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L.A. Music Today: Miles Tackett

Miles with his Fender Jazzmaster and Fender amps
Miles with his Fender Jazzmaster and Fender amps

From a musical background influenced by “equal parts Topanga and my father”, Miles Tackett seeks to “make music that has integrity, survive and share with people”. This is something he has had in mind since his band INCLINED in the early 90s. INCLINED was a progressive pop-funk-psych-soul-rock power trio. This was after a childhood where he began playing music (starting with piano) around seven years old. His latest solo album “The Fool Who Wonders” seems to bring back a little bit of all the extraordinarily diverse influences that came from his childhood in Topanga Canyon.

Miles’ father, Fred Tackett was playing “Ode to Billie Joe” in Hawaii when legendary songwriter/arranger Jimmy Webb heard him, and brought him out to L.A. Soon he would be surrounded by great musicians including Lowell George, the founder of Little Feat. He wrote songs with him, and eventually became an official member of the band after George’s death. He is currently busy performing and touring frequently with Paul Barrere (also a guitarist in Little Feat) as a duo. Lowell George’s death was devastating for a lot of people, and Miles’ grieving in particular led to his first attempt at a song with “Slide Man in the Sky”. He never quite finished the song, but it was the beginning of his drive to make a mark for himself as a musician and songwriter. On the new album, the song “Out in the Canyon” features slide guitar fills on the chorus, which seems an appropriate tribute. Miles remembers at age twelve learning his first slide guitar song, which was The Rolling Stones version of “Little Red Rooster”. He learned it from Paul Curson, whom he called a “Manchester UK musical vagabound”. The funny thing is that he lived in his parent’s guest house years after Lowell George did, and George despised the Stones and British blues-o-philes to an irrational level according to Fred Tackett. Miles also met Spooner Oldham (organ, piano, keys) while his dad was touring with Bob Dylan in the 70s. Before Oldham came to L.A., he was based in Muscle Shoals, Alabama which is legendary for it’s diversity of musical styles that are freely mixed together. He played on several classic albums by Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan, and many others.

A little later, Miles teamed up with the drummer son of Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist Jerry Goodman. They formed a progressive rock band called UKNOW. Miles took up the cello around this time (junior high), which he continues playing to this day. He also studied jazz guitar briefly. Incorporating cello into his band INCLINED earned some scorn from his teacher, but Miles continued to follow his musical instincts wherever they may take him. The debut INCLINED album “Bright New Day” was released on Columbia, but fortunately didn’t receive the marketing it deserved. By 1995, Columbia wasn’t interested in releasing the second album, which led Miles to a period of withdrawal from music.

He wasn’t inspired to pursue music again until he met Mixmaster Wolf, re-connected with friends, and developed an interest in hip-hop. Hearing the instrumental backing/breaks in hip-hop led him into collecting classic funk, soul, and jazz records inspired by the DJs that introduced him to those sounds. Eventually, he started to DJ himself and Tuesday nights at Little Pedro’s started jam sessions which led to the formation of his next group, Breakestra. It sprung from the idea that he could have a band actually playing the ‘breaks’ that the DJs were spinning in hip-hop. What started as a loose jam led to extended medleys, later represented on their first release “Live Mix Part 2” on Stones Throw Records.

In 1999, he started Root Down with co-producers Carlos Guaico and Los Lido (keyboards, Breakestra). DJ Dusk was a huge inspiration who introduced him to all the obscure soul, funk, and jazz records as well as cumbia and samba. In the early days Cut Chemist was around before Jurassic Five started to get big. In 2001, Miles was inspired to start “Funky Sole” with Cut Chemist and DJ Egon, which was at Star Shoes, until about five years ago when it moved to the Echo, where the dance party continues every Saturday night to this day. DJ Dusk passed away in 2007, but his influence is still strong. While Miles mixes in a bit of hip-hop occasionally into Funky Sole, the main emphasis is on soul, funk, and soul-jazz. You hear a little James Brown, Al Green, The Temptations, and Sam & Dave, etc., but more often Miles spins more obscure tunes that he’s found through “digging for records” over the years. This keeps it fresh, and fans and newcomers are always asking what some of the rare gems are.

In 2005, Breakestra released an album “Hit the Floor” on Ubiquity Records. At this point the band had progressed to writing original instrumental jams and songs. Miles handled the lead vocals, as well as bass and guitar in the studio. In addition to their tunes in the classic soul/jazz/funk style, the band also provided backing notably on “Family Rap” for Chali 2na, Double K, Munyungo Jackson, Soup, and Mixmaster Wolf. Chali2na, DJ Dusk, and Mixmaster Wolf also appear on “’Posed to Be” from 2009’s Strut Records’ release “Dusk Till Dawn”. The band’s impeccable musicianship is evidenced by the fact that it also acted as the backing band for legendary, though unfortunately obscure soul legend, Syl Johnson. Breakestra toured until the end of 2013. At that point, Miles felt the drive to return to his childhood roots, and began his latest solo project.

While he played guitar and vocals in the studio on the Breakestra albums, for live shows, he played bass mainly because it was difficult for him to find a suitable funk bassist. For his solo project, he is focusing on guitar and vocals, with a sparse backing of mainly bass and drums. He occasionally adds some keys, and a few guitar overdubs, as well. Some of the tunes from “A Fool Who Wonders” could have been Breakestra tunes, but this album finds Miles incorporating some rock and folk mixed with the soul and funk. The album is filled with Curtis Mayfield / Jimi Hendrix style diads and bluesy fills on the guitar. At times the guitar tone of The Kink’s “Waterloo Sunset” comes to mind. The first single “Just What I Need” is a soul-funk tune with the guitar out front, as Miles calls this album guitar-centric. “Everything”, “Release Me” and “Paradise” have a bit more of a rock feel, though the guitar sound for most of the album is clean and clear. Miles favors a Fender Jazzmaster guitar mainly, and sometimes uses DeArmond 335-style guitar with humbucking pickups for a fatter sound. He is very happy with the new Fender Super Sonic 22-watt amp which has a clean and dirty channel covering the majority of the tones on the album. Miles tunes his guitars a half-step down to accommodate the vocals, and also provide a slightly more resonant sound. Other highlights on the album are the beautiful, dreamy “Come Away”, the Byrds-era David Crosby tune “Everybody’s Been Burned”, and the acoustic-guitar only ballad “Golden Child” which incorporates some Bert Jansch-like fingerpicking. Perhaps “Out in the Canyon” should have been the title-track, because of the diverse influences present on the album, and this “Topanga narrative” even brings in a bit of country. Miles instead chose to name it after the funky, shuffle-beat song “The Fool Who Wonders”. This tune is about not wanting to be one who dreams without taking action. “One More Time” also shows a diversity of influences, and a nice half-tempo intro, which returns as a breakdown near the end of the song. I believe the range of styles tastefully represented contribute to a sound which is unique and appealing. Overall, it’s a very solid, album with great guitar hooks, and gentle, yet soulful vocals.

Miles had the opportunity to record a song for the new album in a modern studio with all the latest digital software, plugins, etc., but was most happy with the results he gets from his own analog-based New Tilt Studio in Highland Park. This album, like the Breakestra albums were recorded on ½” 8 track reel-to-reel tape. Some may consider this a throwback or lo-fi, but the parts are as loud and clear as any modern recording, yet possess a certain warmth that can’t be reproduced, even with the most up-to-date processors and software designed to emulate vintage tape sound. And, the best thing is, “The Fool Who Wonders” will be pressed on vinyl in addition to digital formats.

Miles will be appearing with Mark Weddington on bass and Sam K.S. on drums Thursday July 10th at The Bootleg Theater in L.A. to celebrate the album release. The next show is Thursday, July 24th at the Hotel Cafe at 11pm. He will also be doing an in-store performance at Amoeba Music on Sunday, July 27th at 5pm.

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