David Stewart on making his own “Gnarls Barkley”

Written by By Sarita Allison, CNN

Kenny G has a reputation as a cool, calm saxophonist. The music critic Joe Levy believed he was overshadowed by the likes of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, and the New York Times’ Jon Pareles complained of his bland sound. There’s no need to argue with the critics, says Dave Stewart, who played jazz guitar and guitar on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

“I think they’re right, because there’s a lot of maybe aural air that’s not captured,” Stewart tells CNN from Scotland. “But really, to me, it’s because he’s worked in a lot of really overproduced, really slow-building drum-and-bass records.”

When Stewart brought this work to Internet DJ series “Hipster Radio,” he said he came up with a solution: A very old style Kenny G record, spliced together in “slow motion.”

“I did get some music for that,” says Stewart. “I think he just wanted to take a shot at it, and I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’”

“It was really fun. I thought it was gonna be an act of rebellion.”

As it turned out, there was only one Kenny G record to squeeze in: a small, simple, straight-ahead 1958 record called “The Singles Single Record.” Stewart got the acetate from an antique store and spliced it together, then scratched it. He played it live for a small number of people — no microphones — and recorded him just playing.

It’s a digitally deformed single record. Due to the smooth acoustics, the pitch shifts and analog processing come in slightly too big a hit on every instrument. “It’s like, stop it, listen,” says Stewart.

Conversation about the effects of the record on Stewart’s voice formed the basis of his upcoming documentary “Dead in the Sun,” which opens in May in Los Angeles, New York and London. The film features a performance of “The Singles Single Record” accompanied by Stewart, bongos, Irish fiddle and broken pipe.

“Singing without the singer? Especially in Glasgow in the 60s, and you were pretty popular there,” Stewart says with a smile. “I used to sing with this Scottish version of Boyzone, and all of a sudden, it was just like, ‘Oooh, people are going to be listening to you!”

‘The voice of his era’

Kenny G has been turning heads since he played on Max Roach’s “Pusher” in 1966. Jim Marshall was the guitarist for Charles Mingus, and he heard a young saxophonist named Kenny G, and figured he needed someone to sit in, so he put him on his album “The Sheik And The Quiet Man.” Mingus loved it, and encouraged the teen to put out a single, which he did.

The music world wasn’t interested at first, but about 12 years later Mingus offered him his first record deal with a then-upstart label called Shuffling Records. The term “the voice of his era” was born, at Mingus’ suggestion.

“He was like, ‘You could be the new Mingus!’” remembers Stewart.

Kenny G’s status as a role model, according to Stewart, didn’t occur to him until he was a teenager. He was around a lot of young musicians in his own neighborhood, and everyone seemed to be aspiring to be as cool and “sassier” as the sax player.

“I was thinking, you know, maybe I should put my notebook away and I’m just gonna go and get this kid his first guitar.”

After all, Stewart had played in the 1970s New York music scene as a member of the Band, for a generation of American rock music, influenced by influences like New York’s Lower East Side rock band The Cool Cats. His band, Slits, fronted by record producer Isabella Weingarten, established themselves in New York that same year.

So in 1980 he set out to create a Bikini Kill-esque band, and what got him through the sleazy improv scene of New York’s Greenwich Village, as the wildest night seemed to be, was his new girlfriend, Trish Keenan.

“She’s a great fellow and she’s the best woman that I’ve ever met in my life. She became my wife in ’79, and I learned how to, you know, really make you laugh and laugh at yourself, and everything after that,” he says.

“She was the first wife who taught me how to be a husband and father.”

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