In 2000 Animal Planet recorded Toast with Armand Petri and Nick Blagona sharing producing and mixing duties. The revolving door brought us Rodney Appleby on Bass in place of Mark Umphred, Paul Zablotski on keyboards in place of Percy Jones, and though Nikki Hicks remained on background and occasional lead vocals there were a few other new background singers for that era as well. We still had Gordie Rogers on drums and background vocals, Jim Runfola on sax and horn arrangements and Jim Bohm on trumpet.
Rodney brought much needed nitroglycerine to the rhythm section and vocals, and I got a lot more comfortable stepping away from the mic and letting him and Nikki sing more, which better served those songs. Paul Zablostki had such great reverence for so much of the music that was in my DNA, the rock/blues side of it, that him stepping into the fold was an easy transition. I did miss Percy’s ability to sing like Stevie Wonder and arrange gospel harmonies as well as the Dawn era background singers. But life is full of tradeoffs and change and most of it we can’t control, so onward. This was an evolution and I mostly loved it.
Toast was recorded at the now shuttered and/or moved Starfields studio on Amherst street in Buffalo, New York. Alan Dusel ran that place, and there a great big room for drums which sounded incredible. That was a special room, not particularly tuned up for audio, it just sounded great. We did most of the basic tracks there and finished up at Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Road studio as we did on Dawn. Nick Blagona mastered the record at Metalworks in Toronto where Armand had introduced me to Nick when we mastered Dawn.
There are two cover songs on Toast, “Back in Black” by ACDC and “Too Much Time” by Captain Beefheart. I remember asking Nikki to sing "Back in Black" live before we recorded toast and she said to me “Are you out of your fucking mind?” I replied “of course, I am, and you’re going to love singing this song.” She told me she drove around the hood blasting it and singing along with people looking at her like she was nuts. And then we played it live and it brought the house down every single time. Between our funked up approach with the horn section and Nikki’s glass breaking vocals, it was pretty wicked, so we recorded our arrangement with some suggestions from Armand Petri. I had never heard “Too Much Time” before Armand suggested we record it for Toast, but it’s quirky and fun so when we listened to it I agreed. I couldn’t sing it well at all though, and Rodney made it shine so that track made it to Toast as well with Rodney doing a great job on the vocals.
Toast was never formally released. I did a small pressing of promotional copies, and that was it. I’d venture to say few have ever heard it unless someone in the band played it for you, or unless you got one of the few promotional copies we made way back when. My experience with the prior record, Dawn, taught me how unlikely it was that we could move many copies of Toast. The record executives I met with over and over on the west coast had similar messages. They loved it, their kids, spouses or friends stole their copy etc… and they had no idea how to sell it. I was repeatedly asked in which bin Dawn or Toast would be placed in stores. I always replied, “how about the good fucking music bin?” I’m not bitter, no wait…I am! Well not really. But still, I thought Animal Planet was a great band with a really great fusion of rock, blues, funk and soul, and no one I knew was doing that at the time, at least not like we were. And every time we took a stage, we had all the feedback we needed to know that it was a good gumbo we were serving.
As I’ve mentioned in prior writings, Toast is now set to come out digitally world-wide for the first time. I designed a proper cover for it and re-titled the band name Michael Lee Jackson & the Gatos Malos as I long ago gave up my Animal Planet URL and want people to be able to find this music. The Gatos Malos is the appellation I’ll use for the band of brilliant musicians that have generously loaned their talents to my musical efforts over the years.
Toast will be available everywhere digitally December 10, 2019. The track list is:
1. Bad Luck
2. Get On The Bus
3. Raging Shores
5. Too Much Time
6. San Francisco
7. Don’t Give Up
8. Can’t Plan Your Life
9. Get to the Point
10. Back In Black
12. Love You For Life