As featured in the Rochester, NY D&C newspaper
New Age, same relaxing wave
Staff music critic
(December 13, 2007) — According to local legend, the old Rochester rock band Lincoln Zephyr opened for Jimi Hendrix, back in 1967. Not exactly a true story, concedes Marshall Styler. "I saw that in the bio they send out about me," he says. "Actually ... we helped set up his equipment."
Heavy lifting aside, Styler was at dead center of the Rochester scene at its liveliest for more than a decade. An era when Lincoln Zephyr was the local LSD band, playing clubs like Mystical Dreams on South Avenue. Where, as Styler recalls, "Everybody would just lay on the floor and stare at the lights until 4 a.m."
The urge is to say Styler has come a long way since then, considering he's now a New Age pianist who has sold about 600,000 albums out of his home in Austin, Texas. So you read on the back of his new album, A Face in the Clouds, that this is music "designed to relax, heal and to uplift the body, mind and soul. Perfect for massage, yoga, and the healing arts."
And then you realize: Styler is still playing the perfect music for just lying on the floor and staring at the lights until 4 a.m.
In Rochester, Styler is best remembered for having moved on from Lincoln Zephyr to become singer, songwriter and keyboardist with what was, without dispute, the biggest rock band to have ever emerged from here. Duke Jupiter released seven albums on major labels, opened for the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Bowie, Bob Seger, ZZ Top and Blue Oyster Cult, and had a hit video during the very early days of MTV. And there was that notorious free show one Sunday summer day at Ontario Beach Park, when the band drew an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people.
Now, Styler plays what he calls landscapes. Despite the label warning of yoga-friendly music ahead, "It wasn't designed to do anything," he insists. "But when you're in the bins at Barnes & Noble, you kind of have to explain this to people.
"The music itself is a complete accident. We were up in Rochester one freezing winter, in the loft the band used to practice in. I think it was the old Hickey-Freeman building, sixth floor. I did a solo piano thing, and left it laying around, then sent it to my future wife as a valentine. And she asked me, 'What are you trying to sell this rock and roll for? Why don't you sell this?'"
Within a year, Styler had moved to Austin, a place he had glimpsed while touring with Duke Jupiter, got married, and re-launched his career playing his new sound solo on synthesizer and piano. "I played just about every hotel and restaurant in Austin, for 10 years, until I burned out," he says. "By then, CD sales were taking off, and I was able to quit doing that." As she had predicted, his wife, Kate, sells the stuff.
It is not the elusive, greased-pig world of hit making. "I'll probably be long gone before anybody listens to this music," the 59-year-old Styler says. "It's hard to find music that stays consistently quiet. I'm not afraid to put people to sleep.
"Sometimes the only thing in my wild life that makes any sense at all is sitting down at the piano and playing. I've got kids all over the place, my wife has been dealing with breast cancer for eight years. She still looks like a movie star, but it's something we deal with every day."
He gets e-mails from kids with cancer who listen to his music. "I was signing CDs the other day, and a woman came up to me and said her father, on the last day of his life, listened to Jericho all day, and died the next day. I didn't know what to say at that point. Good? Sometimes it gets awkward, but I understand what the deal is."
He's come a long way, only to see aspects of his past drifting back to him. He's playing out live again. And there was more to the night that he and his Lincoln Zephyr band mates helped Hendrix set up for his show; Hendrix was opening for the Monkees at the Community War Memorial that night, and Lincoln Zephyr's drummer ended up driving Hendrix around town; Hendrix sat in the back seat, saying, "I wish I could stay back here forever." Styler has taken those whimsical words from a guy who was just months from erupting as a superstar, and written a song around it.
Maybe Duke Jupiter will record it. The band plays a reunion every few years here, and Styler wonders if it would be up to a studio session. "I've had some songs sitting around for 20 years that have been haunting me," he says. "I'm thinking about making copies for the boys. We're still the best of friends, and it's always a hoot to get up there and play."
Duke Jupiter came disappointingly close to making it big. "Luckily we were stupid and didn't know any better," Styler says. "Ultimately, it led me here. This is apparently where I was supposed to be. I knew I needed some sunshine and a different outlook. Up north, people get very crabby. I think the only people making money during the winter are the liquor stores.
"I'm almost glad we didn't have a major hit. I would have been playing Holiday Inns for the rest of my life."