2010-10-09 / News

Island Musician, Painter John Manikoff Has New Album

By Karen Gould

Mackinac Island summer resident John Manikoff is an accomplished painter and musician. Songs from his new album now are available on the Internet and include the popular local song, “Take Me To Mackinac Island.” (Photograph by Jeffrey Dupre) Mackinac Island summer resident John Manikoff is an accomplished painter and musician. Songs from his new album now are available on the Internet and include the popular local song, “Take Me To Mackinac Island.” (Photograph by Jeffrey Dupre) John Manikoff is a musician and a painter. In July, he released his first album, which eventually will become a CD. For now, the songs can be found on the Internet at CDBaby, and just this week they were released on iTunes, including his locally popular song, “Take Me To Mackinac Island.”

Mr. Manikoff learned to love Mackinac Island as a child, growing up here in the summers at British Landing.

“When I was young, the only way I knew how to make friends was to play my guitar in the

Father Marquette] park for people,” he said. “The next thing you know, I got this idea to write a song about Mackinac Island,

Take Me To Mackinac Island.' The song just kind of rolled out of me and I loved it. I just kind of loved the idea of it and I loved the song. It was just weird because I knew people were going to like it. I just didn't know they were going to like it as much as they did, though.”

The first time he played the song was in the 1970s at the old Pilot House bar in the Lakeview Hotel. When he finished performing the song, the place went crazy, he recalled.

He thought it was a joke, but it wasn't.

“From that point on, that song assured me a place in Mackinac lore,” said Mr. Manikoff. “People would come from all over to come hear me play there.”

The song became a regional hit, was played on local radio stations, and was sold on a vinyl 45 rpm record.

Now, years later, it is on his new album.

“This is the album of my life,” said the 58-year-old.

Music always has been a part of his life. Over the years, the singer and songwriter has performed all over the country, opening for popular musicians like Bob Seger, Etta James, Richie Havens, Alice Cooper, and Joe Cocker.

Success, big musical success for him, he said, was always just a touch away, but he admits to derailing it, a regret he pins on easy, early success, youth, a lack of business sense, and his own energy.

“There was always somebody breathing down my neck trying to make me a star,” he said. “I did everything I could possibly do to make it not happen by being who I am, which is kind of a reckless and free-spirited kind of guy.”

Mr. Manikoff spent many summers with his parents, John and Jane Manikoff, and sisters, Lin Sheppard and Olga Hard, at British Landing in the cottage that his great-grandparents built in 1902.

He began to play the piano at the age of five and now can play just about any instrument. On his album, which he completed in East Lansing, he plays a couple of guitars, keyboard, base, violin, and sings the main and background vocals, mixing them on his computer.

Home for now, however, is Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, where Mr. Manikoff first was admitted for an emergency brain bleed and now he is battling a rare form of cancer. Each day he has radiation treatment. Chemotherapy and surgery lie ahead, and he thinks of returning to Mackinac next summer and is sad to have missed a visit there this past summer. He is happy, grateful to be alive, he said, but cancer has changed his life.

Unchanged is his sense of humor, and he jokes with his sister, Lin, about what might be his favorite song. He decides he likes all of them. Most were written on the Island.

He has a deep passion for music and art and his passion drives his creativity, said Mrs. Sheppard.

“It's a gift, for sure,” she added.

“Freedom Rings” is one song that stands out in his mind. It is about freedom from war. Through the lyrics and the use of military drums, he tries to take the listener back to the 1960s, when protests against the war and the hippie movement were in full swing.

He calls himself an “old hippie,” and began writing music when he started playing the guitar the age of 10.

“The most important thing about a song is if you can get emotion through the music,” he said. “That's what I always hope, is to get some kind of emotion to come through. Whatever is going through your head, if you can write that down and get it outside of yourself, that's what writing music is.”

Right now he is listening to a lot of gospel music.

“You just never know when you are going to hear something fantastic,” he said.

Mr. Manikoff is also a talented painter and holds an associate's degree from Platt College of Graphic Design in Los Angeles.

He likes to paint Mackinac Island scenes, some many times over, to capture the elusive natural beauty he sees here.

He is an artist whose favorite medium is oil and he looks to Vincent Van Gogh for inspiration.

“The Island is so amazing because it is so small, yet it is so gigantic as far as what's there,” he said. “You can view it like one big place that's got these spectacular views, or as charming, little, provincial places. It's countless, endless places and I just love it.”

One challenge is to capture the view from the shore at British Landing, looking in either direction along the shoreline. He considers it the perfect view, and he's painted it many times.

“I just wish that I could paint it well,” he said of the Island. “I always feel like I've never really done it justice. It's just such a beautiful place. I know that I've come close. I'm working on it still.”

His music and art may be found on his Web site www.johnmanikoff.com.

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