There are some people who follow the artistic path out of a conviction that they have something original that they have to get out of themselves, whether anybody else cares or not. That can be a long and lonely journey, particularly if your vision doesn’t coincide with the mainstream, or even the sidestream.
I remember hearing Ornette Coleman for the first time, when he was being howled down for not even being one who could aspire to the title of ‘musician”. Time has been kind to him. You could say the same about many a painter, graffiti artist and author (Sam Beckett, anyone?).
There are instances of people with impeccable pedigrees, conservatory trained, masters of the conventional skills, and proven employable individuals in their field, who are possessed by an inexplicable muse to follow the Star Trek template….” go where no man has gone before”, and they frequently pay a high price for their inclinations.
I’ve known one such maverick for many years, a guy by the name of Steve Dellavecchia, a quintessential Italian-American from Philly, with the kind of pedigree I detailed above…a guy who could have made it in the business on many different levels, but one whose sense of principle (which could as easily be attributed to hard-headedness as righteousness) is such that he’s turned down more opportunities over the years than he’s taken up.
When I first ran into him, he was almost a caricature of the perfect arena-ready rock drummer. Blond and body-builder sculpted, with great physical power and stamina, he was also thoroughly schooled in the finer points of dynamics, time signatures, sight reading and actual old-school drum technique. He was hanging out with the bunch of highly competent young guns who arrived in Nashville in the late seventies: Bassist Michael Rhodes, unrelated guitarist Danny Rhodes, and guitarist Kenny Stinson (all of who hailed from Monroe,LA), percussionists, Kirby Shelstad and Tom Roady, and the various guys who coalesced around the Charlie Daniels “Volunteer Jam” phenomenon, such as the Winters Brothers and Jimmy Hall.
I worked with him in the studios, on big-band dates and in rock concert settings, so I knew he had the goods, yet over time, as his musical vision became more extreme, he pretty much abandoned any interest in any kind of mainstream to follow his own very tough muse.
I got where he was coming from to a degree (I must have, as I’ve played on various of his experimental recordings in recent years), but I’d sometimes hear stuff by him that I didn’t get at all, which bothered me, as I’ve always prided myself on being a good listener. He managed to go to places at times that made me wonder if he was putting people on, but then again, I couldn’t figure what he might gain from such musical brinkmanship, so I ended up taking it at face value.
What he committed to tape is not for the faint of heart, as he insisted on employing a collection of old, frequently off-brand synthesizers, in his exclusively instrumental creations, almost perversely parading their antique tackiness as a counterpoint to the power and slickness of his Cobham-esque drum chops. Sing along ? Not a chance…dance to it ? Good luck !
Steve characterizes his music as jazz….could be, depending on your definition. Avant-garde, certainly….atonal, frequently….user-friendly, maybe not so much….intriguing, yes.
I’m not citing Steve as a role model for aspiring newcomers, nor as a cautionary tale about opportunity missed because of snobbishly high standards, but I do think that there’s a strange nobility to his stance vis-a-vis the goals people aspire to in the music game. If riches are the motivation, one sets oneself up for crushing disappointment if said riches don’t materialize; notoriety and celebrity are a better gamble, but too much of that can get old in a hurry. Art, however, won’t let you down if you keep that gift as your focus, and that has always been Steve’s compass, for better or worse.
Over the course of a lifetime pursuing the creative arts, most of us try to strike a balance between “Art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake”, as the old truism goes; directions are followed then abandoned, styles are tried on for size, then discarded, experiments work, experiments fail…but if we’re lucky enough, the creative spark continues to fire and we keep creating, even if it’s only for our own edification. Steve has soldiered on defiantly,and should you come across Dellavecchia’s music on-line, as you may, don’t be scared to give him a listen. It will undoubtedly bend your ears, but a bit of ear-bending now and then can be a good thing.