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Craig Peyton's Overflight Ep. 2
The NYC Producer Years 1981-1987
The last time we caught up with vibraphonist and songwriter Craig Peyton, he’d just released his third jazz fusion project under a third band name in almost as many years. Now, it’s the wild-n-woolly early 80s in New York City. And through his contributions to Dan Hartmans’s 1979 disco hit “Vertigo/Relight My Fire” and his work with producer Darryl Payne, Craig found himself among a group of players and producers just as disco was mutating into exciting new forms — into hip-hop and house music; into no wave and dance-punk. The R&B coming out of the scene in that era might just compel one to cut a cardboard rug and breakdance. In this latest installment of our definitive Overflight compilation, we go in on this unsung part of Craig’s musical journey.
As Craig tells it, he was in a Jamaican hotel room at some point during this particular moment in his career, proper zooted and watching the weather report, allowing the echo machines the TV station had mic’d to the forecaster (yes, this is how they do the weather report there) wash over him. And somewhere amid that ambient buzz, Craig started wondering what it might sound like if one were to take one of his busier, more aggressive fusion baselines and apply them to dance music. He’d been a longtime fan of William DeVaughn’s hit from a decade prior “Be Thankful for What You Got” and what DeVaughn was able to accomplish with the simplicity of a two-minor-chord construction. “Why cover not that?” he thought. And so, upon his return to NYC, Craig booked some time at a Time Square studio and let rip. The resulting cover, first released by Profile Records in 1983 and presented on digital streaming services for the first time today by ULYSSA, is a haunting and hypnotic krautfunk coup. Whereas DeVaughn’s original was readymade for the slow, Golden Hour cruise through your neighborhood, Craig’s is speedy and sharp. It seems to find a moment of beauty while also battening the hatches for the pinstriped Gordon Gekkos and Alex P. Keatons lurking just around the corner. Craig calls his fusion of, well, Fusion baselines and dance music “insidious.” We poopoo that notion. We might suggest that Craig’s “Be Thankful…”, along with some of the more celebrated songs from that very same year, was rather influential.
Across the next several years, Craig played, produced and programmed for a slew of projects — including Melba Moore, Howard Johnson, Willie Collins, BLYSS and The World’s Famous Supreme Team — all of which in ways both subtle and extreme contain elements of the vibrancy and wizardry he zeroed in on with “Be Thankful…” One of Craig’s collabs from this era — and one very dear to us over here at ULYSSA TV — is 1984’s “Radio-Active” from vibraphonist Mike Mainieri’s (Paul Simon, Michael Franks) group Steps Ahead. The track would surely be right at home on the Strut’s canonizing Disco Not Disco compilation right alongside Arthur Russell, Liquid Liquid and yes, even Steve Miller Band’s underrated “Macho City.” It’s a fusion masterpiece that also really konks you over the head and gets dat ass churning.
During this rather fruitful period, Craig was introduced to arranger/producer/bassist/keyboadist Jolyon Skinner via a mutual music friend. Their demo tapes — originally intended to be released on Craig’s own Peyton Records and only released to the public in 2016 via Machine Age Records — reveal a gauzy and bubbling lo-fi R&B, the very kind of sound that cool kids like Nite Jewel, Com Truise, LA Vampires, DāM-FunK and more would be mining in just 20-30 years. The demos are naturally less busy than Craig’s completed production jobs — no bells or whistle, something almost coldwave if not for all the libido. “Show Your Love,” from our Overflight compilation is intoxicated and a bit vacant, cracked out. But it’s also resilient and charming. A fumbling and good-humored makeout sesh.
By this point, Craig was doing a fair amount of commercial work. In 1987, through a friend at a big shot advertising agency, he fell into a gig with long-distance runner and 1972 Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter who had a vision of making a running cassette comprised of two-40 minutes sides for training runners to play on their Walkmans. He tapped Craig to fulfill this vision. Unfortunately, this agency friend also happened to find himself on a plane ride next to cursed pianist and Entertainment Tonight host John Tesh, to whom he mentioned the running tape project.
“Obviously, Tesh weaseled his way into it using his celebrity credentials,” said Peyton. “I was very unhappy with that and it pretty much polluted the project for me… I was never a big fan of having original music fucked with.”
But now hear this: Craig’s songs on the cassette are truly wonderful. We’ve included an odd one on our compilation. To be totally honest, we fought about which one to choose for nearly two months. But in the end, we decided upon the track “Racer’s Edge.” It’s like the cinematic score to Michael Mann’s Mario Kart. It’s got something close to synth-banjo and an overwhelming sense of Victory. And it’s got one early 80s Nike Waffle running shoe dipped in Toejazz.
Let us consider this Frank Shorter tape just the runway for what’s next from this True American Wildass™. Come Episode 3, we get a whole new vantage point on this shit.