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Wayne Leechford

 

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 by Andy Long  

With Ozone Quartet, the band that he formed with electric violinist Hollis Brown, Chapman Stick player Wayne Leechford cut two albums of eclectic instrumental rock music that drew a lot of interest from progressive rock crowds around the world. 

'Fresh Blood' (1997) and 'Nocturne' (1999) drew on a variety of musical influences, including classical and jazz. Critics made obvious comparisons to King Crimson, Dixie Dregs and the Mahavishnu Orchestra amongst others. 

That old story of personnel changes and internal disputes led to the final break-up of Ozone Quartet in 2000 and since that time Wayne has been putting together a new band, Polydactyl. The initial settling in period for the new band has also resulted in a few line-up shuffles. So when I spoke to Wayne recently, I asked him whether Polydactyl were now settled into a more permanent format. 

'I hope so! It's been extremely difficult keeping Polydactyl on a steady course. The original line-up consisted of me on Stick, Jim Crew on keyboards, Francis Dyer on drums, and Jeremy Shaw on guitar. Fran, Jeremy, and I were three-fourths of Ozone Quartet. Everything started out great, but both Fran and Jeremy started to have conflicts getting to rehearsals.

After a few months without any real progress, I decided it would be best to replace them. I brought guitarist Kenny Thompson on board (another former Ozoner) and drummer Brian Donohoe.

Brian had played with an instrumental band called Volare from Athens, Georgia. I knew him before and admired his playing. We get along great too!

So, after two and a half years and only three performances Polydactyl seems to be finally getting off the ground.'

Wayne believes that Polydactyl's music has moved on from that of Ozone Quartet in a number of ways. 

'Ozone Quartet's music was thoroughly composed. Even the solos were written out! It made performing live a little tedious after a while.

Polydactyl is a bit different. There are structured songs, but all solos are improvised and the length of the solos can vary from performance to performance.

The approach is more organic though the formula is similar. All instrumental rock, sometimes aggressive, with various other styles thrown in for good measure. I guess the big difference was that Ozone's sound was dominated by the violin and Polydactyl's sound is more of a blend with an electronic element.'

So what about that Progressive Rock label then?

I could hear the elements that other writers and fans have picked out, but what genre would the band cast themselves in?

'Every member of the band comes from very different musical backgrounds. Jim and I are both schooled and are heavily influenced by jazz. Kenny has a solid working background with R&B and cover bands. Brian is self-taught. Somehow, we managed to come together. We are all familiar with prog rock, but that is only a small component of our influences.' 

The Ozone Quartet fans must, by now, be chomping at the bit to hear a Polydactyl album. There are a few soundclips on the web to whet their appetites, but so far no CD. 

'When the band originally formed, we had plans to record our first CD in the spring of 2001. That was before all the personnel changes. We are working on new material at the moment and are planning to go into the studio in May to start laying down tracks. We expect our first CD to be released later this year. We have talked to the Laser's Edge Group about releasing our recording for us on their new Free Electric Sound label, but no contracts have been signed.

Wayne is a multi-instrumentalist and has also worked as a music teacher at Shaw University and Cary School of Music. Like so many other musicians from various fields he found himself drawn to the versatility of the Chapman Stick. 

'I also play saxophone, clarinet, flute, bass, and guitar. Before I got my first Stick, I had always been intrigued by the instrument. I was first exposed to it through King Crimson's music. I knew the bass sound on the 80's Crimson records was unique. When I checked out the liner notes I noticed Tony Levin was playing "Stick".

I had no idea what that meant until I saw the "Live in Japan" video from the same era of the band. I was blown away! I never imagined playing Stick, but one day I noticed an ad in a local record store.

It was offering a Stick for sale or trade for an acoustic guitar. I had an Ovation acoustic at the time. I rushed home to call the guy and set up an appointment to see his instrument. He hadn't played it in a really long time and there were no strings on it. After talking to him and telling him how much I was interested, he gladly accepted my trade. I was thrilled!

I called every musician friend I knew to tell them about MY new instrument. I quickly called Stick Enterprises to order strings. Within a month I had started my first band in which I played Stick. The rest is history.

The Stick is very unique. I have been able to play and compose things that I would have never thought of on another instrument. It offers advantages over the other instruments I play because it is more complete - like a keyboard.  

Since I never really played keyboards the Stick opened a whole new world of musical ideas for me. Mainly thinking of bass and melody at the same time and playing independently. Also, in a band context it really fills up the sound. You can have less people and still sound huge!  

I don't think I would have been able to accomplish the things I have musically if I had not found the Stick.' 

Wayne has played a few different models but found himself gravitating back to an instrument similar to that first model. 

'I only have one Stick right now. It's a purple heart 10-string. I bought it in 1997 and it's been a great instrument. I use the standard bass/baritone melody tuning with heavy gauge strings on the melody side.

Previously I had an early 80's ironwood model (similar to the one Tony Levin was using during the 80's Crimson period), a Grand Stick, and an NS/Stick. All of these instruments are in good hands now with other players.

After trying different models and tunings, I have come full circle back to the original configuration I started with.' 

In closing I asked Wayne to tell us about any other projects he is currently involved in. 

'In addition to Polydactyl, I have been working in a duo format with drummer Steve Shelton. He used to be in a heavy metal band called Confessor. They were around in the late 80's and early 90's on the Earache/Relativity label.

Confessor was tuning down to C way before Korn or Limp Bizkit! They were real innovators. His playing is complex and layered and we have a real synergy between us.

I also play MIDI bass pedals to fill out our sound. We are working on a demo right now and expect to start gigging sometime this spring. We have thrown around the idea of adding a guitar player, but so far nothing has worked out. It's fun just playing with one other person. It sure makes it a hell of a lot easier to schedule rehearsals!

Check out Polydactyl at www.polydactylweb.com and Wayne's site at: www.wayneleechford.com

 

Andy Long is our correspondent in the U.K. and the author of numerous articles in Global Bass for a number of issues. Andy will be continuing over 2002 with a series of interesting and provocative interviews with some of the UK's best and brightest bass players. 

Check out his official website at Third Bass



 

 

 

 

 

                                  

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