Craig Peyton's Overflight Ep. 3
Overflight attendants, please prepare for takeoff…
By the mid-80s, Craig Peyton had already shifted from a beasting-in-the-underground run of (now pretty friggin legendary) prog and fusion projects into a slightly more steady career as a writer, producer and player in the synth wonderland of NYC’s house and R&B scenes. Now, he makes another quantum shift.
Beginning in 1986 with a project called Latitude (a collaboration with guitarist Ben Verdery), Craig begins to deal in tones and moods more often associated with new age and smooth jazz. But not so fast there, bud. It’s not not new age and smooth jazz. It’s just melodies and arrangements in this era perhaps require a touch of patience and active listening. We can fully assure you that they would work as well if laid across some dance floor beat. And maybe it’s just that by 1986 Craig had been in the clubs for 8 years. He’d been there, done that and he had reached cruising altitude.
But before we got too much further into this new zone, can we just share with you Craig’s unabridged story of how he met Ben Verdery? Thank you. Here goes:
“There's a private school in Danbury Connecticut called Wooster School. Ben's father was the headmaster. My parents ran the art department. I’d dropped out of high school in 9th grade and was going to pursue drums full-time. But my mother talked me into visiting the school, and after realizing the quality of the drugs the rich Wooster students got from an all night party, I told my mom I'd attend. It was a small male-only prep school & I felt very distant from the students as a local yokel. But I got to know Ben. Around ninth grade (which I had to repeat since I dropped out of high school), Ben came over one day with his guitar from a recommendation from someone to jam with me…We hardly said a word to each other since I didn't really know him. He plugged in and I got on the drums and we played music for three straight hours, beginning a lifelong musical friendship connection. The politics are always tricky with Ben because his father was the top administrator and my parents were treated quite a bit differently — and ultimately got fired for influencing some of these kids to become artists, which the prep school didn't really want happening blah blah blah.”
So, some 20 years after that 9th grade jam session, Craig and Ben get together and make a FOR ALL FUCKING TIME aviation-inspired smooth funk new age album. Life is long and wild. This kind of seemingly mundane but incredible shit is why we lose money keeping the lights on over here at UHQ. But okay so how did Craig arrive at such a place? One might conjecture that this shift in his art in the mid-80s might have everything to do with a new, more professional embrace of his lifelong love affair with flying. Or maybe once Latitude scored a #1 spot on Billboard’s New Age chart with their song “40 Degrees North,” he followed his nose.
As a boy, Craig would run out into the field near his house to watch the yellow biplanes spray DDT for mosquito control, playing in the clouds of fog as they drifted down (“Not something I would recommend for children.”). He read anything about aviation he could get his hands on and quite literally wore the “aviation” pages of the family encyclopedia down to tatters. To this day, Craig keeps a huge library of flying books. On a recent family vacation, he crushed an 800 page book covering the history of zeppelins and Pan-American airlines, which strangely were in high competition back in the early 30s. As a stoned high schooler, he and his friends would convince local pilots to give them rides in their small prop planes. “I pretty much new how to do the controls by 16,” Craig said.
The next decade or so, we’ve pretty much told you about. The amphetamine-fueled jam session, the sleeping in cars, surviving on pizza, fusion fever dreams, etc. When the first bit of royalties came in for his contribution to Dan Hartman’s hit record, Craig spent his money on flying lessons. His friends and bandmates were bemused if not a bit peeved. “It made a lot of my friends angry that I wasn't playing my cards well enough in the music scene, but flying was in my blood,” he said. The day he got his piloting license, he bought an old Cessna 172 and used that aircraft to get his advanced instrument license. Soon after, he became a private pilot and got the Mooney MJ20 he’s been flying for the last 42 years, logging over 6000 hours. In June 2022, Craig flew his Mooney from upstate New York to our very own Bloomington International Airport to have dinner, walk around the empty Indiana University campus and deliver a few hundred or so old tapes and CDs from the era we write about here for you today (Name your price!).
The cover to our Overflight compilation features a classic control panel for a retro Mooney MJ20. When Craig saw the cover art, he was aghast. “I’ll be the laughing stock among all my pilot friends!” he worried. He’s upfitted his old Mooney with the latest, greatest technology, even an iPad mount. He took a photo and implored us to use that instead. We convinced him to use the retro image. And so, if you are reading this and you are, in fact, a pilot friend of Craig’s, please message us. We’ll give Craig an extra dollar for every 2x cassette sold.
“Of course it affected me musically,” Craig said. “But I always loved longform ambient pattern improvisational music somewhere where Miles Davis meets Ornette Coleman — but still studies with James Brown somehow. Most of the time you fly, you're just listening to one drowning sound so of course that has to have some effect. And obviously, I would try to sneak Aviation themes into my song titles!”
Necessity being the mother of invention and all, Craig started making his own music videos by affixing cameras — 8mm and then 35mm — to the wings of his planes. He released VHS albums ‘40 Degrees North’, ‘Tropical Escape’ (ft. single “Edwina’s Dream”), and ‘Songs From Home (ft. single “Good Morning”). And in 1991, he founded a multi-media company called EarthFlight Productions, which has licensed Craig’s vast archive of flight footage to music videos for Beyoncé and Jay-Z and to films like toejazz cinema classic ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ (1996). Since 2019, Peyton has been The Flight Ambassador to the Bahamas, which might be a fabricated title but who cares?!!? Scroll up to see some of his deadass gorgeous Bahamas footage.
“Little did I expect that strapping a 35mm camera to my Mooney would to lead to a whole career in stock footage — which would bail me out of the ups and downs of music and help me raise my boy,” Peyton said.
And goddamn, we haven’t even talked about the music, the jams and the albums from this era — Latitude One, Emotional Velocity, Lifeline, The Web. But it’s all here for you. Fuck around (i.e. preorder the tape) and find out. LIKE, PLEASE? Because come next episode, Craig about to take a serious nosedive dun-dun-dun.