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Mick Lee: Undiscovered Dinosaur

If I were to reconstruct my life memory by memory, the central building blocks would have names and faces—they’d be people. The earliest memory within reach, to the best of my ability to make such a distinction, is of my mother softly singing a lullaby as she rocks me outside on a starry night. This primal recollection would be a pretty good model for any attempt to intellectually define my life: interactions with the natural world infused with artistic nourishment. And for me, music is a vital conduit for that nourishment.

Important to this self-evaluation is the fact that I am not a musician. Mine is a sensual experience compounded by a sometimes annoying curiosity for details. If music moves me, I try to understand the full process. Mick Lee, who is a musician, says I am an “avid” (ah-vēd). Once I got past the reflexive anxiety caused by this casual nouning of a handy adjective, I accepted the identifier. My name is Phil, and I am a music avid.

Mick Lee first came to my attention via social media. He had posted a YouTube video featuring “Magic Hands,” a song he had written and recorded for his friend Chris Wood, a member of the band Traffic. Chris Wood’s music is intricately woven into the fabric of my life, so naturally I gave the tune a proper listen. The emotional pull of the song is strong, lyrically and musically. The production itself is uncomplicated and sincere. “Magic Hands” is simply a loving tribute to a friend. It works.

Traffic, whose musical prime was from 1967-1974, was a band built around Wood (sax, flute, keyboards, percussion), Jim Capaldi (drums, percussion, vocals) and Steve Winwood (guitar, keyboards, percussion, vocals). All three were composers, with Capaldi being the primary lyricist. There were several other extraordinary musicians joining this magnificent triumvirate over the years, but they were the creative force. The music they brought, whether in the studio or on the stage, was inseparable from their own life energies. That’s what drew me in as a teenager, and it’s still a strong attraction as I navigate my middle-age years.

This may sound a bit dramatic, but during my teen years Traffic taught me how to listen to the music that stretches inside and beyond a song. Soon I could separate and rejoin the sounds of each instrument—including the vocals—in my head while staying firmly locked within the groove itself. From that point on I would experience music on a holistic level beyond the lure of lyrical hooks.

Mick Lee understands the language I use when describing music, but he doesn’t speak it; he speaks about music as a musician, which is its own language. This is why when he is in a room with someone such as Delbert McClinton, there is a recognition that transcends performer and audience. As Mick describes it, “At an outdoor show in Stratton, Vermont, Delbert started pulling women up on stage to dance during ‘Giving It Up for Your Love.’ I hopped up there and danced over toward him. When the choruses came around I sang the harmony right in his ear. He looked at me in happy surprise and stuck the mic in my face. We sang the choruses out together on one mic. Magic. After the gig we discovered we had friends in common, including Scooter. I was glad to make Delbert’s acquaintance; the man is one of my favorite singers.”

There was recognition between Delbert and Mick in that encounter—not recognition about status or commercial achievement, but recognition of vision. In that moment, they were peers.

This is how Mick writes about encounters with musicians such as Graham Bond, Sheryl Crow, and Gladys Knight—not that they are equals in accomplishment or talent, but that they possess a vision which only pure musicians share. Whether the business world or the fickleness of fandom recognizes this special vision is irrelevant to its existence. The vision—experiencing the vision—is what matters. Unfortunately, one can’t satisfy a mailbox full of blues with a big dose of vision. And thus the never-ending struggle of reconciling artistic awareness with worldly demands. That’s the conflict powering the story of Undiscovered Dinosaur; the theme—and this is essential to understanding the energy nourishing the book—is music.

Undiscovered Dinosaur isn’t a history of the music scene, nor is it an autobiography. As an author, Mick doesn’t even dance with such pretensions. His book is a personal memoir written in the voice of a musician recollecting a life in music, a life that includes friendships and experiences with musicians of all sorts and conditions—from celebrated rock & roll royalty to anonymous street-corner buskers.

The names and faces come and go, but the music lives forever. In the end the music is the discovery.

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