Music News


In one verse of his tune "Wild Rain," Tempe solo musician Joe Myers sings the line, "Tripped and fell, I do that well." Myers thinks that one small lyric sums up his whole life, or at least the part of it he calls "doing the art thing." On a smaller scale, the lyric also describes Myers' roller-coaster struggle to make a first record.

After years of stumbling over the harsh realities of the music business, Myers is finally learning what it takes. This week marks the release of his self-produced debut CD House With Nine Rooms. Nursing an iced coffee at a Mill Avenue cafe, the lithe, brown-haired musician says he's pleased. With one hand he twirls his coffee glass, allowing the ice to jingle, and with the other he holds the CD copy of House With Nine Rooms that arrived on his doorstep an hour ago.

As the title of his new release suggests, House With Nine Rooms was designed to take the listener to nine different spaces--sort of a musical house tour.

"I wanted to present an acoustic album that was a little different," he says. "Sort of a concept record." Stylistically, House With Nine Rooms isn't the usual strum-and-sing solo record. Myers' songwriting is eclectic in both subject and mood. His lyrics tend to focus on romantic and poetic images, but they never become too commercial or syrupy. The stories they tell often depict confusing relationships between people--relationships that are anything but loving. House is entirely his. On the record, Myers plays acoustic, electric and double-neck guitar, sings all the vocals and even adds touches of soupspoonlike percussion. The band he often performs with, the Tempe Terminators, was not included on his debut.

The material on House is evenly split between ballads and more upbeat numbers. He's a decent singer, but Myers' strength is his guitar playing, which he does with a strong finger-picking style that gives his music a distinct classical feel. One of the disc's strongest cuts, "Wishing Stones," benefits from Myers' percussive tapping and slapping on the acoustic guitar. Another song, "Watercolors, Waterfall," is built around the intelligent use of a whammy-bar effect on his electric guitar. In the last few bars, Myers lays the guitar flat like a keyboard and plucks it to create sounds like ocean waves and whale voices.

It's these kinds of touchy-feely, in-tune-with-nature gestures that have prompted some to call Myers' music "new-age."

"I don't want to be labeled `new-age,' for God's sake. I don't want to be any classification," he says. "I suppose every musician has the desire to cross over, but I have my own sound and it comes from not being so easily classified."

A lot of Myers' inspiration for writing these anti-love songs comes from his experiences with the music business. The road to House With Nine Rooms was an unusually rocky one, even for a solo artist. In his pursuit of a signing, Myers, as the line in "Wild Rain" says, tripped a lot. "The first time was with Windham Hill," he says. "I saw a Michael Hedges show in 1987 and gave him some demo tapes." Myers says Hedges agreed to pass the tapes on to Windham Hill Records. In the spring of 1988, Myers personally contacted Windham Hill founder and president Will Ackerman. Ackerman had never heard of Myers.

Myers' second try at financing a record died when the local investor he had lined up pulled out. The third time around, Myers was actually teased with a recording contract. In early 1989, Randy California, the guitar player for Spirit, was starting his own label as an offshoot of MCA Records. He came to Phoenix to see Myers perform and the two began to correspond. Suddenly the letters and calls stopped. Myers later learned that California's deal with MCA had fallen through.

"What I hated most is that nobody called and said anything," Myers grouses. "I had to figure it all out on my own." Despite all of these misfires, Myers continued to make his living playing at clubs around the Valley. Anxious for a change, Myers, his girlfriend (who goes by the single name Casebeer) and a mutual friend formed an improvisational music/performance-art act called Parchessi Club.

Local producer Bob Zucker saw Parchessi Club perform at Valley Art Theatre in Tempe. Zucker quickly signed the trio for two albums and a tour. This deal, too, came to an end before Myers and the group had played one gig or gotten a squeak down on tape. A glutton for punishment, Myers continued to try to find financial support to make his solo debut happen.

"When I started seeking an investor again, the first person I told happened to be the eventual investor, Randy Behm," Myers says. "He was just part of the audience. I wasn't asking him to invest, I was just telling him I was looking for an investor, and he said he might be able to do it."

Instead of just financing House With Nine Rooms, Behm helped Myers start a new label, Chameleon Dogs Records. Myers' debut is the label's first release.

"Hopefully, we can also record other Valley artists on Chameleon Dogs, which is a thing I've wanted to do for a long time," Myers says. "I've worked with the idea of bringing in local artists and people that really have a lot of music in them but are struggling."

The new label's next project may be a compilation featuring local acts like Sili Puti, Lisa Dilk, and Parchessi Club.

But for now, Myers is caught up in the distribution and marketing chores that come with owning his own label. The business end has always been a problem for Myers, and, although he says he still hates it, Myers is dutifully putting on a suit and knocking on doors. Some of the doors he's rapping on are those of Valley radio program diectors. Although he plans to send House With Nine Rooms out to most of the Valley's AM and FM stations, Myers thinks he stands the best chance for airplay with KJZZ and KUKQ.

For Myers, the sweetest part of getting this record out is sharing the victory with girlfriend Casebeer and their 4-year-old daughter Briannah. On the inside flap of the CD booklet, Myers gives special thanks to his daughter, referring to her as his "exotic child." It's clear that she is one of the major inspirations for his art. "She's had open-heart surgery, she's a special-needs girl with Down syndrome and she's a big, big part of my life," Myers says. "She's been through a lot, and I've been through a lot with her."

Though he says he wants to get on with his life and career, Myers bears the scars of his missteps and mistakes. No longer a naive troubadour who just wants to play his songs, Myer has paid a price. Trying not to be embittered by his experiences, he cites one of his lyrics as the way he wants to feel about his career:

"It's the truth/It's a continual process/But I'm getting used to it/And I'm having fun."

Joe Myers will perform at Hollywood Alley on Thursday, September 19. Showtime is 9:30 p.m.

"I have my own sound and it comes from not being so easily classified."

"She's had open-heart surgery, she's a special-needs girl with Down syndrome and she's a big, big part of my life."

Although he says he wants to get on with his life and career, Myers bears the scars of his missteps and mistakes.


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Aaron Levy