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Phil Keaggy On Faith, Family, Life, Love, and Music

Posted January 2020


Phil and FedoraBack in the seventies, Contemporary Christian Music (“CCM”) was humming right along. It’s what helped keep teenagers at the time (like me) interested in church and its music. People and bands like Larry Norman, Love Song, Andre Crouch, and many others were among the pioneers and torchbearers of the genre. 

In that mix of pioneers was a brother/sisters trio called 2nd Chapter of Acts. They were amongst the real rockers of the genre. So, in the summer of ’77, when I saw that they were coming to the Civic Auditorium in downtown Phoenix, I immediately bought tickets. Sure, I noticed that the tickets said, “2nd Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, and a Band Called David” but I was going to see “Acts”.

Let me just say that, while I’m still a big fan of 2nd Chapter of Acts, I went into that concert an Acts fan and came out being a huge Phil Keaggy fan and am one to this very day. I’ve caught him in concert a variety of times over the past 43 years and own a large percentage of his recorded work (though I recently learned that I have some serious catching up to do!).

That was the summer of 1977. Fast forward to October of last year.

I attended a house concert that was a fundraiser for a worthy cause. Phil Keaggy was the featured guest. I hadn’t seen him in concert for quite a long time so I was looking forward to the show. After it was over, I approached him and introduced myself and indicated that we both had a mutual friend, Ken Mansfield, who was over the U.S. arm of The Beatles  Apple Records and has worked with countless other iconic artists over the years. Phil and Ken are close friends and Ken had this to say about Phil:

"Well, I've known Phil for quite a while and too. I always say, to know Phil is to love him and he's probably the most gracious, kind person. And so childlike in how he treats other people; the simplicity and his ‘straight-aheadness’ with you. So. Oh, yes. And then you stick inside that wonderful thing, the ability to be the greatest guitar player in the world. It's just a real wonderful package there in one place. So, I've known Phil for a long time and I think it's probably the most exciting KEN AND PHIL ReducedKen Mansfield & Phil Keaggy - Courtesy of Ken Mansfieldrelationship that I've had. - both as being in the music business but also just meeting a brother that I can really count on and trust and love on."

When I asked Ken what is the least understood thing about Keaggy, he laughed and replied:

"Wow. Now let's try and find something to say that's not great about Phil. That's harder than saying something that's great about him. I don't know. He has just - I think his child likeness just makes him so innocent and kind and gracious all the time that, I would say, the only thing for him, like anybody else, is being in a business that gets a lot of people, as we say, in their face a lot. Sometimes he may have to be a little guarded because he is so kind and gentle, people do take advantage of him. And, you know, there is a plane to get to and there is somebody who has been on the road for twelve hours, then playing for three hours and then has to get back to a hotel so they can get two hours of sleep. It's hard for people to understand that sometimes. So but even in that, he is always gracious in letting you know he can't really do something for you at the time."

Back to Phil and the house concert, when I left that evening, Phil was kind enough to agree with me that an interview was in order. 

In the past, I’d briefly met Phil, snagging an autograph on a couple of the albums. He was always gracious to me and anyone else he was approached by. I’ve watched him deal with over-zealous fans as well as over-zealous Christians. I’ve watched him perform with amazing, talented artists such as Rick Derringer, Greg Martin, and others and I’ve watched him share the unknown audience members – talented as well as the “wishful” (that’s the category I’m in but I stay in the audience!). To each and every one, he was far more patient than I likely would’ve been in the same situations. To say that the man has a warm, kind, gentle, gracious spirit about him would be a gross understatement. His heart is truly golden and only possibly exceeded by his gift of playing guitar.

The guitar. That instrument attempted by many and mastered by relatively few. For those who have watched Phil play, we walk away wishing that we could play his mistakes. He’s a guitarists’ guitarist who is highly respected both within CCM but probably more so in a variety of other genres. He even got to play with Sir Paul McCartney, informally and just the two of them. More about that later in this story.

Back to our interview.

I called Phil at his home in the greater Nashville area. After some introductory small talk, it was HE who started asking ME questions (there’s that graciousness of his, again). With that done, he brought me up to speed on what he’s been up to.

“I've been an indie artist now for about 18 years, since the last record label I belonged to was - or I was signed to was Word Records. They let me go in 2002 and since then, everything I've been putting out has been just indie. That means no marketing or distribution. Very little radio. But I keep working because that's my job and I still do concerts because a number of people still like to hear me play and sing and do my songs. So, the thing is, I keep creating and I've been doing a lot of collaboration, especially over the last - I'll say ten, twelve years with other writers and artists, musicians.

“So, I have a continual flow of stuff that's available to people who know how to get a hold of it. Say for instance on my web site, PhilKeaggy.com, there is on the menu - there's a tag called, ‘Keaggy's Garage’. So, there's there is stuff up there that's a lot of live recordings; a lot of demos; a lot of releases that have been indie, my indie releases; a lot of collaborations with other musicians. In fact, just yesterday morning, a jam album - the title of the album is called, ‘An American Garage Band’. It's with drummer Bobby Glazier and bassist Gary Lunn. It's an instrumental and it's all free flow. That's really recent. 

Phil and Les Paul 2 reduced“Another recent project that I did was collaborated with Rex Paul, an album called, ‘Illumination’ that came out last spring. It's a vocal gospel rock album and it has eleven songs on it. Four of those songs are old songs from the 70s and 80s; remakes of tunes like, ‘Time’, ‘Let Everything Else Go’, ‘Spend My Life With You’, and ‘Full Circle’. Rex produced it and he just kind of brought it to a really more of a real rockin', up-to-date, progressive rock kind of feel. He's an amazing producer and musician. In fact, he's the band. He's the bass player, the drummer, the keyboard player and guitarist, vocalist BGV's (background vocals). We wrote lyrics together for the new songs and he just brought some new life - injected new life into the old songs. A lot of folks have found it to be a really enjoyable album. 

“I've done three albums with keyboardist Jeff Johnson. They're just beautiful instrumental works, like soundtrack music. It's just music you can listen to and relax to, chill to, and enjoy the melodies and the textures, because he plays beautiful keys. He's a kind of a minimalist. I provide a lot of the ear candy, you could say, with various guitars like classical guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, 12-string, mandolin, cümbüş - a Turkish instrument. I do all the bass work as well. So, those are three albums I did with Jeff Johnson I'm quite proud of. 

“I also did an album with veteran world class musicians, Tony Levin and drummer Jerry Marotta; Tony playing bass; Jerry playing drums and percussion. It's called, ‘The Bucket List’ and that came out last year, too.”

Then, as if he’s come to the realization at the same time he was sharing with me, he said: 

“So, actually, I had three albums come out in 2019 and they're on Spotify, iTunes, my Web site, Jeff's Web site. Tony's, Jerry's; you can see them in all those different places.”'

Then, turning a little more serious, Phil shared some of his feelings about the CCM industry.

“The industry has changed. We don't have CD stores like we used to. We don't have record stores except for specialty shops, you could say, where you can find LPs. So, when I do concerts, I make my music available to people at the concerts.”

Shifting back to works released, Keaggy added:

“I don't know if you've heard of the ‘All at Once’ album that was recorded four years ago. That's a collaboration, as well, with Phil and his Stratabout 10 different writers, at least 10. There's Lionel Cartwright. There's Nathan Chapman, Ashley Cleveland, my son, Ian Keaggy, who is also a very talented musician, producer, and writer - veteran book writer, Ken Mansfield, who worked for the Beatles. Ken is a wonderful guy. He's still around and I'm grateful for that because he's eighty-two or eighty-three by this time. He's got quite a story. Great testimony.

“Katie Peltier, who's a worship leader, worship writer. In fact, the All at Once album - we had a number of those manufactured and they're out. I'm going to have a minimum - a limited release of the same album, but it's going to be called, ‘Fearless Love’, which is one of the songs on the album, and I'm taking four of the pop songs off and just have it more gospel centered; more R&B blues, where the message is really more clear because that's really what the album was intended to be initially. We all got excited about all these extra songs, but they really didn't seem to coexist that well together. You know what I'm telling you? I mean, the Beatles could get away with it. They'd have. 'I Will' on one album, in the same album they'd have Ringo's 'Don't Pass Me' or, ‘Octopus's Garden’, ‘Oh, Darling’, you know, very different kind of songs. But I just feel that in some sense, less is more. A 10-song project, even though it's a four-year-old album, I feel that it's got some new fresh life.

“There's a song on there called, ‘Breathe on US’, which Katie Peltier sent me her lyrics and her melody. I created the music for it and produced it. On the original album, 'All at Once', those who have that album, it's just basically a bit of an ending with solos going on. In other words, I saved it up at the end of the song for the last two and a half minutes. The solos at the end, because my daughter Olivia, when she heard it, she said, 'Oh, Pops, you've got to put this on your new album because the guitar solos are so sweet.' What I ended up doing was taking her entire song and, instead of it being a lyrical album vocally, it's a guitar - like a Jeff Beck melody to her melody and it really ended up being the longest tune on the album, the ninth of the ten tracks. It's not out yet, but it's going to come out and I really feel it's special. The album ends with a hymn, 'I Must Tell Jesus', which was inspired to record because of a friend of mine who passed away, James Ryle, who was a great Bible teacher, and I helped him make an album in the last year of his life, actually; an album of his original songs and a couple of hymns.”

As the old Ronco commercials used to say: But wait! There’s more!

“So, let's see what else is going on. I did a couple Ambient albums that I released this year by me and Tony Gerber. One is called, ‘Red Lunar’, which is a live, impromptu thing. He plays keyboards and flutes and I play the guitars. It was all live and it was recorded during the red moon when one of the red moon's had taken place. And then another one I did on his podcast with him and a cellist. It's called Pristine Chapel. 

“These are all new projects. So, as you can see, most of them are instrumental at this point. But I do have vocal songs kind of on the back burner. In the can, as it were, just waiting for the right time and place to release those. Like I said earlier, we have limited distribution. We have limited quantity in terms of actual projects that you can actually hold in your hand. Most of it is livestreaming these days.”

Phil and Les PaulTo that point, I surmised that he was benefiting financially from the technological advances in music recording and delivery.

“Oh, absolutely! You know, for the last 25 years, I've been, for the most part, engineering my own music and producing it in my little music room down below. And yes, the cost - it's very cost effective. For instance, the album I did with Jeff Johnson, he has his home studio up in Washington State. He would send me files and I would send him files and he'd mix it. We never paid for studio time. It was just my Pro Tools and his Logic programs and it works really well. 

“But the thing is, like I said, there's not the marketing and there's not the distribution and the A&R departments and everything. There are not the advances there used to be. But that's okay. It's the concerts that help me pay the bills. But to be free and to be creative is a real blessing at this time in my life. I really do prefer home recording and coming up with new music and sounds and to continue to try to grow on my guitar as a guitarist. So, obviously, the main thing is to, lyrically, when I do music that is lyrical, somewhere and somehow it continues to lift up the name of Jesus so that people know the Good News; that there is hope and that God loves us and cares for us all. And so that's the most important thing.”

As I alluded to a few paragraphs ago, I have seen Phil perform with a variety of very talented artists and his albums reflect much more of the same. So, I was curious if there was anyone he would like to perform or work with, musically, whom he hasn’t done so, already.

“I don't know, I don't seem to have a whole lot of ambition in terms of, like, ‘Oh, I wish I could play with this person.’ I don't really have that, you know. I mean, I have deep respect for a lot of the people that have influenced me; the great artists that I grew up listening to. But we're all kind of elderly, in a sense. I mean, I can tell you I'm in my late 60s. I'll be sixty-nine in March and I've had great opportunities over my lifetime to play with people I really admire. Say, for instance, Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta. Those two guys - to be on the same album with guys that played with Peter Gabriel and McCartney and Lennon and all these all these amazing musicians and all these amazing artists. I mean, the list is endless. With who these fellows have played with and here's this little guy from Youngstown, Ohio; and I mean ‘little’. I mean, both Tony and Jerry are
Sir Paul McCartney and PhilSir Paul McCartney and Phil - Courtesy of Phil Keaggyleast six foot three and here I am, a little five-foot four guy. But we got along just beautifully in the studio, created some really fun music. But I did get a chance to play at Linda McCartney sister's wedding back in 1990. As a result of that, I had a chance to just sit down and play guitars with Paul McCartney for about 20 minutes.”

I excitedly interrupted him on that one. Why? Well, my closest and dearest friend knew one of Phil’s brothers. That brother knew that Roderick was a fan of Phil’s and gave him a photo of Phil and McCartney playing together at that wedding. I’d seen the photo back in the early 90’s before the internet was dominant and before that picture and many others were scattered all over the ether. It’s an amazing photo that you can see here.

When I asked Keaggy if he’s had any other interaction with Sir Paul, his characteristic humility showed itself, again, in his reply.

“Oh, no, no. I'm just a drop in the bucket, just one little fella that, in a moment in time, had a chance to shake his hand and pass on to him a guitar that a friend of mine had made. It was a left-handed guitar – a left-handed acoustic guitar - and asked me if I would see if I could put it in Paul's hands. I said, ‘I'll try’. As a result of presenting him with this gift, he asked me, ‘Where's yours?’ And I said, 'Oh, it's over there.' 'Get it out.' And then we just sat down and picked on a few of his tunes, not my tunes.

“He didn't know my songs, of course. Although, I did sing three songs in the wedding and one instrumental. He was very encouraging, you know, like a big brother, like a producer would say (sliding into a British accent), 'You did a fine job. You have a nice voice. Remind me a bit of James Taylor.'

“I mean, he was a great influence on me from a melodic standpoint, a tonal standpoint, vocally. One of the great, great writers and artists of all time, of course, and it was an honor to meet him. I was it was kind of surreal, actually. 

Then, circling back to finish his answer to my question:


“No, we've not. It's not the kind of thing where he would ring me up and say, ‘Hey, Phil, how are you doing?’ But it was nice. It was a nice meeting. It was a nice occasion. And of course, Linda's sister, Laura, (the one who) got married. She's a believer and a really nice person. Both she and her husband have been friends all these years. We've gone to Italy where they live; visited them when I was doing concerts over there some years ago - many years ago. 

“So, anyway, that's one of the stories I wouldn't have ever presumed or assumed or imagined in my wildest dreams that I'd be in the studio with someone like McCartney or Clapton or any of those kinds of players that were influential; you know, Jeff Beck, on and on and on. But I have played for Rick Derringer on one of his tracks, on  Airborne Ranger with the guitarist from Grand Funk, Mark Farner. I have played on a few projects by other people. Greg Martin (of the Kentucky Headhunters) is a great guy. Great guitar player, fun guy. 

Later in our conversation on some other subjects, Keaggy added: 

“I enjoyed meeting Mickey (Dolenz). I played on six of his twelve songs on his album called, Remember. I've been to his house Phil Keaggy at 15 02Phil Keaggy In His Teens Courtesy of Phil Keaggyout in California. We had a listening party with a lot of friends and artists that you would recognize that were there. One of my favorite solos I've ever done on anyone's album was on his album - on the Nilsson song called, Remember - the title song. You should check that out sometime - on Spotify, iTunes. Yeah. Micky - he's fun. A talented guy. For his age, the guy's singing is still great.

“I got to play James Burton and I got to play right next to him onstage, Johnny B Goode and Louisiana some years ago. That was that was a blast for me because I loved watching him play guitar on there. You know, the Ricky Nelson/Ozzie and Harriet Show. Of course, Elvis and Scotty Moore and James were early influences in my life, too. As a guitar player.”

“But, you know, I've had a bit of - I'm kind of an underground musician, and that's okay. I'm a little lower profile than most guitarists, except perhaps maybe in the area of Christian music. But then there are so many wonderful, talented musicians and writers. What really mainly excites me is just knowing that I have a loving family and that's where I get most of my joy from. My wife loves me, my kids love me, love both of us. It's a whole different level of feeling satisfied and complete and music fits in there somewhere. But it's not it's not the whole story for me.”

As I stated earlier, I became aware of Phil Keaggy back in 1977. CCM hadn’t yet reached the stratospheric levels of popularity that it eventually would. It was also a much different kind of business and genre, then. Honestly, for me, it’s a genre that has left me and many of my friends far behind. 

To that point, I asked Phil for his view of CCM today; if it is broke and, if so, what would he do to fix it.

“I really don't keep up with it very much anymore. I continue to read my Bible and pray and share my story when I do my concerts in many cases, many times. But as far as the business, I don't have much connection to it anymore, so I can't really tell you. I know that there's a real emphasis on worship music these days, and I certainly will support that. But I think one of the things the record labels - Christian record labels and radio -  they really didn't know what to do with musicians like myself, in a sense, because, you know, half of what I've done through my lifetime is instrumental work and there's not much of a room and a place for that. But it's important to me as a musician to let my voice be heard through my guitar, not just my vocal cords. I think I'm probably more known as a guitarist than a singer or a writer and I get that. 

“I've never had a real true pop sense. I think the only song I had that went to number one for a couple of weeks was a tune I
didn't write and that was 'True Believers'. Alan Shacklock, a British musician, producer and writer - he wrote that song and Glass Harp 1972Glass Harp 1972 - Phil, John Sferra, & Dan Pecchio  Courtesy of Phil Keaggythat was about it. There's one station up in Pennsylvania called, WJTL, who's been very supportive, even though I've been kind of like in the background; sort of - well, I don't know how to put it - diminished in popularity, in a sense, because in the 70s, 80s and the early 90s, I was a bit on the radio, you know. But, not since really. Ninety-eight was about the last time. But that didn't cause me to quit. I mean, I don't do it because of radio. I don't do it because of sales. I do it because I love music and I really enjoy other musicians. And the process of creating and, you know, making music with others, it's really been very important to me.

“So, I really can't. I can't really give you - put my thumb on the pulse of the music business at all. I have no idea what's going on, really.”

I shifted gears in my questioning. I perceived Phil as being one who uses what he has and acquires only what he will use, guitar and gear-wise. With that in mind, I asked him how many guitars he had, figuring it would only be a handful.

“The guitars I own are the ones I use, so I don't have that many. I have a dozen guitars or so and that's it; guitars that I've had over the years, for some of them, 40 years or 30 years. I've got a Les Paul, a Strat; a Zion and a Yamaha and a couple basses that I like to use - a fretless and a Gibson bass, a Hoffner bass. I've got a 12 string. They're all instruments that I've utilized and used in the studio. So, no, I don't have a truck load. I have what I use. They're my tools. I'm not a collector. I'm not in the business of buying and displaying, you know. I just don't do that. I just use what I have and that's it. So, no.”

I love when I’m right. 


Phil’s wife, Bernadette, wrote a book several years ago that deals with the subject of the heartache of miscarriage at birth. I brought up the book and relayed that I had told a young couple I had went to church with at the time about it as they had experienced the tragedy of miscarriage several times like the Keaggy’s had. 

“Oh, it was! It was a tough time in our young lives, to lose babies. We lost triplets the first time at five and a half months and a baby boy another year later who lived three days at six and a half months along. Then, a miscarriage a year after that. We didn't know that we'd ever have any kids. But then we moved to Kansas City in 1979 and 1980, Alicia was born. Thanks to friends who are very supportive and a great doctor who just happened to be a godsend to both Bernadette and me. 

“And so, in the early 90s, Bernadette wrote the book, A Deeper Shade of Grace, and it was then rereleased under the title of, Bernadette Phils Wedding DayBernadette & Phil's Wedding Day - Courtesy of Phil KeaggyLosing You Too Soon. It has been a blessing to a lot of people. It will never be a top seller because not everybody has that story and that experience. But there are many who do, but they just don't know about it, you know. But it has touched a lot of people and I'm glad that Bernadette wrote those chapters with her own hand and it's her own voice. She speaks for both of us. And I’m happy to tell you that we became, for the first time in September, grandparents! Our daughter, Olivia, had a baby boy and we are just over the moon about him. He's beautiful and a fantastic little kid, you know?

Of their son, Ian, Keaggy said: 

“We worked on that together. There was even a Glass Harp song on an album we did called, Hourglass. It's the funest song on the album. It’s called, Weather Boy. It was Ian's first lyric that he wrote when he was about, oh, 13. I put it I put it to music. It's called Weather Boy. It's like the Who. You could probably hear that on Spotify. I think Hourglass is up there on Spotify. But yeah, he's working with a lot of professional people and writers today. He's really articulate, very intelligent and kindhearted, gifted young man, really proud of him.

“So, there you have it. Well, it really, really is a real healing that took place. We had our two daughters and a son. They're all in their 30s and they are wonderful kids, wonderful. My son is a very good songwriter and producer.”
With our time to chat drawing to a close, I asked Phil the question I have asked scores of other artists, especially those who are within our age span: How does he hope to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy is?

“Well, that I left some hope into the world. Some joy with my music and that, perhaps, I might be remembered as a kind Phil and Acousticperson. You know, simple stuff like that. Nothing profound.

“We all have a chance to leave a mark, leave something behind worth remembering. Those are the things that matter to me. You know, the fruit of the spirit stuff: Love and joy and peace. I want to be a peacemaker.

“I've got friends that I've had since the 60s that I keep in touch with. You know, that that kind of thing. We’re all family. And my friends from Glass Harp, the band I started in ‘68. I left in ‘72 to work with other people and to do my own music. But we still are close, close friends and we play off and on together still after all these years. In fact, this year, twenty, twenty earmarks, 50 years since our first album came out, half a century ago. The gospel was on that first album. Also coming next month, it'll be 50 years since I gave my heart to Jesus and asked Him to come into my life.

“I think that's the thing that influences me the most, is the Good News of the gospel. I feel the gospel - it's still the best news, especially in the times we live in today. When you look at the Gospel of John and how Jesus taught us how to treat one another, He gives us the grace to do that; enables us and I just think He's not only the greatest savior, but He's a great model, a great example of how we should love one another.”

Phil Head ShotI’m sure that, as I have for almost forty-three years, you will love Phil Keaggy’s work, talent, story, and heart. He truly is the real deal. Please follow him at his website (here), Facebook (here), and Twitter (here).

While you’re at his website, please do check out his store (here) as well as Keaggy’s Garage (here). 

If you were to ask me what to buy (assuming you don’t already own some of his work), I would have a very hard time answering. He’s done so much great work.  From the “Store”, I would suggest, perhaps, his concert DVD, “Philly Live”. “The Master and the Musician” is a must-have, if it’s in stock. If it’s not, then get “The Master and the Musician 30 Years Later Tour” DVD. “Dream Again” is great. The song, “Why” features Ian Keaggy on vocals and is my favorite tune on the album. 

From “Keaggy’s Garage”, I will admit that there is a lot that I don’t have from there (but I will!). I know that “Acoustic Sketches” is phenomenal as is “Premium Jams Vol. 1 and Vol. 2” and “220”. Also, “Jammed”, “Beyond Nature”, “The Wind and the Wheat”, “Roundabout”, and “Freehand: Acoustic Sketches II”. 

See what I mean? It’s just too hard to pick. But once you do, you’ll want everything he’s ever done.

That’s how it was for me forty-three years ago this summer. But I was lucky. He only had two solo albums at that time.

Bill Ludwig, III Talks About His Drum Legacy & The Future of Drumming

Posted January 2020

Bill Ludwig Head ShotThe drums. That beautiful set of hardware that is often under rated, cursed by parents, and seen as easy to play. Author Shannon L. Adler is quoted as saying, “Music is the beat of a drum that keeps time with our emotions.” If so, then drums are directly or indirectly an integral part of who we are emotionally.

For me, music was a part of who I was and became, but purely as a listener. I just wasn’t born with good musicianship in me, as much as I would’ve liked to. I plunked on a guitar but just couldn’t get to where I wanted to be. Two of my cousins and one of my closest and dearest friends played drums in their youth. All three played Ludwig drums.

Ah, the name says it all. Ludwig. The name is as ingrained in the soundtrack of our youth as Gibson and Fender and all the stars who played their instruments and sent many aspiring drummers down the path of rhythmic musicianship.

In the history of that brand of drum, there was an actual Ludwig. William F., in fact. Ludwig was lauded by the departed Neil Peart of Rush, who said of William, Sr., “When Mr. Ludwig invented the bass-drum pedal, that’s what made the drum set possible.” Many famous drummers played Mr. Ludwig’s drums, especially after seeing Ringo Starr play them on the Beatles’ historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. In fact, that TV appearance led Ludwig Drums to be THE drum manufacturer for many years.

As with other instrument makers, through a series of twists and turns, the Ludwig family sold the family business to a large corporation. Eventually, there wasn’t even an actual Ludwig family member manufacturing drums . . . until recently.

The grandson of William F. Ludwig, William F. “Bill” Ludwig III, pounded his way back into the drum making business. Obviously, the vagaries of business and copyright law keeps him from using “Ludwig” on his beautiful sets. The name of HIS company is WFLIII Drums.

It’s rare that Boomerocity interviews anyone who isn’t a musical artist or author. However, the story of WFLIII Drums and its owner intrigued me and the opportunity to chat with him presented itself, so I pounced on it.

Calling me from his Chicago office, Bill and I hit it off immediately. Kind, engaging, and personable, we got to know each other quickly and drilled into the story of his latest venture. To that point, I asked him to share the back story of why his family sold the original Ludwig company what happened afterwards, and why his is back into the business again.

“Well, there's a lot of why's in there, but I'll try to hit them all. 

“As you know, my grandfather started the company in 1909 and in the mid 30s, like all businesses, he was being affected by the Great Depression. At that time, a large portion of his business was sound effects for the silent movie era. You had to make train sounds and there'd be three percussionists watching a movie from behind the screen and added all the sound effects to add realism to that. 

“All of a sudden, they come out with talky movies. So, every drummer is out of work the next day. That got my grandfather'sBill Ludwig With Sr Pic V.2.0 attention and he thought, you know what? This business is struggling. I'm going to sell it to keep it alive. And he did. After a couple of years, he wasn't happy with the new people that bought it and said, ‘You know, I'm going to start my company over again and they said, 'That's nice, but we own your name.' So, he said, 'I'll use my initials, WFL Drum company. But then he put real small under that, “William F. Ludwig, President’. So, everybody knew, ‘Oh, the Ludwig guy’, which he was associated with top quality products and customer service. 

“So, now we fast forward to the late 70s, early 80s. My father and I were running the company and having some difficulties with unions and some other business issues and decided, for the best of the company, we should sell to a larger conglomerate that would protect us, so to speak. The same thing happened. You know, after 10 years, I decided that I wasn't happy with the way it was going. And we parted company and that was that. I was all of a sudden out of the drum business, which was quite a shock to my system.

“I worked various office jobs for 14 years or so. Then five years ago, I had moved with my daughters to a new place. At the same time, I just lost a job and I thought, ‘Well, what am I going to do now?’ I was looking at this picture of my grandfather in the factory testing drums, and he looked so happy and so proud. And I looked at the date on the picture and I realized he was fifty-nine. I was fifty-nine five years ago. I thought, ‘Well, if he can start over in 59, so can I.’ And for some reason, I took the picture off the wall and in my father's handwriting on the back, it said, ‘Senior starting over.’ So, he started over from nothing at age fifty-nine and lived to be ninety-three. He was in the factory every day until two weeks before he passed away because he was doing what he loved. 

“And, so, that's what pushed me over the edge. I started researching what other companies were doing in the industry and I saw everybody was going to thick ply shells, you know, six ply, eight ply, 12 ply and all these exotic woods. And I thought, well, it doesn't really improve the sound - and it's all about the sound. So, I said that I'm going to go back to the basic three-ply shell that my grandfather made, which was maple poplar maple with a steam bent support ring. That's what I'm going to do! 

“Lo and behold, after coming out with the snare drums first and, now, wood shell kits everybody that plays the kits, within seconds, says, 'Oh! The classic sound!" Because they're just so resonant and they have such good tonal qualities about the shell. Again, it's a quality made shell and we finish it and do all the edging and snare band work at our own factory in Kansas. It comes out in the sound. I mean, they look beautiful, they sound better. That's kind of how it evolved.”

Circling back to his career in drums, Bill shared:

“Ok, well, to go back to the beginning of how I first started working full time at Ludwig: During the summers from a very young age, like third grade. I would work in various departments in the factory. Then, when I got out of college, my dad had just fired the advertising manager and said, ‘Here, I want you as advertising manager’, which I didn't study for. I studied to run the factory. I thought I would be in that position. All of a sudden, Dad plunged into advertising. 

“So, I'm trying to learn that position and about three weeks later, he walks back and says, 'I just let go of the artist relations person. You're gonna do that, too.' I'm, like, 'But, I'm still just trying to learn advertising.' I'll never forget this as long as I live. He just turned to walk out of my little cubicle area, leaned over his shoulder and said, 'You'll learn.'

“So, I started going through our artists relations - our endorser list - and weeding out the not so popular ones. I was a drummer since a very young age. I played in a rock band in high school and marched and I played in a symphonic band so I could go to concerts and meet drummers and relate immediately about, 'What kind of heads are you using? How do you like that stand? How do you like the high-hat pedal?' I would go to these concerts and it would amaze me that I would talk my way backstage and all of a sudden, the manager would usher me into the dressing room of, let's say, Aerosmith. And they're all like, 'Oh, man, nice to meet you!' Nice to meet me? Nice to meet YOU.’ It was it was pretty amazing how the name opened some doors. I got to know all the guys and became friends with a lot of them - and girls. We had a couple of female endorsers, too, and it was just a great experience. 

As I said, they would always try to get me to sit up front. 'You know, I'll get you a good seat up front.' But I'm like, ‘No, I want to be sitting next to the drum tech. I want to watch you and I want to see what you're using and abusing and what I suggest you change or try.' That's how I did it. It really was a lot of fun and very productive for the company to have that inside track.

“As far as far as endorsers now: Yes, I'm looking for the next Ringo, that would be great. But in the meantime, I've got some great endorsers. Have you heard of the band, Get the Led Out? They're one of our endorsers.”

When I asked if they were a tribute band I had heard about, Ludwig replied:


“Exactly. Yeah, but they're bigger than the basic tribute band. I mean, they play like 2000 seaters and they travel with their own lights and P.A. and equipment. They're really professional and dedicated to playing it note for note. And the drummer, Adam Ferraioli, loved my snare drum. And then I said, 'well, if you like that, you should try a kit.' So, we worked out an endorsement deal and he came on board about a year and a half ago. 

“I'll never forget this one: I go to the venue when they delivered the kit. They already had it set up and the sound man comes up to me and says, 'Thank you!'. I said, 'Why? What did I do? I just got here.' And he goes, 'I had an hour and a half set aside to get the new kit up and dialed in. We were done in five minutes.' So, if you can get the sound guy happy. You know, that's a good sign right there. And the drums are so resonant and the shells have so much tone, they're just simple to tune and to get sounding good so you don't have to muffle them or try a different head or get a different microphone. They just work great live or in the studio.”

I told Bill that I think it's interesting that, when the electronic drums came out back in the late 80s or so, everybody thought, ‘Well, there goes traditional drumming and where is it now?

Bill Ludwig Head Shot with Drums 2“Exactly. And I was one of them. That's one thing, when they came out with the Lin machine – the Lin drum machine, I went into my father's office because I heard all the studios were getting them out in L.A. I said, 'Dad, well, we have a problem here. We’re going to get buried by this electronic thing.’ He goes, ‘Don't worry. It's happened before.’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He told me the story about senior with the sound effects and them coming out with talking movies that DID put every drummer out of work the next day. However, the sound effect business then turned into the foley business - the foley artist that we have today for movies and television. They then put all the sound effects in of people walking or a door slamming. That just came back. That was my dad's point, is everything is a cycle and that's what happened with the Lin machine. It had pretty much faded out into the background and everybody realized nothing like a live drummer with a real drum.”

Being the business geek that I am, I was curious just how high tech WFLIII Drums’ production process is.

“We're high tech, handcrafted. We've got as much of the new technology that we could possibly have, which is a lot in drum making, but it's nothing like hands on. We have craftsmen that have specialty areas of wood working and wood working woods. Then, others that are more the technical side for the machinery of the drilling and the bearing edges, which is so important for a good drum sound. 

“We're American made. I mean, everybody said when I started this project, 'Oh, yeah, go to China. That's where everybody gets their drums made.' I don't want to go to China. I don't want to go where everybody else goes. I wanted to do this in the USA ourselves. So that's what we set out to do and it was a challenge. But we're getting there. As I said, it was everybody loving the sound so much. I know we're on the right track.”

Hearing all of this makes me want to buy a set and I don’t even play! In all seriousness, though, I did ask Ludwig how readers can purchase a WFLIII snare or complete set of drums.

“Well, if you go to the web site, it does list our dealer network, which is small but growing. I'm trying to focus on drum shops or music stores with a really strong drum department, which are getting harder and harder to find these days. But they are out there. One that we have that comes to mind is the Drum Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which is just an amazing store. And we've got Nelson's drum shop in Nashville. We have Music and Arts enterprises in Fort Lauderdale, which is a great, great store. One in Canada, Drumland. It's also available online through Sweetwater or direct from our website.

“Yeah, I would say we just started to make this direct buy available. You know, at first, I was a little hesitant, but then I realized that's what everybody's used to these days at Amazon or whatever. If you don't like it, we say send it back within 30 days. No questions asked and the way things have been going, I know nobody's going to send it back once they play them.”

Any new WFLIII Drums products coming down the pike?

"Yes! Next month is the NAMM show out in L.A., and we're introducing a whole line of painted shells. We're experimenting with automotive paints like real high gloss, like a candy apple red, and then putting metal flake in it. We have a spay booth in the factory and that kind of lets me get my mad professor side out and say, 'Let's try this and let's try that'. Sometimes, I think I drive my partner nuts! But it's the experimenting process that I loved so much from the old days. Then we get to go out in the factory and say, okay, let's try this. Some great ideas come out that way. So, to answer your question, some new finishes and that's the focus of this NAMM show.”

When I asked Bill if he was going to be in my neck of the woods (Nashville) anytime soon, his answer illustrated just how hands-on he is in promoting his drums and building a bond with their players. 

“I was just there in August for a week. We did a series of videos that came out real nice in some studios down there. But I'm going to be going back. Nelson's drum shop is going to do an in-store with me. I'm hoping March sometime in March. It will be a Meet Bill Ludwig Day, which is really kind of cool because anybody's considering buying a drum or a kit and we get them in the store that day and meet me, 'Gee, if you buy it. Now, you've got a picture with Bill Ludwig, the only Ludwig in the drum business and your picture.

“I did one where a guy bought a kit. There's a lot of people in the store to meet me and take a picture or whatever. I saw a guy at the store, people boxing up the kit and getting ready to take it out. I went out and helped him take it out to the guy’s car in his trunk for him. The guy couldn't believe it. He said, 'I can't believe Bill Ludwig is carrying bags for me.'.

“Just to get back to your other question. Sorry, I don't mean to bounce around. But getting back to the endorsers, the other endorser we have that I'm really happy about is Ginger Baker's son, Kofi. And Kofi Baker, Jack Bruce's son and Eric Clapton's nephew are on the road doing the Music of Cream. They just do a great job. They played Nashville a couple of times.LudwigDrums But yeah, you got to keep an eye out for that.”

“Actually, you know, Ringo had kept in touch with me over the years while I was out of the business. Every time he'd come through Chicago with Ringo and the All Starrs, I get a call from his drummer tech, get an invitation to the show, and I'm the only one allowed backstage, which was pretty cool.

"I go, 'Wow! I'm not in the drum business now but Ringo still says hi.’ With this idea to start my own drum company. I told him and he said, 'Oh, well, that's fantastic. I wish you the best of luck.' And I said, 'I want you to have the first snare I make. And he said, 'Well, then we have to take a picture like your father and I.' Because I don't know if you saw this iconic picture with my father handing Ringo a snare drum in 1964. I think. I'm not sure, but it was about a year or two after that, they were on tour, coming through Chicago, and Dad had a snare drum gold plated. Every nut, bolt, washer, and even the snare strands on the bottom were gold plated to give Ringo as a thank you. So, yeah, there's a picture of dad handing Ringo this snare drum. And when I got my first drum out ready, the closest place they were playing - that Ringo was playing near Chicago was Milwaukee. So, I drove up there, went backstage at soundcheck, and I got a picture of me handing Ringo the number one drum off the line. So, that's pretty cool. My father and Ringo and myself and Ringo. It really makes me happy.”

It makes Boomerocity happy to consider Bill Ludwig a friend and, if you’re a drummer – or want to be a drummer – you’ll be happy to pick up a set of American-made WFLIII Drums. Check them out at WFLIIIDrums.com.

Mick Jones - Orchestrating Foreigner's Latest Tour

January 2020

MickJoneTDscopy croppedIn these days and times, it’s considered remarkable to be still be working when one is in their seventies. It’s even more remarkable to be working successfully in your field for fifty-three years. So, to say that Mick Jones is remarkable would be a tremendous understatement.

Starting his musical career with the 60’s band, Jones has worked with a whole slew of artists. However, he is most noted for founding and leading the legendary band, Foreigner.  With reportedly over 80 million record sales world-wide, the band is one of the best-selling bands of all time.

When he wasn’t leading the band in cranking out classics like “I Want To Know What Love Is”, “Waiting For A Girl Like You”, “Juke Box Hero”, “Cold As Ice” – as well as touring the world, he was producing records for bands such as Van Halen, Bad Company, The Cult, Ben E. King, and Billy Joel. ‘

But Foreigner IS touring and doing so as energetically and creatively as they ever have. In fact, when they make their stop in Nashville, they will be performing their successful catalog of monster hits with the Nashville Symphony – much like they did with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus a couple of years ago in Lucerne, Switzerland. 

Having seen the band twice in the past ten years, I can only imagine they will sound with the Nashville Symphony in the city’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center. While I’m not sure I will be attending, I encourage you to catch them at whatever city closest to you on this tour because I guarantee you that you’ll be in for a real treat.

But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

Because of their upcoming tour, their three Nashville shows and their Greeneville, Tennessee show shortly afterward, I caught up with the band’s founder and sole remaining original member, Mick Jones, while he was taking a break in New York City. 

After the usual small talk, I started off by asking Mick if Foreigner had ever played the Schermerhorn before.

“We've actually done a couple of shows there. It's got to be a couple of years back. And it was pretty much new at the time. I remember the sound being excellent in there. We got a lot of compliments on the sound. So, we were very happy. And I can only imagine having the orchestra. There's a pretty big choir going to be involved, too.” Then he added, “You know, we're pumped and ready to go. We'll be Tennesseans for a few days.”

As for what fans can expect from the shows like the Nashville show as well as the non-orchestral shows during this tour, Jones shared:

“Well, we've been touring. We took it easy last year or the year that currently - not going to be a new year. We did that last year and where we're sort of fairly - it was kind of a sparse sort of itinerary. We didn't do the major markets so much and this year we are doing nothing but. So, we've got a big tour of Europe coming up. Big, Actually, we're going to several countries. We're playing the O2 in London. 

“As far as more regular type shows, we've got a pretty loaded schedule for the rest of the year. We're really looking forward to it. I think that we needed to take the time off just to refresh and really, I think from the view the audience, we've done two or three major summer tours, amphitheater tours the last few years, so we kind of withdrew a little bit. This is the comeback. 

“So as far as the shows are concerned themselves, it's been kind of quite a learning experience working with the orchestra. I've worked very closely with the arranger. Actually, he's a master cellist. His name is Dave Eggar. We've worked together on the arrangements. From time to time, we'll get together and just refresh them. But it's worked remarkably well, going to these cities and plucking from the local string section of the local (orchestras) - colleges, schools, and it's works really well. We did a whole tour of Australia 18 months ago and we employed . . . college orchestras. They were great. They were really good. They were very talented. And it helps, also, to bring a communal kind of thing back into it. It was all really good. So, we've been lucky and we've had great orchestras wherever we played, pretty much.”


To put a finer point and to clarify just a bit, Mick added: 

“It's a new deal. Foreigner. Not that we're going to go that way completely. We're still going to be the rock band. But, from Mick Kelly Photo credit is Laurence HarveyKelly Hansen (L) & Mick Jones - Photo by Laurence Harveytime to time, we like to throw these shows. We have fun doing them.”

As I stated at the beginning of this piece, it's been said that Foreigner has sold over 80 million records. I asked Mick why he felt that songs like Foreigner’s stands the test of time. 

“I think, obviously, the songs have a fair amount to do with it. I think the artistry perhaps. The band has an identity musically. We were never a band to go out and be individual personalities so much as being a band. I think we've managed to keep up a standard, the quality in the songwriting and also in the performance. And now with the lineup as it is and with Kelly Hanson, we've expanded to a very exciting kind of staged live show. It's just remarkable with the recognition we still have. And, you know, you see younger folk in the crowd and they're singing the words to the songs, you know, even younger. Ten-year-old’s! And, it's, like, 'Jesus, what's going on here?'

“But it's great. It's very gratifying. I never thought I'd be doing this at this time in my life. But, you know, I'm very grateful that I've been allowed to follow this dream and still doing it. Still having a ball. I think you'll probably see, if you haven't seen this for a while, the band is really in tip-top shape. It's a great show. It's very exciting. We've sort of completed what I've envisaged as, originally, the band of my dreams, in other words. As opposed to feeling tired or exhausted, I'm feeling like refreshed and full of confidence. The band is just super and everybody is really dedicated to it. The chemistry is great. It's just very refreshing in so many different ways. Now, as a stage show, is so powerful. It's also opened up a bigger audience again for us. So that's a good thing. It's nice to play in the big places again. 

Our time was running out so I threw my final two questions to Mick Jones at once.  First of all, I wanted to know if he thought the music business was broken and, if he did, what he would do to fix it. 

Secondly, I asked him a question that I’ve asked in approximately two hundred interviews and I’m sure Mick has been asked millions of times: When you step off the tour bus life up at the great gig in the sky, how do you hope to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be? Surprisingly, Jones answered the latter first.

“Ok. Let's do to the last one first. 

“Well, whenever that day comes and I hope it's a long way off, I'm having too much fun. You know, it inevitably will. And MickJoneTDscopyobviously, I'd like to be remembered as a decent guy and somebody who had a bit of a clue about writing songs and. And, really, having brought a few classic songs and put them in the wherever-they're-stored-up-there and songs that have actually reached people and have had an emotional effect on them or have been of some help during dark times - and happy times, too, you know. So, I just feel that I'm I've just been very fortunate to be able to do that - to be able to express myself and be successful at it, too.”

Shifting to my music business question, the Starrider said:

“The music business. It's almost like it's gone back to the beginning, you know, with singles, pretty much. People concentrate on singles more than they do on albums these days. And I think the general quality suffers a bit because, you know, career building is very much different these days, very much more difficult. It's a jungle out there, really. It's sort of out of control, in a way. Like, everybody's got some way of recording something and putting it down and there's just so many people and so much product out there - a lot. Which is good, you know. There's some cool bands around.

“As much as that goes, I think the thing is, is if you don't have qualified people in the record companies - the old meaning of A&R was arranging and recording and there are not many people who really have the experience or the know-how to make great records. I don't think it's a shortage of musicians. I think it's just a shortage of teachers or up-and-coming musicians who can work or be influenced by a certain extent. 

As far as a solution, I don't know, it's become a very - it's become a very greedy business, like a lot of things out in this day and age. And it's all money motivated. Not that it was not before. It's so stifling for kids to want to get a record contract and then discovered that they have to give their life away to do that. It's a little obscene, I think. As I say, there aren't enough people with the wisdom and the savvy to be able to nurture the artists and really advise them in a useful way.”

That said, Mick Jones is certainly one of those in the world of rock and roll who most certainly has the wisdom and the savvy to rock our musical world. You may have a chance to allow him and the rest of the guys in Foreigner to do just that. Check out their tour schedule at ForeignerOnline.com.

 

Gregg Rolie Discusses Sonic Ranch & A Few Of His Friends

January 2020

Gregg Rollie 2 CroppedBoomerocity readers are already quite familiar with the legendary keyboardist and two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Gregg Rolie. If you weren’t already familiar with him and his work in the past, you became familiar with him in our interview with him a couple of years ago (here).

Gregg has a new album out entitled, Sonic Ranch, that he recently released as he’s between touring with Ringo Starr and performing via other bands and projects.

I caught up by phone with Rolie at his home in the Austin, Texas, area to chat about the new CD as well as other things going on in his career. As I conducted my research for the interview, I came across an excellent Rolling Stone interview with Gregg that was written by Andy Greene. It answered all the basic questions about Rolie’s time with Santana, Journey, and Ringo that people would want to ask him. Instead of putting him through the drudgery of answering those same questions, I decided in advance to provide a link to that interview and do so right here. It’s an outstanding article and worth the time to read (after you finish this one, of course!). Consequently, we launched straight into chatting about Sonic Ranch. 

The album felt especially “personal” to me so I asked Gregg if that was the case.

"They're all like that, actually. Just different periods of time. It's the only way I can put that. And that's true. It took a while, but it was only because I got busy with all kinds of stuff. As far as it being completely personal, yes and no. I mean, some songs are, some aren't. Most are. Most are either experiences or I know somebody who experienced it. It's kind of it.”

When I shared that I also felt that the disc revealed somewhat of a spiritual change in him, he said:

“It's too deep to what I was doing. My viewpoint is songwriting is like mountain climbing and playing music. They climb mountains because they're there and playing music because it's there. It comes to you or it doesn't; just sit down and there's nothing there. I don't watch a ballgame or something. If it's not coming, it's not coming. And much like someone who writes a book and they get writer's block. It just goes away. Usually, they sit there in angst over it. I just don't do that anymore. So, it'll come when it does if it's gonna. You’re usually paid off with something that's pretty good because it's supposed to come out.”

As I’ve repeatedly said in other articles, I never ask an artist what their favorite song on their album is because it’s akin to a parent picking a favorite child. This time around, I asked Gregg which song kind of has its thumb on his pulse more than the others on the album.

“I must have many pulses. They all touch me in different ways. Some of them were written back in 2013/14 and some are fresher because I had to get off and tour with Ringo for seven years. I've been doing that for seven years now. I got busy with that. I got busy with Santana IV. I got busy with Journey Through Time with Neal Schon. I did all of that stuff. And, then, finally I could finish it. So, some of the songs are newer, but as far as being - they're all important to me in different ways, and the way I've always written music is - and played it - is that I gotta like it. 
“But what I'm trying to really do is connect with people. If any one of them connect with somebody and somebody else and somebody else and this one connects with them, then I've done a good job, in my viewpoint. That's how I attack all of this stuff. They're all special to me in different ways. And it's a hard question to answer.”

Then, injecting a little humor into the end of his answer, he said, “Have you got an ear?” Continuing on with regards to the sound of Sonic Ranch, Gregg shared:

 “So, this guy, Howie Edelson, said he could see five different bands. It's one concept. And so, it kind of goes together and yet there's so many different sounds from hard rock to Don't Be Cruel, you know. It's just the way I hear things. If I hear something that is going to strike me, then I try and do it if I think it's going appeal to people. You've got to be playing music for people, not just yourself. I don't believe in that. It is for people. I'm trying to connect to people. And so that's why I've always approached it. I can like some music that no one will ever want to buy or hear. It's not where I go with it. That's for me. But the stuff that I want to try to get to get out to the public, it's made for them.”

I offered that the song, "Only You," is a great song written for his wife, Lori. So, I wondered what her response was to it. 

Greg and RingoGregg and Ringo“Quite frankly, she goes, 'You've never written a song about me.' 'Baby, they're ALL about you.' And in her own words, she said, 'That's bullshit'. I said, 'Okay, you got me. I'm going to write this one for you. This one is about you and me.' And that was the song. And it was touching the both of us because it really is the history of how we met. In that short amount of time, it says what we are to each other. And it's pretty difficult to do. 

Usually, it would take a book or at least a few paragraphs. So, yeah, it means a lot to me. My son recorded it and he engineered and produced it. And he got a tone out of me - out of my voice. It's incredible. I used a microphone that Willie Nelson used here in Austin. And it's like I never heard my voice sound so crystal clear and big and beefy and all that stuff. It was great. Yeah, it has a lot of meaning to me in that one.”

Another song that I truly enjoy is, “Just You”. I asked Gregg what the story is behind it.

“Well, basically, it the song, 'You', was there first. What was going on was we were moving on to other things over at Sonic Ranch, which is named after the studio just outside El Paso. And the studio is kind of underground but they had glass where you could see people's feet and all of that walking by. The sound was better and all of that. 

“I kept seeing my son and an engineer walking by with keyboards over and over. I was sitting at the piano working on something else. They kept walking by with all these keyboards. 'What are these guys up to go into the studio and they set up like fifteen - at least 15 synthesizers. And they were going, 'Well we were thinking that maybe you could do some kind of orchestration in front of the song, 'You'. I went, 'Well, you went to all this trouble, I suppose I ought to do something.' 

“I put it together based off of the song lyrics and the same chord structure and just kind of varied it and all that and put all these synths on there. It's more orchestrated. And that's the front end of it. The tail-end of it - the solo part - the timing changed. I sped it up from what it was in the song. I remember that they asked me, 'You do realize that's a different time/tempo, right?' 'Yes, I do. Ha! Ha! I can at least count that.' So that's kinda how that happened. That's all it is. The song is about the heartbreak of, 'You did this. You did that. But now I gotta go. This isn't working.' That's basically it.”

In the Rolling Stone interview, Gregg heaps praise on a good Boomerocity friend, Toto’s Steve “Luke” Lukather, who plays on Gregg Rollie 2“Give Me Tomorrow” and “They Want It All” on Sonic Ranch. We’ve interviewed Luke five times and have meet him face-to-face four times. Each of those times, he’s been kind, gracious, and blushingly funny. The man has a heart of gold. When I shared that – as well as seconded what he had to say in Rolling Stone, Rolie added: 

“Yeah. I know. He is phenomenal. His playing is unbelievable. But that's not all of it for me. He's just a really good man. I laugh at all those jokes. We're all going the same place, if that's the case. Ha! Ha! He knocks me out. I've never seen anybody so quick to come up with stuff. And that works for music, too. I love him. I think he's a great human being.”

Gregg’s former Journey bandmate, Neal Schon, also contributes some amazing guitar licks on “Lift Me Up”. Rolie had this to say about Neal:

“I've known Neal since he was sixteen. Actually, I got him into the band, Santana. Kinda snuck him through. I'd pick him up from high school and while we were recording Abraxas, he came in. We would jam. I really would have loved to see him be in the band because he and Carlos played totally differently, but it could've been really cool. It ended up happening because Carlos goes . . . 'What do you think about having a second guitarist?' I was going, 'What a great idea!' 

“I really was steering it. And he had the choice of being in Santana or Derek and the Dominos at sixteen years old! He's pretty special; an unbelievable player. I've known him forever, man. I mean, I used to say that he's like my little brother. So, when I asked him to play on a couple of things (on Sonic Ranch), he said, 'Sure.' And vice versa. And that's how that came about.

What else would Gregg Rolie like to do musically that he hasn’t done yet?

Gregg Rolie Pointing“I'm in the process of doing it. Funny you should ask! It's like I know this just came out, but we're already working on new material. My son and myself, Deen Castronova and Mark Mendoza. I met those guys through Journey Through Time with Neal, and that kind of blew up and he's going to be in Journey. I said, 'Well, let's go do something?'. So, we started this up. And I've got a young guy, Yayo Sanchez, who, if you ever saw it on Facebook, he was the 'kiss guy'. He's 26 years old. It's just nonstop music, this guy. 

“The engineer that we ended up recording three songs already - it turns out that he's a fantastic guitarist, especially acoustic guitars. He's from Colombia. When we start this thing up and it's totally different. It is and it's not because I can't help it. I'm in the band. So, it's going to go somewhere with my sound on it. It's just the way it is. But I'm trying to open the door to the whole thing and make it fresh blood. I mean, instead of going through the same procedure that's always happened, I wanted to do something totally different. It's really alive and young. 

“So, I got young guys and they come up with fantastic things. You know, I can get music down my age in a second. But coming out with some of the young stuff that's there and I'm putting those ideas to work with my own, it's pretty interesting. And my door is open to that with these guys. It's like we're going to come up with some great stuff. The three of them are already good.

“We've been writing some more and will record some more in January and February. Hopefully, we'll do something next year (2020), time permitting, because we're doing Ringo again in the summer. And that, by the way, has been a fantastic trip. Playing with this band and, you know, got to know Lukather through that. He's become a very good friend of mine. It's almost like kindred spirits. We kind of have the same viewpoint about a lot of things and it kind of comes out. 

“I think the main part is that, as you get older, the hang is everything. And all these guys in all of the Ringo bands, the hang has been phenomenal. Everybody is really cool people. Right now, it's Hamish Stuart from Average White Band and Colin Hay from Men at Work; Lukather and myself and Bissenett has been there longer than all of us. And, of course, Ringo has been there longer than all of us. Warren Hamm on sax and harmonica and vocals. You know, a utilitarian guy. It's really a good band and a lot of fun. We just hang and play!”

I asked if Billy Joel’s sax man, Mark Rivera, was still with Ringo (we had interviewed Mark a few years ago, here).

“He's the music director, still. He went off to play with Billy Joel. Billy Joel has been playing Madison Square Garden I don't know how many times. Selling it out. A residency at the Garden. Are you kidding me? Pretty crazy! He goes, 'I gotta do that.' 'Yeah, you do!'.”

In the meantime, Gregg is doing his own thing when he’s not playing with Ringo. You can find out what all that is – as well as order Sonic Ranch – by visiting GreggRolie.com

Frankie Banali's Fight For His Life

December 2019

Frankie2017CroppedNeil Young famously sings, “Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die. There’s more to the picture than meets the eye.” We see what happens on the stage. We see what the press presents to us as the “reality” of artists. Too often, we learn of very real challenges that celebrities are facing until it’s too late. Conversely, some artists are quite brave and share their challenges with the world, ostensibly to help others who might be going through something similar.

Such is the case with legendary Quiet Riot drummer, Frankie Banali, who recently let the world know that he is battling Stage IV pancreatic cancer. I think it’s safe to say that most of us know someone who has battled that demon. My mom did (RIP). Friends of mine have. So, when I heard the news, it shook me to my core.

I’d interviewed Frankie back almost nine years ago (here) and a second time (here). Both occasions, he revealed himself to be a kind and compassionate person – both towards humans and animals. In fact, Banali is quite an animal lover and rescuer. So, when the news broke of his cancer battle, I once again asked God why the good people are the ones who face horrible monsters like cancer (I hate to even think of that word in my mind).

Because of the seriousness and soberness of the matter, I reached out to Frankie to see if he would share his story with Boomerocity. He graciously agreed to.

I called him at his California home. After exchanging small talk and pleasantries, Frankie shared:

“I've been up since 4:30 this morning because there's the Getty Fire. Which is not that far away from us. We got the automated call at 4:30 this morning to be prepared to potentially evacuate. So, we have to gather all the pets and some of the valuables and papers and stuff like that and just be ready. But so far, so good.

“I think it was last year or the year before. No, I think it was last year, my wife and I were on vacation in New Orleans when we had the other fires here and, literally, I had standby flights just in case we had to check out of the hotel and come back home. I get it.

With the conversation shifting to the purpose of the call, Banali said:

“I was diagnosed with terminal, stage IV pancreatic cancer on April 17th, but decided to wait until I started treatment and see how that went before I went public. So, you know, it was six months, just about six months when I got the news and coming out publicly and letting everybody know, which I did a week ago Monday. The treatments have shown some improvements and I've been already greenlighted to go back out on the road with Quiet Riot. We're scheduling the next round of chemotherapy and side effect recovery time so that it makes it possible for me to continue on the road with Quiet Riot. I just finished playing this past Saturday, the 26th, at the Whiskey with the band. I'm going to play. We're winding down the year or so. And, then, I'll start 2020 touring cycle again next year. We already have a number of dates on the books.

I was stunned by what he was saying. I asked him how on earth he was getting through all of this.

“Well, you know, the thing about it is that I'm not I'm not pessimistic about the situation. I don't kid myself about it. I mean, pancreatic cancer is the most serious cancer and it's a difficult one to treat. Having said that, my entire life, everything I've ever gotten, I had to fight for, and this is the biggest battle of my life and it's worth fighting for because I've got everything to gain. By not fighting, I've got everything to lose. So, I continue to move forward. The disappointment for me was that after the diagnosis, I only played two shows with Quiet Riot - one in April and then the M3 Festival in May. This was the first time that I have not performed Quiet Riot shows that 38 years in. And that was - that was a difficult. That was a difficult thing for me to accept but accept it I had to.

Frankie 2019 1reducedBefore moving our chat over to the subject of the band’s new album, I asked Frankie what he says to those who are in the same boat as he is and fighting similar battles; What words of encouragement, what advice, does he offer?

“Well, I mean, I would give the same advice that I had given to people in the past that I had met. They confided with me and told me they had cancer, which is: you pay attention to your doctors; be educated. If you have a question, ask it. Look at every resource possible that you can, not just the doctors that are treating you; and, fight the good fight because it's worth fighting.

“My position is that it's better to do as much as possible on this side of the grass than it is to do absolutely nothing underneath it. So, you know, it is worth fighting for. With life, you only get one shot. Don't waste it. Make the most of it. It's not an easy thing. It's going to be difficult. Chemotherapy is brutal. The side effects are brutal. But, you know, you have to do it. There is no other way around it. So, fight the good fight.”

With that said, I asked Frankie to tell me about Hollywood Cowboys.

“I'm really happy with the way the record turned out. I started writing material for the record almost immediately after ‘Road Rage’, our previous album, came out two years ago. I started writing the music again with my writing partner, Neil Citron, who is also our recording engineer. We had a discussion, he and I, and I told him that I wanted to create a more varied record than some of the things we've done in the past, but still have it, you know, connected to Quiet Riot. I'm very happy with the way things turned out.

“A real bonus on this record is that I went to outside writers for some of the tracks. The first person I reached out to is Jacob Button, who is an incredibly talented songwriter, guitarist, and singer. He wrote the lyrics and the melodies for 'Don't Call it Love', 'In the Blood', which is the video song, 'Heartbreak City', and 'The Devil That You Know'.

“We cut demos with him. Everything was already blueprinted where those tracks were concerned. And, then, a couple of the heavier songs, 'Change or Die' and 'Insanity', I reached out to another friend, Neil Turbin. He's a great metal writer. He stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park with lyrics and melodies and he did background vocals on those two tracks, as well.

“And, then, what I call the odd song on the record, 'Roll On' - which is sort of a modern blues - I went to I went to another friend of mine, August Young, who I work with in a Led Zeppelin thing that we do with Jimmy Sakurai, who is Jason Bonham's guitarist. He's very much in tune with the whole Robert Plant vocal style. I thought that that would be a great contribution. He wrote the lyrics and melodies and did the demo to 'Roll On' and sang background on the record as well.”

When I said that ‘Roll On’ was my favorite cut on Hollywood Cowboys, Frankie said:

“Well, it's really interesting because so many different people that have interviewed me - because the records are not out to the public hasn't heard it yet - the consensus has been across the board that they really, really like that song. That makes me very happy. We also have an acoustic version of it, but it's going to be released on just the Japanese version of the record.

As for how long the album took to make, Banali said:

“The drum tracks didn't take that long to record. I recorded all the drum tracks in one session, and I did it old school. No click tracks and I recorded on two-inch analog tape. I'm crazy that way. And, then, after we recorded the tracks, Neil and I - because Neil is also a guitarist - we were able to put demos, really quality demos together. I first sent it out to Chuck Wright, who is a great bass player, and he put his DNA on it.

“Then I sent the tracks out to Alex and brought him into the studio to cut guitars over two sessions. He did a great job with Frankie 2019 2that. In the meantime, I had taken the songs that Jacob Button had contributed - the four songs he contributed to - and the two that Neil Turbin contributed to, and the one that Augusts Young, and sent those complete demos with vocals and melodies and backgrounds and everything to our former singer because he opted to really work for whatever reason, on only five of the twelve songs on the record.”

I asked about James Durbin’s participation. I felt that his voice is quite unique for a Quiet Riot album and that it fits nicely. I wondered what made Frankie reach out to Durbin to fill in the gaps.

“Well, it didn't happen that way. What I did is, I sent the original twelve songs without any lyrics or melodies to him and he was only interested in working on five of the songs, which is why I reached out to the outside writers. Once I did that and those seven songs were completed demos, I sent those demos to James and all he really had to do was copy it from there because the songs were completed with background vocals, great lyrics and great melodies. All he did was copy what was already there.”

And which song would Banali point to as a calling card for the entire album?

“That's a difficult one on this record because I made a conscious decision when the writing process started with myself and Neil to have a more varied record. So, if you listen to the first four tracks on the record, 'Don't Call It Love', 'In the Blood', 'Heartbreak City', and 'The Devil That You Know', which are all the tracks that Jacob Button wrote lyrics and melodies to, some people have termed them ‘’Arena Rock’ or a classic Quiet Riot sound.

“But then you get into 'Change or Die' and 'Insanity', which is two that Neil Turbin contributed lyrics and melodies, too. Those have a heavier edge to them. Then, as we have already discussed, 'Roll On', is sort of an offbeat blues track for a better term. So, it's really hard to pick one track that might be, you know, the definitive 'this is what this album's about'. Having said that, one of my favorite tracks on the record is 'Don't Call It Love'. I'm really happy with the way that that turned out. But, you know, there's not any one track on the record that you could say represents the entire record.

As for touring to support Hollywood Cowboys, Frankie shared:

“Yeah, you know, traditionally, I don't add any new songs to the Quiet Riot set until a record comes out. ‘Hollywood Cowboys’ is coming out November 8th and we're almost done with the touring year. So, I'll add one, possibly two tracks from the record to the live set. But you have to be really aware when you do that because, by and large, when people come to a Quiet Riot show, they want to relive maybe a happier time or a more fun time with the 80s decade. So, you really have to play quite a few things from the Mental Health record and things from the Condition Critical record and some things off of QR III. So, when you're adding two songs to a set and you know that you have an allotted of time that you can play live, it means you have to delete two of the classic songs from the set. You have to be very conscious of what you pick and choose to take out and what you pick and choose to put in – especially if you're doing if you're doing a festival date with a number of other now national acts. Sometimes, you only get to play 20, 30, maybe 40 minutes, if you're lucky. Not even a 60 minute or 75- or 90-minute set. So, even that becomes more of a challenge.”

What’s on Frankie’s radar for the next year or two?

“Well, I've already started I've already started writing material for future a Quiet Riot record if I have the opportunity to record another one, which is kind of my M.O. Right after we released Road Rage two years ago, I started writing material with Neil, which became the songs that are on the Hollywood Cowboys record. So, you know, I'm looking forward to going back out on the road and continuing touring with Quiet Riot. And I'm looking forward to the possibility of doing a follow up record to Hollywood Cowboys and very much enjoyed doing the video for 'In the Blood'. I was very happy with the way that turned out.”

Though I asked Frankie this question when we talked in the past, with everything he’s gone through, his answer may have changed. The question was: How does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be?

“Well, I mean, it's not up to me to say, but I would like it to be that people appreciated what I tried to do with Quiet Riot, not just as the drummer, but also keeping the band alive in spite of some major, serious setbacks. The fact that I've always appreciated all the fans because I've said this many times and it's the truth: If it wasn't for the fans and the support that we have had for thirty-five, thirty-six plus years now, there would not be a Quiet Riot. So, it's not just Quiet Riot that has survived the test of time, it's the fans that have made that possible.

“I got to tell you, I had no idea how the news when I went public on my situation. You know, I had no idea how it was gonna be received. But I have to tell you, the amount of love and prayers and support that I've received, both over the Internet and private messages and texts and emails has given me additional strength to continue this fight and take it wherever my life leads.”

As you keep Frankie Banali in your thoughts and prayers, keep up with him and Quiet Riot at https://quietriot.band .