Tim McKamey – Artist Bio
Born in Detroit, Michigan, grew up some in Bluefield, West Virginia, moved back to Detroit, grew up some more, moved to the Chicago area in the sixties, I finally settled in the Pacific Northwest in the summer of 1966. I had traded in my rock band drum set for an acoustic guitar after high school and being new to the area I spent a lot of time soaking up folk music in Seattle coffeehouses, learning how to play, and penned my first songs during the ‘summer of love’ – 1967. Two early influences during that time were a young Baby Gramps (yes he really was young once!) and an even younger PK (Kevin) Dwyer with his remarkable renditions of Dylan songs. Carl Sparkman (former LA studio guitarist) taught me how to make National steel fingerpicks fit right and make a guitar ring like cathedral bells.
Seattle’s University District was a hotbed of extracurricular activities during the socio-political fervor of the late sixties. Impromptu alliances would spring up between musicians, as with everyone, improvising and evolving into unique musical relationships. This ever shifting sea of songwriters and guitarists flowed through and around the greater Puget Sound area in currents and eddies, meeting, parting, re-forming, transforming one another in parks and coffeehouses, sidewalks and markets, at festivals and fairs, on stage, backstage and off stage. It was for me both a living experiment in group consciousness, and an opportunity to meet many wonderful, talented and creative individuals.
I wrote one of my earliest tunes, “River Song”, one night out on the sidewalk waiting for open mic at the Balkan Dance Center practicing a modified Travis-style finger-picking pattern. The song is a re-telling of the story of Gautama Buddha as told by the German novelist Hermann Hesse in his book Siddartha. “wherever that river goes, I go...”
During the 70s and early 80s that river led to Victory Music, the folk & jazz musician’s co-op founded by Chris Lunn. Serving on the Victory Music board, contributing music reviews and articles on songwriting for the Victory Folk and Jazz Review, performing frequently at The Other Side of the Tracks in Auburn and The Antique Sandwich Company in Tacoma, learning to host open mics and concerts, sharing songs and ideas with fellow musicians, it was like going to a really great school!
I had the good fortune during that time to work with many local luminaries and friends, folks like Neal Woodall, Mark Filler, Heidi Muller, Brenda Devine, Lindy Kessler, Steve Ochoa, Steve Wacker and many others. Eventually I was able to open for touring performers like Leo Kottke, Tom Paxton and Bob Franke. Writing for the Victory Review and hosting stages at Northwest Folklife Festivals provided the opportunity for me to meet and interview a variety of recording artists such as Bruce Cockburn, Rosalie Sorrels, Doug Kershaw and David Bromberg.
In addition to folk music, my explorations led me on to other aspects of the musical experience. Studying classical guitar, music theory, composition and music history at the Cornish School of Allied Arts in Seattle exposed me to a plethora of ancient traditions and contemporary experimental music. Learning how music is regarded in other world cultures puts a new perspective on how we experience music in modern western society. We tend to treat music primarily as entertainment in this society. But in many places, and throughout history, music has served as a powerful tool for healing and transformation. Contemporary classical music of the 20th century taught me entirely new ways to listen to music. From the musica concrete of Edgar Varese to atonal and serial composers like Schoenberg to conceptualists like John Cage, to the hypnotic rhythms of Terry Riley and Phillip Glass, to David Hykes and his Harmonic Choir, all of this served to open my ears and mind to an astonishing range of sound possibilities.
Only a block away from Cornish, on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, the Quest Bookshop and Theosophical Library would become the catalyst that sparked my interest even further into the esoteric and spiritual aspects of music. I had always felt intuitively that the harmonic structure of music itself is part and parcel with the fabric of the universe, and patterns in that structure provide insights into the workings of nature. I would discover that this is in fact a very ancient idea that resonates today in the work of so many involved in the healing arts, in various fields of scientific inquiry, as in art, design, architecture and in social and spiritual transformation. During this time I produced a series of workshops and concerts at the Theosophical Library in Seattle to further encourage and explore these ideas. This led to my first release of original songs, “Listen With Your Heart” featuring Mark Filler on percussion and Marilyn Strong on vocal harmonies. That recording is no longer available but some of those songs appear in solo renditions on the “Songs From the Tree of Life” CD.
Quantum physics and meditation may seem like strange bedfellows at first, but after looking into concepts like sacred geometry and the writings of Lindisfarne founder and cultural historian William Irwin Thompson I embraced the paradox of science and spirit head-on. (Thompson’s Time Falling Bodies Take to Light led to my songs Wisdom of Our Ancestors & Returning to the Source ) Like art, science and spirituality are simply different ways of understanding the universe and our place in it. I went on to develop Sound Possibilities with that in mind – to explore applications for music and sound evolving from the synthesis of ancient traditions and contemporary thought. I do not believe the notions of science and spirit to be altogether mutually exclusive or contradictory. For several hundred years science did lead us somewhat astray into mechanistic and materialistic thinking. But many of those reductionist ideas are dissolving in the light of more recent advances from Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to Rupert Sheldrake’s theories of morphic resonance and Brian Greene’s elegant descriptions of the ideas revolving around the current work in string theory.
Meanwhile, I continue writing songs as a way to capture large ideas in small, easy-to-carry packages. Songs are like seed-crystals you can collect, carry around easily and share wherever and whenever possible. This kind of ‘Johnny Appleseed’ approach seems to me an ideal way to foster the growth of those ideas we hope will nurture and sustain us into the future, not to mention a great way to celebrate the traditions of the past.