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Jack Tempchin Talks About "Room To Run"

Posted June, 2015

JackTempchin4b creditJoelPiperPhoto by Joel PiperEvery songwriter dreams of writing just one song – that song – that everyone knows and can sing – or, at the very least, hum. To be able to write two, well, that would be the rarified air segment of the songwriter hierarchy. More than that and you know that you’ve accomplished more than most songwriting mortals. You’re in an exclusive club that few belong to.
Such is the case with Jack Tempchin.

You may not have heard his name, but you have most certainly heard many of the songs he’s written or co-written. Songs like

“Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Already Gone,” “The Girl From Yesterday,” “Somebody,” and “It’s Your World Now” by the Eagles. Of course, you’ve had to have heard, “Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancin’) by Johnny Rivers.
Perhaps you’re familiar with Glenn Frey’s hits, “The One You Love,” “You Belong to the City,” “Smuggler’s Blues,” “True Love” or “I Found Somebody”? If so, you now know that those, too, were co-written by Mr. Tempchin.
And those are the biggies. Jack has also written songs recorded by George Jones, Glen Campbell, Emmylou Harris and Randy Meisner, Sammy Kershaw, Patty Loveless, Tanya Tucker and many, many others.

If it were me who had a hand in all of those great songs, I’d be tempted to rest on my laurels and feel that I have nothing left to write or give. But not Jack Tempchin.

Tempchin recently released a four{mprestriction ids="*"} song EP entitled, “Room to Run”. Not only does it show that he has lots of great music still inside of him, it’s also musical foretaste of more great music to come.

I recently had the privilege of chatting with Jack by phone about “Room to Run” at his Southern California home. He started off sharing about the EP and how it was different to record than his previous albums.

“I have put five or six of my own albums out. Since the Eagles got back together in ’94, and I stopped doing the Glenn Frey albums, I put my own albums out. But I haven’t had a record deal. This is my first record deal since I was signed with Clive Davis and Arista Records. The last album was about three years ago.

“It’s so tremendously different. My new album is a completely different way of making a record for me. Of course, I’ve been using a combination of the traditional recording and Pro Tools. I partnered with Joel Piper, my producer. Joel is more of an EDM producer. He’s twenty-eight years old and was also in a band called Confide who played the Warped Tour. His whole experience of music in this world is completely different from mine because of his age. He’s been working with Pro Tools since he was nine years old, you know what I mean? He’s got the skills where he can do just about anything. He can hear any type of record from any era and duplicate it. Once I started working with him, I come to find that he actually plays every instrument really well and sings all the backgrounds. I thought, ‘Well, this is weird’. The song is mine, but he would put all this other stuff I would have never thought of putting in there.

“He’s such a great producer, because everything he does, to me, amplifies the song. It’s not his skill set; it’s the fact that he can use it to further the song. It’s been a real different experience of making a record. There are only two or three people on the record except for me and Joel. I play the guitar and sing, and he plays most everything else. I started thinking about it, and it’s not that much different than when I worked with Glenn Frey. We’d write the song, arrange it, and have a bunch of players come in. That’s the traditional way of making a record. I was still partnering with the guy who was doing all that. The only difference is Joel is playing all the stuff himself then doing all the engineering. Still, somebody has to do the thinking. It’s not that different except for the technology change that allows one guy to do all the stuff when it used to take fifteen guys. The bottom line is I would sing the song and get a great vocal with Joel. He would go away and come back with a track. I would go, ‘Gee, is this me?’ Like with ‘Room To Run’, it’s got this great pedal steel. I feel like I’m stepping into the future here. I’m making this record with the newest methodology and technology, but somehow it still feels really good for me. I like what’s coming out. That’s the bottom line.”

Sharing more about the album itself, Tempchin said:

“I was thinking about doing a record for a couple years. A lot of times you do a record, and nothing happens. I’m paying for it myself. Then I got a record deal like a thunderbolt out of the blue. My manager saw an advertisement that said they were looking for something. I went in, and the guy offered me a huge, fabulous record deal. It just exploded my brain in terms of creativity. I thought, ‘Wow, someone else wants to hear what I do’. I collected all these songs I had, and I wrote a bunch of new songs. I was really inspired by getting a record deal. Somebody else is going to be trying to push it besides me. I’m not very good at that.

JackTempchinb creditJoelPiperPhoto by Joel Piper“With ‘Room To Run’, I go to Nashville every year and write with people. My friend, Carey Ott, is a computer genius and great songwriter. We were thinking about that subject when we wrote that, so I pulled that out of my catalog. I really like it.
If I hadn’t had a record deal, I might not have made another record. These songs would just languish away in a drawer, and no one would ever hear them. I had been talking to a bunch of super successful people about their sad tales concerning going through divorces and losing all their money. My friend, Glenn Frey, said, ‘Divorce is a fraternity with a really difficult initiation’. It’s not my story; I’m happily married. But I was so moved by talking to these people, and I sat down at the kitchen table one day to write ‘The High Cost of Hate’. I thought to myself, ‘I’m never going to be able to play this song anywhere’, but I just had to get it out. About eight months later, I had a gig that happened to be for the top divorce lawyers in the country. They were having a convention in San Diego, and on the last night of the convention, they have a special dinner with the top 100 (out of a couple thousand). I just couldn’t resist singing that song for them. They gave me a standing ovation halfway through the song. The song says, ‘Let’s call it quits/And make some lawyers rich’. I’m nice to the lawyers in the song, so they really liked it. My label president is actually an attorney, so he got excited. That’s why they put the EP out. He just wanted to spread that song to other attorneys. I’m just delighted it’s getting out there somehow.

“And then I have ‘Jesus and Mohammed’. That was something I wrote with a friend of mine. He came up with the thought, and we wrote that. I put it on different projects, but I could never record it the way I wanted to. This is a good version of that, and I’m glad to have that out there.”

As for what the buzz has been like so far for the EP, Jack’s answer was matter of fact and without hype.

“It’s a little early. I played the Troubadour on May 7, and I did all the new songs from the album. That went really well, so that was cool. I’m not hearing any other feedback yet, and I’m very curious. I would like one person to go, ‘Hey, I like that!’”
I shared with Tempchin that I felt that if the fourth song on the EP, “Summertime Bum”, doesn’t get picked up for commercial use and/or in TV and movies, there’s definitely something wrong.

“Wow, that’s so cool! Many years ago, I had a house by the beach. It was summer. I was out on the hammock and wrote that song. I made a horrible little demo of it. I reviewed, and I’m going, ‘I still like this!’ That’s just great to hear.”
Jack shared his hopes as to what listeners will get from “Room to Run”:

“I’m fortunate that I’m a legacy artist that’s had a bunch of hits. That’s wonderful, and I’ve had a great life in music. I feel like I’m on fire with songs. I’m still there, and I still love this whole thing. Like everybody in my position, I would like people to enjoy what I’m doing now. I’m a new artist to most people, because everything I’ve done is in songwriting. I’d like people to enjoy my records of my songs and go, ‘Oh, this guy has a lot of cool songs I like to hear’. I don’t want to make a record of my hits, because I didn’t make those original records anyway. I’m not going to be able to beat them, and I love them the way they are. I’m trying to still be an artist, I guess. I go in my backyard with my producer, and I dig old songs out of my catalog. Or I get a song I started a few years ago, and I finish it. Or I write a brand-new song. Then I get to record it and put it out. Man, that’s all I care about. I’m just looking for people to start going, ‘Hey, I’m enjoying what you’re doing’. That’ll complete the circle for me.

“The album is called ‘Learning To Dance’. The four songs on the EP are the songs I left off the album. The record label decided they liked them, and they put them out as a four song EP. The reason I left them out is because ‘Learning To Dance’ is sort of a theme. It’s all love songs. It moves through the early, euphoric stages of love to the more confusing parts to looking back on love. It all fell into a theme, like love through the years. I picked those songs and left the others off, because they didn’t fit the theme.”

Continuing, Tempchin said:

“I love country. The whole thing about country is the song base. Like Tom T. Hall- the guy in the hospital is dying and wondering who’s going to the feed the hogs. I got all these hogs back home, and nobody’s feeding them. My wife can’t do it. The third day in the hospital, they think he’s a goner. But he gets up, walks out of the hospital, and goes back to the farm to feed the hogs. Stories, you know what I mean? You can’t be halfway through that song and turn it off. They basically put those stories into rock and roll with country rock. I guess I do come from all that.”

When I asked what he attributed the rising interest and popularity to music like his to, Jack was philosophical with his answer.

“I’m not sure. I’ll go to The Hotel Café in L.A., and I’ll see a couple girls play the old kind of music. They know all the stories about Lead Belly and all the folk tales. These people are twenty-one years old! How do they know all this? It used to be, with you and me, we just had the radio and the record store. That was the only place you could find music. Now days, the young people can look at all the music that was ever there and pick what they like. They can go, ‘Well, actually I’m a Sixties hippie’ or ‘I’m a grunge person’. When they go back and find this stuff, our music seems a little more real to them than the stuff that came after such as disco and hip hop. They see that you can do this music without machines. They can look back, drill into what interests them, and become experts on it. For some people, our music appeals to them, and they’re bringing it back. That’s the only thing I can think of.”

As I said at the beginning of this interview, Jack Tempchin has written the kind of songs that people dream about writing. I asked him what his biggest challenges as a songwriter are and what advice would he give songwriters today.

“I’m putting up a website called Go Write One on www.patreon.com where I’ve done a whole bunch of one minute or two-minute videos about songwriting. What I don’t do is tell anybody how to write a song. I don’t tell them any of the details. I just talk about getting in the mood, getting excited, and getting yourself to do it. That’s coming up in about a week, and I’m going to put up the videos I’ve already shot. I can’t advise anybody about writing a hit, getting it on the radio, or anything like that. I just talk about why it’s cool to write songs and what you can get out of it. I’m in love with it, and I’m just trying to pass that along.

RoomToRunCover“It’s like the food we have is not as nourishing anymore. I’m looking for a song with some nourishment that I want to hear over and over, and it’s going to give me something. My friend, John Brannen, wrote a song called ‘I’m Still In The Game’. It’s great, and I love it. It inspires me. Unless I go back and listen to Mississippi Fred McDowell, who is somebody that everything they do is totally real and great. Sometimes I think it’s just me. I don’t look hard enough. When I was younger, I looked and looked and found things that were great.

“There are rock ‘n’ roll schools right around my neighborhood in San Diego where you send your kid, and they put together a band. I’m going, ‘Man, we never had that!’ Kids today go, ‘Oh, I want to be a rock star’, and we keep seeing Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix done over and over.”

With such a long and successful career in the rough and tumble world of rock and roll, Jack has seen lots of changes in the business. I asked him what the best and worst changes he’s are seen in the music business.

“In the late fifties and sixties, it went from pop music to the folk music era. Then it went from singer/songwriter to country rock to the huge rock tradition we had. That was a huge change. The Beatles were on TV. Elvis came along. That was just my generation taking a left turn from where music had gone before.

“I did learn along the way that there are several kinds of music for different purposes. Along with songs that move people, there is also dance music. In every era, the dance music suddenly predominates for a while and pushes the other music off the charts. It started with Chubby Checker’s ‘The Twist’. It was a huge craze, and they came out with all the twist records. It was the same for disco, hip hop, and rap. It’s all essentially big beat dance music. When those things are going, you can’t get the other music in for a while. I wouldn’t look at that as a bad change. It’s just part of the way it is. Dance music is just as valid as any other kind of music.

“The new technologies are kinda sad as far as the fact that some really creative people are not getting paid for their work. That’s not a good change. However, everyone’s work is now available to anyone who wants it. In a way, as far as spreading music through the planet, that’s a fabulous thing. You can hear something on the internet or radio, and Shazam that thing. You’ll know all about that person and other things they’ve done and buy a couple songs. You could never do that before.

When I heard Mississippi Fred McDowell, I had to go get the record or find someone who even knew he existed. There was no internet. Everybody can just gorge themselves on all the music they like, and I think that’s a positive change.”

If he were named music czar, what would Jack Tempchin do to fix the business?

“I would encourage the Boomers to spend more money, so that there will be a little more balance in the pop music. From many eras, fourteen-year-old girls were the ones who were buying the singles, so all the songs were directed toward what they liked. I think it’s an improvement if you bring everyone in. They should have their music, but so should older folks. It should still be on the radio. People should be listening to the music that you and I liked before, new music from the same people. They should be finding really great songs that are new and presenting them to those of us who’d like to hear them. That’s not really happening as much as it could. Radio concentrates on the big, huge money hits. It kinda leaves us off.

"I’ll wake up and think, ‘Kris Kristofferson- he used to do some great songs. What has he done lately?’ I dig around and find that he did do an album. It’s real funky sounding, but sure enough, he’s got a couple killer songs on there. Nobody’s going to hear them.

“With my album, I’ll think, “Yea, I love it. Sounds great!’ But then, I’ll think, ‘What radio stations are we going to pitch it to?’ There’s nothing out there where people are listening to this stuff.”

As our conversation wrapped up, I asked Jack one final question: When you’ve gone to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

“The song ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’- I used to sing to my kid to sing him to sleep. If some of my songs can get worked into the fabric of the culture where people can enjoy them for a long time, that’s great. As a writer and an artist who makes records, I guess I’m not tremendously concerned about that. Just the joy of having been able to write a song everybody knows, and when I sing it, they like it. It’s kind of an unbelievable gift in life very few people get. I don’t really need or want much beyond that which has already happened. Of course, I’m sitting here as an artist going, ‘I want people to hear this new great song I wrote!’ I guess I don’t think about the legacy that much in terms of which way it’s going to go. I’m just happy to be doing it.”

You can keep up with the latest in Jack Tempchin’s career and news about another upcoming album at www.jacktempchin.com. While you're there. order "Room To Run" or click on one of the widgets, below to order your copy of this great EP.

 

Rick Hall Discusses The Man From Muscle Shoals

Posted June, 2015

RickHallGrammyRich Hall With His Grammy

Unless you’re a music geek like me - and neck deep into the history and minutia of all things music - the name, Rick Hall, may not mean anything to you. To heavy music buffs and geeks, though, Rick Hall is a giant in the music business and it’s history.

Founder of the now legendary FAME (“Florence Alabama Music Enterprises”) Studios (and FAME Publishing), Rick Hall first taste of success in the record business came in 1961. It was then that he produced Muscle Shoals’ first hit record with Arthur Alexander. The song, “You Better Move On”, was later covered by the Rolling Stones. That hit was followed by Jimmy Hughes’ hit, “Steal Away.” And, as they say, the rest is history.

Talent such as The Tams, Buddy Killen, Etta James, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The Osmonds (including Donnie and Marie for some of their solo work), Mac Davis, Jerry Reed, The Gatlin Brothers (as well as Larry Gatlin), and many, many other biggies in music, all recorded at FAME Studios. 

Oh, and if you think FAME’s big{mprestriction ids="*"} name days are all in the past, they are still quite productive and finding their work on new albums every year – both big names and up-and-comers.

These accomplishments made Rich Hall the poster child of rags to riches stories in America. In fact, it seems that many rags to riches stories – or stories of great accomplishments-have as their foundation the fact that the champions had poor or hard lives when they were young. 

In his recent book, “The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame To Fame,” details Hall’s amazing story of his literally dirt-poor upbringing in the deep South to becoming a music mogul, thus supporting the theory of adversity breeding success.

I recently called Rick at his home to discuss his book and started out by asking him why he thought this theory works as it does.

“That’s a great question, Randy. It’s tough to say exactly, but I believe strongly that kids today just don’t have the work ethics that we had. When I was growing up, we had it so much tougher- farming with mules, plows, that kind of thing. Mine’s uniquely different than today’s kids who think, ‘Well, you get to college, get out of school, and get a job making $50,000 starting pay’. That’s just not the way it is. I tell people the difference. I don’t let them just go on thinking that, because it’s not true. 

“Secondly, I think that my generation, our generation… if you were the oldest child, you had it a little tougher than the middle one or the others. In my case, I had three boys. With each one, I let up a little bit. I thought, ‘Well, dad wouldn’t have done that. He wouldn’t let them get by with that kind of thing’. I don’t know if it works better, because mamas are always there saying, ‘Well, he’s your child. You should give him the money he wants and let him do what he wants to do’. So you fight that battle. In my case, I’ve been married all my life almost. Well, I hope not all of it yet. 

“I have been through the rough and tumbles. I really do believe that if you go through the rough and tumbles like I have with tragedies in the family… My first wife was killed in an automobile, and I was driving the car. It was a guilt trip I had for four or five years. I lost my dad a week later and buried him right beside. A lot of it was tragedy in my years. Of course, my dad meant everything to me, because my mother had left us and went to work in a red light district when I was five years old. My dad raised me and taught me how to work. Like all fathers, he preached at me constantly: ‘Do this. Don’t do that. Move when you move. Get the job over with, look back at it, and move on to something else’… that kind of thing. He was constantly criticizing and condemning me. He was right, and I was wrong. He was a stern dad, and he made me toe the mark. I’m not sure I did that so much with my kids as he did with me. I let up, because my kids had a mother. Me and my wife have lived together for almost fifty years now. They always had a good mother. 

“Kids today say, ‘Well, dad had fun all of his life, and he was in the music business. He played the fiddle, had a lot of fun, hadRichHallClarenceCarterRick Hall With Clarence Carter

Photo Courtesy of Rick Hall a lot of girls. I’m going to follow in his footsteps’.  I’m not sure they’re thinking, ‘When Dad passes on, I’ll get the ranch, 1600 acres of land, the recording studio, and publishing company. I’ll have it made!’ That is the down side with Rick Hall. I have fought to make that not true. I believe that God gives you a talent, but you have to work at it. You really have to work hard at it. You can’t take the attitude that the old man made it without working hard. He didn’t do common labor and dig ditches and that kind of thing. I’m going to do what he’s doing and reap the benefits. I think that’s part of the problem, but I could be wrong about that. I guess time will tell.”

In reading Hall’s book, there are a series of events that lead to the launching of FAME. I asked him if there was one main, core event in his life that he felt that if it hadn’t have happened, FAME Studios would have never started.

“Growing up was a tough gig for me. I had no mother. My father raised me and my little sister who was one year younger than me. My mother left us and left my dad to raise us. We never saw her again until we were fourteen or fifteen years old. Times were tough. 

“My book is titled ‘The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame to Fame’. People ask me, ‘we know about the fame part. What about the shame? Where did that come from?’ And I say, ‘Well, if your mother went to work for a red light district and left your father to raise you, it was kinda shameful in my book’. Going to school with long, uncut hair and living in a sawmill shack with your dad making thirty-five cents an hour was also shameful. I was intimidated to ask a girl from the right side of the tracks for a date. I just wouldn’t do it, because I was afraid I’d get turned down. I had somewhat of an inferiority complex when I was growing up, so I always made sure my boys had as good an education as I could afford. One is a lawyer. One is working here with me and has his Master’s degree. I wanted to make sure my kids had their education. I had a high school education, so it was tough for me. Not particularly with the songwriters, singers, and guitar players, but it was tough for me to compete with the New York society and people I had to butt heads with in the music business.

“Looking back on that, I was partners with Billy Sherrill who grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Wound up finding the Silver Fox (the late Charlie Rich), George Jones, Tammy Wynette, all those people. He ran CBS Records. He was my partner and a band member with me. For several years, we were known as The Fairlanes. We were a country band of sorts. Of course, we were songwriters, and we wanted to write “that big song” like everybody else who wrote songs. We didn’t want to write just any number one record. We wanted to write a classic. 

RichHallGregAllmanRick Hall and Gregg Allman

Photo Courtesy of Rick Hall“Our philosophy was that anybody could be a millionaire by the time they’re forty years old. We wanted to be a millionaire by the time we were thirty. That drove us, and we always kept that in mind. He played saxophone and the piano as well as Floyd Cramer could play a piano. I played the fiddle, mandolin, and guitar as well as doing background singing with some groups I was with. When all was said and done, By the way, he was a Bible carrier. I was the town drunk. In the end, he turned out to be a heavy drinker, and I turned out to be a Christian boy. Well, I tried to be. With his upbringing, he played the saxophone and played tenor sax in our band. He was a great piano player and a great songwriter. He was a genius, I thought. He wound up producing some of the biggest country records in the business, and I wound up producing some of the biggest pop records in the business. Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter- all the people I was producing were black acts, and I was in Muscle Shoals. 

“The point I’m trying to make was that I completely turned around and became a black record producer in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, when George Wallace was standing in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama saying, ‘Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever’. While he was making those speeches, we were in the FAME recording studio in Muscle Shoals cutting ‘Land of a Thousand Dances’, ‘Mustang Sally’, and ‘Funky Broadway’ with Wilson Pickett. We were doing Aretha Franklin’s first hit record. We were going against the grain.”

Because Rick is white, I asked if he found that, in working with those great black acts, they had distrust towards him as a white man in Alabama.

“No, no, no. They trusted me to the umpth degree. All the black people I worked with- Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Candi Staton, Jimmy Hughes, all of them- put their complete trust in me and believed that I could perform miracles. I was able to do that with their lives. By the way, on every record I’ve ever produced, I was also engineer. I picked the songs. I was an independent record producer. I didn’t have any record label to go to, so I just played the field. 

“It did break my heart when I went to Nashville, Tennessee, and took a record I’d made called ‘You Better Move On’ by Arthur Alexander. I played it to everybody I could play it to up there- Owen Bradley, Chet Atkins, Shelby Singleton. In fact, I played it to all the publishing companies, and they said, ‘Rick, it’s too white for black and too black for white’. I was stuck in the middle. Anyhow, I wound up getting a record out, because of a man by the name of Noel Ball. Noel was a disc jockey at WMAK in Nashville. He sent it to his boss, Randy Wood, who was just promoted and sent to Los Angeles. Randy called him back and said, ‘I want to pick this record up, because I think it’s a big hit’. That’s how it came to be. Of course, it was hit record, and I was suddenly the king of Muscle Shoals. 

“Then I looked around and found Jimmy Hughes who was working for Robbins Rubber Company here in Muscle Shoals. I cut a record on him called ‘Steal Away’, and it became a smash hit, also. I was batting a thousand and feeling good about myself. I couldn’t have done that if I went to Nashville and tried to compete with the boys up there who were cutting all the great records. Nobody could cut better country records than Nashville, Tennessee, never. But I felt like I had to do something a little more unique, so I started producing black acts. That was my shtick.”

In book, Hall tells of his mom leaving her family and living a bit of a scandalous life. Being a church going boy, I asked if he found that church people were especially tough on him as a result of what she did, even though it had nothing to do with him, his sister, and dad.

“They were in some cases. But I found more people receptive to us and our upbringing, because they felt sorry for us. They looked at our lives and how my dad struggled to raise us, and they would bring cakes and pies and things like that. They’d give us milk to drink. We didn’t have cows, livestock, hogs or anything like that. They were usually really nice to us, so we didn’t have that cross to bear. We had some great neighbors. They were church-goin’ people, and they loved us and felt sorry for us. They gave us whatever they could. For birthdays, they’d bring us birthday cakes. 

“I never will forget the first birthday cake I ever got was from a lady who lived next door to us. She brought it over, and it RichHallWIlsonPickettWilson Pickett and Rick Hall

Photo Courtesy of Rick Hallwas a banana cake. I’d never saw a banana cake before. It was a weird thing for me to see a banana cake with the little slices of bananas all over the top of it, you know? I thought, ‘my gosh, that looks great!’ I feasted on that.”

The term, “Muscle Shoals sound” is thrown around a lot, so I asked Mr. Hall his definition of it and what he would point to as the best examples of it.

“I believe that the Muscle Shoals sound came about when I started close-micing a kick drum during recording sessions. I coerced the bass player into playing the bass with the kick drum. A lot of other things entered into it. The piano had a lot to do with it, because I don’t recall any number one record that I produced where I didn’t use a Wurlitzer electric piano. It started with The Osmonds’ ‘One Bad Apple’, ‘Go Away Little Girl’ with Donny, Mac Davis’ ‘Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me’, and Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You’. I became such a schizophrenic guy that I wanted a Wurlitzer electric piano on everything I recorded, or I wouldn’t record. I became so mindful of the fact that everything I’d cut had been with a Wurlitzer electric piano. My first taste of it was in the band. We tried to copy Ray Charles’ version of ‘What’d I Say’. That was the kind he used- the Wurlitzer piano. We fell in love with that. 

“So many records I had that were hits, I credit to the Wurlitzer electric piano. That, to me, is part of the Muscle Shoals sound along with close-micing, which means that you put a mic on the kick drum. You put a mic on the snare drum and the cymbal. In my mind, you don’t need but three or four mics on a drum set. If you look back at records by The Everly Brothers and Don Gibson, most of them had maybe two or three mics. To me, it’s a waste of microphones to put more than four on a set of drums. I’d say save those microphones for the lead singer, because drums aren’t normally a musical instrument. All they do is keep time.”

To the question of if her were to point to one song or one artist that symbolizes all that he’s done in the music business, what would it be, he replied:

“That’s a tough question. I have a lot of favorite records: ‘(You’re) Having My Baby’ with Paul Anka, Aretha’s version of ‘I’ve Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You’, ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, Clarence Carter’s version of ‘Patches’. I always thought ‘Patches’ was a song about me, my father, and our livelihood. Bobbie Gentry was a classic, I thought. We did a record called ‘Fancy’ which was a follow-up to ‘Ode to Billie Joe’. It was one of my favorite records, but ‘Mustang Sally’ has given me probably the most mileage as a record producer of maybe any record I’ve ever produced. I never liked it when I was doing it. I thought ‘Mustang Sally’ is about a girl driving down the street in a convertible Mustang with the radio on and having a good time on Saturday night. I don’t hear anything more than that in the song. It’s not a great love song. It’s not a great heartbreaker or a funny song. The reason I think it had such a long life is because every little bar band in the world can play it. It’s so simple. Everybody can sing it, and everybody can play it.”

Of all of the accomplishments that he’s known for, what is the one Rick Hall is most proud of?

“I never rolled over and died. I’m a workaholic, and I believed with all my heart I could do it with God’s help. I’ve never been a quitter. Through all the tragedies and heartbreak, I never gave up. If you have a musical talent God gave you, and you don’t work at it, you can’t expect to be the best. In 1972 and 1973, according to Billboard magazine’s terminology, I was the number one record producer in the whole world. To be the best producer in the world, you’ve got to be more than just a good ‘ol boy who produces records in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and that’s as far as you go. That can only take you so far. I’m proud of the fact that my father taught me how to work hard. To be the best at anything I wanted to do, I should give it my best. If I have to cut a record fourteen times and reproduce it for three different artists, I am going to do that if I like the song. I believe I know what people like, because I’m one of those people. 

“I grew up hard and tough. I think we have the tendency to say, ‘Well, nobody ever made it in my business, so I’m not going to even try’. It’s called a ‘cop out’. We don’t have that kind of attitude in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. We aren’t in it for the money. We are in it for the long term, and we want to be number one in the world. We’ve developed that attitude, and I’ve taught it to my people. They’ve passed it on to their people, and everybody in Muscle Shoals has worked for me at one time or another.”

Hall has worked with a lot of great artists and bands and had a lot to do with some of the biggest recordings in music. Are there any musical fish that got away that he’s still kicking himself in the butt over?

“Not an awful lot, because I’ve won a lot of them. I’ve had my part of the number one records. We’ve had over two hundred chart records and over one hundred gold or platinum records. I’m producer of all those hit records. There are others in Muscle Shoals who started out with me as musicians. They went on to own their own studios, and God bless them. They’ve had a lot of success, too. There was Percy Sledge, the Rolling Stones, and a lot of people who didn’t record with me but went on to have big hit records. It makes me feel pretty good to think that they started out with me and became bigger than me and bigger than themselves. Lo and behold, they had hit records, and maybe I had something to do with it.”

Can a young Rick Hall start a FAME Studio today and meet with the same kind of success as you did back then?

“I believe the answer is yes. I think today would be a perfect time for a young man or woman to start out and say, ‘I want to do what Rick Hall has done for Muscle Shoals. I want to be big worldwide rather than just to be big in Alabama or wherever’. I think they could, but they must be prepared to have a lot of losses. You’ve really got to believe with all your heart and soul that you can make it. If you believe that, you have to be willing to put your money where your mouth is. You have to be willing to go to the bank to borrow $20,000 and pay it back over time. You can do that. Anybody can build a FAME Recording Studio. I had nothing. I had no money, no guitar players, no engineers, no people qualified to build recording studios. I had to do it all myself. Everything in Muscle Shoals today started with Rick Hall. 

“Later on, it began to spread, and now there are twelve or fourteen recording studios in Muscle Shoals. We’ve been an intricate part of the best music in the world. Now, I guess I can claim credit for having the Muscle Shoals sound. It’s a world-renowned thing now. We have people coming by the busloads that pay ten dollars to visit FAME Recording Studios. It’s the oldest studio in the world owned by the same group of people, which is me and my family, of course. It’s here to stay. This is the first time it’s happened in a million years, and it will probably never happen again in the next million years. That’s a pretty drastic statement to make, and it kinda turns people off to think, ‘Rick said it couldn’t be done, so I’ll never bother to try’. I’m reluctant to make that statement. It can be done, but you’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices. Be true to yourself, God, and the people around you. Always be good to people and pay them what they’re due.” 

If Rick Hall was made Music Czar, what would he do to fix the music business or does he even think it needs fixing?

RickHallBookCover“It is absolutely broken. I don’t know if I have all the answers, but I have a few. What’s broken is downloading from computers and not paying the musicians, studios, and people who write the songs. If something doesn’t take place in the next ten years, there will be no more music. Trust me. I’m speaking from the heart. I think something has to be done. I’ll tell you from experience that record producers don’t die; they just fade away. When I go in, I pick six or seven musicians for the rhythm tracks, then I go back and redo the vocal so I can spend adequate time getting the best vocal I can possibly get. I still believe that the vocalist in the song is where it all starts. If you don’t have the song, you will not cut a record. I don’t care how well you can produce it or which musicians you use. If you don’t have a hit song, you will not have a hit record. I can go in and produce a bad production on a great song and still have a number one record. It’s the song that captures the imagination. It tells people what they want to hear or what they want to be or what they decide to become one day. It has to be fun or danceable or one of those factors. 

“Songwriters are the people who are quitting the business. They are walking away, because there’s no money for them. You can’t sell a million records anymore. I’ve worked with artists like the group Alabama that was selling five million albums, not five million singles, per release. That’s how big they were. Now, I think that’s gone forever. People have been forced out of the business, because they can’t make a living in the business. Thievery is the reason for that. Record companies can’t exist anymore, because the production of a record has become so costly that they have to sell a million records to break even. When you have to sell a million records, desperation sets in, and you start thinking, ‘Maybe if I put out ten different artists, I can make it’. You spend your money putting those ten acts out, and you never make it. 

“Another factor is the fact that you have to pay musicians on the union scale. You think, ‘These guys are making too much money’. But let me tell you something, a musician has spent his life learning how to play his licks on the guitar, mandolin, or whatever. You pay him double scale on a record. You may think, ‘I don’t have the budget to hire so and so, because I can’t afford what they’re used to making’. He may make a lot of money in the studio today cutting Wilson Pickett, but he may not get another call for a recording session for four months. How are you going to feed your family when you don’t get a call for a recording session but every three months? I don’t care how good you are. You can’t make it on that. When you’re a songwriter, and you have one hit record in a lifetime, you get paid pretty good on the front. At the end, they quit paying you. They cut you off, and you don’t get your money. 

“Thievery, Pro Tools, and computers have completely annihilated our business. If something is done about it in the next four to five years, there will be no music except old music. If you go into a record session as one man and say, ‘I want to sell my records out of the trunk of my car. I will put my records out on my own label, and I will sell them cheaper than RCA Victor can sell them’. If you play all the instruments, and go on Pro Tools to tune your voice and make a 5-string banjo sound like a harmonica- you can do that. But it ain’t like getting Rick Hall as producer and engineer, Chips Moman and Jimmy Johnson on guitar, Clayton Ivey on keyboards, etc. When you have eight people in the studio, it’s like a basketball game. You’ve got a team of players who know what to eliminate. It ain’t about the guitar lick or hot player. It’s about simple knowledge of what you play, don’t play, and deciding that you’re getting in the way of the piano lick here.”

Hall then drilled into his book a bit more.

“You’ll find most all of this in my book, and you’ll find things that I’m not talking about, obviously. I could go on for two weeks giving you all kinds of advice and telling you all the things that worked for me. What I want to tell you is the artist I recorded the first number one record on was Aretha Franklin, and I’m proud of that. Clarence Carter, Paul Anka’s ‘(You’re) Having My Baby’, Mac Davis’ ‘Stop And Smell The Roses’, Wilson Pickett’s ‘Hey Jude’, Etta James, The Osmonds- I had a whole string of hit records. All these things are in my book: my philosophy about life in general, my hits and misses, and why the music business is on its knees. The way to do it is the old-fashioned way. Forget about computerization, and go back to classics. A 24-track recorder with a two inch piece of tape will pick up any signal from 30 or 40 cycles to 30,000 cycles. Digital may go from 100 cycles to 10,000 cycles. The range you lose will be the warmth and depth of the record. It won’t be funky and hard to listen to. It’s like you’re sitting in the room. Going into the studio with seven musicians- all of them the best players in the world- you will always do better than doing it by yourself. Each one of them will contribute something. The guitar player will play a different lick for you; the piano player will find his best lick. They will play off of each other. It’s like a basketball team. If they never practice together, even though they’re all superstars, they will not accomplish the mission of winning the game. If you are a musician and want to be part of the big guys, you have to go into the studio and cut your records live. You can’t put them together six months apart then in five years, you have a hit record. That don’t make it. You’ve gotta walk out of there with you tape or disc in your hand. 

“Buy the book. It’s called ‘The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame To Fame’. It will tell you all these secrets. I spent ten years writing the book when we only spent three hours on a recording session. Things that happened over a fifty-year period that I can recall, I put in the book. Oh man, I had a ball. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life. Number one records, you get one, oh man. But you get one hundred… multiply that. When you read the book, you find out who Rick Hall is, what made him tick, and what he’s all about. You get the DVD inside the back cover of the book- two for the price of one. Watch the DVD first then read the book. You’ll watch the DVD five more times, I promise you.

“I’ve had incredible feedback. Flying off the shelves like hotcakes- sales are phenomenal.”

“The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame To Fame” is a must have/must read book for anyone who is even mildly interested in the back stories of some of the biggest hits in music. The DVD that’s included ain’t too shabby either.  You can order from the links below. 

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).

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.

 

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