Sometimes the relationship between an artist and his audience is so powerful that nothing can come between them - not even death. Such is the case for fans of the late singer-songwriter Josh Clayton-Felt, whose album arrives now after years of delay.
Though his music generally transcends stylistic categorization, the Los Angeles Times called Josh?s work "classic rock in the best sense...full of melodic hooks of groove-laden funk crossed with notable, memorable songcraft." In fact, many believed he was on his way to becoming an important rock artist when cancer ended his life at 32.
Josh?s early career was an aspiring musician?s dream - dropping out of Brown University to focus on music, he moved to Los Angeles and formed School of Fish. The band?s debut album, with the hit "Three Strange Days", sold nearly half a million copies. After releasing a second album, Josh began his journey as a solo artist.
After touring with Tori Amos in support of his solo debut, his career got caught up in various record industry mergers and realignments. A less committed artist might have stopped writing and performing. Yet Josh persevered, and started work on his new album. Beset by mysterious back pain, he kept a positive attitude and worked to make sure his new record was exactly what he wanted it to be.
One week after putting the finishing touches on the final mix, Josh was admitted to the hospital with choriocarcinoma, a rare and invasive form or cancer. On January 19, 2000, less than a month after entering the hospital, Josh passed away.
Josh said he was inspired by artists who had a deep and spiritual connection to their music, and that connection is startlingly evident throughout this new album. A friend once called Josh "a man who walked with one foot here on earth and one in the spirit world." As Josh writes in one of the songs on Spirit Touches Ground: "If you want to get through/To the other side/Let the dragonfly/Come and give you a ride."
On the new album, CENTER OF SIX Josh?s songs are in search of the self, songs about the journey inward. The title song refers to finding a center in the six Native American directions, and speaks of memory of "when the wind blew... when the sky knew.... when the earth told me not to forget." Although they speak of spiritual longings, Clayton-Felt songs are never far from the catchy rock riffs he wrote throughout his career, music described by Jeff McDermott of Connect Savannah as "both heady and earthy, a winning pop-grind that satisfies the hips and the head." On CENTER OF SIX they include the hard-driving "Two Sides" and the lively "Forever Self." In the CD?s single, the story-telling "Sacred Mountain," Josh imagines a future he did not have.
The songs were composed in the winter of 1996-97 in Kinsale, Ireland and recorded in Los Angeles. The CD?s co-executive producer was Chad Fischer, a musician and longtime friend of Clayton-Felt?s.
The second half of the album attests to the ripple effect of Josh?s musical and personal energy, in the eight songs that friends have written for him. From Raina Lee Scott?s powerful heartbreaker, "You Have Been Freed" to the lyrical, rolling, resolution-seeking "Only Love", the songs provide an amazing kaleidoscope of ways of taking in the loss of someone too young, very dear, and full of the force of life. Former lead singer of Men at Work Colin Hay?s "Dear J" evokes a diminished world -- "It?s a mighty world, but not so mighty without you."
Other artists on CENTER OF SIX include Kevin Hunter of the former San Francisco band Wire Train; the Los Angeles musician Jami Lula, who dedicated his most recent CD to Clayton-Felt; the Olympia, Washington musician and actor Andras Jones; the Irish musician and composer Linda Buckley. On "Only Love," Los Angeles musician Renee Stahl wrote the melody for a poem by the actor Renee FAIA; the two recorded it together. Faia also served as art director on the CD.
Los Angeles musician Sage, referring to Josh as "Dragonfly" after the haunting SPIRIT TOUCHES GROUND song, described the process of writing his song: "The Gibson Les Paul I played is Josh?s very own. I recorded it one night shortly after the beginning of the Dragonfly?s journey, it still had his old strings on, I tried to let these vibrate and guide me like footsteps to the next note... "
All profits from CENTER OF SIX will be donated to Descendants of the Earth, a non-profit Native American organization to which Clayton-Felt was dedicated.