The Swirling Eddies
Still Spinning After All These Years
by M. Scott Dwinell
CCM March 1990
Maybe you were ther for the first visitation of these alien groove meisters (Let’s Spin), when the original six Eddies appeared from within a whirling vortex of sound to restore disorder to an otherwise sedate and orderly universe. But the music zigs and zags and self-effacing humor belie a poetic depth there for anyone brave enough to look it square in the lyric sheet.
Like prophets wrapped in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” night wear, The Swirling Eddies operate on a number of levels; fodder for old men to cringe by, but fuel for young men and women in search of relevant expressions of their faith.
This melding of mind and mania is not a new thing for terry Taylor and his fellow band mates. The story of these Swirling Eddies would be remiss without a tale or two from another time and place. Though the current incarnation of this band of reformed “roving gypsy preachers” is but two records deep (‘Let’s Spin’ or ‘Elvis’) is no secret that there is a formidable chunk of Christian music history represented here.
As Daniel Amos, DA, Da, and now The Swirling Eddies, the band has been defining and redefining the terms contemporary Christian music operates on for over 15 years now. Throughout those years the glue that held the band’s various versions together has been the leadership of terry (Camarillo Eddy) Taylor. Other long time veterans include guitar ace Jerry (Spot) Chamberlain, who has logged 13 years alongside Taylor, Tim (Burger Roy Al) Chandler with nine rhythmically astute years as bass player, and keyboardist Rob (Arthur Fhardi) Watson with seven. Guitarist Greg (Gene Pool) Flesch joined Da six years ago during the ‘Darn Floor-Big Bite’ project, while Dave (Hort Elvision) Raven has been the Ed’s drummer since the first album in ‘88 and Gene (Prickly Disco) Eugene joined in the last year’s ‘Outdoor Elvis’ to make the full Ed count stand at seven current members.
The original impetus behind the formation of the band was simple “It was just, ‘Let’s have some fun,’” remembers Taylor, “Let’s create this fictitious group with fictitious names, get some of our friends back to play and see what happens.” While the boys have been having fun, transformed DA fans and newly chritened Eddies fans have been enjoying themselves too. Christian radio responded to the surge of support by placing a cut from ‘Outdoor Elvis’ (“Driving In England”) atop CCM’s Rock airplay chart. Despite the Eddies’/DA’s long history, this is the first song of theirs to reach radio paradise. Taylor deadpans, “Of course, it needed some explaining from the record company to get there.”
Explaining lyrics and lifestyles is something these guys have been doing for a long time. As Daniel Amos, the ensemble was responsible for great artistic strides within contemporary gospel. “In a way we were sort of the guinea pigs,” remembers Taylor. “We were pushing the doors down, and catching the flack.”
Much of the “flack” was the kind that accompanies any attempt at change in the face of deeply entrenched tradition. Here the tradition was an endeared musical form of the church that many saw as taking an unholy detour into the purple haze of secular culture. Many of these same debates and defenses are still raging through the church today.
The band is currently dealing with response that is typically “knee jerk” (another song on ‘Outdoor Elvis’), to “Hide The Beer, The Pastor’s Here.” Some discussion of lyrical intent was inevitable, but Taylor sasy it’s purpose is clear. “There’s an initial response that people are going to have when they hear the title. Some have said it was written for shock value. But anyone who reads the lyric will find that it’s reflective of Christ’s teaching on outward appearance and self-righteousness. Jesus said, ‘If you look at a woman with lust in your heart, you’ve as much as committed adultery with her.’ The outward appearances are easy to judge, but the sins of the heart are hidden. We’re all sinners, and it’s only through Christ that any of us can be counted as righteous.”
Probably the most intense difficulty for the band was the close scrutiny of life on the road. “One night we could be feelin’ lousy playing before an audience,” Taylor recalls, “and later we would get a phone call from the pastor saying that we were really blowing it. And maybe we were. When you’re living your daily life in the public view, all eyes are on you. Touring is trying and tiring.”
The men of DA were never ones to send up false spiritual signals to appease any group of individuals. This realistic look at their own humanness was considered admirable within some circles, but viewed as dangerous in most. As has been particularly apparent in recent years, the relationship between ones actions and one’s heart can often be far flung. For the members of the Eds, if one is to err, let him err on the side of authenticity. “Being a real person means so much to so many people,” suggests Taylor. “We get letters from real people with real problems that say, ‘I relate to you guys and it helps me. I’ve been feeling all alone out there.’ That doesn’t get a lot of hype. You can’t call that “ministry.” You can’t put that on TV or even brag about it. It’s just being there for people. I think our music becomes Everyman. I think people relate to that, and it helps them go on with God.”
So what kind of direction do “real people” find when they peruse the grooves of an Eddies project? Well, if there is a recurring theme in the Swirling Eddies’ music, and earlier DA material for that matter, it’s that of exposing the non-issue from the issue, and attempt to impact a degree of discernment to the attentive fan.
Take this bite from “Rodeo Drive” (Let’s Spin) suggesting the need to discern the truth: “People come and go so quickly here/What they want is not exactly clear/Judas kisses fallin’ on virgin’s ear.” Or this piece from “Hold Back The Wind, Donna” (Outdoor Elvis) that gives practical advise on what really matters: “It’s the little things you do/That you don’t think break through/You build a mansion/With God’s son/You light a candle/And the kingdom comes.”
It’s these “little things” that are of most concern to Terry Taylor. “I’m just living my life, wanting to follow the Lord wherever He takes me. To become more active in the basics of my Christian life. All of us were recently talking about how much knowledge we have all been exposed to: Bible studies, reading, church, etc. Where we miss it is the living on a daily basis, living our walk, feeding the hungry, caring for people, a deepening prayer life, those basic things. I’m through seeking what I can know in my head to make an impression, and just want to live a life that is pleasing to God. I don’t know if that always comes through in our music. Our music tends to be a little cynical. But I think it’s cynical in a way that is self-reflective. This is where we’ve been. This is how we’ve acted. These are our problems too.”
Many listeners might view that role of cynic, or at least skeptic, as the band’s chief function or role. “We’re not playing that role,” defends Taylor. “That may be our role,” defends Taylor. “That may be our role, but I don’t think we’re acting according to a script. That’s just kind of a subtle way that God has guided us. But I think that a lot of people prophesy without knowing it, and I think in that sense it’s a subconciuos thing. I mean, I bring what I am into this band. We all do that. The things that we all go through in our daily lives is what we bring into the music. But I think if I have a personal mission, it would be “God is Holy, be Holy.” That would be my mission.”
While Taylor hold s down responsibility for the Eddies’ lyrics, every band member has an equal part in making the music. Music that wrinkles your clothes and forces masses of people to carve sweeping curlys on the dance floor. Of course it is the instrumental element that divides these mad marauders from your typical seers and sages. And you’d be hard pressed to find creative musical innovators within the confines of the Christian music industry, or from the secular pond beyond, that are quite like these guys. “We just enjoy playing together,” explains bassist Tim Chandler. “Even though this is a tiny market, and we have an even tinier spot in it, oddly enough we do have a situation where we are free to experimint, to take some chances and almost do what ever we want musically.”
This experimental nature of the band is another element which, while endearing many, has confused more than a few. But the band prefers to pick their poison. Instead of playing it safe and finding themselves in a rut someday, they’d rather push the envelope and challenge themselves. “Musically, we wanted to be the Beatles. You know, we wanted to do everything,” retells Taylor. “Shotgun Angel (1977) was like that- all kinds of styles. And really, Outdoor Elvis is Shotgun Angel. to me there seems to be a common thread there, a sound.”
Unfortunately, that tie that binds this Taylor-made work together is mostly out of print, though the faithful have persued it and a healthy collector’s market exists. The rumor mill says that CD reissues of DA, etc. aren’t far from seeing the laser light. “It’s going to happen. We’re talking to several people, but we just want it to be done right. It’s our history, and we’re protective of it. I want the packaging to look great, maybe do a box set with some unreleased tracks and some new songs. In addition, we also want to get all the individual albums out again. I would bet that something will surface by the end of the year.”
And what about the age-old question regarding the ongoing existence of DA? “I think DA is an idea, and therefore it is alive and well. The people involved are all around me, we all still work together in one form or another. I will say we were disappointed that ‘Darn Floor-Big Bite’ didn’t sell better, because we felt like it was our artistic pinnacle. I think it would be hard to just throw another DA record out there and watch it die. We may try a few concerts, but it’s really one day at a time.”
After 15 years of varying members and psuedonyms, “The Band That Won’t Go Away” is still pulsating a ravaging beat and serving up their fans a rich helping of sanctified satire. This summer should bring with it the first live performances of the Swirling Eddies, by popular demand (at Cornerstone, with randy Stonehill and the DA line-up). So if you see any whirling vortexes touch down in your part of the woods, get ready to spin!