If there’s one dream for musicians who enjoy the classic rock genre, actually playing in your favorite all-time band and contributing the quintessential sounds to their most popular songs probably ranks as number one.
For German-born keyboardist Martin Gerschwitz, that dream took 37 years, as he told me the story of hearing Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida” at a party in 1968, and then touring with remaining bandmembers in 2005.
“That was really cool, Iron Butterfly were pretty much my childhood heros. I was living in Germany, and I was 16, and I got to know the song in a very drastic way because we were throwing a party, and someone came in with the new record. He put it on 10 times in a row — and if you’re aware of how long that song is, it’s 17 minutes — we were rocking out to that over three hours,” Martin said from his home in California last week.
“We were totally forgetting about all the girls we were with, and totally shaking our heads and rocking out to this song. Since then, all the bands I’ve been in did that song for their soundcheck song — I have no idea how that came about. I did this with Lita Ford, Meat Loaf, Vanilla Fudge and Eric Burdon, we’d always end up jamming ‘In A Gadda Da Vida’ and then all of a sudden, before you knew it, I was in the real band. Life is weird sometimes, you know?”
Martin tells these stories and more in a new memoir of rock and roll on the road entitled, "I Only Look Loud," available at his shows or through his website.
“The book is sort of like a biography of sorts, but I concentrate mainly on funny stories which happened along the way, ones that no one else knows about.”
Surely to be full of behind the scenes tales of the music world, I asked Martin what would people find most surprising about the book.
“I think at the end of the day, they find out I’m a totally normal guy, like everybody else. I just happen to be a musician who loves what he does, and does what he loves,” Martin said.
But you better let him tell the story the way he wants to, too.
“My first language is German, and when I wrote down all my stories and experiences I was told, ‘you need a proof-reader.’ So I hired a proofreader for the first 20 pages of my book, and and when I got my book back, I realized this is not me anymore. So I had to tell him thanks, but no thanks,” Martin said.
Martin said that’s paid off because he constantly gets feedback on how funny the book is.
Martin is currently on a five-week Northwest tour that will include Zim’s Brau House in The Dalles on April 8. If his name is even somewhat familiar to Gorge residents it’s because a few years ago he was on tour with folk-musician Melanie with a program called “Romancing the West,” that played in The Dalles and Hood River. But he told me several of his friends, some who live in The Dalles, have recommended he play at Zim’s. Martin talked about what to expect musically.
“People are always asking me what is my music and what kind of style do you play. And I say — everything, everything there is. It really doesn’t matter if it’s rock or pop or blues or jazz or classical — you literally can find ingredients of each and every one of those styles in my music,” Martin said.
“It’s music from my heart, and I hope it reaches yours. You’ll hear classically based things, all the way up the spectrum. Except heavy metal, that’s hard to do with a piano,” Martin said.
There are quite a few photos on Martin’s website of him playing violin, and I asked him if he was able to bring that into some of the classic rock bands that he’s been in.
“Well, when I was with Eric Burdon and the Animals, who I was with for eight years, he said we should do the song ‘When I was Young.’ Since one of his former guitar players played violin, I was able to say, ‘you know what Eric, I can play some violin, because I had studied it when I was a kid,’ so he said okay, bring it along.
“At one point, I learned how to play the violin and keyboards simutaneously. You have to play keys with your left hand and hold the violin with your chin and play open strings, which was nice addition to a show. In my solo show, I play kind of a country hoe-down style on the open strings for one tune,” Martin said.
In 1989-90, Martin joined up with Meat Loaf’s touring band (Neverland Express) and toured, of all places, the Middle East.
“With Meat Loaf we played very obscure countries, including the area that you don’t really want to go these days. We played Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Omman, Bahrain, all these places down there,” Martin said.
“It was considerably safer, those days, because it was half a year before Saddam Hussein walked into Kuwait. It was great, I was in Dubai, and all that was there were two hotels and a bunch of bazaars, there were no skyscrapers or anything,” Martin said.
Reflecting on influencial musicians, Martin said he doesn’t really listen to a lot of new bands, mainly because he writes so much original music he doesn’t want to be guided by anyone else’s ideas.
“I always used to listen to Keith Emerson, and he just passed away, unfortunately. He was my all-time hero. Because of his music, I changed my whole musical life from strictly classical to incorporating classic rock.
“I try not to listen to too much music, because I don’t want to get influenced by too many people anymore. When I listen to music, I absorb it and deep down inside it stays somewhere in my mind. When I sit down and try to write my own songs, I always say, ‘no, that phrase came from this song’ and I’ve got to think about it more.
“Besides, with the little spare time I have, I’d rather talk to my wife or hang out with my dog,” Martin said.
That must be the normal-guy scenario popping up again.
Martin Gerschwitz’s new CD is called “Treasures of Life,” and it’s an all instrumental album.
“It’s packed with 17 different songs, and it’s all original except for one song — I do a rendition of George Gershwin’s ‘Raphsody in Blue,’ and I think with a name like Gerschwitz, I should do that.”
Jim Drake’s Entertainment Blog can be found at www.hoodrivernews.com. When not writing about music, Jim searches out used CDs for an elusive copy of Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose.