Cliff Fortney's mom made him take piano lessons in grade school but Cliff wanted to be a drummer and finally talked his mom in to buying him a drum set. He practiced his paradiddles & flamadiddles……In Jr. high he joined the orchestra as a timpani player and next to him at rehearsals was the best drummer he had ever heard….Tim Stoddard. Cliff was humbled, sold his drum set, and bought his first Farfisa organ. He and his organ joined his first real band called Miles Bluffton Blues Band. The members were all 16. Cliff started to pick up the harmonica around this time.
Cliff’s first introduction to future fellow HTMers was in 1968 – 1969. He hooked up with Rick Kennell & Mike Beck and began performing vocals, flute & harmonica with this famous Fort Wayne, IN high school band called Zelda. Originally the band was called True Gritt but when the John Wayne movie came out it was changed to Gritt hopefully to help distance their association with the movie. Rick thought I came up with the new name Zelda but I can’t remember the origin if I did (maybe too many drugs were floating around at the time). Our good friend & musician Dave Cox was the keyboard player.” Guitar player Jeff Brown passed away in 2010. The band started listening to prog-rock and thought they’d take a crack at performing The Knife by Genesis, Heart Attack by Aorta, and numerous Jethro Tull tunes. They started writing their own songs too. Looking back they were way ahead of their time. In 1970 Zelda (Gritt) won Billboard Magazine’s regional “Search for the new Sound” contest with a chance to go to NYC and record. Unfortunately they didn’t make the final. They had a good run at it. Rick Kennell’s family took Cliff in to their home in 1970-71. Cliff’s parents moved to Lafayette, Indiana and he was a senior in high school without a home. ” I’m forever grateful to Rick’s family. I was too young and abandoned to understand how lucky I was to have Rick’s family take me in. Chuck, Rick’s dad, educated me on the use condoms.” Zelda disbanded in 1971 and everyone went their own way. Cliff occasional sat in with prog recording artists Ethos with hopes of maybe being a member. He was never asked to join though seriously considered. Dan Owen, who took Cliff’s place in HTM around 1975, was the bass player and vocalist for Ethos. In 1972 Cliff started college at IUPU in Fort Wayne leaving the music scene behind. He & Mike Beck kept in touch while Rick Kennell joined the army and was stationed in Germany. Rick’s move was the seed that started HTM’s evolution.
In the summer of 1973 Cliff had completed one semester at IUPU and was embarking on a solo music project with plans to go back to school in the fall. His song writing started to improve and his vocal style took on the influences of Peter Gabriel, Peter Hammill, Edgar Winter, Kenny Rankin, and Jeff Hawks from the band Touch. “I remember when Mike Beck called and said that Ricky from Germany needed a drummer and vocalist to complete a band with great like minded musical potential. When I finally got the full story of Rick’s meeting with Stanley Whitaker in Germany and that we were all supposed to meet in Harrisonburg, VA I was a bit skeptical.” Shortly there after Kit & Frank sent Mike some unbelievable original recordings and Frank went to visit Mike & Cliff in Ft. Wayne. That did it. Cliff & Mike were on their way to H’burg and the first HTM band house. “I remember our first gig at JMU without Rick. Kit & Frank covered the bass parts. Someone pulled the fire alarm while we were in the middle of playing Plague of the Lighthouse Keepers by Van Der Graaf Generator . We just kept on truckin’ through the alarm.”
“I enjoyed my time with HTM and feel honored to have worked with them. I had many regrets when I left the band. Now though…. looking back on my departure, I may be a better musician because of it. I was an adequate flute player while playing with HTM but knew I could be a better player if I studied flute with Carol Kneibush Noe at James Madison University. Carol was the Principle flutist for the Baltimore Symphony and was a student of master flutist James Galway. My flute skills improved enough to make the JMU Symphony for 3 semesters from 1975 -76. That was my trade off.” Cliff was also a modern dance piano accompanist for the JMU dance school.
Is it fact or fiction that Cliff auditioned for Genesis after Peter Gabriel left during this period? “I’m not sure I know” claims Cliff. Cliff, Rick, & Mike are very good friends with Dale Newman who runs the Genesis farm in London. While both Dale & Cliff were visiting Fort Wayne in 75-76 Dale recorded Cliff singing “Watcher of the Skies” and “Musical Box” along side with the original Genesis recording. Genesis Manager Tony Smith called Cliff back with interest but never called back for a live audition. Cliff recalls “One of our friends Tom Hanson was the light tech for Genesis and told me I was highly considered.” “Dale escorted me back stage in Philadelphia to meet Genesis but I only got to talk to Mike Rutherford & Steve Hackett. Mike asked me what my future plans were and I didn’t have an answer.” Dale Newman is a great musician on his own and is worth checking out. Cliff: “I’m proud to say and honored that Dale included me in his Oct. 1978 recording production at Sounds Reasonable recording studio in Washington DC. HTMer’s Mike Beck & Dan Owen also took part”.
"Shenandoah Song & Summer of 1976: Donna Pleasants & Cliff composed the music and were actors in the play Shenandoah Song at Melrose Caverns Playhouse in VA. This opened the door for Cliff to later on compose & produce the music for numerous acclaimed plays & dance concerts. Later that year and after Dan Owen left HTM Cliff tried to rejoin the band but was turned down. Cliff: “I think the guys had had their fill of vocalists and were evolving in to mostly instrumental music. Stan did a pretty good job of covering vocals when they needed them.”
Off to NYC 1977: Cliff also regretted leaving college without graduating at that time plus He was only 9 credits away from having a bachelor of music education. “I moved to NYC in 77 hoping like all the other wannabes to be famous.” While in NYC Cliff played with a band from the Bronx called Poor John’s Head. They pulled off playing live Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick front to back. “ I truly came to appreciate Ian Anderson.” Cliff also was employed by NYU, the NY YWCA, & the Alvin Aily dance school as a classroom dance accompanist. He also had the pleasure of meeting & conversing with all the members of Yes at Manny’s. “I shook Chris Squire’s hand and my hand disappeared. What a huge hand!” After a few years the collection agencies found Cliff in NYC and he was forced to move back to Fort Wayne, IN to regroup.
“Luckily for me I was able find a small Appartment and get jobs at two restaurants doing food prep and I made time to do solo acts with voice & piano at a few nightclubs.” Cliff’s song list included 50% Beatles and the rest were pop standards with a few originals thrown in. “The objective was to make as much money as I could to get out of debt.” Cliff also did quite a bit of performing & recording with local musicians Fred Rothert, Barry Labov, Legend, The Dr. Bob Band & Mike Beck’s band Rumble. Mike had left HTM earlier also, moved back to Fort Wayne, and was trying to get beyond the departure. Fred Rothert & I played regularly at Mothers, now called Columbia Street West. Me & Mike’s band Dog Talk played there also in the late 90’s. I met my now x-wife Susan May at Mothers in 1982. Susan and I moved back to Harrisonburg in 1982 so I could finish college at JMU.”
Cliff finally graduated from James Madison in 1984 with a Bachelor of Psychology. He was planning on going to graduate school and study to be a performance anxiety counselor. Finances again nipped that goal in the bud. While his wife Susan went back to school and received a master’s in business Cliff was trying to figure out what to do next. In 1983 while in school Cliff started playing keyboards, flute & harmonica for a regional night club band called Opus (1983-86). In 1986 & 1988 Cliff was the composer and music producer for two plays performed at JMU. The Harrisonburg Daily News Record critic called Aristophanes’2,600 year old play Lysistrata a Winner…”Helped by an energetic young cast, some fantastic music by Cliff Fortney, and effective costumes & props, this production starts as it means to finish, on the very highest note.” Cliff comments, “I credited Holst and King Crimson for the Mars war music In 1988 Cliff composed & produced the original music for Moliere’s comedy The Imaginary Invalid.
In the late 80’s Cliff was offered a temporary position with the JMU music department teaching song writing and record production. Cliff comments: “I lasted about three semesters and realized teaching wasn’t for me. The music department was going through some growing pains and needed to keep up with the digital music revolution happening around this time. Unfortunately they allocated most of their funds to the classical instrument departments and left the record production Dept. without any funds. I told them… You try to teach record production on a 4 track cassette recorder! Luckily the Mennonite College down the road let us use their, at the time, state of the art, 24 track studio. JMU now has a great record production program. Around this time Cliff made quite a few visits to Kit Watkins near Winchester Va. “We had some fun jams in his studio. I am humbled by his talent. Some of those jams produced some interesting creative music.”
Cliff & Susan moved to Roanoke, VA in the early 90’s. Cliff states. “We bought 5 acres with a beautiful refurbished 100 year old farm house out in the middle of nowhere” Cliff started out being a whole sale sporting goods rep but quickly turned to selling Yamaha pianos for Leed’s Music Co. “I went to Yamaha piano school and all of the NAMM conventions for a few years.” Cliff’s original song writing ceased and he basically quit playing for a few years. Cliff recalls, “My wife Susan is an excellent horse trainer and was happy to have the facilities she needed to promote her business. Me, on the other hand, was struggling with depression and felt a mid-life crisis coming on.” Ace Music & Electronics in Harrisonburg offered Cliff a sales position at their store so back again to Harrisonburg, VA.
In 1993 Cliff visits Mike Beck in Indianapolis, IN and goes to see Mike’s new band Dog Talk. Cliff: “I was yearning to be creative again and was completely envious of what Mike had started.” At the end of the day Cliff decided to move to Indianapolis and join Dog Talk.
"Dog Talk 1994-2000: Dog Talk recorded two CD’s with Cliff featured on vocals, flute, penny whistle, harmonica, keyboards & percussion, those are: It Happens Every Day & Twiddling The Tightrope. The critics comment from NUVO 1997: “As one of the city’s most popular and successful bands, Dog Talk has gotten it’s second wind with the release of Twiddling the Tightrope, their newest CD, with all original songs, this CD is less raw and more musically sophisticated than their earlier release It Happens Every Day.” In the same article Mike Beck’s goal is simple “Make a living and be proud of what we do.” Dog Talk was voted best of Indy by NUVO for four years in a row.
2002 French TV’s remake of HTM’s “Partly the State”: Cliff: “First and for most I thank Mike Sary and French TV for their rendition of HTM’s Partly the State. I’m honored that they chose this for one of their traditional prog album cover songs. Please note that Kit Watkins, Stanley Whitaker, Frank Wyatt, Rick Kennell, and Mike Beck were co-writers and added the meat to this song.” French TV is one of the most under rated prog bands out there and deserve universal recognition.
MIKE MCLATCHEY ON FRENCH TV'S ALBUM - CASE AGAINST ART
“Album number 7 is here with 5 long pieces of music and guests including Trap’s Warren Dale, guitarist Shawn Persinger, and vocalist Cliff Fortney. All three are present on the album’s middle piece, a cover of Happy the Man’s Partly the State. While this rates among my least favorites of that band’s songs the rendition here is a vast improvement over the one on Beginnings, capitalizing on the broad and tasteful strengths of French TV’s current line up.”
GNOSIS REVIEWS-MIKE HARGIS AUG. 14, 2002:
“An incredible lineup of musicians join these three on various songs, including Happy the Man front man Cliff Fortney, world class acoustic guitarist Shawn Persinger, Louisville legends Kirk Davis and Greg Acker and a host of other highly talented individuals.”
“Cliff Fortney’s composition Partly The State, previously released on the Happy the Man album Beginnings, is (for the fan of great progressive music) simply to die for. Featuring the talents of Mr. Fortney himself, this song realizes it’s full potential under the guiding hand of Mike Sary, who teams with Howie Gano on a stunning mix that truly spotlights the musicianship of not only Fortney, but all of the ensemble. This particular recording may well be the crowning moment of an overall brilliant album.”
IO PAGES THE NETHERLAND-French TV: The Case Against Art:
“The central track is a cover of Partly the State, from which the original comes from Beginnings, a collection of obscure recordings by Happy the Man. This version is strong because on one side it improves in interpretation, with for example folk like, Gentle Giant type vocals. On the other side they have stayed very close to the mood of the song of 1974 and this is particularly due to the presence of singer/flutist Cliff Fortney, the composer of the piece.
PROGESSIVE ROCK REVIEWS- TERRY TUCKER, EUROPEAN-FRENCH TV 7- 2002:
The excellence continued on Partly the State(A Happy the Man group original), another longish track, 10 minutes and 30 seconds, that sounded very 70’s and at times this reminded me of Tull’s Passion Play when the complexities appeared. Great flute and Vocals by Cliff Fortney.
2003 to present: Cliff has only played out live a few times a year in the last several years. One show being a Dog Talk reunion at the Rathskellar in 2009. He also shows up occasionally at the Slippery Noodle in Indy with fellow blues player Mark Hendricks to display his fast paced harmonica playing. He’s been compared to John Popper from Blues Travelers. “I play harp for fun.” Cliff has a nice digital studio at home and when the equipment is not collecting dust he entertains himself by trying to figure out how everything works. “I mostly play my Yamaha acoustic piano. I love to just sit and improvise.”
Cliff is learning how to play bagpipes and is dabbling with a Yamaha WX7 wind synthesizer. “The fingering is just like a flute”. : Cliff also has done a lot of recording with guitarist Larry McCallough and drummer Kevin Kouts of Indy’s legendary The Mathematicians. : Hopefully they’ll release a CD in the next year or so. “We’re all a bunch of old hippies still playing that 70’s art rock stuff.”
Though my time was short lived with HTM, it was one of the best times of my life and I admire and love the guys.