Marcus Singletary is a guitarist who was the founder of the band Jupiter’s Child. Marcus was the subject of controversy when he attempted To Trademark ‘Trayvon Martin’ Hoodies; here is a link to his ITunes page:
Q: When did you know you were a musician?
A: I’ve been recording since the age of eight. I’ve simply kept at it, ever since.
Q: How did Jupiter’s Child originally come together?
A: I listened to the rock band Steppenwolf, early on, and practiced playing along with their albums. I learned that my favorite guitar riff of theirs, ‘Jupiter Child,’ was erroneously titled ‘Jupiter’s Child’ on their 16 Greatest Hits album. I named the band after an error. I figured the most intelligent listeners, if interested, would utilize their brain cells and figure it out.
As for the formation of a group, I recorded some home demos and then spread them around the high school I was attending at the time, Brother Rice in Chicago. One day, in first period English class, I asked the students nearby if they were musicians. The student sitting directly behind me, Mike Jula, said he played guitar, and we began woodshedding. In fact, we did this for years until we finally landed a gig at a Catholic school gymnasium. The drummer, Ed Hrebic, had not rehearsed with us. In fact, I had never even met him before, but we knew what songs we were going to try to play that night.
Well, the lowlight was when some dude interrupted our cover of Alice in Chains’ ‘Man in the Box’ by running across the stage while simultaneously disconnecting the bass amp, but the highlight for me, at least, was when I looked out into the audience and saw a cute brunette seriously getting off on the chaos. She was hot, and it was great!
Q: You have a degree from Northwestern, what are some of the advantages of having a formal education in music?
A: I received my degree in music from Musician’s Institute, located in Hollywood, California. Previously, I received a degree in Communications from Northwestern. I did play music in bands at NU, though – mostly, Jupiter’s Child – and also attended elective courses in musicology. My vocal training with Dan Detloff was independent of either program.
At Northwestern, one of my electives was a graduate student survey titled ‘American Popular Song, 1900-1950,’ presented by Professor Thomas Baumann. At that time, it was very obvious that I had not had any training, as I can clearly recall being behind the graduate students in terms of knowledge of the inner workings of charts and compositions. However, that did not stop me from continuing to immerse myself in our evaluations of the works of such legendary composers as Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, and the delectable duo of Rodgers and Hart.
When I finally arrived at music school, I was mainly interested in developing a jazz guitar technique, and did so in three ways. First, by listening to and watching the improvisations of guitarist Sid Jacobs, a teacher there at the time. You could not help but pay attention whenever he was going berserk on the axe. Next, I was engaged in private lessons with Finnish fusion virtuoso Antti Kotikoski, who was in a band with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. He encouraged me to step as far outside of the box as possible. Finally, I would credit a huge portion of my development to the music my fellow students introduced me to.
Through them, I heard Pat Martino, Grant Green, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny, and recordings by the ‘classic’ Miles Davis Quintet featuring Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. At night, we would go to jazz clubs and watch the greats of the game from the front row: Airto Moriera and Flora Purim, Mike Stern, Allan Holdsworth, Oz Noy, Derek Trucks, Phil Upchurch, Robben Ford, Patrice Rushen, and many more. I remember sitting right behind Patrice Rushen, watching both of her hands as she improvised the craziest fusion music in existence alongside the amazing drummer Dennis Chambers.
Q: What made you want to record a country album?
A: Many would likely attribute country music to staunch conservative values, but that does not always have to be the case. I would never truly call myself a traditionalist, but I am always open to experimenting with aesthetics.
I brought country into Jupiter’s Child, at one point. ‘You Win Again,’ from the Sings Country Music Standards album, had been a part of the set, even then. So, the process of interpreting styles of music according to the individual flavor heard within my own original songs started long ago.
Conceptually, it is a celebration of popular American song in that the tracks chosen are performed with country in mind, but are not all from a country music background. Great songs are easily interpreted to fit any style. Take, for instance, ‘Proud Mary’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Jennifer Hudson also recorded a version, in 2013 – one much different than my own. The strength of the original is displayed through the ease by which stylistic reinterpretations are achieved. Therefore, I picked a handful of songs that fit this pattern. ‘You Win Again’ was originally written and recorded by Hank Williams, Sr., and later covered by the Grateful Dead. I base my own rendition on both of their versions, while inserting my own style into the mix as well. That is one facet commonly held by the tunes chosen. They are easy to reinterpret in a variety of ways due to their own compositional power.
Q: How did you go about selecting what songs you played on your Live on Sunset album?
A: Live on Sunset was recorded in 2006. Its playlist is typical of the set lists performed when I mostly identified myself as a blues stylist. Compare Live on Sunset, recorded right before my time spent as a music student, to the concert disc Take Me Out to the Ball Game – cut right afterwards and largely built upon improvisation. The musical expansiveness is obvious.
Q: What changes have you seen in the music industry in your career?
A: Cell phones, compact discs, email, hip-hop, kids on computers, mp3’s, ringtones, and YouTube would be amongst the most glaring, since I started out as a musician. During my actual recording career, however, the most significant advances have been the Internet and home recording software. While the Internet has made it possible for anyone to do nearly anything at all, from anywhere in the world, Pro Tools has brought the recording studio to the living room while saving consumers, who would normally purchase studio time at a commercial facility, thousands. As a result, commercial recording studios have become bad investments.
Some aspects will never change, though – including business models based in fact-analysis, the concepts behind product marketing, and the knowledge attained by apprenticeship. I was taught record label publicity as an intern at Alligator Records in Chicago. This, coupled with subsequent jobs in radio promotion, became crucial in attaining the necessary skills an independent record label owner needs. I would imagine, though, that your efforts would suffer if you solely relied upon the Internet for such information, as few can truly impart it aside from actual industry insiders.
Q: Do you think looks or talent are more important to the popularity of a musician?
A: It all depends. For instance, in promoting a ‘Christian’ act, the marketplace requires a certain type of non-ethnic, ‘all-American’ image – largely due to perceived consumer stereotypes. In hip-hop, you would, theoretically, want the opposite. Yes, the violent death of a black MC with known underworld connections moves a million units – if presented to the right people in the right manner.
Within more ‘talent-based’ genres, such as classical, jazz, and progressive, the image matters less, as the fans mostly interact with the music instead of the physical presentation. Few would claim a sexual attraction to Yo-Yo Ma, Kenny G., or Phil Collins, yet fewer artists even attempt to fuse image and sound anyway, even though I consider myself appealing to both hear and watch. I’ve only seen two groups actually even try to approach music in such a manner: Kiss, and the Rolling Stones. Most performances either consist of spectacle built upon dance routines like concerts by Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson (slack that has, since, been picked up by the likes of Bruno Mars, Pitbull, and Justin Timberlake), or are purely musical, like Coldplay, Muse, and Radiohead – where the music takes precedence over the image.
Q: What elements of the Trayvon Martin story do you feel have been missed by the media?
A: The media analyzed the Trayvon Martin story until there was nothing left to report. I am surprised, however, that the story gained such traction, nationally – given that so many others reflect Martin’s yet remain largely obscure. I do not feel there is anything truly ‘different’ about any of these lesser-known tales, as compared to the story of Trayvon Martin, and it’s not like the story of Trayvon Martin was, in any way ‘new,’ by the standards of the social landscape of the United States. Even those on Zimmerman’s side were well aware of this incident being, quite simply, ‘business-as-usual’ in America, with similar events expected in the future.
Q: Do you think your commenting on the case helped or hurt your career?
A: A better question is whether or not commenting on social issues at all is deemed ‘acceptable’ by supporters of the status quo. Most of the time, it is not. However, if you are a public figure, you must be prepared for criticism if you wage an opinion on any topic whatsoever.
I did not realize I would be the only person in America to file a trademark application for ‘hoodies,’ at the time that I did. I figured there would be a rush of people willing to spread the message, legally, but that just shows how much of an idealist I still am. Technically, the Martin family’s own applications had not even hit the public database when I filed mine, so even that was unbeknownst to me. Yet, I feel comfortable telling you that I’ve been mindful of all parties involved from the start – which can be proven in reading any and all public statements I’ve ever issued in reference to the tragedy, that none of my actions were waged with the pursuit of money or status in mind, and I would definitely repeat my actions. Why? Because the murder of an unarmed teenager with a clean criminal record and no clear criminal intent is not a joke to me, and is also totally unjustified when the shooter had the opportunity to either follow law enforcement’s orders to stand down or to voluntarily walk away from a conflict before it ever began.
Did the people who criticized me for taking a stand take any action, themselves? No, and such is the difference between myself and the majority of people. If I had been standing in the Martin family’s shoes, I would have singlehandedly encouraged me to take individual action, knowing that most people simply watch events from the sidelines. These people do not care about enacting positive social change; I do. So, in short, being a leader and a visionary is never hurtful to the enrichment of the human condition, and the true benefit of the entrepreneurial spirit is in the assistance of others – values Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Donald Trump would each agree with.
Q: If you could take a road trip with Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, or Lou Reed, who would you pick and why?
A: I am a big fan of ‘Sister Ray’ but, unless Brother Ray is doing the driving – which I doubt, I’d have to pick neither of these options. In choosing between Amanda Bynes, Stacey Dash, or Lindsay Lohan – three women unafraid to share controversial viewpoints, I’d take all three, and then say a prayer, on behalf of myself, to the Lord of Estrogen.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)