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Terrence Hemp Cummings: Press

With the release of “Highway 420,” longtime area musician Terrance Hemp Cummings has made two important statements: Despite being best known to NEPA music fans as one of the most charismatic members of one of the region’s all-time best cover bands — Strawberry Jam — he is also quite capable of writing some great songs.

He’s got a lot on his mind as an artist. And though never too preachy, he’s not afraid to weigh in on some controversial topics, including his views of the legality of recreational drugs.

But the 10-track collection of music is more than just that. It’s a creative gem, with all sorts of life experiences and observations serving as muses. In fact, listening to it raises a few questions: Why has it been 15 years since Cummings offered us some original material? It’s been that long since the release of Strawberry Jam’s 1994 album “Spread The Jam.” And also, why is it a complete and total solo album, which he produced and engineered himself and plays every instrument.

The answers are twofold: He says that lyrically, it is strictly his social and political views showcased on the record. And he says that sometimes it’s just really hard to get a band together to make a record.

“I never wanted to be a solo artist,” says Cummings. “I’ve always been in bands my whole life. It’s weird how it happened, but I’m trying to push the Mother Nature, green and 4/20 thing, and the hemp and all of that stuff, so that’s one reason. And another reason is it’s so hard to get a bunch of musicians to write and record and do this stuff. It takes so much time. I’ve got tons and tons of songs that I’ve written over the years that I never put out. Finally, I said, ‘You know, you play drums, you play bass, and you can play a little guitar and keys — why don’t you just do it yourself?’ And that’s basically what I did.

“It’s about time I got off my butt,” he adds with a laugh.

Tracks on the CD — which as you might expect, carry a Grateful Dead and Beatles influence — include “Free Country,” “What Am I?,” “I Believe” and the title track. Cummings says recording the entire album alone was often difficult.

“It was not easy,” he says. “One minute you’re an artist, the next minute you’re an engineer, the next minute you’re a producer. It was nerve-racking in a way, because I’m a perfectionist and I wanted it to turn out as perfectly as I could get it. And to tell you the truth, I was obsessed. There was nothing else. I’m not kidding. I have this ability to do this. If I’m obsessed with something, I can stay up for days — like three days at a time and not even sleep — and I did that many, many, many times during the project. It drove my wife kind of nuts.”

Songs such as “Highway 420” and “War On This!” provide some insight into Cumming’s stance on … well, you can probably take a guess at that.

“I’m not going to preach to anybody, and I’m not trying to,” he says. “But if I throw it out there, it’ll be in the back of your mind. I feel that the whole war on drugs thing, no matter how you look at it, it’s just being mishandled. I’m definitely against throwing people in jail for what I consider something that’s not a problem. They’re going to let a violent criminal out to put a guy in for smoking a doob. So now you’ve got a guy who beats people up and was convicted, and he’s out on the street, and a peaceful guy who likes to smoke a doob in his living room is in jail. I just don’t like to see injustices.”

But again, there’s more to the record that that. Cummings says that every track has a story behind it. “I Believe” stemmed from his desire to write a pure pop song, which he says he had never done before. “What Am I?” was written at a tough time in his life during a divorce, and “With A Song” simply came from his desire to write a song similar to the mop-top era of The Beatles. Apparently, he nailed it.

“I was at a friend’s house after a gig, and they were playing the CD, and the song came on, and they were about halfway into the first verse, and this dude goes, ‘Dude, this sound just like ’65 Beatles.’ I go, ‘Excellent!’ You don’t know how cool that is.”

Cummings adds, however, that ultimately he hopes people can put themselves into the songs.

“When I write, I don’t try to define things that sharply,” he says. “I like people to have their own ideas. It’s interesting, because people will come up to me and say ‘Was that song about this?’ or ‘Is this what you’re saying?’ and sometimes it’s like, ‘Well, no. That’s not even close to what I was thinking, but I really appreciate you telling me that. It’s pretty cool that you came up with that.’ To tell you the truth, it’s almost more fun for me when people come up with their own determinations, and it’s happened to me many, many times.”

Cummings gives a heavy sigh when asked how if feels, after more than 20 years in the music business, to, have released his first solo album.

“It’s like the weight of the world is off my shoulders,” he says. “I hope they like it.”

They should.

Very cool record from Terry Cummings.

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Terrance Hemp Cumming’s “Highway 420,” available at Gallery of Sound, Wayne’s World, all Strawberry Jam shows and www.highway420music.com. Info: myspace.com/terrencehempcummings. To hear a song from “Highway 420,” visit this story at www.theweekender.com/music
Here is a look at the 2/3 page ad for THC's new CD "Highway 420" in the Dec/Jan issue of Relix Magazine.
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