Leslie Star Drums Milton Website - Gael's Music Bio
- GAEL "LADY KEYS" KURATH - Music Bio
I was six years old when I first laid hands on piano keys. My three sisters and I all had to take piano lessons from Mrs. Hoadley back in La Grange Illinois, just west of Chicago. I never asked her, but I would bet Mrs. Hoadley never listened to a lick of blues in her life, and neither did I back then. I grew up listening to 1960s AM radio like all my friends, and I played classical and pop piano through high school. The first live blues I ever heard was Albert King in Chicago. I don't remember my date, but I'll never forget Albert King that night. More cool in one man than I had ever imagined. The music just rocked me - drew me forward in rhythm all night - it was a turning point. I started buying blues records just to get familiar with the artists. I bought Lightening Hopkins because I liked the photo on the album cover, Howlin' Wolf because I liked the name. These albums lit me up. I had never really related to Rock and Roll, so I didn't find these blues artists by tracing back from rock groups like many other people. I found them over time in my own search for what I had felt from Albert King. I went to hear all the live blues I could, both local and national. Highlights were BB King, Koko Taylor, more Albert King of course, and James Cotton in his prime. This was the music that could reach deep inside of me and twist my very core.
For a long time my piano playing didn't connect with my growing passion for blues because I was reading from written music, and I knew you couldn't play blues that way. So, when I finished graduate school in my other love, microbiology, I took a job in up-state New York and started my own payback. It sounds like an oxymoron, but you can take lessons in improvisation. It's hard to break the long habit of using written music. I struggled at first, frustrated at how sorry my playing was. But then one night I happened to be playing in the dark, and suddenly I could improvise. I started to think in different channels for the first time; part of my brain for the bass line, part for the rhythm, and still another part for solo lines. This was another turning point - from then on I played along with Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, and James Cotton records until I could play blues in every key, and I was blissfully free of written music. This was about 1986.
I can't remember when the idea of playing in a blues band took seed, but around 1990 I signed up for my first blues jam at a favorite bar, and when they called "Shake Your Money Maker" I felt like the stage was home. That was turning point number three. So when I moved to Seattle in 1992 for my dream job studying salmon viruses, I also answered an ad that read "Blues band forming, needs keyboards, be over 35 and employed." Perfect! That hooked me up with the BlueNecks. They were my first band, and that's where I really learned to play with other musicians. We had a great selection of blues, and lots of fun over the next three years of rehearsals and local Seattle gigs. I then spent two years with the marvelous Ms. Mauva Bell playing "Party music with soul". Mauva is a gifted and wild soul singer and a dear friend. During this time I also began playing occasional gigs with the fabulous guitarist and musician Nicole Fournier in Tacoma, and gained another true friend and partner in the blues.
Then on Halloween night in 1998, the biggest turning point came in a duo gig at the Alligator Soul with the amazing "Leslie Star Drums Milton" - a true "living blues legend". I still marvel that I was ever given that opportunity, and even more that we have now played at the Alligator Soul in Everett every Saturday since then for over eleven years. Leslie is not only, without a doubt, the best drummer I have ever heard, he is also one of the greatest human beings I have ever had the privilege of knowing. His impeccable rhythm, boundless energy, and life-long experience as a professional musician combine to create the perfect situation for musical growth. I will always thank him for the incredible leap in musicianship I have experienced due to him, and also to our wonderful manager, "Music Mama". Together, they literally forced me to sing, and taught me to enjoy interacting with the audience so that it feels like a party every Saturday night. Musically my piano is very exposed in a duo, but also incredibly free. My left-hand bass lines have become stronger, and there is so much space that I can literally do whatever comes to my fingers at the spur of the moment. And if I get too settled in, Leslie will do something surprising, like throw me a drum stick, so that it's never predictable. What is predictable is that my wonder-man husband comes to the party every Saturday too, with his love and support for the music, and for me. The Alligator Soul has become a very treasured part of life, and the music we create there brings us close to many wonderful people. That is the real gift of playing the blues, and it just keeps getting better.