he traveled all over the world, taking in information from various cultures and sharing his musical talents with all sorts of people who would grow to appreciate his genius.

louis armstrong jazz band uniform

As band leader, he was able to curate opportunities for himself to serve as band leader for various motion pictures such as ‘Pennies from Heaven’ in 1936, making himself the first African-American to receive featured billing in a major movie from Hollywood.5


This was far from the pinnacle of success for Louis Armstrong though. He was still able to grow his astonishing popularity throughout the rest of the 30’s and carried this momentum with him through the 40’s. It is said that during this time, Louis Armstrong had consistently carried on one of the most gruelling tours that had ever been seen with artists. It was perhaps his extensive tour schedule, coupled with his Hollywood cameos, virtuoso talent, and knack for creating timeless hits that propelled Louis Armstrong to the starlight and critical acclaim that he enjoyed throughout his later career. It is also of note that Louis Armstrong was one of the first prominent soloists in the genre of jazz and as such served as one of its first and foremost ambassadors to the world at large.6 In addition, Louis Armstrong’s bands were filled with nothing but pure all-stars with names such as; Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden and the famous Barney Bigard.

louis armstrong in the movies


After the 40’s, many thought that Louis Armstrong’s career was over and that he would begin to taper down as many jazz artists had after their ‘prime’ or height. However, Louis Armstrong’s work ethic and motivation served as a primary driving force for him throughout the next decade. In the 50’s he was able to rejuvenate his career with a re-emphasized focus on public appearances as well as his singing ability. It was at this that Louis Armstrong began to collaborate with other great jazz vocalists at the time such as, Ella Fitzgerald. For those unfamiliar, this was right around the time that Louis Armstrong had composed Salt and Peanuts as well as his subsequent smash hit ‘What a Wonderful World’.

Therefore, whenever anyone questions what exactly made Louis Armstrong so great and prominent in jazz, its best to tell them about his incredible popularity throughout his lifetime. By strength of his sheer talent and knack for marketing himself in such an effective fashion, Louis Armstrong was able to build himself into a household name in a way that many other jazz artists had and could not. Rather than appealing simply to the crowd of already established jazz lovers, Louis Armstrong was effective at bridging the gap and reaching out to those that may not have been as familiar with the genre and effectively serving as one of the best ambassadors that the jazz world has ever known.