No legend in the making is impervious to the first gush of early praise. But a roster of remarkable players have much to say on behalf of Chogyi Lama so we’ll have to gamble on his humility holding up. Thursday night, April 4, Chogyi will begin his evening with an acoustic set at Colony Woodstock, 22 Rock City Road, featuring Daniel Littleton and local phenom singer Olivia Gabriel, before leading his own full band in a set.
Locals to the area, may remember him as an MVP at the Rock Academy, when at 13 he began inspiring students and leaving local musicians of every stripe amazed. To begin with…at a remarkable seventeen months he joined jazz musician, Jayna Nelson’s Musical Mythology program. Adult and toddler worked together, weekly, until he was nearly six. Upon hearing the single most gifted guitarist yet to hail from Woodstock, Joey Eppard, three year old Chogyi asked for a lesson. Having never taught before, Joey, watched Chogyi reproduce basic chords perfectly on a first instruction. His remarkable progress continued until at seven, the skateboard intervened. But once returned to guitar at 13, every musician who heard those early Rock Academy shows asked the same question: “Will this kid take that incredible musical vocabulary and embark upon his own journey or not?” John Sebastian felt certain he would, gifting him his first Gibson.
After hearing Chogyi play only once Simi Stone (who today depends upon his virtuosity as a core member of her full band) asked him to sit in with her and was immediately struck by his maturity on and off the stage. She already knew Chogyi could reproduce the guitar solos on her first record, which — very nearly — he did; the difference being Chogyi improved upon them. Then came the night Simi decided to wing a version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” — and out of thin air, a sixteen year old pulled his own classic solo.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, brothers in arms, Darryl Jennifer and Gary Miller (Urban-Punk-Reggae Legends of “Bad Brains”) laid down the funky dharma of Chogyi Lama.
On the phone Darryl effuses, “I’ve worked with guitarists all over the world at every level. The good and the great. But Chogyi?.. [he] is a truly gifted guitarist, which is the supreme achievement. Sure you’ve got to work with total dedication but…the truly gifted artist starts off with that “gift” — right? — which comes from outside them. And that very first time I heard him play he was showing me that totally focused imagination — that gift. I can’t remember how old he was — but he was young!”
It wasn’t long before an 18-year-old Chogyi Lama appeared before ten or twenty thousand “Bad Brains” fans in support of ailing guitarist and Woodstock hero Gary Miller (AKA Doctor Know). Gary was standing on stage next to Chogyi when the young man began to rip, and — as Gary later recalled to Darryl — ‘It was like I was listening to myself.’ Darryl and Gary agreed, “it was like the energy we had back in ’82…”
“I take Chogyi around with me on sessions,” Darryl laughs, “and it’s veteran musicians who are making mistakes — not Chogyi. He’s totally focused. The other day I took him on a Lenny White session — you know? This god of progressive drumming! And Lenny couldn’t get over him.”
The next call was to Michael Clip Payne (40 year veteran of Parliament Funkadelic and leader of 420 Funk Mob) who also watched Chogyi grow up. “I turn around and he’s a musician’s musician. ‘No question you can play,’ I tell him, ‘but what have you written?’ Well, he told us, didn’t he? First record — from out of nowhere. And he’s singing his own songs. More like Michael Franks maybe. And his playing? No, not Eric Gales — more Eddie Hazel. And so now? Now he’s got us. We’re just waiting for what’s to come.”
Indeed last year Chogyi composed and recorded 10 of his own Neo Soul love songs. He sang them with a confident if melancholic nonchalance, while keeping his guitar mixed down and in some instances barely present — shocking those who figured he’d lead with all six strings blazing.
And to cap it off here’s a last twist in the unfolding enigma: Chogyi is the legendary Richie Havens’ grandson…And only a few hours after the printing of this issue, he will help kick off the season at Bethel Woods Center For The Arts. Chogyi will be the only musician performing at the sneak peak of the exhibit honoring the golden anniversary of the original Woodstock Festival, which his grandfather so memorably opened. So, is the timing of this young Woodstocker’s coming-into-his-own a coincidence? Or something more like “Karma” (as his first record is entitled).
Which one? Like the rest of the VIP crowd certain to be cheering him on Thursday, April 4, you’ll have to be there to know. ++
Chogyi Lama, with special guests Daniel Littleton and Olivia Gabriel perform at 7 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.) Thursday, April 4 at Colony Woodstock, 22 Rock City Road.