Tony Visconti wore leather pants, his greying hair slicked back. I was straight out of two years of smoky, sweaty clubs and other dives. He was straight out of stardom, working with David Bowie. I had been asked by my record label to look after him during his trip to Johannesburg to record local stars, Ymage.
At the time, I was working on the songs that would become “Waiting for the Dawn” and Kevin was coming back to South Africa to produce it. He had been away in Australia for a year making a name for himself as a recording engineer.
Visconti had split his recording project into two parts, and Kevin and I would go to Cape Town with Godfrey Mcinga, Jimmy Mngwandi and Don Laka to cut the tracks of the album’s songs at UCA studio, while he went back to London. He was demanding. I was a bad gofer and was glad to be back at UCA’s studio with the three great players we had met in Joburg, making music. I felt good about the songs, and we, Kevin and I, thought that we could break through with a song like “Waiting for the Dawn”. Kevin was booked to fly back to Australia, via London, once the album was mixed by Shelly Yakus (Tom Petty, Patti Smith).
I sat at the bar having a beer with my brother Ardi, before leaving for London. He had introduced me to the music of Lou Reed, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin, and I had highjacked his Gallotone guitar and learned to play out of Alfred’s Chord Book. He looked into my eyes, saying: “Looks like you are going to make it, Boetman, I’m proud of you.” We had had a tumultuous fist-filled relationship, but we were finding our way back to each other again, and I felt like he thought my music had some worth. “Thanks, I think so too,“ I replied. It would be the last time I looked into his eyes.
Kevin put his arm around my shoulders as we walked through Hyde Park. I felt broken and numb. I had just heard that, as we flew to London, the 747 plane my brother was flying back to South Africa on, had blown up near Mauritius. It felt like the world had stopped turning. Everything seemed still and I couldn’t hear any music.
In late October 2011, I was journeying through The Grand Canyon on a raft atop a raging Colorado River with a group of friends who were serious adventurers, all about 20 years my junior. They had done first descents of remote Alaskan rivers, skied down 14 000-foot mountain peaks in Wyoming and kayaked over 200-foot waterfalls in Patagonia. I was glad to be invited along and glad there was a guitar to play every night.
This trip was a walk in the park for them, but serious adventuring for me. I felt I was deep near the Earth’s beating heart’s core, and for 21 days she and I were one. I left the river with my mind wiped clean and the rhythm of it in my heart.
When I heard “Crazy River”, playing over the studio speakers 10 years later, I was right back in the Canyon carved by the Colorado River. I could see the night sky and full moon; I could feel the Earth’s heartbeat. The song’s beat was the Earth’s heartbeat, the rivers were the Colorado, Amazon and Nile combined. Wild, free, places always moving from the mountains towards the sea of change and greater possibility.
Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.