I first heard Kevin Gilbert’s name in a random digression on a music-related mailing list. Here’s the quote that piqued my interest:
“I’m no expert on Kevin Gilbert, or Sheryl Crow, but do know some things… KG pretty much made her. She played keys for him on part of the Toy Matinee gigs I think. KG and some other LA guys had a lil project where they’d all get together on Tues nights (hence Sheryl’s debut albums title) and jam/write songs. They had enough material for an entire album, and Sheryl had been around some of the tues nights (was KG’s girlfriend) so she sang the demo. It made the rounds, someone decided to pick her and the album up and it was produced out and released. When it blew up and she was famous overnight, she talked and acted like it was her baby and she was responsible for the whole thing. So she dumped Kev and started her career. In my opinion it really sucks to claim material that isn’t yours, and then turn your back on the person that wrote most of the stuff and got you your big break. Kev was pretty bitter about this… And yes Kevin died whilst wacking off. Doesn’t mean he wasn’t a brilliant musician/writer.”
Intrigued, I pulled the quote and pasted it into my ever-growing list of nerdy things to investigate, and forgot about it for a year or so. A few months ago I vaguely remembered this story, so I did some googling and found what appears to be the most thorough investigation of the scandal and Mr. Gilbert’s subsequent death: “More Than ‘The Piano Player'” by Joel Selvin, which you can read online here. The article brings the specifics of Mr. Gilbert’s complaints with Ms. Crow into focus:
In August 1992, (Bill) Bottrell convened Gilbert and other musicians at Toad Hall with the simple agenda of collaborating for the fun of it every Tuesday night. “We were all good, not to be immodest,” Baerwald said. “We were also all cynical, embittered by the process of pop music. We were trying to find some joy in music again.”
A party atmosphere predominated — “Bill would sift through (the music) the next morning while we were all nursing hangovers,” drummer Brian MacLeod recalled. Then Bottrell introduced a project he thought might force a little focus onto the freewheeling, chaotic sessions. Crow had finished an album for A&M Records, but despite the $500,000 spent on it, nobody at the label was thrilled with the results. Hoping for a quick fix, A&M hired Gilbert to remix the album, which was, in the immutable illogic of the record industry, already scheduled for release. Crow’s manager asked Bottrell to step in as well.
On Crow’s first Tuesday night with the club, Baerwald showed up with musical sidekick David Ricketts (from the 1986 David and David album), both of them high on LSD, with the first verse already written to a song, “Leaving Las Vegas.” Baerwald picked up a guitar, Ricketts the bass, and the band fell together to pick up where it had left off.
For most of that year, Bottrell and his Tuesday crew — now working all week long — scrupulously fashioned and reshaped Crow’s album. Because everything was a collaboration, songwriting credits were equally shared. “Everybody was equal,” said Baerwald, “except Sheryl. She wasn’t one of us. We helped her make a record.”
Gilbert’s name wound up on seven of the 11 songs; he sang and played keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. His relationship with Crow was kept separate and even a secret from the group. “I’d see long conversations in the parking lot,” Baerwald said.
After nearly a year of working together, all for one and one for all, the Tuesday Night musicians were shocked to learn they didn’t figure into any more of Crow’s plans. Bottrell got the news when he met her to hand over the finished master in a Sunset Strip coffee shop. Although there had been much talk of hitting the road together to promote the record — bassist Dan Schwartz even bought a new bass for the tour — “she essentially told me to get lost,” Bottrell said.
From there, the article goes on to detail some of the particular grudges held towards Ms. Crow:
“I add Sheryl Crow to a long list of people in Hollywood who told me they were my friend until they got what they wanted from me,” Schwartz said.
“I think I’m a tinge jealous over her upcoming release [1996’s ‘Sheryl Crow’],” [Gilbert] wrote in his journal. “It’s probably going to be huge so I have to prepare myself mentally for that. If she gets what she wants after behaving this way, she’ll be absolutely intolerable.”
For Gilbert, the final straw came when Crow sang “Leaving Las Vegas” [From 1993’s ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’] on the David Letterman show. Afterward, when Letterman asked her if the song was autobiographical, a flustered Crow blurted out, “Yes.”
“I’ve never been to Las Vegas,” continued Crow, who nobody remembers having contributed greatly to the writing of the song. “I wrote it about Los Angeles. It’s really metaphorical.”
The next day, she and Gilbert exchanged angry words over the phone. He wasn’t the only one furious. Author John O’Brien — who wrote the novel that inspired both Baerwald’s early song lyrics and the movie starring Nicolas Cage — was still grumbling about Crow’s gaffe to his literary agent on the day he blew his brains out, a scant few weeks before the movie deal was complete [The film was released in late 1995].
Despite the tension with Crow, most of the Tuesday Night Music Club attended the Grammy Awards in March 1995… Crow sat in the row in front of them. Crow picked up three awards, including Record of the Year for “All I Wanna Do,” a Tuesday Night instrumental with lyrics borrowed from verses in a little-known volume by a poet in Vermont. A week later, Gilbert was still wearing his Grammy medallion around his neck like a badge of valor.
So yes, all this scandal, followed by death by autoerotic asphyxiation (See the article) — an insane story in and of itself. Then I find out that his friends have posthumously released a concept album he had been working on — a song cycle about the music industry called “The Shaming of the True.” Naturally, I had to hear this. If you feel the same way, you can listen to clips of each song here, or buy the whole album here. The production on most songs isn’t my cup of tea, so I don’t necessarily recommend the album as a whole, but the narrative thrust is every bit as hostile towards the music industry as you might imagine. The track below is a perfect illustration, and the arrangement is hard to beat.
Hi, John, it’s Mel from Megalophone
I’ve been listening to your tape for the 19th time
Oh that’s another call – can I call you
Back when I was in a band we used to sound like this
And I loved your songs, they reminded me of myself
You sound like Air Supply meets Gwar
In a good way; Here’s my other number
Can you wait for just a sec -
That’s another call coming in
I’ll get back to you -
Have my girl take your information
Hi, John, it’s Guy from Groanophone
Heard some talk about the band and the way you sing
I really think it’s great – Can we make a
Deal with me, call me a friend, we’ll be a family
You’re a talented individual
If you sign here on the dotted line … that’s good
And my nephew will be your producer
…and that just leaves one other loose end. The mysterious, unreleased first sheryl crow album – the debut that ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’ replaced. The album is pretty easily found on file-sharing networks – I’ve posted one song below so you can asses for yourself the trajectory her career may have taken had she not met Mr. Gilbert. It’s not nearly as immediately dismissable as I’d hoped it would be, but it’s still a far cry from the ‘organic’ production found on ‘Tuesday Night Music Club.’
I probably wouldn’t have read it if the illustration didn’t catch my eye, but I’m glad I did.
The sample comes from the B-side to a 1969 45.