Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Kit Watkins - Labyrinth,LP/CD,1980/2000,USA

Kit Watkins (born 1953 in Virginia) is a progressive-ambient-jazz recording artist based in Brattleboro, Vermont. Born to classical piano teachers, Watkins was a founding member of the American progressive rock band Happy The Man, which formed in Harrisonburg, Virginia in 1973. Contrary to popular belief, the band's name was not taken from a little-known Genesis song of the same name -- a bizarre coincidence that amazed and surprised the band, who had no knowledge of the song until later. The origin of the name Happy The Man actually came from the book "Faust" by Goethe who used the phrase "happy the man" often in the book.
The band moved to the Washington, DC area in the summer of 1975 and developed a devoted following as a result of airplay on WGTB-FM (the Georgetown University radio station, no longer in existence) as well as live performances sponsored by the station, headlining the Pandemedia event of that year. The band was a regular act at The Cellar Door in Georgetown, DC.
In 1976 they were auditioned by singer Peter Gabriel for his touring back-up band, a role comparable to what had been fulfilled by The Band for Bob Dylan in the mid-1960s. Kit remembers the audition well. "The band with Gabriel sounded surprisingly like Genesis" says Watkins. "I think he decided against us for that reason, although we never knew that with any certainty." Happy The Man wanted to keep its own identity and not be known as merely Gabriel's back-up band. So when the news came that Gabriel had declined, the band wasn't entirely disappointed. Then, just months later, Happy The Man was fortunate to sign with Clive Davis' Arista Records, which released their debut album, Happy The Man, in 1977 to a much wider audience. The album was a mixture of impressionist jazz fusion, progressive rock, and ethereal tone poems. The album, like its follow-up, was primarily instrumental.
Happy The Man released their second album, "Crafty Hands", in 1978. Both albums were produced by Ken Scott, famed engineer from The Beatles' White Album sessions, as well as having engineered and produced albums by such notables as David Bowie, Supertramp, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the Dixie Dregs. Kit Watkins worked closely with Ken Scott as the band's representative in the recording and mixing of both Happy The Man albums. For Watkins, this was a crash course in recording technique which provided him with knowledge he later found invaluable in his solo recording endeavors. Throughout the tenure of Happy The Man, Kit Watkins' contributions were a prominent part of the band's sound, incorporating his writing, playing, arranging, and producing skills.
The two Happy The Man albums found a small but devoted cult audience for the band. But sales levels of the two albums were disappointing and Happy the Man was dropped by Arista in 1978. Concurrently, the band's drummer was replaced by French percussionist Coco Roussel. After about a year of label-shopping without results, the group was losing its strength and commitment. Near the end of that year, the British progressive rock band Camel approached Kit Watkins about replacing their keyboardist Pete Bardens. The offer was accepted by Watkins. The remaining members of Happy The Man then disbanded and pursued other interests.
Watkins' traveled to England in June 1979 to join Camel where they rehearsed and recorded a new album entitled "I Can See Your House From Here" for Decca Records, with Rupert Hine as producer. Following up the recording, the band toured England, Europe, and Japan to promote the album.
Kit Watkins left Camel at the beginning of the band's rehearsels in 1980 for their next album entitled "Nude." Little of what Watkins had written for Camel was accepted for inclusion on the new album, soWatkins left the band to launch his solo career. He recorded his first solo album "Labyrinth" (with Coco Roussel on drums) in 1980. And even though Watkins was no longer a member of Camel, he did return to the band on a temporary basis for their two major tours of England and Europe in 1981 (for the "Nude" tour) and 1982 (for "The Single Factor" tour).
Kit Watkins released his second album "Frames of Mind" in 1982 with Brad Allen on guitars and vocals. The album was a fun and quirky mix of new wave pop and hybrid world music, recorded at Watkins' home studio in Arlington, Virginia and released on his own label, Azimuth Records. The duo created a music video of the song "My Telephone" which was shown throughout the U.S. on cable television. Azimuth Records also released the demo tapes of Happy The Man produced by Kit Watkins and recorded during its last year, under the album title of "Better late..."
The next release from Kit Watkins found him working again with drummer and percussionist Coco Roussel, who was Happy The Man's third drummer as well as Watkins' side man for the duo's live performances in the early 1980s. The album, Kit & Coco "In Time" was released in 1985 and delved into both new and familiar territory -- a mix of progressive, jazz fusion, and contemplative styles -- and was critically acclaimed by reviewers and fans alike.
In 1987, Watkins relocated to Linden, Virginia in the rural Blue Ridge mountains where he recorded and released a string of albums over the next 10 years, including "Azure" (1988), "SunStruck" (1990), "wet, dark, and low" (1992)for the Minneapolis-based East Side Digital (ESD) label, and "Thought Tones" (1990), "A Different View" (1991), "Kinetic Vapors" (1993), "Holographic Tapestries" (1995), and "Beauty Drifting" (1996) for his own Linden Music label. Linden also released a number of albums by other notable electronic/ambient artists, including David Borden, Robert Rich, and Jeff Greinke.
In 1990, Watkins, working out of his home studio in Virginia, produced the solo album of drummer and friend Coco Roussel, who recorded his tracks in Los Angeles and then uploaded them by computer to Watkins in Virginia. Roussel's album was one of the first to be produced using an early form of long-distance music exchange, not unlike what many musicians now do on the internet.
Linden Music closed its doors in 1997 due to distribution problems, but Watkins has continued releasing his work on CD, first via MP3.com and currently via CafePress. In 2000, Watkins signed a contract with One Way Records for the release of four of his "classic" albums ("Labyrinth," "SunStruck," "wet, dark, and low," and "Holographic Tapestries") which continue to be distributed nationally.
Recent albums include "The Unseen" (2000), "Rolling Curve" (2000), "The Gathering" (2001- a live recording of a rare live performance given in Philadelphia that year) "music for the end" (2001), "This Time and Space" (2003), "unraveled" (2003), "Flying Petals" (2004), and "World Fiction" (2005).
Watkins has released two acclaimed DVDs: (1) a hypnotic visual work based on his album "This Time and Space", released in 2004, and (2) "The Gathering" live performance, videotaped by his longtime friend and Azimuth Records partner Sally Heldrich, released in 2005.
Additionally, Watkins briefly formed an improvisational trio in early 2001 called Tone Ghost Ether with musicians Brad Allen and John Tlusty. The group has released 4 CDs. The trio focused on recording "live" in Watkins' performance studio, in the tradition of jazz groups of the past, without overdubs (although looping machines were utilized).
Abstaining from touring, Watkins prefers the isolated performance event, but these are rare and Watkins now devotes most of his available time to studio recording. Watkins' ambient works have become staples on radio programs aired over National Public Radio, such as "Hearts of Space." Reviewers and fans have compared his work to Brian Eno, Mark Isham, Steve Roach, Harold Budd, Jeff Greinke, and others.
From Wikipedia
Voted 5th Place in the 1982 Keyboard Reader’s Poll Awards for keyboard album.
The production is excellent and the keyboard work solid . . . a thoroughly satisfying creation. —KEYBOARD
Unpredictable shifts in tempo, lush orchestral textures, and complicated melodic structures . . . technically proficient, creatively daring, high-energy and accessible. —THE WASHINGTON POST

A true masterpiece!
get it here


Anonymous said...

Exelent site and thanks a lot for this gem of Kit!
I hope to find here other gems
thanks again
all the best

Hope Muntz said...

Actually WGTB does sort of exist still--it's the in-campus radio station at Georgetown University here in DC and can be heard live over the internet 24/7. However, it's a far cry from the WGTB of the 1970s, which played nearly all the music here on your site that was released back then. How do I know? Because my uncle was briefly a DJ there (he was also the station cartoonist, which is how he got his start in the business) and saved hundreds of hours of audio tapes from it, some of which I grew up listening to. Your site reminds me of it. Wonderful work!