My Gift to You: New Year, New Journey pt. 2

Today is my 32nd birthday, and throughout my entire life — even before I was born — music has been at the center.

The universe was kind enough to bless me with the gift of music almost as immediately as I was conceived.  My father was a DJ and Creative Director in commercial radio for 25 years.  My mother would accompany him when he would do backstage interviews with artists at huge arena concerts.  It was during this time that they [DISGUSTING] and the sounds of the concerts would travel through my mother’s belly, into her womb and finally into my ears.

The moments before my first experiences in the outside world were spent backstage at concerts on national tours for rock artists like Bob Segar, Edgar Winter, Ted Nugent and others; plus, my dad would put his headphones on my mother’s stomach and feed me the essentials: Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Vivaldi…The Beatles…Keith Moon…

The music being delivered to my ears must have stimulated positive connections in my brain, because shortly after my birth, I displayed signs of being a gifted child.

At 1 year old — in between attending concerts backstage in my parents’ arms and getting my picture taken with big-name country artists such as Alabama (my favorite), Willie Nelson, Eddie Rabbit, The Oak Ridge Boys — I was able to speak coherently and do basic reading and math.  I also showed a keen sense of memory and spatial relationships, among other things.  Above all that though, I demonstrated an undeniable and obsessive desire to do one thing more than anything else in the world: play music.

I would watch the bands at these concerts, and found myself inextricably drawn toward the drummers (duh; they’re the coolest).  At 1 1/2 years old, I began picking up anything in our apartment that remotely resembled a drum stick, assemble items that looked like decent substitutes for drums and bash away happily.  For my 2nd birthday, my parents got me a Muppet Babies-themed toy drum set, because they had a drummer ; I played just like Animal did on the TV show.

Being that the drum heads were made out of cheap material, I’d soon break the kit, and begin to play on anything I could (pots, pans, pillows, couches, ashtrays, etc.).  I’d drum on everything!  I’d also pick up and play any musical instrument I could see and can get my hands on, including pianos and guitars.  On top of all of that, I’d still be backstage getting my picture taken with country superstars, who now also gave me their autographs in my little autograph book.  (I want to find that thing because it has all of the pictures and autographs and memories I’m talking about, and I want to upload them here!  I really hope it’s somewhere in my parents’ house; it may be on the list of possessions I’ve lost in the Sea of Ex-Lovers.)

My parents likely realized that if they didn’t replace my toy drums once broken, they’d end up having to replace some of their own toys I chose to beat the crap out of.  Thus began the cycle of my drumming career as a youth: I played my new toy drums every day until I break them, and go back to playing on everything else until the next birthday or Christmas.  (This cycle would continue for 9 years.)  If we were driving in the car after dad got home from work and we passed a drum shop, we had to stop and go inside so I could play around on the professional kits.  There was also the mandatory trip specifically to the drum shop each weekend.  I just couldn’t be around drums enough.

In Part 1 of this blog entry, I highlighted a critical moment in my musical career; I introduced a band on stage at the Downtown Hoedown in Hart Plaza (Detroit, MI) on my 5th birthday, and immediately after, the crowd sang me happy birthday.  Another huge moment was when, at 7 years old, my mother thought I was good enough to enter a local youth talent competition as a drummer, and she signed me right up.

My mom found out that there would be a professional house band in the show too, and didn’t want me to be embarrassed, so she talked with a local drum shop owner and negotiated the rental of a professional Ludwig kit for me to use, something he didn’t normally offer.  (She created a sign to put on the front of the bass drum to advertise his store.  HA!)  She then made a mix tape of Michael Jackson songs for me to play along with as my performance. “Practice to it,” she says.  “Yes, mom,” I say…

Of course, I don’t practice (never really have), and I space out during my performance and play nonsense.  My ultimate reward for this stellar display was a 3rd place certificate, and a feeling of anxiousness and nervousness every single time I walk on stage in the future.

But what was crazy is that the audience loved me!  There were girls in the top row bleachers of the recreation complex hooting and hollering at me (Hello, ladies!), people were dancing to the music (Shake your booty when the snare cracks!) and I got a great big applause from the crowd when I stopped playing (John Kay has left the building!).  I’m sure that they were probably just being nice and making a little kid feel good, because I distinctly remember sucking.  The point is, they recognized who I was at that very moment in my life: a 5-year old kid who loves playing the drums and just being himself.

I’m still that same person.  I love playing music and just being myself.

Because of my dogged adherence to my musical life’s task throughout my entire existence — and the persons with whom I’ve had the both the opportunities and pleasure to associate and work — I’ve been fortunate to be educated and experienced enough to not only play the drums well, but also several other instruments and aspects of making music, including audio engineering, live recording, arranging, mixing and producing.  The love I have for music and its great composers throughout history has been embedded in me since before birth, and my aim is to share as much amazing music with everyone as possible during my lifetime.  This is my life’s task.

My path has ultimately led me to today.  Today is my 32nd birthday.

And today, I have a gift for you…

Sometimes, the Lion has to show the jackals who he really is…

Today at 6:00 PM I will be outside of Comerica Park in downtown Detroit, playing and singing songs from my upcoming debut album as a solo singer-songwriter.  I’ll be doing so for about 45 minutes, and then I’m leaving to go watch the Tigers game (you don’t miss a Verlander start).  I’m just as anxious and nervous — if not more — than I was when I was in the talent show as a kid, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to butcher a tune here and there (I still don’t practice!).

But it’s something I want to do, something I believe I need to do.  Because I believe the content of these songs needs to be heard in our current culture, and that belief has been affirmed through numerous private listening sessions with persons whose musical ears I consider experienced.  These are people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, family structures, careers and lifestyles; men and women; stoners and drunks; rich and poor; many were professional musicians, but most were just fans of good music.  They all have remarked the same thing: anyone can relate to these songs.

We ALL have music that we love, that we cherish, that moves us, that makes us dance, laugh, cry and sing our hearts out until our voices crumble and we can’t speak the following day.  But we know why we can’t speak, and we know that it was worth it.

…and we smile.

So, feel free to meet me outside of the Park on a gorgeous, 59-degree, 30% chance of rain, overcast Michigan evening and share a smile.  I’ll be playing music and just being myself.

Just a guy with a guitar, singing his heart out on the streets of Detroit.

Thanks for reading.  I love you all.

/blows out candles


Me at 2 years old; chopsticks for drumsticks, and the back of a chair for a drum

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Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2018 John Kay, All rights reserved.

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