Arthur Lee Land’s publicist sent me his new album, Dragonfly, a few months ago. The other day Arthur followed up to see how I liked it. As we e-mailed back-and-forth, I asked myself who is this guy, Arthur Lee Land. Then I asked him. And he was kind enough to answer.
Q. What’s your background? Hometown? Schooling? etc.
A. I was born in NY–Arthur Leland Sikking III and I grew up in the Midwest in the northern suburbs of Chicago. I went to New Trier High School and my high school band, Bass 30, ended up studying under jazz bassist Richard Davis at UW Madison. In Madison I mostly just sat in on Richard Davis’ classes and played with my band. I loved listening to him tell Miles stories. I didn’t technically “go to college” I just hung out because everybody else in the band where going for their degrees. I did study Jazz Improvisation at Chicago Conservatory of Music for a short while and took private guitar lessons and learned my modes and how to analyze jazz standards.
My biggest schooling was doing gigs playing lead guitar in various bands. Once I heard the sound of the Fender Telecaster that changed my world and I spent a lot of time working on the country chicken pickin’ style of guitarists like Albert Lee, James Burton, Ray Flacke. I played for a year in southern California with Jann Browne (who was in Asleep At The Wheel) and is a great country singer. That was a huge learning experience because we played 5-6 nights a week and we had a rotating utility man seat (mostly steel and fiddle players) and I got to play with some heavy cats like Byron Berline, Al Perkins, Steve Fishell and even a gig with Bobby Cochran from Bobby and the Midnights which was a thrill for me. I spent three years in Nashville and that taught me a lot about studio work and doing sessions. Ray Flacke became a good friend and was my mentor. He taught about Nashville chord charts and how head arrangements went down in the studio. He produced some demos on my band and we played a bunch of gigs together.
I spent six years in Minneapolis and got into the whole funk and roots thing up there and fusing twangy Tele over funky stuff and getting back into my more jammy roots. I had a band called Arthur Lee and the Next Step with Michael Bland who was the drummer in Prince’s New Power Generation and a bunch of other incredible Twin Cities musicians which was a lot of fun. I also got back into the acoustic singer/songwriter thing up there and when I left there and moved back out to California I started writing songs with my wife Carol Lee. I ended up moving toChicagoand writing lots more songs with Carol. In August 2002 we went to the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival and Song School in Lyons CO and there I ran into to producer/songwriter/recording artist Wendy Waldman and she loved what Carol and were up to and said “If you have an album of Dragonfly’s, I’ll produce your next record!” That was almost a three year process from start to release date and what a learning process. Working with Wendy taught me a lot about my self as an artist and as a singer. It was a very spiritual process of learning how to find my center and my true voice and when I am singing from Soul and not my head. We also picked 13 songs to cut out of about 40 songs and I learned how to put a record together as a whole piece of work with special attention paid to each song being a facet of the diamond and not having two songs take up the same space. Wendy is all about the SONG and she has written some huge hits and knows the craft. Deciding on the songs for the record was another great learning opportunity and there was one song that she said “I’m not cutting this unless you change this line” so everything had to pass her quality control and I’m so grateful for that process.
Oh yeah, one other MAJOR part of my schooling was studying the teachings of ECKANKAR, a spiritual path that teaches Soul awareness and how to have personal experiences with the Light and Sound of God. The teachings resonated with me because of its focus on the transformational power of the Sound Current. The spiritual exercise of chanting HU (pronounced hugh) an ancient name for God, opened some very profound doors for me as an artist and musician.
Q. When/how did you know you had to be a musician?
A. I remember my senior year in work study class where my teacher said to me “What are you gonna do with your life!!!?” I stood up in the middle of class and said “I’m gonna play Rock ‘n’ Roll!!!” And so it was.
Q. You have a lot of major players on your new album. How did you approach them? Did you have a word from a friend or did you just pick up the phone and ask?
A. Well that’s a great question. This was another big process in the making of the record and working with Wendy. Since I didn’t go in as a member of an already existing band but more as a singer/songwriter/artist, Wendy had me ask the question “what kind of record do I want to make?” Then “what instrumentation would best serve the songs and the focus of the record?”
We decided that the record would be primarily acoustic since I was going for this Afrograss flavored Folk Rock sound that I had been experimenting with in my live shows doing the solo looping thing. I wanted upright bass and lots of percussion and somebody who could be somewhat of a multi instrumentalist for some of the other bluegrass instruments (Mandolin and fiddle). At that point the next logical question was “who are the cats that can do the job and vibe with us and our music?” I saw Grateful Dawg right as we were asking the last question and when I saw Joe Craven being interviewed in the movie I KNEW he was the guy. He had the right energy for the project and I could tell we would get along wonderfully. So I had Wendy call him and he said he’d love to do the project. I called him shortly afterwards and we hit it off. I had heard of his Camptown CD and that it was out of print and so he burned me a copy. After I heard that I was floored with how cool his world music take on traditional fiddle tunes was and how his playing was exactly what I was looking for.
Q. Do you allow taping of your shows and encourage peer-to-peer sharing of your music?
A. Absolutely!!! We have a some shows available for free download at www.archive.org. There’s a Fox Theatre show from June 10th 2005 that was our CD release party with my new band that I highly recommend. I also encourage fans to BUY artists STUDIO CD’s and tape and trade live shows for free. Studio recordings are very expensive to produce and need to be paid for. Live shows are a great way to spread the love and I highly encourage people to burn live shows and share them with their friends (with the artists consent of course).