Lunch with Marjorie: Music that soothes the soul for Joel—part one

I hadn’t seen Joel Davis for about two years. I was always impressed with his dedication to his music when he was in high school. We were at Roscoe’s Bunpuppies, which is delighting stateline diners with Chicago hot dogs in a fun atmosphere of movie memorabilia.

“Chicago’s great for really good, healthy food from any country you can imagine,” Joel informed. “Lebanese cuisine is popular in my neighborhood. A lot of falafel and babaganush and hummus wraps.”

At 22, Joel is savvy. My daughter’s other friends don’t talk about world cuisine. Most of them couldn’t even identify the veggies we served—at least not in high school.

“I like Turkish coffee,” he continued. “I’m working at Starbucks…it’s definitely given me a bigger appreciation for actual coffee beans…really good-tasting coffee.”

“Do they send you to coffee school?” I asked.

“Sort of,” Joel said. “There’s a class in downtown Chicago where baristas from different stores in the region come together for this class.”

My Roscoe Ripper arrived, an amazing deep-fried hot dog with grilled onions and brown mustard. Joel’s beef with mozzarella was also tempting.

“Thank you so much, Marjorie,” Joel said. “It’s really fresh, and has a perfect spice to it.”

He was always polite.

The sweet potato fries were delayed, so we continued with exploring Joel’s music.

“Very experimental,” he said. “Rock heavily influenced by blues and jazz, but not that bluesy—more groove-oriented.”

I struggled to comprehend.

“The best of Jimmie Hendrix and The Grateful Dead,” he explained.

After high school, Joel took time figuring out what to do, deciding on sound engineering. He worked at a commercial studio.

“It really opened me up to the idea of recording music, working with the equipment,” he said. “That inspired me to buy some of my own recording equipment, and I realized that to achieve the kind of recordings I wanted, it would be a good idea to get an education.”

After some Internet research and talking to people in the field, Joel selected SAE Institute, School of Audio Engineering, in Miami.

Sweet potatoes arrived.

“I love ’em,” Joel said. “They have cinnamon sugar sprinkled on them.”

SAE offered two classes at a time.

“That was exactly what I wanted,” Joel said. “I knew I would get more lab time. You learn theory during the day. Nights and weekends are devoted to doing projects in the studios.”

“Did you have gigs in Miami?” I asked.

“Always,” Joel said. “That’s not even something I consider secondary to what I was studying.”

He worked on compositions, and at a guitar center where he met great musicians.

“I would meet these guys,” he said. “We would form little bands, and would experiment.”

“Did you get into Caribbean sounds? Like Paul Simon?” I groped for connection. “I love Simon,” I said.

“Then you’d probably really enjoy Love Said Demeter,” he said, naming his current band.

“We’ve had plenty of people say it reminds them of sounds that Paul Simon was doing,” Joel said. “There are always ways to create new sounds. I believe it’s possible to just create music that no one’s ever heard before, but that people can really grab a hold of and enjoy. I love creating, sitting with my computer, making my own drum parts…my own keyboard and synthesizer, piano, and organ parts. I can even program a string section.”

“When did you know that music was a part of you?” I asked.

“About fifth or sixth grade,” Joel said. “When I started to play music and to listen to it, it quickly enveloped my reality and became what I did all the time. I was heavily influenced by the people I was interacting with at that time.”

“You mean fifth- and sixth-graders?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Joel said. “We were starting to pick up guitars. The first bass I had was seventh grade…the exact date was Oct. 13.”

“Were your parents supportive?” I asked.

“I was already heavily involved in music through school…playing bassoon, French horn and baritone saxophone,” Joel said. “I love saxophone so much. I was very inspired by my junior high and middle school music teacher—Christopher Perez. We had such a personal relationship with him. He had been playing in rock bands for years…was getting us into these bands…Led Zeppelin…Pink Floyd. It was really important. He played drums in the band that I played in for the very first show I ever played in. It was just a dance, but a huge event for me and my musical career, because he played (at my) first performance. The kind of rush you feel about that was significant enough to inspire you to keep doing it as much as you possibly can. That was really what started it. I wish I could contact him today to really express what a huge impact he had on me at that age.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years.

From the April 5-11, 2006, issue

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