Updated: Jul 12, 2019
Once upon a time I had a rock and soul band called Animal Planet.
It started as a three-piece in 1996 or so as I meandered and tried to find my voice. In addition to me on guitar and vocals, Steve Camilleri was on drums and Mark Umphred played bass. We released a record called Wag! in 1997, patiently produced, recorded and mixed by Mike Sak who owned Trackmaster studios in Buffalo at the time.
Camilleri couldn't stay with the band, much to my disappointment as he was fabulous, but he was highly in demand and moving to Nashville around then. We had a drummer called Mark Garcia for a spell, but AP became a tour de force when drummer, Gordie Rogers joined the band, our third drummer at that point. Very Spinal Tap, I know. Gordie knew everyone in town it seemed and we soon added the killer horn section of Jim Runfola on sax (who brilliantly charted horns for the songs) and Jim Bohm on trumpet, the incredibly soulful backup singers Charlotte Muhammad, Lisa Rushton, both of whom had been out with James Brown, and Nikki Hicks and keyboardist and world class gospel influenced vocal arranger, Percy Jones III. Mark Umphred was still on bass at that time. He was a good creative partner for a while, though our working relationship always went into crisis mode when I’d book recording dates because he never thought we were ready. I remember arguing with him about it and saying that records were snap shots. Take one and move on to the next one. But unlike snapshots, the material will always evolve no matter how ‘ready’ you are. I suspect we’d still be working on Wag! if I’d stuck with Mark. I've familiarized myself with preparation, but ready? I still don't know what that is. That expanded lineup recorded Dawn in 1998, with some additional help from singer Jim Cammarata and a few others who dropped by. Jim hung around for a few AP shows after that, but I never could talk him out of his self imposed musical exile after playing with another Buffalo band that left a bad taste he couldn't shake. I'd have happily had him as lead vocalist for the group if he was willing. The record was produced and recorded by Armand Petri at Trackmaster Studios, Select Sound and Tarbox studios, with additional engineering by Marc Hunt.
It was Armand who told me that Nick Blagona was living in Toronto at the time and available for mastering. I couldn’t believe it as he’d recorded, engineered and/or produced so many of my favorite records. So Nick not only mastered this record in 1998 at Metalworks in Toronto, he kindly remastered it for this release. I remember thinking all those years ago I’d happily pay Nick’s day rate just to hear his stories. I’m eternally grateful to Armand for that introduction as Nick, his wife Mary Jane, and I have been great friends ever since and I haven’t done a record without Nick ever since either.
Animal Planet drew decent crowds in Buffalo for a while, the best of which were at a jazz club called the Calumet where no rock bands had played before us, but the touring and bigger shows didn’t happen until some time later. I pressed a few hundred copies of Dawn, maybe more. We sold some at the AFE/USO shows we performed around the world and at local gigs. I’ve got one copy left, I think. But suffice to say it’s never been widely available until now.
After Dawn, the AP revolving door continued with Umphred out and Michael Swain temporarily and kindly filling in on bass for a while until Rodney Appleby joined the band on bass and vocals, and what a productive creative relationship that turned out to be. Percy Jones and Charlotte coupled up and moved to Atlanta, and Paul Zablotski joined the band on keys and became a great friend and travel mate when we hit the road as well. I think Paul’s first show with us might have been at Woodstock 99 on a few day’s notice, when we played on the emerging artist’s stage, thanks to our then manager Bruce Pilato, who would later hook us up to work with Greg Lake. Michael Swain played bass at that show as well. And after Paul smartened up and started saying ‘no’ to my tour offers my brother from another mother, Geno McManus joined for some touring on second guitar and vocals. Why posthumously change the band name from “Animal Planet” to “Michael Lee Jackson and the Gatos Malos”? Good question. I probably should have leaded with this. The answer is that Discovery Channel owns the name Animal Planet pretty broadly and I haven’t used that name in a long long time. I want people to be able to find this record. I used to have www.animalplanet.net, but Discovery Channel has that now (I know, I know, I should have sold it to them...). Discovery Channel once sent a cease and desist letter to me about using the name, Animal Planet. When I replied on legal letterhead and let them know any action would be vigorously defended, I also suggested that perhaps the world was big enough for their increasingly well-known network and my likely never to be too widely known indie band, I never heard from them again.
So when I thought about putting Dawn and our next record, Toast, out digitally as a prelude to a new record, Satisfaction Garage, which I recorded last year with some of the guys I thought I’d use my name and call the band “The Gatos Malos” and use that for the last couple Animal Planet records as well. For me, the Gatos Malos refers to the loosely grouped revolving band of outstanding musicians I’ve had the pleasure and honor to play with, often feeling as though I was the weakest musician in the room, humbled by how good they are and thankful for them putting up with me trying to breathe life into some of my dreams. I still feel that way, and the music we’ve recorded is a deeply flavorful soup of our varied influences. It always takes a village.
Stay tuned for release dates for “Toast,” originally recorded and pressed in a small batch in 2000, and the brand spankin' new release “Satisfaction Garage” both to be released in the next few months.
And since this is digital and there’s no booklet, per se, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Bob Mussell for the cover photos, shot in front of an apartment building in the Allentown district of Buffalo where by buddy Tom Irwin lived, and in fact the guitar I'm holding on the cover was one of his. And while we're on that subject, I used Tom's '71 Telecaster on Ultimate Groove, linked below, which I didn't return until after my 2006 tour with Ian Gillan, if not later. If that had been a library book, I'd be in deep shit. Thanks and sorry, Tom. The two versions of me, passing at dawn and the other odd bits were the master work of a very talented graphic artist, Sam Vacanti, who either went missing or whom I must have offended as I was never able to get him to answer the phone or do any work after that.
The track list for Dawn is:
1. Ultimate Groove
2. State of Mind
3. Venezuelan Moon
4. Killing Zone
5. True Love
6. One More Ticket
7. Carpe Diem
8. Walk Away
9. Past Lives
10. Best of Intentions
12. So We Remain
Dawn will go on sale and will be streaming digitally pretty much everywhere on July 19. Pre-sales where such things are done should be up later today or by tomorrow July 11.
Below is a link to the first track on Dawn, Ultimate Groove, a song later re-recorded by Ian Gillan on his One Eye to Morocco record.
And you thought I was just home cooking this summer. Well I am, but in addition to food, I’m cooking up releases of old and new stuff, and lots more. Stay tuned.
Cheers for now, MLJ