I have to start this piece off by emphatically saying that Bebe Buell has been a good, supporting friend of Boomerocity. She was among the first ten interviews granted to this site and she has been so generous in voicing her support of our endeavor ever since. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.
I’m not alone in feeling this way. It’s that kind, loving heart that has drawn people into her vortex and her music has been a melodic hook that has kept them captivated. All one has to do is read her interaction with fans on her Facebook page and the incredible, favorable press that she receives – even when she doesn’t have a new CD to promote.
And, speaking of new CD’s to promote, Bebe has a tremendous new project that lands on September 27th entitled Hard Love. It’s here first album since her highly acclaimed Sugar album and promises to not only solidify her already strong fan base but will result in adding more people to it.
Bebe called me recently to discuss Hard Love and starts off by bringing me up to date on what has been filling her calendar in recent days.
“I’m just basking in the afterglow of a year of really, really hard work, making this record, meeting Wendy. I’m coming up on the anniversary of when I met Wendy Dio, which was October 26th, 2010. It’ll be a year and in that year I’ve lost 35 pounds, recorded a new album and getting ready to play live shows again. It’s just amazing. I think it’s a message to anyone who thinks there’s an expiration date on our art.”
Did she say “35 pounds”? I had to ask how she lost that much weight.
“Jenny Craig!” And she then breaks out into a song about Jenny that she improvised on the spot. After extolling the virtues of the Ms. Craig’s dietary program coupled with exercise, Bebe concludes the subject by saying, “I think that it was Michele Rundgren (wife of her former beau, Todd) that did that fabulous video of how you incorporate exercise into your everyday, domestic goddess duties. Very funny! I laughed so hard. She really is a funny woman.”
Ever the rocking artist, Ms. Buell then segues into the realm of music.
“But, for me, too, being blocked into this creative space and actually having a manager and somebody giving me advice and guidance, it puts a whole different spin on the work. You can actually concentrate on the work. You don’t have to worry about all of the other stuff as much, which is a luxury for me. I’ve been a one-woman army for 35 years.”
I asked Bebe about how Wendy is doing since the passing of her iconic husband, Ronnie James Dio, on May 16th of last year. Buell is very protective of Wendy’s privacy but was very quick to genuinely and sincerely brag on her new friend and manager.
“Everybody knows what a brilliant, skillful manager she is. It’s not a secret in the industry. She’s very, very well liked and respected. She knows when to play a heavy hand and she knows when to be sweet. Like any of the great managers, you don’t want to be in the room when she’s ticked off. It’s really wonderful to have somebody like that looking out for me that I can talk to. Niji Entertainment is her and Ronnie’s label and I’m just so honored to be on it. I’ve acquired a new family but it’s a life changing, life affirming family and it’s really wonderful.
“It’s all come full circle: seeing my dad again for the first time in 2010, finding Wendy in 2010 and then the growth period in 2011 and getting ready to move into 2012 with a brand new, shiny product. I don’t mind being the poster child for ageism and sexism and all that stuff. I really want to represent somebody that has absolutely squished that and kicked it’s butt!”
With Bebe living on the east coast and Wendy on the west, I had to ask how the two maidens of rock wound up in each other’s orbit.
“She saw me live and that’s the beauty of this. We didn’t know each other. We weren’t ‘rock chicks’ together. We weren’t rock wives together. We didn’t know each other. I knew of her as a brilliant manager and I think I met her once briefly in the 70’s when Ronnie was in Rainbow – a sort of backstage exchange of two fairy princesses. I think we immediately liked each other, I was thinking she was so beautiful. She looked like an ethereal Maid Marion with the long, gorgeous white hair – that’s really her hair that fairy color – like the girl in Game of Thrones on HBO – that fairy white color!
“Somebody from the label, Dean Schachtel, had had his eye on me for a couple of years wanting to sign me. He was at Warner Brothers for 18 years and then he moved over to Steve Vai’s label and he wanted to sign me to that label. I respect Steve Vai but I didn’t think that I would fit in on Steve Vai’s label. Where would I fit in here? I don’t think they would know what to do with me, quite frankly.
“Dean - he and I had been talking on the phone. I had never met him in person. He’s a person that I met through Facebook that had been following my career for awhile and had some leverage and power in the industry - somebody that was respected.
“He was at some T. J. Martel event here in New York – uptown. They noticed that some people were gathering their belongings and getting ready to get out of there. Dean asked somebody, ‘Where are you guys going?” ‘Oh, god, we’ve got to get downtown. Bebe Buell’s going onstage at R Bar for Bob Gruen’s birthday party in 15 minutes.’ He’s never seen me live. His interest in me and the band was strictly from out music and from what he’d seen and heard on video and that kind of stuff.
“To make a long story short, he grabs Wendy, throws her in a car, literally, and they zoom down there. I guess that I was already into my first or second song when they arrived and they sat down at the bar.
“If you’ve never been to the R Bar, you don’t realize that the room where the music is, you have to go through another door to get to the show but they have my show blasting through speakers throughout the whole place.
“Wendy said to Dean, ‘Well, I like whatever I’m hearing here. Whatever music they’re playing, I like that!’ Dean goes, ‘That’s Bebe, Wendy!’ She just thought that I had an unusual, distinct sound is what she told me after meeting me.
“She went in and watched me. I remember seeing Dean from the stage and thinking, ‘That can’t be Dean’ because I only knew him from photographs. ‘He lives in California. What would he be doing here?’ It did turn out to be Dean. He’s 6’7” so he was standing in the middle of the room like a giraffe and I keep seeing that beautiful head of fairy dust hair shining and I kept wondering who it was. The way the lights were hitting me I couldn’t see that it was Wendy and I don’t know if I would have even known at that point. I never met her since we were kids. I had seen pictures of her but I wouldn’t have put that together on stage.
“I came off stage and Dean came over to me and I said, ‘I thought that was you but I couldn’t be sure’. He turned around and said, ‘I want you to meet Wendy Dio’. The next thing I knew, we were all out to dinner then the next thing I knew, she flew back to New York.”
With the infectious passion that I’ve come to love about Bebe, she then tells me what sealed the deal with her regarding wanting to work with Ms. Dio.
“I’ll tell you what sold me – oh, my god! She was in upstate New York and was meant to fly down for a show that I was doing. It was a very important show – a showcase that I was throwing at S.I.R.
“There happened to be huge snow storm – one of those storms that scared everybody to death. Of course, her flight was cancelled. Well, Wendy rented a car and drove five hours to be at my showcase! That’s when I knew that she was it. I knew that we had a connection and I knew that we had something.
It didn’t take long at all for the two female rock powerhouses to kick it into high gear and get Bebe and Jim working on a new album and honing her image. Buell says that it was, “ . . . pretty immediate. She brought me out to L.A. in February to be a presenter at the Pollstar awards. She also felt that I needed to get some new pictures and a little styling. I mean, she thinks like a real manager. Alan Mercer took these amazing photos. We did the wonderful angel/devil photo (Bebe and Wendy together) and we announced our partnership.
“I began Jenny Craig in March. It was not just a joint decision but it was a decision for me. I think that I owe it to my fans when I go on stage to look like a rock star because of the way that I move and the kind of music I play. It’s been an incredible challenge and she (Dio) has made me want to be the best ‘me’. She’s given me a lot of confidence in my talent because I always wondered, ‘Am I too unique or is what I do too ‘underground’’ to ever be something that everybody would get’? She seems to think that the statement I’m making is powerful and it’s time. We’ll see.”
As we begin to segue to talk about Hard Love, I remarked how it has a different vibe and sound that her previous project, Sugar, has. Buell shared why that was, which lead her to include Black Angel, Timeline and Sugar in the Hard Love playlist.
“Well, Sugar was Pro Tools – it was a ‘machine’ record. It was made because we didn’t have any money. We didn’t have a label and we didn’t have a band. It was just me, Bobbie and Jim in Bobbie’s ex-wife’s home studio. We really had to pool ourselves to get that record made. We jumped around a little. We did the vocals at someone else’s little home studio and then I went up to Boston and mixed at Wooly Mammoth Studios – David Minehan’s studio. We had to call in a lot of favors to get that record made. Jim and Bobbie wrote almost all of the music and we, together, wrote almost all of the lyrics.
“Bobbie’s vision about how things sound, he had a very different vision than Jim and I. Jim and I really wanted to play rock. Bobbie’s the one that hears all of that noise and all that busy stuff in there. That’s why we parted ways because we just don’t see eye to eye musically.
“I still stand by that record (Sugar). I love it. It was my ‘Enya moment’. I stepped out of the box a little and I made an experimental kind of record and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that in an artist’s career. Sugar did a lot for me in that it let a lot of people know that I was back and that I’m not some punk rock chick. I make a lot of music that’s filled with depth. I had to make the record or I was going to lose my mind. At that point in time, I would have made it with spoons and pots! I mean, I was desperate! I was ready to start singing in the subway. I wanted to do my music so bad that I was about to have a heart attack over it. The stress was enormous. My shrink said to me, ‘You know? God bless you, child! You crossed over. You truly are an artist!’
“Not only have I gone through this huge transformation but I’ve done it without the aid of any anti-depressants or any of that kind of stuff that women think they need when they get older. You don’t need that crap! You don’t need to put that stuff in your body. You really don’t. I don’t want to sound like a Scientologist right now because I’m not. I know there’s bipolar people and people who really do need medication. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about women that start thinking, ‘Oh, man! I feel a little freaky. Maybe I need to take some Zoloft or maybe I need to take this one or that one’? Lexapro. That’s the one that really seems to be luring women in now. I’m not going there. I’ve been blessed. I don’t even know what a hot flash feels like!
On Hard Love, Bebe comes blasting out of the chute with Mother of Rock and Roll. I almost expected it to be a look at her reputation as the muse behind some very big, iconic rock tunes but it’s more about her current place in life.
“I just decided to own it. People are always calling me the mother of Liv Tyler; the girlfriend of this one, the this or that one, the blah blah of this and that. I was thinking of that Keith Richards song where he sings, ‘She’s my little rock and roll . . .’ (from the song T&A) and I was thinking of Liv. I was walking down the street when the lyrics came to me. I started singing, ‘I am the mother of rock and roll’ and then I stopped myself and thought, ‘Is this too narcissistic?’ Then I thought, ‘I can do this!’
“Then I started thinking that everybody calls me the mother or the lover or the this or the that of everything all the time – and because rock and roll is who I am and my heart and my passion, I decided to take that ‘I am THE mother OF rock and roll’ and what they don’t realize is that I’m saying Liv, too, in that because of Little T&A – my inspiration. There’s a lot of people who inspired me in that song and there’s a little Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, too.
“I’ve also added a background singer – Louisa Bradshaw. I call her Mysteria. It think having another woman to sing with that completely understands my voice and completely knows how to sing with me has really, really, really given me a whole different kind of freedom to just really express myself and go with the mood.
“So, yeah, Mother of Rock and Roll is meant to be playful but it’s also meant to be in your face. I’ve decided to own it. Okay, I am a mother and I do mother my friends and I mother the bands that I love. I’m the first one to want to get out the iron and iron the pants and make dinner for everybody.
“So, there’s that mother in me but there’s also that savage, ravenous rock and roller that could probably out run every single one of them. That’s the part of me that decided, ‘Don’t get even. Don’t get angry. Don’t compete. Just give yourself your own title and go out there and own it. It’s an expression of self invention. I tell people, ‘Forget everything that you think you know about me. Forget it all because the person that you’re going to meet onstage has nothing to do with it. Come with an open mind.’ It’s my statement and it’s very freeing.
“Did you watch the Grammy’s? Well, it wasn’t the Grammy’s, it was the Mick Jagger Show because Mick Jagger came out and blew away every single performance of the night. You go, ‘Yes! This is what it’s all about!’ Somebody who gets out there, he’s in great shape. He hasn’t gotten paunchy. He cares. He cares about his fans – looking like Mick Jagger, you know? He just came out there and, oh god, he was devastating how good he was! He ate the show alive!
Buell and the band offer up three cover songs but the most intriguing to me was their interpretation of the Gang of Four’s I Love A Man In A Uniform? Last year, Bebe reconnected with her father after over thirty years. She wrote briefly about when she had last seen her father, handsomely dressed in his navy uniform. I naturally thought that her choice of the song had something to do with her father.
“You know, it’s funny, it is by coincidence but it’s just a song that I always wanted to cover. I wanted to cover it in the Gargoyles but the Gargoyles wouldn’t do it. A couple of other times I thought about it and I wanted to cover it. It’s just one of those songs that I felt that I had my own way of delivering it and I thought that I had my own spin on it.
“That’s one of the things about me: people look to me to see what choice of covers I’m going to have because I pick obscure, fabulous covers – maybe not completely obscure but I take them and make them my own. I felt that this song was appropriate in the climate that we’re living in right now – so many young, beautiful boys going off and getting killed.
“When I see the firemen and the cops or even the guy that has to dress up for his job at a restaurant, there’s just something majestic and wonderful about people who aren’t afraid to put on their uniform and go out there and do it, no matter what it is. I just have a connection to that right now.
“I covered two British bands on this record. The Vibrators Baby Baby and the Gang of Four, A Man in a Uniform. I cut my teeth on the British invasion and I’m still pretty much wrapped up in the whole British thing. I love the English. Right now I’m so madly in love with the Jim Jones Revue. It’s amazing. They are just the real deal. It’s so exciting when a band comes along that’s old enough that you can take them seriously for having their chops but young enough that sound fresh and vibrant. It’s exciting! They use real piano and stuff.
“A couple of people have said that the sound of this record is the best sound I’ve ever had on a record. It was produced by Stephen DeAcutis (“Stevie D”) and my husband, Jim. A couple of my favorite sounding albums like Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Electric – The Cult, that album that Rick Rubin produced. I thought about the production of those records and I thought about, when you listen to those records, you start with song one and you go all the way to the end of the record because every song is listenable; every song has a story and you want to listen to the whole album. I was determined to do that on this record.”
My personal favorite on this disc is Got It All Wrong and Bebe was kind enough to share the story behind that song.
“Oh! Well, that’s an interesting one. That’s a song that my husband, Jim, wrote. He wrote that back in the nineties with Frank Ferrer who played drums on 8 of the tracks on the record, who’s now Guns N’ Roses’ drummer. He and Jim used to be in a band called New United Monsters Show and he and Jim wrote that song. And there was this guy named John Robinson who did some lyrics for it. Then I heard the song and I said, ‘Wait a minute! This is an incredible song!’ and I felt that it needed all new lyrics.
“So, it’s a song that my husband wrote with Frank Ferrer, John Robinson wrote the hook and I wrote the lyrics and the lyrics just poured out of me. The ‘got it all wrong’ hook is John Robinson’s and I just took that – it just spoke to me.
“What’s it about? It’s about someone that has lied, done horrible things and has tried to destroy your life but they’re just not winning. It’s almost like a wake-up call. One of the lines in it is, ‘Tell all the people in your head here’s their note of eviction’. People who do the most damage usually create all the drama in their head. It’s not real.
“But now we have the internet and all these places where people that have issues with celebrities can go in there and they can slaughter you and there’s nobody that can protect you. Because you’re a public person, people can write whatever they want about you. They can write complete bull. Lies. They can fabricate. They can do parodies. This is America! It’s part of it! But those who are a victim of it have the right to say, ‘Nope! That’s not the way it is, babe! Here’s the real story: That a******’s a fruitcake!” Buell says with a laugh of knowing satisfaction.”
Bebe concludes by saying, “Unfortunately, for me, the fruitcakes – the people that hurt me the worst – it’s usually people that know you who try to seek revenge or are on some sort of vendetta. They’re cowards. They don’t want to come from behind their mask. There’s an actual word that’s been accepted by Webster: frenemy. We’ve got ‘em! I believe that social networking has created that word. We wouldn’t have words like that if it wasn’t for social networking.”
As for tour plans, the Mother of Rock and Roll says, “I’m opening for the Smithereens on October 8th at The Stone Pony and they’re one of my favorite bands. I’m really excited about that. Then, I’m doing a big unveiling of the new line-up and all the new songs on October 12th at the Hiro Ballroom. The following month I’m going to be opening for a band in the UK – I wish that I could tell you who it is but at this point I’m not allowed to talk about it because it’s going to be a big show and it’s going to be sort of like my unveiling in the UK because I’ve never played London. The fact that I’m going to get to open for this band – it’s a really big coup. I’ll keep you posted.”
Oh, I just love surprises but I do hate waiting for them! But do know that she’ll be hitting the road and just may be appearing in or near your town and Boomerocity will let you know.