Jam Tales: Narada Michael Walden
Updated: Dec 29, 2020
Michael Walden was given the name, "Narada" (he pronounces it, "Nar-da") by Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual leader who taught meditation in the West after moving to New York City in 1964. "Narada" is a Vedic sage, famous in Hindu traditions as a travelling musician and storyteller, who carries news and enlightening wisdom. Based on my brief interaction with Narada Michael Walden, I'd say the name is apt; I found him to be a very warm and affirming person.
BTW: Sri Chinmoy is the same guru who anointed Carlos Santana as, "Devadip" ("The lamp, light and eye of God") and John McLaughlin as, "Mahavishnu" (a combination of “maha,” meaning "great," and the name of the Hindu deity, Vishnu).
I had known of Narada Michael Walden for decades; I became aware of him as the drummer with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the mid '70's. He was the drummer on Chick Corea's, "My Spanish Heart" and Jeff Beck's "Wired." He's played with Alphonso Johnson, Allen Holdsworth, Jaco Pastorius, Weather Report, Robert Fripp and Carlos Santana. I had all these albums. Most recently he has become the drummer for Journey.
From 1977 on he has had multiple recordings of his own charting on the US and UK R&B, Hip-Hop and Dance charts.
On top of all that, he's a multiple grammy-winning producer. He's produced records by George Benson, Mariah Carey, Ray Charles, Natalie Cole, Sheena Easton, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Whitney Huston, Al Jarreau, Elton John, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Eddie Murphy, The Pointer Sisters, Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Starship, The Temptations - the list goes on and on.
So...it just so happens that Narada Michael Walden and I have a mutual friend. This mutual friend shall remain anonymous.
The mutual friend had talked me up to Narada - a lot, apparently. What a great guitarist I was yada yada yada. Trust me when I say I am not on the same level as John McLaughlin, Allen Holdsworth or any number of other musicians that are peers of Narada.
So you can appreciate that I was understandably a little nervous when, after several failed attempts, the mutual friend showed up at the Saturday Afternoon Jam at Harling's with Narada in tow, specifically to see me play, but also to check out the scene at Harling’s.
Many times, for a multitude of reasons, a big name will want to remain anonymous. Narada instructed Mama Ray to introduce him as, "Spike" and not talk him up.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special guest drummer that's going to sit in. Give a big, warm welcome for Spike!"
Our drummer at the time, Don Glaza (RIP), in awe and reverence gave up the drum chair.
As "Spike" sat down behind the drums and started arranging things (1/32 of an inch makes a huge difference to a drummer), I was thinking to myself,
"Self, when this guy looks up from his drums he's used to seeing John McLaughlin, Santana, Jeff Beck or Sting. Today he's going to see ME!"
I actually started psyching myself out!
Then I thought, "Self, you gotta stop thinking like this or you're gonna f--k this up! Just be yourself; contests are for horses!"
From the moment "Spike" hit the first downbeat the intensity level shot through the roof. The vibe was amazing! I can't describe it. By the third or 4th bar I was completely comfortable. I remember thinking,
"Yeah! I can hang with this guy!"
As I remember he played most of a set and stayed the whole rest of the day and listened. He told me later that my solo on "Song for You" was the best solo he'd ever heard on that song.
Wow. It's nice to be affirmed like that by someone you look up to. I wish I could remember what I played that day.
I was very impressed by his drumming (of course!) as well as his personality. He had a wonderful, positive aura about him. I would dearly like to pick his brain about his experience with Sri Chinmoy and his spiritual journey in general.
No one in the audience that day had any idea who they were listening to. A lot of the musicians that were there to jam knew who he was; some were too intimidated to play.
After the gig we hung out for a few minutes and our mutual friend snapped a picture:
That happened in 2001. The above picture has been posted in the Photos section of my site, MasterGuitar.com since then and is one of the featured photos on my FaceBook page.
In April of this year, this notice appeared from my Facebook feed:
So 19 years later I guess it's now ok to dispense with the "Spike" moniker!
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