Childhood Influences: Ink Spots and Robin Hood
From the beginning, I think I’ve always been surrounded by music—mom singing “Summertime” to me when I was a baby (so I’m told), Methodist hymns in Sunday school, piano in the parlor of my grandparents Michaloski—Pop Pop M. played oldies and Uncle Mike played songs from the Great American Songbook and Broadway…the Michaloski’s would sit around the kitchen table harmonizing songs like “Down by the Old Mill Stream” and “Sweet Adeline” while drinking National Bohemian beer and chain smoking cigarettes…they had a few 45’s (7” vinyl singles for you digital gen’s) that I played over and over again—among them were “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby” by Jerry Lewis, “Robin Hood” by Dick James (produced by George Martin in 1956!) and “Danke Schoen” by Wayne Newton.
My maternal grandparents Lynch had one of those beautiful walnut cabinet consoles in their knotty pine basement that was fashioned with a bar and tile floor just big enough for dancing—they played big band music and Ink Spots—I especially remember the album Saxy Jazz by Bill Black’s Combo, and “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes.
As I wafted through elementary school I remember singing in the chorus, performing Christmas songs, looking forward to hearing “Tom Dooley” on the radio. Check this out: I took piano lessons in the 3rd grade and during one lesson while I was playing the exercise of the week my teacher, Mr. Julius, took away the sheet music—he realized I had been memorizing the songs and what his fingers were doing rather than reading the notes from the sheet music. He told my mom she was wasting her money because I was playing by ear—the first time I heard that phrase—kind of made me feel special.
Adolescence: Cultural Revolution and Beyond . . .
In the early 60’s I was attracted to the newly emerging modern folk scene—The Limelighters, The New Christy Minstrels, Trini Lopez and religiously watched Hootenanny--a TV show that showcased many of the most popular folk acts. Cultural tragedy stuck in November ‘63 with the assassination of president Kennedy and it created a huge black hole in our culture and our consciousness. Two months later, however, the quintessential influence on me as a singer/songwriter performer and probably as a young man suddenly exploded with the appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show—WOW!—this was different! –way beyond my understanding of how and why it affected me so strongly—nevertheless it did…this was a new way of singing, playing, performing, dressing, hairstyling—a new way to be male!—and girls were gaga over it! Needless to say, I determined to join this cultural tsunami and when my Dad brought home a triple-pick-up Kent guitar I immediately got a Mel Bay chord book and practiced relentlessly.
Pretty soon I was able to strum along with the British Invasion hits of the time from the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Animals….along with Bob Dylan songs that had simpler chords but were much more lyrically complex—he along with the stream of Top 40 hits of the time inspired me to start writing lyrics and put them to a chord progression. Along with the musical development came longer and longer hair, mod clothing, an accelerating cavalier, irreverently humorous attitude to life in general. Whichever way the Beatles went—there went I…marijuana, LSD, mediation--a growing political consciousness. As the 70’s rolled in I was a shoulder-length haired lead singer in a blues rock band—Rasputin--and a member of Students for a Democratic Society when I started college as a math major at what was then, Towson State College in Baltimore.
Early Adulthood: Ocean City…New York…back to Baltimore
Finding it increasingly difficult to make that 8:00 am calculus class while keeping up with the counter-culture-aspiring-musician life-style, I opted to drop out of college in 1970 to be a full-time musician. As the 70’s continued I found myself as a singer in a 6-piece band , Please, where I met my dear friend Gary Griffith who would be my partner in Bits ‘n Pieces--a trio and duo for the next seven years playing in bars, lounges, nightclubs, and restaurants in Baltimore, Ocean City, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and DC. Around 1975 I moved to a little farmhouse in Dagsboro, Delaware and began to record originals on a 4-track TEAC that Gary and I had bought. I sent out 50 three-song 7 ½ inch reel tapes to record companies and got one important response—Harold Kleiner at Columbia Records—who eventually landed me a one-LP contract with A & M Horizon—a new subsidiary label.
Working with some seriously heavy weight studio musicians at the Hit Factory in New York was a dazzling and educational experience for a kid from Balto: Hugh McCracken, Tony Levin, Rick Marotta, and Richard Tee—I was working Paul Simon’s back-up band and a guy who had worked with McCartney! The album, Stargazer, was released in 1979. I hired a manager who said, “Go back to Baltimore, put a band together, and write some hits.” That--I tried my best to do for the next few years--with several versions of the Gordon Michaels Band entertaining some interest from record companies but mostly we got,—“You guys are almost there—keep trying.” Well, you can only keep trying for so long and after many personnel changes, musical trend changes, marriage in 1980, the birth of a son, Derek, in March 1981, and trying to balance being a musician, husband, and father it just got to be too much—I began to think about joining the day job work force. After applying for a few jobs that never panned out, selling ads for a little Christian newsletter, and playing solo acoustic gigs in Fells Point--a kind of BoHo section in Baltimore’s harbor area, I said yes to an offer to sing in a Top 40 band—Rock Island Express.
Well, getting antsy to get back to original pop rock, Rock Island gave way to yet another version of The Gordon Michaels Band, this time with my brother Rob, on guitar, my friend Gary on electronic drums, Mike Gillespie from an earlier version of the GMB on keys, and Steve Cuccio, who described himself as a “cop on the take,” on bass. Again, some local gigs, some record interest, but eventually a fizzle out, divorce after 3 years, and it was back to Rock Island again. Boredom, ennui, angst, and disenchantment with the whole music business finally took their toll with over-drinking as a result…I left Rock Island this time with no idea what I wanted to do…got together with my friend Wil from the first Gordon Michaels Band to form a trio with his friend Lynn—eventually added drums—we were The Baltimore Hots—a name Wil came up with referring to Maryland steamed crabs. During this time I had an offer to join one of the most successful local bands in Baltimore, Paper Cup which was reforming into the New Paper Cup.
I played with that group for few years and through a couple of personnel changes when all of a sudden something strange started working on my emotions and intellect…I became in extremely interested in contemporary Christianity and especially the evangelical and charismatic movements…kind of a resurgence of the warm feeling I once had in Methodist Sunday School…I decided to change my life for good—get out of night work---get out of being in bars, nightclubs, lounges and decided to finish my bachelor’s degree—this time switching to elementary education inspired by being a parent volunteer in my son Derek’s kindergarten class.
Flirting with Christianity
For the next six years I was either looking for a home church or actively participating in one… During this tumultuous time I met and fell in love with my wife Mary Ann—we hit it off pretty good—we were married March 1989. As I was finishing my Baccalaureate work I played in a few bands with my brother Rob and my friend Gary from Bits and Pieces, Dennis Dayhoff from an early version of The Gordon Michaels Band and Rock Island—these bands were The Top Cats and The Studebakers—I thought these would be my last bands… eventually, however, and mainly due to critical bible study from scholars like John Crossan, I began to see that most of today’s Christianity was either created by St. Paul looking for the imminent return of Jesus (which, obviously never happened), vestiges of the Roman feasts and pagan holidays (hello Christmas –Saturnalia), and adopting ideas about the afterlife and “spirit” from Plato. Hello secular world…I’m back!! I remain a big fan of Jesus but not a part of the normative, orthodox, Evangelical narrative at all—a church drop out!!
Clean Living…The Chalkboard Picnic…Back on Stage
Mary Ann and I had a bouncing baby boy, John Anthony, and moved into a EOG row home in Parkville, Maryland where we still reside. Six years later we were blessed again by a bouncing baby girl, Casey Leigh. During the 90’s and into the 2000’s I was a classroom teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools…3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. I guess you could call that my “Missing Years” because I pretty much dropped out of music with the exception of doing a little home recording in ’93 and ‘94 and sitting in to sing a song or two with some of the various bands that my brother Rob was in, a rebirth of Bits n Pieces, Speed of Sound, and especially The Riverdogs.
During this decade I earned my Masters degree in education at Loyola University and a Ph.D. in teacher education at University of Maryland. That resulted in an opportunity to teach graduate education at Loyola which I did off and on for 10 years. So….I was teaching elementary school in the daytime and grad school at night—it became a lot—and when my principal put me in 2nd grade I had had enough—burnt out and ill-matched for that age group—I retired. As soon I retired the urge to write and record came rushing back…I began a working relationship with Ron Turner at his studio down the street from me in Parkville, MD, which was then called RealTone Music. Mike Kanter who I knew from Rock Island Express played drums on a session and told me if I was ever interested in getting back into performing live he would put a band together. Eventually, you guessed it!...The Gordon Michaels Band version 6?...7?...We played around Baltimore until Covid 19 closed everything up as far as live performance…at that point all I wanted to do was to focus all my energies on writing and recording.
Tune Rider…Ram On…Jack of Hearts
From about 2016 until 2019 Ron and I worked on the 12 songs that would eventually comprise my album, Tune Rider which was released in October 2020—available for purchase here on this site as well as at gordonmichaels.bandcam.com (also see Behind the Music of Tune Rider and Lyrics for Tune Rider on this site).
While finishing the 9 songs for Jack of Hearts, I received an exciting invitation to sing a song on a tribute to the 1971 release of Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney. Here is the interesting backstory: ...I recorded Stargazer for A & M Horizon Records in 1979 produced by Hugh McCracken who played on McCartney's 1971 RAM album...many years later LA-based producer-guitarist, Fernando Perdomo, found my album in a bargain bin and was interested in the cover photo with LA's Griffith Observatory from Rebel Without A Cause in the background. He flipped the album over to discover the cream of the crop of studio musicians, Hugh McCracken, Tony Levin, Rick Marotta, and Richard Tee, bought it, listened, liked it, put it on YouTube, and hung the album on his studio wall.
Many years later I sent Fernando a copy of my Tune Rider album and he posted a photo of himself holding it up on YouTube and smiling...cut to the chase....Fernando lives next store to Denny Seiwell who played drums on Ram and who knew McCracken...Denny and Fernando hatched the idea of RAM ON--a 50th anniversary tribute album to the original Ram featuring current performers interpreting McCartney's material...that's when I got the call from Fernando about singing "Another Day” on the RAM ON album to be released this May. Ron engineered the recording of my vocals for the McCartney tribute ...the vocal performances on Ram On are incredible and the instrumentation is extremely authentic...check out the trailer on YouTube.
Jack of Hearts
I had nine songs for the album but I thought it was missing an identity…a persona…daydreaming and free-associating on my deck and sipping a pinot grigio I thought, “Hmmm…Jack of Hearts…hmmm” I did a Google search for Jack of Hearts and liked what I found…he is the underdog…fights for the King…but “keeps an eye on the Queen”…the old saying “Jack of all trades—master of none” popped up and voila!—a personality…a real person with a role…subordinate to the rulers….but accepting that fact…constantly on the road fighting battles for the King…lonely—not able to engender a permanent relationship because of his role and yet always looking for a love—looking for “the one”…I think these 10 songs are an authentic reflection of the various directions that my writing likes to take in its restless searches.
Fall ’21 into Winter ’22
My homage to Joseph Campbell’s “Hero of a Thousand Faces” and the Neo Advaita school of thought, “Disappearing Man”, was finalized and released in Fall ’22. This is the first song I recorded at Craig Tambascio’s Think Tank Studio in Severna Park, Maryland, after Ron Turner moved to Virginia. “Back in the Day” was also recorded and mixed at Think Tank by Craig. It’s a bit of a drive down to Craig’s but he has very nice state of the art studio and is a multi-instrumentalist and music teacher along with being a creative and insightful artist himself—plays bass guitar with Ron in their prog-metal group, Walking the Wreckage. Shortly before Thanksgiving ‘21 I also recorded an original piano-vocal hymn, “Thanks for Everything” at Craig’s. (see Behind the Music for inspiration and thematic insights regarding “Disappearing Man”, Back in the Day,” and “Thanks for Everything.”)