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.