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Sons of Miles
FOLEY - Somewhere Man
by Mike Zwerin
21 May 1998

With his baby-blue circus-clown razamataz rapper's cap tilted at a carefree angle and king-size round glasses slid down on the end of his nose which is in turn at the end of a mobile rotund face, is Foley a wise young man or a smart alec?

Either way, this much is true. His first album on his own was called "New Directions in Smart-Alec Music" (Motown). And he went "from nowhere to Miles Davis" in a weekend.

"He hired me over the phone, man," Foley said, shaking his head, still in disbelief, even though it was ages ago and Miles had since passed. That's what they call a trip.

Here is one more "Somewhere Man." Isn't that a Beatles song? Or is it the reverse? One way or the other, Foley's post-Miles band had just toured Europe.

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (Afkap as he is called by his friends) said he approves of Foley. Not the Prince of Silence, mind you....Prince the Purple One. Prince's record company executives, PR people and managers were coddling Foley. Cuddling too. Foley also had acquired Miles's accountant and lawyer. "A Cinderella story," he called it.

"Nowhere" had been Columbus, Ohio, where he was playing the bass guitar in rock, funk and jazz bands in clubs, bars and hotel lounges. Being, to put it mildly, an enterprising fellow, Foley had been sending demo tapes all over the place. One of them reached Miles's producer and arranger, Marcus Miller, in New York.

It remained on the bottom of the pile until, as luck would have it, it happened to be playing when Miles called Miller from his home in Malibu.

"Who's that you're listening to?" Miles asked over the phone.

"Some cat named Foley from Columbus." Some Nobody from Nowhere.

"Let me hear it."

Miller held the receiver near the speaker. Miles took Foley's number and one two threee four just like that he called Columbus and asked him to be in New York on Monday to rehearse. Foley remembered the day well - April 17, 1987. Good Friday.

Miles said to tune the bass up a seventh. He would hire another bassist to play the bass part. Foley would play what Miles called "lead bass." Nobody'd done it before or since as far as Foley knows. He wondered whether Miles had been looking for a player to do that or if he just thought it up. Either way, Foley had no idea how to do it. And the Prince of Silence wasn't talking.


Talented young musicians tended to blank out when they joined Miles. Too much history, too many models on the rolls. Foley thought about Paul Chambers, the Johns McLaughlin and Scofield, Daryl Jones and the others, and he choked. He was scared to death every time out at first. Hearing tapes of the first concerts, he hated his own playing. Whatever he was looking for it wasn't there.

One night, Miles whispered in his ear: "Play half."

"Say what?"

"Play half," he repeated.

"Half what?"

Foley knew about "Less is more" and "Small is beautiful" and he knew Miles was called the "Prince of Silence." He was all for the idea of less notes. However, although he agreed in principle, he did not know how to cut it. Half as many? Half as long? Half as loud? Play only half notes?

"Play half" was like the time Miles advised John Coltrane to "try taking the saxophone out of your mouth" after he had asked Trane to play shorter solos and Trane did not know how. Space defined without euphemisms or metaphors. Out. Half.

Now, thinking back on it, Foley looked sad: "Too bad I can't talk with Miles any more. I really miss Miles."

Foley's new album bore the imprints of Living Color, Led Zeppelin, Quincy Jones, Funkadelic, Frank Zappa and Prince, at whose Paisley Park studios in Minneapolis much of it was recorded. With 23 short and varied tracks, it was more like a down-home collage than a string of numbers.

Speaking voices, raps, samples and scratches were infused with social commentary and funky irony ("if I ain't got AIDS by now I ain't goin' to get it"). All songs were written, produced, arranged, performed and mixed by Foley.

And he knows how to TCOB: "Yes indeed. I'm not stupid. Not bad for a homeboy from the street. All my childhood friends are dead or in jail. I suvived because of my mother and music.

"I still live in Columbus. I have no need of a metropolis. The people have my number, wherever the are."

He's produced three songs for George Clinton and worked with Chaka Khan to record "Cashmere," a Led Zeppelin tune she liked. The night Foley turned 33, his record company threw him a party.

"In the old days music was art. It was all one big song with infinite variety. Edgar Winter and Sly Stone were on the same top 10. Today, everything is contrived with marketing strategy. Every record in every category is supposed to sound like the last one. They are all the same old song. The music business people don't want to make anybody mad. Imagine if Monk hadn't played those "weird" chords because he didn't want to offend anybody?

"Business cats hear my album and think I'm crazy. But if they think I'm sane, then I'm part of the problem. I mean what's sane to them is definitely not sane to me. I have to sleep at night. Look at myself in the mirror. Maybe only one person will hear it and say, 'Oh, if they let him do that. Hey. I'm going to do that too.' Then I'm a success.

"The word 'genius' is thrown around too much. A genius is just somebody who has the will and the nerve to stretch himself more than the next guy. All children are geniuses untl they are separated during the educational process. They thought Einstein was nuts, dyslexic, stupid. But he knew better: 'I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing....O.K. now I'm a genius. I was dumb before.'

"They call Jimi Hendrix a genius. But all that happened was that Mitch Mitchell wanted to sound like Elvin Jones and Jimi said: 'O.K. you do your thing and I'll do mine.' And you got 'Third Stone From the Sun,' which for the most part started fusion.

"Then Miles hears it and goes 'Bam! Poof! That's the new thing. O.K. roll the tape.' So Miles gets credit for being a genius. But these were just people opening up their heads.

"I consider John [Lennon] and Paul [McCartney] just as much my forefathers as Jimi. Hell, yeah. And Carl Stallings, who wrote the music for those Warner Brothers cartoons. These people stretched their minds. Look man, sound is special. It was here before anything. It's pure. Vibrations can sooth you or stir you up.

"You shouldn't mess around with sound. That's why actors can't cross over into music. Dudley Moore is no slouch as a piano player. But he's played a silly drunk in those dumb movies and now when he plays piano he can't help but act. You can't act with music.

"Music is why I'm here. Nothing more. I'm not the guy who will discover a cure for the common cold. But my music might make people think a little bit. If I don't provoke, I'm a failure. I'm taking up oxygen for nothing.

"I'm not married. I don't have kids. I'm not here to be a husband or a daddy. My songs are my children. I hope they grow up and make a difference, be good citizens, like Marvin Gaye's ‘children' from 'What's going On.'

"But I'm more interested in peace of mind. Peace of mind is free. You don't need money, success, power or things. When you get the girl or the car or whatever it is you think you need, you still got to live with yourself. I live alone, I'm alone quite a bit, but I'm never lonely. I talk to myself. I don't mind my own company.

"I've only recently understood that people are extremely messed up. But, on the other side of the coin, they can be very good. It's the nature of the universe. There's no origin to good and evil. It's got nothing to do with male or female, they just are. The choice is yours. You have to decide whether you want to cut people up and put them in a refrigerator or contribute something positive to the human race.

"Course, maybe some people get peace of mind by cutting human beings up and putting them in refrigerators. Yeah.! Ain't that a bitch?!"

Photo: Foley
Credit: Christian Rose

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