Local saxophone legend Mike Quinn grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut, about an hour outside the Big Apple, but ever since he picked up a degree in poetry and fiction writing from College of Charleston, he has been an integral member of the Lowcountry’s dynamic music scene. We recently caught up with Quinn to talk about his past, the diverse run of shows he’ll be a part of this season, and his hopes for the future.
City Paper: What sort of sounds helped to put you on the path?
Mike Quinn: My early influences were wide ranging. My first notable influence was Huey Lewis and the News. My dad gave me a cassette when I was 7 or 8, the Sports album — it was my first item of music — and I was obsessed. I asked him what that sound was, and he said it was the saxophone. And, so it began. I then heard and became enthralled by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Fats Waller. And, I had always heard classic rock on the radio because that’s what my parents were listening to. My dad played a lot of Cream and Jeff Beck at the house, but there were a few introductions that really blew my mind. Jimi Hendrix is number one. Man, did that rock my world. My buddy Tom Opalak introduced me to Jimi and Led Zeppelin. My sister introduced me to Phish and The Allman Brothers Band. This was middle school, 7th and 8th grade, but Jimi Hendrix to this day I would say is the most influential artist for me: pure artistry.
CP: Is there anything unique, as far as your music goes, about being based in Charleston?
MQ: Many folks seem to think that the Charleston music scene is unique, and I have certainly said as much in the past. I do know that this is a very good place to be a gigging musician. You can make a healthy living playing locally, especially if you’ve got some hustle. Other cities don’t have the gigging infrastructure and also do not have the non-competitive nature or atmosphere that we do here. There can be a lot of jealousy or resentment that develops in scenes where resources like infrastructure or talent are limited. We have none of that here. It is an amazingly supportive scene. I mean, it’s pretty incredible.
CP: Can you tell us about some of the projects you are affiliated with these days?
MQ: Doom Flamingo [Charleston’s own synthwave sensation] definitely has some legs right now, which we are super-stoked about. Motown Throwdown is another band in which we are all playing music that we really love — Soul music. It’s our church. Gino Castillo and the Cuban Cowboys is also a big one for me. I’ve developed such an intense love for this style of music, and the musicianship in this band is off the charts. If you’ve never heard Abdiel Iriarte [the keys player] you should stop everything you’re doing and go find him. Shimmy Ghøster is another one — it is an improv trio — 100% improvised front-to-back. It’s one of the hardest and most rewarding bands I play in. I also have a new project called Rad Gumbo which is super fun. We take all sorts of songs from across genres and place them snugly within the New Orleans musical traditions: zydeco, second line, the Meters. It’s hilarious, we’re constantly surprising ourselves with how we will rework and up-end all these tunes.
CP: You’re also a part of the upcoming Herbie Hancock tribute May 30. Why do you think Herbie Hancock still matters?
MQ: Oh, man … Herbie … he matters because he not only helped create and define entire genres or sounds, but because in his originality he is still uncompromising! He represents the cerebral, the soulful, the explorative, the free, the spontaneous, the calculated — all at the same time and in the most honest way. He’s one of the ultimate musicians in my mind. We have all always loved his music, but it’s really freaking hard. So, it was both a challenge and an obvious choice, because we’re all such funk-heads. You can expect some crazy weird tunes, as well as some regular sounding funky ones that night.
CP: You never seem to slow down. What comes next for you?
MQ: I try not to think too far in advance, honestly. My dad always talked about the five-year goal. I think I am more of a three-year goal kind of guy. I always want there to be enough room for improvisation to build myself a new path. Mostly, I just want to make music with epic people. Oh, and to build a family with my absolutely incredible wife, [Dance Lab owner and Charleston Arts Festival dance director] Jenny Broe.
Mike Quinn plays with Motown Throwdown and Shimmy Ghøster on May 23, the Funk Revue’s Herbie Hancock Tribute on May 30 at Charleston Pour House.