Reggae music isn’t normally associated with Morristown, New Jersey. Then again, you don’t find too many fully sighted folks named Blindman playing reggae in the Garden State with a little twist of faith-based music tossed in for good measure, either.
Meet Derek Gazal, the aforementioned Blindman, whose stage name does conjure up visions of a weathered bluesman with slide guitar in hand playing honky tonks around the country. But that name has nothing to do with sight, as he explained to a fan he met after a gig who was blind.
“Why do you call yourself Blindman?” she asked Gazal, catching him off guard.
“I was trembling when she asked me that,” he recalls. “But the only thing I could think to tell her was the truth. I told her it’s because I see with my heart. And she connected with that and that was affirmation for me that I was doing something good.”
Gazal is doing something good, with his music and his message. Far from the preachy type, the New Jersey native is one of those glass hall full guys, and that’s evident from one spin of his latest album, See With Your Heart, one he believes is his best work to date.
“This is the best record I ever put out in terms of quality and production,” he said. “Everything that I am has come full circle and you see it on this record. And when I play it for people, they love it.”
He will be playing selections from the new album when he opens for Ziggy Marley at The Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ on Monday, July 17, and with this gig, it’s almost like he’s coming full circle again, as it’s Marley’s legendary father, Bob, that brought Gazal into the reggae fold to begin with.
Before getting a bootleg Bob Marley CD from a friend while studying at the University of Delaware, Gazal’s musical tastes were the usual ones for a teenager.
“I would listen to a lot of classic rock and hardcore music in high school,” he said. “But the reggae music, I really got into it in college when my buddy gave me a bootleg Bob Marley CD of a live performance in Portland, Oregon in like 1979. That CD forever changed my life. It wasn’t like the typical Bob Marley I was used to hearing on Legend. There were more politically charged songs, and it was the spirit, I just felt it. That bootleg has probably had 5,000 spins in my life. I still listen to it, and it opened me up to more and more reggae music. I just loved it and I felt like God was speaking specifically to me through the reggae music. My soul felt it. It led me on a journey.”
That journey led him here, and he’s doing his best to not only represent Marley and the music well, but to influence listeners positively as well.
“Bob Marley is a great example, and the reason why he’s such a great influence on my music and my life is that he lived his faith,” Gazal said. “It wasn’t about being popular, it’s about being authentic. I just want to be authentic and the rest will follow as it’s meant to be.”
So what is the message?
“I want to break down religious walls, political walls and any other kind of wall so people can see with their heart.”
Easier said than done, but if anyone has the right attitude to pull it off, it’s Gazal, who first made changes in himself before singing about it on record and on stage.
“Rather than just complain about the church, I said, ‘Let me be somebody who can advance the church in a positive way,’” he said. “It’s like that saying, ‘Be the change that you want.’ I’ve given up the rebellious side of me and said, ‘Let me do what I can and stop blaming other people.’”
To that end, he is currently Chairman of the Board for the St. Joseph’s Outreach charity and is active in the church, and if you want to put a Christian or Catholic music tag on him, that’s fine with him, but in reality, his music is for everyone.
“I make music and my faith is part of what I do and, like so many artists that I love, from Bob Marley to Herbie Hancock to Levon Helm, you find the soul in the music and it doesn’t have to be a certain label. It just is what it is. People might want to put a label on me as a Christian artist when the reality is, I’m just a regular guy who loves music, and my faith comes out in music just like anything an artist loves.”
But again, how do we get a reggae guy from Jersey?
“There’s a lot of spirituality in the music and it’s like food for my soul. Anybody that knows me well, they know where I’m at, so this is really not a surprise to them at all.”
Blindman plays The Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ on Monday, July 17. For tickets, click here
For more information on Blindman, click here