Updated: Jan 22, 2019
At what age were you introduced to music?
My mother tells me that I used to stand in diapers in front of the television, banging on a plastic toy guitar, making up words at the top of my lungs. She has gray hairs named after me.
How did you get involved?
At the ripe age of five years old, I was enrolled in Suzuki piano lessons. After months of making up stories to dodge rehearsal, I was to make my musical debut and perform the Suzuki classic, "Hot Cross Buns." Though expectations were low, the tension was high. It was then that I got my very first taste of pre-show jitters. I managed to peck my way through the song, "...hot cross buns, hot cross buns, one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns..." The crowd went mediocre with ambivalence. Our teacher asked us to introduce our parents. "This is my mom," I blurted, "she wears a wig." The children howled. My mother went bright red. Other mothers stared agape. I believe that was the defining experience for me. I had found music, comedy and storytelling, all in the same moment.
Who has inspired you?
I've always been a big Spaulding Gray fan. He's the guy who sat on stage behind a desk and read stories from his notebook. When I first moved from North Carolina to New York City, I saw a show at Lincoln Center and I was hooked. As for music, being from Eastern North Carolina I had a solid background in Beach Music, Soul, Gospel and R&B. We also had lots of disco records in the house. But it was the Jazz and performance Art scene in New York City that blew my mind. I would catch a show almost every night. I lived a few blocks from CBGBs and the Knitting Factory. I beheld wild performances, some completely improvised, and many that defy description - it stirred my passion for creation and art.
You do an incredible job of imitating trombones, bass, and percussion. How did this all start?
The "voice-strumental" thing began about the time I decided to become a subway musician. I had been calling in sick a lot to my job so I could spend all day playing with other musicians in Washington Square Park. In the subway, I decided to up my game and began adding the sounds I heard in my head. I'm a touch lazy so I invent my own rules and shortcuts to make my life easier. Making all the sounds with my mouth meant less stuff to carry to gigs. Nor did I have to split the money with other musicians. People liked it when I started making all those sounds in the subway, so my "voice-strumentalism" became lucrative. Soon I was bringing home more money than the so-called “day-job.” Admittedly, pay was mostly in pennies, nickels, and dimes.
You can throat sing! Tell us more.
I actually think throat singing, for the most part, is a misnomer. It's more like sinus singing. It's when you force the sound into your nasal cavity and squeeze it around in there. I've always had sensitive sinuses, so I started doing it because it felt good. I like exploring the range of my voice. The stranger, the better.
You have been recognized by world-famous Producer and Founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun. What was that like?
For several years, I maintained a Sunday night residency at a romantic hole in the wall called “The Anyway Café” in New York’s East Village. There were about six small tables and three barstools. I liked it because it was right across the street from Philip Glass’ house. All sorts of famous artists would leave Philip’s house, hear the sultry strains of music and walk 20 steps across the street into the bar. One night, an older gentleman and his lady strode in, parked themselves in a romantic corner and enjoyed the music. He introduced himself to me and was very complimentary. I think I was at a pivotal point in my career just then and our conversation really inspired and encouraged me to keep at it. Sadly, he passed away not too long after our meeting. He was a great man.
You recently performed at the Tosco Music Party here in Charlotte. How did you get involved in this popular community concert?
Well, I think it took quite a few inquiries on my part, due to the high number of quality musicians who John features in his show. But I am nothing if not persistent. I was thankfully rewarded with a chance to perform for the community. On the other hand, John might say that I bugged him a lot until he caved in.
The wooden spoon duct-taped to your shoe is a memorable part of your performance. How did that come about?
The answer to this mystery ultimately goes back to my highly evolved and sophisticated knack for side-stepping authority. I was in Europe a couple of years ago touring from Scandinavia to Switzerland by train. Before I left the states, I had made an electric license plate, which I used as a toe- tapping drum box. Alas, nightmares of customs agents and borders guards examining my strange homemade box wrapped in duct tape and filled with electronics led me to the conclusion that, in a concert setting, a bottle cap taped to the bottom of my foot would probably have the same effect. Also, it was one less thing to carry. So began the year-long process of strapping things to my foot. Bottle caps, forks, chopsticks, cheese graters, wire whisks. I finally settled upon the wooden spoon for its inherent elegance. If you put two together, you have a castanet. And duct tape, well, that will be the elusive missing link when the alien archeologists scratch their heads and wonder, “How did they hold this civilization together?”