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Steve Lukather Talks New Tour, Ringo, and . . . the End of Toto?

Posted October 2019

stevelukatherPRIMARY2019 cropAnyone who has read Boomerocity or any of the publications who have ran abridged versions of our interviews know that Toto’s Steve Lukather is one of our favorite guys to hang and/or chat with. We’ve interviewed him five times and have met him in person three times.

When you chat with him, he’s a blowtorch of unvarnished truth and can string words together in a way that will have your sides hurting from laughing almost non-stop. Whenever we get a chance to chat with him, we jump at the chance. One such chance arose with the band’s release of their CD/DVD, Forty Trips Around the Sun – a video chronicle of Toto’s 40th anniversary tour a couple of years ago. I also want to talk with him about Toto’s current tour that stops at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on October 8th.

Reached at his home in Southern California, Luke and I chatted with some catch-up talk wherein he shared about the rigors of life on the road. He was humorous and philosophical about it.

"Well, I'm hanging out in my office. I was just about to grab the guitar to start practicing. Then, I went, 'Oh, I gotta interview!' And, then, you rang the phone. I was chasing my puppy out, torturing my old dog, just doing normal human shit like everybody else. As soon as I dump my kids - I got a little kid now, too. I have my grown kids. I have my little kids, too. So, I dumped them off at school. And then I come home, and I got the place to myself for a while. That's what I do, man.

"I'm a creature of habit. I go to bed early. I get up early. I really enjoy my life as an elder gentleman, now, you know. I had my time in the sun, you know. I had the lost years where I was, like, 'Oh, Jesus! What was I thinking?' But you come out of the fog on the other end and go, 'Well, okay. I guess they needed to do that.' I don't know why, but I, you know, poor decisions. Yes, I've made a few.”

Luke then segued into the subjects of women and loneliness.

"I'm gotta say that I had great times with all the women I've ever been with in my life, and I still enjoy the company of a great woman, believe me. I'm not dead. But, you know, relationships scare me at this point. I don't mind being alone. I'm alone so much anyway, on the road. I've gotten used to sleeping alone. I've gotten use to looking after myself. Sure, there's the loneliness of it. It's a give and take situation being that, you don't have anybody nagging at you, either. Ha! Ha!

“But, you know, hey, whatever. You know? I chose this life and a lot of people don't realize that it is an incredibly lonely life. People think, 'How could you be lonely, man, playing in front of f***ing tens of thousands of people every night and whatever?' It's very easy, actually, when you go from the highest highs to the lowest lows in the period of an hour. Very strange to go from the stage - that's the rush. That's what we all live for. We don't get paid for that. That's the fun part. We get paid for the other 20 hours of the day that we sit in a room. Yeah. I mean, I've been to all these cities and countries, you know, for three or four years or whatever the hell it is. So, you know, I've been to the Eiffel Tower. I've seen Washington, D.C. I just kind of keep to myself. It's a weird. When I was young, I was out and about in the clubs and going, 'Where are we, man?' Look, after doing it for most of my human life, I just kind of hang in the room. Read. Try to find myself before the dirt nap hits.”

When we last spoke, Lukather had just released his autobiography, The Gospel According to Luke. I asked him how the book did and is doing.

"Yeah, man! That thing has had a life of its own. I had no idea! The most random people tell me they've read the book or they're reading the book. I get a message from somebody. It's still going, man. They're after me to do number a two, now - Continue the story. Talk a lot more about my session life and certain records that I did in more detail. I got a million stories, Bro. I mean, I had 400 pages hit the floor. So, I'm going to have to have the New Testament, right? Have the New Testament. It will be! That'll be the last chapter on the next book. That's where I get to stand in heaven and burn all those who burned me. We all have them. There must be some form of satisfaction that God would give us after a lifetime of crazy. Although, there might be a few people who want to burn my ass up, but that's a whole par for the course. Yeah, that's true. But you know, I know when I went through my crazy years, you know, it wasn't always pleasant. You know, I took it over 10 years. I'm fine. You know, I mean it over the hump. I could never go back to that, EVER. I just look back on it. I cringe. And then go, ‘What the f*** was I thinking? Oh, my God!’ You know, you have everything. And everyone was just consumed with this one lifestyle. And it was. And we all look back on it and go, ‘What the f*** was that, you know? Are you serious? We did that?’ Yeah. Well, they spent money on doing that, but wasting time of my life doing that?’”

Then Luke wound up his spiel by waxing a tad philosophical, again.

lukejwcoloralbinderreduced“I guess, you know, if all roads lead to today's I need to take the whole experience, addiction and craziness in this life, so could leave it behind me more than I like to rationalize it by saying. I have no idea if I'm totally pushed shit or not. It makes a nice hallmark card, right?”

When I posited that his experiences may be intended to help others, he replied:

“Yeah, pay it forward. Contributions when I see brothers in fame - you gotta hang out with ever so many people that are in AA, I might as well be. My whole gene pool of friends. A lot of those people do.”

When I laughed and said that I can always count on him being a hilarious blowtorch whenever we chat. To which he replied:

I'm sorry but catch me first thing in the morning after three of cups of coffee, I have already painted the house. No problem, brother. I know it's better than, 'Yeah.' 'No.' 'Maybe.' 'I don't remember. Ha Ha Ha'. That's the interview."

Our chat took place on September 11th, so I asked Luke about his thoughts about the horrible attacks and where we are today.

“I think we were all affected by that. I mean, whether it be by blood or by soul. Yes. You know, you look at today and we kind of breeze past it because it’s like driving on the freeway and there's a dead body in the middle of the freeway. You know it's there. It's hard to look at it. And I’d like to say that we're in a better place because of it, but I don't see it. I see things really - we're living in a toxic environment in every aspect -whether it be morally, socially, politically or physically. During a time when I got eight-year-old kid, Twelve-year-old daughter. My older kids are 32.”

We then shifted gears to talk about the “40 Trips” CD/DVD.

“Boy, what an excursion that has been in terms of - we've been through a . . . real bad time for us - all but destroyed everything. And you know, that's a tough pill to swallow and that's why it's taken so long to get this f***ing DVD out, because we were held by hostage by somebody who's evil and we had to live through that. And now, like it was out overseas and people here going, 'What the f***'s wrong?' Making it seem like we don't know how to do business or just a bunch of f***-ups that don't know how to release shit, right? Well, the rules of copyrights and whatnot are way different around the world than they are in the United States and North America.

“So, we had no choice. We didn't mean to do that, but we got held up at the last minute. As per someone who hates you that toto1mbprimaryreducedmuch, likes to plan that way. And then for reasons unknown and we don't even know what the it was all about. You spent so much f***ing money. I wish I had the money we spent. But that's the whole of the story. It's been a whole betrayal and the family. It just got tough. But I don't want to get into that too heavily because it's just another reason to sue me - because I breathe. Sue me because I breathe.
“Anyway, that's that. So that's why I was such a pain in the ass because we actually recorded it and filmed it a year and a half, two years ago when we started this 40 trips tour. We were already 43 trips, almost. Actually, it is 43 trips we're about to embark on our last leg of the tour ever. And the U.S. tour, I mean, this band will be dead at the end of this, at least in its current situation.”

WHAT?!

“Legal killed us, man. Percentages and lots of money burned in the backyard. They could put 10 kids through college. Wow, just as a ‘f*** you’ from a woman who inherited a billion dollars. But that's a whole 'nother story.”

So, Toto will be no more after this tour?

“Well, Toto as it stands right now is over, yeah.”

“Well, you know what, it is, what it is. And the people that destroyed it know who they are. You know? I mean, I can't tell you what's going to happen in years to come in terms of what I may do with any other members of the band or not. At this point, we all have a lot of stuff we want to do, and we have to get back and take a look at this. A lot of debt to pay off. Sad that it ended. Real sad. That's going to be like this. You know, when things were going so great. Things were going so great.”

When I suggested that Toto could go the route that the guys in Creedence Clearwater Revival took, Luke replied:

“I don't know, man. All I know is that I need to get away from this for a while. Business needs to be subtle and people need to chill out. A lot of accusations and false ones have gone around. It's like a cancer. But you know, what can I say? We're going to go out. I mean, everything's cool between us, you know. We're just going to go out and play our asses off.”

Here's what fans can expect from the CD/DVD:

“It's a great snapshot of, you know, living for four years. I'm glad Paige is in it because Dave's not - you know, his health is not great. He's sixty-five and he's is pretty much is done touring, you know?

Bob Clearmountain mixed it. so, you know, it sounds great. And we only have one take, too. Nigel Dick, the director, had to fake a few things in there because some of the cameras didn't work the night of, you know? We only got one shot. One shot. So, you know, other than that, I mean, I think it came out really well. People really seem to be digging it.”

Because Luke hit me with the heavy bombshell of the current configuration of Toto ending, I asked him what fans can expect from the shows of this tour.

“We're going to give it the best we've got, you know? We're fine. We're just gonna - we just want to get through this and have a great time doing it. We've had an incredible run of this. I mean, the band's going to go out on top of the world. You know, we've had the best year of our life in terms of playing concerts and from a financial level and everything like that. And it hurts to have it torn from me at this point. But, you know, things have a way - I don't know. I can't predict the future. I can predict being me in the future. Ha! Ha! I can't predict the long-term future.”

I didn’t want our chat to end on the sad and negative, so I asked Luke about his work on the new Ringo Starr album, “What’s My Name”.

stevelukatherPRIMARY2019“Yeah, I played a lot on it! I think I plan on like five or six tracks. I wrote one with him. The last time I wrote two tracks with him and Paul McCartney played bass. It was, like, total full circle, I-can-die-now moment. And for me, I was like, ‘Okay, I can die now.’ It doesn’t matter if it sold one copy or a billion, it has the same effect on me and I consider that one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given by another human being, aside from my children.

“But you know, in terms of getting to work with him, I'm seeing him tonight for dinner. We hang. He's my friend - a dear friend of mine after almost eight years, I'm going to be coming back next year to work with him. I told him he'd have to kill me to get rid of me now. We've become great pals. If his name was Billy Jones, he would still be my friend. He's just the coolest guy ever, eve. Ever. Ever. Everything you wanted to get to a billion times. He's just a joy.

“I mean, talk about growing old gracefully. This guy is going to be seventy-nine years old and looks 50. Every bit as Hard Day's Night funny as he's ever been. He plays his ass off and loves music, loves musicians, and has a great wife and a great life and wonderful kids and grandkids. I mean, this guy’s got everything you could ever want in the whole wide world and he's still the warmest, most beautiful soul I've ever known. He's the coolest. What can I say?”

I sensed that Steve Lukather was feeling a bit beat up, so I felt compelled to tell him that my experiences with him have always been positive and that I found him to be kind and generous. To prove my point, I told him the story of how he made it possible for me to meet Ringo before a show in Greeneville, SC, and that will always stand out as one of the highlights of my life. I even have pictures to prove it. I told him that I know that he has to take a lot of crap from people, but I find him to be an all-around great guy. He replied:

“Well, I do take a lot of crap but how do you know that? Yeah, I get a lot of shit from people that have never met me. I'm not surprised by all this shit. I've read some things about me and I'm going, 'Well, not only is that not true, but, wow, why would somebody do that? Why would somebody say that? But I have done some crazy shit in my life. And you know, I do remember a lot of it when I'm coaxed.”

As for what’s on the guitarmeister’s radar for the next year or so, Steve said:

“We're working all the way through the end of October. The day before my birthday is the last gig, ironically. I've got a solo record to do, which I'm kind of going to do with one of my fusion bands. Not fusion record. I'm doing Cruise to the Edge with that same band. I'm going to do Ringo. You know, I'm going to do some Lee Rittenour. I've got my New York Toxic Monkey band. I've got some other stuff to do. I got the second book. There's a documentary in the wind. I got a lot of stuff going. I want to be home a little bit more. I've been on the road some crazy - like 230 days a year for the last nine years.

“You know, whatever. I'm just burnt. I want to stay home a little bit. Watch my kids grow up a little bit - the little one, you know? I'll be back out working. There's a whole bunch of stuff in the wind that I can't tell you about that I'll be doing. So, it's not like I'm sitting around doing nothing. Trust me on that.

Next year's filling up quite crazy right now. Doing some charity stuff. I got this other band - I play in a bunch of different all-star kind of bands, you know, which is fun to do because there's no pressure, I show up, get paid, and leave. It's old school like the old days. You show up, you play the gig, you get paid at the end of it. ‘Oh, great! Thanks!’ It's not like you have to wait for months after everybody puts their paws all over it and takes all the profit. 'Oh, it's over and this costs more than this.' Yeah. People don’t really know this life. It's a rather bizarre one.”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Luke how his shoulder is doing that he injured over three years ago.

“Oh, you know, it's much better. I haven't done anything to it because I was told not to, and everything they said came true. I've got movement up above - almost to my shoulder, without it hurting. And, you know, I've been working it out, but it's been almost four years and the pain has subsided. The body just sort of took it over. And whatever it did do, it's OK. I have no strength in it. I can't lift much, which is a drag because I've got a little boy that likes to be thrown around in the pool. I get my older boy to come over and play with him because I can't lift him up no more. He's nine years old - like a brick shit house, this kid’s in such good shape. I had to spend all this money on fencing – eight-foot fencing - to keep him in the yard. He's jumping up on the roof and doing crazy shit. I'm getting too old to chase the kid off the roof. I break way too easily.”

He may feel that he breaks easily but it’s obvious that Steve “Luke” Lukather is tough – both physically and emotionally. Try to keep up with all that Luke is involved with by watching these websites: SteveLukather.com TotoOfficial.com RingoStarr.com

Honey County Talks Kevin Costner, Yellowstone, and Their Latest Music

Posted October 2019

HoneyCounty001If you heard that a band had a new single featured in HBO’s Yellowstone series; was premiered by Taste of Country; had their music video debut by Billboard; were featured in such major publications as Billboard, Huffington Post, LA Times, Rolling Stone, and more; their tunes were in rotation on Radio Disney Country and KFRG as well as playlisted on Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify; it would be easily understood if you assumed we were talking about an established, major country music act.

However, I am talking about the hottest new country trio to grace the charts and airwaves: Honey County. And, boy (or, girl, as the case may be), are they commanding lots of attention! Comprised of Dani Rose, Devon Jane, and Katie Stump, Taste of Country listed them as one of five artists to watch. Rolling Stone said that they are one of the Top 10 Acts You Need To Know. They have shared stages with a host of major country artists and playing festivals all across the fruited plain. All of that has happened in just over a two-year time frame.

When word broke that their music was being featured in Kevin Costner’s “Yellowstone”, the opportunity arose to chat with all three of them. This came on the heels of meeting them at a performance in Nashville. We chatted via a conference call since they were scattered around Southern California between homes and a recording studio and I in downtown Nashville.

When I asked for one of them to give readers an “elevator speech” as to who Honey County is and what they sound like, Katie responded:

“We are a female trio that loves to rock out on stage and write songs that touch people. And we love harmonies and we love guitar solos and everything in between. I mean, we get Dixie Chicks a lot because we are three girls. But I honestly don't think we sound anything like it. We love Little Big Town and Keith Urban and Dan Shea and all these awesome groups coming out. But I mean, I think Little Big Town, overall, is our overall favorite. The songs that they choose, and their arrangements and their lives show everything that they do. It's just so tasteful. And we'd love to be like them.”

With their career almost immediately becoming a whirlwind, I asked what some of the biggest surprises to them has been, so far. Dani replied:

“I think I feel like every time we get booked for a show or festival or a tour or we get a song in a TV show or, every single time we do something new and it's received well, it's always a surprise because we have no idea how it's going to be received or what we're going to be working with. I would say the biggest - maybe not surprise - but the biggest honor that we received is that we didn't know we were going to be going into this year was working with Stagecoach on the song, Country Strong. And that was something that was a bit risky for us to do. Because when we were obviously honored to do it, we had no idea how it was going to be received.

I was struck by how quickly Honey County has garnished so much positive media exposure. I asked what they attributed that to. Katie shared:

HoneyCounty002“Dani is the hardest working person I have ever met in my life. And we also have a manager who is the second hardest - well, they are both equally the hardest working people I've ever met in my life. They really hustle and work hard to push everything that we do. And I’m just blown away by how much they do for us. And we do all of this without a label. It's just, you know, in-house. I think that they don't give themselves enough credit, but they really work as hard as they can.

As for how the Costner/Yellowstone opportunity manifested itself, Dani said:

“About, I would say five plus years ago, I was at a party in Los Angeles - at one of our girlfriend’s birthday parties - and I met a really funny woman. We shared this love of dogs. We were just talking about animals and dogs in particular, and she was telling me about her dog that she loved. And we just kind of bonded over that. And it turned out that she was a music supervisor. She asked me about what kind of music I was doing. I was like, ‘Ah, you know, I'm starting this band’, et cetera, et cetera. And one thing led to another.

“We became friends. She was looking out for our music and she became a fan. Her name is Andrea von Forester. She reached out and she said, ‘Hey, I have a place for your music. I really love Honey County. Send me all your music. And I'm working on this new show called Yellowstone with Kevin Costner.’ This was two years ago. So right before or just as Katy was joining the band and I was like, ‘Oh, this is pretty rad’.
“I didn't hear anything for two years. And, then, about six, seven months ago, she reached out and she said, ‘Hey, I finally found a place. It's in the second season of Yellowstone. And it's perfect because we're just starting to get a lot of attention on this TV show. And I think it'll be a really great spotlight for you guys.’ And we're, like, ‘Yes!’

“And the great thing was, she didn't find a place for just one song. She found a place for two songs also. It was really special. I mean, bands don't get to have two songs in an episode. You know, they're lucky if they get to have one. So, we were very, very lucky.

“One of them is called, Love Someone, which is amazing. It's a beautiful song that Kati had written. And it was also featuredon the final season of Nashville. It just goes to show you how credible that song is. And, then, the other one was a brand new one called, Under Your Influence, which we just released. We decided we hadn't released that song yet. We really loved it. We were kind of sitting on it and we needed a reason to release it. And this was as good as ever of a way to release that. We put it out with our buddy Spencer Crandall, who's featured on the track.

“it was really pretty surreal. I mean, we've had songs on TV shows, like I said, Nashville, and we've had songs, the NFL and on HBO's True Blood. But we'd never had a song with somebody like Kevin Costner on a series. And, so that was pretty cool. I think that also goes back into the ‘any surprises’ (question). That was a big surprise, I guess.

As for feedback on their music – especially their latest single, Katie said:

“With the latest single we've had some awesome feedback. I mean, we just released it. So, it's been a couple days, but so far, it's been really exciting. We've gotten over 5000 streams on Spotify, even more than that on Apple music. We were added to the hot tracks on Apple, which is a huge honor. You know, we're really grateful for the team over there. We're going to be talking with Rolling Stone later today about the song and the placement in Yellowstone.

“So, it's been really cool and the scene that we've had it in in the series, Yellowstone, was really pretty epic because you have this racial issue going on. This woman, this Native American woman, is in a very snooty store in the strip somewhere in Montana. This store owner, the snooty store owner, sees her and judges her based off of the color of her skin and her race. She says that she's been shoplifting when she knew that she wasn't shoplifting.

“So, it's in this very heartbreaking scene. You have the police coming in and they're like, ’Well, were their cameras/’ and the shop owner says, ‘No, there's no cameras, but we're going to have to strip search her anyway.’ You've got our song playing in the background and is singing, Under Your Influence. There's so many messages going on at the same time. It was is pretty surreal to hear that. The response has been really exciting. We're so excited for more people to hear it as the days continue.”

Katie shared this about Honey County’s future studio work:

“We are back we are back in the studio. I've we've been working really hard on some new songs. All three of us. I'm actually at a mixing session right now to get one of our new songs mixed. We’re hard at work, getting new material together that we're really, really excited about. It's been so much fun to put it all together. That's what's my that's on my radar. We've got some really cool shows coming up.”

Devon added, “Yes! And we’re going to Australia in November - a new country festival called Hometown Fest, which are stoked about.”

And it is quite safe to say that when you listen to Honey County, you will be stoked about them, too. Check them out in more detail at their website, HoneyCounty.com, where you can also order their incredible music.

Michael W. Smith Chats About His Career, Tour, & the State of CCM

Posted September 2019

MichaelWSmith003bIt’s hard to believe, but Michael W. Smith has been providing the world his incredible music – both Christian and mainstream – spanning five decades. His mark on the soundtrack of humanity is as deep as his commitment to his faith and to his family. From his first hit, “Friends”, to his sell-out concerts and Christmas extravaganzas, Smith is still a favorite among Christian and mainstream fans, alike.

Michael will be performing in East Tennessee (Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Sevierville) this month. He chatted with me about his career, his take on the music industry, and what fans can expect from his area shows.

“I think music, in general, ebbs and flows. And while it’s always adapting and changing – there seems to be some “patterns” and sometimes different styles come back into vogue. When I started writing songs – we were really “storytelling”. In more recent years – with Worship music being dominant – the lyrics have become more vertical. I think there’s room for both.”

When pressed for his thoughts as to the best and less-than-best changes within CCM, he added, “Well – the quality has to be there to be competitive. In the early MichaelWSmith001days I think quality of the recordings, of the mixes, etc., might have taken a backseat to content. But for a record to be truly great – I think the quality of the recording has to match the quality of the content.”

Approaching the subject from a slightly different angle, I asked Michael what he would do to “fix” the Christian music business if he was made its “czar”.

“At the risk of taking a little heat – I’d say – I’d push for radio to have more of an open mind. Quit relying on “testing” and go back to the days when a PD would take a chance on a song, he or she believed in. So much of radio has become formula and, I believe, it’s lost its uniqueness and, in some senses, it’s soul.

As I talk to fans around the world about various artists, it is striking how different people view different artists in different ways. In the case of Michael W. Smith, most people see him as an artist who writes, records, and performs Christian music. Still others see him as one who writes musical scores for movies. I asked him how he would describe his work.
“I’m not “resting”. I’m not looking back. Even this far into my career – I think the best days, the best music can still be ahead of me. I want to make better music than I ever have before. That’s what drives me.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Smith is making several appearances in East & Middle Tennessee (the Boomerocity stomping grounds). Naturally, fans for those shows - as well as the rest of the stops on that tour - would want to know what they can expect from the different shows. So, I asked him.

“The Nashville show is with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and it’s a Christmas Concert. Marc Martel will be with me. He’s amazing, as is the Nashville Symphony, so I know that’s going to be a great show! The show in Sevierville is actually a Women’s Conference. That’s actually a really fun audience to play for.”

As a successful singer, songwriter, recording artist, and movie score writer, I was curious if there was anything Smith hasn’t yet done, musically, that he still wants to do.

I had the good fortune to score some movies and I really loved the opportunity to score for a major release. My son is a brilliant composer. So, to score a film with him MichaelWSmith002would be great. I’ve also been writing an original Symphony piece that I hope to, someday, debut with the Nashville Symphony and then take it on the road!

When asked what is on his musical radar in the next couple of years, his answer was transparent:

I’ve never been very strategic about writing. Someday – usually when I’m not expecting it – I’ll get on a creative streak and start writing music. It’s almost like I can’t control it – it just comes. And it might be Pop, it might be Worship, it might be a symphony piece. Sometimes it’s all of the above! But eventually – some line or some melody grabs my attention more than the others - - and that’s the direction I go. It’s always been that way for me.

I asked Michael how he hoped to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy will be, he replied: I’ve been asked this a few times and my answers always the same: I want to be remembered as a guy that loved God, loved his wife and family and write some songs.

You can see if Michael W. Smith is going to be in concert on his website, MichaelWSmith.net, as well as purchase tickets there.

John Cooper Talks Victorious, Tour, & Comic Books

Posted October 2019

Skillet Press Photo 001 ReducedAs a teen in the 70’s, I grew up in a church world that was, much like Elvis’, centered around hellfire and brimstone preaching and gospel music sung out of a hymnal. Not just any hymnal, but “the red one”. Otherwise, it wasn’t deemed “sanctified”.

For extra sizzle, pizzazz, and goosebumps, we’d listen to Southern Gospel quartets. They brought energy (none dare called it “entertainment”) to a crowd and left self-produced vinyl albums behind.

Then, someone dared to change things. Bigtime.

That someone is believed to have been the late Larry Norman, known for his song, “Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music” and “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. Other artists and bands such as Barry McGuire, 2nd Chapter of Act, Love Song, and others helped blaze the trail from what was considered to be traditional Gospel music to something that a young kid like me would latch on to and drive my parents crazy with by playing too loud.

Within churchdom, the debate raged as to whether the style was acceptable to God because it certainly wasn’t acceptable to “the church”. Televangelist (and cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley), Jimmy Swaggart, preached against the evils of the genre’s syncopated rhythms (before getting caught indulging in his own “sin-copulated” rhythms – but you know that story).

That was then. Now?

The CCM industry is alive and well on planet earth (thanks for the great line, Hal Lindsay . . . and the pun is most certainly intended). That is especially evident with double platinum band, Skillet. Led by John Cooper and his wife, Korey, the band is bolding going to where CCM bands and artists seldom go. For instance, they’ll be performing at Exit One Eleven where such choir boys as Guns ‘N Roses, ZZ Top, and Def Leppard will be performing.

Yeah, seriously.

While heading to my day job a few weeks ago, I was channel surfacing on my satellite radio, listening to the news when I stumbled upon an interview with John Cooper. I stopped surfing and started listening to him.

Upbeat. Straight-forward. Energetic. Articulate. I sat in my car in a downtown Nashville parking garage and listened to everything John had to say. When he was finished, I was e-mailing his publicist, requesting an interview. It happened within five days.

John called me while still on a press junket in NYC. He came across on the phone just as he did on the cable news station that I heard his interview on.

“We're doing promo for the album and all that stuff. So, it's a nice busy time. Yeah, but it's great!”

As John and I exchanged pleasantries, I summarized my CCM experience as a kid, how the genre was received at that time, that I was glad to see a band like Skillet taking it all to the next level. I then asked if he could give me an elevator speech as to who and what Skillet is.

“Yeah. I'm with you on of your story you were just sharing - early Christian music. I've been a fan, you know, since I was a kid. And, so, Skillet; let's see. We're from Memphis, Tennessee, originally. And my wife, Korey, is in the band. We've been touring for 22 years together as a married couple; had two kids that are also raised on the road and got our start in Christian music; kind of crossed over, if you want to call it that, into rock music. I always believed in playing music for people. I never wanted to play only to religious people. That was, you know, not what I wanted to do at all. But music was a really powerful force in my life as a young person. Got me through hard times; always kind of been there for me. And I always wanted to write music about things that I believed and share that. Skillet is a very kind of upbeat and very inspiring, kind a positive rock band. And, to tell you the truth, we had kind of carved out that niche on our own for a while. And it's becoming, actually, I think, more in vogue in the secular rock world, to be positive and to be inspiring. But, you know, we used to kind of hold that candle all alone for a long time. You heard it actually on rock radio. They didn't really dig that for a long time, but then it didn't get working. And, you know, now it's kind of a thing, I guess. So that's kind of cool.

We’ll circle back to the band’s impact on CCM and the band itself. But before doing so, I asked Cooper to tell me about Skillet’s new disc.

“Oh, yeah! Yeah! The new record is called, 'Victorious' and comes out here. I'm so very pumped about it. Of course, you're always excited about your new album. Everybody just reviewed the record, so far. Every review I've read, it's been like, you know, 'This album makes you feel like you can take on the whole world, basically; take anything that comes along. And I think that's kind of cool because when we finish the album - well, some people might find this interesting. You may. I don't know. Hopefully, your readers will. Sometimes people don't know that, when you buy a record, it's got 12, 10 songs on it, this and that. But usually, we'll write 40, 50, 60 songs as a band. So, you never really know what's going to make the record until the label or whoever, producer, they choose the song.

“So, we wrote about 50 songs; chose the songs; finished recording. If you listened to all 10, you know, together you kind of get a vibe because you never know what's gonna get chosen. It's interesting. You end up naming the record on the backside. And it just felt that ‘Victorious’ was the right name because the record, to me, felt really inspiring and hopeful. It rocks really hard. Like, you could take it to a gym and run and really do some serious weightlifting and some running. But it also feels really positive. And everybody that has reviewed it has said that same thing.

Skillet’s label is Atlantic. I was curious if a label like that one welcomed the band’s message, faith, and lifestyle with open arms.

“They've always been really great. They've always kind of understood the band. Now, I'm not trying to say the very first time they ever met us that they understood it. I think for a while, they kind of quite didn't. In fact, we were very close to getting signed by Atlantic Records in 1998, which was our second release. And after about six months, I think, they sent four different A&R guys to see us play at about six months of talking about doing a record. We just never got a callback, which is really weird because, like I said, four different ADR people. That's a lot. And in the end, they just didn't get the Christian thing.

“But then Atlantic side, P.O.D, which was kind of a known - well, not really a known Christian artist, but they kind of become became known as being religious. And I think they were kind of sort of getting it a little bit more. By the time they (Atlantic) signed us in 2003, Skillet had made four records; on our fifth album. People were kind of learning what the band was all about. And I remember talking to the guy that signed us. At the time, he was president of Lava Records. And he was like, 'OK, so what does this mean? Like, I'm signing a Christian band. What is it going to be?' I remember it hit me because at the time, I don't want to say sometimes, but at the time there was a lot of rock bands - several rock band - that were renown at the time for having to end their tours because - and it's sad - but like some of the singers were getting thrown in jail for drug possession, overdosing on drugs, cancel on half of the tour. People are losing millions of dollars because they they're literally, like, killing themselves on the road from all of that or getting jailed. And, so, he said to me, 'So, what if I sign this Christian band?' And I said, 'Well, I said, Jason, what it means is that you'll never have to lose a bunch of money because we can't do half a tour because I go to jail for drugs. I get up on time.

“There was all these stories at the time of rock stars - that they go on stage four hours late and there's riots breaking out because they're in their hotel room. They don't feel like playing. So, I'll always show up on time. I always do my time. You'll never get a call saying Skillet is really bad because it's just not who I am. It's kind of against my faith. You're never going to get crazy stuff with us. I'm very serious about my job and I'm very serious about treating my fans right. And, hopefully, I'll make you a lot of money at the process. He said, 'OK.' I think that's kind of funny. They kinda let us be who we are, which I really appreciate. And, in return, I think that we've, in good faith, I think we've been really easy to work with. I mean, in other words, we don't go and open up for Guns and Roses and start preaching about Jesus on stage. That would be an inappropriate place to do so. I let my music do the talking. I let my lifestyle do the talking and we treat people well. And it's been a great relationship.

I posited that fans compare Skillet to bands who show up late and mistreat their fan base and the grateful fans reward Skillet with continued support.

“Yeah, you know, I think these days, I think it's a different world than they used to be in. Part of what I mean, is this: Axl Rose could treat every single fan that ever came to a Guns N’ Roses concert, he could treat every one of them terrible and still sell 80,000 tickets per show because it's Guns N’ Roses. They're icons, you know? And, these days, I think it's a different story because there is a lot of competition. And for an artist to come out and have that sort of impact, if they want to have longevity, they need to treat their fans well and they need to do things. If they don't take your job seriously, they could still last while they're on top. But as soon as they're out from the top, everybody will be glad to see them go because there's just too much competition out there.

Earlier in our chat, John and I were talking about some of the patriarchs and matriarchs, if you will, Christian rock. I wondered who John’s influencers were from the genre.

“Well, there's probably a lot I had to say about that. My family was very against rock music. And when I discovered Christian rock in fifth grade, which was a band called Petra, I came home and I was, like, 'Guess what? There's Christian rock music!' because my parents wouldn't let me listen to anything with drums. My mom gave me the holiest butt whoopin' of all time for listening to a Christian rock band! I'd never heard of it! I thought they didn't know it existed. So, I thought, 'Oh! They're going to like this!' Christian rock was even worse than normal rock to my parents. It was wolves in sheep’s clothing. They took me to a Bill Gothard seminar. People were CRAZY about it.

“Honestly, my parents would rather me have ended up in prison than be in a Christian rock band. I mean, they would rather have been a drug dealer because this is the number one thing that the devil was doing in the earth, you know? I grew up in that kind of a way. I convinced my parents to let me listen to some select acts, which they really didn't like. I think they finally realized, you know, you don't want your kids doing ABC at the end. Then you realize kids are going to do some of this anyway. I may as well give in on something so I can still make the rules, you know?

“So, they allowed me. Petra, DeGarmo and Key, Amy Grant. They weren't happy about it, but they did (let me listen to them). But they didn't like it. It was a really big fight in my house. At the same time, as I was listening to Christian music and I was expanding my Christian music taste into the Christian Metal World, Rez Band, Resurrection Band, as you said, White Cross, Stryper - my parents HATED all of that. But at the same time, I'm finding it at my friend’s houses, and it was the 80s.

“So, you know, metal was pop, basically, so you couldn't go to the mall without hearing Bon Jovi or Metallica or Motley Crue, or Iron Maiden. All of that music also became very influential to me, even though I didn't own it. I knew all the words. I knew all the songs. At home, I only listened to Christian music. I loved Christian music. That's also why I've always been so faithful to the genre. I never forgot where I came from and I'm proud of Christian music because it was always there for me. I learned a lot about my faith from Christian music. Petra - I mean, yeah, if you didn't have a Bible and you listened to all the Petra records, you’d know a lot about the Bible."

I’d responded to John by saying that it’s amazing when you consider that in the older hymns and gospel songs, one might argue that the listener didn’t get much biblical education from the music. Cooper responded:

"Interesting. Yeah. You know, the whole music thing never made sense to me. I honestly always just kind of viewed it from a perspective . . . I don't know . . . I just think that great Bible theology - this is going to sound like an oversimplification, but I believe it - great Bible theology can answer all of your questions in life. And every everything that you're fighting about, look at what the Bible says about it.

“I feel that, if people just done that was rock and roll, it would have become really clear that what our parents didn't want us doing was partying and having sex outside of marriage and doing drugs. It wasn't really that they didn't want us hearing a drumbeat. And it's not really that it makes any sense for Satan to create music. Satan doesn't create music. He distorts music. It was just such a dumb thing for our parents to be so crazy about. I honestly think it was a lack of Bible reading. I think it was, ‘We want our kids to look right and look respectable and act respectable. We don't like that long hair.’ It was all about just dumb stuff, if you ask me. But whatever."

Regarding the feedback from “the church” - or at least members, the kids, anybody that maybe even be outside of the faith and looking in at what Skillet is doing, I asked what kind of feedback they are were getting in all that.

“I think, in general, Skillet just has great fans; that people just understand Skillet. I know that there have been people that haven't and, I'm sure there's been people who thought, 'That's just too loud to be Christian music', and this and the other. But, for the most part, even today, a lot of what I call ‘the gatekeepers’, which is going to be, you know, Christian radio, Christian promoters, stuff like that - most of these people are - they grew up with Christian music. So, they're not like they're not like old people. They're not, like, 'I don't like all that young music', you know? They grew up with Zeppelin and they grew up with Hendrix and Van Halen and then discovered Christian music; a lot of that. So, people kind of tend to get it.

“Then, on the mainstream side, I guess Skillet's not really a preachy band. We're a band that we're very vocal about our faith, but we don't preach at people. And people kind of just seem to accept that, like, 'This band is cool.' They know that we're authentic and we will always treat people good and always play with bands. We've played with Slayer two nights ago. We play with bands who think very differently than us about the world and we're cool with that. So, we've had a pretty good little run. I think some of it is probably in what defines Christian music. I think there is some people that go that the meaning of what it means to be a Christian band might be different than it was 20 years ago, for me personally. And I think that that's OK. I think there's room for all of those philosophies in my book.”

As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Skillet is performing at Exit One Eleven in October. So, I asked what can fans expect from that show and any of the other shows during this tour.

"Oh, yeah! I can't wait! You know, that album's coming out, which means when we go on tour, we'll be playing brand new music, which I love. It's always fun to play new songs. And what people can expect from Skillet is as an incredibly energetic show. Every time somebody reviews a concert, they go, 'Man! This band's got a lot of energy!' It's just a passion for the music. Passion to put on a show. To me, it's all about connecting with the fans. One of the funniest things I read in a review of a Skillet concert reviewed is it said, 'I don't know how to describe how I felt about the Skillet show. But at the end, I felt like I wanted to do community service.' That was absolutely hysterical. He's like, 'I don't know why this show made me feel better and maybe want to be a better person'. I was just dying because we kind of get a lot of that. I don't really know why that is. But there's something about the vibe of the Skillet fans at the concerts that people always describe is like very uplifting. And I think that's kind of cool. That's what we're known for.

What’s on Skillet’s radar for the next couple of years?

"Well, probably, with this album coming out, it's going to be really busy touring, but also releasing a graphic novel, which sounds kind of silly. But I love comic books. I grew up with comics and graphic novels, and I've always dreamt of doing one. We're releasing it three weeks after our album releases, and we're going to be promoting that at some of the Comic-Con events. We recorded an exclusive song for the book, too. The book is called Eden and it's just a cool kind of science fiction - supernatural kind of a book and about a post-apocalyptic world. And we're all in a race to find the gate that takes us to paradise. That's kind of the idea. And it's pretty exciting. So, we're gonna be promoting the comic book, promoting the new album and touring - touring the world. We have tour dates from now to December 15th – which is our last one for the year.

Wrapping up our chat, I asked John the question I often ask artists and that is: When you step off the great tour bus of life up at that great gig in the sky (to borrow from Pink Floyd), what do you hope your legacy will be and how do you want to be remembered?

“Well, let's see. I mean, I think the only thing I really care about, honestly, is knowing that I lived my faith. That's really all that matters to me: knowing that I lived my faith, that I told people about it and wasn't a hypocrite. That's something that I just could not live with: saying that I believe one thing and acting like another thing. We all make mistakes, of course. Then we repent and we try to become better people. I'm not talking about not having regrets. I'm talking about going, 'I went for it, did the best I could and held strong to that.' I never, never want to be embarrassed of who I am; my faith, my God, the way I live my life. And that's really all that I want. I'd like to give people hope - the same hope that I have, if I can - through my music; through my relationships, the words I say. That's what I want.”

Undoubtedly, we’ll be hearing about Skillet for many years to come. You can keep up with John and the band by signing up for their newsletter at Skillet.com. While you’re there, you can purchase tickets for their Exit 111 gig or other shows on their tour.

Corky Laing Talks Letters, Music, and Mountain

Posted September 2019

CorkyLaing001 cropBaby boomers and those less privileged are certainly aware of the great Saturday Night Live skit wherein Christopher Walken places Blue Oyster Cult’s record producer who keeps demanding more cowbell on their recording of “The Reaper”.

One might that the demand for more cowbell was heavily influenced by the song, Mississippi Queen, by Mountain, in which cowbell is prevalent. The man behind that cowbell was Corky Laing, who has released an autobiography, Letters To Sarah. It is a brilliant concept of an autobiography based on a stream of letters that Corky wrote his mom while he was traveling as a drummer.

I chatted with Corky about this book as he and his co-writer, Tuija (think “Julia” but with a “T”) Takala, were driving on a rain-slicked interstate somewhere in Connecticut.

“I am good! I’ve got to tell you, I am sitting with my co-writer Tuija; we are driving back to the city in downpour of rain here in Connecticut!”

I shared with Corky that I caught him and Leslie together when I first launched Boomerocity back in 2009 at one of the stops on the HippieFest tour. I had interviewed his Mountain mate, Leslie West (here) the month prior and was his guest to the show and backstage. I didn’t see Laing and I joked that he probably didn’t want to be seen around the likes of me. He chimed in:
“No, no, it’s not that. I just, I get away, because I don’t know what Leslie is going to say or do because he can be quite unusual in interviews. He can either tell ya to go f*** yourself or, ‘How ya doin’, Boomerocity?’ Ya know what I mean? He’s a moody guy. So, I just let him do his thing when that happens.”

I had just finished “Sarah” just prior to our call and I absolutely loved it. I’m a voracious reader, but if a book loses me, I " allowtransparency="no" width="120" height="240">don’t waste my time. I can honestly say that I couldn’t stop until I finished it. When I told Corky as much, his reply was gracious and sounded like it came from the heart.

“Well, I’d like to take credit for a good deal of that, but in short, I had my co-writer, Tuija (Tecala), who I had met in Manchester in 2006 and we kept in touch as I worked on a project, ‘Playing God’, with her, that she wrote. She’s very prolific. She’s a PHD, she’s a professor and she loves music. That’s the way we became partners - in writing the music in this play called ‘Playing God’.

“Hence, while we were rehearsing that in the New York area in my studio, she went to the storage area while she had some time and pulled out a box of letters that I had written to my mother over a period of about thirty odd years; that my mother had saved in this box, nice and neatly. I didn’t know about it. I never knew my mother did that. But, at the time, Tuija and I were talking about trying to do a memoir. She went online and she was pissed off. ‘Wikipedia, you got a lot of facts wrong!’
“She says, ‘Can we just clean up this brand of yours?’ And I said ‘yeah’. She said, “Well, maybe these letters could help us as a catalyst, in terms of a timeline of over thirty-odd years, which would coincide with me being in a local band when I was 15 years old; all the way through Mountain, West, Bruce & Laing; right through when she passed away. She saved these letters.

“Tuija was the one to say, ‘Well, wait a second. We can do this. We can put the letters in the book.’ She chose specific letters that were heartwarming, some were, whatever they were. But she was in charge of that, and she had them all filed beautifully as to the topic in the letter, and where it was, what the date was, what I was thinking, what I was smoking. Whatever it was, it was in the letters. Hence, she put it together, and I would tell the stories that would, hopefully, embellish the letters. That’s the way the book developed.

“I’m thrilled that you and people noticed that particular approach, because it was spontaneous and in terms of doing it. We had no idea. I have to say, a lot of my buddies in the music business say, ‘Cork, are you going to tell the story of snortin’ ants off a table and out late, with Ozzy?’ I said, ’No, we’re not going to tell that story.’ She insisted that we would tell a proper - not a proper story but write a proper book. And that’s what gave it, I think, the credibility.

“So, I give her credit. She did an amazing job, and I’m not being humble. I lived that life, and I was very lucky to live that life and I enjoyed pretty much every moment of it. It’s there in the book. But what else can I do? Just celebrate. You got over fifty years there. I can’t believe it’s been 50 years. Ya know, Randy, it flies. It flies by. Especially for a drummer that’s trying to keep time. I wrote the letters to tether myself to my family. Because I was the baby in the family and there was 7 other people in the house. And, Randy, if you ever want to get noticed, get a set of drums because they’ll notice. Play them as loud as you want. As it turned out, the drumming sort of took me to places that I was fortunate enough to enjoy.”

Sharing how it all started, Laing said: “Well I wasn’t sure if it was one of the guys, whether it was Todd (Rundgren), or it could have been any one of those (who said), ‘To be a teenager, in the 50’s was to be a nobody.’ To be a teenager in the 60’s was to be an everybody. And, if You were lucky enough to pick-up a guitar or a pair of drumsticks and play and get in front of people, that was your era. That was the soundtrack. You started the soundtrack.

CorkyLaing002“I went from my first performance where I got addicted to playing - I think I may have been 11 or 12 years old. I was helping out on this stage in a country club outside Montreal. It was called the Riviera Country Club. I think it’s in the book. And what happens is, my brothers were busing the tables because it was a restaurant/bar/theater. I was a couple years younger than them and they got me to sweep the stage.

“So, what happened is: The Ink Spots come up from the Catskills because Montreal is a half a day drive and this particular theater would book people from the Catskills in the summer at this club, this outdoor cabana club. Jackie Mason, you name it. The comedians would come up there. The Ink Spots were like the Temptations of their time.

“So, they walk in, and I’m sweeping the stage to get them ready and there’s a drum set and a couple of mics there. The guy says, ‘Boy, boy, where’s the musicians? We gotta practice.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Well, I think I just got told there’s a strike; there’s a musician strike.’ They looked at me like, ‘Really?’. One of the guys plays guitar in the band - they’re beautiful black singers; they’re gorgeous, The Ink Spots - and he looked at me with the broom and said, ‘Can you just pick up the brushes over there on that kit and just give us a little brushes so it looks like there’s a band?’

“I didn’t know what he meant. I never sat on the drums. I took care of the drums. I cleaned the drum sets, ya know? I took care of them. And, as I sat there in shock, I put on a bowtie, and I’m back there, 5 beautiful singers, black guys and this little white kid, right? And I can see the audience looking up, this was in the early 60’s - no, late 50’s, early 60’s. There’s all these families and kids - there must have been 150 - and they’re all having dinner and there are Th Ink Spots are singing and I’m brushing, doing whatever I could do. And I am enjoying it. I’m enthralled. People are noticing me. You know what I mean, Randy? They are looking at me! Coming from a big family that nobody noticed me, that was big time. So, that got me addicted to actually performing.

“I think there’s a photo in the book of me playing this drum set, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is the most beautiful instrument in any band!’ I remember going to music stores with my mom. I was going to buy a snare. I was shoveling snow that whole winter and I made enough money to buy a snare drum. I went into the store and my mother said, ‘Look at all these beautiful drums!’. There were sparkles. You’ve seen drum sets. Anyway, how could you not fall in love? So that’s when I fell in love with the drum - the way they looked.

“You go through these changes, Randy, where different things really inspire you.”

I interjected how cool it was, being born at the perfect time and having the perfect opportunity. It won’t happen again. It’s not going to happen again. You don’t know that when you’re there. Corky replied:

“But, somehow, something tells me, ‘Go for it, baby! Go for it!’ And I did. That’s where the book is at, in Montreal and just across the border into the states was a big deal - New York, was.

“You know, my father did tell me one thing ‘cause he saw me playing downstairs and he says, ‘Corky, if you wanna find out how good you are, go to someplace where the people know what good and great is.’ I remember saying, ‘I’m fourteen years old and I’m going to have to get my ass down to New York‘ ‘cause I saw King Grupa playing in New York at the Metropol on TV. They had a thing. So, once you see that, I got my ass in gear with the band and my buddy, George Gardos, and we got our visas and headed down to New York to the Peppermint Lounge, Randy! I don’t know how old you are, but do you remember? The Peppermint Twist was the coolest song in the world! What we didn’t know was that by the time we got to the Peppermint Lounge, it became a gay club! So, there we were, 14, 15-year-old kids, we were dressed up - like in those days all the bands wore the same outfit. We had suede vests with puffy white sleeves, ya know? White shirts, tight pants and dingo boots. All the same color and, boy, did they love us!

“What happened is, you had Johnny Maestro and the Crests who were playing, remember? (sings) ‘Sixteen Candles’, and after playing all these sweet sixteens, it was a big deal. They were headlining. And Johnny came over and said ‘You boys, just be really careful. Make sure you go into the bathroom together.’ And, I’m saying, ‘Wow! What advice!’ That was our first gig in the states. Then, we went on from there. That was like, the mid-60’s then.”

In “Sarah”, Corky tells a fascinating story about seeing The Who during their first tour in the U.S. and an incident that involved Keith Moon. I asked him about it.

“The point is, when I first saw The Who - we were opening. Our band, Bartholomew Plus III was opening the show at the Forum at the time. I think I mentioned in the book. This was the time the British invasion came in. So, because we were Canadian and because our manager ran the Forum, he booked us. We opened up for James Brown. Go figure. We opened up for the Kinks. We opened up for Herman’s Hermits. You name it. And they all came in because they had to get their visas. So, The Who came in and they were not celebrities, Randy. Nobody even knew who the f*** they were. They caused a riot. They broke up their equipment. You know what they did.

“Hence, at the time, Keith threw off this jacket and everything cleared. The police cleared the place. It was pretty heavy. And when things quieted down, I walked back under the stage - huge stage - and I see the jacket. I told the story (in the book), I don’t have to repeat it.

“I was going to steal it. And, as a result of me actually giving it back to him, I tell you, I think he’s going to kill me ‘cause I CorkyLaing003said, ‘Here’s your jacket.’ Because his grandmother made the jacket for the tour - for his FIRST tour, Randy - this was big time! He thought he lost it. When I handed that to him, he grabbed me by the collar – I thought he was going to kill me. He gave me a big kiss on the lips. I mean, he’s a funny guy. And I looked at him and went, ‘Whoa!’. It actually felt good. But the point is, he walked away, looked and me (and said), ‘Thank you, mate! I can’t thank you enough! I can’t thank you! I’ll never forget you!’ I went, ‘All right’ and he walks out, and at the time I don’t know what made me do what I did it, but I said, ‘I was going to steal it.’, just trying to relieve myself with that confession. He came running back at me, and this time I really thought I was dead. He grabbed me, again, and gave me another big kiss on the lips and he said ‘But ya didn’t steal it, did ya mate? Ya didn’t steal it and that makes it even better!’ And he says, ‘I love ya mate and I’ll never forget ya!’ Another kiss on the lips!

“So, what I’m saying is, he didn’t forget me. As time went on, Mountain was being managed in Europe and the UK by the same management company - it was Track Records that had Hendrix in England and they had The Who. So, we used a lot of the same crew as The Who, because they were off, The Who were off. In any case, we did become friends. Later on, he invited Jack, myself, and Leslie out to his house. And he came and, I don’t know how to put it. He pulled up in his Hydro plane. You know, the big thing? Anyways, so Randy, he pulls up and he sent a Mini Cooper to pick us all up as a joke because he knew Leslie was, like, 350 lbs. We got out of that and it was very funny, Randy. He saw Leslie trying to climb out of the f****** Mini Cooper and he says, ‘I’m so sorry mate. I’m so sorry. I would have sent the Rolls, but it’s in the pool!’ That kinda shit. We had a great time. We met a lot of times.

"In New York, when they played Madison Square Garden, he couldn’t have been nicer. He sat me right beside - right behind - Peter Townsend’s amps. Because, you know, backstage is one thing - the dressing room. He says, ‘Come on, come on, come on, come on!’ And he sat me right there and he had his tablecloth with his wine and his beer; his couple of shots of whatever, who knows what else was on the little table. But I sat there, and I watched him. Randy, I watched him. I focused every minute on him because I learn by the hand. I never took lessons, but I watched, and I was lucky enough to be able to do what I saw. And I remember, he got off the stage and he went back there. I said, “Keith I have to ask you . . .’, and he said, ‘Stop it! Stop it, right now! Don’t ask me how I do it! I have no f***ing idea what I’m doing, so don’t ask me!’

“It’s one of those things Randy, where it’s beyond being inspired. I just wanted to be Keith Moon, you know what I mean? I wanted to enter that vessel, you know, and take that journey. Which, I must say, that’s what the book is about, I guess. That’s the Nantucket sleigh ride, Randy. That the one we’re all on right now, as far as I know.”
Corky and his peers have seen a lot of changes in the music business. Not all of them have been good. I asked him if he were made music czar, what would he do to fix – if it can even be fixed.

“It was (broken), yes, (in the) early 90’s. I don’t think, number one, it can be fixed. It’s gone to a place - it started off kind of as a joke. You know, it was a summer job. It’s what you did on the weekend, whatever. But it was good. It was about the music. It was about the inventory. What you learned was in your heart. It wasn’t in your pocketbook. And, I’m happy to say, I never thought I’d make a lot of money in music. I knew when I started, you had to pay for things. You had to buy things, yeah. But I didn’t look at it like, ‘I’m gonna become a rock star’ ever, ever, ever! As a matter of fact, I always hated when we had West, Bruce, and Laing, and they started calling it ‘Super Groups’. It was. And there were musicians that played really well; that got more coverage than other people. You know what I mean? So, I hated that title that they put on different bands.

“But there are a lot of people that went into the music business thinking they’re going to be stars. And, hence, you have those TV shows of people singing one song really great, which is fine. But the true musicians - it’s kinda like this: I think it was my dad, I’m trying to remember, I said ‘Dad, I wanna grow up and I wanna be a rock drummer.’ He said ‘Cork, you’re gonna have to choose one thing or the other.’ So, I knew I would never grow up.

“But the drumming, it made you feel so much more. That’s why they call the drum seat a drum throne because it is the best seat in the house. When you’re sitting there, especially in over the last 23 years, I played in the trio, so I was usually at the top of the triangle - on the riser. And I would watch the guitar player. I would watch the bass player. Whether it was Leslie, whether it was Jack Bruce, or Felix, and I set the tempo. I was in charge. I was king of the world, of that world. That was the best seat. Whatever I played went right through to the guys in the band, right through to the audience, and the audience responded right back, if you did a good job.

“So, it was like that circle of life that Elton John sings about. I compare it to that. It goes ‘round and ‘round; it feeds each other. But as soon as you throw the f****** money into it, money has nothing to do with that. It’s a f*** sick item that f***ed it all up because all it was was music - playing and listening. You know, you had the ears out there. You had the players on the stage.”

Then, circling back to becoming music czar, Corky concluded, “So, I’m not sure it can be fixed. I’m not sure. You can’t go back on this stuff. But, yes, my new album is going to be on vinyl. Talkin’ about a turn around. There are a few things that still exist. You know, there are a lot of fans that are buying vinyl instead of CD’s. That’s just symbolic, though. That’s just symbolic of a time that you could feel, you know, you could literally feel the record and you have the album cover and you could read it and look at it. And, normally, if it was done well, it would project the vision of the record.

“Of course, when MTV came, it started going and it started spinning off into different marketing aspects. So, I don’t know if it’s going to come back to that. People can go get it. You can still go hear a great band, you know? I don’t know how you like. But to give you an idea, Randy, we are on tour this summer with the Legends of Woodstock, right? You were talking about the Hippiefest. It’s similar to that. The same guys putting on a few shows. We’re going to Houston and Denver, to play with 10 Years After, Cactus - you know, bands of the era and sort of implying there’s going to be a Woodstock-ish kind of vibe, which is fine.

“What I’m getting at is, that is as far back as one can really reach in terms of trying to find the musicians that played back then. And, like I said, they’re all dirt napping. If they’re not on stage, some of them have given up. Personally, I have no choice, I don’t know what I would be doing if I wasn’t playing drums. Maybe selling shoes, but they would all be the same size and the same color. I’m starting to get out there Randy, I’m sorry about that.”

“But it’s like, again, I’m very fortunate to have experienced a great time in music and a time when drummers were allowed the freedom to play the way they wanted to. When I was playing with Mountain, Felix turned to me, ‘cause I was scared to death, you know? I didn’t know what to play. I mean, they’re coming up with these riffs and all that. So, I, look at Keith Moon, right? Felix says, “Whatever you do, show me the one. Make sure if we start getting out there and jamming, whatever, make sure I know where the one is.”

CorkyLaing001“So, he allowed me to go right off any kind of click track or anything. And that’s a joy, that’s a freedom. That is the freedom that you want in music. I mean, these days, I remember Dennis (Elliot) from Foreigner, a really good friend, you know? He’s gotta play with a click track. And Foreigner’s a great band. It’s good to have great material so I would never make any judgement on that. But, really, Dennis said, ‘How lucky you are! You don’t have to be instructed or anything!’ And I was. I was really lucky. You’re playing with guys like Leslie and Jack and Felix - they don’t need a drummer, Randy. These guys got more time than many drummers I know. So, all I did was just fill in the blanks and there weren’t that many blanks. You know, it was like a joy. Yeah it was like riding on any kind of jet plane, just going way out there and making any turns you want. I’m going on now Randy, you’ve got to shut me down. This is when you shut me down.”

When I asked Laing why does he feel it is that our music is so much better than the crap that has come out in the last decade and why do our kids and grandkids gravitate towards our stuff, the classics like Mississippi Queen, he replied:

“I don’t know. I think you should ask them. I don’t know. My son is 31 and he won’t listen to Rap. He doesn’t listen to any of that. You’re right, he went right to The Doors. He went way back. I think the closest he got to new music was when Dylan and Roy Orbison and Tom Petty put together that great band - The Travelling Wilburys, yeah. And, if you were a Wilbury, you were cool, ya know? I’ve gotta say that that’s the latest one. But, again, those were the guys. They were all part of Classic Rock. I just don’t want to get in a posture to judge or diss the new music right now because there is some good things out there. They’re just - I don’t know, if you come from a headspace where music does certain things in a certain order in your head, you get used to that. So, it’s no fear of what’s new, it’s just how do I understand this?

“Last night I was watching the MTV movie awards, which I never watch. We happened to be in this cottage in Nantucket, and Tuija and I are watching it, and she’s looking at me saying, ‘How come you’re watching this?’ ‘I’m watching this because I’m curious.’ I had no idea, Randy, what the f*** they were doing. The guy was moaning, and he was lying down on stage. And this is a big - apparently a big star. Girls are screaming and all that. And a couple of whistles, who knows what he is doing. Can’t understand a word he says. I’m not putting it down, I’m just saying, I don’t understand what this is all about in terms of what they’re doing.

“And, so, you know, this is not just a generation, it’s 2 or 3 generations now from Classic Rock. You talk about the 10 years and stuff, you got about, it’s 2020. You know, right off the bat, we’re 20 years into the new millennium. I can’t say anymore, I’m going to shut myself down on that, because no, I don’t know what to say. Because, there are some great, great bands, Sublime - there are some good bands. You know they all break up. That’s the problem when new bands come. But I can’t criticize that because, we had a great band with Jack Bruce and myself, and we broke up too early. Who knows? It’s all the emotional aspect of it.”

I responded by quoting the late Sam Andrew of Big Brother and the Holding Co. from one of my first interviews when I launched Boomerocity. He said, “Randy when we were out there, it hadn’t been done before.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. “We were inventing this stuff, then. Nowadays, you’ve got schools cranking out 500 graduates a year who can play Hendrix”, which says a couple things. First of all, it speaks to the genius of guys like Mountain and others being able to tap into that muse out there and be able to create great classic works that stand the test of time. Secondly, it’s human nature to see this happen, but people try to emulate and mutate; they try to clone and copy. People try to commoditize. People are trying to take things that we all loved and try to carry on the tradition while creating a new tradition. People like Jonny Lang, Joe Bonamassa and others who are taking what Laing and his peers have done, honoring it and trying to create their own work to be able to carry the mantle forward. I concluded my comment by saying that I think there is something in the DNA of our generation - of our music - that is solid and, hopefully, our kids and grandkids will honor and respect that and carry it forward.

He replied philosophically.

“You know what, Randy? If they don’t, it’s all right, too. They’ll do what they do. I just found out a couple of years ago, I was listening to one of the Rap songs, I think it could have been JayZ. I guess his producer, was it Rick Baker? I’m trying to remember the producer. Anyway, they used a live recording of myself, the intro to ‘Long Red’. But I remember listening to a record, it could have been the other guy, Spotty D, or Icy Bull or whatever or whoever it was. But I remember that I said, ‘That feel was really cool.’ And I find out that my intro to ‘Long Red’- that we recorded way back somewhere, at the Fillmore. It was one of the top 10 samples that these rappers used. I looked it up. It said Top 10 samples, drum samples for rap. You’ll see, ‘Long Red, Corky Laing’ or whatever. And I’m going, ‘Where’s my check’, Randy?

“It turns out that I was about 8-9 years late. I gotta tell ya, I really felt like, wow, that is so cool that you know that happened. They sampled it and, apparently. It’s a real simple beat. Nothing over the top. I ‘m trying to think of the guy with the beard that produced JayZ. I’m sorry, I think it became Capital or Epic or something. Come on Cork... Rick, Rick, Rick . . . Anyways, the point is: Leslie got these huge gold records from JayZ on his wall, from ‘99 Problems and the Bitch Ain’t One of Them’. It’s a great song. I did listen. They used his guitar and they manipulated a couple of down beats and they use it as a percussive effect and they gave Leslie credit, which was kinda cool because you wouldn’t of. I couldn’t identify it, if you ask me. You know what I’m saying? In other words: You’re right about them using things from the past, manipulating them a bit and whatever they feel they want to do, I guess, to hold on to a little bit of yesterday day or whatever that is. But, you know, at this point, if the kids are listening . . .

“But you’re right about one thing: Because of everything being so disposable these days, Classic Rock is right there. It’s not going away. It’s not coming back. It’s not going away. It’s there. And, hey, I couldn’t be more happier than a pig in shit about it because at 50 years later, I’m playing Mississippi Queen, a song that didn’t even have any meaning in it. It was a rap song. The version of it on Don’s old records - somebody recorded me when I played in Nantucket, and the lights went out. There was no electricity and I started screaming out at this dancer who came up from Mississippi and I kept the lyric and everything, even though I was trying to pick her up.

“But the point is, how much happier can you be? This goes back to 1968-69 and people are still rockin’ with it. I love it, you know? What can I say? So, I’d be the last person to criticize anything. And what’s his name from Grateful Dead (he meant Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company) is right. We were just trying whatever was necessary - from whatever we felt was necessary from our heart. And it had to be LOUD, you know?

“I know a lot of the heavy metal bands these days, but, somehow, I’m associated with being a heavy metal drummer. The only reason I think that is because I had timbales when I started, which were, like, neutron bombs when you hit them. And then I had the cowbell. The only reason I had those drums is to cut through the stack of amps that Felix and Leslie played. They didn’t have all of the sophisticated microphones, Randy. You know it was like, you had to play really loud. And that’s what I did.”

Referencing the aforementioned SNL skit, I interjected “You were doing cowbells before they were being demanded more of, right?”, to which he replied:

“That’s right! I sold a lot of LP cowbells. I did! They were really happy with me.

With the book out, now, I asked Corky what’s on his radar for the next year or two.

“Well, I’ll tell you exactly what it is. At this point, we have the book, which we are just starting to promote. By the way, thank " allowtransparency="no" width="120" height="240">you for your support on the book. It’s really cool that you’re doing this. And we have a new record coming up, which was recorded last - well, 6 months ago we finished it. It’s coming out in the fall - the latest will be the fall. So, I will continue to tour that. We are going to Europe and Germany in October. I think we’re hitting France and maybe Romania? Romania. I’ve never been to Romania. Maybe Gastonia, I don’t know, one of those ‘nias’. Yeah, we’re going to keep playing. As long as I can kick it, I’m going to kick it, Randy. And I see we have a repertoire to work with, which is great, whether we’re playing old Mountain or West, Bruce and Laing. And, again, we have this new record called, Toledo Sessions, and I’m very, very proud of that from a writer’s point of view. Detroit, Toledo, it’s become the rock belt up there.

Speaking about his book, again, Laing said:

“The book is very special to Tuija and myself. That’s why it’s great to talk about it. You know, I’ve been talking about music for the last 50 years, which I love. But it’s very different. It’s a different format.”

You can order Corky’s book by clicking on the widget beside this sentence or wherever you prefer to purchase your books. You can also keep up with the latest going on with Corky by visiting CorkyLaingWorks.com.