A Little Q&A With One Of Tucson's Favorite DJs On The Occasion Of His Turning 50.
By Fred Mills
IT'S A SATURDAY ritual in the Old Pueblo: 2 p.m., tune the FM receiver to 91.3 and listen to Kidd Squidd spin the tunes for three hours on his long-running KXCI-FM program.
"When I hear a great jangly pop tune," the deejay muses into the mic, in a tone of unforced reverence, "it's like a laser thread that goes from one hemisphere of my brain to the other, then straight down to my heart, stitching it all together to create this chicken skin in my whole soul. This next song is one of 'em, and it's pure magic: 'Shake Some Action,' by the Flamin' Groovies..."
He's right; you shiver with delight when you hear the tune's great, ringing guitar riffs.
"The theme of today's show is 'Country Blues,' and I've gotta tell ya, this music just makes me feel glad to be alive. It was never intended to be heard by the masses, just for a small gathering of folks sitting on a back porch in the Deep South somewhere, and that's why it's so real, so direct..."
Suddenly you find yourself transported back in time...look, there's Blind Willie McTell, Furry Lewis and Mississippi John Hurt!
MUSIC SAVED Kidd Squidd's life, and he's been witnessing for its powers ever since, setting up Saturday afternoon shots of salvation since December 1983.
"Music's one of those things that just keeps us going, ya know?" Squidd declares. "It's that eternal quest, and it's one of the great wonders, just the incredulity we as humans have about music and what it teaches us about ourselves."
Born in Springfield, Illinois, on the first day of the summer of '48, to a time when the name Truman still connoted "president" and not "village idiot," young Dave Squires quickly charted his boat in the direction of rock and roll. As a teenage Squidd in the early '60s, his days were spent soaking up the music of the British Invasion and the electric blues of nearby Chicago. By '67 he was ready to put his copy of On The Road to good use and head to California for the Summer Of Love. Translation: Haight-Ashbury, mind-expanding drugs, Janis Joplin, Quicksilver, Hendrix, starry-eyed letters mailed home to the family.
"Oh, my parents were so upset!" Squidd remembers. "My brother recalled how I looked when I came back: leather Indian suede moccasins that went up to my knees, buckskin jacket, hair longer, a wild look in my eye--and I smelled like patchouli oil!"
Squidd's countercultural trajectory led him through the '70s and '80s, with music as his constant companion. An '83 vacation to visit his brother in Tucson proved fortuitous. The fledgling KXCI featured a show called "Mystery Deejay," and after Squidd walked in off the street for a turn behind the microphone, the station's phone lines lit up during his freeform mix of rock, soul, blues and rockabilly. Rock Roots With Kidd Squidd was born. Nearly 15 years later, while the name of the award-winning show has changed (to Mystery Jukebox), the game remains the same: celebrating the "coolest tunes in the universe."
Speaking of celebrations...the man turned 50 on June 21. Do anything special, Squidd?
KIDD SQUIDD: My girlfriend Sharon and I went up to Fairbanks, Alaska, for four days, for the Summer Solstice. It's so amazing, like the last real frontier.
You're told that the sun doesn't set, but it's hard to explain until you've been there. At midnight, off on the horizon the sun would dip down behind a mountain range like at a sunset--then it would come back up again!
Then when I got back to Tucson my first show was "Coolest Tunes In The Universe, Part 50." It was the most diverse one in the series in a long time. A lot of offbeat stuff that came out in the late '50s and early '60s, then this guy from the '40s, Tex Carmen, who played a Hawaiian style of guitar, but he was a hillbilly at the same time. Jesus & Mary Chain, Calexico, Mose Allison, Johnny Cash, Beck, Tom Waits, Emmett Miller, Neutral Milk Hotel...When I do a show like that I think of it like splashes of color, with my intuition choosing the song. First and foremost, I'm doing the show for myself, so there's a bit of an ego trip involved. But it's also for whoever wants to join in.
TW: It's no secret that your musical taste and knowledge is broader than the average bear's. But most people simply quit exploring by the time they get out of school and have to get jobs. What do you say to convince them there is life after age 30?
KS: The best way is to let them hear music. A lot of people in their 30s really don't have time to dig through all kinds of new music, and you can't force them to listen. I can relate to the comfort aspect of it, listening to what I grew up with. There's that element that brings back certain feelings.
But on the other hand, there's always plenty of terrific new music coming out.
People say to me, "Where do you get all this music?" And I kind of half-jokingly, half-seriously, go, well, I've been given a key. There's a certain place in the universe where all the cool tunes are kept. And at times I'm allowed to go to this place with this special key and unlock it and go and get some more.
TW: Do you think of this as a career or a hobby?
KS: Well, I'd like to make some money some day doing what I do! I did a '60s show on a commercial station, The Echo, for a year about three years ago. I still do parties and a lot of weddings. I have some ideas about putting together some compilations. And I'm working on a possible syndication of my show in Europe, so we'll see what happens; it's hard to get syndicated, although I did it once before, also called Mystery Jukebox. But I really think of it as having a mission, which is to get as much music out there as possible.
TW: I've watched that look on your face during your show when someone calls in and starts raving about something you just played. It's like--"mission accomplished."
KS: Yeah, that's exactly what I'm talking about! Someone calls in and says they've got the speakers aimed into the backyard, and they're barbecuing with me cranked up loud...that's it.
TW: You were lucky enough to be around to witness rock's birthing rites. But 30 years later, can a teenager in 1998 staring at a Marilyn Manson CD cover get that same thrill of innocent discovery that you got looking at, say, an early Rolling Stones LP sleeve?
KS: You can't help but have an element of innocence at 12 or 13, even if you're jaded. But everything is fast and furious now; MTV bombards kids. I think the question becomes: Where is it all gonna go? With technology advancing so quickly into the new millennium, I see music going more and more back to its roots. When I did my country blues show recently, that music just whispered sweet nothings to my soul, yet I wasn't around when it was recorded. It was almost like a meditation. With time gone so technologically rampant, to hear that real human music is very, very comforting and soothing. And I think people are going to be demanding that more and more.
TW: "Music to soothe the savage beast." In 1998, more than ever.
KS: I think just opening up and getting a musically liberated approach in my mind--so I can approach the 20th century from the '20s on--has been the most important aspect of my journey, personally. I'm very aware that you don't have to have just one way of listening to music. You don't listen to Mississippi John Hurt the same way you listen to Funkadelic. Or the Blasters.
And once you realize that, you begin to open up, allow your mind to jump, and that enhances your life and your appreciation of humanity, really.
That's what's so unique about us: We are diverse. I'll be listening to classical music driving around in the car, very detached and quiet, but at the same time it will make me keenly observant of all the life that's going on around me. They've even done studies of brainwaves and music, and the type that brings together both hemispheres of the brain is classical music.
TW: And some say playing classical music for your plants nurtures their development...
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