The Axeman Cometh
But a lot of it is to do with figuring out who my co-protagonist is and what he sounds like.
I already know what he looks like. He’s English, 6-3 or -4, blond hair to his shoulders, no beard then later a beard. Sort of a cross between Keith Urban and the young Michael York as Guthrum the Dane (in “Alfred the Great”) and the adult High King Peter of Narnia in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” movie. Smart: he graduated from Oxford. Talented: attended London’s Royal Academy of Music and is one of the top five lead guitarists in the world.
When we meet him in the second book, “California Screamin’: Murder at Monterey Pop” (he’s namechecked in “Ungrateful Dead”, with his band Lionheart—Rennie Stride is a big fan, from their earliest, more folk-rocky days), it’s June 1967 and he’s 24 (born 28 September, 1942), and has been playing professionally in England since he was 17. In the last three or four years he’s become a star, but he and the band are not yet on superstar level. And he has a Big Honking Secret which you will have to wait for the third book to find out.
He’s got flaws—fits of moodiness and silence, an explosive temper when he allows himself to indulge it, occasional staggering arrogance—but really he’s pretty well balanced. He has a sense of humor about it all: he doesn’t go in for the usual rock star crapola—no groupies for him (well, a few, but only in his very earliest days, when he was still a teenager), does almost no drugs, hardly ever drinks, doesn’t act out.
And there was never anyone even REMOTELY like him in rock & roll. Hey, that’s why they call it “fiction”…and I don’t even go for blonds.
His name is Turk Wayland, and he’s the leader/founder/lead guitarist of the hugely successful band Lionheart. Think Cream/early Stones/Yardbirds only with a symphonic and intricate twist, influenced by classic blues and equally classic ur-rock like the Ventures.
After much investigation, I learned lots more stuff about him: he had a year of classical music training at the Royal Academy of Music in London, then was tossed out for incorrigible rocknrolling, which is when he went to Oxford. So very intelligent and very well educated.
But what’s been the most fun is figuring out how he and his band actually sound.
There are six guys in Lionheart: lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, keyboards/violin, drums, lead vocal. The band started out more folky than one might expect (a cut on their first album, “Knights of Ghosts and Shadows,” is adapted from “Tom o ’Bedlam’s Song”, “Tom, Tom, the piper’s son” and that poem about “Boys and girls come out to play, the moon is shining bright as day”).
But they rapidly evolve, through exposure to and friendship with early British bluesers like Mayall, Clapton, Keith Richards, people like that, into hard bluesrock with a touch of symphonic psychedelia.
And as I write him, I have found out that I need to hear him. He did lead vocals in the early days, then as he got more into guitar, he switched to backup vocals, then to hardly singing at all onstage.
To get the sound straight, I’ve spent many happy hours listening to old favorites, though of course Turk’s an original. He’s gotten real enough in my head, though, that I can actually see and hear him play, and I’ve written something like forty-plus songs for Lionheart (well, he helped).
I think he sounds most like John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service, legendary yet vastly underappreciated lead guitarist of the ditto/ditto San Francisco band of Dead/Airplane/Big Brother vintage. With a bunch of Clapton thrown in and a lot of other stuff that comes from no one but Turk.
Surprisingly, he doesn’t sound a bit like Jorma Kaukonen and he doesn’t sound a bit like Robby Krieger. Which did surprise me, ‘cause I love their playing and back in the day they were by far my favorite guitarists to listen to (Cipollina was third). But they’re just not Turk.
Listen to Cipollina on the Quicks’ studio version of “Who Do You Love,” heck, the half-hour live version too. That spectacular lead-in is totally Turk.
Turk’s a huge Ventures fan, too, as so many of the first wave of rock guitar studs were. “Pipeline” particularly, but also great stuff like “Walk Don’t Run” and “Apache.” In the real-world timeline, he would have been in a prime place to have been influenced by that sound early on.
There’s also folkier work of his (banjo) on the Black Pig Border Morris’s “Coal Hole Cavalry”, which you can get on iTunes, and I strongly urge you to do so. One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.
As I say, it’s been barrels of fun. In the sixth or seventh book, “Fixin’ to Die: Murder at the Fillmore East,” Lionheart plays Madison Square Garden to wrap up their big tour: a three-hour show with another hour of encores, closing with a twenty-minute medley of “Peggy Sue,” “I’m A-gonna Love You Too”, “Who Do You Love”, “Not Fade Away” and “Gloria.”
Man, I would KILL to have been at that show…and people do…
Oh, and I’m having famous professional rock and roll guitarist friends vet the tech stuff for me; I don’t want the guitar geeks to march on my house with pitchforks and torches.
And, as part of the writing process, as I do for Rennie and indeed all my characters, I give Turk stuff. First he wanted my tooled leather duffel bag that I bought at Woodstock, big stiff latigo leather thing, weighs a ton; then he started eyeing Jim’s huge turquoise and silver Navajo bracelet and funky leather briefcase and cocoa shearling coat. All of which he got. (Well, Jim’s not using any of it—and I’ve got plenty of luggage…)
Then Rennie got into the act: she wanted to make him (more correctly, wanted me to make him) a couple of strings of beads, which I did, and there was a heavy silver Chrome Hearts-style ID bracelet with a lion on the clasp that she gave him as a gig gift for the Whisky show in the third book. (He reciprocates, of course. He gave Rennie some very handsome stuff, which she’s nice enough to let me borrow…)
I drew the line at the gold-plated Strat and the black Porsche convertible, though. Fictional characters should only be allowed to demand so much. I think he understands. Not sure Rennie does, though: she wants Turk to give her some diamond bracelets…and I’m sorry to say he has…