Ken Mansfield & The Roof Top Concert

Posted December 2018

 

RoofTopBookCoverBeatles fans the world over – even if they’re just a nominal fan – is aware of the bands iconic performance which became known as the “rooftop concert”.

Only a handful of people were on that roof with the band and very few people have written directly about – and certainly not from an insider’s perspective.

Ken Mansfield – who is no stranger to Boomerocity or Everything Knoxville Magazine – is one of those handful of people on the roof that day. As the U.S. manager for the lad’s record label, Apple, he was on the inside, literally, of what led up to that iconic musical event. While he’s written about it in previous books, his new book, The Roof: The Beatles’ Final Concert, combines the stories and the details of that performance and shares it from a very personal (and not so academic) perspective.

For the second time this year, I called Ken at his California home to chat about “Rooftop”. To help set up the backdrop for what he was about to share, I started by asking which of the Fab Four he was closest to.

“I was probably more with Ringo because he and I had spent the longest time together. I think there was a closeness with George that I didn’t have with the others just because our natures were so similar, and we spent some really close, personal time together. But Ringo and I, we went through everything. We went through being crazy and having to go away and get well. Ha! Ha! Coming back together afterwards. I represented him, again, in the nineties. He moved to L.A. right away, so he was really an L.A. guy after a while. We were a small group that just hung out together; an isolated group of people from either Apple or just in the business and stuff like that.”

When I asked Mansfield if he sees either Ringo or Paul since the nineties, he said:

“The last time I saw him (Ringo), he was playing at an Indian casino at Indianland up in Northern California – in Santa Rosa, actually. It was in Santa Rosa. That’s the last time. It was funny because, as close as we were and as much time as we spent (together) and went through so much together . . . when we got together, we were backstage, ‘How’s Barbara?’ ‘Oh, she’s fine. How you doin’, Ken?’ ‘Well, I’m doing okay.’ Then, pretty soon we’re just looking at each other because we just didn’t have much to talk about because we weren’t involved in each other’s lives anymore. That was the last time I saw him. That was probably four years ago.”

Asking Ken to lay out the premise of “Rooftop”, he shared:

“First of all, the point I’m really making with this book is that I really wanted to separate myself from other people and the EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditedother books. It’s a personal book. Since Kevin Harrington forty years ago when he wrote that really small book on the roof, I’m the only person right now that’s written a book about being on the roof. I was there. There’s only a few of us that were there. There’s not many of us alive anymore.

“So, it’s a very personal, in-person look at putting together Apple. A personal look at the guys. There’s not a lot of facts and not a lot of detail and research and all of that. I really wanted the people to have an understanding of what it was like. It really concentrates on putting Apple together and all the things surrounding that and everything leading up to the roof. Basically, me walking up to the roof with the band and this moment happening that none of us really realized what it was going to be.

“There was an emotion up there; a closeness of all of us that were up there. Nobody else can describe it. I was standing four feet away part of the time from George; sitting just a few feet from Yoko; six feet away from the guys. There’s very small space on top of the roof that day. Everybody that was up there, we’re just bound to each other like two guys in a foxhole. Its’ something that’s with us forever. Something we’ll never forget.

“I wanted people to get that inside look at it and to make sure that I was also taking care of business. I had some of the greatest authorities like Mark Lewisohn, Bruce Spizer, Robert Rodriquez, Stefan Granados. Even Ben Stoker and Marshall Terrill. I invited a lot of people to go through this to make sure that my facts were right as they went by, I had to deal with facts, also, and I wanted to make sure I wrote this book for two specific groups of people.

“I wrote it for the aficionados – the people that know everything about the Beatles; knows everything that’s ever been about the Beatles. I wanted to give them a little different look; a little insight, softer look. I felt they deserved it as I wrote in the forward on it. I felt they deserved it. They’ve never met a Beatle or been with them or anything like that; to give them a feel for what they’ve been writing about for all these years. They know everything about them. Just that kind of a thing.

“Then, I wrote it, also, for the everyday people that’s just been a fan their whole lives. ‘Yesterday’ is their song they heard when they met their girlfriend. I wanted the people who haven’t been reading all this stuff, I wanted them to get a clear picture. So, I wrote it for two audiences and being very respectful to both audiences; to make sure that I gave them what I wanted them to know.

“I did go back to the White Book and The Beatles, Bible, and Bodega Bay a little bit because I needed to pull things out of there, update them, and re-write them to tell the whole story. I couldn’t leave out what I’d written before. I couldn’t tie things together if I didn’t. The Beatles, Bible, and Bodega Bay was eighteen years ago.

“I’ve got some pictures in there. Some of the Beatles guys – you probably know some of these guys – like Steve Marinucci and Ken Michaels – one of them said they couldn’t believe it when they saw the pictures I have of inside the building. They’re not exciting pictures. George is leaning against the wall while Derek Taylor is typing a letter, or Peter Asher on the phone. It shows them in their offices. It shows what it looks like in the building. The building was just a bunch of ordinary, working people. I wanted the people to get a personal feel for the Beatles. I’ve never seen a book like this before.”

I commended Mansfield on the stellar list of people like Alan Parsons, Peter Asher, and Andrew Loog Oldham, who contributed comments at the beginning of the book and what that says about his work. He replied:

“You need to make sure that you got the cred because, otherwise, people won’t believe you. Peter was there. We became friends. And Jack Oliver who went on to being president of Apple. And Alan (Parsons). Alan and I were on the roof together. We didn’t know that. I don’t remember him and didn’t remember me. He was a nineteen-year-old kid making his bones pulling cable and doing the stuff on the roof. I was the guy in the suit. We met, maybe, ten years ago and we got to talking. ‘Wait! You were on the roof?’ No! We couldn’t believe it; that we were on the roof. I always wanted to meet him. At that moment, we’re, like, ‘Yeah. Okay. We’re pals. We were on the roof together.’ That’s all we needed to know.”

Ken then told me that he hoped the book didn’t come across too “fluffy”.

“It’s a very ‘soft’ approach. I’m wondering if it’s going to be too fluffy for some people. That’s how I remember things. The funny thing about the whole time with Apple and the Beatles was that I have nothing but good memories. Nothing but that. Nothing in my time with the guys – no bad memories there. People accuse me of sort of soft-pedaling everything about the Beatles. I know there were times and I know they weren’t perfect, and they weren’t angels. They weren’t always the nicest guys, maybe. I don’t know. I didn’t see that part.”

Concluding those remarks, Mansfield added:

“The thing I’ve never tried to say was, ‘Hey, I’m the big man that was the Beatles. I’m the big authority on the Beatles.’ I’m not. I had about – other than small things during the years – I had two years where I was very involved with them. I’m talking about what I know and what I’ve seen. But the time I’m talking about is – maybe you could separate the beginning when all this madness started and all that. That would be one area.

“This is another encapsulated time in their lives; when the whole Apple thing and the roof thing; the White Album, Let It Be and all these things. This was a pretty amazing time. I think it was a time – maybe the most remarkable time of their lives in a way for them; when people really followed them. It was an amazing time. And I was there. I was there on the roof. That’s why I feel I’m the person that can talk about that. Not because I’m smart. I just happened to be there. I could've been at Apple a week later or a week earlier. I just had to be working in Apple and that was happening in London. ‘Hey! We’re going up on the roof!’”

In recent times, I’ve watched the footage of the rooftop concert and in my mind, I see a lot of symbolism. I asked Ken if, a) he saw any symbolism during that event; and, b) if so, what does that whole event symbolize to him? I asked him that question having not yet read the book.

“Because you used those words, so I can tell you like those things. You’re going to read a lot of that when I come to talk about that. I think it was kind of ironic that it was their final moment and they were on top. They were still on top. They were on top of the building. They’d been on top of the world. I’ve said this before. In our meetings they said, ‘Well, we’ve got nothing else to accomplish. We’ve accomplished everything.’

“I think they did one more thing with going up there. It was a cold, dirty roof. Everything was in kind of a mess. They were having problems. But when they broke through that door and got up in front of the mics; when they started signing – the whole thing, for me, that touched me the most – to remember the most – is when either Paul looked over at John or John looked over at Paul and they just had this look like, ‘Yeah. Yeah. This is us. This is who we are. This is who we’ve been. We’re a great band. We’ve been great friends for a long time and this is who we are.’

“I think that this is symbolic way for them to walk back out of that building and leave it that way. That’s what they were: A great band and old friends. They gelled that day up on the roof.”

Yoko Ono was on the roof with Ken and the others on that historic day. Lots has been written about the alleged negative impact and influence she supposedly had on the band. Her and John’s good friend and photographer, Bob Gruen, valiantly defended her against those allegations in my last interview with him (here). I asked Mansfield if he sensed any negativity directed to or from Yoko that day.

“Not that day because I didn’t see Yoko that day other than when we were up on the roof. She came in with John and she left with John and I think they swapped coats before they got up there or afterwards.

“I said this before: She did more with being quiet than anyone I’d ever met. You knew she was observing. You knew everything you said, really, went through her to John and then back to you. You knew that she filtered everything and that she had a great influence on him. I mentioned that the Beatles never gave me the sense that, ‘Well, I’m a Beatle and you’re not.’ They were always just so open.

“Yoko always just felt a little elevated against the rest of us commoners. But, in the end, she was always great to me. She approved things for me after John died. Everything I ever needed or asked her for, she did. She treated me very, very good.”

Circling back to the symbolism of that day, Ken said:

“Here’s something for you to mull over in your mind. It just came to me recently. The Beatles, you never knew what to ontheroofexpect next from them. Every album was like a complete, ‘Oh my gosh! They didn’t do the same thing.’ They always did something fresh and something new and something different.

“Here’s a band who came through Sgt. Pepper and the White Album and all these things, but that thing on the roof – nobody expected that. I would expect that, at that point, they would’ve come up with something really exciting and really different. Now, I realize how different that was. You’d have to go a long way to think about, ‘Well, okay, our final thing will be on a roof.’ I realize that they did it again. They did another Sgt. Pepper, it’s just different music and a different set. They did something as unusual as Sgt. Pepper was.

“Then I realized when I looked, that’s where they were at at that time. There’s all the talk about going to Tunisia or going to the coliseum doing all these giant, extravagant things which were more of the Sgt. Pepper mindset. But with the music they were making at that time was Let It Be. You’ve heard the Let It Be Naked and stuff like that. That’s where they were at at that time. That was very representative of their mindset. That gave me a lot of insight when I started thinking about that day.”

And what does Ken Mansfield think is the biggest misconception about that event?

“I’ve never had anyone ask me that. I’m not sure what the conceptions were from a lot of people. Maybe that they knew it was their final concert; that they knew that they were doing this and that was it. They were pulling the plug. I don’t think anybody knew that. I think everybody felt it and I think everybody sensed something like that. But I don’t think it was written down. I don’t think it was a plan or anything. It just happened, and it wasn’t organized like that. It was organized in a couple days. Organizing: all that meant was putting some planks up there because that roof would have never held us. They put timbers up on the fifth floor where Peter Asher’s office was to make sure the roof didn’t cave in. It was just something that happened. That’s what it was. Something happened.

“As you probably know, that couldn’t also not have happened at the last minute because they weren’t sure before they came out through that door that they were all going to go up there. There were discussions and, finally, I think John said, ‘Screw it. Let’s do it.’ Maybe like, ‘Let’s quit trying to think it through. Let’s just go do it. Get the footage and get out of here.’”

Was there anybody else who hasn’t been identified as being there on that day that Ken feels has not been highlighted according to their presence and significance?

“Chris O’Dell. Nobody ever mentions her. She was sitting there. Yoko and I, Marie and Chris. Chris was from Arizona. Her story is fascinating how she ended up at Apple anyway. She was a dynamo in the building. She got things done. Chris was just a worker. When you talk to Chris, things got done. A lot of the girls maybe didn’t care a lot for Chris because Chris was in there to get stuff done. She was used to working like that. She came out of L.A. She was a fireball and she was really trusted by the Beatles. Very trusted by them. In their homes. With them. Just somebody who they could turn around and say, ‘Hey, Chris, go do this.’ Or, ‘Hey, Chris, I need this.’ “Chris, will you go with me to here.’ She is Miss O’Dell and she did the big booklet. I’ve never seen her much associated with the roof. That’s why I put a chapter on her and Jack Oliver, who became president. He was a worker-bee in the company. He’s a guy who got things done. He’s a guy who hung out and he’s a guy that was this little dynamo in there, too, so there’s a chapter on him.

“There’s a chapter on Kevin. He didn’t work for Apple. He worked for the Beatles. I didn’t know that until I talked to Kevin (Harrington) recently. I thought he was an Apple employee and just took care of instruments and stuff. No. He actually worked for the Beatles individually. He got a whole chapter in there. Alan got a chapter. Of course, Mal (Evans) got a chapter.”

Does Ken feel that it’s possible for an up-and-coming talent to structure things and do things today the way the Beatles were able to do so back then?

“No, because it’s not the same mindset. It’s not the same situation. It’s not the same culture. It’s not the same anything. Today, your bands are big business. They’re manufactured, a lot of them. They’re quick, one hit wonders. This is a band that worked together for a long time. Struggled together. Worked together. This had never been done before because people today could never do something for the first time. It’s already been done. The Beatles did it. That’s what separates them from everybody. All they can do is copy or work off of it. This was a soul thing with these guys.

“I wrote something in the book – one sentence that I’m most proud of. It refers back to that which you asked earlier about the emotion up there. I think I closed a chapter with it. I said, ‘They went up there without a sound check. They came back with a soul check.’

“When we all left, nobody talked with each other. I think we all – we knew something happened, but we didn’t quite understand it, so we didn’t talk about it. I don’t remember them huddling afterward. I don’t remember them talking to anybody afterward. I think, I like when I was telling you that Paul looked at John, I think, yeah, that they realized that, too. That they had something really special and knew that it was going to be going away. I think it made them look inside a little bit because there had been a lot of disagreements and I think they realized who they were and who they’d been and what they were together.”

When the 50th anniversary of the roof top concert taking place next year, does Ken have any idea if his book will factor into any of the acknowledgements?

“I have no idea. Apple hasn’t said what they’re going to do. They’ve not said a word. They wouldn’t approve my pictures of me in them; pictures that I had taken – my staff and stuff. They wouldn’t let me use them in this book. They said, ‘We’re going to do something. Or, maybe we’re going to do something.’ They didn’t want to give me rights to use those just in case they did something. I don’t know if they’ve got something up their sleeve or maybe they’ll do what they’ve done with the White Album and do a re-mastering of the rooftop thing or re-editing of the film. Right now, I ask everybody I talk to and nobody seems to know the answer to that. Nobody’s really heard. There’s rumors that they are re-editing the film to make it more friendly and not concentrate on the bad time during that film. The good times kinda soften it up a little bit is the only thing I’ve heard.”

I then asked a question that I should’ve known the answer to: Who controls Apple now?

“There’s a staff there. A guy named Jeff Jones is the head of it. They have a board that, of course, Ringo, Yoko, and Paul are a part of. The board approves everything and directs everything and the company day-to-day approving of things. It’s a business now. It’s a business of re-packaging, taking an asset and getting more out of it. It’s an asset now. Before, it was a passion.”

KenMansfield2018ReducedWith so there have been so many changes in the music business since those idyllic days on the rooftop, I asked Ken if he thinks the business will come back around full-circle.

“I don’t know if that’s possible. The only thing I do know is when the record companies were so powerful, that’s what created independent producers and independent production companies and small subsidiary labels, and that kind of stuff is the people at the ground level having a way to come up and get involved in something. Maybe it will come back around to that a little bit. When I was in the business, it was all about heart and the crazy people around the companies. When things started getting big, now it’s accountants and lawyers. It became a business instead of an entertainment thing.”

Whether or not the music business comes back around full-circle, one thing is for certain: There’ll never be another ground-breaking group like the Beatles and the people who helped make them the iconic group that they were are gradually departing this earth. Being able to hear about historic events like the rooftop concert from one of the few attendees like Ken Mansfield is truly a treasure to avail ourselves to.

Keep up with Ken at KMansfield.com.

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Robert Berry - Version 3.2

Posted November 2018

robert berry piano 001 cropped“I’m the luckiest guy you’ve never heard of.”

 

That’s how master musician, Robert Berry, describes himself. That may be true when it comes to the bulk of music fans but not for those who get into the nuts and bolts of music and how it’s made.

 

Having established himself as a bit of a child prodigy, musically, Berry established the reputation of being a great musician as well as knowing his way around the recording studio. Today, he’s a well-respected performer, songwriter, and producer.

 

He’s arguably most known as the bassist/vocalist for 3, the Emerson, Lake and Palmer spinoff that consisted of Berry, Carl Palmer and Keith Emerson.

 

Additionally, he was vocalist and guitarist for Ambrosia (from 2000 – 2010) as well as working with Alliance, December People, and the Greg Kihn Band. If being a studio wiz and band member wasn’t enough, Robert has also released five solo projects and has pitched in on an impressive number of tribute albums.

 

It’s about his latest project under the title, “3.2 – The Rules Have Changed”. It’s an album that was

EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited to be the follow up to 3’s debut album and would’ve had featured Keith Emerson. However, as music fans know, Keith left us far too soon in March 2016. It’s about 3.2 that I caught up with Berry by phone at his Silicon Valley home recently. 

 

So, first, tell me the background on the album.

“I had a Top Ten hit in 1988. From there, I played with Sammy Hagar and Ambrosia. But nothing clicked. I wrote songs for all those people. I wanted to do new albums. Nobody was really going for it until I met Greg Kihn and did his last album.

 

“But it kept the ideas flowing. I’m sort of prolific and I always have ideas. So, it keeps me, I guess, fresh and the creative side of my brain is still moving at a 110%.

 

“A lot of guys put out albums that aren’t worthy of why us fans like them. That doesn’t mean they’re not good albums but they’re different. Like I say about Greg Kihn. He could’ve put out an album like the Foo Fighters, let’s say, or Linkin Park. His fans would’ve gone, ‘Wow. That’s not why I like Greg. I like his simple, almost garage band kind of rock and roll stuff. I like that!’ They like the song and the energy of it and they would’ve been disappointed. Whereas, we put out a little Greg Kihn album of what he does, and people loved it. Great reviews everywhere. 

The Rules Have Changed 3.2 cover11“I’ll use my friends in Boston (the band). Boston puts out an album that is not like those first two or three albums. It’s just not. You don’t even know they have albums out. You never hear of them. If the bands would just do what they do best and give us those little pieces that we like – as we did in the 3.2 album with Keith and I. We gave them some Emerson stuff. His playing. His sound. His style. I’ve been very fortunate. The reviews have been so good. I hate to even say that. I’m, like, ‘I’m going to jinx it!’ There hasn’t been one bad review. People are really getting it! They listen to it and they go, ‘This is what we were hoping for.’ Even more than the album that Keith, Carl, and I did back in 1988, they’re saying that this album is more of what they were hoping for. It thrills me to death – to be involved in that and helping, I hope, make Keith’s last work – the last thing he worked on with me – something that people really cherish. That they say, ‘This is good! This is done the right way.’

 

“A lot of bands aren’t doing that! I want to hear Foreigner with Lou Gramm singing and giving me some of that rock that they were so good at. One of my favorite singers, too! Foreigner is now basically a tribute band. There’s no one even in the band (who is original) unless the guitar player decides to show up. That’s forced the tribute band mentality for our fan base. They’ll go see a tribute to AC/DC, a tribute to Journey, and ask them for their autograph. Cover band guys, you know? The bands aren’t doing what Greg and I did or what Keith and I did. They’re not giving them what they like about us. We need to step up and we need to create that scene. 

 

Bringing the conversation back around to the new CD, Robert shared:

 

“People are buying the record. They’re liking it. Amazon sold out in every country buy noon on the first day. The record company didn’t anticipate that response. It’s just being delivered back to them next week! It came out August 10th. It’s been out a couple of months. It takes them that long to press quite a few CDs. I think they were surprised, and they think, ‘Well, even though it sold out, maybe it’s not going to sell any more’ and the orders kept coming in. 

 

“I got an e-mail a couple of weeks ago that said, ‘We have a very large order from the U.S. We’re 

robert berry piano 001sorry we can’t send you any more promo copies. We just don’t have them.’ Me! I can’t get one!"

 

The background to the album.

 

“As you know, Keith, Carl, and I had a band called 3. In 1987 we got together. In 1988, it came out. We toured. We had a Top Ten hit. We had a very successful tour. I don’t like to put it in terms of money, but we made a lot of money. I mean, it was really a good year, especially for me. Keith and Carl always treated me like an equal. They always said, ‘We don’t want you to be Greg Lake. We’ve been a band with him. We want you to be you. We’re trying to do something new.’ So, we did. 

 

“I was being groomed by Geffen Records back then as a solo artist. Kind of a Sting meets Bryan Adams kind of guy. Like a Bryan Adams/Straight Rock but a little more creative like Sting.

 

“Well, they had us put some of those songs on the 3 album and the fan backlash to Keith was really, really harsh. They (the songs) weren’t super right for the album. They were more straight rock songs that Keith put his arrangements into. I could see why the fans weren’t ready for Keith to switch over to playing songs. On the other hand, Carl had been in Asia. He didn’t get any criticism for 3, at all. His fans were fine with it and Asia did songs. 

 

“It was so hard on Keith, he didn’t want to continue doing it. He had one fan write him and tell him, ‘I can’t believe you have female background singers – scantily clad female background singers on the tour and playing these songs. You’re ruining your legacy.’ He left his phone number on it and Keith called him because Keith was always worried about what the fans thought. This guy read Keith the riot act and was one of the reasons that the band broke up. 

 

“Keith said, ‘Yeah, you know, I’m getting a lot of fan criticism.’ Without the internet in those days, you get three fan letters that are bad, and you don’t know how to judge it. He thought that everybody was down on it. So, we broke up. 

“I did a lot of work with Keith over the years. He played on a Tempest album with me which is a Celtic rock band. He did one of my songs. We did a few little commercials for a local music store here. We always did something. 

robert berry guitar 001“Twenty-seven years after that album came out, a record company decided that they wanted to put out a live album of 3 in Boston in a concert. So, we all said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ Keith said, ‘If there’s an advance, a paycheck, money in the bank, yeah, put it out.’  Didn’t think twice about it. We all got a copy of it in the mail once it came out, of course. They wanted us to have one. Keith decided to sit down and listen to it. One of his favorite things to do was listen to all kinds of music. Have a glass of white wine, put on the music, sit and listen to it. He was all about music. It defined him. 

 

“Well, he heard this live 3 in Boston. He immediately called me. He was so excited. I still get excited thinking about it. He goes, ‘Robert! Robert!’ ‘Yeah, Keith, what’s up?’ ‘We were really a good band!’ I said, ‘What? We broke up the band, but I always thought so.’ ‘The fire in our playing – we were playing so good. And the energy! Your voice sounded great! We were really good and the crowd’s going nuts!’

 

“I couldn’t believe my ears because one thing we really hadn’t spoke about in twenty-seven years was doing a follow-up album even though I had been contacted by a couple of the record companies that really wanted one. Here was my open door. 

 

“I like to say – you know when you’re going to ask a girl out in high school on a date. You know she really doesn’t like you, but you like her. She cracks the door and you stick your foot in it, so she can’t slam it on you, you know? 

 

“I stuck my foot in that door and I said, ‘Keith, how would you feel about doing a follow-up?’ He very calmly said, ‘Maybe.’ I said, ‘Well, you know what? Let me call Frontiers Records. The president of that company has been bugging me for ten years to do a new 3 album.’ He goes, ‘Okay. Let me know what they say.’

 

“I called up. They jumped on it. ‘When can you start?’ I said, ‘Well, let me talk to Keith and get 

robert berry drums 001back to you.’ I talked to Keith. ‘They’re ready. What do we want?” He said, ‘Well, I’m doing a lot of orchestra stuff now. I want to orchestrate it. I want to take some time. I’d like a year to finish it and complete artistic freedom.’

 

“I said, ‘That sounds good for me’ and we talked about the money. He goes, ‘No, record companies don’t have a lot of money, now’ so he gave kind of a low figure, I thought.

 

“So, I called them back – the record company – and I said, ‘Okay. Complete artistic freedom. A year to do it. We want this much money.’ They said, ‘Fine.’ I had asked for quite a bit of money. They said, ‘We want this album.’ I called Keith back. I said, ‘Okay, here we go.’ He goes, ‘How did you get that kind of money?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ It was kind of sad. He goes, ‘Nobody cares, anymore. No one offers that kind of money.’ I said, ‘Serafino (Perugino, Frontiers Records founder) over at Frontiers cares. He wants this out. He wants this new, hot Keith Emerson/3 album and he wants us to do our best work.’ 

 

“He goes, ‘Okay. Well, you should be my manager.’ I go, ‘You’re Keith Emerson! What are you talking about? You’re one of a kind.’ I felt like I was his cheerleader. His big fan besides just a bandmate. 

 

“So, I called Serafino back and said, ‘Keith’s up for it but, we need another ten thousand for Keith on top of this.’ He goes, ‘You got it.’

 

“Here I am, trying to sell Keith Emerson on the fact that he’s Keith Emerson and he is valuable, and he is sought after. When I got on that phone, I didn’t plan to do that with Serafino but when I got on that phone, it came out because, well, he was Keith Emerson. There’s a few one-of-a-kind musicians in this world and he’s one of them. No one’s ever going to be like him. No one’s going to blaze that trail, putting the classics into the rock and roll. Performing. Sticking the knives in the organ. What keyboard player does that? None.

 

“So, I got him really good money. They were going to pay me to produce it. Record at my studio like the Greg Kihn album that I was working on at the time we’re talking about doing it. 

 

“We started in, we worked about three months and he said, ‘Look, I have these shows in Japan.’ Booked five nights in a row. I think he was seventy-two, then, if I remember right. He goes, ‘It’s really hard on me. My arms are hurting. Really, I’m dreading these shows.’ And, again, I said, ‘You’re Keith Emerson! Cancel them.’ He goes, ‘I can’t do that. They’re my biggest fans. I’ll never play there again if I don’t do these shows. I can’t cancel.’ 

robert berry guitar 002“I said, ‘What’s the contract say?’ He said, ‘There’s not any contract.’ What?! I couldn’t believe this. He was dreading doing it. Then he called and said, ‘They added a second show because it sold out so fast. I have to do two shows a night.’ 

“I thought this is kind of weird. It doesn’t seem right at all. He said, ‘Let me get past this. I’m really not happy about it but all I want to do at the end of this is I want to go see my grandkids in the UK. After that, I’ll come in, we’ll ship the big Moog down to the studio and we’ll finish the album.’

 

“I said, ‘Okay.’ We had four songs written with ideas and another one in concept. I had all kinds of files from him – digital things of pieces where he had recorded the keyboard parts. I had a cassette tape from 1988 with a song we didn’t use that I thought now was really great. I was going to work on it. Then, over those three months, we’d talk on the phone and Keith had this hammer-action Casio digital piano that he was always raving about. He goes, ‘It’s the closest thing to a real piano. It’s fantastic!’ He had that in his house. In my studio, right in front of my ProTools system, I have a little Casio piano that I use to tell singers/songwriters, ‘You need to hit this note or what about this chord here?’

 

“We would jam back and forth on the phone. He would play something like an Emerson thing (Berry verbally simulates lots of intricate trills) all over the place. I’ve had lots of piano lessons. I’m no Keith Emerson but I go (Berry, again, verbally simulates Emerson’s riffs but a bit slower). He’d go, ‘No, no, no! There’s an F in there.’

 

“I kind of learned what he was coming up with in an outline kind of form and I’d put them on the ProTools. My deal was to write the song around them. So, I had these Emerson parts and the song grew around it and we’d glue it all together and when he was in, we’d dub his playing. 

 

“In three months, I get a call from his ex-wife, Eleanor, who I knew well when I lived in England when we were working on the first album. She says, ‘Keith’s gone.’ I’m, like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah, he’s gone.’

 

“I hung up that phone. It really hit me hard. This is the only time I had a Top Ten record was with 

robert berry keys 001Keith Emerson and he was the sound of it. We’d stayed friends for twenty-seven years. Done all kinds of things. He was my highest profile friend. The guy who’s always going to be in the history books. He was a funny guy. Of course, I had always had that dream of a second 3 album because, for me, that was the best thing and greatest success that I had ever had as a musician. 

 

“Here it was, coming around again and, all of a sudden, boom! All of that was gone. One phone call: gone. It was really tough on me. It’s hard for me to explain because I’d last my dad and I’d lost some friends to cancer and it’s always very sad for me. But that loss hasn’t also impacted my career and how I kind of defined myself and my goals, you know? So, this one was a triple whammy – a quadruple whammy. I lost so much in so many ways. But, of course, mostly, a really sweet, funny friend that I just loved the phone calls and talking to him and he always made me feel like a viable part of the music community because Keith Emerson was my friend. It was really amazing!

 

“I wasn’t going to finish the album. I didn’t want to. The record company says, ‘Hey, you ought to come up with a way. Get Geoff Downs. Get another famous keyboard player.’ I thought, ‘You know what? I don’t feel there’s any honest way for me to do this. This was a follow-up 3 album. Keith was the sound of the 3 band. I was the voice and songwriter. There’s no honest way to do it. I can’t do it.

 

“Six months into it, I felt a little bit stronger on just a personal level about the music and the loss. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if Keith’s song, Aaron, would finish this with me?’ He’s a keyboard player. That would give me an honest reason to do it. 

 

“So, I call him up. Aaron said, ‘I’d love to do it!’ He’s having a really tough time with this because, the last time he talked to his dad, there was no indication, of course, that he’s going to be gone a few days later. It was just tough on him and he goes, ‘It would be really great. Send me a song.’

 

“I made the mistake of sending him a really hard song that Keith and I put together with Keith playing on it. He called me up and goes, ‘Oh my god! I don’t play like that! That’s my dad! That’s not my style. I’m not that good.’

 

“I thought, “Ah! I should have sent him one of the simpler ones and sort of eased him into it.’ But, even though he declined because it was so hard to play, he did get me to re-visit the music before I sent it to him. It re-kindled my excitement. I had twenty-percent of Keith’s keyboard parts already done and we had four songs written. One in a concept form and I had been working on a couple of my own that I was going to send Keith. One called, ‘The Letter,’ that I sent him – it would’ve been a couple of days after he died that he would’ve got that and would’ve started working on it.

 

“I thought, ‘Wow! There’s a body of work here. I don’t know that I could finish this to put it out but I sure’d like to finish these songs.’

 

“I always say this when I talk to people, ‘I’m capable. I play a lot of instruments and I’m capable.’ I’m not saying I’m Keith Emerson or Carl Palmer or Sammy Hagar or Gary Pihl from Boston. These are all guys I work with. I’m not them but I’m capable of playing instruments and doing it. So, I thought, ‘I’m just going to finish this by myself exactly the way Keith and I had laid out. Our outline form. Our conversations. The knowledge from 1988 that I still carried with me. What we had talked about. What we had learned over the twenty-seven years since then. I’m the only guy that knows all this. How can I put somebody else in here – at least to finish it.’ It took me a year to finish it.

 

“One of the funny things – one of the odd things – there’s a Keith – his idea was to call the album ‘1’. He would always say, ‘Not O-N-E but ‘1’.’ I never asked him why because I was trying to get away from that. Where would the record store file that? They don’t have numbers. They have headings. Band names. But I thought let’s not discuss that now. When we get closer to the end, we can talk about calling the album ‘Not 1’. 

 

“It haunted me that he wants 1. I’m thinking, ‘I’m just going to do it as 1 and we’ll see where it heads.’ A year later, it’s done. I sent Serafino a copy – the rough mixes. He said, ‘This is genius! We’ve got to put this out!’ I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

 

“Serafino has always wanted this and he wanted a Keith Emerson album to add to his record label. I’m not sure that’s the right judge of this thing. I’m feeling all I’m going to get is criticism for doing this. I don’t want to put it out. I did it for me. I did it for my memory of Keith and mine’s friendship. 

robert berry mixboard

“I decided to send it to Rolf Remlinger who is runs the 3 Facebook page. I’m thinking here’s a guy who knows what 3’s about. I sent him a couple of songs and he gets back to me. He goes, ‘This is really, really good. You’ve got to put this out.’ 

 

“Then, I know this girl in Scotland who worked with Keith at one time on a Christmas record and is a great keyboard player and knows everything Keith has done and would be nothing but negative about something not worthy of Keith. She’s a really good musician and has a good opinion. So, I track her down and said, ‘I need to check something with you.’ ‘Oh! I’d love to check it out!’

 

“I send her a song. I got an e-mail back from her. Her first line was something like, ‘How did you do this? I can’t believe that I can feel Keith in this album and I hear my favorite parts of what he does.’ She knew that I did the solos and that it wasn’t Keith on the solos because he wasn’t around to do the solos. She goes, ‘How did you do those solos?’

 

“This was a year of me sitting alone in my studio in the dark saying, ‘What would Keith do here? 

What would I do if he did that?’ Sort of taking on both sides of the conversation. 

 

“I thought that was a pretty good response (from her). I thought, so far, there’s three super good positives. I thought I’d get some negatives. I’m not getting negatives. So, I called Serafino and said, ‘Okay, I’m going to let you put this out.’ He was so excited.

 

“Of course, about a week before the release, I’m having a lot of self-doubt. I literally sat alone in the dark for a year finishing this exactly the way we had planned. No other consideration except for making that album that Keith and I were going to do. If you’ve seen the reviews, I guess I did the right thing. People feel the love that I put into it. They hear in the lyrics some of the struggles that I had after losing Keith. They honestly like the playing and the stuff that went on. 

 

“One person in Japan – the only bad negative thing he said was, ‘I can’t hear if that’s a Hammond B3 organ or if that’s a digital sample of it.’ I’m thinking, ‘Wow! That’s the one negative I’ve gotten. That’s pretty good!’ That’s how deep the Emerson fans was going to dissect this album. He was right. It was a digital sample because there’s a very clean organ sound that Keith has with his B3 that he actually did some special stuff – not through the Leslie speaker, if you know what that is. It’s really dry and it’s really piercing. I have all the keyboards like Keith would use. I have the Moog. I have everything. But my B3 doesn’t have that direct out. For me to get that sound I really wanted, I had to use a digital sample and he caught me! Ha! Ha!”

 

And what has the response been from Keith’s family and friends to the album?

 

“They put out a pre-release song – ‘Somebody’s Watching’ – two months before. I thought that was a lot of pre-release time to put ‘Somebody’s Watching’. I got the nicest post from Aaron Emerson, his son. I can’t remember exactly what he wrote but it was something like, ‘I know it was a labor of love. You did a great job. We’re proud of the album.’ Gave it his stamp of approval. 

 

“Keith’s girlfriend of fourteen or fifteen years, Mari (Kawaguchi), said that she’d help me get the rights from the Emerson estate, which was being very sticky about letting me release it. She said, ‘All our work was worth it. You did a great job. It’s a great album.’ Something like that. That’s the family! That meant more to me. Of course, Eleanor Emerson, Keith’s ex-wife, she was supportive of it. She liked it. Everybody involved on Keith’s side was very supportive. The tough thing for me, of course, at the first, the Emerson estate wasn’t going to let me put it out. After I told Serafino at Frontiers, ‘Okay, let’s do it’, I found out that I didn’t have the right to put this album out even though Keith had done this work on it and wanted to do it. Once the estate got hold of it, they tried to put a stop to everything. 

 

“Very strange. This is a nameless, faceless estate. I can’t even tell you the lady’s name that first responded. They said, ‘We want Keith Emerson remembered as a composer, not a rock keyboard player.’ I sent back an email and said, ‘You’re kidding me, right? This was the Jimi Hendrix of keyboards. The only guy who could perform like that AND was not only that kind of acting out on stage performance but playing the classics with a rock band on stage – his fingers were like little canons and you want him to be remembered as a composer?’ ‘That’s what we want.’

 

“It took four or five months. I finally told them, ‘You’re not giving me the right to do this. I can do one of two things. I’m capable of playing Keith’s parts. I had eight years of classical piano. A few years of jazz lessons. I actually played keyboards with Keith on stage in a band and spent a lot of time with him. I know his style. I’m not a Keith Emerson but I already have his stuff on there. I can recreate that to where you won’t be able to tell that it’s not him. It will be like a snapshot. If you don’t give me the rights to do this, I’m going to do that. When I do that, I’m not going to give you any idea of what Keith wrote with me and there’ll be no royalties for his estate. Or, you can let me release it and all the stuff we wrote together, it will be 50/50 as writers. There’ll be income, whatever that means these days. 

robert berry guitar 001

“They didn’t like being threatened. They said, ‘Okay. We’re going to let you put it out, but you can’t use any of Keith’s playing on it.’ I asked why not. It’s done. ‘Because we want him remembered as a composer, not a rock and roll keyboard player’, they reiterated.

 

“I did what I said though Keith has credit for all the things he wrote. But they at least gave me the right to put it out.”

 

Which song would he use as a calling card for the whole album?

 

“I have to say that there’s two phases to the album and I’d have to give you two songs. If you’re an ELP fan and you want to hear them, where Keith and I felt that we went wrong of the first album was there’s too many pop songs – rock songs – on it. We both didn’t care for the word, ‘progressive.’ We like to call it ‘musical’ or symphonic rock. We wanted to do more of that. So, the first song on the album is called, One by One. That encompasses everything progressive that we wanted to accomplish. 

 

“People will hear the great classical influences; the powerful influences; the cool solos. There’s jazz in there. They’ll hear all that. 

 

“But, if you’re into more of the song things, there are couple of songs that we did that were more how we felt a song should’ve been on the first album, which was ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout’, which went to #9 on the Billboard charts. So, there’s a song called ‘Powerful Man’. It’s not as progressive but it’s got that sound and, honestly, it’s a tribute to all the dads I played with like Sammy Hagar, Keith Emerson, and Greg Kihn, that their sons have followed in their footsteps. That’s what the song’s about. How these little kids – probably in the baby carrier under the stage during an ELP soundcheck. And Sammy Hagar and Van Halen: Aaron Hagar at side stage as his dads with Van Halen, controlling the whole arena. It’s a powerful man because they influence their kids. 

 

“My son, now, wants to be a musician. He has a little studio and doing things. The song is about 

that. If they can find a song with all of the Emerson stuff in it, Powerful Man is also a video that has a lot of little things you’ll find that is on YouTube.”

 

As for tour plans in support of the album, Berry said:

 

“Right now, I’m doing tons of interviews thanks to the PR geniuses I’m working with. That’s why I get to talk to guys like you and I like it because I talk to guys that care – that cares about music. It’s not about some reviewer and some magazine that’s trying to make a name for itself by being a jerk. I’m talking to a lot of really good people. 

 

“I hadn’t planned on touring. Then the album came out and the manager called me and said, ‘We need to put you on a world tour. South America to Russia and everything in between.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’ He goes, ‘Well, yeah.’ I said, ‘Ten years ago that would’ve sounded great. ‘Yeah, okay, I’m in.’

 

“First of all, they wanted it to be my thirty years in progressive rock. So, the tour’s going to be ‘Robert Berry’s 30 Years of Prog Music’ because it starts with Keith and Carl and 3 but it goes to Magna Carta – which I did a bunch of tributes for Yes – their thing with Roundabout which Steve Howe had played on it. It’s critically acclaimed. I have a Jethro Tull thing on their album that Ian Anderson sent me a letter saying that it was his favorite on the album. 

 

“So, I have all these little marks in the history of progressive music that mean something. Their whole point is what I put out after 3 broke up that included my efforts for the second 3 album then and my time in GTR with Steve Howe. That’s more music. Then, I had two years with Ambrosia, touring with them. I had an album called ‘Dividing Line’ and, then, 3.2. 

 

“So, if I take just a couple of songs from everything, it’s an hour and a half show. The bad news is that it’s really going to be hard to play it all. It’s going to take a lot of work and I’m going to have to find a keyboard player that is not only insane because he’s going to say yes when I ask him if he wants to learn all this stuff, but he has to be technically proficient but also, he can’t just be some wild, genius keyboard player. He has to be down to earth; be able to play what’s already there.

 

“You take that snapshot and do Keith and his sounds. Pay tribute to that. And, another thing, on another album called ‘Pilgrimage to a Point’, there’s songs from the second 3 album that I had written that were never used. He’s going to need to absorb that and become that guy so that when this six albums worth of touring goes out, people hear what they heard before.

 

“Like I was saying about a band that puts out the kind of album that we want to hear from them, this kind of tour has people that have never this stuff live. It’s never been played live. They’re going to hear Roundabout done my way like it is on the album and the guys will have to absorb that and then put that out. The fans are hearing what they want to hear, basically, I guess is what I’m saying.”

 

Nearing the end of our chat, Robert shifted gears and shared his views of the current music scene.

 

“I gotta say that the music scene – by streaming – everything has been ruined so much for artists to make a living at the upper level. It’s hard for them to make a living at the club level. People aren’t supporting music as much as they used to. Honestly, the church has become a really good gig for serious musicians. They can play good music there and there’s some great musicians there. It’s kinda cool.

 

“Just like around here, between churches we have some great musicians as well as in the winery circuit because there’s so many wineries here in California that has entertainment. That has become a really good gig!”

 

Then, talking about how artists get to be known and make their work more profitably available, Berry added:

The Rules Have Changed 3.2 cover11“But it’s also guys like you. I find that if you just do social media, you can’t make your career happen. You have to have guys like you with a following of readers. Somebody has a blog, or they have a podcast. It has to entail everything. And, unfortunately – or, maybe fortunately – that’s where the playing field isn’t quite as level because the bad thing about the internet is that it’s made the playing field level IF you know how to use it and you have the ideas to get on the podcasts and get in print, still. 

 

“Everybody has their smaller following but there’s so many more people with a following that you can do it all. You can make it happen.”

 

As for plans for the next year?

 

“I hope that the 3.2 tour is set up. Greg already have dates for next year. Unfortunately, Greg’s music is easier to perform, and I’ve been doing it for a lot of years. It’s not like I couldn’t be on tour with the 3.2 stuff, doing something really, really difficult and very planned out and virtuosic – maybe is a name – with more complex playing in it. The next night, I could do a Greg Kihn gig if it happened in the same city or town, whatever, and it wouldn’t be hard for me to adjust. Greg’s stuff is just fun. It’s really rockin’ stuff. 

 

 

“So, Greg Kihn gigs are already planned. My plan is – starting maybe in March or April – to get on the road with 3.2.”

 

So, with that said, keep track of Robert Berry’s developing touring plans and other musical developments at his website, RobertBerry.com.

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Eric Johnson Talks Touring and Ah Via Musicom

Posted October 2018

Eric Johnson 001b Credit Max GracePhoto by Max Grace

Guitar aficionados are all too aware of guitar maestro, Eric Johnson. His 1990 release Ah Via Musicom, which was certified platinum plus and launched Eric's signature hit "Cliffs Of Dover," won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance and made him a much envied and mimicked guitarist.

 

Johnson and his band will be performing at the historic Bijou Theatre on October 10th and promises to be an incredible evening of amazing guitar mastery. 

 

I called Eric at his Texas home and asked about what his current tour and show will be like for Knoxville. Since it had been four years since we last spoke I asked him what been going on in his life since then.

 

“Just makin’ records and just having fun playing. Just enjoyin’ life!”

This tour is a bit different for Johnson because he’s pretty much performing all the songs from his landmark album, Ah Via Musicom, from beginning to end. I asked why he’s approaching his music from the album from this angle on the road and why now.

 

“This is a retrospective thing with the original members of the Ah Via Musicom record – Tommy Taylor (drums) and Kyle Brock. We did almost a three-month tour about six months ago and it went really well so we decided to do a second leg to try to go to all the places that we didn’t get a chance to go to on the first run.”

 

When asked when he last played the Knoxville area, Johnson said, “You know, it’s been years. We’ve played Nashville, Memphis. We haven’t been to Knoxville in quite a while. Probably been ten years.”

 

I asked if Eric was going completely acoustic or going full-blown electric for this leg of the tour.EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited

 

“I might do a few acoustic things but it’s with the bass player and drummer, originally, that I played with on the Ah Via Musicom record. Basically, I’ll do like a short set of just whatever to start the evening and then take a quick break and come back and play the whole Ah Via Musicom record from start to finish for the second set.”

 

With many other artists choosing to tour with a full start to finish performance of their legacy albums, I asked Johnson why he thinks that “revisiting” is so popular today.

 

“I know, in our case, it was one of our most popular – probably THE most popular record that I ever made. We just polled the fans about a year ago and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do some more touring. What are some of the different options you would like to see?’ And they said, ‘We’d love to see you come by and play one of your more favorite records start to finish.’ That was an opportunity for Tommy, Kyle, and I – original members – to say, ‘Hey! Why don’t we play together, again, after all these years?’ So, it was responding to what some of the people on the website said they would like to see. I was aware that other bands were doing it and I’d never done that before. It’s just a different theme for a tour. I thought it would be a cool thing to do and people were chiming in that they would like to see that. It kind of got us on that start. It went really well. I think it’s just people identify with certain with whatever you most famous records were.”

 

As for what it was like for Eric, Tommy, and Kyle to get back together and play again; whether it was different; did it breed a new feeling and interpretation for the album, Eric said:

 

“There’s a lot of improvisation with most stuff I do – especially the electric stuff. So, there’s a lot of room for improvisation that will be a little bit different than it originally was. But the main frame of the theme once we got together was, like, immediately, there was a chemistry that we had originally. I think certain people have certain chemistry and they’re able to do certain things. It just kinda fell into place – as if there had been no time in between.”

 

Were there any surprises getting ready for the tour?

 

“Just how easily it flowed. There was really a continual chemistry there. It just made it fun to do.”

 

Describing audience receptivity to the shows on the tour, Eric said:

 

“I think they really love it. We have great crowds and it was a really successful tour. I think you get known for a certain eric johnson 002b Credit Max GracePhoto by Max Gracelandmark or milestone that you do and that’s what people sometimes relate to. I think that the idea of completely shunning away from that like it doesn’t exist is not really very realistic. To live in it twenty-four hours a day and never progress is not very healthy, either. I think there’s a happy medium there where you can acknowledge something that people really enjoy while you’re putting energy into going ahead with whatever it is you’re doing in the present.”

 

Every tour seems to have a crowd favorite with a particular artist. I asked Johnson if there is a particular tune that draws the biggest reaction.

 

“I think everybody likes to hear ‘Cliffs of Dover’. There’s a couple of other ones like ‘Trademark’ and ‘Righteous” and stuff that did well when they came out back in the nineties. I think they enjoy just hearing the vibe of that record. I guess it’s nostalgic, obviously. They’re pretty open to whatever we want to play."

 

The tour runs into early November of this year, so I asked Eric what’s on his plate after that and what’s going on for him next year.

 

“Well, I’m really well into an acoustic and piano record, right now. I’m about over halfway finished with that. I’ve just been working on that for the last month and a half. Gonna try to get that done and out. Next year I’ll probably do some new touring on the new stuff. I just want to keep recording and got a bunch of new tunes and ideas for a new electric record, as well. Doing a two-volume acoustic record."

 

Eric Johnson Credit Max Grace3Photo by Max GraceWhile Johnson will likely be entertaining us for many, many years to come, I asked him how he would like to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.

 

“Well, I think what we do – regardless what we do – you don’t want to think that it doesn’t mean anything at all. But, similarly, I don’t think you want to put too much extra importance on it because, really, you talk about when you look back on your life, you’re going to be living in a fictitious bubble if you think no matter what the greatest art you do is going to mean any more than somebody that wrote a thank you card to somebody from their heart. It’s really what comes from the heart and what you do; what you say and think. I just think that there’s a middle road there. It’s not that it’s not important, it’s not too important. The more you realize that, the more you start going with that energy behind the curtain and go, ‘Wow! You know, it’s really about me developing myself as a being. That will reflect in whatever you do. I’m trying more and more to reflect that in my music and what I do, which is really just an offering I get for somebody like writing a thank you card or something. 

 

“So, I think for being remembered for just trying to make people feel good while we’re here, you know? Standing on that side of the balance system that is making ahviamusicomcoverpeople feel a little more good or more positive or more wholesome. God knows, the world needs it! The more people that stand on that balance, the more energy – you truncate that energy. Hey! We’re here so what are we gonna do while we’re here. Are we gonna use our fantastic talent or art or gift or whatever we gift we have; how do we use it? Do we use it to disperse more pandemonium or negativity or do we want to use it to put smiles on somebody’s face? Nothing more. Nothing less is what I’d like to be remembered for.”

 

Then, putting a bit of levity into his final comment to me, Eric adds:

 

“Other than that, I want a 200-foot sculpture right in the middle Austin, Texas. JUST KIDDING!”

 

Keep up with the latest in Eric Johnson’s career by visiting EricJohson.com.


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Steve Lukather and His Gospel

Posted October 2018

 

lukebookFeat crop3It’s Fall and that means one thing: Great tours are on the road and one such tour is Toto and they’re playing East Tennessee this month at Greeneville’s Niswonger Performing Arts Center. 

Toto’s Steve Lukather is a good friend of Boomerocity, so we recently caught up by phone to see what fans can expect from this month’s show and what else has been going on in Luke’s life. One thing is for certain: You never know what you’re going to get when you’re in a conversation with this guy. 

Before we go anything farther, I must warn you. No, scratch that. I’ll let Luke warn you himself (using a quote from his new book, The Gospel According To Luke”.

“Oh, I swear a lot, too. If you are offended by that, stop reading now.”

Luke puts it out there in raw form and I don’t just mean in swear words. He uses . . . how shall I put this?  He uses “colorful” phrases to make his point or to get a reaction.

I used to edit such things out of interviews with people, but I found that I wasn’t presenting the interviewees accurately to their fans. So, what you’ll see here is the chat with Luke, pretty much unfiltered.

Back to the chat with Luke.

Before chatting about his new book and the upcoming tour, I asked Luke what he’s been up to this year.

“I just got back from the Ringo tour. I’ve been taking care of some business. Getting ready to go back out on this (Toto) tour. We did this Weezer track that we’re going to put out here pretty soon that’s pretty funny – pretty cool, actually; and just EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditedhanging around my kids, man. Being a dad. I did practice for a while, this morning, though. I still do that to stay in the game a little bit, you know? I try to win the race. I realize I gotta be in it, you know?”

“The years kinda meld together, you know? I can’t believe we’re edging towards 2020. Isn’t that a scary concept? The fact that I still have to take a twelve-hour flight to Europe pisses me off. You would think it would’ve gotten better than that.”

The year before, Luke had fallen on his tour bus while in Europe, resulting in persistent pain in one of his shoulders. I asked how the shoulder was doing.

“Ah, my shoulder’s all messed up, man. On one hand, it was a bus accident. On the other hand, I was leaning too hard on the right arm and, then, it finally snapped. The joys of living in twenty-four-hour pain. But I don’t have cancer or anything like that. The rest of me is aces! A little CBD oil and off we go!”

When asked about how it went touring with Ringo this year, Steve chuckled and said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. Don’t ask me stuff like that. Anyway, where were we?

“No, no, no! I was bored. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t do anything illegal! I’m too old to go to jail. If they had their way with me, they wouldn’t even feel anything. I’d be, like, ‘Really? That’s all you got? After two divorces and forty-three years of show business, that’s it? I thought at least you’d hit the walls, you know? Hey! I’m a kidder! I’m a kidder! I love my life, I tell ya!”

What can Toto fans expect from this tour?

“We bring our best, you know? I mean we go out there as soon as we strap on the guitars and walk out towards the keyboardslukatherchattanooga2017Photo by James R. Patterson and the drums and all that, we revert back to being sixteen-year-old kids and that comes across. I’m not saying that we’re jumping around like idiots but when we get out there, it’s an ageless moment. You’re out there. You kick ass and you bring everything you’ve got. We’ve got a wide selection of music to play from, obviously. We’ve got to play the hits and all that stuff. But, we’ve got a lot of other music, too. It’s going to be a great show. We did since February in Europe. I’ve been going back and forth. Fifteen weeks in Europe, already. I’m ready to play the United States. They get the jokes. You know what I mean? 

“I promise, no politics. I think we’re all done with it. I think butthole jokes would go over a lot better. Yeah, man! Let’s play some music, man! Forget about the bullshit for a minute, man. That’s what we all want to do, you know? That’s my job. I mean, some people may be more equipped to stand on a soap box but I’m never really that guy. I deal with my shit all by myself. I’m just your neighborhood guitar player who’ll show up and show you a good time for a couple of hours. We’re going to do that. I promise you that!”

I relayed a story to Luke that involved the first time I met him in person. It was backstage at a Ringo Starr concert in Greenville, SC. He was talking to a kid, telling him that, when he was that kid’s age, he was riding mini-bikes in Southern California, playing music and having a good time. 

I shared with Steve that I felt that for those of us in the music business – he as a performer and me as a schlub covering guys like him – it can be more of a business than the fun it’s supposed to me. He chimed in and said:

“It is, man! You’ve got to have a good time in life. I mean, there’s gotta be a time when you shake it off. I’m in my house right now. I’ve got my little kids. One of them’s going to summer school and one of them’s going to the art supply shop. I’ve got my swimming trunks on. I’m going to go swimming with my kids and lie around in the sun and do nothing and just enjoy a few days of nothing. I don’t need to read about how great I am or how much I suck, whatever. It’s just one of those days that I don’t want to go there.”

Shifting gears, Luke come out of left-field with something.

gospelaccordingtolukecover“Let me tell you something: The written word is not always my friend. I’m a very sarcastic person. So, if I say something that’s really out there and really sarcastic, and you just write it down, I sound like a fucking tool. I’m, like, ‘Okay. Thanks a lot, guys. Make me look like a fucking dickhead. An illiterate dickhead. That’s fine.

“But, you know what? Here’s the great thing about turning sixty-years-old – and I still can’t believe that I am. I’m sixty-fucking-years-old. I can’t believe it. I don’t feel like it. You’re not going to feel any different. You’ll just look different. That part’s true, too. You do the best you can for however old you are. It’s just weird to be here, man, and to realize, ‘Hey, wow! I’m going to be sixty-one, soon! I’m in my sixties! How much longer do I have?’

“Then, I look at Ringo, who’s seventy-eight years old and is in better shape than thirty-year-old people. I guess as long as you want to keep pushing it, you can’t just keep sitting on the couch, watching Jeopardy every day and expect to live to be a hundred and twenty. I don’t know why I went off on that, but I did. Sorry.”

At the time of our interview, there was a piece floating around Facebook that claimed that Steve Lukather was the wealthiest guitarist alive. I mentioned it to Luke and he cackled out loud with laughter and said, “There are worse rumors to have about yourself. C’mon, man! I just laugh at this shit. It’s funny. That’s one of the better ones. That beats the hell out of you being a scum sucking, low-life prick who can’t play or whatever. You’ve never met me before and you hate me that much? How old were you when Uncle Bob molested you the first time?”

Trying to bring the conversation back around to more saner subjects, I asked Luke what he’s got going on after the Toto tour.

“Oh, man! I’m doing Ringo. I’m doing Toto. My book’s coming out September 18th about my life in the studios and how I came up.  We’ve got a box set coming. We’ve got live DVD from the 40th. There’s more touring all the way through next year. Busy. Happy. Blessed. Thankful in a crazy world that I just don’t want to look at any more. I pray and hope for the best, be a nice guy, and spread love. That’s about all I can say.”

I couldn’t let our conversation conclude without asking Lukather about his new book, The Gospel According To Luke.TOTO pubshot

“Oh, the book’s just a story of my life. It’s called, The Gospel According To Luke, which is a little play on words. I didn’t mean to offend anybody. It’s just the story of how I came up, you know? Famous records that I played on. People that I’ve worked with. Funny stories. People that I grew up with. Most of them turned out to be famous people. It’s just where I was born – Los Angeles. I had to edit four hundred pages into a three-hundred-page book with pictures and stuff. But I have enough for an encyclopedia, so we’ll see. There may be a movie. You never know, man! Who would you think would play me? lukatherlive001

“Look at all this shit about me! I mean, it’s so funny this reputation I have for being an insane person. Okay. There was a few nights, okay? I’m going to give you a few nights, alright? But, I mean, c’mon! Could I have done all the shit that I did as a musician and still been as fucked up as everybody says I was? Makes no sense!

“I mean, listen: Did I have some nights out? Oh, fuck yes! But, c’mon. I’d be dead by now if I was that bad. Anyway, that’s the story of my life. I live a clean life, now. I remember everything. I get up when I used to go to bed. I have four kids. Two grown. Two little. And I love the simple things in life. I’ve done every crazy thing there is and, now, I just want to enjoy the back nine with a smile.”

One thing is for certain: We can expect to see, hear, and read a lot more from Steve Lukather in the years to come. 

As for Lukather’s book, The Gospel According To Luke, it is available online and wherever the latest books are sold. Rest assured that it will be lively, entertaining, and, well, “unfiltered”. 

You can keep up with Luke at his website, SteveLukather.com or with him and the rest of Toto at TotoOfficial.com.

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Irlene Mandrell Talks Miracles

Posted September 2018

 

IrleneMandrell001If you’re a baby boomer, no doubt you remember the hit TV show, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. No doubt, you also remember the syndicated hit show, Hee Haw. 

The common thread between those two iconic shows is none other than the lovely and talented Irlene Mandrell, the youngest of the three famous sisters.

Irlene has remained quite active since those days on hit TV shows. Not only does she still perform, she also still records (with help by her producer-husband, Pat Holt) and is also a writer – not of songs but, as of recently, books.

I recently spoke by phone with Irlene about her latest CD, Thanks To You, and her new book, God Rains Miracles. I asked her to bring us all up to speed with what’s been going on in her life.

“Well, of course, you know about the CD (“Thanks To You”) – I sent that to you, too – a lot of that has us doing even more benefits. Before, I did a lot for military - the reason we chose to do the CD. But, I’ve also done events connected to police and first responders where they were getting awards and stuff like that. 

“We’re booking a Christmas show with my kids – a family thing since Christmas is family and our family. These days, instead of performing as sisters, it’s our kids with family. Of course, Pat and I’s blended family is fun. My son’s a drummer. The girls sing. He actually sings but likes to stay behind the drums. Ha! Ha!”

Irlene shared what the theme is of her latest CD, Thanks To You.

“You can download the songs. They mean a lot to me. We’ve spent some time listening to words and putting together the songs that touched our hearts. When I say ‘our,’ it’s Pat (Holt, Irlene’s husband) and I with Pat producing it.

“Of course, at our age, most of our dads were in World War II. That was the time everybody fought and joined together. Our dads were both World War II veterans and Pat is a Vietnam era veteran – and different people in our family. It meant a lot to us to put this CD together and to listen to the words.

“The first one we put out as a single. We did a couple of singles, first, off the album. The first one was, We Will Stand. I won’t say ‘Pat’, but it made me cry – okay, it made Pat cry, too. When I perform it live, you can look around and there’s military vets – you can see it touches them so strong. 

“Eric Horner – he’s a writer from Nashville – Pat was talking to him, ‘I wrote it in fifteen minutes when the towers fell because I just had that strong feeling. It just came out.’ I’m sure that’s what we hear in the words – what you feel.

“Then, we put out a couple of other songs off the album that we liked. Then, we decided that the title of the album should be what we wanted to say to our heroes, which was, ‘Thanks to you!’ Thanks to you for different things but when people say, ‘Thanks to you for our freedom,’ I say, we wouldn’t even be here to have our freedom if it wasn’t for everybody fighting for us to keep them off of our land. That’s what my daddy always said. 

“I said to him, ‘What do you think?’ and he said, ‘We fight to keep it off the homeland.’ If it hadn’t been for them, we wouldn’t be here at all. We wouldn’t have our country. So, it’s just saying, ‘Thank you!’

And the response to the CD, so far?

“People who hear the songs and, like I said, when I’m performing, you see reactions. The CD, Thanks To You – the single – that came out and did well on the charts. It stayed on the charts forever, which I loved. I’m not talking Billboard but Independent charts. I’m, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I thought, for sure, it wouldn’t be in there but, the thing is, and I hate to say ‘country music’ because the group, KISS, how they defend our military – they’re very patriotic. There’s a lot of flag wavers and whether they served or not, usually people have had a friend or a loved one that served. I think they appreciate when somebody cares. This is truly from my heart. 

“We went two years from the time we started putting songs out and trying to make the album because we were enjoying listening to songs. Pat has so many connections to incredible writers who come into his studio to do demos. He’d say that we were looking for patriotic songs. So, he would bring me songs after he would listen to it and what he liked for me to hear. We just loved it! We had more that we would’ve put on there from great writers with great songs. 

“We had friends who set us up with Reviver Records. They told Reviver and they set it up where they could come to the studio and listen. They said, ‘Finish it up then we’ll put it out.’ We finished it in time for Veteran’s Day, so I could say, ‘Thanks To You’ at that time. 

“Anyway, it was a great project and, at about the same time this year, something else I’ve been working on for quite a few years – just writing some things now and then, trying to remember miracles that have happened in my family that I’d heard about before I was born that I share with my kids those that have happened since I’ve been here. 

“As you start talking to your friends about miracles and I started thinking about putting this into a book, then a couple of friends say, ‘Well, let me tell you . . .’ – even before I evenEverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited mention the book and share a miracle, I always get one back and I would remember it. I called a lot of people when it got time to do the book and asked them if I could share their miracle. 

“I put them down on tape, so I got to hear it again. That was such a blessing as with the CD. Everything is about God, country, and family. So, getting to do the CD for our country; the people who are heroes; the reason we have our country; doing a book about miracles – some people can read the book if they want and just say, ‘Well, these are great stories and great things that happened to people.’ To me, they’re beyond coincidence – almost all of them. Some of them are stronger than others that you just go, ‘Wow!’ That was such a blessing putting that together. I had people coming to me who didn’t know I was writing the book – before I could finish that one, I was thinking, ‘I need to finish this up’ and someone would be talking and all of a sudden, there would be this miracle and I wouldn’t even mention one to them!

“I met this one lady through a friend – see, the other thing is family. I have a granddaughter that will be turning two in December – our second grandchild. Then, she did, too, and she said, ‘My grandchild, let me tell you, she’s just a miracle!’ She told me the story. Oh my gosh! She gave me her daughter’s number to call. I got that story. 

“The one thing I ask everybody, ‘It’s a miracle, regardless. But, let me ask you: were there any prayers?’ She goes, ‘Oh, my gosh, you gotta call my dad because he organized prayers with the church, where he worked, and this and that. It was in queue with the baby and they started praying for everybody’s baby. Everyone was praying for each other. That was all the stories. When I would find out, there would be these prayer groups. 

“Anyway, that was such a blessing for me. This year has been so inspirational for me – and such a blessing, that I’ve been floating on the clouds.” 

Ms. Mandrell has a stellar reputation for her generous work with various charities. I asked her to share a little bit about that work.

“I’ve done so many different ones. The one that I did a whole show for recently because Many-Bears (Grinder) is the Commissioner of the V.A. for Tennessee and she introduced us to these people who ran the Joshua Chamberlain Society for Nashville. I wasn’t familiar with that one and they take on what they can – just a few people that are so – the V.A. may be operating on them but they’re so injured that there’s no way that they can fend for themselves ever again. So, they take on different ones each year that they know they can keep on doing because they take them on for life. That one’s incredible and I love them. So, we did a show for them in Franklin. 

“And, then, before that, Nashville also has the Stand Down program. They take veterans off of the streets. There are so many good ones. They teach them. They train them. They help them get jobs and back on their feet where they can survive on their own. They take in clothes and stuff like Goodwill does. 

“There’s Wounded Warrior. We’ve gone out and have done shows. We did one in Jackson recently where I just did some songs to tracks. I didn’t actually put the band together. 

“One time, I did a shotgun shoot for Boy Scouts and Wish Upon A Star. Pat and I talked about it. There’s so many good ones right now. I don’t know. I’d like just doing benefits for different ones.”

Circling back to chat about her book, I asked Irlene how long it took her to pull all of the stories together.

IrleneMandrell002“I think about five or six months. I already had most of the stories together. I had written six or seven, actually, and I had read them to the people that they were from. It wasn’t like I came up with a story line or about things that had happened in my past like in a biography or something. I just knew all of these stories. 

“Nowadays, it’s just so easy to record somebody. Even if I knew the story – other than the ones I had already written and read to them and knew that the people were happy with it – I wanted to make sure that I didn’t remember it a little wrong. So, I would record everybody telling it to me again. I would put it in my words coming from me but, still, it’s their story. I didn’t leave anything out. 

“Like the girl I told you about that called about that baby, she said, ‘You’ve got to call my father.’ So, I called him and recorded his story about his side of it and the people who started to pray and stuff. Of course, you have to interweave the story. But I would do all of that as I was laying in bed at night and put in the ear things and listen to their story and start writing. 

“Louise’s story - I knew so much – her story about Nicole. It’s so long and involved. I was in California and then came back and things had been going on without me there. We sat for a long time and she recorded everything that’d happened. Things that I had not been aware of. 

“And Dennis Holt and the bicycle, where he had died? I was writing the book and I hadn’t really thought about him. I knew he had had a wreck. I had forgotten that it was so serious. The picture that I put in there – he was doing a song for me one day. He’s a drummer. He’s not related to Pat. They’ve been friends forever. He was in there and he goes, ‘Take a picture with me and show everybody that I’m back in the studio.’ He looked great!

“I was, like, ‘Right! You had a wreck or something!’ He told me about it and he goes, ‘Let me tell you . . .’ and I go, ‘Oh, my goodness! I need to put this in my book!’

“These things that came to me were not stories that I had already planned to put in there. They came like God said, ‘Okay, here’s this. It’s thrown in your face. You know what to do.’ 

“I was at a Republican party and there was this lady. She’s a Republican and she’s from Memphis and she’s African-American. That’s hard in Memphis. She said that she was running for the Senate. She said that things had been kinda hard and she said, ‘I decided not to do that. I was actually starting another company. I was kind of sick one day and somebody needed a certain kind of walker.’ They didn’t have one and she had one. She was just going to drive over there and leave it on their back porch. 

“On the way, a semi came and hit her head-on. She’s Charlotte in the book. She was dead. She was telling me goodbye. She did not know I was writing a book. I had only met her one other time. She’s saying goodbye and she goes, ‘You know, I wasn’t even going to stay in politics. I was getting’ outta there! It was getting really hard. But let me tell you what happened!’ I told her, ‘Let me tell you what I’m doing.’ So, we go sit down. Anyway, she was awesome to share the story with me for the book. We became really close friends. It’s like God said, ‘Here. You’re supposed to put this in there.’ That’s how easy it was.

“And the title? I was alone, and I said, ‘I’m going to have to have a title. What should I name it?’ And it was, God Rains Miracles. It was that quick that it came to me. I knew it wasn’t me because I hadn’t really thought about it.’ I go, ‘Oh! That is so clever! Playing with the word ‘rains/reigns’. The point of the book is that miracles are just raining all around us. That was just how it was supposed to be – how easy it was because God just handed it to me. 

“Later, right after the book just finished and I had signed a bunch to the people – everyone that was in the book I signed a book and gave it to them. I went to this Christmas partyIrleneMandrell003 that had to do with Pat and some people that are in business with him in music. I got it (the book) done just before Christmas and here’s the Christmas party and I walk in and it’s like the Wizard of Oz in my mind. I didn’t say this out loud but I’m, like, ‘You’re in the book and you’re here. You’re in the book and you’re here!’ It was like, there it is! There is the point of the title. That’s what it’s about.”

Since Irlene alluded to hearing from God, I asked her to expound on it.

“I’ve only heard His voice once. I figured it was His voice or He allowed me to hear in a man’s loud, strong, deep voice from a sound sleep. I was working in a charity and I was thinking, ‘Why is this person that is supposed to be helping me do this now that I brought in and I’m not there to make these decisions. Why is he making these terrible decisions? It just doesn’t seem right, and I know he’s smarter than that.’ That’s all I could think of. “Wow. He’s just overloaded, maybe.’

“Then, I’m sleeping and all of a sudden this voice just said – because I had some problems with him before – it (the voice) just woke me up. It (the voice) told me, ‘He’s working with so and so.’ My gosh!

“I told somebody else who I knew helping me who then checked out some things and it turned out . . . yeah, they were taking money.

“So, I was warned in a man’s voice that I always said was God. I’ve also read where God lets you hear a certain voice – stronger and that’s different than yours. It may not be God’s ‘voice’ but it’s still from God. 

“This one lady that I did an interview with who I had met because I was doing something for the CD for the police. She’s Major Michelle. She’s in Jackson, Tennessee, and her husband’s the sheriff there. She was from Texas. When I met her, I found out they use her film - where she was left for dead in Texas as a policewoman – for a training film saying how quickly something that seems okay can change. 

“As I was talking to her after that, she goes, ‘You know? Can I just share a story with you that you might want to hear?’ 

“I remembered that we had these floods in Tennessee. We have these terrible floods where a lot of people were killed. Because her husband being the sheriff, there was a call from a different sheriff in another county nearby. What had happened, they were doing a rescue with this guy – it turned out to be his family. The family was saved but here’s the deal that gave me goosebumps when she told me because I don’t hear God’s voice all the time, I hear – I call it the Holy Spirit within me. 

“The teenage boy was face down in this river when it was flooding. He was trying to swim. He couldn’t tell which way was up. The water’s rushing. He later turned over because he said a guy yelled at him from the bank, ‘Turn over to your back! Turn over to your back!’ He did. He was right on the surface and he could breathe. Not only that, when he went by these guys, they put this limb in front of him for him to grab and they pulled him to the bank. 

“When everything happened, he said, ‘I’ve got to meet these guys who saved me. It’s so great that they told me to turn over to my back because I was panicked.’ 

“They’re, like, ‘What? Nobody yelled anything. We were right there. No one yelled anything.’

“That’s when I got goosebumps because that was God telling him to turn over.”

There are some great stories, so I asked Irlene which story she would use as a calling card to entice people to order a copy of the book

IrleneMandrell004“The story that made me want to write the book and to keep track of the stories was one that I always share with my kids at Christmas. I would remind them that Christmas is about Jesus and Jesus’s miracles; and that things happen differently, sometimes. You have no idea what it would affect. This particular miracle, had it happened differently in this family. 

“My mom and dad had gotten married. Mom was just sixteen and she was the youngest of ten kids. I think it wasn’t a big deal that she took off with my dad. He was from Arkansas. He had come in with his brother. Both my dad and my mom had brothers who were preachers. That’s how they wound up meeting. Of course, that was cool because they instantly had the same beliefs and all that. 

“So, they got married and started travelling around to different places where they had family. They decided that they wanted to settle in Houston, Texas. In the meantime, Mom wound up getting pregnant. They did not really know anybody in Houston other than when they started working there. 

“When they went into this hospital on Christmas Eve, Mom went into labor, so they went there. She really didn’t have family there with her. Everything was fine, though, until things changed fast. All of a sudden, something happened, and the doctor came out and told my dad that there was nothing he could do. He was going to lose my mom and his baby. Something went wrong. There was nothing. There was NO chance.

“Dad was out front. He was praying to himself. He had been a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy during World War II. Even though my dad’s name was Irby, in the Navy, they kind of give nicknames. Because he was from Arkansas, they called him Arby. 

“So, it was kind of weird for him to all of a sudden hear, ‘Arby?’ That was from out of left field. It turned out to be a doctor that he had served under in the Navy. He was the head of the hospital. 

“He told Dad, ‘I don’t really know what I can do. This case belongs to somebody else but let me check on it and I’ll be back.’ He told Dad, ‘I’ll take over, but I want you to assist like you did in the Navy.’ If you think about during World War II, there’s some heavy duty assisting going on. So, they had spent their hours together. 

“That was Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, not only was my mom saved, but my sister, Barbara, was born. The miracle is that that doctor out of nowhere showed up! God will put people in your life out of nowhere that are there to help you and you forget that that’s a miracle. Where do they come from?!”

As for feedback on the book, Irlene said:

GodRainsMiraclesCover“Quite a bit because what I do, I’m only selling it – unless I’m appearing somewhere – on my website, IrleneMandrell.com. What I do is I get these orders from PayPal. The CDs are different. They come from someone else. On the books, I don’t care. If anyone’s weird on e-mail, that’s fine. I’ll just delete it. I went ahead and put my e-mail address to the people I get an order from, I say, ‘Thank you for your order. If you would like it personalized, please let me know and I’ll e-mail them, and I’ll sign it that it’s me. If I don’t hear back from them right away, I’ll give them at least three days and then I’ll just sign it and send it out if I don’t hear back from them. 

“It’s amazing to me how many times I have gotten an e-mail back after somebody has read it, saying, ‘It blessed me. ThanksToYouCoverThank you! It’s a wonderful book.’ Quite a few times. It blesses me when they do that!”

While we know that God can still perform miracles, we may catch ourselves saying, “I know He can, but does He, still?” This book answers that question. It’s encouraging, inspiring, and uplifting. It gives hope and, if you’ll let it, you just might feel a nudge from our Maker as you read it and let yourself be open to it.

You can order the book and CD in plenty of time for Christmas by visiting IrleneMandrell.com.

 

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