Thursday, July 05, 2018

Remembering SETH PAYTON Paying Tribute to the Spark of a Musical Maverick

Seth Payton 
By:  Robert E Martin From Review Magazine.

Although possessed of a small, lean and ultimately frail body, our community lost a powerful & significant musical and spiritual force far more expansive than the Mid-Michigan region Seth Payton inhabited physically when he sadly passed away on June 11th, finally succumbing to a six-year battle against cancer, which finally took this 36-year old musical beacon away from us  to blaze new trails in the World Unseen far too soon.

As co-founder of the ground-breaking, horn-fueled, and creatively innovative Ska-Punk band STAMP’d, which exploded upon the Mid-Michigan music scene back in 1996 with the force of a tornado sweeping up all the audiences it encountered into its funnel of musical transcendence, Seth Payton emanated an equally powerful spiritual presence, possessing a strength he believed could move mountains. And in more ways than one, it did.

The first time I saw STAMP’d was at White’s Bar and it was one of those handful of musical experiences that one is lucky enough to encounter a handful of times in this lifetime.  The rhythm and percussion were full and working in tight syncopation from numerous sources within the band; the guitars were driven, clean, and possessed; and the 3-member horn section, which Seth would play sax and pen soaring and original arrangements for, locked the entire room in syncopated harmony.  When he wasn’t playing or singing, Seth could be seen dancing like a whirling dervish into the crowd….sucking up any butt that wasn’t moving into the energy of that musical and spiritual funnel Seth magically possessed, like a true Shaman.

It wasn’t long before STAMP’d became one of the biggest groups on the circuit - performing a trail-blazing set of original music mixed with unfamiliar covers that drew more audiences to the dance-floor than the average cover band could hope to cover in their wettest of dreams.  They won numerous trophies at The Review Music Awards in the nineties, earning honors for their ground-breaking work as Best Original Band, Best Alternative Band, and Best Variety Band to name but a few.

Seth studied music with his saxophone at SVSU, but was also a self-taught, accomplished musician whose passion to play many styles of music and instruments was extraordinary. His infectious smile, sense of humor, sense of self, and compassionate spirit endeared Seth to everyone he met.

Phil Garno co-founded STAMP’d with Seth back in the 1990s and worked as a close collaborator and friend to Payton through many of their formative years.  “Seth and I grew up together in Birch Run,” recalls Garno (now living in Boston).   “We started a band in High School around 1996 that would later become the ska band STAMP'd.  In our first line up, Seth played keyboard, multiple Saxophones, Conga, and pretty much everyone else's instruments in the band, begrudgingly often better than we did.”

“Seth was a showoff and rightfully so,” continues Garno.  “He also was known to occasionally do a back flip off the stage.  His energy level was unmatched then, and also later in life.  His energy was a positive force that you couldn't help but get on board with.” 

“To my mind, his musicianship raised the bar for our band, and I'm guessing everyone who played with him.  He orchestrated all the parts including solo riffs for other members.  He would score music for some, clap out rhythm for others, or tab out and patiently teach parts to us as needed.  I cannot imagine what my life would be like without Seth Payton.”

In an interview with Review around the time Seth was first diagnosed with his illness and a benefit concert was being staged at White’s Bar to help him pay some of his mounting medical bills, he had this to say. “When we started the punk-ska band STAMP’d, I just liked the music. But I grew into reggae, or maybe I’m just getting older. I’m appreciating more music.”

After STAMP’d closed up shop, Payton went on to join forces with David Asher of The Process and David Asher (DAB) Band.  He also would DJ with Asher as part of Shaolin Sound System. In addition to arranging the horns for The Process latest release and performing on several of the songs, he also released a reggae album with his own band, Roach King & the Resonators. He even wrote a country song, he said, in the style of classic country.

“The funny thing about Seth was how many people who met him regarded him as their best friend, and in a way, he really was,” recalls long-time friend and musical collaborator David Asher.  “Seth had a way of making you feel good when he was with you, and when he left he took that feeling with him.  The strange thing is I feel him with me now, and if that feeling is going to be hanging around, I’m good with it, because that is what we have.  Still, I’d much rather have him here with us.”

“Seth was such a natural musician, and talented on so many instruments - he could always bring just the right "feel", and was always fresh and unique in his approach,” continues Asher when discussing Payton’s numerous musical gifts. “He was a crowd exciter too, and we were blessed to have him perform with THE PROCESS and DAB many times.”

“Seth was God’s man,” states Asher. “He fought his way back from his initial illness with such fortitude, we all believed he would beat the terrible odds and recover. When God healed him and he was performing and doing music again, he gave God the glory.  When his sickness returned with a vengeance, he never wavered in his faith or cursed God, he held firm.”

“I see so much of Seth in his 10-year old daughter Faith, and what a perfect name for her, she is a beautiful legacy for him.  Seth was a bright, shining, burning star. We will never have someone quite like him again, that is for certain.”

“I saw him about a week and a half before he passed and he was in terrible shape, but still had that wonderful smile when I saw him,” concludes Asher. “In the end he never lost that smile, filled with love, even when he was unable to speak and in terrible pain.  When I left we were both in tears.”

“With DAB he was finally playing bass in the Reggae project he had always wanted to do, and I know he was very frustrated having to step down, just as we were starting to take off with it. He gave me the courage to take a new road, and to start the new group. We had so many plans, and everything from here on out is from the momentum of them, and what he gave us.

“I will miss him terribly, and we will carry this music forward in his honor.”

The David Asher Band will be performing a special show in Seth’s honor at Scotty’s Sandbar on Friday, July 6th.

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