Saturday, February 23, 2008

Unsung Hero – Kevin Gilbert

Sheryl Crow released a new album earlier this month called Detours (2008)

Every few years, when Crow puts out a new smash CD, I stop and think of Kevin Gilbert.

What does Kevin Gilbert have to do with Sheryl Crow?

Perhaps quite unfortunately for him, all too much.

A multi-talented musician who could basically pick up anything and play it instantly, Gilbert performed with Eddie Money and his own band Giraffe, where he gained the attention of longtime Madonna producer Patrick Leonard. Gilbert was asked by Leonard to put together a band with him and thus Toy Matinee was born.


The band's one and only album, recorded in 1990 and shelved by its company until 1991, was a mild success. "Last Plane Out," a parable about the Gulf War, got a good deal of airplay on alternative stations. And the video of the gorgeous song, "The Ballad of Jenny Ledge," got heavy exposure on MTV, thanks to the starring role of Gilbert's ex-girlfriend, Rosanna Arquette.

Here's the video:



And here are the album's most famous songs.

Play "Ballad of Jenny Ledge"

Play "Last Plane Out" by Toy Matinee

Although I bought it it a Silver Spring, Maryland, dollar store on a lark about 15 years ago, this nine-song collection has become one of my favorite CD's. Everything about it appeals to me: The sophisticated and frequently obtuse subjects of its songs (Who writes about Salvador Dali, anyway?); its keen sense of melody paired with unpredictable musical detours; and even Gilbert's vocal resemblance to Steely Dan's Donald Fagen. In the days before mix CDs and iPods dominated my life, I never went on a road trip without taking this CD.

It was, unfortunately, to be the group's only album. Although Warner managed to sell about 200,000 copies of the CD, Leonard quickly lost interest in the project and Gilbert had to replace him for the tour. Among the musicians to join the touring version of Toy Matinee: A backing vocalist named Sheryl Crow, who according to Gilbert was hired because she was the only one who could play "King of Misery" (one of the band's songs) on the keyboards.

The album's producer, Bill Bottrell, swung Gilbert towards some session work on high profile gigs, including Michael Jackson's Dangerous (1991). And he began working with Gilbert on a solo album. But Gilbert, a tortured perfectionist, was struggling. So Bottrell invited a few friends over for some weekly jam sessions that were dubbed the "Tuesday Night Music Club."

Into this loose collective landed Crow, who had just finished a debut album that A&M record had deemed to be unreleasable. They asked Gilbert and Bottrell to help rescue it. And they did it as part of these musical jam sessions, taking a song called "Leaving Las Vegas" that session regulars David Baerwald and David Ricketts (David + David of "Welcome to the Boomtown" fame) had contributed and another one called "All I Wanna Do" that was a instrumental until lyrics were cribbed from an obscure book of poetry. During the sessions, Gilbert and Crow became furtive lovers.

But by the time Crow was well on her to becoming a multi-platinum artist, it was all over. Not just the affair. But also the involvement of Gilbert and all the other musicians who jammed on the record. Sure, the album was called Tuesday Night Music Club (1993) in tribute to those sessions, but Crow seemed to be eager to show that she was a worthy musician in her own right. Even though Gilbert was on hand to accept his share of the Record of the Year Grammy for "All I Wanna Do" (one of the seven songs on the 11-song CD in which he shares a songwriting credit), Crow's eagerness to distance herself from how the album was produced upset the often moody Gilbert to say the least.

"I don't know if I can ever forgive her,'' he once wrote in his journal, according to the Joel Selvin of the San Francisco Chronicle. ``I don't hate her -- I'm just soooo disappointed.''

Gilbert tried to carry on, releasing a solo CD called Thud (1995) that did just that when it was released. In 1996, he was among several singers being considered to replace Phil Collins in Genesis when his manager found him dead at the age of 29 – a victim of "autoerotic asphyxiation", according to the Los Angeles coroner. Close friends considered it more of a suicide than anything else. Many of them were quite upset when, in his Entertainment Weekly obituary, he was described as "the piano player on Sheryl Crow's debut album."

"
He hated that Sheryl Crow record and that's all he's going to be known for," Baerwald told Slevin. "The piano player? Roll over, Kevin Gilbert.''

Indeed, Kevin Gilbert deserved to be known for so much more than that.

And in my heart, he always will be.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your unsung hero was an unsung screwed-up egomaniac.

Myster.Zee said...

When a person is as unbelievably talented as Kevin Gilbert was, he has a right to be an egomaniac, IMO.

Anonymous said...

none of you knew him! he was the opposite of an egomaniac! he hated everything he did and was a tortured perfectionist. I hate the fact that people say it was a suicide...they didn't know our friend who killed himself. Kevin HATED suicide....

Anonymous said...

Gilbert was a genius. I pull out the Toy Matinee CD very often and start to wonder how he helped shape the music of the 90's. A very small radio station here gave Last Plane Out a lot of airplay in 1990 and I was hooked. I am glad his estate has released more recordings since his death. As far as Sheryl Crow is concerned, Gilbert wasn't her only use and throw away boy.

Anonymous said...

Your unsung hero was an unsung screwed-up egomaniac!?!?!?!!?

What a screwed-up egotistical, know-it-all without any basis comment to make!

I bought this disc strictly on the basis of what I'd heard of the single on the radio and it remains one of my top 5 all time cd's and I've had to have it buffed out so it will continue to play and thank GOD for mp3!

Sheryl Crow used and spit-out men/musicians/music industry people to get where she is. It's a shame that Kevin was taken in by her...talent? If she was in the movie industry, I wonder how many casting couches she would've utilized by now...

Todd said...

Highly recommended: Toy Matinee the extended edition (a version of the disc with bonus tracks, alternate mixes among other cool bits). Kevin's "Thud" solo release (with the mini CD included that has his cover of "Kashmir" on it, his "Shaming of the True" release and his Kaviar project. There's lots of Kevin out there you might not know of too, his producing and playing on a number of other recordings worth listening to.

Anonymous said...

Really nice piece. Thank you. Kevin's legacy lives on, not only in his music, but in his influence! My 13 yr old musician is a huge fan and he's amazing! (Now if I can only keep him away from the SCs of the world...)

Anonymous said...

First, Kevin Gilbert and the Toy Matinee album was (and still is) one of my favorite all time albums.

However, last plane out had nothing at all to do with the gulf war (it was recorded 1 to 2 year prior and the first line is "Welcome to Sodom"... not Saddam).

I think the world (once again missed out) on a musician that could of accomplished far more than we were privileged to see and hear... at least this time it wasn't because of drugs... just a stupid (sexual) accident.

Anonymous said...

Egomaniac? It's obvious whomever posted this didn't really know Kevin and all that he was about. He had his issues for sure (we all do!), but once you knew him you couldn't help but love the guy. Such a talent and it makes me sad to this day that we lost so much music and happiness this guy could've brought to the table.It just doesn't seem right that Kev is gone from all of our lives. Thankfully, I still have the memories and music upstairs. RIP Kev

Stan Ausmus said...

For what it's worth, I can tell you all that Kevin was not an egomaniac and certainly displayed no outward desire to kill himself. I was fortunate enough to have played with him a couple of times and the guy was just pure from front to back. Music was his thing, and that's what I gravitated toward the moment I first heard "Last Plane Out" on KLOS and then immediately went to the record store (what a quaint reference) to purchase the album.

For me, it began an association with a group of musicians who have become priceless friends. But for the twist of fate that ended his life, I was poised to launch a campaign to muscle my way into his band, I appreciated his talent that much. His music was proof enough for me that he knew what he was doing. Meeting him up close and having the opportunity to play with him cemented that forever. Any musician worth his salt could see he had talent dripping from him a mile away. His brilliance made every song on every album worth listening to.

Haters are gonna hate and that's fine. Doesn't change what I know to be true. Kevin Gilbert was a musical genius that the world at large will never know. I say that makes the experience of those who knew and met him even more precious.

Anonymous said...

I just heard Kevin Gilbert for the first time evening before last and I was stunned that I had not been blessed to hear him sooner and certainly before his time here was stolen from all of us! Sorry - even knowing nothing more than hearing his music I DON'T Believe that this man - however emotionally complex - would have murdered himself. His material is so powerful and that would have made him an object of the very industry he saw right through and so early on. And they will stop at nothing to prevent Genius like Kevin's from catching fire. As long as you don't make truth irresistible and you do make soul-less vipers richer, you may be tolerated - but don't be too good at revealing the hiding places of Evil. We have been robbed and Kevin's legacy has been shrouded in undeserved "shame" but the shame is on all of us for tolerating this level of corruption in the world. Kevin Gilbert Shines and if you fail to see that above all, then you are sightless.

Anonymous said...

I was given some of his music from Toy Matinee a few years ago, but I was not yet aware of Kevin Gilbert, the musician. While I enjoyed Toy Matinee (Last Plane Out was a highlight for me), it wasn't really my style of music. Today I listened to another album, given to me by that same friend, from some guy Kevin Gilbert I had never heard of. The music is very creative and interesting to this non-musician. Again, it is not specifically in my style of music, but I was intrigued. As I listened to the album I read up on him. I am fascinated with his life and death. Obviously so very talented. Not sure of the complete story with him and Sheryl Crow, but that right there in itself is fascinating. SO as I read about him his music is playing in my headphones. I am a fan. No it isn't my usual style of music, but I can hear the talent. I am not a musician, but I know talent when I hear it. Back in the late 90s I heard Porcupine Tree for the first time and became fascinated with them, they are my style of music. Steven Wilson (the leader of that band) has gone on to work with the likes of Ian Anderson and Alan Parsons. He is rapidly becoming a very sought after sound engineer and producer. If you work with Alan Parsons you better be good in that area. Anyway, I digress...

It is sad to know I will not be able to follow Mr. Gilbert in his journey and progression. It is also so sad that he is associated with this autoeroticism thing. The same thing David Carradine died from. Very sad indeed.


Anonymous said...

well eight years later to reply to your idiotic comment I just want to say that it's good that your name stays annonymous because you have no idea what you're talking about and you know nothing about Kevin Gilbert. I vote him as one of the very most talented people to ever walk the face of the earth.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Gilbert is one of the very few that I never tire of listening to. As a songwriter/ musician/lyricist, to me he was in a class by himself. His lrics and phrasing just slayed me. I feel if he would have been born 15 years earlier we would be talking about him in a different light. I have listened to him since Toy Matinee came out and have everything that he put out. I will never get tired of listening to his voice and music. It still bothers me to this day, that he never received the recognition he deserved.

Anonymous said...

One of the best musicians ever!!! I recently discovered him and I am loving the Toy Matinee album and of course The Shaming of the True, which in my opinion is one of the most cohesive and thoughtful albums ever!!.
Check it out.

Anonymous said...

I was a huge fan of the Tuesday Night Music Club Album. I was 11 when it came out. I was browsing Wikipedia tonight and came across Kevin Gilbert's story since today was his birthday. Wow. I see the album in a whole new light now. I have learned something and am off to check out more of his work.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes things come together as more than a coincidence.

Following Big Big Train with Nick 'd Virgilio on drums.
Looking up Sheryl Crow as the Tuesday Music Club was the soundtrack to my recent holiday in LA.
Being an all time fan of Genesis.

And then suddenly the internet points you to Kevin Gilbert.
Listening up on his music; what a waisted talent.

Christina Crawford said...

Most of the people around Kevin prior to his death are lying, all the Tuesday night songwriters, Kevin wrote Leaving Las Vegas and All I wanna do. I knew Kevin VERY well, we were close for years. Kevin had me speak to Sheryl on the phone as this is how he introduced us. Kevin was lovely, not lonely. He was super talented, far more than these TNSC idiots let on. The one thing I gotta say is after his success with his Grammy, which I was so proud to see him get, he changed dramatically. When we last met, Kevin was delusional and fake, perhaps an egomaniac, but I knew it wasn't normal... I questioned myself at one point, who the heck was this guy? Kevin was never weird with me, just loving, also he never mentioned his girlfriend Wilson to me, and with our friendship, there was no reason to not mention her. I was sad over how Sheryl and fame had affected Kevin, I'd seen it before, this was something I was going to address with him when we met up at his new studio. But when I phoned him a few days later as we'd arranged, I got no answer, for days I left messages until a friend finally phoned and told me, he was dead. No way Kevin was into weird stuff but he had a side to him he admitted was kinky but not perverted or weird. BUT he had changed, I can't deny that. Kevin was not depressed as far as I saw, even through all the crap Crow put him through. Sheryl was ruthless and cruel and as she never addressed Kevin's death, THIS is why I believe Kevin did not kill himself, rather he was a sacrifice. Such a talent and lovely, unselfish guy and I miss him very much.

Anonymous said...

It is hard to believe a guy as smart and as talented as Kevin would meet his ultimate demise the way he said he did. I believe the above poster when she says he was a sacrifice. He lived in Illuminatee central for,Christ sake! This guy had a way of touching you with his music that is hard to explain. To me, it's always been the darker side of music but, when you can get there, if you can, it's worth it. Fuck! This guy had so much more to give! It pisses me off really. But in another sense, what he did give us in the time he was here has become all the more valuable. If gold were everywhere, it would be worthless.

Anonymous said...

**they said he did.

Anonymous said...

I found your story about Kevin Gilbert an amazing piece. Thank you for putting to rest the rumors and compiling the truth. Kevin Gilbert was a very talented artist taken from us before his time. Makes me very sad. After I heard about what Sheryl Crow did I started to loathe her and still cannot listen to her music without getting angry. Maybe one of the songs on Toy Matinee is secretly about her. You know the one... Regardless, back to my point... you are a talented writer. Thanks again.

Unknown said...

His music changed my life forever. Alot of memories with many of his songs. Looks like tea for one again... Thanks Kevin!!

Unknown said...

His music changed my life forever. Alot of memories with many of his songs. Looks like tea for one again... Thanks Kevin!!

Gary Schwartz said...

But he was so talented. I like his stuff much more than Sheryl Crow. Don't get me wrong she's got some talent but -you know.

Anonymous said...

The passing of Chris Cornell this week brought Kevin to mind. "Thud" was released when I was working in the radio format that had helped Toy Matinee gain airplay. He came to our offices and regaled us with stories and wowed us with solo acoustic takes of material from the CD. Days later, he followed up with a gracious, hand-written thank you from which I STILL crib his witty phrase "with sincerest gratitude and no small amount of toadying." I've been out of the music/broadcasting biz for years and have downsized/shed a lot of the type of music I garnered from many of the "next big things" and "never were's" in those days, but I have never even considered parting with Toy Matinee or "Thud." In my brief interactions with him, Kevin was warm, engaging, clever beyond belief and most important, memorable.