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Artist Profiles

Encore: Michael Gregory (Jackson)

By Published: April 21, 2006
By 1979, though, Gregory had felt that the singer-songwriter aspect of his art was being neglected, and through both free improvisation and experimenting with the possibilities of electric guitar sounds and rhythmic structure, he had redeveloped an interest in playing rock music. "That was what was calling me, and I shrunk the band down so it was just Ak Laff and Jerome Harris... and then I started the three-piece rock band Signal. We played every night and rehearsed every day for about two years and hit all the clubs and festivals nonstop between Boston and New York, DC and other cities. Obviously, there was a big circuit for rock music, and we were a band that people could dance to, though I played a lot of guitar solos—some of the stuff was blues-based, but it was pretty balls-to-the-wall, aggressive music."

Arista, however, was less receptive to Gregory's talents as a rock musician, even more so because it was not an idiom that African-American artists were regularly associated with: "I had this situation where the label was saying 'oh wow, this is great, these are terrific songs,' and I was also very prolific and writing five songs a day, and I'd say 'okay, can I record them?' and they would just keep me on hold. Basically, I was black and they didn't want me to do rock, though doing R&B would have been fine. I spent a year with Arista trying to make the move I wanted to make musically, and they wouldn't let me do it, so finally I asked for my release."

This led to a time of serious disappointment with the record business, as though Gregory was working with producers like Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic (and even briefly Walter Becker), attempts to record the music he wanted and have it be promoted to any capacity were almost nil, though he was able to record one album for Island (1983's Situation X). In litigation for almost three years with Island to get out of his contract, Gregory became leery of the music business in general, and returned to Massachusetts to raise his family. However, in recent years, he has returned not only to playing regularly (including guitar solos with Stephen Allen setting the poems of Paul Muldoon, as well as two solo releases slated for Fall 2005) but to the world of free improvisation, and has renewed his relationship with Oliver Lake - a fruitful partnership that, to Gregory, "feels like home."

Through the pitfalls of the commercial music world, Michael Gregory has learned a lot about not only the integrity of the music business, but also about his own integrity as an artist—something which has certainly not flagged a bit, and which can be credited to what improvisation has affirmed. "I had my own thing I was hearing, and I had it from when I was a kid. I would go to my lessons and they'd say 'here, play this' and I'd play my etudes, and right after I'd work on something of my own. I always heard my own music and would try to play what I was hearing... I love really being able to stretch myself. The integrity that comes from improvising - there is no substitute for it." This very integrity is what has imbued Michael Gregory's music, across all boundaries.

Recommended Listening:

* Oliver Lake - Holding Together (Black Saint, 1976)

* Michael Gregory Jackson - Clarity (Bija, 1976)

* Michael Gregory Jackson - Karmonic Suite (IAI, 1978)

* Oliver Lake - Life Dance of Is (Arista-Novus, 1978)

* Oliver Lake - Shine (Arista-Novus, 1978)

* Michael Gregory Jackson - Gifts (Arista-Novus, 1979)

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