Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Phil Coultrip & the 2007 Mountain Music Festival

Phil Coultrip

 Remembers 2007

The Mountain Music Fest


Phil Coultrip is a survivor. As a teenager he booked acts like Bob Seger, The Amboy Dukes at the brand new Midland Center for the Arts and when the powers to be shut down rock & roll at the Center, Coultrip shrugged, thumbed his nose at convention and booked Apple records protégés Badfinger at the Midland High School. It proved to be a huge success. He was a shaker and mover before he even realized how deep he could go, hanging out with Bob Seger and learning the gospel from Punch Andrews, Seger’s manager. Phil had his own cross to bear as the lead guitarist for Breadfruit, a local Midland outfit that seemed destined for big things. Coultrip was a talented musician yet his vision went much deeper than Midland. He saw a wider vista of opportunity through building alliances with promoters as well as talent. Through the years Coultrip has rubbed shoulders with Country Music’s elite, stars as well as agents, writers and producers. Phil Coultrip is a man with soul. He’s been on the top and fallen hard. He’s real, resilient unassuming and just stubborn enough to do it all over again.



 Can you tell me about some of the decisions that led you to develop the Mountain Music Festival?

I was moving back to Michigan. I was living in Florida. I had a nice house down there and everything. We were doing great, and I couldn’t be away from my son. We were just starting school up here. He’s in his second year of high school now.

So I was looking for something to do, and I happened to be driving past a sign about eight mile lake so I drove to the property and I saw it’s for sale. I’d been thinking about putting a festival together. I drove in there, and there was this big huge natural landscape and I bought it for $650,000 and then proceeded to put 2.9 million in it for renovations. It’s got the biggest stage in the state of Michigan… completely covered. It’s got 350 acres for camping. I put in all the electricity, put in all the water, put in all the rooms, cut down all these trees, cut down everything, replanted everything. I put in filling stations that happened to be there and it was a perfect layout to the stage and made it easy set-up. It had a capacity of 75,000 people. It took me a year and a half to get all the permits, zoning, and inspections. It was very difficult to do but I finally got approval. There were two counties and two townships, and the biggest problem was the local township, they were not quite convinced. But we got it through, and it started snowing that night. Perhaps it was a signal. I had already wanted to have all the grass planted and everything for the next year. I spent a whole year on it. I had 12 different partners and none of them were in the music business.


Did you have a board of directors?


Yes,  but when it comes down to it the only person that mattered was me because they were outside of Michigan. They didn’t really know the community and they didn’t really want to participate. They weren’t involved in the management of it at all and they weren’t involved in the building and construction of it from the ground up. They were just all just, “You made it, you run it, you do it.” None of them were in the entertainment business before or after. They weren’t really partners. They were the investors… they were purely investors. In fact, there was nobody from Michigan involved at all!


Were the investors the same folks who knew you when you promoted country shows?


Yes and no, I was very comfortable with them and myself. But on hindsight I’d never have done it at all because I would’ve been my albatross for the rest of my life. The bottom line is I was highly involved with other things. They investors were making a fortune…it was so incredible because instead of renting the building, we kept everything. We kept the parking, the ticket charges, all the alcohol sales, all the food sales, all the parking sales. There was nothing we had to give away. If we had just rented the building, we’d have had to give all that away. The real true bottom line story was the crash of 2008…Lots of people, hundreds and millions of businesses went out of business, and Michigan was extremely hard hit by it. Detroit was just going to crap…that’s what happened.

I read an article about your almost frantic efforts to promote the Mountain Music Fest

Well, nobody knew about Farwell, it was off the map so to speak. I traveled to radio stations all over this nation and did a ton of interviews but nobody ever heard about us. I don’t think it really hindered what happened in the second year when the economy just hit the skids. It wouldn’t have mattered where you were…Minneapolis any of the major markets, they all were hit so hard. Disposable income was gone. People weren’t partying. People weren’t buying tickets in advance. Everybody was holding back. The housing market crashed, and everybody was losing their housing. Nobody could borrow any more money. It was much more severe that anybody realized at the time. It still has a huge effect on everything. I couldn’t set things in motion until we finally had approval from all the participants. Conditionally, we held all of that land and properties which allowed us to run.  We had a time frame and we had to get our liquor licenses in ASAP. We were very late. October 31st  was the first country show. We ended up doing all of this in the middle of the winter. There were people up on the stage blown sideways, and it was a terrible winter.


You a great line-up of talent. Did you personally sign the contracts with all of the artists?


Yes I was used to doing that. I mean that’s what I’ve done for several years. We had contracts

But we were better off starting the year in advance, and I was doing it less than six months out. You know I was in Las Vegas until then with the International Association of Fairs and Festivals which is running right now, this weekend. I was just trying to buy up everything I could.


I recalled an episode in which you getting searched, investors folding . Did that happen?


They just went out of business like hundreds of other business during this time when banks were failing and the Feds were bailing them out. One of my investors had a big family, had three nurseries, nurseries that were quaint, right? I mean for a hundred years they had these businesses set up and running. All three of them went out business in 2008. The reason is because nobody was landscaping any more. There was no new construction so you had no new income.  He had two million dollars worth of stock sitting in those nurseries and he went from $400,000 a month to $20,000 a month to $10,000 to $5,000.

How many associated businesses were like that? … It was always done legally. There was no, there really weren’t any lawsuits at all.


 How did it go so wrong for you?


Well, we weren’t selling anything in 2008, plus we were being audited. We had two customers in June and July of 2007. The recession started in August, one month later. I was down in Louisville with my investors, and they were saying “We can’t borrow any money now.” There were credit crunches here. We couldn’t borrow a nickel if we had to, nor could anybody else. The bankers said, “We have no suggestions for you whatsoever.”



This was your vision. You had to be devastated.


I was devastated! I had some people that came to me before I did it, and said, “You know the only thing you can do is walk away from it” - I wanted to own it! I wanted to have my own place. I convinced myself that I could work so hard that I could make it happen. Ultimately  the creditors got all the money. We couldn’t sell a pop if we had to. We couldn’t sell a beer if we had to. We couldn’t sell a parking space. They were screwing us on the ticket charges. You know, you’d have a $50 ticket, and they’d have a $35 surcharge on it. It was ridiculous.  I hated it. I wanted so bad to do it on my own and it was just the wrong moment in time. I don’t think we did anything wrong, but it was bad timing. We got hit by the recession.


What could you do about it? Did you make the investors angry?


The bottom line is that I tried to pay everybody I possibly could, but when you go out of business, you’re out of business. That’s all there is to it.  I went to the investors and said, “That’s all there is. Good bye. Good luck. No hard feelings. We lost. It’s done.” If you were still in business, you’d still be paying all your creditors, but when you’re out of business, you can’t pay your creditors. I would’ve loved to, and I tried to. I did everything I could to pay them back but I had to take the punishment.


What kind of punishment did you have to take?


Besides losing the Mountain Music Festival… which only lasted one year, you know, it’s the terrible feeling that you built all this in such a short period of time and see it disappear so quickly. It came and went so fast that it was kind of like a dream. I decided to move forward, to start something new.

 I’m trying to rebound with electronic dance music, EDM. There’s a big musical movement in the world right now. A lot of people don’t even know what music is. They don’t care who the stars are. I could name you artists that you’ve never heard of yet they are making 25 to 50 million dollars a year. They have their own prioduct line. They’re world-wide stars. In fact, they’re smaller stars in the United States than they are in the rest of the world. I don’t mean that to be mean, but I’m sure you’ve never heard of any of them… I’ve been there. Las Vegas is like a bigger carnival. They have 300,000 people there just for the music EDM, and that is not a lot. Every hotel room is sold out. Now the second-largest gathering of people and the most profitable gathering of people is in Las Vegas. All of the events, all of the hours, and they’re number two.


The music, the dancing I couldn’t make heads or tails of it


It’s exactly this. You like the music, you like the song, you gotta dance, you’ve got to have big, large crowd areas, you have a need for a theater, you have need for an arena, and they get that stuff from head to toe. It’s just what it is. It’s peace and it’s love, it’s taking care of each other and so I’m very drawn to it.


Are you part of this now?


I’m trying to be…I’m looking at dates. That’s the truth. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to build from scratch, making a lot of money. I’m going to be in other cities. I’m not going to compete against what they’re already doing. I’m not going to even think about it, but there are lots of cities and lots of connections that aren’t over saturated - Los Angeles and New York, Atlanta, and Miami. I have some investors interested, the productions and the video are so over the top…everything, everything is generated by that one autograph, that one signature.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Chris Currell Leaps from Question Mark & the Mysterians to Michael Jackson


Christopher Currell Remembers

Question Mark, Michael Jackson and Good Vibrations

Christopher Currell is one of Saginaw’s forgotten musical heroes. He is an incredible talent who learned the ropes from local icons including The Bossmen, Count & the Colony, The Excels, The Pack and the Caravans. The early years of rock & roll were spent in garages across the globe and Saginaw was no exception. At any one time you could find Butch Burden, Larry Wheatley, Bobby Balderamma, Pete Woodman, Clark Sullivan or Dick Wagner honing their skills in garages and backyard barbecues. This was the canvas in which Chris Currell honed his skills. He would grow, change and learn at a rapid pace, out lasting many of his compatriots with his keen intellect and spiritual base. He possesses an uncommon humility for an artist that has achieved international recognition. His meeting with Michael Jackson in 1985 proved to be prophetic. They became close friends and musical comrades until Jackson’s untimely death on June 25th, 2009 as they were about to embark on the This Is It concert series.


Tell me about your influences in Saginaw that may have shaped your journey in music

I played in a lot of bands when I lived in Saginaw. My experiences playing in these bands prepared me

for becoming a professional musician. I was in junior high school when I had my very first musical influence, which led me to decide to play guitar and play in a band.  This was a Saginaw band called the Caravans. Another Saginaw band, which also influenced me was Count and the Colony. The sound of the electric guitar really grabbed me. It was magical to me!


You were with Question Mark & the Mysterians when Question Mark dismissed his original band and created a new type of music, a bit heavier. When did you get involved?

I do not remember the actual year I joined the band. I saw it as an opportunity to actually enter into the professional music industry and do professional recording. That experience was a bit shocking because I found out that the record company would not allow the band to play on the recordings. They only used their studio musicians. I did a lot of concert dates with Question Mark. Eventually the keyboard player left the band and it became a power trio. That is when the sound became heavy.


Was there a new cultural spirit that inspired your quest for other forms of music?

Yes, I really was inspired by how music could bring people together. In my early years, playing big concerts venues and festivals was very gratifying. But I had an epiphany playing a huge rock festival in Atlanta Georgia. I was still playing with Question Mark and the Mysterians as a power trio. Up to then, music had been like a big party for me. That night, I looked out at the huge crowd of 25,000 people and I realized…all these people were looking at me to tell them something. I had no idea about anything. Life was a big party and I was not taking responsibility for anything. I realized, I needed to re-evaluate myself and the purpose of my life. The next day I quit Question Mark. I began a personal quest to find out who I am and what life actually is. Of course this changed my music radically.

Who you inspired you?

Up to then, Michigan bands like The Bossmen, The Pack and the Amboy Dukes heavily influenced me musically. I then started expanding my music tastes. I was knocked out the first time I heard Cream. It was Eric Clapton’s playing that made me develop a vibrato on the guitar. Then along came Jimi Hendrix! He was a revelation for me! After that, the influences are a long list. The types of bands that I became interested in were progressive rock and rock fusion. This led to more Jazz fusion and eventually electronic and avant garde styles of music.

The list of guitarists that influenced me is just as long. Probably the most influential being Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Allan Holdsworth, Al Dimeola and Frank Gambale. The guitarist that influenced me the most though was John Mclaughlin. The musician that inspired me the most is Ravi Shankar.

When did you meet Michael Jackson?

It was in the summer of 1985 that I got a call from Michael Jackson. He had heard about me from the New England Digital company. They made a sophisticated computer based synthesizer called the Synclavier. I owned one. Michael had a huge Synclavier system. He called me on the phone and asked me if I would teach him how to use it. We finally scheduled a time where we could meet and begin my teaching. I went to his personal studio at his house on a Sunday morning. He introduced himself and we sat down in front of the Synclavier and began his first lesson.


What did you think of him?

He was very hospitable and polite. I liked him right away.

Did he hire you on the spot? Or did you have to go to several auditions?

Well, after three hours, I had taught Michael how to power up and boot up the Synclavier, call up his sound library and showed him how to call a sound down to the keyboard for him to play. He said “That’s all I can take for today, can you come back tomorrow for a session?” I said “sure!” I came back the next day and we worked on one of Michael’s songs. He wanted me to come back every day. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of the most interesting next four years of my life!

So if that was an audition, I guess I passed!

Did he give you a say in the music once you passed the audition?

He always had a say in the music but at the same time, he respected my input. He was very easy to work with.

What was your opinion of Michael as a singer?

Michael was a great singer! Totally professional! Singing was easy for him. In fact, he could also imitate different instruments with his voice as well.

What about his lyrics?

I always thought he wrote about interesting subjects. Obviously his lyrics connected with people as well as his singing.

A  musician – did he play various instruments; was he proficient?

His main instrument was his voice. But he was also very adept at playing percussion. He amazed me one when he started playing air guitar to Led Zeppelin music in his studio!

Did he prove to be helpful, to open doors so to speak and get better pay, residuals, contracts etc

My association with Michael changed my life completely. We became friends and he introduced me to many people. My phone was always off the hook with people calling wanting to do something with me. During the making of the “Bad” album, CBS records said I was their highest paid musician! I will always be grateful to him for helping me! People still call me for projects based on my work with Michael.

Michael had a great sound onstage in their live performances?

Absolutely! Michael was in the position to have the best of everything! We had the best musicians, the best singers, the best dancers as well as the best sound and lighting production crew. We took two Synclaviers on the “Bad” tour and they also contributed to the amazing sound onstage!

Did you play loud in concert?

I did not play too loud. I only played loud enough to feel the music properly. I am very conscious of protecting my hearing! But in front where Michael performed, the sound was bone crushing loud from all the front monitors and side fills! Michael always liked the music loud, in the studio and onstage!

How many shows did you do with Michael?

The “Bad” tour lasted about 16 months. We performed 123 concerts to 4.4 million fans across 15 countries.


Who was your road manager? Or did you have to lug your own equipment?


John Draper was the road manager for the “Bad” tour. I was playing 1.4 million dollars of gear just myself! There is no way I could have moved that equipment myself! Ha! Ha! This tour was the over the top and broke many world records…totally professional! I never saw the equipment until I walked on stage to perform! 


We had a huge road crew of about 150 people that set everything up…sometimes as many as 300 people! At the beginning of the “Bad” tour in, a 707 cargo jet was used completely filled to transport our equipment to Japan! Later in Europe, it took 43 semi trucks to move our equipment!


Tell me about your life in another country?


I currently live in Japan. I fell in love with the culture when I first came to Japan with Michael. After working with Michael, I continued to travel to Japan for music production work. I was living 50 percent of the time in the states and the 50 percent of the time in Japan. About six and a half years ago, I decided to permanently move to Japan. I currently have 14 albums out and performing my own music. I also am researching how sound can expand consciousness and awareness. I have my house and recording studio in the mountains and forest above the ocean overlooking Mt. Fuji. I like nature and it is a great creative environment.


What was your impression of the seventies/eighties scene? Meet any of the big players?


I grew up in the Saginaw and Bay area music scene. At that time, the music scene was very active with many bands and concerts. It was a very exciting time for me as a growing musician. I was constantly being inspired. There were also many places to play. I did meet many of the big players from the area and all over Michigan.  In general, after participating in the music scene and watching it evolve through the seventies and eighties, I think it was the most creative time of the music business. I think the sixties were probably the most creative and eclectic artistically. The nineties up to now has been a time of creative and artistic stagnation for music. It is mostly about fame and fortune and no music content. But of course there are always exceptions and there always have been, and still are, great bands and artists. You just have to look harder for them. You generally won’t find them in the popular commercial rock music scene today.


You mentioned once before that you were interviewed about Michael Jackson and you wanted to set the record straight. Were you able to do that? What did you Say?


My best response to your question would be to have your readers check out an in depth, four part series published at an online site called headphone. guru. The article is called “Synclavier, Music and Michael Jackson”. In the articles, I tell my story with Michael from the first time I met him, working on songs and recording the “Bad” album, the rehearsals for the “Bad” tour, and my experiences “on the road” with Michael and the “Bad” world tour.


Here are the links for the four Michael Jackson articles:



You’ve been a quiet icon in mid-Michigan. What would you like to say to your former friends, musicians?

I would like to say hello to everyone! I do not get back to Saginaw very often…I miss all of you and the good times jamming together! I keep in touch via Facebook! Anyone that wishes to contact me can find me there!

Any last comments?

I want to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to communicate to music fans everywhere!

I would like to leave you with this message…

“Sound is a vibration. Like sound, the universe is also vibration.
All knowledge we seek resides there. All we have to do is listen.”