AIRHORN PROTOCOL - BEHIND THE MUSIC
The very name suggests loud and noisy, while at the same time hinting at procedure and rules. Organized chaos, a phrase which aptly describes the career of Airhorn Protocol.
Airhorn Protocol got its start in the summer of 1969, when the paths of three disenchanted youths serendipitously crossed in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal. Recalls drummer Jason ("J.B.") Briggs: "I was fed up with the way things were going in America. The summer of love turned out to be a big pipe dream. We weren't changing anything and everyone was getting drafted and sent to Viet Nam. I needed to get away and get my head together, so that's what brought me to Nepal. That and the cheap opium."
Guitarist Jonathan ("J.B.") Boswell: "I think Sticks (keyboardist Kent McPherson), J.B. and I were all on the same page in terms of where we were at in life. We were all hitting (age) 20 and we had all left home knowing there was some greater meaning to life, and determined to find it. It was inevitable that we would all meet up. It was all very karmic. Or cosmic..... no, wait.... yeah, karmic."
The three quickly discovered they shared more than similar views on life: each was a talented musician with a desire to create and share music with a message of hope and love.
Jonathan: "Our early songs were very much influenced by what was going on at the time. Our generation was dying by the thousands in a war that none of us supported. Maybe I'm a radical, but I've always believed that killing was wrong, and that's the message we were trying to get out there. Unfortunately, it was mostly lost, as none of us knew Nepalese."
Soon after forming, Airhorn Protocol embarked on the "Long Hair, Thin Air" tour of Nepal and neighbouring Tibet.
Jason: "I'll never forget that tour. I forget birthdays, people's names, telephone numbers. I forgot to buy milk when I was at the grocery store the other day, but I'll never forget that tour."
In the spring of 1970, the group again toured Nepal and Tibet, this time dubbing it the "Longer Hair, Thin Air" tour.
Jonathan: "Well, it was inevitable, really. I mean, there just aren't that many barbers in that part of the world. And the ones there were.... Let me put it this way: would you let a guy whose language you can't speak play with scissors around your head?"
Jason: "That second tour was the result of having lots of T-shirts left over from the first tour. It was just good luck that there was space to squeeze in the 'E-R'."
Jonathan: "Yeah, the T-shirt thing... Well, there just weren't that many people with money to buy them. We were mostly playing to small villages of Sherpas, the occasional camp of climbers, Tibetan saltmen..... Our shirts were "one size fits all". Maybe we'd have had better luck if they were "one size fits all YAKS! HA HA HA HA HA"
Shortly after this second tour, keyboardist Kent McPherson left the band.
Jason: "I think Sticksy just got fed up of lugging his keyboard around. It was a fucking monstrous, heavy thing, and with the air already thin to start with..."
Jonathan: " Sticks was frustrated at not being able to be heard. The problem was, there was nowhere to plug in his keyboard. I mean your halfway up a mountain. It's not like someone says, 'Hey, I'm halfway up a mountain, I think I'll put in an outlet' is it? Anyway, I think by the end of that second tour, we were all fed up with the lack of electricity. I mean, you can only play Unplugged shows for so long!"
Sadly, we are left with only speculation as to the reason Kent left the band. His young life was taken in an avalanche in September 1970.
Now a duo, Airhorn Protocol decided they needed a change of scenery and relocated to India in May 1971. It was here that they recorded and released their first single, 'Bolly Would (Would You?)'. Backed with 'Agra-vation (The Taj Mahal Song)', it quickly shot up to number one on the Indian pop charts and was accorded Double-A-Side status, a first in Indian music history.
Jonathan: "No, I wasn't surprised. I knew when we were recording it that we'd come up with something special. I mean, 'Bolly' combined guitar and drums like no one else in India had done before. And 'Agra-vation's mix of drums and guitar was some serious mind-blowing shit."
Jason: "Having a number one record was really special. I say "was" because my asshole brother ruined it for me. He's all like 'India's got a billion people, so like only one-tenth of a percent of the population need to buy your single to make it number one. Anyone could do that.' He's always doing stuff like that."
On the heals of this success, Airhorn Protocol quickly recorded a full-length album. Bhangra Your Head rocketed to number one, where it remained for 26 weeks, and spawned 7 number one singles, including "Hindu It 'Til It Hurts" and "Leather Turban".
Jason: "I think we surprised a lot of people with how heavy Bhangra was, but to us it was a natural progression. A lot of aggression was being channeled into the music. Like, I was really pissed of that I couldn't get a hamburger and that just seemed to come out in my drumming."
Jonathan: "In hindsight, people should have expected it. I mean, people seem to think our first single was all light and happy pop music. But if you listen to the lyrics of "Agra-vation", it's about standing in a really long lineup to get into the Taj Mahal, and then being charged too much when you get in. There's not much that's fucking happy about that, is there?"
In January 1972, Airhorn Protocol embarked on what would become a year-long tour of India and Pakistan. The trials and tribulations of life on the road resulted in this being the last tour they would do.
Jonathan: "We played 320 shows on that tour. It's too much! Every sari starts to look the same. You forget where you are. I mean, at one point, we'd just finished playing 42 shows in Pakistan. When we played our first show back in India, I made the mistake of saying "Hello, Peshawar!". HA HA HA HA HA. For a minute I didn't think we were going to get out of there alive!"
Jason: "It starts to drive you crazy. They don't clap and yell in India. Did you know that? If they like you, they do this high pitched... chant. LI LI LI LI LI LI LI LI LI! It fucking makes you mental!"
After a 15-month hiatus, Airhorn Protocol regrouped in May 1974 to begin writing and recording their follow-up to Bhangra Your Head. It would take 6 months, and upon its release, lead to Airhorn Protocol's exile from India.
Jason: "My annoyance with not being able to get a burger had become a running joke between J.B. and myself. We thought we'd let everyone in on it."
Jonathan: "So we released our second album and called it A God Well-Done, and had a picture of hamburgers on a bar-b-que on the cover."
Jason: "Within two days, every newspaper in the country was calling for our heads, the Prime Minister had to go on national television and plead for order in the streets, Jonathan and I didn't dare to leave our houses.... we were finally told that for our own safety and the good of the country, we'd be escorted to the airport and had to leave the country."
Jonathan: "And, bang, just like that, our time in India was Gandhi."
Airhorn Protocol's arrival to the United States was difficult for the band. They were unheard of in North America and their style of music was falling out of favour with the kids of the day. All of this exacerbated the souvenir Jason had brought back from India: a raging curry addiction.
Jonathan: "We got back not long after the Viet Nam war ended, so the mood of the public was pretty upbeat, which started to be reflected in the music. Guitar and drums wasn't enough anymore. It was the age of Disco, and Airhorn Protocol didn't seem to have a place in it.'
Jason: "We talked about getting another keyboard player and making a disco single, like the Stones and (Rod) Stewart were doing. But we quickly realized that Sticksy was irreplaceable, even though we hadn't really heard him play."
Jonathan: "We decided to remain a duo, and got together to start working on our next album. I knew that J.B. was dabbling with curry when we were in India, but I had no idea his use was as bad as it had become."
Jason: "I started with the mildest curry, usually cutting it with a little chutney or tikka. And it was rare that I'd use it. But it was on our year-long tour in '72 that it got out of control. I was using hotter and hotter curries, and it was taking more and more to get the same effect. And the thing about India is, it's everywhere."
Jonathan: "After the '72 tour, Airhorn Protocol needed a break. But that left J.B. with too much time on his hands."
Time Jason filled with curry.
Jonathan: "When we got back together to do the God album, J.B. was a full-blown curry addict, but he hid it well. When we started work after coming to the U.S., he couldn't function properly. I mean, curry's not as plentiful here and the quality's not as good. He was having a hard time."
Jason: "I didn't think I had a problem and I didn't think J.B. knew, but I couldn't write, I couldn't keep time..."
Jonathan: "I finally confronted J.B. and said he either cleaned up or it was the end of Airhorn Protocol."
Jason and Jonathan agreed that Airhorn Protocol would go on indefinite hiatus. Jason checked himself into a rehab clinic in Vancouver, Canada, and spent the next six months cleaning out the curry.
Jason: "I picked Vancouver because I'd heard the success rate of their rehabs is the best in North America. That and the cheap heroin."
Jason hasn't touched curry in over 25 years.
Jason: "I still take it one day at a time. When I go to a new city, the first thing I do is find out where their Little India is, and avoid it like the plague. And I don't go within 10 miles of Surrey!"
After leaving rehab, Jason remained in Vancouver. He was joined by Jonathan and the two began work on their long-delayed third album.
Jason: "During my time in rehab, I fell in love with Vancouver and convinced J.B. we should work on the album here."
Jonathan: "So I moved to Vancouver and we went to work. But much like 10 months before, I quickly knew it wasn't going to work."
Jason: "It was like all my creativity left with the curry. It's ironic - before, curry was stifling my creativity, but without it..... you could say I lost my currytivity."
And so, in the early part of 1976, to the notice of no one, Airhorn Protocol ceased to be.
Jason: "It was easy to do, since we were unknown. It wasn't like we had lots of fans pressuring us to continue."
Jonathan: "Whenever I hear the expression "They're really big in India" it brings a tear to my eye. But we'd had our day and it was time to move on."
Time to move on. But time has a funny way of magnifying and distorting and such is the case with Airhorn Protocol.
Jonathan: "Well, it's really strange, but over the course of the 25 years that have passed we've developed quite a cult following."
Jason: "There are a dozen websites, three or four fanzines, a fan club."
Jonathan: "We have a fan club. They call themselves the Airhorny Prototypes. HA HA HA HA HA!"
It was the Airhorny Prototypes that convinced Jason and Jonathan to reunite Airhorn Protocol in 2002 for one more album.
Jonathan: "Writing the new album came easy. It seemed so natural to be making a record 28 years after the last one!"
Jason: "We decided to do an album and a one-off reunion show."
Jonathan: "The new album is called Catastrophic Failure and is set for release in the middle of 2003, around the time of the concert."
Jason: "J.B. and I won't be performing at the concert. We didn't actually play on the album. When it came time, we just couldn't be bothered to spend any time in the studio, so we hired session musicians for the studio and for the concert."
Jonathan: "We may not be on it, but it's still very much an Airhorn Protocol record. I think fans will have a hard time differentiating it from our other albums."
Airhorn Protocol. The organized chaos continues.