Mikhal Caldwell Project
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Mikhal Caldwell Project

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"Detroit International Jazz Festival 2008"

Mikhal Caldwell defined his music on this day as "what happens when Coltrane runs into Hendrix runs into Metallica," which isn't a bad summation. Metal bop, perhaps. And, not surprisingly, the primary driver of Caldwell's art seems to be conflict. But conflict with an aim toward unity and resolution, as one often experiences in the mind. It was there on the fest's main stage in the titles and programming of tunes ("Atonement" following on the heels of "Ethics vs. Logic, " with that duo leading into "Press, Press, Pull"), in the two guitars he used during the set (both Strats, one white, one black, each emblazoned with a yin/yang symbol) and in the music itself, bursting forth in a flurry of Eddie Van Halen-like whammy bar gymnastics only to plant its metal foot, cut back sharply and trot out the remainder of the tune in a reggae skip.

Caldwell is a virtuoso, able to run the neck of the guitar as fast and as accurate as anyone in the business, veins bulging from his biceps as he tears off ear-piercing metal. And he's not beyond striking a guitar hero pose after especially tasty licks.

But what keeps the music interesting is his ability to take that crashing steel noise and work it into melody—sometimes astonishingly pretty melody, that on its own might flap off into smooth jazz la-la land. Caldwell's group truly is a fusion band—that is it fuses the gaps between erstwhile musical strangers, while allowing each to retain its individual identity, rather than watering each down to be stirred into a bland soup. Listening to Caldwell and his mates, its not difficult to imagine them all practicing their craft with lowered welder's masks.

In that case, keyboardist Jimmy Pitts might be the solder that holds all the pieces together, varying his sound on this afternoon from that of a second guitar to a Cecil Taylor grand to the tinny piano of a gold- rush whorehouse.

Bassist Eddie Kohen kept up a solid, driving pulse, highlighted by nice melodic lines behind the '80s pop chords of "Atonement." Drummer Greg Tyler, whom Caldwell introduced as the man who taught him to play fusion, crashed admirably throughout the hour, but shined on "Press, Press, Pull," constructing a solo that began like a string of Black Cats popping, then grew into a firing of every pyrotechnic in the trunk.

The quartet played early, kicking off around 1:30 p.m., but still drew a good crowd. One can only hope this native Detroiter and his band can soon find favor beyond the Motor City.

- All About Jazz

"Detroit's toughest guitar madman Mikhal Caldwell"

A in depth interview into his close relationship with the guitar.

Interviewed by Nick Martinelli

Well guitar fans we have a real treat with this interview. Mikhal Caldwell was happy to give us some deep in sight into his world of playing. Mikhal is a well-traveled and seasoned guitar player. He has been apart of many studio projects, tours, and recording projects for TV and lots more. His playing covers every aspect of guitar, from jazz, blues, Latin, Middle Eastern, African and I sure he’ll fill us in on the rest. The Shred Zone just did a review of Mikhal’s "Earth Music" so we’ll be asking some questions about work, but don’t worry Mikhal will be sharing a lot more than just that fans! So let’s not delay any longer and dive in head first in to the hot waters of Mikhal Caldwell.

SZ: Thanks Mikhal for taking time out of your busy session and teaching schedule to give our fans some insight on your playing and music.

Not a problem! Always happy to kick it with you little brother

SZ: Give us some background and personal history about yourself.

Well, where should I start? I'm a professional musician by trade. I've been Champion of the World twice as a kick boxer actually a Thai boxer. I'm a husband and a dad. And I currently reside in Detroit Mi.

SZ: When did you pick up guitar and how did you get interested in it? Along with that why did you want to be come a professional guitar player?

At all happened when I was a 5 year old, I used to watch a TV show called "Secret Agent Man," and I remember how cool the guitar sounded ,I begged my mom to get me one which she did. I remember that it was a plastic little guitar built like an acoustic with plastic strings and cowboys painted on the front, but I really loved it. I never learned a song on it but I was just amazed with it. I got my First real guitar which was a Decca electric at 9 and about 2 weeks after that I was watching TV and seen Jimi Hendrix and that was it, I knew that the guitar and me had been meant to be together. At 10 my Grandma GOD rest her soul got me my first good guitar a Gibson SG 100,and that was about 30 years and 100 guitars ago.

SZ: What were your practice regimes early on?

Pretty wild really, I wanted to play everything I heard, right away. So I used to spend all the time that I wasn't working on boxing I was playing.

SZ: Were you self-taught or did you take lessons, or classes at school?

Man did I take lessons! I'm from the old school, and started out studying classical guitar and after about 2 years of that I also started studying jazz guitar with Charles McClendon (who by the way is still a monster jazz shredder). I was 12 years old and I was taking lessons 3 times a week. However I was ALWAYS up for jamming with anybody that wanted to play

SZ: I understand you teach and are the head of the music department at Wayne College in Detroit, how did you get that gig and what type of responsibilities do you have there?

Well actually its the art academy on the campus, CCS (Center for Creative Studies). I'm the director of the guitar studies department, I've been involved in music education for all of 17 years, I got my first MA in 81 and my 2nd in 83. I attended Berklee and Rengurad Music Conservatory

SZ: What types of music classes do you teach?

Theory and performance ,advanced jazz concepts, musicology.

SZ: Would it be safe to say that learning your music theory is very important in becoming a high-level guitar player? Many people claim that you don’t need to know notes, theory or even scales and modes to be a good player. Personally, I think people who say this are lazy players and use that as an excuse for not taking the time to learn every inch of their instrument? How do you fell about that?

First, as to the first part of your question, for me personally, Hell yes! I am NOT a natural gifted player. I worked my ass off to get it to become natural, or to develop my gift. As to the next part I agree with the excuse part up to a point. I would have to say that there are exceptions to every rule. 2 of the major influences in my playing and my life Jimi Hendrix and Frank Marino never took a lesson. Frank I know for a fact doesn't read music or know a lot of theory, but Frank will roast that ass when it comes to playing. It's really strange too, I talk to Frank often, which to me is like a dream come true because how many times in a lifetime do you get a chance to talk to and hang out with one of the icons of your life since you were like 14 years old, anyway Frank can play anything, he never studied, he just can! I've got 2 masters degrees and I get a lesson every time I talk to him. Now on the other side of the coin, there's not a lot of people that can do that, for people like me and millions of others we gotta work at it. There's only a small number of people that have that ability and that can make it work in the real world of music. I have to play to eat, so it's very necessary to be able to function in any given situation, I mean outside of the band type of thing. There are so many ways to make a living with music if you put the work into it, and study and understand your craft. However, if you don't have a handle on MUSIC not just guitar playing you'll find that you cut your options down by at least 75%. Just stop and think for a second , if you can read you can do: Studio sessions, Theatre, Television, jingles, teach public school or private school, teach college, transcribe scores, work as musical director for films or TV, song writer, Political parties, orchestra, art ensembles, and the list goes on. Now lets look at what we can do without an education in music: Jam in a band and hope like hell that you make it, teach in the local music store, play the local bars and after that I'm kinda at a loss. I know how I feel when I hear someone use the old "I play from feeling" excuse. My response normally is "that's the same thing that a blind person would tell you about how they get around, the catch is, do you think that if they had a choice, that they would choose to get around by feel as opposed to knowing where they are going?" I truly believe that they would prefer to see, but that's just my humble opinion

SZ: Dots or TAB?

Dude DOTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! All the way. Tab has been around hundreds of years, if you check the history of tab it was used extensively up until notation became the universal means of communication in music. This is a very passionate topic to me. I HATE TAB. Because of what it has done to us as guitarists. We are looked at as the stupid musicians because 90% of us can't read and even worse don't try, because we've "all been saved" by tab, BULL!!!!!!! Tab separates us from the rest of the music world. But we just keep getting pulled deeper and deeper in because we don't see it. Dig this I've done hundreds of sessions and no one as ever took time out, especially in the major ones, to write tab for that ONE special person at the session, either you can read the same music as all the other musicians or you're not there, that simple. Tab is an insult to guitarists in my view. It's like saying that everybody else in the world can read except dumb ass guitar players. Horns, harps, keyboardist, hell anybody else, just not us. Damn we are musicians too right? Or are we tabicians? I hate those jokes like "how do you get the guitar player to turn down?" answer: put the sheet music in front of him. We gotta rise above that kinda stuff.

SZ: What drove you to become the player you have become today?

I feel like I'm on a mission to see just how far I can go. Every time I set a goal before I get to it, I can already see that I'm going to be led somewhere else also. At this point I know that when I play my best that I don't really have anything to do with it. It's like I'm an antenna and this music just comes thru me. I don't really control it, or own it, it just happens. I really believe that Music is the voice of GOD.

SZ: Name some of the biggest influences on your playing? Who where the ones early on that kicked you butt?

My influences are so varied, I can say right off the rip that JIMI HENDRIX sent me to the moon, Frank Marino made me see the world in a new light thru his music. Wes Montgomery was another big one, Pat Martino, JOHN COLTRANE changed my life, Miles Davis ,John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell who is kinda like a father to me still moves me, Uli Jon Roth, damn I love his playing. I really dig Allan Holdsworth, Chick Corea, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Gary Moore is crazy, Albert King, Jeff Beck, Ray Gomez, Ravi Shanker, Mut'tba Udreda, Al DiMeloa, Bill Connors, Man we'll be on this all nite! (Laughs) Let's just say the only things that have not influenced me would be Greenday and Nirvana, I really can't get into that type of thing , but if you dig it it's cool I guess I just don't want to hear it.

SZ: Who are some of your favorite bands past and present?

OUCH!!!! Thats another long list, let's do it like this

Jazz would be: John Coltranes band, and Miles bands.

Early rock would be: Band of Gypsys, Deep Purple, ELP, Yes, Rising Force (Yngwie Malmsteen's band), MSG, 24/7 Spyz, Bad Brains.

Soul would be: AWB, and Tower of Power.

Funk would be: James Brown, Funkadelic.

Fusion would be Brand X, Bruford, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever Lifetime.

New stuff I like Marc Whitfield, Steve Vai, James Carter, Greg Howe, Tony MacAlpine, Scott Henderson some of the new Shrapnel guys.

SZ: What bands or projects have you been in the past?

Let's see, I've done pretty much every type of jingle, from clothes to cars to toothpaste hotdogs ha ha, I've been really lucky to have played with a lot of great players in all styles from Chaka Khan to Billy Cobham to Miles to Jauqo III-X to Parlet to P-Funk to Abdul Raheem ,etc.

SZ: How did you get into Electric Voodoo, and what did you contribute to the band?

Now that's a cool story. I was always into metal and I knew some cats that were looking for a guitarist for a metal project. Everybody knew who I was, I didn't even have to audition I told them I wanted to come try out for the spot and they told me forget about trying out just bring some gear and let's do it, so I did and it was great. We worked really well together and it was a blast. When we all got together we started doing some OZZY stuff and some really heavy stuff like Raven and S.O.D and M.O.D, Metallica and just all of a sudden we just changed into a Neo-Classical band. Like I woke up one day and we were like Rising Force, just crazy shred. I gotta say that it freaked a lot of people out that I was a black cat playing this over the top ripping ass metal. This was WAY before Tony MacAlpine or Greg Howe was really known. It was so funny to see the look on peoples face, like "where the hell did this guy come from" (Laughs). Basically I was doing the same stuff as Yngwie at the same time that he was doing it. I wrote like 95.

SZ: What was it like touring foreign countries for the first time?

Really cool. I'd been to a lot of places before, but it was for fighting, it felt good not to come home sore! ha ha ha

SZ: What is your favorite part of your playing style?

The WTFF ( what the f#%k factor), when people in the audience get that look I love it

SZ: I understand you’re a huge martial arts fan? What style of fighting are you into?

OH YEAH I AM!!!!!! I've been into boxing since I was 10 and I started Martial Arts training when I was 13. I've won two World Titles as a welterweight (147 lb) kick boxer and been rated as high as #5 boxing. I'm into Muay Thai, the heavy metal of martial arts!

SZ: Does working out all the time have any benefits when it comes to guitar playing? Notice any endurance changes or muscle advantages?

One advantage is nobody's ever taken a guitar from me! (Laughs) Sure Being in shape allows me to be in touch with myself on a whole different level, I'm very committed to something once I say I am. I've developed mental toughness and the ability to know that I can do anything that I apply myself to, I KNOW that proper diet and exercise keeps my playing improving. I've spoken to Bobby Rock and he feels the same way.

SZ: Getting back to your music, I reviewed a copy of your new disc "Earth Music," can you describe what listeners will get, if this where a sales pitch?

I've never been good at pitching sales, so I'll just say you'll hear what I was really feeling during those sessions.

SZ: What kind of vibe were you going with for "Earth Music?"

That's an easy one, two words "WORLD FUSION"

SZ: Can you tell us a brief little summary of each song on "Earth Music," explaining how the songs were written or inspired and a bit about what you did in each song?

Silat, means prayer in Arabic and that's what was going down in my head when I was writing it and playing it. I enjoyed the main theme and the repeating harmony lines at just felt good to me.

Tribes, is about all the people in the world and how we are all really just one big tribe just split up in different places, so I tried to reflect as much unity between the melody line and the harmonic structure as I could while spreading the ideas of the improvisation from many places in the world.

Jihaid, Means holy war, I really felt uncomfortable with the title of this song after the 9-11 craziness, but I wrote this stuff 4 years before it happened so I kept it. It reminds me of a night around the camp fire in the desert. I used a technique Leit Motif, and it worked really well. I used quite a bit of semi tonal stuff in this song, and I also felt that the melody moved real well.

Stained Glass, to be quite honest is about a time I was walking down a street in New York and I seen what looked to be a piece of stained glass tubing laying in the middle of the sidewalk to which a friend alerted me to the fact that it was a broken crack pipe, which made me say DAMN!!!!! So I wrote this song about the urgency that the person who's life is caught up into that madness must be like, hence the heavy droning and all the crazed arpeggios and high speed ripping to create a feeling of tension. It turned out to be one of my favorite tunes in the bunch.

Open Hearts, is a song written for my Mother and Daughter. I went after a soothing vibe and wanted to do some soulful shredding (yes there is such a thing) it was all about the vibe on that one.

Path Home, was a blend of several styles at warp speed, Charles and me just messing with each other on that.

What can a listener expect, when listening to your CD and describe the styles you use?

Expect to be entertained, and hopefully maybe enlighten, but most importantly expect me to sound like me! I hope that I challenge you to find someone that sounds like me, be it good or garbage I sound like me, which is the thing I've worked on the hardest. I used a million different techniques and theories from around the world

SZ: Can you give us a list of your own albums that you put out and where can people get a hold of them?

Voodoo had a major label MCA behind it I think it's out of print as of this year.

"True Stories," "The light of truth," and " Balance" are available from Boss Cooper records or from my web site. "Earth Circus," we only had a demo, but it was way cool and that's at my web site.

Chop Shop Project "Earth Music," "Leap of Faith," "LIVE" are at guitar 9 and at my web site and at the Boss Cooper website.

SZ: What other works are you on? (Albums or compilations, with release years if possible)

TONS OF STUFF. How much time you got? (laughs) Well for new stuff I'm preparing for a new Cobham CD, and a possible Chick Corea CD, something new with Bobby Rock and Jauqo III-X, maybe something with Greg Campbell and a acoustic release with a super guitarist named Bill Beaty. I've been writing stuff for a new Chop Shop CD with Charles Stuart, and last but far from least I am hoping to get together and play some fusion with Frank Marino. You know me, have axe, will travel!!!!!!!!

SZ: Favorite Scale or Mode?

All of them, but especially the bathroom scale and the pie ala mode!

SZ: Favorite key? All of them, but I really like Key Largo

SZ: Favorite trick or lick, trick or both?

Done by Ron Jeremy, I really like harmonic regeneration. KILL THE GUY WITH THE TAB!!!!!! (laughs)

SZ: Recommended playing technique: LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SZ: Suggested Theory books or readings:

Anything by Harry Partch
"Thesorious of scales and modes" by Edwin Wegthiom
"Guitar Compendium 1, 2, 3" by Howard Roberts&Garry Hagberg
"The Berklee Guitar Studies" T. Masters
"Chord and Arpeggios & studies" by Jay Friedman
"The Brazilian Guitar Book" by Nelson Faria
ANY of the Jamie Aebersold books
"Highpoints a Study of Melodic Peaks" by Zohar Eitan,
"Healing Sounds the power of harmonics" by Jonathan Goldman
"Lydian Chromatic tonal organization" by George Russell
"Language of the Kind" by Mikhal Caldwell

SZ: I’ve seen some of your other works; I understand Electric Voodoo is a sort of "shred metal" band if you will. How do you manage to be such a diversified player? Many guys just master one type of style, like playing Heavy Metal and never bother to learn, jazz, classical, Latin etc.

I have always believed that there is only one style of music in the world really, "Earth Music." It is every persons birthright to play all the music on this planet. I've never really considered myself as a stylist or for that fact even as a guitarist, I've always considered myself as a musician who happens to play guitar

SZ: Which do you prefer, the world music albums you did or the shred metal ones?

They both reflect different sides of the same musician, plus I kinda feel like I can shred in any situation.

SZ: You have a really fret board smoking style, how did you get to the level that your currently at?

Well thank you little brother, HARD WORK and coffee!

SZ: What advice can you give to ammeter and beginner players? Practicing tips, etc…

Be true to yourself and to your instrument. Don't fall for the old Style bull crap, DO IT ALL! Take your time and learn as much as you can. Play with people better than yourself and always keep a positive state of mind. And remember that you're always where you are supposed to be, never behind or in front. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!

SZ: Recommend any CD’s for our readers to check out?

GREG HOWE, that guys scary! Shawn Lane. Any John Coltrane, also I've been listening to Brett Garsed a lot lately. Also just for a twist check out Black Planet's guitarist Kenny Tyler, you'll dig this cat he's super heavy and just too funky.

SZ: What guitars do you use and why? Have you made any upgrades, modifications, or had custom work done on them? (Pickups, wiring, etc)

I grew up playing a Strat and that's what I like and if you don't at least own 1, Leo Fender died for your sins! (Laughs) I have not played a stock guitar for over 20 years. I have ALL my guitars done by the "Tone Pimp" Tim Jagmin. He does work that you won't find ANYBODY to do. And he makes the best pick-ups in the world hands down. If you like my tone thank Tim Jagmin PERIOD. I'm sure that Tim would hate for me to get a Fender endorsement because he would never have time for anything but me! (Laughs) I wish that Tim would build me an Acoustic guitar, hint hint! I always play scalloped necks because I do the semi tonal thing a lot.

SZ: What gear are you currently using and what companies do you endorse?

I better get this right, Mesa-Boogie, Rocktron, Morley , Jagmin Pick-ups , Thomastik-Infeld strings and Ringside boxing gear.

SZ: What do you think of the present music scene in the US?

That's a weird question and a very good one. For me it's good and bad. I play pretty much anything so if you're well rounded it's a great time with plenty of work for everybody, although I must admit that a lot of work that I do I wouldn't buy, because it's just to pop for me sometimes, and hip hop is hard on my nerves after a song or two. (Laughs)

SZ: Give us your feelings on the current state of instrumental and guitar driven music in the US or worldwide?

The US is always the last to support our own and first to grab someone else, sad but true. It's getting a little better, but it's still a sad thing when guys like Shawn Lane or Al DiMeloa have to play small clubs and Puff Daddy is playing stadiums. Here people are told what to think and listen to and in other places in the world people are much less uptight about trends art is always supported in places like Europe, and Japan. They love me over there and my CD sales are outstanding. Over here I think I might have sold maybe 7,000 units where as in Europe, I've sold about 17,000 and about the same in Japan. You do the math...

SZ: What are you currently up to?

I'm just gonna say that 2002 is gonna blow peoples minds. I'm trying to really concentrate instrumental guitar based music and I might even play on some stuff with Prince which is not representative of what I'm planning on doing other than making money!

- The Shred Zone

"Mikhal Caldwell /CSP Sneek peek at his upcoming release"

Guitar fans, we are making Shred Zone.com history here today with one of our favorite columnists Mikhal Caldwell. He sent in sneak peak of his latest work that will soon be released on Sony. Mikhal is no stranger to the world of fusion and shred guitar playing. He's a seasoned veteran that has been around the world playing music for countless numbers of guitar fans over the years. This time Mikhal is back with a vengeance, a guitar vengeance I should say. He brings a new dimension to the fusion genre. Caldwell combines plenty melody, shred and just down right scary guitar licks for an out of this world performance. Wither its complex counterparts, harmonies, or infectious melody lines Caldwell tears it up. So without further delay lets starting talkin’ about the music.

"X-man" is a speedy fusion number with some serious chopfests! Mikhal sets his fretboard on fire with a blazing main melody. He cranks up the wah wah and uses it a major tone-blending tool, which creates a soulful atmosphere that will numb your senses. This song has a huge vibe and Mikhal did an excellent job with the arrangements and compositions. Many fusion artists are hard to fallow, but Mikhal never strays from a solid song structure. He restates his melody lines throughout the track, but kicks them up a notch every time. Also, keep your ears peeled for his shred god runs, licks and movements. This guy is just plain freighting!

"Leap of Faith" defiantly has a vibe of its own and Mikhal uses many different guitar counter points and melodies all at once. He overlays leads, licks and rhythms all together for a colorful blend of guitar diversity. I was seeing stars after being Caldwell TKOed me with a fusion knock out punch. The song writing is superb and inspirational as well. I sometimes have a hard time identifying with fusion guitar playing, because its always so wide open. Some artists are a challenge to follow along with, but Caldwell is the type of guitar player that anyone could get into. His songs are very complex, but they still have a normal rock-writing format. Check out his balls to the wall soloing midway through the track for his dive bombs, tapping and speed licks. Shred doesn’t get any better than this guitar fans.

"Tears made of Diamonds" is the evil fusion jam that will scare the pants off even an experienced guitarist. The main melody line is breath taking, with Mikhal wowing his audience with top-notch soulful shred. I really liked the presence of smooth melody lines; they just seemed to flow so well into each other. Caldwell's licks seemed to pour right out of his heart and fall into the right places. He really stands out from the crowd when it comes to fusion players. If you're into monsters like Frank Gamble and Al Demiola you’re going to love Mikhal Caldwell's virus like guitar player. He sneaks into your system and spreads his melodies until you crash from a system shock. I was left speechless after hearing the guitar counter parts that he used in this song. When I say counter parts I mean, different revolving lead lines that are played over each other for an onslaught of guitar magic.

"Return of Dr. X" is a laid back jam with upbeat and tricky leads. Mikhal uses some interesting melody lines that will take a listener to a whole another state of mind. Caldwell effortlessly cranked out lick after lick and I bet he did them in his sleep. This track is very melodic with a lot of emphasis on hooks and mind-boggling licks. Mikhal has some mad skills when it comes to writing complex guitar parts. I think it would take me at least two years to learn this song front and back!

Mikhal Caldwell is a vibrant guitarist that stands out from the crowd of boring instrumental guitarists. He blends many playing techniques, theories and soul for unforgettable performances. After hearing this, I now fully understand what his music is all about. It's about strength in melody, complexity and simplicity in compositions. I couldn't begin to imagine how the priceless pieces were written. Mikhal is defiantly a guitar player for true guitar players. I really respect what he does and if there were more artists on this playing level the music world would be a better place. Without a doubt in my mind I give this upcoming album a legendary status, because of its inspirational melodies and godlike musicianship. These songs are off the charts and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album. Keep the fusion induced shred fests coming my friend, we just can’t get enough of them!
- The Shred Zone

"The Incredible Mikhal Caldwell"

Tuesday, 19 September 2006 18:36
Mikhal Cadwell. Say it with me, now: Mikhal Caldwell. If you haven't heard this name...well, you've heard it now, and after hearing his music, you'll never forget it.

Caldwell is among the most impressive fusion guitarists I've ever heard, with encyclopedic knowledge of music theory, composition, & history (traditional & esoteric); command of multiple styles; and technique so amazing that it's difficult to believe he's from planet Earth! His music is at once funky & visceral & downright bestial yet intelligent & discerning & witty. Not in a "he has a good balance between..." sort of way, but in a "extremely cerebral AND extremely passionate..." sort of way. Whether it's his solo works or his Chop Shop Project or ensemble projects, Mikhal's music - the composition and execution - is gutsy, brilliant, and inspired.
Jamaican-born, Detroit-raised Mikhal Caldwell has an impressive history, too. From garage bands in the early days to a stint at Berkelee College of Music, graduating from Renguard Conservatory and playing guest spots on several major label releases (from jazz to heavy metal), hosted the award-winning top-rated TV show "Fretboard Frolics" (whose special guests list is a veritable who's who of the world's top guitarists...including Al DiMeola and "Guitar Gods" interviewee Greg Howe), released several solo & duo CDs, and instructional DVD, and a concert video. He has recently been touring as both a performer and instructor, doing clinics for Morley, Jagmin Pick-ups, Thomastik-Infeld strings, and others, and has a new CD hitting the market: "Para Vision" (which features the wicked instrumental track, "X-Man").

Mikhal, who attended Berkelee from 1978-1981 and holds a masters in music, was first inspired to play guitar when he heard the song "Secret Agent Man" as a kid. In his words, "...a week or so later I heard Hendrix and that was it!". In addition to the CDs & video releases, Caldwell has penned the book, "Language of the Kind" which covers some heavy topics.

To wit: "I try to give knowledge that you can really use, stuff that you can start to learn and grow with right away. I also get into some really extreme theory as it is applied to the guitar. Some of the stuff I cover is Harmonic regeneration, Polytonal pivoting, extended harmonic voicings and phrases, Eastern music theory, etc. Some really different interesting hip stuff!" Yep - heavy stuff indeed!

Mikhal has also captured various music awards (from Metro Times Music Awards "Best Rock Guitarist" to the Contemporary Jazz "Best Jazz Guitarist" award) and teaches guitar privately and at Wayne State's CCS (Center for Creative Studies) in Detroit.

You can visit Mikhal Caldwell on-line at his web-site, where you can read about him, check out his free guitar lessons, listen to his music, and order all sorts of great music.

I had a chance to speak with this incredible musician recently - check it out!


1) What are your current projects?

I'm still a member of CSP (Chop Shop Project) and as of this summer we're working on a new release of some stuff, I'm doing some other stuff with my cousin Al Caldwell - a project called "Show me a Sign". Al was the Bassist on Greg Howe's "Introspection" CD. I'm working on a project with keyboardist Jeff Davis who is the board man for Michael Harris's fusion unit, working on some stuff with guitarist Kenny Tyler, doing some funky stuff with vocalist Leah French as well. But the most important thing in my musical life at the moment is my solo stuff.

2) How does this (do these) differ from your past work?

The music in each project is totally different and I get a chance to really express more of who I am as a person and a musician. CSP is always gonna be a go for it studio project so that allows me to just explore a lot of that jazz/rock fusion sort of thing which I love playing and I always know that I've gotta be playing at crazy levels to be able to even hang. Show me a Sign is more of a funk/rock thing with Al really streching out on bass a doing a lot of soloing. I get my share of rip time but it's more of an earthy, bluesy thing. Jeff's project is super intelligent funked out dance music, the guy's a great musician and composer and he lets me get off so it's fun. Leah sings ultra cool stuff and is extremely open minded and versatile, so possibilities with her are endless. Ken (the Bishop) and myself are working on a CD titled the Detroit Guitar Mafia which is pretty over the top stuff - Kenny is sick!!! That project is kinda all over the place musically but it is most definitely guitar music. I've also got plans to do a lot of different stuff with a lot of different people that may really surprise some folks.

3) Do you have one project that you are most proud of as a guitarist?

I'm very pleased with my new stuff on Para Vision and my Reality Check band. It's everything I've wanted to play, totally fused and red hot! I'm playing, I feel, at new levels and I'm really not allowing myself to worry about playing in one particular vibe or style per say, I'm just playing what I feel and enjoy. To be honest I feel free, like this is really the first I've ever been good enough and unafraid of not playing what everyone expects from me to really let go. And it feels great! My performing unit is a trio now but I'm looking to expand into a 4 piece with the addition of a keyboardist. At the moment my band is: Drums - Matt Ownby (formerly of Elton John's band). Matt's on fire and a great person. Bass - Troy Cole (the Jaafar Band whom by the way is mentioned in the official Mahavishu Orchestra book) is an outstanding bassist. Both are truly great musicians and human beings.

4) Can you give our readers a run-down of your basic gear (live and/or studio), & do you have a favorite piece of gear?

My live rig is cool, it's triple stereo! I run 4 to 6 pre-amps, modified Mesa Boogie and Rocktron stuff into a mixer that splits the pre-amps to either left or right into another patch bay which mixs speakers and sends left or right, which gives me 4, 6, 8, or 12 possible independent left and rights. I also run all my processors and pre-amps into both a Midi patch bay and a 12 channel mixer. I sorta play live but with a studio quality sound. I use Tubeworks and Rocktron 2/12 cabs, I also use and endorse Thomastik-Infeld strings, Morley Pedals, Brian Moore Guitars, Tim (Tone Pimp) Jagmin Pick-ups and they are just incredible. There's nothing like them period. Tim also builds and does all the work to all my guitars, which are mainly Strats. I also use an old Roland guitar synth both live and studio. In the studio I either mic my system or run through a Johnson J Station. I do sometimes run one of my old Twins or a Marshall Plexi, however that's become a rare event as of late.

5) Who would you cite as early influences, and who are you favorite new players?

That's easy: Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane, then McLaughlin, Coryell, Holdsworth, Shawn Lane, Benson, Martino, Gary Moore, John Goodsall, Johnny Winter, Cameo, Chick Corea...to be honest, everything!

6) Can you give a few tips to aspiring players?

Remain true to your vision. Play with passion, and don't be afraid to play and express yourself, your way. Find the musician inside you, and set him free.

7) What are your future plans?

I'm looking forward to getting back into playing some CSP stuff with Charles Stuart. I'm also excited to get out with Reality Check and do some stuff. I'm hoping that this solo release will allow me to get to people who have never heard my stuff and allow me to play with some other players also that I've been wanting to get with.

8) Thanx for talking to us, Mikhal!

Thank you, it's been most cool!

- Guitar Gods


2002/ CSP, "Earth Music" .Battlezone Records

2006/ Mikhal Caldwell ,"Para Vision" .
Fused Out Records/Solar Guitars

2008/ Mikhal Caldwell, "Ethic's vs Logic" .
Fused Out Records

2010/Mikhal Caldwell , "Metalbopolis"
Fused Out Records/Solar Guitars

I have radio airplay and streaming audio from each of my releases.



Awesome, Amazing, Unbelievable are all very common terms when hearing fans describe the playing of Mikhal. Mik has come a long way from playing a $19 Decca Guitar in the mirror mimicking Jimi Hendrix at 10 years old. At 12, his grandmother purchased his first "real guitar" and provided him with the encouragement to play. By his early teens he began to transform his Hendrix inspired pentatonic / blues scale style, into a wide range investigating different genres of music. Mikhal was captivated by middle-eastern music. After several damaged turntables and hundreds of broken strings, Mikhal began to understand the sitar musical style of Ravi Shankar and the important influences of players like John Coltrane, Larry Coryell, David Sancious, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Corrado Rustici, Jeff Beck, Ray Gomez, Allan Holdsworth, John Goodsall, Anthony Braxton, Sonny Rollins just to name a few. For the last 20 years Mikhal has been an underground legend and a "guitarist guitarist". He is the co founder/guitarist/composer of the now disbanded burning fusion band CSP ( Chop Shop Project). In these times when anybody who can spell the word is dubbed "a virtuoso", Mikhal shines as an example of the real meaning of the word . He is a visionary . With the innovation of the blending of cultures and art in music, visionary musicians have been released to explore endless combinations of genres and sounds.These musicians have pushed the excepted limits of music and technique to levels once never dreamed of. In the beginning of this movement John Coltrane, Miles Davis and others started this freedom of music which grew into the musical influences of Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell .This yet evolved again into the next group of explorers such as Brand X, Yellow Jackets etc into the current colletive now such as Greg Howe, Tony MacAlpine, Guthrie Govan, Cab, Ohm. Mikhal is a player that expresses all that fire that has come in that music's rich history. While his recordings have captured that fire and demonstrate his strong composition and undeniable guitar playing skills, it's in his live shows that you see the pure improvisational power that sets him far apart from the generic jazz and rock soloist. Caldwell has 4 recordings released that range from his 2 CD's with The True Stories Orchestra Light of Truth 1999 Balance 2000 Both Avant Guard/Fusion masterpieces that feature Reed masters Faruq Z Bay and Michael ( The Terminator) Carey in an unyielding creative tag team combined with Caldwell's unique shred/bop over the top playing. These early recordings only gave a glimpse of what was to come in his next 2 recordings with his fusion band ( now disbanded) CSP ( Chop Shop Project ).Mikhal says that working with the musicians in this project was a constant love/hate relationship and took too much of a toll upon him just to attempt to be creative without the hassles of personal issues that over time became bigger and more important than the music itself. The project ended due to that, but did manage to complete and released 2 CD's Earth Music 2002 Leap of Faith 2003 Earth Music featured all acoustic instrumental compositions of Mikhal's in the setting of just acoustic guitar, and percussion . The result was a Blend of Middle Eastern/Jazz/Funk played with such intensity that it was received by even the metal, prog rock and shred fans with respect and awe . But the next recording, the very electric Leap of Faith, is the CD that has solidified him as an underground guitar hero. His aggressive style of play brought comparisons to guitarists such as Greg Howe and Shawn Lane's masterful control over the fretboard. It also brought him to the attention of WCSB Fusion Radio Legend , DJ Randy Allar who had been hearing of Mikhal from people like Frank Marino, Victor Wooten, Al DiMeola, Greg Howe and Larry Coryell for years before he ever heard his music. After receiving some music and meeting Mik, Randy call's Mikhal his favorite guitarist.