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Kettleblack

Industrial Rock
Chicago, Illinois, USA

The Kettleblack as told by Glen van Alkemade on eBay:

“A life-long lover of music, I wanted to try my hand at making my own, but one thing stood in the way - the necessity of learning an instrument. A bad childhood experience with a flute left me with the conviction that I could/would never learn to play anything. Then I discovered the wonderful world of MIDI. Convinced the right gear could eliminate the need to actually learn to play, I bought this Yamaha synthesizer, some DOS sequencer software, and a state of the art PC (386, 50 Hz,16MB RAM, 80MB HD). I quickly found I was wrong about learning to play. To this day, though, I play piano by the hunt-and-poke method.

Then I met my friend Mike Canzoneri, who actually has a degree in piano performance. He became my input device. We set to work on Beethoven's Symphony #7, 2nd Movement. The strings in the SY55 are not great, so I bought the TG100. Next it was Mozart Piano Concerto 23, then Poulenc Concerto for Piano Duo. I enjoyed the role of producer/engineer/arranger. What a great hobby!

Then Mike moved to Colorado and I joined a religious community in Chicago. My MIDI gear was squeezed in behind my dormitory door. Back to hunt-and-poke. A year or two later, my friend Don Hill invited me to join his new post-industrial rave-up hip-hop band, Kettleblack. I was flattered. I told him I did not think of myself as much of a musician. He said, “Well, it's me on bass, Dave Canfield on vocals, and you on everything else. We need your gear.” :(

We piled into my dorm room for our first songwriting/rehearsal. Don plugged in his amp and the lights went out. We were on our way.

We needed a rehearsal space, and Roy Montroy offered us his, on condition he could join the band. Roy had many qualities we coveted: an air-conditioned closet-size rehearsal space in the basement behind the incinerator; twenty years bass experience with Resurrection Band and a desire to play guitar; a stockpile of pop rock tunes in their infancy; and a drum machine. It was a perfect fit.

We started writing. While I was trying to sequence the drums for our first song, Don was describing our sound to his industry contacts and fishing for gigs; and Dave was planning the cover artwork for our retrospective boxed set. I thought they were crazy. I splurged on the ESI-32 sampler and a Rane line mixer. Dave and I had great fun sampling sound bites from “Apocalypse Now” and “Buckaroo Bonzai”. After a year, we had concocted our demo tape “Look Into My Eye”. We took turns sitting up with my cassette player and Roy's reel-to-reel, making copies from the master one at a time. Bonnie? donated photos, Mike laid out the paper insert, Joe? printed them up, we took turns cutting them out and folding them up. 200 tapes. I didn't know who Dave thought we were going to give them to.

Then Dave, who was music editor of Cornerstone Magazine at the time, had the audacity and bad taste to review his own band in his own column. He also called in a bunch of favors and got the tape reviewed in several other magazines. Don got our rocko-blaster-stadium-smasher tune “Medicine Man” on a widely-distributed compilation CD of unsigned artists called Electro Shock Therapy (R.E.X. Music). I laughed and laughed at their earnestness. I teased them mercilessly until the fan mail began to arrive. From Norway. And Germany, New Zealand, California and South Carolina. People were begging for our tape, sending us large sums of money, pieces of their clothing for us to sign, asking for tour schedules. We were actually on the charts of some small radio station in upstate New York for awhile. I was stunned, and Dave started lining up gigs.

Gigs!!! But I was still a hunt-and-poker! I told the guys the only way I could gig was with my entire PC setup. “Just let me operate the sequencer,” I begged. I promised that if we performed to an electronic metronome, something called a click track, then I could make all sorts of spectacular things happen! I could change the quality of Dave's vocals on the fly, change out Roy's guitar sounds, put Marlon Brando into an argument with Weird Al, but no. What if there's a power outage? they asked. In case of power outage, what are you supposed to do with your electric guitars, I countered. But they were haunted by a tragic event they witnessed at our own big music festival, Cornerstone, the previous summer. A cutting-edge thrash-and-sample band, I think it was Circle of Dust, experienced an ADAT failure during a show. The front man went to pieces and I guess it was pretty bad. I missed it, but if I had been there perhaps I would have agreed. But I wasn't, and I didn't. Eventually I went down, but under bitter protest. Don recruited Brett Palmer for drums, retired Roy's Boss DR5, and commanded me to practice.

What to do? I had to come out from behind the computer keyboard and step up to the piano keyboard. I decided to cheat. I arranged all the tunes to give myself the easiest parts. Still I found that if I ever took my hands off the piano, I could not find the right place to put them back. I bought the X-15 Ultrafoot and configured it so that I could execute all my patch changes for an entire concert with my feet. After the opening chord, my hands would never leave the piano until the end of the show. Really.

I bought the SKB case and stuffed all my gear into it. I got a lighted Juice Goose power thing, because my eyesight is lousy and I figured I needed every bit of help I could get. We gigged at a coffeehouse in Aurora Illinois. I carried my piano on my lap. A 15 year old volunteer carried it up the stairs for me and called me “sir”. The show was great and we had fun, except when Dave extemporized, lost his thread, and instead of stopping, decided to keep going in the hopes that eventually he would remember what he was talking about.

We headlined a youth rally at a suburban church. The youth generally failed to materialize. Those who did left with the opening act.

We played an incredible club in Milwaukee called the Roadhouse, opening for a then-popular band. Our sound check was done long before show time. I looked at my setup and in my ignorance and inexperience decided it wouldn't hurt anything to kill the power from my Juice Goose, and power up again for the show. I hit the switch. The house PA was still up. You can imagine.

Show time, the house is packed (actually, the bar and the pool rooms are packed; the dance hall is pretty sparse). We start our show with a goofy sound bite from some crazy 50's kids movie that I've never seen: a nice lady's voice intones “There's no truth at all to those silly old rumors; the sole purpose of our endeavor is the musical betterment of American youth”. We plunge into our thrash-rave tune “Cartouche” … and I find myself enveloped in a cone of green laser light. The Roadhouse stage has a laser light show!! Yellow polka-dots dance across my keys! I look down at my rack, bathed in the soothing glow of my Juice Goose … but I can't see it through the hazy curtain of blue light dancing before my eyes. I sweat so hard and so cold that my fingers begin to slip around on the keys. And then Don breaks a string.

Catastrophe? Circle of Dust revisited? Roy and Brett improvise a jam, Dave tells jokes, and I gather my wits, wiping my hands on my blazer as discretely as possible. By the time the bass is restrung, I've adapted to the environment, I've pulled myself together, and we do a great show. A night to remember.

The next day was a busy one. Brett's visa expired and he returned to South Africa, where he joined Benjamin Gate. Roy's wife announced that four bands were too many, and Kettleblack did not make the cut; he went on to form Glenn Kaiser Band. Don's wife's pregnancy suddenly became very complicated. And Dave met the girl he would eventually marry. He's now the webmaster of Imagine-Dat.com.

That was the end of Kettleblack. I ditched the 386 for a laptop and got a Midisport to run all my gear into it, but the glory days were over. Before we split, I sampled all those guys, but it wasn't the same. The equipment sat idle for a while. I joined a world music orchestra, playing hand percussion. I don't have to read patch numbers under varied light conditions, and I can usually find my instrument again even if I take my hands off it to scratch my nose. I realized someone else should be using my MIDI gear, and having as much fun as I had during the one year and two weekend history of Kettleblack.”

Don Hill was also involved with Porteur de l'Image, Millipede, Scrap-Grinder, Pure & Absolute, and killingtheoldman.

Discography

1995 Look Into My Eye

Look Into My Eye

1995 Independent

Glen van Alkemade - Keyboards, sequences, percussion
Roy Montroy - Guitar, sequencing, drum programming
Don Hill - Bass, percussion
Dave Canfield - Vocals, percussion

  1. Cartouche
  2. Hidden Rift
  3. Seems So Real
  4. Step Outside My Skin
  5. Medicine Man
  6. Creation
  7. My Rose