Top of the mountainBlind Albert included in Vietnam box set
Warren — Local blues/rock musician Vince "Blind Albert" Gabriel has spent a lifetime writing, playing, recording, producing, mixing and transferring music. As a working musician, he often performs songs by other musicians. Now one of his songs, written and performed, will appear in a historical box set with songs by musicians he has revered for years.
"Next Stop Is Vietnam" is set for summer release by the Germany-based Bear Family Records. Included with the 13-CD box set will be a hardcover book that includes photos and biographical information of all the artists. The project was spearheaded by Joe McDonald, of Country Joe and the Fish and Woodstock fame. McDonald has featured Gabriel's Vietnam-inspired songs on his Web site for a number of years. "Next Stop Is Vietnam" includes "Shellshock PTSD," a song Gabriel wrote that is inspired by the struggle veterans of all wars have experienced after their service is done.
Gabriel was drafted right out of high school and served as a point man and radio operator with the Charlie Company, Second Battalion, 18th Regiment, First Infantry Division during the 1968 Tet Offensive.
"When I got out of the Army in 1969, I severed Vietnam completely from my life," he said recently at Rockland's Black Bull Tavern, cutting a pat of butter in half with a knife to illustrate the separation.
It wasn't until 2000 that his war-time memories began to exert themselves. At the time, Gabriel was ensconced in the second-floor downtown Rockland studio he had for many years. It was there he began to write song after song about his Vietnam experiences, from getting the draft notice to basic training and shipping out to his months in the jungle and, finally, his return to his family when he was honorably discharged. These became the CD "11 Bravo Vietnam," which led to an interview, done by former Midcoast resident Tina Antolini, that aired on National Public Radio. Gabriel and his Blind Albert Blues Band cohorts performed songs from the set around the state and he eventually paired them with family photos, stock footage, original artwork by Derek Gundy, and a wealth of material sent his way by former members of his unit and their survivors to create a digital video presentation called "11 Bravo Vietnam - a soldier's story."
For a couple of years, Gabriel presented his DVD documentary at Midcoast high schools and he has continued to do so at Mount View High School in Thorndike where, he said, "it feels like family." Both the DVD and the "11 Bravo Vietnam" songs have been posted online, on Gabriel's own myspace.com/blindalbert as well as ReverbNation.com and soundclickcom. Then, this past January, he got an e-mail.
"It was from this guy named Detlev at Bear Family Records and it said they'd found one of the songs online and wanted to use it in a box set," said Gabriel. "My first thought was, this is a scam."
He checked the Bear Family Web site and eventually found out that Country Joe McDonald was involved with the project, so "I thought, OK, it's legit!"
The song the recording company wanted was "Shellshock PTSD," a more recent song that Gabriel has since edited into the "11 Bravo" CD. While it reflects upon Gabriel's Vietnam experience, it also is inspired by his father, a World War II vet, which is why Gabriel put the old-fashioned term shell shock in the title; and soldiers coming back from Iraq he has met. It also was inspired by his taking part in a First Infantry Division reunion in Denver, Colo., in 2008.
Gabriel, whose musical career has spanned the days when a musician could only get his or her music out to the public via recordings and radio to the current DIY environment that allows anyone to record and disseminate their music worldwide, still was surprised how the connection came about. Bear Family Music sent him a contract that gives the recording company non-exclusive rights to include his song. He will get royalties and a boxed set. He didn't have to send anything but the contract back.
"I said I'll send you the song; they said, we don't need it, we already have it ... they got the song and bio and pic from what I had online. They sent a PDF of the book; it looks really good," he said.
The CDs follow the timeline of the war, and there are speeches interspersed with the music, Gabriel said. His song is on the final CD, which deals with the ongoing repercussions of the war, and writing the song helped lead Gabriel to realize there were some of those in his own life. Last year, an Iraq war vet and fellow musician urged Gabriel to look into whether he might have PTSD, given his tours of duty walking point, one of the most dangerous assignments in the infantry.
"He made me go to Togus, and I was diagnosed at 30 percent affected due to memory loss," he said.
There had been signs for years, Gabriel realized. He remembered having anger problems in the 1980s, "nothing physical but really blowing up." And he said he always has to check the doors at night to make sure they are locked and have lights on outside.
"It's called hypervigilance," he said. "And I've got some short-term memory problems."
He started going to see a doctor at Togus every three months. At every session, the doctor would ask Gabriel if he was depressed.
"I always said no," he said. "Then one day, the day after an appointment, I was washing dishes in the sink and I turned to Lee and said, you know what, I think I am depressed."
Gabriel called the next day and now takes medication, including something to help him sleep better.
"It's made a big difference," he said.
He said he thinks about the veterans today, who serve tour after tour; and about those in World War I and II, some of whom experienced what was called shell shock.
"They never treated anybody," he said. "Men are supposed to be strong, not break down. We're supposed to 'man up.'"
Families of soldiers experience trauma too and he said he is really proud his parents will know his song is part of what is meant to be a definitive musical history of the Vietnam War.
Gabriel said he never envisioned his Vietnam songs taking the course they have and his inclusion in "Next Stop Is Vietnam" came right out of the blue. He said he has been talking with his brother lately about moving forward and concentrating on other things.
"It's such an honor to be included ... For me, this is the top of the mountain," he said.
To hear "Shellshock PTSD" and the rest of Blind Albert's war-era songs, visit the ReverbNation link below. For a complete playlist of the box set, visit the link to Bear Family Records, click on the British flag for English language and search for "Next Stop Is Vietnam."
VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to email@example.com.