A two-week rafting trip through the Grand Canyon brought Leon Joseph Littlebird and Will Clipman together in 2012 as “floating artists-in-residence.”
“We were hired to be musicians and storytellers,” on the trip, dubbed “Ancestral Voices of the Grand Canyon,” said Littlebird.
Clipman remembers meeting Littlebird at the load-in point in Flagstaff. “Within about 30 seconds of meeting, we were like two little kids full of mischief.”
During the trip, Clipman and Littlebird became good friends and quickly discovered a natural affinity for musical improvisation.
“One day we stopped at a side canyon with this beautiful pool,” said Clipman. “Everyone was enjoying this incredible spot, and (Leon) looked at me and said, ‘Let’s do A Train.’ I put some gravel in my drum and was rolling it around to make wind sounds. … It was a magical moment for us.”
Immediately after the Grand Canyon trip, the duo staged a concert at Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Ariz.
“The concert after the trip was a great experience,” said Littlebird. “The show was completely spontaneous.”
“The river trip was a transforming experience,” said Clipman. “We wanted to play together more.”
Eventually, the two musicians were able to coordinate their schedules and performed several other concerts together. Prior to one of the shows, they saw two sundogs, said Littlebird, “so the ‘SunDog Twins’ became our nickname.”
The duo’s musical collaboration has now yielded a new album, Shadow Chant, and the SunDog Twins’ 7 p.m. concert Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the Salida SteamPlant Event Center is part of a Colorado album release tour.
“The album is definitely a collaborative effort. It really came out of the Grand Canyon thing. We’ve just been letting it grow,” said Littlebird.
“The concerts in the interim allowed us to explore fuller sounds, and I think the new album reflects that. It’s a much fuller, layered kind of sound,” said Clipman. “It’s a mixture of songs, everything from world traditional kinds of songs to songs that are more mainstream. … The title track is an out ’n’ out rocker. … Tim Stroh (bass) brought a lot of creativity to the project.”
Clipman described the album as having a “Tibetan monastery kind of feel. We recorded it at Madhouse Recorders in Leadville, and I had to take canned oxygen to keep from going loopy,” he laughed.
Littlebird wrote the songs on the new album, which features Littlebird on vocals, guitar and native flutes, and Clipman on percussion and drums.
Littlebird said he wrote some of the songs for the album “10 years ago and some of them 10 days before we went into the studio. One of my favorite songs (on the album) is ‘Taos Nights’ about my childhood experiences in Taos … about nature and being connected to the Earth. … I really look at life kind of lyrically, and that translates into songs in my head.”
Clipman said the album’s “unifying themes musically and lyrically really hold it together.”
One of those themes, Littlebird said, is about “facing the shadow side of our consciousness. It’s time to face the shadow, and we’re going to grow. Through our music we’re trying to give people courage and inspire them to take action.”
In discussing musical influences, Clipman admitted, “My tastes are very eclectic. I started playing drums when I was 3. Now I’m 63. I grew up in Philly around a lot of soul music, R&B and jazz. When I was 14 and discovered girls I wanted to play rock ’n’ roll,” he laughed. “Later I got into world music – log drums from Bora Bora, Weather Report, Soft Machine, then fusion music using ethnic musicians to get the world music sound, which is basically jazz. As Duke Ellington said, ‘There are two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.’ Hopefully we play good music.”
“I think people will enjoy the show,” said Littlebird. “We’ll both be playing a variety of instruments. … We’re working out some arrangements that will be super groovy. People will find it interesting.”
“I really have always enjoyed playing in Salida,” said Littlebird.” The people are always generous and kind. I’m looking forward to seeing them again with my brother Will. … We’re really looking forward to the SteamPlant. I like that stage.”
This will be the first Salida performance for Clipman, who said, “I’m looking forward to connecting with people and having an uplifting experience. … People will enjoy the music. We’ll both be playing a variety of instruments. I think people will find it interesting.”