What in the World is AMERIPROG?
Jerry Lucky Commentary June 2018
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2018 All Rights Reserved
Recently I wrote about the Aaron Clift Experiment, a band out of Austin Texas and I used the term AMERIPROG. Now I’m sure I’ve talked about this term in the past, but quite honestly not very recently. I seem to vaguely recall talking about it way back in the “olden” days when I first started writing for the prog website Ghostland. Hey I wonder how Chad is doing these days? In any case there may be some of you wondering about the term, so with an eye to clarifying what I think it means and why I might use it I figured I’d put a few thoughts together here in this month’s commentary. Hopefully it’ll make sense.
Let me just say right off the top, I don’t really see AMERIPROG as a genre title. When I did my genre map some years back it was nowhere to be found. To me, and how I use the term, it’s more of a sound description, a feel of the music, etc. than an actual over all type of prog. That may sound like I’m splitting hairs, but please bear with me on this.
To really dig into this we need to go back to the psychedelic era of the mid-to-late sixties. This is the musical era where Prog was finding its beginnings. The experimentation of the psychedelic era led directly to the more refined classic Progressive Rock period of the late sixties and early seventies. But it’s important to keep in mind the American psychedelic musical movement and its eventual morphing into Prog occurred with differing influences and musical roots than the British and European equivalent. And it is this “difference” that leads me to use AMERIPROG as a descriptive.
Virtually all commentators and musical historians will point to the fact that while the British psychedelic era tended to focus heavily on a sense of politeness and childhood-ness, the American psychedelic experience was very different dealing with heavy political issues such as the Viet-Nam war and the civil rights movement. So the development of the Psychedelic musical movement evolved very differently in each country even while each was striving to break down musical barriers. While in the UK it focused on Pop music, art and musical experimentation in the United States it revolved more around the Roots music, grounded Blues and the obligatory need to experiment. The UK Psych scene was very polite while the US Psych scene was much more political. Both pushed the studio production facilities to different ends. Bear with me and hopefully this all come to make sense later.
So add to this the aspect of musical chops or instrumental virtuosity. In the UK many if not most of the psychedelic movement resulted from musicians moving through the various Art Schools. As such they were looking for original means of making new music – hence the psych scene played handily into their voice allowing them to experiment, even though many of them were less skilled in their instrumental craft. There is a good case to be made that their playing of instruments was simply a creative outlet rather a driving force to make music. This was not the case in the US where many of these musicians had honed their musical chops playing live from the early days. While in the UK the tone was lighter sometimes referred to as “toy-town” in the US it was a heavier, blues based vibe that predominated. In the UK the move was to make new sounds. In the US it tended to more-often-than-not come back to musical chops. A quick comparison of bands such as early Pink Floyd and early Jefferson Airplane bears this out quite handily. The simple fact was more of the American psych bands had significantly more stage craft experience playing their instruments in front of people than did their UK counterparts. A quick listen to a half dozen bands from each side of the Atlantic during 1966 will easily bear out the musical difference. And this plays a big part in helping to put meat on the bones of what I call AMERIPROG.
This brings us to the transition from psychedelia to Progressive Rock. Generally speaking, when it came time for the Progressive Rock genre to emerge out of the psychedelic scene in the UK all that musical lightness of tone easily found its way toward classical music. The British school system has tended to place more of an emphasis in this area of the musical arts so it’s not surprising that so many of these wanna-be musicians begin thinking of creating new rock through a classical music lens. In addition members of Genesis have often talked about how singing in church choirs as young boys prepared them to hear and then create music with a pronounced classical influence. I’m quite sure they were not the only ones influenced in this manner. This was certainly not the case in the United States where it was more likely that budding psychedelic musicians were more likely to be familiar with country music or roots music like The Grateful Dead or Blues Rock like most of the rest. To some degree a jazz influence played a part as well. In the United States these quite different musical roots are what were carried into the creation of US Prog. Just to be clear, there is no way of really creating Progressive Rock, especially the symphonic sub-genre style without incorporating some elements of classical embellishment but I maintain that it was LESS of a feature of US prog bands than those coming out of the UK and Europe. And when the classical elements were used by the various US bands, they were embedded or combined into a very different musical compositional style.
So as a result of the distinctly differing aspects of musical development I do recognize a specific number of prog attributes whenever I pull the term AMERIPROG out of my kit-bag and use it to describe some music. Take for example the afore-mentioned Aaron Clift Experiment or perhaps more to the point their city mates Crocodile whose music has a lot in common with bands like Gentle Giant and yet when they create it is sound more to my ear like something from Crack the Sky. There is a distinct difference. AMERIPROG relies less on those European classical influences to make its large and panoramic prog than it does a more basic and fundamental rock foundation. Whereas a UK or European Prog band will often insert a more classically inclined solo break the US band is more likely to launch into a blues based solo segment.
Bands like Kansas, Styx (and I’m obviously referring to EARLY Styx here) Crack the Sky and others have a clear and pronounced Prog influence and yet it is hardly European in feel as it relies more heavily on the rock foundation of the Progressive Rock genre. And this holds true for more contemporary outfits like Echolyn or Crocodile. It is this rock foundation that infuses the rest of the compositions so that while US bands may do all the obvious detours and musical change-ups it always seems they’re more comfortable coming back to the rock foundation.
So while I would hesitate to actually insist on AMERIPROG being a legitimate genre description…we got far too many of those as it is…I do feel comfortable using the term to describe a good number of bands that don’t follow the classical European prog path. That’s me though. I’m always interested to know what you think.
Jerry Lucky (06/1/18)