My "In Praise of..." series is intended to shine the spotlight on artists who, in my opinion, continue to be under appreciated. While not necessarily in any particular order, I feel compelled to write about the artists that I feel A) the most personally geeked about and B) are most deserving of the added attention and appreciation. As my third artist to be spotlighted, I choose Peter Gabriel. Not only did Peter front the progressive rock giant Genesis during their peak creative years (to be differentiated from their peak remunerative years), as a solo artist Peter was able to very quickly surround himself with quality creative workhorses (Tony Levin, Larry Fast, Steve Hunter, Bob Ezrin, Michael Gibbs, Robert Fripp, Jerry Marotta, Sid McGinnis, Kate Bush, Phil Colins, David Rhodes, John Giblin, Dave Gregory, Morris Pert, Paul Weller, Hugh Padgham, Steve Lillywhite, Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Robbie Robertson, Joni Mitchell).
Through an innate curiosity of world musics and, in particular, drumming traditions, Gabriel inspired the invention of the "gated drum" recording technique, demanded whole songs be drummed without use of cymbals, and has been an influential leader and innovator in the incorporation, adaptation or outright building of songs around traditional world musics.
Almost ironically, at the other end of the spectrum, Peter had a very early fascination with electronic and computer technologies. The Linn programmable drum machine was used quite extensively on some of his 1980s recordings and, through his personal purchase in 1980 of a Fairlight CMI Series I computer (at the pretty penny of £20,000--1980 Pounds) and the building of a private studio around natural acoustics (Real World Studios in Box, Wiltshire, England), Gabriel began pioneering the new world of digital sampling, sequencing, and programming while at the same time using more and more primal and natural sounds (often sampled) in his music.
His founding of the the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) in 1980 and its successive yearly concerts (some of which have been in Wiltshire, England, some in Australia, New Zeland, Abu Dhabi, Italy, Spain, and The Canary Islands) further illustrated Peter's expanding interest in musical styles and traditions. This international exposure seemed to help launch Gabriel's rather quiet but distinguished career as a humanitarian: with Amnesty International from 1886 to 1998; through the founding of WITNESS which trains Third World people and organizations to videotape and document human rights issues and events; with Virgin's Richard Branson and South Africa's Nelson Mandela, the selection and creation of a 'team' of humanitarian leaders, called The Global Elders, to advocate for global human rights issues, and; being an early advocate and organizer (with Brian Eno) for digitally downloading artists.
From early on in his career Peter carved quite a little niche as not only a storyteller but as a very creative and theatric visual performer. Not surprisingly, he has been approached for movie roles and soundtrack contributions. His soundtrack contributions to the films Birdy (1984), Martin Scorcese's controversial 1988 adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, Peter Noyce's 2002 Autralian historical docu-drama, Rabbit-Proof Fence, and Pixar's 2008 smash, WALL-E, have all received critical and market attention.
Though Peter has, since 1986's So, produced only two new studio albums of all original music, 1992's Us and 2002's Up, he has been a backer or contributor to many projects and has taken a very active role in helping new and foreign artists find a public audience in the First World--especially through the use of his Real World Studios.
A humble man of impeccable integrity and artistic perfectionism--especially in the realm of live and video performance), Peter Gabriel may not go down in history as the greatest singer, greatest pop sales artist, or most impactful musician, but he has certainly been a man who has danced to his own drummer--though that drummer has at times used only a kick drum, at others a Linn drum machine, at others a troupe of African hand drummers, and at others programmed rhythm sequences from digital sampling--ever the odd man in town.