Long journey back
Corin Ashley reclaims pop mastery following stroke
Ayear ago, Corin Ashley thought his music career was finished. Ashley would never willingly give up music, but after suffering a debilitating stroke, he struggled to find a way back.
“I had a very slurry voice as well as a paralyzed vocal cord, so it just sounded like I was inserting a `brrrgh' sound into every word, like I was well past drunk,” Ashley said. “I did months of speech therapy at Spaulding and then vocal therapy at Mass. Eye and Ear.”
After 15 months of rehab, practice and fresh songwriting and recording, Ashley returns with a new record, “Broken Biscuits,” and a release party at Atwood's Tavern Sunday afternoon.
Ashley had recorded about 75 percent of the lead vocals on “Broken Biscuits” before the stroke. But listening to the record — a beautiful mix of British invasion, '70s AM gold and paisley pop — it's hard to tell which are the pre-stroke tracks.
“I ended up writing some songs about what happened to me and rewriting some lyrics,” he said. “The first one that I was able to sing lead on was `Magpie Over Citadel,' which sounds a bit stroke-y to me, but it made my engineer Ducky (Carlisle) cry.”
While Ashley recovered, Carlisle kept plugging away at the album at his studio, Ice Station Zebra.
“There were many days when I just wanted to be around music, and I'd lay around his studio while he fiddled with the tracks,” Ashley said. “He would just assemble these templates with spaces and say, `And when you can sing again,' as if he was 100 percent certain I would be able to.”
Fate dealt Ashley a tough hand, but it also gave him a little hope. The night of his stroke, the neurologist on call at Beth Israel hospital was Dr. Gottfried Schlaug. A conservatory-trained organist, Schlaug had spent decades studying how musicians recover from brain injuries.
“`You have suffered a great insult to your brain,' he would say,” Ashley said. “On the second day in the hospital, he poured out a little cup of paper clips and told me to put them back in the cup and left. To move my forefinger against my thumb in a pinching manner was the hardest thing I have ever done.
“It took me 45 minutes of sweating and swearing to get those paper clips back in the cup,” he said. “He came back in and saw that I had done it and said, `I think that you will play music again with a lot of work.' That was huge.”
Play again he did. Not that it was that simple. But Ashley has begun to rebuild his confidence along with his chops.
“My brain no longer understood chord shapes or the linear distance between notes,” he said. “If I was holding an A on the low string of the bass, my fingers did not know that a bit to the right was A sharp. I went back to the building blocks of when I was a 13-year-old trying to play bass. I played along with `Zenyatta Mondatta' by the Police two or three hours a day, every day.”
Ashley's reward is our reward: a tremendous album. Take a listen to “Broken Biscuits” and you'll hear a pop master back at work as if he'd never left.
Corin Ashley, at Atwood’s Tavern, 877 Cambridge St., Cambridge, Sunday at 4 p.m. $5 suggested donation.
‘I WENT BACK TO THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF WHEN I WAS A 13-YEAR-OLD TRYING TO PLAY BASS. I PLAYED ALONG WITH ‘ZENYATTA MONDATTA’ BY THE POLICE TWO OR THREE HOURS A DAY, EVERY DAY.’