-- David "Skinny Devil" McLean
originally published at Tinfoil Music
Date: Tuesday, September 19 2006 @ 18:36:41 BST
(editor's note: Unfortunately, Mikhal passed away from a heart attack September 7 of 2011).
Mikhal Cadwell. Say it with me, now: Mikhal Caldwell. If you haven't heard this name...well, you've heard it now, and after hearing his music, you'll never forget it.
Caldwell is among the most impressive fusion guitarists I've ever heard, with encyclopedic knowledge of music theory, composition, & history (traditional & esoteric); command of multiple styles; and technique so amazing that it's difficult to believe he's from planet Earth! His music is at once funky & visceral & downright bestial yet intelligent & discerning & witty. Not in a "he has a good balance between..." sort of way, but in a "extremely cerebral AND extremely passionate..." sort of way. Whether it's his solo works or his Chop Shop Project or ensemble projects, Mikhal's music - the composition and execution - is gutsy, brilliant, and inspired.
Jamaican-born, Detroit-raised Mikhal Caldwell has an impressive history, too. From garage bands in the early days to a stint at Berkelee College of Music, graduating from Renguard Conservatory and playing guest spots on several major label releases (from jazz to heavy metal), hosted the award-winning top-rated TV show "Fretboard Frolics" (whose special guests list is a veritable who's who of the world's top guitarists...including Al DiMeola and "Guitar Gods" interviewee Greg Howe), released several solo & duo CDs, and instructional DVD, and a concert video. He has recently been touring as both a performer and instructor, doing clinics for Morley, Jagmin Pick-ups, Thomastik-Infeld strings, and others, and has a new CD hitting the market: "Para Vision" (which features the wicked instrumental track, "X-Man").
Mikhal, who attended Berkelee from 1978-1981 and holds a masters in music, was first inspired to play guitar when he heard the song "Secret Agent Man" as a kid. In his words, "...a week or so later I heard Hendrix and that was it!". In addition to the CDs & video releases, Caldwell has penned the book, "Language of the Kind" which covers some heavy topics.
To wit: "I try to give knowledge that you can really use, stuff that you can start to learn and grow with right away. I also get into some really extreme theory as it is applied to the guitar. Some of the stuff I cover is Harmonic regeneration, Polytonal pivoting, extended harmonic voicings and phrases, Eastern music theory, etc. Some really different interesting hip stuff!" Yep - heavy stuff indeed!
Mikhal has also captured various music awards (from Metro Times Music Awards "Best Rock Guitarist" to the Contemporary Jazz "Best Jazz Guitarist" award) and teaches guitar privately and at Wayne State's CCS (Center for Creative Studies) in Detroit.
You can visit Mikhal Caldwell on-line at his web-site, where you can read about him, check out his free guitar lessons, listen to his music, and order all sorts of great music.
I had a chance to speak with this incredible musician recently - check it out!
1) What are your current projects?
I'm still a member of CSP (Chop Shop Project) and as of this summer we're working on a new release of some stuff, I'm doing some other stuff with my cousin Al Caldwell - a project called "Show me a Sign". Al was the Bassist on Greg Howe's "Introspection" CD. I'm working on a project with keyboardist Jeff Davis who is the board man for Michael Harris's fusion unit, working on some stuff with guitarist Kenny Tyler, doing some funky stuff with vocalist Leah French as well. But the most important thing in my musical life at the moment is my solo stuff.
2) How does this (do these) differ from your past work?
The music in each project is totally different and I get a chance to really express more of who I am as a person and a musician. CSP is always gonna be a go for it studio project so that allows me to just explore a lot of that jazz/rock fusion sort of thing which I love playing and I always know that I've gotta be playing at crazy levels to be able to even hang. Show me a Sign is more of a funk/rock thing with Al really stretching out on bass a doing a lot of soloing. I get my share of rip time but it's more of an earthy, bluesy thing. Jeff's project is super intelligent funked out dance music, the guy's a great musician and composer and he lets me get off so it's fun. Leah sings ultra cool stuff and is extremely open minded and versatile, so possibilities with her are endless. Ken (the Bishop) and myself are working on a CD titled the Detroit Guitar Mafia which is pretty over the top stuff - Kenny is sick!!! That project is kinda all over the place musically but it is most definitely guitar music. I've also got plans to do a lot of different stuff with a lot of different people that may really surprise some folks.
3) Do you have one project that you are most proud of as a guitarist?
I'm very pleased with my new stuff on Para Vision and my Reality Check band. It's everything I've wanted to play, totally fused and red hot! I'm playing, I feel, at new levels and I'm really not allowing myself to worry about playing in one particular vibe or style per say, I'm just playing what I feel and enjoy. To be honest I feel free, like this is really the first I've ever been good enough and unafraid of not playing what everyone expects from me to really let go. And it feels great! My performing unit is a trio now but I'm looking to expand into a 4 piece with the addition of a keyboardist. At the moment my band is: Drums - Matt Ownby (formerly of Elton John's band). Matt's on fire and a great person. Bass - Troy Cole (the Jaafar Band whom by the way is mentioned in the official Mahavishu Orchestra book) is an outstanding bassist. Both are truly great musicians and human beings.
4) Can you give our readers a run-down of your basic gear (live and/or studio), & do you have a favorite piece of gear?
My live rig is cool, it's triple stereo! I run 4 to 6 pre-amps, modified Mesa Boogie and Rocktron stuff into a mixer that splits the pre-amps to either left or right into another patch bay which mixs speakers and sends left or right, which gives me 4, 6, 8, or 12 possible independent left and rights. I also run all my processors and pre-amps into both a Midi patch bay and a 12 channel mixer. I sorta play live but with a studio quality sound. I use Tubeworks and Rocktron 2/12 cabs, I also use and endorse Thomastik-Infeld strings, Morley Pedals, Brian Moore Guitars, Tim (Tone Pimp) Jagmin Pick-ups and they are just incredible. There's nothing like them period. Tim also builds and does all the work to all my guitars, which are mainly Strats. I also use an old Roland guitar synth both live and studio. In the studio I either mic my system or run through a Johnson J Station. I do sometimes run one of my old Twins or a Marshall Plexi, however that's become a rare event as of late.
5) Who would you cite as early influences, and who are you favorite new players?
That's easy: Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane, then McLaughlin, Coryell, Holdsworth, Shawn Lane, Benson, Martino, Gary Moore, John Goodsall, Johnny Winter, Cameo, Chick Corea...to be honest, everything!
6) Can you give a few tips to aspiring players?
Remain true to your vision. Play with passion, and don't be afraid to play and express yourself, your way. Find the musician inside you, and set him free.
7) What are your future plans?
I'm looking forward to getting back into playing some CSP stuff with Charles Stuart. I'm also excited to get out with Reality Check and do some stuff. I'm hoping that this solo release will allow me to get to people who have never heard my stuff and allow me to play with some other players also that I've been wanting to get with.
8) Thanx for talking to us, Mikhal!
Thank you, it's been most cool!