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Jeff Daniels Discusses 2015 Tour

Posted May, 2015

daniels jeff 001bJeff Daniels. At the mention of his name, fans and film buffs will immediately think of one of his roles in something like sixty-one movies (and four more either in process or scheduled to be filmed).  Or, perhaps, it’s because of his role as Will McAvoy in HBO’s, The Newsroom (who can ever forget his famous “Why America Isn’t the Greatest Country Anymore” speech from that show?). The more high brow of you may instantly think of his magnificent work on the stage.

Regardless of the realm of performance, I’d wager a dollar to a donut that you’ve seen Jeff act in one role or another at some point in the past thirty-five years. What you might not know about the legendary actor is that he is also quite an accomplished, performing guitarist.

Yeah, way.

I first became aware of Daniels’ guitar work a few years ago thanks to a cover story in Guitar Aficionado magazine. That article prompted me to keep tabs on his work in that arena. Precise. Prolific. Fun. All of this and more describes Mr. Daniels’ mastery of the six string.

Jeff called me from his home in Chelsea, Michigan, to discuss his musical career and his upcoming tour. I asked him how the preparations for that tour were coming along.

“We’re kind of doing something that we did before. We just get to do it again. We went out initially in August. I said, ‘I’ve got some songs. I want to go out with just a band. Let’s get some old{mprestriction ids="*"} guys and do a Viagra band, like the commercial’. Then I was like, ‘Wait a minute! I’ve got these twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings right here, and they’re great musicians. The whole father/son thing… Let’s see if it can work’. And it did! It worked great. Not just with the audience, but with the material and what they did with it. We were really able to put together a show over that tour. We went out again in January, and we sold out everywhere on the East coast at all these great venues. So I said, ‘Let’s go out again in May’, and that’s kinda what we’re doing. We’re there to entertain them. You know, you’re giving us tonight, and we’re going to make sure you leave entertained. If you don’t, then we failed.”

Before taking his guitar playing on the road, Jeff recorded a couple of solo albums and still records great music for EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditedappreciative fans. About that body of work, he said:

“Yeah, I do a lot of solo stuff. ‘Keep It Right Here’ was an upright bass, a banjo occasionally, and a lot of fiddle and mandolin. It was like a trio with some other added instruments. ‘Days Like These’ was fuller with more musicians. I let Brad Phillips who played on ‘Keep It Right Here’ produce it. I said, ‘Just tell me what you hear’. I gave him all these songs, and he would put together these great musicians. Ninety percent of what ‘Days Like These’ ended up being was what Brad heard. I said, ‘It sounds good to me and sounds better than what I thought it would be’. ‘Holy Hotel’ is a good example of Brad going, ‘I think it’s this’. And I’m going, ‘It’s definitely that. Good going’.”

For fans Jeff Daniels fans who know him from his incredible acting career but don’t know that he’s quite an accomplished guitarist, I asked him what can fans can expect from one of his shows during the upcoming tour.

“This comes from being in the theatre. If the audience is lost, or it’s so vague that they don’t get it, there’s no connection. The trap is that you’re too on-the-nose with what you’re writing. If you can write it in a way that you’re telling a story, and they want to hear what happens next. 

“A lot of the way I write comes right out of that school of the ‘unpredictable turn’. Whether that’s in the next chorus or the way the song ends, I just enjoy the mechanics of story and applying that to songwriting and performing. I want them to not know what’s going to happen next. It’s part of the fun of not having any greatest hits. You walk out there, they’ve never heard this next one, and we’re going to perform it for you. They have to listen. That’s one thing that audiences usually do with me. They have to listen, because most of them have never heard these songs before. They follow along, it tells a story, and with any luck, they get taken away. 

“I make sure they have a good time. I make sure they’re entertained. I talk to them. They will do stuff at this show that they’ve never done at any other show which may include getting up and doing a drunken dance that was made famous in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Any number of things can happen along with a song that stops the show and makes you cry. I love mixing it up like that. It’s a replica of my acting career from ‘Dumb and Dumber’ to ‘The Newsroom’.”

In describing his CDs and music, Mr. Daniels laid it out this way:

daniels jeff 002“Most of them are live, and that was me going, ‘Look, I know I’m an actor. I know I’m supposed to fail at this miserably. So what I’m going to do is come out with a guitar, a chair, and a microphone and I’m going to hold the night’. There’s no band. It’s not me playing in front of a band where I’m turned way down so when I go to the wrong chord nobody hears it. There’s none of that. 

“I remember seeing Doc Watson in the ‘70s, and he was playing with Merle (Haggard) and T. Michael Coleman. Doc, he’s lightening fast. He made a mistake, he hit a wrong note. I don’t think I even heard it, but when he got through the song, he said, ‘That’s the thing about playing acoustic, folks. When you hit a wrong note, everybody hears it. You can’t hide it with some special effect out of an amplifier.’ I love that. Give me musicians who can actually really play where it’s just the notes and the fingers. Bluegrass is a big part of that. I’ve always geared myself towards the challenge of that.’"

In my opinion, I would categorize Jeff’s music as a blend of Americana and Folk. When I asked if he would agree with that assessment, he said:

“I don’t know. I’m not good at that. I’m influenced from a lot of directions. There’s a bit of a jazzy feel, but I need some players around me who really know jazz to elevate that. But I can get there. I love the finger-picking. I love the blues which certainly is of America. The story-telling is very folk. We’ll pick up the tempo, then all of a sudden, it’s Springsteen with an acoustic. It’s fun. I mix it up, and they have fun. By the end of it, hopefully you’re going, ‘That only felt like half an hour’.”

In the aforementioned interview in Guitar Aficionado, Daniels is quoted as saying, “I’ve found out that listeners don’t want me to demand they take me seriously as a musician or an artist or a rock and roll star. They’re not going to let me do that. But if I quietly lure them in with some behind-the-scenes acting stories—the whole ‘Here’s what it’s like’ thing—and drop the guitar playing on them, and then the songwriting…by the end of it they’re on their feet, or buying CDs. Or at least going, ‘No, he’s not William Shatner. He’s okay.’ ”

I asked him if that all turned out as you had hoped and if there were surprises, musically, along the way.

“It’s gotten easier, because more and more people are aware that there’s this music side to me. I’ve played and played well. I like the challenge of standing in a room with an acoustic guitar, knowing there are any number of good guitar players sitting in the audience. If it’s anything like Hollywood, it’s ‘I just bought a ticket to see you fail’. The worst place to do a screening of a movie is Hollywood, because everyone is there waiting to say, ‘Oh, good. It sucks’. 

“I’ve been working on the guitar since the late seventies. I’ve stuck to the acoustic guitar and continue to work with people daniels jeff 003like Stefan Grossman. Keb’ Mo’ has been a huge friend and has helped me a little bit. I’ll never be Kelly Joe Phelps. I’ll never be Keb’. I’ll never be Stefan, but I can try to get better every day. I’ve done that. I can lay that out there in front of not only the audience, but the guitar players in the audience. I want to tell them, ‘Look, I got this. You’re fine. Here’s a little somethin’. You didn’t think I could do that. I didn’t either, but I learned how’. Then you’re moving on to the next verse. It’s fun, and I enjoy that. But it’s certainly taken a lot of gigs and a lot of years to get to that place. I certainly was not there when I first walked out with a guitar. I remember walking out with a guitar and looking down at my fret hand. It looked like it was ten feet away. Just white hot fear.”

I was curious what kind of music Jeff has on his MP3 player these days. What he shared shows the depth and breadth of his musical interests.

“I like writers with a guitar- certainly, Lyle, John Prine, Steve Goodman, Christine Lavin, Darryl Wheeler. I take chances on people, and I’ve scored well with people like Noah Gundersen, The Milk Carton Kids, Jason Isbell. I’m interested in what Joy Williams is going to do now post-The Civil Wars. I like a kid named John Fullbright a lot. Sturgill Simpson, you know, I love where he’s going. Just writers who happen to have a guitar in their hand- I kinda gravitate towards those guys. Foy Vance, if I didn’t mention him, I think he’s out of the UK or Ireland. That guy’s a performer.” 

Are you as curious as I am whether Jeff likes acting or music better?  He answered that question for us.

“I really enjoy this tour with Ben’s band because of the whole father/son aspect. Creatively, we’re in complete control. There’s no studio, no marketing department, no editor, no director, no producers, nobody. We get all the blame and all the glory. I like that. I like the immediacy of that. I like playing opera houses, smaller theatres, and listening rooms. It’s harder to play in front of a smaller group of people than it is to play in front of a thousand seats. It’s just a sea of one. At the smaller venues, you can look them right in the eye. You’re in their living room, in their lap. You better have it. I like the pressure of that, and I enjoy that. It’s only happening tonight, just for you. That’s right off of Broadway. I like that feeling. You don’t get that in movies or television. There’s joy taken between action and cut when you and another actor get on the same page, and you’re in the zone together. It takes off, and there it goes. But the mechanics of film acting really destroys that pretty quickly. ‘Terrific take! Let’s move the cameras, and try again.’”

Having read that Jeff Daniels is an avid collector of quality acoustic guitars, I asked for his opinion as to what the Holy Grail of guitars would be.

“Well, I have GAS, which means Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, not the other. I’ve got that Martin guitar that they custom made, and they sold. I had an old 1934 Martin C2 archtop with the F holes. They made 500 of them. Martin even said they sounded bad. I saw one in good condition, and it was rated ‘D+’ on a collector’s rating sheet. It was just a bad Martin guitar. Fifteen years ago, I was in an Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan. The guy said, ‘Look, I know you bought some guitars here. Come on back’. He took me in the back room and said, ‘Here’s a 1934 C2 archtop. I took the top piece off, so the F holes go away. Now it’s just a round sound hole from a 2003 piece of spruce. It’s a bit of a hybrid, but it’s a hell of a finger-picking guitar.’ I traded a couple in and bought it. I played that for about ten years. 

“I was doing a movie, and I was going to shoot a scene where I play a guitar. I called up Dick Boak at Martin. I said,

‘Look, I can play the Epiphone that’s in the prop truck. Or I can play my 1934 C2 Martin with the sound hole. What do you want me to do, Dick?’ He said, ‘Play the Martin.’ I said, ‘Well, what’s in it for me?’ He goes, ‘Nothin’! But you might come by the studio next time you’re in Nazareth’. A year later, Ben and I went. Hours- it was a huge day. He couldn’t have been nicer. They were kind of considering it, because they didn’t have a guitar with those specs. They certainly had some close to it, but not that. He asked me in the lobby of Martin Guitar Factory, ‘Where’d you learn to play?’ I said, ‘Well, a lot of Stefan Grossman tablature books in the early eighties’. He goes, ‘You ever met Stefan?’ I said, ‘Oh god, no’. And he said, ‘Well, he’s sitting right over there’. There’s Stefan Grossman in from New Jersey to have Martin repair one of his signature guitars. He couldn’t have been nicer to me. I told him, ‘Your tab books from the eighties are where I learned finger-picking. I’m a student of yours forever.’ 

“He ended up inviting me to his house, gave me a couple great lessons. Stefan turned to Dick Boak and said, ‘You don’t have this guitar. You should make this.’ Chris Martin and Dick Boak agreed, so they made it. Custom-made Jeff Daniels just like Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and Dave Matthews- I’m going, ‘It’s official. Not only can I die and go to heaven now, but I also don’t have to buy another guitar. This is it!’ That’s the one I’m going to play for the rest of my life.”

daniels jeff 004As for what’s on Jeff’s career radar over the next one to five years, he shared: 

“I’m going to be busy as an actor. I thought it would slow down by this age, but it hasn’t. It’s only picked up. I just signed to do the Shailene Woodley Divergent trilogy. I’m in the third and fourth movies that we’re shooting in Atlanta this summer. There might be some Broadway. There are some other movies calling for 2016, so it’s good to be me right now.”

As our chat wound up, my final question to the great actor and musician to him was: When you step off the stage – either acting or playing guitar – for the last time and you go to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy is?

“As a good storyteller. No matter which direction I take, that’s all we’re doing.”

Follow Jeff Daniels – both his music and acting career – at JeffDaniels.com.

 

Jim Peterik Discusses Ides of March Box Set

Posted May, 2015

Peterik Jim 001One of the most played songs in pop music history is “Vehicle” by Ides of March. It hit the airwaves forty-five years ago and reportedly went on to become Warner Records’ fastest selling single in its history.

Last year, the band’s founder, Jim Peterik, published a book, “Through The Eye Of The Tiger,” that chronicles the Ides of March’s history (yeah, they’re still around) as well as Peterik’s many other great accomplishments. I interviewed him for about that book and the article is still posted on Boomerocity.com.

On the heels of that successful book, Peterik and the boys of Ides of March have released a new box set that commemorates the bands fifty years in the business. Jim called me from his Illinois home to chat about the box set and the band. Before doing so, though, he filled me in on how the book did in the market place. 

“Well, it’s still going very well. Acceptance has{mprestriction ids="*"} been terrific- lot of great reviews, pretty good sales. I was just in Europe doing a concert in Milan featuring my band Pride of Lions for Frontiers Rock Festival. I couldn’t tell you how many books people brought up to me to sign. It was a good feeling that we’re getting across the pond as well.”

When I asked if there was going to be a follow-up to “Tiger,” Peterik said:

“Oh, hell, who knows? I don’t know if I can live another fifty years. When I’m 105, maybe. There were a lot of stories that had to be cut for various reasons. One, it would have been six hundred pages. The other is that there are a certain amount of stories I may have gotten in a little bit of legal trouble for. What I think I’m going to do, and I’ve already started doing it, is create a website called ‘Through The Eye of the Tiger’. I’m going to be adding stories that were left out for various reasons and change certain names for the not-so-innocent.”

I asked Jim if he ever thought this day would happen when he started the band fifty years ago.

“Oh man, are you kidding? When you’re fourteen or fifteen years old, the last thing you think about is the future. You’re thinking about impressing the cheerleader in the front row. You’re thinking about how much you’d like to be The Beatles. Really, longevity is not on your radar at that point. You’re just having the time of your life. We never did it for the money. Fortunately, money and certain amount of fame came with it, but it was never the game plan. I feel that bands and artists these days have these demographic game plans. You know what, do it ‘cause you love it, and maybe other people will love it, too. Sitting back at fifty years gone, it’s pretty incredible. We still feel like the same band and same people which is great.”

Peterik then shared about the new Ides of March box set.

“We’re real proud of it. It’s a deluxe box set with five discs- four music discs and one DVD. I’ll start with the DVD just Peterik Jim 002because I can. Last year, we did a really great show in Chicago with full digital sound, etc. It happened to be a really good night. I think it captures the spirit of The Ides of March. The material runs the gamut from The Ides of March hits and classics to The Ides of March spins on a lot of the songs I had the pleasure of co-writing with Survivor, .38 Special, and Sammy Hagar. It’s just a real good show, and the people were so receptive. The sound was so good. In between most of the songs, we have interviews with various band members about high points and what The Ides of March means to them.

“We have a real strong line-up. Aside from the original core four, we have Scott May who has been on keyboards since 1990. We have the best brass section we’ve had probably ever. In addition to the DVD, we have a music video for our new single (if there is such a thing as a single anymore) called ‘Last Band Standing’, which is the title of the whole 50-year commemoration. For that, we were very fortunate to have Steve Cropper, the famous Muscle Shoals musician and writer, come into Chicago and do a show with us. He stayed an extra day and put his funky Telecaster licks on ‘Last Band Standing’. He’s become a wonderful supporter and a great friend. He joined me on stage in Nashville about a month ago at the Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival. We did ‘Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay’, ‘In The Midnight Hour’, and ‘Knock On Wood’- a few small hits that he co-wrote, you know.

“Three new songs are part of the music package, then it drops down to seventy-five or seventy-six of our songs through the ages. We licensed the best of the PARROT stuff which was a London Records subsidiary, and that included our hit ‘You Wouldn’t Listen’ from ’66. All the Parrot singles after that, and we licensed the best of the Warner years: ‘Vehicle’; ‘L.A. Goodbye’; ‘Superman’ which were all singles. We licensed the RCA/Sony stuff, which included the second two albums, ‘World Woven’ and ‘Midnight Oil’. That was before there was a band called Midnight Oil. Then it picks up in 1990 when we had a reunion. We played our hometown of Berwyn, Illinois, for 25,000 of our closest friends. We haven’t looked back since. We’ve also included the best of our independent releases since ’90 all the way up through the three new tracks.”

I asked the writer of “Vehicle” what surprises fans would find in the set. 

“The surprises will come on the DVD. Hopefully, they’ll also be surprised at some of the stuff they never heard that should have had a chance and should have been hits in our opinion. But they weren’t.

“What surprised me, and I’m a member of the band, was that while we were having our heyday in ’70 with ‘Vehicle’, some of the biggest names in show business were singing our song. Here I am nineteen years old, and seeing Tom Jones performing ‘Vehicle’ on HIS nationwide TV show and Sammy Davis, Jr. doing the same- pretty mind-blowing. There is footage of Dick Clark introducing ‘You Wouldn’t Listen’ as The Spotlight Dance on American Bandstand. We were in high school. We weren’t even aware of what the world was doing, so those were surprises to me. We found this archival stuff, and it seems, nowadays, you can find just about anything you want as well as a few things you don’t want, it was really cool.

“I think people will also be very enthused to find the live recording of The Ides of March with Buddy Guy doing a very cool version of ‘Vehicle’. We didn’t have VIDEO footage of it, but we created a slideshow around it. I really think they’ll also love Bo Bice singing ‘Vehicle’ onstage on The Jay Leno Show with Richie Sambora doing the lead work.”

Peterik Jim 003As for what one cut or item in the collection would he point people to and say, “THIS is why you should get this set,” Jim said:

“Obviously, the original mono mix of ‘Vehicle’ is so punchy, and you realize why that song is a hit. Every part of it is a hook. You gotta own that. The stereo mix of ‘Superman’, which was our follow-up-, it’s the first time it’s ever been presented. It’s so good with so much energy. I remember we cut that at Sunset Sound in L.A. It was our first trip to L.A. We were playing the Whiskey with Tony Joe White and Stephen Stills. The next day we went to Sunset Sound to cut our follow-up, and we’d never been in a cool studio like that. Sunset was, like, The Mamas & the Papas, The Association, and The Wrecking Crew. There we are, and Mike’s underneath the famous umbrella with his drum kit. We’re cutting this tune, and all of the sudden, all the members of Chase turn up in the control room cheering us on. So when you hear the energy on that record, it wasn’t drugs. We didn’t do drugs. It was all this young energy pouring into this song, and it just about explodes.

“Aside from that, I’m really proud of the three new ones. I know it sounds like, ‘Well, yeah, sure. They’re the newest ones.’ But we went through about eight new songs before we found the magic three. ‘Last Band Standing’ with Steve Cropper is a highlight, and it’s really an autobiographical song. You’ll hear references to some of the great moments of our early career- playing with Led Zeppelin, meeting George Harrison and Janis Joplin. There are echoes of all those great events in our life. 

“The second new song is called ‘Who I Am’, and it’s an anthem. It’s to stand up and not be afraid to say, ‘This is who I am’. It’s really pays homage to the great horn bands- Chicago, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, Chase, and yes- The Ides of March. There’s one section in there that gives me goose bumps. It’s at the end of the bridge, and we purposely did a Chase waterfall cascading trumpet arrangement. You’ll swear you’re sitting and watching Chase. I wanted to do that, because I loved Bill. I’d like to think I was an important part of that organization and wrote at least three or four of their tunes. Bill was a pioneer, and we lost him way too soon.

“Our third brand new song is called ‘Too Far To Turn Around’ which kinda mines our obsession with Crosby, Stills, & Nash back in about 1972 and features the harmony of The Ides of March. I wrote it in China last year. I was there doing a solo show for 80,000 people just south of Beijing. I was there alone. I didn’t have a road manager, and here’s me who is not the most together person in the world as far as directions. I made it to China, I got to the stage on time, and the people absolutely went crazy. I’m sitting in my little hotel room in Beijing, and I’m like, ‘Man, I’m really far from home’. I wrote this song, ‘Too Far To Turn Around’. The chorus goes, ‘I’m on the road to where I’ve never been…Beyond the borders of imagining.’ It’s just a neat, neat, neat song. I’m very proud of that one.”

For me, when I think of “Ides of March,” I think “Vehicle.” I asked Peterik if there is a song that he feels better represents thePeterik Jim 004 band and all that it is.

“I really like ‘Aire of Good Feeling’. That was supposed to be the follow- up to ‘Vehicle’. As much as I like ‘Vehicle’, we open the show to this day with ‘Aire of Good Feeling’. We said, ‘This is going to be our next single!’ Warner Bros. heard it and said it didn’t sound enough like ‘Vehicle’. That’s when Jackson 5 had three that sounded identical, and The Osmonds had three that sounded identical. We went back to the drawing board and basically cloned ‘Vehicle’ which came out as ‘Superman’. You can’t really do that. I mean, I like ‘Superman’, but it ain’t no ‘Vehicle’. I would have rather put out ‘Aire of Good Feeling’. That’s a song I’m very proud of.”

The music business has always been a brutal business to be successful in but it’s especially so today. I asked Jim if an  “Ides of March” could start today and be successful in the music business.

“Wow, that’s a million dollar question! Theoretically, if they’re willing to put in the work, yeah. We didn’t have it given to us either. It was all self-motivated. There was no Svengali manager saying, ‘You gotta do this or dress this way’. We did it because we loved it. There’s a band that came through Chicago, The Brede Baldwin Band, which my son, Colin, plays with, opened up for them, called OK Go. They made it through sheer tenacity and being creative. Good songs, but it’s really all about their visual show and their videos. They found a way in. They’re a very tight knit band.

“I think a band has a chance if you have something unique, and you aren’t afraid to go for it. Somebody’s got to inhabit those charts. Somebody’s got to make it. The strongest will survive.”

As for tour plans in support of the box set, Jim shared:

“We’re starting to accumulate gigs now. We do have a healthy developing schedule as far as in-store promotions. We’re kicking it off this Saturday on Record Store Day, April 18. Record Store Day is the day that pays homage to the brick and mortar record stores that are still in existence. There’s more than you think, more than I thought. We’re doing a place called Entourage Music in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We’re driving up there like the old days. This will be the first time the boxed set will be sold publicly. We’re selling some special signed and numbered editions. We’re doing a little unplugged performance, and we have more of those coming up, not only in Chicago but Wisconsin and Indiana, too.

Jim Peterik is well known for being a prolific producer of all sorts of great stuff. Knowing from my past conversation that he never sits still, I asked him what’s on his radar for the rest of the year or two.

“Like I said, we’re doing a lot of in-stores. We do have The Ides of March shows. I have a few Pride of Lion shows that I’m doing. I was just in Milan where we headlined the Frontiers Rock Festival, a two-day fest. Frontiers Records, based in Italy, is the biggest proponent and producer of melodic rock. They have everybody from Toto to Sammy Hagar. You name the Eighties, and they have them. They’ve been big boosters of mine. We’re going into the fifth Pride of Lions album later on this year. Toby Hitchcock and I co-sing, and we just tore it up over there. Simultaneously, two releases came out in a day, both on Frontiers. One with Peterik/Scherer is called ‘Risk Everything’. A new singer I discovered in Chicago, tenor voice, great singer. I put a lot of work into this record, and I’ve very proud of the songs. I don’t sing on this record. I wrote all the songs, except three with Marc, produced it, and play guitar and keyboards. 

IDESOFMARCHBOXSETCOVERFinal“The other album out is very dear to my heart. It’s called ‘Torch- The Music Remembers Jimi Jamison and Fergie Frederiksen. That also just came out on Frontiers. We licensed the best of the material from Frontiers catalogs on both artists, some of which I produced and wrote with Jimi. I wrote six new pieces of music which I brought in the talents of, basically, the who’s who of the AR world- Bobby Kimball, Mike Reno, Bill Champlin, Kevin Chalfant, Alex Ligertwood of Santana, and more. We all pulled together for Jimi and Fergie, two great singers that we lost. The proceeds go to their two favorite charities, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and American Liver Foundation. 

“I’m doing a Pride of Lion show in Chicago on July 2, and I might actually bring in Marc Droubay who I hadn’t seen in twenty years until I ran into him at Jimi Jamison’s funeral. We re-bonded. This will be historic for me. I haven’t played with him since, like, 1986. He still has the chops. He and John Bonham are of the same ilk. They just lay it down.” 

Fans check out where The Ides of March are playing, current news as well as order their own box set of “The Last Band Standing” directly Jim and the band by visiting TheIdesofMarch.com (or by clicking on the widget, below).

Kasim Sulton Talks About "3"

May, 2015

Sulton Kasim 001If you’re a hard core Todd Rundgren fan, then you’re familiar with Kasim Sulton. He was part of Todd’s band, Utopia, and is still an essential member of his current band.

If you’re a current Blue Oyster Cult fan, you’ll know him as the bassist for the band since 2012.  Maybe you’re a Meat Loaf fan. If so, you’ll know Kasim’s work on the “Bat Out of Hell” album.  The multi-talented musician has also worked with Cheap Trick, Ricky Byrd, Celine Dion, Patty Smyth, Indigo Girls, Rick Derringer, Joan Jett and several others.

Oh, and he’s cut a couple of solo albums of his own, the latest being “3” (reviewed by Boomerocity, here).

I called Kasim at his home to discuss the making of “3.” But, before chatting about it, I asked what he had been up to lately. He and I passed each other backstage at Ringo’s Greenville, NC, concert back in February so I led in with asking what it was like playing with the former Beatle that night.

“Well, I had played with Ringo before. It was a very, very long time ago. When I was in Utopia, we did a Jerry Lewis muscular dystrophy telethon one year. They had this huge jam session set up when they were doing it out of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. I forget the theme of it, but there were probably twenty musicians at any given point. Utopia was kinda the house band for that. Ringo was there as was Bill Wyman, Kiki Dee, Dave Spencer, Dave Mason, Doug Kershaw on violin, Rick Derringer, and a few others I can’t bring to mind right now. During the course of the evening, Utopia did some performances by ourselves. Then we did a big jam session, and Ringo was in on the jam session. So I met and played with Ringo before, albeit thirty years ago. 

“This time was the second time I got to play with him, and it was a little more intimate than ten minutes on stage playing ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’.

Continuing , he added:

“Yea, well, that’s a dream gig. Todd’s been doing it for three years, and so has Luke. When a Beatle calls, you answer. You say ‘yes’ no matter what. I had some Blue Ȫyster Cult shows that were coming up that week, and I was a little concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to make the Blue Ӧyster Cult shows. I do about forty or fifty shows with Blue Ӧyster Cult in the course of a year, but they tend to get a little pissy when you miss a show. But if there is anything I was going to miss a show for, it would be because Ringo called and asked me to come in.”

As for the other things occupying Sulton’s schedule, he said:

“I have some solo shows coming up this week actually. I leave tomorrow. I have a show in Atlanta on Wednesday; Nashville on Thursday; Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday; and Greenville, South Carolina, on Saturday. I’ve just been prepping for these shows, and getting ready to pile in my car and take a little road trip. 

“It’s a real fun show. I make you feel like you’re sitting in your own living room. It’s good. It’s a nice sixty to ninety minutes of some stories and my songs. I do a lot of the new record, probably two-thirds of it, and some Utopia songs. I do some songs from other artists that I’m particularly enamored of.”

Kasim said this about the reception to his CD, “3”:

“I did an initial round of press the first couple months. I gotta tell you I didn’t get a lukewarm review in the bunch. It’s really great to see press people, journalists, people like you that are really drawn to it, appreciate it, and aren’t afraid to say this is a really great record. I worked really, really hard. It took me a lot longer than I had expected it to take, because I had some personal issues that happened during the recording of it. With each successive song that I finished, I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t bad. This is gonna be good.’ Then I’d finish another song, and I’d say, ‘Wow, another good song. Ok, great.’ It kinda gave me the courage, the stamina, and the fortitude to push on and make it as good as I possibly could. Even down to the very last steps of mastering and the final mixes, I paid a lot more attention to detail than I ever have on any project I have worked on over the past forty years.”

He then shared his perspective of the album.Sulton Kasim 002

“I started the record in 2009, I think. I take an inordinate amount of time in between solo projects. I do solo shows pretty regularly and have been doing them since 2000. But records take so much time, so much energy, so much effort and money. I can’t always block out the proper amount of time that it takes to put one together. I released a record in 2002, and I toured behind it. When I say tour, I did like a couple dozen shows a year along with my other work. At that time, I was heavily involved with Meatloaf, and I was working with Meatloaf probably eight months out of the year. The other four I spend with my family and at home writing. 

“Come 2009, I was in England, and I had some time off. I had a writing partner in London who’s a very good friend of mine- a guy by the name of Phil Thornalley. I went over to his studio on a day off and said, ‘I’m thinking about putting another record together. Do you think you want to write something?’ 

“We came up with the first song for the record, and that was actually the first track, ‘Fell In Love For The Last Time’. It just kinda grew from there. I didn’t know where it was going to go. I didn’t know what direction it would take. I didn’t know how many songs would or wouldn’t be on the record. I just continued to write, and with each successive song, I was like, ‘This is going to be okay. This is going to be good’. Most of my material, as witnessed on this record, is very introspective. I don’t necessarily write songs about stuff that I haven’t had experience with. For instance, a song like ‘Clocks All Stopped’ which is the second track from the first single of the record, was my vain attempt at trying to write a song that Utopia might still be recording if we were still together. I co-wrote that one with Phil as well. 

“The next song, I think, is ‘Watching The World Go By’. It’s my take on my life. ‘The Traveler’ is another one. If I’m in a conversation with someone who doesn’t know me, my history, or what line of work I’m in, and they ask me what I do for a living, invariably I say, ‘I travel’. More than anything else, I’ll travel fourteen hours to work for an hour and a half. So really, most of my life is about traveling, ergo, ‘The Traveler’.

“Most of the songs, if not all of the songs on the record, are very much about me and my life and how I look at the world. That’s how I put a record together.”

Sulton then answered a question that he’s had to have been asked a bijillion times: why the title, “3?”

“It’s my third proper solo record. There’s a couple others floating around the world. There’s a record that I released in 2008 called ‘All Sides’, but that’s a compilation with two or three new songs on it. Most of the songs on that record are songs that had already been released or recorded prior by other people. I had a bunch of demos that I thought might be nice for people to hear, so I put together that record. That’s why it’s a two CD record.

“The one prior to that was called, ‘The Basement Tapes’, again demos with one or two new songs. So when you come right down to it, my first solo record was in ’80 or ’81 on EMI. My next one was ‘Quid Pro Quo’Then, this one which is my third proper solo record. Also, three is a pretty cool number. It shows up a lot in the universe. It’s body, mind, and spirit; thought, word, and deed; the holy trinity; earth, wind, and fire (not the band, the elements). Three is a good number for me. It just made sense, rather than try to come up with some title like, ‘The Secret Life of Robins and Other Miscellaneous Bullsh*t’, I’d just stamp it with that ‘3’.”

When I asked if he had ran into any surprises in the making of the album, Kasim opened up a little about the personal side of his life during the recording process.

“I lost my wife about a year and a half into recording it. We had been married about thirty-one years. I stopped recording for a year while I took care of her. She got sick first. The following six months after she passed away was just me trying to get my life back on track- with my children, being at home, being a single parent- so that threw a monkey wrench in finishing the record. 

“I quit Meatloaf in 2010. I stopped working with him. That was kinda weird, because prior to that, we had been on the road for a good eight months out of any given year. Six to eight months were with Meatloaf, plus work with other people. I’d go out for a couple months with Todd. My year was really busy up until 2010. Everything rained down at once- my wife being sick, leaving Meatloaf, her passing away, trying to get back to finishing up the record. 

“I got this brilliant idea that it’d be great to put everybody’s picture on the cover of the record. I solicited the fans and said, ‘For sixty bucks, I’ll put your picture on the cover of the record. I’ll send you a CD and a poster as well as enter you into a contest for me to come play at your house’. I got about three hundred submissions, and the server I was storing all the pictures on crashed. I had to beg people to please re-send their pictures. It was a nightmare.

“Prior to this record, most of my solo work I’ve done by myself. I do all the programming, all the engineering, all the production. I play most of the guitars, bass, drums, keyboards. I thought it would be really nice to have other musicians on this particular record. That presented a little problem, because I was making phone calls to people like Greg Hawkes, Andy Timmons, Todd Rundgren, Roger Powell, Willy Wilcox, and Mark Rivera. I was farming tracks out for people to put their particular expertise on- that was pretty interesting. For instance, when I sent Todd the track for him to play on, I sent it to him in July of 2012. He didn’t send in back until January 2013. You don’t want to be a pest and say, ‘Hey Todd, where’s that track I sent you? Are you EVER going to finish it?’ It’s a favor, so I have to be patient and wait for him to have a free moment to work on my record. 

“With Roger, I had to actually fly to San Francisco and go into a buddy studio to have him come in and play on it. He didn’t want to do it. I said, ‘Look, please. I’ll fly to San Francisco. I’ll bring the tapes with me. We can sit down, do it in the afternoon, and I’ll take you dinner that night.’ That worked with him. 

“This is the first record since 1992 that all four Utopia members are on. I really wanted to have that little feather in my cap. People like Andy Timmons who is probably one of the best guitar players in the country… he is just the sweetest guy in the whole world. He is a big fan of mine, and I said, ‘Andy, would you like to play on the song?’ He said, ‘Yeah, absolutely!’, so I sent him the track. He recorded two passes at a solo and sent it back to me. It just wasn’t what I was hearing, so I then I go back and say, ‘Can you do it just a little bit more like this?’ 

“This is what separates this record from my prior solo records. In the past, I might have said, ‘That’s great! Thanks!’ and moved on. I didn’t. I needed to feel like it was right. That was a big thing for me. Even when it came to the mixing process, I thought, ‘You know what? I need outside input on this record, so I’m going to send it out’. I had a couple other people mix the record for me.”

Sulton Kasim 003bI never ask an artist what their favorite song is on an album because it’s like picking heir favorite child. However, I did ask Sulton which song he would using a “calling card,” so to speak, to introduce it to people who might not be familiar with his work.

“It’s very strange. There are songs on that record that I think are really strong, and there are songs on the record that I think are just good songs. One of the songs that I thought was one of the strongest tends to be a song that people gloss over. They’re not drawn to it, and I was a little surprised. 

“I think at the end of the day, probably the first two tracks are indicative of what the rest of the record is like. I think ‘Fell In Love For The Last Time’ and ‘Clocks All Stopped’ really are the songs that, to me, best represent the entire record. They’re strong songs, good songs. They’re likeable and hummable. People seem to enjoy them.”

Being very impressed with who all Kasim pulled in to work on the album with him – some whom I’ve had the privilege of interviewing (Mark Rivera as well as knowing and interviewing Andy Timmons) I asked how was it to work with such an arsenal of diverse and amazing talent like those guys and the others.

“Just the simple fact that all of those fifteen other musicians that are on the record, when I asked if they’d be interested, they said, ‘Are you kidding me? Of course! Just send me the track’ or ‘I’ll be over on Tuesday’. 

“It’s one thing to have the acceptance, the accolades, the great reviews from fans and people in the music/journalism/radio business saying, ‘Oh, this is a really great record. Thank you very much for it’. It’s another thing to be accepted and get those same accolades from your peers. To me, it is the ultimate compliment to have other people I grew up listening to and people I think are the top in their field say, ‘This is a good record, Kasim. I’m really proud to be on it. Thank you so much’. 

“I’m very proud to have the career that I’ve had and to have that caliber of people playing on the record. I wish I would have gotten Luke to play on it. That would have been great.”

In comparing work on “3” to all of the other albums he’s worked on over his long career, Sulton said: 

“The difference between this record and any record I’ve worked on in the past was my attention to detail. I pained over every lyric, every note, every part, and every mix. I mastered the record once with one guy and hated it. I had it re-mastered by Greg Calby here in New York. I just did not want to leave anything on the table. 

“Even with a record like ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ which we did in 1977, we rehearsed for about two weeks. Then we went into the studio and cut the tracks within a week. You didn’t look back. There was no, ‘Should we try it again? Should we try it this way? Should we slow it down or speed it up? Should we take this section out?’ It was just like, ‘Ok, next!’ Most records are done like that. You don’t want to make it seem like it’s the last time you’re ever going to record. If you don’t get something right on this record, well, you’ll get it right on the next one.

“Again, on this record, I just would not leave anything to chance. I just wanted to make sure there were no stones unturned, nothing I wish I did that I didn’t do. The only way to explain it is I worked really hard, and I don’t like to work.”

Sulton has seen a ton of changes in the music industry in his long career. I asked him what are the most positive and negative changes he’s seen in the industry over the years.

“I think there are a lot of reasons the music industry is in the shape it’s in. A lot of it is the caliber of music that’s available today. My son is nineteen, and my daughter is twenty-four. My nineteen-year-old has never bought a record. When I was nineteen, I must have had five hundred records at home that I’d bought over the years. He’s never bought any music, and I scream at him all the time about downloading or using YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, whatever. I say, ‘You’re taking money off your own plate, dude. Don’t do that. I gotta pay the mortgage!’ A guy named Jimmy Bralower produced Mark’s record ‘Common Bond’ which I love and am on, actually. He says, ‘You know, it used to be that water was free, and you paid for music. Now, music is free, and you have a water bill every month!’

“I don’t want to complain, because at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s not going to change. It’s the Wild West. There are no rules. Anything goes. By the same token, any kid with a laptop can sit down and make a record. It didn’t used to be like that. It used to be that you had to go in the studio, come up with at least a $50,000 budget, then hopefully come up with something the record company likes. It doesn’t matter anymore. Now, you almost don’t even want a record company. It’s the surest way not to make any money, but there are some advantages of having a machine behind you. I don’t have that machine. Everything is on my shoulders. Everything I do has to come from me, from the album design to calling musicians to turning on my studio here at home and recording. It’s a lot easier to reach a vast amount of people, but it’s a lot harder to get them to pony up ten or fifteen bucks for a CD. 

“These days it’s all about live performances. It’s all about going out, playing live, and getting fans one at a time. That’s not so Sulton Kasim 004different than it used to be. Radio is still really important. You get a song on the radio. If it gets picked up, and people gravitate to it, there is still nothing better for you promotion-wise. But it costs a ridiculous amount of money to get a record on radio. If you have a small budget like I did for this record, I hired a publicist, and I got a bunch of great reviews and interviews. It’s still about trying to get people excited and jazzed and talking about it. It’s a monumental task. That’s why I’m going out and doing shows in Atlanta, Charlotte, Greenville, and Nashville. I’ll probably do some more later on in the summer. There’s good, and there’s bad. Like I said, at the end of the day, you can’t complain. It just is what it is.

“Sirius has been great to me. A guy by the name of Mike Marrone, the program director at The Loft, is a fan of mine. He heard the record and said, ‘Kasim, I love the record, and we’re going to play it’. I did a live show at the Sirius XM studios. They broadcast out about a half dozen times over the course of a month. That kind of stuff is invaluable. But, unless you have anywhere between $50,000-$100,000 to get your record on the radio, terrestrial radio isn’t going to play it. They have forty records they play over and over again. Classic rock doesn’t want to touch it, because they’re busy playing ‘Stairway To Heaven’. You’re really between a rock and a hard place.”

I choked at the dollar amounts that it takes to get a song on the radio and asked if they didn’t used to call that payola.

“They still do! In my book, it still is. You hire a radio promo guy. He services three hundred stations around the country. A good radio promo guy is $10,000 a month.

“These days, what you want is a song and a television show. You want to be on Grey’s Anatomy. You want to be on Shameless or The Big Bang Theory. You get a song on one of those TV shows, and that opens a huge amount of doors to go from there. That’s the kind of validation you want these days.”

I asked Kasim what he would do to fix the music industry if he were named music czar – or if he thought it even needed fixing. 

“I read an article not too long ago that said Jon Bon Jovi is responsible for ruining the music industry. The article went on to blame, using Jon Bon Jovi as an example, corporate rock, lackluster dreck. I disagree with that. I don’t think Jon ruined the music industry. I think Steve Jobs did. I think iTunes and YouTube ruined the music industry by making it free. I’m not saying that fifteen dollar CDs are the way to go or that music should be expensive. By all means, it shouldn’t be. But if you don’t have to buy something, why bother buying it? Pharrell did an interview where he said his song was streamed 45 million times from Spotify or Pandora, one of those services. He got a check for $2,500 from that. What we’re talking about is the bottom line of money. And it really isn’t about money. It’s not. 

“I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of where to start to fix the music industry. I just think it’s about good music. Maybe there should be some kind of forum or something where Jimmy Iovine says, ‘These are the records everybody is listening to these days. Let’s support these artists’.  When something new comes out, there would be a panel of people just like you, other writers… even though David Fricke refused to review my album. He said it didn’t wow him. You know who Bob Lefsetz is, right? Well, a good friend of mine, Glen Burtnik, did a record about ten years ago called ‘Palookaville’. It’s a great record. Somehow, Bob got a hold of it and wrote one of his entire newsletters on how amazing this record was. I called Glen and said, ‘Hey Glen, after Bob did the newsletter on your record, did it reflect in sales at all?’ He wrote back two words: ‘No way.’ The Lefsetz Letter goes out to probably 20-30,000 people, I would imagine, but it’s all industry people. What you want to do is get to people like my daughter, the 24-year-olds. But she’s not listening to me- I’m 59 years old! The last thing she’s going to do is pick up a record from 59 year old.”

I would pay some nominal amount to access YouTube. I don’t listen to Spotify or Pandora, but if I were to, I would pay $20 a year to listen to those if it was important to me. I posited to Sulton if the solution is simple math- taking a percentage of that income (a recognized percentage, say 35% across the top) then prorate the income from that to those who are getting the most activity. 

“It sounds like an accounting nightmare, but maybe what the solution would be is to take it a step further with a YouTube music channel. For access to the music channel, you pay a premium of twenty bucks a year or whatever. Any music videos on that channel, in order to access it, you have to pay a yearly fee. Then again, what’s to stop somebody from taking that video, copying it, and putting it out on a free site? It becomes this vicious circle. It’s never going to change. The thing to try to do is how to survive and make a living doing what you do with the landscape the way it is currently. That is merchandise: CDs, t-shirts, what have you, and live shows.”

Kasim then shared what is on his career radar for the next year to five years.

“Right now, it’s the shows I have coming up and doing as good a show as I possibly can do for the people who come to see me. I’m putting in some more shows after that. I don’t know where. Usually, I go to Chicago, Cleveland, stuff like that. I love playing those places. I have a pretty decent following in those places. I have some more Blue Ӧyster Cult shows coming up later this month and in May/June. I’ll be busy doing that on the weekends. They’re weekend warriors. For the rest of the year, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking maybe I need to do another record right away. I will probably, at some point over the next six months, sit down and try to put together the beginnings of my next record, even thought I just cringe at the thought. It just takes so much work. 

“As far as my five year plan goes, I turn sixty this year. I was with my family yesterday for Easter. My brother-in-law who is married to my sister will be sixty two months later. We’re going to go to Jerusalem. I’ve never been. I’ve been to the Middle East, but only Dubai. We were talking about going to Cuba: ‘Cuba will be great! We’ll just lay on the beach for three or four days.’ Who doesn’t want to go to Cuba? Then I thought about Jerusalem. He’s like, ‘That’s it! That’s where we’re going.’ So we’re talking about going this year for our sixtieth birthdays.

“Five years? I don’t know. Hopefully, I’ll still be able to do live shows and doing this. I can’t imagine I’d be doing anything else, because it’s a little late in life to become a plumber. I always threaten myself, ‘You know what? I’m going to just give it all up, sell everything, and I’m going back to DeVry to become an air conditioning technician.’ But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me.”

I like to ask this question of people who have been in the business a long time – and I never intend it to be a macabre one but I wanted to know: once Kasim’s stepped off the tour bus of life for the final time and is at the great gig in the sky (to borrow a line from Pink Floyd), how does he want to be remembered and what do he hope his legacy will be?

“That’s a good question. The greatest thing for me is that I have a body of work that will live on well after I’m gone. I’ve been on some great records that will always be available for people to hear. I have worked with some of the best people in the music industry- past, present, and hopefully in the future. I’m not a Beatle. I’m not a Rolling Stone. I wasn’t in Led Zeppelin. I’m not Leonard Bernstein. I haven’t yet written a song that millions of people can sing the lyrics to. The pleasure and the honor is in the journey. My journey has been long, and it’s not over. There’s still a lot to do. I’d love to write a song that everybody knows, so I’m going to keep trying.”

Anthony Crawford Discusses Sugarcane Jane

Posted May, 2015

sugarcanejane002bPhoto by Beach Chic Photography

Neil Young, Steve Winwood, Dwight Yoakam These are just some of the people who Anthony Crawford has worked extensively with.

Who is Anthony Crawford? He and his wife, Savana Lee, are the songwriting/singing team known as Sugarcane Jane. Some may say that their genre is Americana. Crawford describes it differently but more about that in a moment.

Sugarcane Jane has released their debut CD, “Dirt Road’s End” and it’s a refreshing batch of great, innovative, inspiring music. I called up Crawford at his Alabama home to discuss the duo’s new CD. From the git go, he was enthusiastic.

“I’m excited about the record we have out. Working with Buzz Cason has been a goal of his and mine for the last decade- to try to get these songs out to more than just the few people who get to hear it when we play the music down on the Gulf Coast.

“The reason those songs are so tight on that record is because Savana and I played them probably four times a week for four years. We’ve just been honing our craft for that long. Buzz said, ‘Let’s put a record out. I’ll pay for it. Let’s see what happens’.  We went up to Nashville and recorded the record on his two inch tape machine. We did it live. We set it up like we play in a bar, restaurant, or whatever. We had a PA and the whole thing. That’s why there are some weird tones in there every now and then. For the most part, we just wanted to capture what we do live, the energy of it. I think we did. It’s very high energy.”

In describing Sugarcane Jane, Anthony said:

“I’ve got a pretty concise answer to that question. When she and I first got together, she was taking me to meet her parents for the first time. We turned off of Co. Rd 64 down this dirt road. I thought, ‘Huh… this is a lot of dirt road’. We kept driving and driving and driving. We went about a mile and a half down this dirt road. Finally, we went over a bridge and through a tunnel of trees then – boom – there’s her mom and dad’s house. It’s an old piece of property they’ve had in their family since the 1880’s.

“I said, ‘Wow, this is your property?’ She said, ‘Yeah, my granddad used to have a sugarcane patch out here somewhere. He would carve sugarcane and give it to all the little children around here on Halloween.’ There would be a huge crowd in front of their house of people waiting to collect their sugarcane.  It was so sweet. He was known for carving that up. I thought, ‘Sugarcane’, and I just started singing a song off the top of my head. “Sugarcane Jane….” – I just made Jane up. All of the sudden, we thought, ‘Hey, that’s cool. Sugarcane Jane!’ It’s better to not have a name that’s just, ‘Anthony and Savana’. I really think the name ‘Sugarcane Jane’ is as big a part of why we are what we are as the music. It’s just inviting. It has an interesting origin. I’ve got to say it’s pretty lighthearted for a lot of people.

“If we were to go play with a bunch of moody people, we’d certainly be looked upon as being torn from different piece of cloth. The fact is we like playing for people who like to leave our concerts being lifted up, so the name ‘Sugarcane Jane’ evokes that. It was just a spur of the moment thing. Plus, we didn’t want anybody to know our names, it was a privacy thing. At the time we were getting together, we wanted to do shows, but we didn’t want to have our names out there. We just had ‘Sugarcane Jane’, and it stuck. We just kinda took off. That’s how we got started.”

I think a lot of people would easily place Sugarcane Jane in the Americana genre. I asked Anthony how he would describe it.

“We would probably have a hard time putting it out with that exact stamp on it. We usually do, because it does draw from a deep well of American music, however we think of ourselves more like energy peddlers. Ultimately, we’re peddling energy, not a style. It’s truth. It’s organic as we call it because it's homegrown and natural. It’s acoustic, honest, positive music. All those things describe it. It’s unfortunate when you put something out digitally, and you are forced to categorize it as, ‘Singer/songwriter, Americana, Alt Country, etc.’ Those things just don’t really go deep enough into the reality of what it is.  Our influences being brought up in the South are vast including country, roots, gospel, blues, jazz, and classic rock.  I think we are a Heinz 57 of genres and I guess that's why the Americana tag fits best because that's pretty much what that is. 

“If we have to play a four hour show, we are singing a few cover tunes. But if we’re doing a forty-minute show like we did with Steve Winwood in Birmingham on May 2, we’ve got forty minutes to plow through our most popular songs. People would not know any different. They’d go, ‘Wow- that’s what they are!’ When we go do that type of show, we know we can count on most all of the songs on the new Dirt Road's End album; ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’, ‘The Game’, ‘San Andreas’, ‘Home Nights’,‘Heartbreak Road’, that kind of thing. Those songs are tried and tested and we usually get apositive response from people.  They are crowd pleasers.  We’ve got some new songs too that we are integrating into our set; ‘The Ladder’, and ‘Never Do You Know’. We explore a deeper side of Sugarcane Jane with those songs that are insightful and actually say something enlightening, then we come back with the plain ‘ole make-you-feel-good lighthearted music. We just want people to have a good time. When they leave our show, we want them to feel like they are leaving with something positive.

“I have to say, our normal set may beconsidered a little bit on the G-rated side, just family friendly music. We don’t do sugarcanejane001bPhoto by Beach Chic Photographyanything that’s too risqué or anything. People can bring their kids.  We can always jam on some Neil Young and be believable with it. There is a wide spectrum of what we can draw from which is why we rarely make a setlist.  We try to just feel out our audience and let the songs pick themselves.  It’s a little bit of a unique thing that we have. People relate to us, because we have two small children.  We're in the trenches as some would call it.  The "diaper changing era" and a lot of people have been there and know how much work and energy that entails.  They have an appreciation for what we are doing and know it is not easy with both mom and dad working at the same time.  I think it's what is endearing about Sugarcane Jane.  We have a deep love for our children, family, and fans (which are more like friends). Typically, you’re out there just grabbing for success as hard as you can. That’s just not us. We’re trying to make a living and raise good kids. Don’t get me wrong, we'd love to reach a higher level of recognition, but not at the expense of our family.”

Crawford is obviously quite gifted. It would seem that everything he does turns to career gold in some way. Musicianship. Songwriting. Performing. Photography. Recording Studio ownership.  When I said all of that, he said:  

“Randy, let me tell you something. A wise man once told me, it's not what you've done, it's what you're doing right now. It's true that I have had a blessed journey, but I have worked hard and kept my focus throughout the roller coaster ride. While a lot of people around me were dabbling in drugs, I walked the line.  I was always afraid of that scene and the path it may lead.  I've seen a lot of great players and artists go down that road and the outcome was not where I wanted to be.  And because of being clear headed, I think I was able to listen to my intuition, God, or whatever was telling me to do certain things.  I took that photo for Neil Young’s album cover because I was led to walk out there and see those old cars and see the beauty in them. I’m really like Forrest Gump. I’ve ridden in a balloon with Richard Branson. I’ve toured with Neil Young on a private jet. Too many adventures to even name. Most people would give anything to do just one of them. I have been very fortunate but how I acquired these titles or became who I am is not because I am better than you or even the most gifted guy. I really just think that I’m one of those people that stayed on their path, listened to intuition, and tried to remain humble. Call it destiny, call it luck, call it what you want.  I went down this certain pipe, if you will. Instead of going to the left, my water flowed me to the right. I followed the more enchanted path. Had I made one little decision wrong, the other way would have been my way, and I wouldn’t be talking to you today. A lot of it is just environmental fortune for me to have made the right turn at the right time.

“I look back at everything I’ve done, and know that I am one of the lucky ones. I have a book in my head I could write if I were ever able to devote some time to it. It can be challenging to focus with so many things going on. I’m so scattered in my thoughts. That's where Savana comes in and grounds me.  She will probably be the one to help me make the book thing happen at some point.  So yes, I have a lifetime of accomplishments and moments I am proud to be a part of, but more than any of that I’m excited about is what is right in front of me. I keep that saying in the forefront of my mind, that you’re only as good as who you are today. I think my best years are ahead of me. These are all great stepping stones, but what stage of success I reach is yet to be determined. It’s still being built, and I can hear the hammering.”

I asked Anthony how has all of this experience influenced the incarnation of Sugarcane Jane and how it shaped their “mission” and vibe.

“In the song, ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’… well, funny enough, it’s not a ballad. It just got named that. But the story of that song tells it all. I ultimately say that the very first time I heard Savana sing one of my songs, and I started singing harmony with her, I knew that she and I were going to be together. That’s just all there is to it. She is the reason why I can be patient. I trust her. I feel like she is anointed by some higher power to have some sort of life that is made of honesty and integrity. She is fantastic with all the things she does.

"I’m saying this in all honesty. The girl totally made whatever it is that I did before her become a reality. It was not a reality before her. I had songs. I had this, that, and the other. But I wasn’t touring. I wasn’t even working on a career. I would just go out with Neil Young and make a bunch of money. Then I’d go and act like I was supposed to be getting another call from him at any minute to go out and make more money. It wasn’t about a career. I would get lost in my studio.  I recorded constantly.  I guess that's part of the puzzle though.  I have a treasure chest of songs from those days so it's all a part of the puzzle.  Getting with Savana has made it to where everything makes more sense. Together, we have something special.  She was the last piece to my puzzle.  

“Playing with Neil Young has given me the knowledge and experience to feel comfortable performing at this level. I played on stage with Paul McCartney. I’m not bragging, but I can honestly say I reached heights in the music business when it comes to at least being a sideman few people ever reach. And I did it multiple times. It’s like winning the Grammy of sideman. If they gave out a Grammy for sideman, I’d have at least three: Dwight Yoakam, Neil Young, and Steve Winwood. Those are three huge people who trusted me to be in their band. I was in there for more than just some weekend. I was in there for years. To me, that’s like having my Grammy. It’s not a Grammy, but it is a legacy that I'm extremely proud of.

“I’m not worried when I’m down here playing for people eating shrimp at Lulu’s, because I’ve seen what it’s like to be on a big stage and play in front of Glastonbury in England where there’s 200,000 people out there. That’s like playing Woodstock.  I played at Live Aid in Philadelphia. I played Farm Aid. I played all these big concerts. In other words, I’m not anxious about figuring out, ‘What’s it like being on a bus? What’s it like to be at that level?’ I know what it’s like, and it’s not anything that’s a mystery to me anymore. 

“I just know that making music with Savana is a beautiful thing, and I don’t want it to be over anytime soon. I want to take my time with my kids. I know that’s cliché-ish, but I love looking at my little kids sleeping when they wake up, their little faces… Things of that nature are what I define as success, not musical achievements. The fact that I’ve done all these things that you’ve mentioned gives me patience enough to be a good father, husband, and partner to someone like Buzz Cason who trusts me to do what I say I’m going to do. Years ago, I wouldn’t have, because I wasn’t grounded. I’m very grounded now about certain things, but I still have a lot of passion for music. Don’t get me wrong- if this record blows up and takes off, I’m going to be really excited about it. However, if this was the last thing that ever happens for it, just to be talking to you today, I’d be just as happy. It’s success to just have you even want to talk to me. That’s success to me. On a real basic level, you are taking your time to talk to me about me. It’s not money, but it’s your time and energy. That’s a commodity that I think is way underrated.” 

Regarding receptivity to the music, Crawford said:

“Surprisingly to me, it’s all just positive. I didn’t know what people would think. I don’t listen to a lot of music, and I don’t really know what’s popular today. I really don’t. I’m not a music listener much. I’ve never been. I listened early on in my career to people and soaked it up. After awhile, I just quit listening. Occasionally, something will really interest me, and I’ll dig into it.

sugarcanejane003b“In answer to your question, people tell me that what we’re doing is what people like these days. It’s really kind of a big thing. That’s a good sign. I don’t really know what that means. I’ve had several people tell me that we’re falling right into the pocket. It’d almost be like if I was wearing a Garth Brooks style of shirt and singing songs kinda like him, people would say, ‘Dude, you’re right in the pocket!’ It’s like, ‘Really?’ ‘Yea, there’s a dude, Garth Brooks, from Oklahoma. He’s big. Y’all got the same thing.’ I’d be like a knock-off of something or whatever. I don’t know what they’re talking about, but from what I understand, there’s a big folk music acoustic thing. What we’re doing, people like it... Shovels & Rope, The Civil Wars, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, whoever. I think Savana and I have a little thing that’s probably different than most people, yet it’s still kinda in the zone of what’s going on. I’m probably going to have to start checking it out to see what’s going on. I don’t know. We’re just doing our music, and if anybody calls us and gives an opportunity to come play, we’re probably going to do it.” 

In the course of chatting (and since Crawford had worked with Neil Young), I mentioned Richie Furay’s new CD (Furay is a former band mate of Young’s) and asked if he had heard it.

“That’s something I’m interested in. When I’m interested in something, I’ll go dig it up. But as far as just randomly going and searching for music, I don’t know. I like to just keep my mind clear. I’m a minimalist when it comes to input like that. I don’t want to feel like I’m copying something. If I come across something, I can honestly say I just came across it through sheer coincidence.

“I produced something with a fella named Scott Nolan. Now, I hope you look that fella up. He’s got several albums out. His music is so beautiful. He drove all the way from Winnipeg to come down to the Gulf Coast and record with me and that group I’m in with Savana called Willie Sugarcapps. Then there’s another guy, Edward David Anderson. He’s out of Illinois, and I just produced an album on him. Those are two people that both have new fantastic releases coming out this fall that I hope you check out. 

“My real true love is producing. I LOVE producing. I love being home, making music for people, and having them leave just ecstatic. That is what I love. It’s my passion when it comes to music. I love performing, but if you gave me my choice, I would probably lean towards being in the studio. I can be around my kids and drive them to school when that part of life comes calling. I’m good at it. I play all kinds of instruments. I learned how to make music through Neil Young, really. I know how to make a real recording and keep magical parts without erasing them, because you think it’s a mistake. 

“Sometimes mistakes seem to be mistakes until you add something else. All of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Oh, cool. That works big time.’ That’s what he does. He doesn’t get rid of anything. He’ll keep something that you think, ‘Ah, that sounds terrible!’ Then all of a sudden, you go, ‘Why doesn’t that sound terrible anymore?’ It’s because something was added that made it work. It’s like, vinegar on its own is no good, but you add it to cucumbers and ice, you’ve got this nice dish. It’s just the way it goes. I learned a lot from Neil Young. I learned what to do and what not to do from him. He’s been a very big teacher for me.”

I asked Anthony if there is a song from the album that he would offer as a calling card, so to speak, to draw people to the rest of “Dirt Road’s End.”

“That is a tough one. I love the sound of ‘San Andreas’, but I love the story of ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’. I had a little bit of a problem with the energy of ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’ being so over the top and being the first song on the record. But Buzz said, ‘Man, that’s gotta be first. It tells a story, and it’s the essence of who y’all are’. Given that, I would have to go with ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’.

“Then again, the next song ,‘The Game’, I love the way that song has that harmonica in there. I don’t know. It’s tough to pick one. I really have to say all those songs in there are very special to me.

“But because of the story and the lyrics, I have to go with ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’, for sure. It tells the story of me and Savana. If you were just trying to leave something in a time capsule for people to know about us, that clearly tells our story. None of the other songs tell our story like that one. That’s drilling for oil and hitting it, right there. The other songs are drilling all around it, but the lyrics on that song say what we are. It’s the truth about us.”

I love “Not Another Truck Song” on the album. I asked Crawford if it was a musical poke in Nashville’s eye.

“It is. I didn’t write that song; Buzz did. We had never even heard the song. I sat there around his computer while he played a demo of it. He just really wanted us to do it, and I was like, ‘Well, ok…’ It was the last song that we cut. Heck, that song turned out to be one of the best songs that we did on there as far as just the sound of it. The tone of it, to me, was pleasant. 

“Buzz lives in Nashville. He’s had a lot of success with things up there, but he’s still outside of the box compared to people up there. As many songs as he’s written, he’s not one of those people. He’s not real hardcore Music Row writer. He comes from way deeper roots than that. I love that lyric, ‘This is not another truck song. Somebody done somebody’s baby wrong.’ I love the sentiment of it. It’s nice. It’s well written. I don’t think he’s being mean-spirited in any way with it, not that you’re saying he is. It is definitely a poke at the fact that most people think they’ve got to write a song about a truck or some sort of beer container being a certain color- red plastic cup, whatever that thing was. It’s just some kind of beer and truck party mentality that we just don’t fit into.

“I’m not sure Savana and I would really fit into being around hardcore country-loving fans. Our demographic is really your upper echelon, affluent educated people. They love us! They tip us great. They’re all well-to-do people, but for some reason, they just can’t believe little old me and Savana are entertaining them until they’ve had enough. We go and try to play for country folks that would go watch Kenny Chesney and they don’t seem to get us. I don’t know why, but I'm guessing it's because they haven't heard us before.  They like something familiar, that they know the words to.  And maybe they will now that we have this record out. But in the past, we’ve found that we aren’t singing the kind of songs that speak to them, like going mudding in a truck or buying beer at the gas station and meeting around a burning barrel somewhere out in the middle of the woods, talking about stuff after you’ve been laying concrete all day. I don’t know, I'm probably all wrong about it.  Hopefully I am.  Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, radio, Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, and all other music media educate people on what they "should be" listening to and they believe it.  People don't have time to dive into the unknown artists and decipher what's good and what's not.  That's why we're hoping that having national distribution and radio play will put our music into the ears of the country fans that otherwise might not have heard of us. I'm not giving up on them. 

“I was in a band called Blackhawk. When Van Stephenson passed away, Henry Paul and Dave Robbins asked me to come into the band. They made me a partner. I was like the ‘new guy’. Nobody really gravitated towards me. We’d go do a meet ‘n’ greet, and nobody would talk to me. But that's probably my insecurity showing through.  That and the fact that Henry Paul and Dave looked like giants next to me.  I didn't visually fit in.  With Savana, I do.  We're practically the same size so it's just a more attractive package.  It's the opposite now.  You just have to find where you belong.  There's always a place."

I asked why he felt the 40+ crowd dug Sugarcane Jane.

“Well, I think it’s the style of writing. Sometimes, when we’re doing a longer show, I will pull out a Neil Young cover, because I played with Neil. Or we’ll do ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ with Steve or ‘A Thousand Miles From Nowhere’ with Dwight. People just love the song selection we have, because they relate to it. People who are in that place in life, whether it’s economic or whatever, seem to be more laid back about things. They just want to have a good time. They’re not wanting somebody to tell them a song about ‘Woe is me’, and they don’t really relate to somebody talking about a truck or drinkin’ or whatever. They want substance. And I think that it takes them back to their childhood because they grew up with that music like I did.  The newer artists don't do those songs because they don't know them.  But they should.  I love it when I hear younger artists covering The Beatles or Stones or something like that. 

“When we go play down near Destin, Florida, like Santa Rosa Beach or any of those wealthy seaside towns, those people have a lot of things going on for them individually. They have nice houses and cars and clothes, but they kinda like to go slummin’ with our music.  It's an escape that's just on the edge of where their willing to go.  It's fun to take them there.

“There’s a contrast that they love. We’re happy people, and we put on a smile. My wife has a very angelic energy, and I’m over there playing the crap out of the guitar. We’ve got tight harmony, so what’s not to love? We show up, and we’re real professional. Professional meaning we’re not late, and we’re not rude to people. We engage everybody. We’re very approachable. Being approachable is one of the biggest things I can say, because ultimately, people who like those other songs don’t necessarily even think about approaching people. There’s just some sort of different vision that they have of the world that doesn’t feel the need to belly up to what we’re doing. These other people have some sort of gravitational pull towards us because of the elements I described: nice, approachable, beautiful harmonies. The music is fresh, and they leave happy. We just peddle happiness, and those people like happy. Most affluent people don’t like unhappy. They've probably all been there before and who needs to be reminded of bad times?  We deliver happy. We’re like pizza delivery people coming up to a mansion. We’re just bringing music instead of pizza. Then we go back to our little hut somewhere. We know how to hang on the rich folks’ property, and when they’re ready for us to go, we know how to leave without trashing their yard. They’ll ask us back. ”

On the subjects of positivity and faith, Anthony shared:

“I thing being representatives of good energy is God’s plan for me and Savana. I do believe in God. I’m a huge believer in that. I’ve been a doubtful person of it, and I’ve been proven that it exists. It’s even happened here lately. I asked God to show me, ‘Hey, if you exist, I need some proof RIGHT NOW. This is such a huge thing, and I need you to show me you’re with me on this.’ I got an answer an hour later. It’s amazing. I believe in God, and I believe in the fact that I’m being a vessel for him. I’m a representative of that. The best way I can do it is through song, my energy, and being positive with people. If I’m going somewhere, and somebody really wants to get in the door quicker than me, by all means. Just step right on in. I’m not going to be trying to beat somebody through the door. If they really need to get in, GO. Who knows? They might get in there and get slammed in the head. It would have been me. I don’t care. I don’t want to slow people down or make them pissed off. I yield. I’m a yielder for the most part. I try to be as much as I can." 

As for tour plans in support of “Dirt Road’s End”:

“We have a lot of things coming up. We have a full-packed summer of shows. First of all, we just did the show with Steve Winwood in Birmingham which was a huge milestone for Sugarcane Jane. Savana and I are going out to Northern California to do a couple shows out there in June. In July, we’re touring with Steve Forbert for two to three weeks up the northeast. Then we come back to a string of our own personal southeast dates including Chatt Hills in Serenbe right outside of Atlanta at the end of July, a place Savana and I fell in love with. We’re also in another group called Willie Sugarcapps, and we’re playing the Targhee Bluegrass Festival in Wyoming in August. 

“We have several very high-profile gigs in support of this record. I talked to Steve Winwood’s road manager/sound guy who turns out to be somebody I’ve known a long time. I was like, ‘James, you’re the main man now!’ He said, ‘Believe it or not, yep, that’s right.’ I said, ‘Well, if you get any more of these Steve Winwood gigs, we’d love to do them. We’ll travel anywhere.’ So the possibility of doing more with Steve is out there. We would also love to get back in with Dwight Yoakam.  He just released a new album, Second Hand Heart, where he cut one of my songs, V's of Birds.  So yeah, we’ve got big things on the horizon for Sugarcane Jane.

“I have high hopes for the records I’m producing for these people who are out there working: Scott Nolan, Edward David Anderson, Cary Laine, Lauren Kay. We have so much on our plate right now. We’re very diversified. If we were in the stock market, we would have  a fantastic looking portfolio. Our eggs are not in one basket. The Dwight Yoakam cut- who knows what that’s going to do for me. I’m not sure if those things generate a lot of income anymore, but it sure looks good on paper. People love to talk about it.”

I know that Crawford gets asked a ton of questions about Neil Young. However, I’m more intrigued with his work with Steve Winwood. Sugarcane Jane opened for WInwood recently. When I suggested that it speaks volumes about his respect for Anthony as a friend and musician, he said:

“Oh, yeah. I’m going to give you something a little juicy here. Here’s the difference between Neil Young and Steve Winwood in a nutshell. When I was playing with Steve Winwood, early on in the tour after he’d finished his Back In The High Life tour, which was huge, we were doing the Roll With It tour. I’m over there playing the guitar, and I’m singing the harmony with him. He comes up to me in the middle of the song, he looks at me, and he says in that English voice, ‘Anthony, I just love what you’re playing. Love it. But could you just please stick to the parts on the record? Ok, thank you.’ When I did one little note wrong with Neil, he just looked at me like he could kill me.

“The differences in people are just amazing. Steve is such a nice person. Now don’t get me wrong. If you do something that he doesn’t like, you’ll just wind up not working with him or something. Maybe I did something. As a human being, there’s no better. How we got that gig was because I was walking out of my studio about two weeks ago. We were going over to play a show in Destin, and I knew that they have a house in Destin. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just e-mail Genia (his wife) to see if they’re down here and invite them to the show’. She e-mailed me back and said, ‘We’re not in the States right now, but thanks for asking. We hope to see you soon’. About two or three days later, we get a call from our booking agent that Winwood’s management was inquiring about us opening for Steve in Birmingham. Because I refreshed their brain about me, they thought, ‘Let’s let Anthony and Savana open for you in Birmingham’. Now that’s nice, ok?

“When in reality, Neil comes and plays at the Mobile Saenger Theatre eight miles from my house, and he gets somebody else to open. He doesn’t even think about letting me do it. I spent twenty something years of my life with him. So that’s the difference.

“Steve is a generous man. That’s not to say Neil is not a generous man. He just doesn’t think about the fact that I gave him years and years and years of my life. It’s like, ‘Hey, dude, throw me a bone!’ Whether he did it on purpose, or he just didn’t even think about it, that’s the difference. Steve thinks about people. He’s a generous, thoughtful man. There’s nothing I could ever say about that guy that wouldn’t be glowing. He’s tops for me as a human being and a musician.”

Because Anthony has been in the music business for such a long time, I asked him what are the most positive and negative changes he’s seen in it.

“The most positive thing that comes to my mind immediately would be that the music business is back in the hands of the musicians. Due to the Internet, social media, and if you get out there and just love what you’re doing, you have the opportunity to make a living playing music. It’s wide open again. It’s not owned by a few record companies. That’s positive to me.

“Something that disturbs me about the music business is how many people are willing to copy your music and share it with everyone they know for free.  It's stealing and they don't seem to have a problem with it.  They do it because they can.  And a lot of people don't even realize that it's not only illegal, it's just wrong.  I know some artists give away their music for the exposure but that is their choice.  There are a lot of other artists that need the downloads and cd purchases to survive.  It's no different than stealing a candy bar at the grocery store.  Wrong is wrong.  I just wish people would realize this.  Considering how much artists put in to making a record and the process of learning to play and writing the songs, music is cheap.  So I am happy to support people and buy their music.  It's an easy concept to grasp. Our record label for Willie Sugarcapps (The Royal Potato Family) said most music gets out before albums are even released.  It's just out there on the internet for people to steal. It's a constant task of shutting those sites down.  Seems impossible.  All you can do is hope that people will just stop doing it.

“As far as the business, I don’t know. I think the positives are way bigger. Right now, you can get out there and make a living at music. At least, we’re doing it. I consider myself one of the most unknowledgeable guys about the music business there is. If I was really smart about it, I probably would have been a millionaire by now with all the people I’ve known and opportunities I’ve probably had but didn’t take people up on it. Like Joe Galante giving me the opportunity to be produced by Bruce Hornsby- I didn’t know who Bruce Hornsby was. I was like, ‘Nope, thanks’. This was back when I was a kid.

“About a month later, I see him on the Grammys getting, like, seven Grammys. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not good’. I’ve had my chances, and I’ve just been kinda uninformed, if you will. The other version is just being a dumbass about certain things in my career. I mean, man, I had an opportunity to be produced by Bruce Hornsby. I didn’t jump on it, because the contract said we will mutually decide. I wanted Mark Knopfler. I just thought he was so cool, but I didn’t know who Bruce Hornsby was. I made a foolish mistake. I should have gone, ‘Okay!’, but I didn’t. It goes back to my song. I have no regret to the past I claim. I have no regret for anything I’ve done in the past, because had I done that with Bruce Hornsby, I might not have my daughter today. I harbor no resentment towards myself. I’ve been given a green light to feel better.

"One more negative is the confusion about how to pay people. It’s awful out there. I get a statement that says, ‘You got 40,000 plays.’ I get like six cents. I have to have two million spins to make a hundred bucks. That’s the music business that I don’t like. The electronic tracking and payment system- that is what is broken.  In the old days, if you had a record out, somehow people got rich. Not now days. I don’t know how people are making millions of dollars. These people that are getting sued for sounding like somebody, and they have to pay Tom Petty four million dollars. That means those people made four million. I’d love to get sued by somebody and pay them four million. That means I’m going to be, at least, famous for it. Tom Petty just recently got four million or something for somebody sounding like ‘Free Fallin’’. I heard both copies. I did not get it.”  But the business is always changing and everyone is just trying to keep up and figure it out.  I think there are great strides being made about writers getting paid.  I know Roseanne Cash is one who is on top of it.  I am thankful for people like her that stand up for everyone else who are clueless about what is really going on."

I asked Crawford if he was named Music Industry czar and tasked with fixing the industry, what would he do to fix it or does he think it needs fixing and if he thought it was fixable.

“I think those are people who aren’t out there doing it themselves. You asked me what’s wrong with the music business. It is so not wrong to me, because I don’t even think about them. I don’t care about the music business. I really don’t. The business is out there to go get. It’s better than it’s ever been for people, because ultimately, you can make your own records at home. I’m sitting here in my little chair in my studio, and I’m looking at Pro Tools kit. I’ve got Neumann speakers. I’ve got a Neumann U67. I’ve got Neve preamps and Universal Audio. I’ve got everything that a big studio used to have that you would have to pay an arm and a leg to do. I’ve got vintage guitars on the wall. I’ve got a beautiful wife in there that knows how to sing. We’ve got enough money to make our own records. It’s enough for us to get some action in a specific area. When you start tracking what areas really like your music, then you go, ‘Guess what? Minneapolis for some reason loves Sugarcane Jane’. Well, guess what? I’m going to get my booking agent to book me some gigs in Minneapolis. 

“It’s not broken. It’s better than ever. You can do it. People still like to see live music. If you play live, there is no music business. It’s your business.

“The best thing that’s happened to the music business is the ability to have your phone tell you how to get to the gig. That, to me, is amazing. We went and did a gig in St. Augustine then had to get over to Tampa the next morning. It was complicated. The phone was like, ‘Turn left. Ok, in three quarters of a mile, go right’. Fifteen or twenty years ago, you’d be like, ‘Oh god, we’re not going to make the gig’. There are a lot of positives about touring now. I’m just a guy out there that’s going to play my music. I don’t care if electricity stopped happening, I’d look for campfires to play around. I’d take my acoustic guitar. I don’t need electricity. My wife and I could sing and get somebody to give us a deer leg if we were hungry.

“That’s the problem with living in Nashville. They started depending on somebody telling them how to go do something. Down here, we’re in the middle of the woods. We’ve got to go out and get it. We learn how to hunt and fish, metaphorically-speaking. We’re living and playing music. We’re doing what we love. That’s BIG.

And connoisseurs will have no complaints listening to “Dirt Road’s End” and, when they do listen to it, they’ll become fans for life.

Visit WWW.SugarcaneJane.com

Richie Furay Discusses Hand In Hand

April, 2015

RichieFuray 7 Reduced Credit Ed ZiehmPhoto by Ed ZiehmIf you’re a baby boomer and listened to the radio, you’re likely more than a little familiar with the iconic groups, Buffalo Springfield and Poco.  Buffalo Springfield was made up of Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Dewey Martin, Bruce Palmer, and Richie Furay. Poco consisted of Jim Messina, Rusty Young, George Grantham, Randy Meisner, and, again, Richie Furay.

After his stint with these two legendary bands, Furay went on to form his own namesake band that blazed new trails in contemporary Christian music, establishing his mark as one of its influential pioneers. In fact, it was in that genre that I became aware of his work. His former work earned him the distinction of becoming an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The latter provided him his ultimate calling as minister to a flock of Christians in Colorado. Both roles have given him the ability to influence people well beyond the end of his life.

For this interview, I chatted with Greg Harris (CEO of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is a friend of Boomerocity) about Richie.  He said, “He, obviously, contributed greatly as a member of Buffalo Springfield but also went on to greater public recognition with Poco. Buffalo Springfield is the cornerstone of the folk and country that followed. It’s fascinating how much has grown out of the collaboration of the original band members and, then, the many shoots and branches that grew from their trunk to create an incredible music legacy of its founders. They’re even influencing the Americana genre to this day. 

“They’re sound – and Richie still sounds the same as he did in the late sixties – is still as fresh and vibrant today as it was then. Have you heard Richie’s new album? Amazing and it proves the point I was just making.”

Greg is referring to Furay’s recently released eighth solo studio album. It’s entitled “Hand In Hand,” and is likely bound to go down as his best work yet.

I called Richie at his Colorado home to chat about “Hand In Hand” and other things going on in his life. I started off by asking him what would he tell Richie Furay/Buffalo Springfield/Poco fans about this album.

“This album is very current from my perspective. I’ve really been thought of as a love song writer, and these songs are EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditeddefinitely love songs. They’re about my love for life, my love for my wife, my love for my country, my love for what the Lord has blessed me with. It’s really all-encompassing. The music is as current and as fresh today as anything anybody could hear on the radio. I do have a certain style of music that I write, but it’s very current today. I just couldn’t be any happier with it. It’s really getting a lot of traction today.”

As for the feedback on the album, so far, Richie said, “It has been wonderful. Everyone, to a person, that’s heard the music has responded in such a positive way. It’s really blowing my mind. When I wrote the songs, I really felt that I had something special. I think the people that are now hearing this and responding to it are showing me, ‘Yeah, there is something real special about this project’.”

I have two favorites from the album, “We Were The Dreamers” and “Let It Slide.” Artists can’t really pick a favorite song from their albums because it’s too much like picking a favorite child so I didn’t ask Furay to pick on. However, I did ask which song would he use as a “calling card,” if you will, to draw people to buy the album.

“It’s really hard to separate one song from the other, because every song is special. ‘We Were The Dreamers’ is obviously the first song on the album, because I think that has to have a hook on it. People are going to listen to it and go to song 2 (“Hand In Hand”), song 3 (“Don’t Lose Heart”), on down the road until you get to ‘Let It Slide’. I think they gotta hear something that’s going to appeal to them. If anyone’s like me, it’s the music first of all. Is there a melody that I can relate to and embrace? Then I want to hear what the song is all about.”

Richie then gets on a roll about the rest of the album, excitedly telling me about each song. 

“‘We Were The Dreamers’ is about starting Poco and what we wanted to do with that band. We wanted to make a bridge between country and rock, and I think that proved to be an honest goal as we’ve seen that happen. We see music coming out of Nashville today that took a very strong leap when, back in 1969, Poco was trying to cross that gap. 

“Then, leading on, I think people are going to find that there’s a lot of interesting music that they built from one song to the next. On ‘Hand In Hand’, they’re going to hear about my relationship with my wife looking back who I’ve been married to for forty-eight years now. We aren’t standing on the Whisky A Go Go stage anymore looking forward. We’re on the stage of life- still going hand in hand, still in love with each other- but we’re looking from a different perspective now. 

“You get Dan Fogelberg’s ‘Don’t Lose Heart’. I think the question Dan was asking in that song is, ‘Was everything I ended up going through worth it in the end?’ I saw the hope in the Lord, you know: ‘No matter what’s going on, you can trust that I’m still there with you. Don’t lose heart. I’m going with you.’ 

“‘Don’t Tread On Me’ is a different kind of love song. It’s a song about my love for this country. I think this country is the greatest country in the world. I know we have problems. I know we have things we can improve upon, but it really hurts me when I hear people cutting down and talking about this country in a negative way. We have very positive things that we can be proud of, but we are being divided right now. We’re polarized. We’ve got to start talking and thinking about the blessings that God has given us in this great nation of ours. 

“‘Wind Of Change’ follows that same line. On the surface, it just sound like it’s about a guy taking a road trip going east. If you look deeper into the song, I think people will understand that I have some problems with what I see going on out east. Hopefully, there will be a change. 

“‘Someday’ (that features Keb Mo) … Again, I’m just so thankful that during these troubled times I’ve got eleven grandkids. Number twelve is on the way May 1. I’m concerned about the way things are going and what my kids and grandkids are going to have to go through. But I’m very thankful, and I sum it up in that song, that I didn’t have to go alone. My wife has been there with me. I couldn’t make it without her. 

“Each song, they’re all very important. They all have a special message and meaning. It’s a very universal CD for people to embrace.”

I asked the Hall of Famer if he considered “Hand In Hand” a CCM disc, secular/Americana or another genre?

“I think it’s definitely a secular/Americana CD. There’s no doubt about it. I say that because if you go back to ‘64/’65 when Buffalo Springfield was together, there was nothing we called or considered ‘Americana’. Americana became a genre of music later on, and quite frankly, we pioneered that along with country rock ‘n’ roll. I would say this is definitely a mainstream secular project. It has Americana roots all the way.”

I asked Richie what he hoped people get or take away from “Hand In Hand.”

“I hope that they’ll take away hope. With my life, I’ve gone through different changes, different struggles, different places where I’ve come to a crossroads in my life and asked ‘Which direction do I go?’ But I’ve always found that there was direction. I will say I didn’t know what that direction was at times, but I did come to find out it was the leading of the Lord. Regardless if this is a secular project, He is still guiding my life as the Good Shepherd. He is watching over me, and I know now who has been guiding me. 

“In years past, I didn’t have a clue when I would take a step and go in this direction or that direction. Even before I became a believer, in Souther Hillman Furay I didn’t want the guy who was a Christian to be in the band. He had a Jesus sticker on his guitar, and I said, ‘I don’t want this guy in the band. He’s going to stop me from becoming a rock ‘n’ roll star.’ But it was there that God reached out to me. 

“The Lord is so gracious. At one time, I thought maybe he was taking the musical aspect of my life away. God never takes away something that he doesn’t have something far greater for us. He’s shown me that by allowing me to come back and play music in this day and age, but also be part of a great church family in Broomfield, Colorado. 

“What I hope the people will take away from this is hope. When they’re not sure where things are going in their life, there’s hope. They can read that in the music and the songs that I’ve been sharing.”

Some of you might be surprised by my comment at the beginning of this interview that Richie Furay is now a minister. I asked him to tell Boomerocity readers about his ministry.

“We have a small little church in Broomfield, Colorado, called Calvary Chapel. We are a part of the Calvary Chapel network of churches. When Al Perkins led me to the Lord back in 1974, my wife and I had been married for seven years and separated for seven months. It was a disastrous time in my life, and I had no idea what was going to be taking place in my life. 

“Things started to change, and I really thought that music was pretty much going to be the end of the road for me. It didn’tRichieFuray 1 Reduced Credit EdZiehmPhoto by Ed Ziehm turn out to be that way. In the meantime, there was a little bit of diversion there, and I said, ‘Lord, what would you have me to do?’ He opened up the doors, and I started a little home Bible study. Next thing I know, people are coming around saying, ‘When are we going to have church?’ I said, ‘You know, we’re kinda having it right now.’ They wanted something else, and as it turned out, we started a little church in Boulder, Colorado. Then we moved down to Broomfield, and it’s been so great. 

“The Bible says the Lord will give you the desires of your heart if you just focus on Him. I love the opportunity he’s given me to encourage people’s lives with the teaching of the Word of God. I love the way Chuck Smith taught us to really teach the Bible book by book, verse by verse. It’s been real precious. Also, what has been really neat is the support I’ve gotten from a lot of my pastor friends in Calvary Chapel to continue to pursue and do the music I’m doing. Regardless if it has a Christian influence like ‘In My Father’s House’ and ‘I Am Sure’ or my music as it comes out today like this new project which is a mainstream secular/Americana project, the church supports me. The church is right there with me. 

“Early on, neither I nor the church congregation that I had at the time understood, and I think there was some question about, ‘Can you do both?’ Sometimes, people want to say, ‘How can you go out, do this music, and still be a pastor of a church?’ It all flows. I’ve got a very unique position in life right now. I’ve got a very unique position in having a church but still going on the road, traveling, doing concerts. Quite frankly, when I go into a place to play, we have done worship services with my band. My band is the worship band at our church. They learned all of my music, and we go out. 

“I’m not out there to proselytize when I go into secular venues. I’m out there to share my life, and the biggest part of my life is the fact that Jesus Christ has saved me and loves me. He has given me the desires of my heart. He gave me the gift of music, so we always get to share with the people regardless. If they hear ‘A Good Feelin’ To Know’ and ‘Pickin’ Up The Pieces’, they still hear. We’re there and we’re sharing this, because we know where the gift has come from. It’s come from Jesus.”

I always ask experienced artists this question at the end of interviews: Once you’ve stepped off of the tour bus for the final time and are at that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy is? Richie was asked this, as well.

“Truly, I want to hear the Lord say ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’ He didn’t tell me just to preach within the four walls of a church building. He told me to go into all the world and to proclaim his goodness, glory, and salvation. That’s what I want to do. I sincerely believe in my heart that is being accomplished by the response I get from all kinds of people. People who are believers, people who are nonbelievers, people who are Jewish, people who have no real understanding of faith at all. 

“They come to me and say, ‘There’s something about you, and on that stage, there’s something that shines. Something that glows.’ At seventy years old, it’s really special to be able to stand up there and get that kind of feedback. I was just answering a person who I don’t even know from Montana who said, ‘I accepted the Lord a long time ago, but I walked away from the Lord. I don’t know why, but I feel the need to reach out to you to help me along and get back on this path’. If I can lead anybody to the foot of the Cross where Jesus’ forgiveness is, that’s what it’s about for me.”

You can keep up with Richie and order his music at RichieFuray.com or check out his message and his church at CalvaryBroomfield.org.

Read the Boomerocity review of "Hand In Hand," here.