In the early Nineties, Florida's Tampa Bay area was a hotbed of creativity. Open mics and coffeehouses were the rage and gave a soapbox to countless budding poets, musicians, and performance artists. Among these aspiring amateurs was Paul J. Watkins. Watkins' long-established passion for words had recently progressed from simply writing them to publicly reciting them. His evolution coincided perfectly with a renewed interest in poetry/spoken word and the ethos of the '60s counterculture. Poetry venues were popping up all over the area, including historic Ybor City which was experiencing a rebirth of it's own. Watkins quickly became a regular at artistic gatherings throughout the area. As the Nineties drew to a close, the resurgence in the coffeehouse culture began to wane. Businesses hosting open mics discontinued them. Coffeehouses that had been Petri dishes nurturing fledgling artists closed up; others transformed themselves from casual, funky, beatnik-inspired spaces to trendy, upscale coffee bars. The stages for poetry all but disappeared and so did most of the poets. But not Watkins. It was never about following a trend for him. It was never about being fashionable or hip or scribbling words on a scrap of paper and getting on stage as a goof to impress his friends. Watkins had found his road of creative satisfaction, and he had every intention of following it even as it degenerated from smooth blacktop to potholed pavement to dirt to mud and disappeared into the shadowy, unmapped wilderness beyond the track lighting and thrift shop lamps. In 1998, Watkins entered a recording studio to combine his original lyrics with original music and put the collaboration to disc. The result was Scrapbook, and it was an impressive collection of songs ranging from jazz to metal; from acoustic to atmospheric. The CD featured the single "Ybar City," which received airplay on WMNF in Tampa. It also featured "Put the Onions Back On" and "You Don't F--- With Cheese" which had long been audience favorites. Thoughts from Seclusion and All Things to All People followed in 2000 and 2003 respectively. With three CDs to his name, Watkins had come a long way in establishing, developing, and living up to his slogan: "Poetry with a Rock and Roll Attitude™." Watkins' new CD, DRIVE, carries on his unique brand of intelligent lyrics combined with rocking soundtracks. Take the Wheel DRIVE is a ten-cylinder muscle car that screams off the starting line and burns up the road as it twists and turns through the landscape of Paul J. Watkins' musical influences. From the Deep-Purple thunder of 'When You Dream' to the Judas-Priest agility and speed of 'The Retaliator,' the roots of heavy metal are sunk deep into the CD. The fast and simple punk rock of the Ramones colors 'C'mon, Mr. Otis,' while the progressive rock of Rush flavors 'Drive.' The electrified bagpipe on 'Tartan' delivers the quirky niche appeal for which Paul J. Watkins is known, while a spaghetti-western soundtrack scores an epic battle of good and evil in 'These Men Have Come to Kill.' Van Halen, AC/DC and 70s-era Alice Cooper Band echo in the vibe of 'Mission Statement,' while Paul J. Watkins broadens his signature sound on tracks like the sarcastic 'Evil' and the cool and sophisticated 'Swagger.' And then there is 'I Am the Affirmation' - a boastful, high-octane, hard-rock gem that smashes expectations and defies comparison. Watkins' passion for rock and roll is front and center on DRIVE. While his earlier CDs explored a range of musical styles, most tracks on DRIVE focus on a harder, rougher sound. "The genre of poetry and music has gotten stale," states Watkins. "So many poets are satisfied to record poems and throw some generic music under them. I wanted music that fit my words and challenged my words for the listener's attention. And it wasn't enough for the music to be heard - I wanted it to be felt, too. I succeeded on all counts. Play it loud!!" Watkins' gift for saying familiar things in innovative new ways is often no less than stunning, and he uses his gift for word craft to reach impressive new heights on this CD. "Lyrics have always been important to me," he says. "They set a tone for a song every bit as much as the music. I've always appreciated good lyrics because they appeal to my mind while the music appeals to my soul and gut. These days, though, it seems that lyrics - as well as melody and harmony - have become disposable. I'm restoring lyrics as an essential component. My music infuses a beat in your step; my lyrics create a movie in your mind. 'The common theme running through this CD is the idea of drive - of taking action and pushing past obstacles with determination and ambition,' says Watkins. 'Keep pursuing your goal because that's the key to success.' That philosophy is echoed in the autobiographical 'Mission Statement': 'It is not easy/Reaching for stars/Keep falling down/Keep getting scars/But I keep reaching/I just can't stop/Life keeps on teaching/I've learned a lot.' Watkins' powerful and unique lyrics require a strong and unique musical foundation on which to stand. That slab of musical concrete is mixed and poured by Mark J. Dye. "Mark's an amazing talent," says Watkins. "He's a composer, arranger, musician, recording engineer - those are just some of the skills he possesses. I present my words to him once - just once - and he comes up with an idea for the music immediately. Working with him is very easy, and the results of our collaboration are always impressive." Of the ten tracks on DRIVE, Watkins admits a particular fondness for the powerful and highly-quotable "I Am the Affirmation" because it's the culmination of everything he's wanted to put into a song. "The lyrics are fresh and vibrant and smart without being too intellectual for their own good," he says. "The music is up-tempo hard rock with a lot of swing to it. My performance has lots of interesting shadings and nuances. And I play a character in it, which is something I've always wanted to do. It gives me something in common with people like Alice Cooper, Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickinson, and Rob Halford. And that's pretty damn good company to be in!" Watkins' unique twist on traditional poetry has yielded a body of work unlike that of any other wordsmith, and his penchant for intelligent, observational turns of phrase and vivid descriptions continues to satisfy listeners looking for cerebral stimulation. Musically, his blend of rock subgenres - laced with elements of other styles - creates soundtracks guaranteed to get hearts and fists pumping. DRIVE is the perfect summation of Paul J. Watkins' unique poetic voice. It's a souped up sports car of a CD, launching toward the horizon on smoking tires. Smell the burning rubber. Feel the rumbling V-10 fire on all cylinders. Now take the wheel and hit the gas - it's YOUR turn to Drive! © 2006 Paul J. Watkins. All Rights Reserved.