It’s been nearly 50 years since legendary U.K. rock band Pink Floyd exploded on the bustling London music scene with their eccentric lyrics, bluesy leanings, and psychedelic tones and moods.
In the late ’60s, the band — singer/guitarist Syd Barrett, bassist/singer Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright — explored the spaced-out side of pop and experimental rock anthems. In the early ’70s, with guitarist/singer David Gilmour on board (essentially replacing Barrett), they transitioned into a more focused period of musical innovation and grim-but-provocative lyrical concepts.
These days, for many fans, the Pink Floyd sound and message is still powerful and inspiring. For one longtime follower, guitarist/singer Tom Quinn of long-running tribute band the Pink Floyd Experience, the Pink Floyd legacy has been a guiding light through a full-on career.
“I think Pink’s Floyd’s music lives on, and that love and appeal is still there,” says Quinn, speaking with Charleston Scene from New York, where he and his bandmates have recently toured. “Roger Waters made you want to think, and David Gilmour made you want to listen, and the chemistry and friction within the band led to some memorable, historically classic music. That’s really why I’m thrilled to be a part of this.”
Quinn, a native of the San Diego area in Southern California, has played music most of his life. He got into rock ’n’ roll as a teen in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and he’s performed in various bands as a working musician since his college days.
Quinn played music through college while attending San Diego State, majoring in finance and engineering. Alongside such heavy-rockin’ acts as the James Gang, Mountain, Led Zeppelin and others, Pink Floyd was a major early influence for Quinn.
“I was a senior in high school in 1973,” Quinn says. “That’s the year I bought my first electric guitar, and that’s the year I unwrapped the plastic on a brand-new copy of Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ I remember kicking back, turning on the black lights and hearing the soul-stirring, room-shaking sound of (opening track) ‘Speak to Me’ and the beautiful guitar sounds of (the following track) ‘Breathe in the Air.’ That’s when I fell in love with David Gilmour’s guitar playing. He’s been a main mentor of mine ever since.”
According to Quinn, the musical roots of the Pink Floyd Experience trace back to 1994 in San Diego when he assembled the first working version of the project as a dedicated Pink Floyd tribute band.
“I’d done a lot of things in music, but before I was going to be out to pasture by the music industry, I was determined to do something on my own terms for the first time — not for the money or anything that would gain me,” Quinn says.
The Pink Floyd Experience was the first serious Pink Floyd tribute band to work full-time on the West Coast scene. Their first few shows were low-budget affairs, but the gig situations gradually improved as they slugged it out.
“The club owners wanted bands that could whip people into a dance frenzy to sell drinks. Pink Floyd’s music really did none of that,” Quinn says. “We eventually got a head of steam and people started to get what we were doing. There wasn’t a Pink Floyd tribute band on every corner back in those days.”
By 1999, Quinn and his bandmates had practically mastered every side of the biggest Pink Floyd albums — 1973’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” 1975’s “Wish You Were Here,” 1977’s “Animals” and 1979’s “The Wall.” They also dabbled in some of the earlier, off-beat pop material of the Syd Barrett-era, like the Pink Floyd debut album “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (1967) and “A Saucerful of Secrets” (1968).
The updated, multimedia-powered version of the PFX project made its official premiere in October 2003. They’ve toured across North America, performing at various music venues, concert halls and outdoor festivals every year ever since.
“It’s a great band with great chemistry,” Quinn says of his colleagues. “This will be our 12th year of touring together, and it’s been a blast. We’ve had to make a few adjustments over the years, but we’ve made the right changes and upped the production as we’ve pushed ahead and reinvested in the show. Things are rolling along quite well right now.”
Currently, the Pink Floyd Experience roster features Quinn on electric and acoustic guitars alongside longtime bassist Gus Beaudoin, guitarist/singer Randy McStine, saxophonist Jesse Molloy, drummer Bob Sale and a rotation of special guest keyboardists standing in for PFX veteran John Cox, who amicably stepped away from the band last year.
The musicians at the core of the Pink Floyd Experience knew that they have to connect well and collaborate effectively to capture the rawness, edginess and soul of the music.
“Everything is important to this music, and playing the music from the inside out is vital,” Quinn puts it. “There’s no way you can sluff your way through this. If you simply look at the sheet music for Pink Floyd’s songs, there’s nothing that seems too frightening or imposing, but you have to have the right heart for the music to make it work. Very skilled players can fail miserably at this because they don’t fully understand the heart, soul, pulse and fine detail of the music.”
In addition to the technical flair and tightness of the band, Quinn seems proud of the group’s massive production team for embracing the band’s vision and passion for delivering a grand presentation of the music. Between the musicians’ performance and the multimedia enhancements on and around the stage, Quinn believes the Pink Floyd Experience truly lives up to its name.
Fans can expect dynamic renderings of the darker moods and lighter moments of the Pink Floyd catalog as well as some of the more experimental audio designs, like Floyd’s earliest “quadraphonic” four-point experiments with massive P.A. systems at concerts or their use of film projectors, smoke and lighting effects.
“Pink Floyd was always so cutting-edge in all areas: with their artwork, their arrangements, their sound designs, and their film and video work,” Quinn says. “In our presentations, when we try to re-create certain moments from the classic Floyd shows of the ’70s, we obviously have to be spot-on with the music. But we also try to re-create that atmosphere in which people can feel Roger Waters’ creepiness and darkness alongside the uplift and joy that comes with David Gilmour’s material and soundscapes. It’s an invasion of the senses, in all aspects.”
Earlier this month, the Pink Floyd Experience kicked off their winter Four Sides Tour across North America with shows in Alberta, Canada. The 40-date tour will meander through the Southeast this week before aiming for Quinn’s home state of California.
“We’re doing four complete album sides, back-to-back, interspersed with rarities and hits,” Quinn says. “It’s a great concert, and people are digging it, especially those fans who appreciate the deep cuts, going all the way back into the Syd era. We’re trying to take care of even the most die-hard, B-side Floyd-loving fans, so it’s rewarding in that way, too.”