Acoustic Alchemy: Redefining the Rules
“ Being in the right place at the right time and accidentally unbeknownst to us, we had the right music. ”
Greg Carmichael never really wanted to be a solo performer. “Didn’t think I had the personality or desire to do it. I was more interested in playing in a band. It was more fun to be part of a team,” said Carmichael before a recent St. Louis concert. This desire to be part of a much larger picture would become the building blocks for the success of Acoustic Alchemy.
Carmichael began playing classical guitar in his teens. Around the age of 16, Carmichael decided to seriously study music. Against the advice of his teachers, he dropped three of his subjects and dedicated the majority of his efforts to learning the guitar. However, the styles of guitar available for study were quite limited at the time. “In order to continue in school, I had to study classical,” said Carmichael. With the support of his family, Carmichael would go on to study for four years at the prestigious London College of Music. “[My] parents were very much on my side.”
Following his desire to perform in a band setting, Carmichael gave some thought on how to amplify the classical guitar. He would be one of the first artists to attach pickups to an acoustic guitar. Carmichael and band began playing in the London bars. This was where he would meet Acoustic Alchemy founder, Nick Webb. Webb was in the audience at one of the gigs and arranged to meet Carmichael. Carmichael reflected that he was most impressed with Webb’s “strong character, very strong personality and solid ideas.” They began writing songs together and performed at local restaurants and bars.
“[The] difference between people who are successful and those who play in wine bars is a fine line. Sometimes things happen,” said Carmichael. He admits that there are a lot of talented musicians who never make it past the local circuit. Sometimes sheer circumstance can forever change destiny. The rise to fame for Acoustic Alchemy was as simple as answering a help wanted ad. Carmichael shared a synopsis of this historical newspaper print: “In-flight entertainment required for Virgin Airlines. Fire eaters and jugglers need not apply.”
In an effort to corner the growing international flight market, Virgin Airlines wanted to do something different that would set them apart from the pack. They decided that Acoustic Alchemy would stroll up and down the airplane aisle on intercontinental trips from England to the United States. In return for their work, the flight back home would be free. Webb and Carmichael decided to visit the States for a while and brought a demo tape with them. However, they needed a place to stay and headed to Nashville. There, they would visit home of bassist Dave Pomeroy.
Pomeroy heard the demo and said, “I think you’ve got something here. This sort of music is just picking up in the States and it’s called New Age music,” as told by Carmichael. Pomeroy was a session musician with connections. He put the guys in contact with Tony Brown. Tony Brown was experimenting with a new MCA Master Series set of recordings. The mid-'80s was a time of change for Nashville. Local record execs were looking to shed the “country” image and develop new ideas. Brown wanted to make six records in the Master Series set and had already signed up five acts. Unfortunately, when he heard the demo, he didn’t commit right away. Six long weeks later, Acoustic Alchemy received the invitation to record.
Much to the amazement of everyone, a hungry American audience would overwhelming receive this first album. The mere 30,000 vinyl records cut wouldn’t be enough to meet the demand. “Being in the right place at the right time and accidentally unbeknownst to us, we had the right music,” said Carmichael. Acoustic Alchemy would become pioneers of the smooth jazz genre.
Carmichael takes the success with ease. He prides himself in being able to keep life in a delicate balance while having it all. “I wanted to be a musician, but I wanted a family. I’m very lucky. I have a house, I have a fantastic wife, three great kids and I’m a musician,” said Carmichael. Shyly grinning, Carmichael would glance at his watch before saying, “My twenty-second wedding anniversary is tomorrow.” His secret for marital success is simple, “I just respect my wife, I suppose . . . and try to behave in a way I’d want her to behave if the roles were reversed. We have to trust each other. If it weren’t for her, it would be difficult to have all those things.”
It was at this point in that Carmichael shifted things back to the band and introduced this reviewer to the other part of the duo, Miles Gilderdale. Gilderdale plays the steel acoustic to Carmichael’s nylon strings. Together, they form the cohesive sound that is currently Acoustic Alchemy. Gilderdale was able to briefly share the story on how he came to join the band.