Article Search...

Gary Wright

Posted June, 2010

GaryWrightBlackJacketPhoto by Rob ShanahanAs a teenager growing up in Phoenix, I worked at the long gone Sun Maid Grocery in the then agricultural suburb of Peoria. One of my rituals after work was to hop in my car, role down my window, crank up my radio (no, it wasn’t even a stereo at that time – just an AM radio). The music and the wind blowing in my then-long hair as I made my way home down those then-desolate country roads helped me unwind.

On more than one occasion, after a particularly rough night at work and getting my ritual underway for my commute home, the soothing sounds of Dream Weaver by Gary Wright would crackle out of the radio.  The ethereal melodies of the song would cause me to decompress as I drove through the desert night with the stars smiling down at me as I conjured up big dreams, convinced that anything was possible.

Another of Mr. Wright’s iconic hits, Love Is Alive, was a favorite of the many dances at Moon Valley High School.  A lot of us kids viewed the song as one of the more danceable songs to be played. Of course, for me, it took a lot of dream weavin’ of my own for me to think that I could dance to anything, let alone Love Is Alive.

For many of us, great songs like these by great artists like Gary Wright are what make up the soundtrack of youth. Now that our hair is shorter, thinner and grayer (if it exists at all), we hear these tunes or see these icons and a smile effortlessly comes to our faces as memories come flooding to our minds.

So, it was with great pleasure that I was recently offered the opportunity, by way of Boomerocity friend and rock photographer extraordinaire, Rob{mprestriction ids="*"} Shanahan, to interview Gary Wright.  With his first pop album out in over twenty years coming out on June 8th, 2010, and his second tour with none other than Ringo Starr, it was with giddy excitement that I chatted with Mr. Dream Weaver himself.

My first group of questions surrounded Gary’s new album, Connected.  Because it had been over two decades since his last mainstream release, I asked him what he waited so long to come out with this disc.

“It’s because I’ve been involved with doing other kinds of music that I needed to get out of my system – World music, in particular. The last studio pop album I did was called Who I Am, which was released in ’87. I was just starting to get involved with world music at the time through my relationship with George Harrison.

“Then, I did an album in ’95 which was recorded in Brazil with some great musicians and I also used a couple of African guys. It was kind of an Afro-Brazilian world music album.  I did another album in ’99 which came out called Human Love, with some African guys, too.

“Then, I spent the last decade doing different stuff like producing.  My son, Justin, put a band together and released his first album. His group is called Intangible, on my own record label and that took up a lot of my time. And then I decided that I wanted to go back into the studio and do a full-fledged album.

“So, after I did the Ringo tour in 2008, I started writing for the new album and it finished in January of this year. So, I’ve been working on it for a little over two years.”

I’ll be the first to admit that, among the dummies I am, I am one when it comes to world music.  I’m just not that familiar with it so I asked Wright what the receptivity of his world music projects have been like.

“You know, that’s kind of like a taste-specific kind of thing.  Some people like it. Some people are alienated by it and don’t GaryWrightConnectedPhoto by Rob Shanahanunderstand it. You have to have a taste for it.  Like Peter Gabriel, same deal. He has his company, Real Music, I think that’s the name, any way, he does the same thing.  He produces artists who are really great musicians but are obscure to the mainstream of buying people.”

Briefly returning to his work while in Brazil, Gary says that the country “has always been involved in music. They live and breathe it down there. I went down there in ’79 and it was an amazing experience. Their people just LOVE music because of their roots – their Afro roots – it’s a combination of different things. But it’s great!  There are some great players there!”

In the days before the interview, I listened to Connected several times before ever reading the press release that came with my copy.  I do that in order to see if my impressions of a disc align with the expectations of the artist.  I shared with Wright my four impressions that I personally had of the album and asked him if my perceptions were accurate.

Those four impressions were:

·  The vibe of the album is very positive and uplifting theme throughout the entire disc.

Before I could go to my second impression, blurted out, “That was my goal!  You hit the nail right on the head!”

Ah!  I love it when I’m right!

Moving on, I shared the rest of my impressions.  I said that:

· The disc had a spiritual, almost “gospel” sound to it on some cuts

·   When it didn’t come across as “spiritual” then they felt like love songs of a deep, spiritual kind

·  I was amazed at the intricate musicianship on the disc supported by equally intricate production/engineering

Were the rest of my perceptions accurate?

“I think your take on the album is very perceptive.  I agree with everything you just said.  Number one, I firmly believe that music is an art and, as an art, its chief function is to uplift people. There’s enough negation in the world that we’re constantly reminded of in our daily lives that we don’t need more of that.

“In India, they say, ‘everyone has a choice: You can either go smell the flowers or you can look down in the sewers.’ It’s each individual’s choice as to what he chooses to do and the more you program your mind to only allow thoughts that are positive and uplifting, and people do all of that, the world will be a better place.

“That’s why I call the album Connected because we are all connected, really, through our thoughts.  The mass thoughts of everyone influence the karma, so to speak, of the world.  The weather patterns, the calamities that happen, the wars and all of that stuff – it’s all man’s thinking.

“There is definitely a spiritual level to the album. I try to write the lyrics to my songs that one can either sing them to God or sing them to your wife or your girlfriend. That’s all in the mind of the person who’s listening.  You can do it either way. So that is true, what you just said.

“The intricacy of the music?  Well, I’ve been doing this now for almost forty years so I’ve learned a lot about production and worked with the greatest people throughout my career and have also cultivated a group of friends – musician friends – who have generously offered talents to play on my album. People like Ringo and Skunk Baxter and Joe Walsh. I’ve always, throughout the years, managed to get these kinds of people to play on my records and it’s always been a joy to work with that kind of musicianship.”

I shared with Gary the positive nature of Boomerocity, whether it was in the interviews conducted or within the product or concert reviews shared on the site.  The intention is the same: accentuate the positive.

Mr. Wright is supportive in his response. “I think that’s good.  I think it would be nice if more people were to have that kind of attitude for like, go to this website if you want to hear somebody’s positive reviews on an album – not to, necessarily, need to gloss over the flaws of it. But I’m thinking if the album is not really your cup of tea, then don’t review it.  People will then get a feel for your taste by the albums you review.  Then people will say, ‘Oh! This guy is good because all the stuff he recommended, I like! So, I’m going to go by what he says!’

“There needs to be more of that in the world because time is such a rare commodity that we have, with the world being so fast. With technology and everything, people don’t have time to look at 8 zillion releases. There’s no way you could walk through all of that. So, we need to have more ‘taste makers’ – people whose tastes you can trust.

“It’s like going into a wine store, let’s say.  You don’t really know all the wines but you know that the owner has good taste. So, the first time you buy a bottle of wine from him and it’s really good, you go, ‘You know? I really liked that.  What else would you recommend?’ And then he starts recommending many things and you go back again and again because you trust the person. You can apply that to all kinds of art.”

Returning briefly to the premise of Boomerocity, Gary says, “It’s great for people who leave their work for a few minutes to visit some place that’s positive, you know? It’s like 

taking a short vacation – it just takes the tension off of your mind.”

GaryWrightLivePhoto by Rob ShanahanMy head sufficiently swollen from the positive feedback from Mr. Wright, I brought the conversation back around to Connected.   Many artists go into a studio with songs that may have been put away years ago and were recently dusted off.  It’s also not unusual for songs to be written while in the process of recording.  I asked Gary what were the oldest and newest songs on the record.

“Okay.  You’re going to laugh but the oldest song was Satisfied. Satisfied, I wrote with a friend of mine, Bobby Hart. Bobby was in a band called Boyce and Hart. They wrote and produced most of the Monkees’ hits and he wrote Hurt So Bad and Come A Little Bit Closer – a bunch of big hits – a great song writer!

“The version that Bobby and I wrote, though, was more like a shuffle. It was a different kind of feel. So, when I was in the studio – a lot of times when I write songs, I’ll put up some kind of sound on one of my synthesizers that has a rhythm pattern going through it. And then I’ll put a bass line on and a little bit of little bit of drum and I get a feel for the direction of the song is going to be. I might even sing a little melody over it or whatever.

“So, when I did Satisfied, I had this great groove and I was thinking, ‘Boy, wouldn’t it be great if I could plug in one of my old songs.  I was thinking, thinking and then BANG! - into my mind pops up Satisfied – but done as a swing feel rather than a shuffle, which is different and it worked! It took me a little while to get used to it but when it did, it worked really well. So that was the oldest song . . .  from the early to mid nineties.

“The newest song – let me think, now, about this – the newest song I wrote probably would be – I want to say either Get Your Hands Up or No One Does It Better.”

It’s at this point that I confess that I have three favorite songs for one reason and then another favorite song for a completely different reason.  The three are Can’t Find No Mercy, Life’s Not A Battlefield and Connected.  I like them for their sound, feel and message.  You know, the reasons why most any of us like a song.

However, Kirra Layne struck me in a unique way. I listened to it over and over again, trying to figure out who Gary was singing about.  Finally, I was pretty sure that I figured it out:  The song had all the things I would say if I was a grandfather.  The song HAD to be about his granddaughter, no?

With a chuckle, Wright gives me yet another reply that causes my already swollen head to swell just a wee bit more. “You’re GaryWrightRedPhoto by Rob Shanahanright!  I was wondering what people would think who Kirra Layne was. Yeah, that’s my first granddaughter. That’s good! I wrote that song when I was in – I go to Italy every year to an island called Sardinia in the Mediterranean. I wrote about half on my album on an acoustic guitar when I went there on various vacations – one in particular. The one when I wrote Kirra Layne, she was about three months old and I missed her so much, you know, being so far away. So, I just picked up my guitar one morning and knocked that song out.

“The treatment I wanted to give it was not like one with the piano and voice and drums and all that.  I wanted to make it special and one track that always stuck out in my mind that I LOVED by the Beatles was She’s Leaving Home. It had a beautiful cello arrangement and I went in that direction with it with a harp, strings, cello’s and stuff.”

I was curious if, when Gary writes songs, does he only write them with the thought that only he would be recording and performing them or does he write any with another artist in mind.  The reason I wanted to know is that I thought Satisfied sounded as though it was written for Michael Jackson to sing and Quincy Jones to produce.

“I can see that. I can hear that for sure, definitely. Usually I don’t write for others - not unless it’s specific thing for a movie where somebody asks me to write a song. I’ve done that in the past where they say, ‘Okay, I need something romantic song and this is the kind of scene’ and then I would write it to that specific kind of thing.

“But, usually, when I write songs, they’re usually for me.  I find that, when I do it that way, more people are likely to cover it.  My stuff in the past has been covered by artist like Eminem and Joan Osborne and Joe Cocker and Anastacia, Maya – quite a few big artists. And they’ve always taken my original songs.  It’s usually the big hits like Love Is Alive.  No one’s ever done a big version of Dream Weaver.”

I posited that that particular song would be awfully hard to top – that it really can’t be improved.

Gary offers a very objective counter to my thought. “Or, at least that version of it unless somebody took the song and gave it an entirely different treatment. That’s never been done.  I mean, it has been. Erin Hamilton did a dance version, which was, actually, quite successful.

“I had another one of my songs from an album I did call The Wright Place which had that hit on it called I Really Want To Know You. One of the songs on it that I wrote with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil – big, big writers who wrote You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and Under The Boardwalk – the big, classic hits. They wrote one of the songs on that album called Coming Apart. Nothing ever happened to the song and then 25 years later, a DJ named Armand Van Helden, who is quite well known in the techno world, he took the song and just added a drum loop to it, sped it up and it was a HUGE hit throughout the world excluding the United States. It sold something like ten million copies.

Clearly humbled, Wright concludes this line of thinking by saying, “So, I’ve been fortunate in my career to have had my stuff continually recorded by other artists or be in soundtracks, movies, or whatever.”

Being the prolific writer, arranger and recording artist who has worked on many excellent recordings with some of the biggest names in the business, how was Connected different than all of the other projects he worked on?

Gary methodically, and without hesitation, answers the question. “One, I think the caliber of the songs that are on the album, I think they’re all strong as individual units themselves. Two, I think I took advantage of a lot of modern technology in the production and in the sound of things. And, the musicianship of the people that actually played on it – really top caliber.

“Most of the album I did by myself. Of course, the drums were done by – Ringo played on one track and Will Kennedy, who is a great drummer from the Yellowjackets, played on the rest of the album. But, they weren’t real drums. They weren’t acoustic kits. They were samples because I wanted it to have that electronic feel to it. That’s the direction I went, sonically, with it.”

With such a great album and a tremendous fan base, surely there’ll be a tour to promote Connected?

 “There will be. I’m in the process of getting that together now. Right now, I’m just jamming to get ready for the Ringo tour. There’s a lot of stuff to learn. The tour is finished on the 7th of August. I’ll want to take some time to just relax for a little bit. But I’m thinking in the fall of doing some work, touring with my own band. I just got back from the east coast. I did five shows on the east coast and they all went down really well. The new material was really well received and we sold out of all the CD’s. That was good to see that from people.”

Because Mr. Wright had mentioned George Harrison and, earlier in our conversation, India, I was instantly reminded of Donovan’s autobiography and some of the other books I’ve read relative to George Harrison’s spiritual journey.  In those books, I read where “the Quiet One” was instrumental in introducing his band mates and Donovan to Eastern Philosophy.  I asked Gary if George had introduced him to the philosophy, as well.

“Yeah, I mean, George was my mentor, spiritually, when I first met him.  He was very much into Eastern Philosophy and he gave me a lot of books. I definitely became interested and have been practicing Yoga Meditation now for 35 years.  It’s dramatically changed my life. I try to live my life in a spiritual way, as best I can. That’s what’s great about it.

“In India they say, ‘Don’t accept the concept of God until you have actually had the experience of that.’ You get the experience through deep meditation. That’s what I’ve been doing for these last 35 years and it’s true.  It works like mathematics if you practice it.  It’s just a different level – it’s a different commitment thing that you have that manifests in all parts of your life.”

While discussion faith, I mention that I’m reminded of the great quote by Blaise Pascal in which he states something to the effect that we all have a God-shaped void in our being.

Wright responds enthusiastically.

“Absolutely! Especially with young kids now, because growing up without a concept of God is so hard with the world as it is now. With all the violence and all the negation, the drugs and all that’s around, kids are lost unless they have a fundamental concept of God or religion.  All the religions I see are all the many different rivers flowing into the same ocean. It’s which one you choose to take.”

In discussing the “lack of center” in kids today with regards to faith or even music that inspires action like there was when we were kids growing up, I comment that kids today seem aimless.

“You’re absolutely right. I think a lot of it is that there are not a lot of heroes like there were then - like Crosby, Stills and Nash and Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne, and the Beatles, of course – people who had lyrical messages and people who stood behind them.

“Now you find that the business is dominated by entertainers rather than songwriter/artist.  A lot of the artists don’t even write their own songs. It becomes trivialized. They’re great singers and they’re great dancers but they’re not artists in the true sense of the word in so much that they’re not writing a lot of their own material.  You’ll find some people who are. That makes it more difficult.

“We live in a world with so much competition for the entertainment dollar with cell phones and video things, there’s very little attention span.  ADD is almost rampant as an epidemic amongst young kids. They’re over stimulated and they don’t concentrate.  They don’t sit down – well, you remember! You used to sit down and listen to an album and turn the lights down and totally get into it.  Now, you play one song and then on to the next thing, on to my widget, blah, blah, blah! It’s just so fast!”

Are there any artists today who command Gary’s attention?

“I will turn on, sometimes, some public radio stations. We have one here in L.A. called KCRW and they have some cool, interesting, young artists who are making some very interesting music but you never hear it.  This is very eclectic.

“So, it’s there but, unfortunately, the way the business has turned into this huge marketing machine based on the American Idol generation, you’re not going to hear a lot of that kind of stuff unless you dig for it and really know how to do it.

“The good news is that, as kids become more and more aware of the choices out there and start getting into older artists.  I see little kids that have heard Led Zeppelin or the Stones for the first time that think they’re new artists and don’t know the difference.  You don’t know when you hear something on the radio.  They don’t say, ‘This was recorded in 19-whatever’, you know? That’s the good news and I think, ultimately, people are going to use the internet as a giant jukebox and be able to choose the stuff that they want to hear.

“And, like I mentioned before about the taste-maker aspect, the degree that those websites are around that you trust what they have on their site and the content, I think that’s going to be a real big – that’s the new record company model.”

In responding to my question about what he sees as positive changes in the music business, Gary Wright provides intuitive insight into the machinery.

“Well, I think one thing is that artist are taking control of their careers and are not being ripped off by major labels like they used to be so much. Now artists are just saying, ‘I’m not going to release anything on a major label. I’m going to do it myself.

“It’s a bolder step.  You don’t have the machinery of the big labels but the labels can’t offer that anymore like they used to be able to. So, now, every artist’s is a self-contained entity, which is good, in a way, because you’re your own record company. It becomes a lot more work and time consuming because you’ve got to go out and market, promote and do all of that. So, that, I think, is ultimately a good thing because there were a lot of artists who were just so badly mistreated by labels, getting ridiculously low royalties and don’t have anything to say  for the success or fame they had.”

With our time already having expired by at least twenty minutes, I ask one final question of the iconic, musical genius: Are we going to have to wait another 20 years before we see another album from him?

GaryWrightSunsetPhoto by Rob ShanahanWith his ever-present, pleasant chuckle he responds, “No. No, I would say it will be more like another 4 or 5 (years) or even less. I do have a project that I want to do and that’s to write a book because I think I have a lot of stories and experiences that I would like to share with my fans. I will do that, probably, next and then I’ll do a new album.”

Now THAT’S a book I look forward to reading!

After our chat, I clasped my hands behind my head, leaned back in my chair and digested the incredible conversation I had with Gary Wright.  What an incredible talent with an intriguing story to tell!

And, as I reflected on what had just transpired, Dream Weaver was playing on iTunes and I closed my eyes as, in my mind’s eye, I was once again driving down dark, country roads in the Arizona night, conjuring up big dreams and remembering once again that anything is possible.

Johnny Winter and Paul Nelson (2012)

Posted January, 2012

johnnywinterband1In this line of work (interviewing artists), it’s always a personal thrill and honor for me to be able to hear icons share their thoughts and stories with me and to the Boomerocity readers.  The icing on the cake is when an icon agrees to a second interview with Boomerocity.   It’s happened a few times in Boomerocity’s 3+ year history and it’s recently happened yet again with rock and blues great, Johnny Winter.

My first interview with the veteran of Woodstock (here) took place almost two years ago prior to an appearance he was about to make in Dallas.  Low and behold, the second interview took place under the same circumstances.  I learned from my last interview with Winter - as well as from the research I conducted for both interviews - that he is a man of few words.  However, like a well written song that has just the right amount of notes, Johnny’s words convey his thoughts crisply and succinctly.  Nothing more. Nothing less.  The man is not one to hide anything.

As he’s said in interviews with me as well as with many other people, pretty much everything there is to know about him is out there – especially in his authorized biography, Raisin’ Cain.  You may wince and what all has happened in his life and the demons that he’s battled but it is what it is. Take it or leave it.

The rock and roll rollercoaster that was, and is, Johnny Winter’s life is well known and documented.  Many people counted the prodigious guitarist down for the count many times over the years.  While they certainly couldn’t be faulted for doing so, Winter has proved them all wrong and is enjoying quite a resurgence in his popularity thanks in large part to the caring, guiding hand of Paul Nelson. Nelson not only serves as Johnny’s manager but is also his wing man (2nd guitarist) on stage.

Nelson stepped into a very toxic environment that, if it hadn’t changed, would have surely resulted in the premature death of Winter.  It was a long, gradual, methodical process but with genuine concern, patience and sound business and marketing practices, Johnny Winter’s career has taken a turn for the best and reaching a whole new group of fans.

In chatting with Paul about some background info, I complimented him on his solid job in helping Winter. He shared that, “You know, as a fan, I wanted to do what a fan would do for him and as a musician I wanted to do for him what I would want – what any musician would want to have done if they were having trouble. You have to wear a lot of hats in this business. There was a lot of stuff in his ‘system’ and a lot of stuff had to stop. It takes a lot of time and patience and you really can’t be swayed by other two cents… like, ‘Why isn’t he doing this? Why isn’t he doing that?  You just have to keep focused like a horse with blinders. Then, all of a sudden, people turn around and say, ‘Wow! What happened?’ It took about six years since I’ve been managing him but now he’s off of everything, which is great!”

I caught up by phone with Johnny and Paul as they were on their tour bus in route to a gig in Massachusetts.

As Johnny and I make small talk in getting the interview started, I asked how the road was treating him these days, he responded with his characteristic brevity. “Pretty good. It’s the road.”

Well, with this particular tour, I assumed that Winter’s set is comprised mostly of tunes from your latest CD, Roots, and asked if that was the case.“Oh, we do a couple of songs off the record.”

And what is the reaction to the tunes from the fans?

 “Real, real good. They’re likin’ Dust My Broom and Got My Mojo Workin’”.

 According to my research, “Roots” is Johnny’s 18th studio solo album since 1968. He has observed a lot of changes in recording technology and process since that album, The Progressive Blues Experiment.  While those changes are obvious, I was curious as to what is the same for him in recording blues today as compared to that first album.

“Yeah, it’s changed a lot but I still do it pretty much the same way. The technology’s changed but I don’t really deal with that.”

In one of the Winter interviews I had read, he was asked, when practicing, what scales he liked to play.  He said something to the effect that he just copied the sounds of other artists and played by ear.  I turned the scenario around on him and asked if he was aware of anyone who was copying his licks.

“Oh, sure, and it’s very flattering. There’s a guy out in California. He plays a lot like me. He sounds almost like me. It’s kinda scary.”

Back to the Roots CD, Paul Nelson (who both produced and performed on the record) said,  “All those vocals on the new Roots CD,  where all first takes!  We couldn’t believe it.  We were all just stunned!  His singing was great!  This album had to be good!  The music doesn’t lie. If he wasn’t healthy enough, then people would say, ‘Oh, okay, maybe he’s gettin’ a little better but . . .’.   Anyway he was phenomenal. He did a really good job. I knew it was time for him to record.”

Every artist, when planning to record an album, has their own process by which they determine what songs will go on their album.  I drilled him about what guided him in his song selection for Roots, he said, “I just took songs that I really liked. I could’ve picked thousands more but I picked some of my favorites.”

‘Nuff said.

When I asked if there’ll be a Roots sequel, Johnny tells me all I really need to know.  “There probably will.”

As discussed in the Boomerocity review of Roots upon its release (here), there are a boat load of highly talented guest artists lending a hand.  Great folks like Johnny’s brother, Edgar, Derek Trucks and his lovely wife, Susan Tedeschi, John Popper from Blues Traveller, country guitar slinger, Vince Gill, organist, John Medeski, and guitarists Sonny Landreth and Jimmy Vivino all lend incredible sounds to this project.

In commenting on the guest roster, Johnny “I knew everybody but John Popper. I had met everybody before except for Popper. My manager, Paul, brought ‘em all together.”

I was especially intrigued by Johnny’s inclusion of Vince Gill on the Chuck Berry classic, Maybellene. “Yeah, he is. He is good!  Yeah, he’s a country guitar player but he’s a really good country guitar player.”

I expected that Roots to have taken a long time to put together with all of the talent that was on the album.  However, I was stunned at the answer I received from Johnny when I asked him about it.

“It was about a month. I was only in the studio for about five hours but the whole thing took about a month.”

Five hours.  I mean, seriously? Five hours?  Unreal.

A recent high point in Winter’s resurgence was his January 12th appearance with his band on The Late Show With David Letterman.  Paul and Johnny were rightfully still jonesing from the success of that appearance when Paul said, “He (Winter) looked great. He’s healthy. He was singing his butt off and playing great and to have (Paul) Shaffer and the horns kick in, it was a big event – really cool! We had a great time!”

As indicated in the Boomerocity review of Winter’s biography, Raisin’ Cain, the tome was given very high marks (see the review here).  Winter is obviously very proud of the book judging by his comment to me about it. “Yeah!  We’ve sold three or four editions out. The book is doing well. I didn’t write it. Mary Lou (Sullivan) interviewed me and pretty much wrote what I said. ”

As for what Winter’s fans can expect from the band during this year’s touring, Johnny replied, “I’ll do mostly blues and a little rock and roll.”  Nelson added, “What happened was, after the Roots idea, and after Johnny picked the songs, I had to make sure that the band - the rhythm section - had learned all of the original versions of the songs that Johnny listened to when he grew up. Then, I had them learn a secondary version – a second version of each of those songs. What happened was that the group as a whole improved. We got more ‘simpler’. We got more pure into that traditional sound but then modernized the sound on Roots. We knew that we had to be a tight rhythm section for Johnny and the heavy hitters we would be playing for on the album.

“It improved our  live show and the music is more driving. It’s more solid. The song selection is tighter now. Johnny has added Bony Moronie,  Johnny B. Goode. He’s added School Girl – you know, some of the more rock’ish kind of songs mixed in with the blues.  Highway 61. The show is actually now – finally – now that Johnny’s healthy, he’s starting to experiment more and improve and add more of the old catalog and new stuff. So, it’s a lot different. A lot more energy.

 “Another thing: You’ll see a camera crew running around everywhere we are. We hired Greg Oliver – he just finished the Motorhead Lemmy DVD  - the documentary – and he’s doing a documentary on Johnny over the next year. He’s going to do the in-story, we’re going to go by Johnny’s house in Beaumont (Texas), we’re going to go to the old high school there, the Vulcan Gas Company (a music venue in Austin, Texas).  He followed us to Letterman – everything. So, it’s a big deal.”

When I asked if my personal favorite Winter cover, Jumpin’ Jack Flack, was being played, Nelson shed some interesting light on the tune with his answer.  “We’re still working on it. He goes back to it but he doesn’t want to go too far back to his rock roots. He realizes that that period was important but he really felt that he sold out the blues so anything that resembles that, he shies away from. We put the riffs from it in the rhythm section – we sneak ‘em in and he wails over it and he cracks up.  We’ll do Boney Moronie and, in the verses, we’ll sneak in a riff from Mean Town Blues and then the rhythm section will start doing the riff from Jumpin’ Jack Flash and he just smiles. It’s pretty funny. A lot of fun.”

When I told Johnny and Paul that the upcoming show at the Granada has been sold out, Paul was bubbling over with excitement and added, “He’s selling out everywhere. People are starting to realize – especially now that he’s healthy – that they don’t want to miss out on Johnny. He’s that hidden gem that deserves the credit that might have passed him by and went more towards a Hendrix or a Clapton.  He’s our living Hendrix! I’m serious!

“People are starting to research him more now. Now that he’s having a resurgence, there’s more material out on him now – more of the Bootleg Series, the DVD’s . They’re getting it.   Plus that Rolling Stone thing – top guitarist or whatever – he’s definitely having a comeback. When I tell Johnny, ‘Johnny your  having a comeback’, he says, ‘But I never went anywhere!?’ ‘I laugh and say, ‘Just go with it. Johnny!’   He’s really having a good time.”

I asked what the biggest misconception about him is, Johnny laughed and said, “Only my close friends know what I’m really like.” I could hear Paul laughing in the background.  And then, more seriously, adds, “ I don’t think there’s really any big misconception about me. People pretty much know what I’m like.” I added that he just puts himself out there and people can take it or leave it, he admits, “Yeah, that’s true.”

As he handed the phone off to Paul, I told him that I was looking forward to a good show at his upcoming Dallas appearance.  He said, point blank, “You’ll get one.”   As they say in his home state of Texas, if it’s true, it ain’t braggin’.

With the great vibe Johnny’s enjoying with his resurgence, I asked a question that I know has been asked and answered a million times but I wanted the latest answer: Will Johnny be doing anything with his brother, Edgar, and even with Rick Derringer?

Let’s just say that what I was told made me pogo-stick happy and you’ll feel the same way, too, when the news hits the streets.  Keep your eye on Boomerocity for that news to break.

Until then, you can check out JohnnyWinter.net to see when and where he’s going to be performing near you.  You’ll see that he’s keeping a tour schedule that would wear out an artist that is less than half his age so there’s a great chance he’s stopping at a venue in your town.

Edgar Winter

Posted June, 2009

edgarwinter4Edgar Winter.  When the name is mentioned in the presence of Baby Boomers, it conjures up two iconic songs of the Seventies:  Frankentstein and Free Ride.  For others who enjoy the deeper, lesser known aspects of music, the name, Edgar Winter, brings to mind a Texas-born musical prodigy.

Yes, prodigy.  For, not only has Winter's musical career spanned the genre's of rock, pop, blues and pop, he has mastered at the saxophone and a wide range of keyboard and percussion instruments.  To watch Edgar in concert provides the spectator with the rare but entertaining treat of viewing his virtuosity on these instruments.

It was after witnessing just such a display of musical genius that I had the privilege of sitting down with Edgar Winter.  He had just retired to his hotel room after a crowd-pleasing concert at the Wildflower! Arts and Music Festival in Richardson, Texas.  Consequently, Edgar was a tired but very gracious host, not acting the least bit annoyed at having his day prolonged by yet another interview.  For this, Boomerocity is eternally grateful.

After being escorted into Mr. Winter's hotel room by his tour manager and long time friend, Dave Lopez, we sat down for our conversation.  I complimented him on the tremendous show he just performed and about the diverse group of people that made up the audience.

He's animated with his reply, "Yeah, I love those multi-generational shows.  I don't think there is any particular demographic, especially with the outdoor shows.  The hard core Johnny (as in "Winter", his equally iconic, blues guitarist brother)/Edgar/Rick (Derringer) fans are . . . one type of people but I think because I've done so many different kinds of music over my career.  "Entrance" was more of a blend of jazz, classical and rock so, our = my audience can be quite different.

In chatting about the gig that he just completed, I asked if the show was his first time playing this particular venue.  The pride of being a Texan is readily apparent.  "As far as I can remember, yes, this is the first.  And, of course, ANY TIME I'm playing in Texas, that's my old stomping grounds!  I love coming back to Texas and I don't do that many shows here but we played in Houston last night which is even closer - 90 miles from Beaumont.  It was a great show.  The rain threatened but, uh, GREAT Frankenstein music with some thunder and lightning going on.  Whenever there's threatening weather, "Yeah!  ‘Frankenstein' is going to be PERFECT!"

As a forty year rock and roll veteran, Winter has played venues all over the world.  I asked him which venues were his favorite places to play.  Listening to his answers was akin to what it would be like to hear Patton name his favorite fields of battle.

Oh, I'll tell you, uh, I guess, just looking back over my career, there are certain ones that stand out.  We're all based in L.A. so I really like the Greek Theater there, in L.A.  It's beautiful.  It's sort of indoor/outdoor and the sunsets (are) really magical.

And, as far as most memorable, I guess, Woodstock (laughs).  That was '69.  I played that with my brother, Johnny.  The Apollo Theater was one of my favorites.  And, I love Royal Albert Hall.  We did a U.K. tour about three or four years ago with Alvin Lee of Ten Years After.  The last show of the tour was Royal Albert Hall and we shot a video of it.  We've been trying to get it released and it looks like it's FINALLY going to come out.  I haven't even seen it so I have no idea what it looks like.

Edgar goes on to explain the delay in it's release: "I think the guy that shot it had - he had a deal, I think with Sony, that probably was a part - you know, this particular thing was part of a group of things and I think that faltered.  Then I think he tried to replace it and it just kind of gone on and on.  He's kind of got it - he does, he has a big bulk of stuff.  Ours was just one of many things that just, lost in the shuffle!  But it is going to come out so that's good."

Getting back to the venue discussion, Winter adds, "Oh, and Carnegie Hall!  Those are the ones that I - oh, I loved the Fillmore East.  That was amazing.  But, as far as places I like to play now, you know, the Greek is really one of my favorites."

With so many accomplishments on his resume, I asked Edgar what he hasn't done that he would like to, musically.  "What haven't I done?  Well, I've got a Broadway musical comedy version of "Frankenstein" that I'm working on.  That's something that I haven't done yet.  I did a jazz CD which I've always wanted to do.  I have classical music that I will probably get around to recording at some point.  And . . . I love standards.  I'll probably do a standards album at some point.  Everybody's done them but, nevertheless, it's something that is a part of jazz - part of my jazz upbringing - unique arrangements of standards that have beautiful chords and are fun to play.  It's just something I've always wanted to do.

I bring the conversation around to Winter's latest CD, Rebel Road, by telling him what a great disc it is.  "Oh, thank you!  Yeah, I was really happy with the way that came out.

I add, "I have to tell you, though, I love the rockers, of course, but I was really touched by what you wrote about ‘The Closer I Get'.  But for you guys to be married this long and (with) you in this business, that's got to be one of the ‘Hall of Famer's', right?"

Smiling as one who wishes that he was home with his wife, Edgar responds, "Well, yeah.  I'm equally, if not more proud of that than any of my accomplishments in music.  And it means so much to me.  I mean, music is great but if you don't have one to share your life with, what's the point?  And, really, music is spiritual.  It's a spiritual thing to me.  Well, life in general is a spiritual undertaking.  So many people - it's not very popular to be religious these days.  People always say, ‘Well, I'm not really religious but I am very spiritual.'  You never know - what does that mean, ‘that I believe in some thing'?

Continuing on, he reflects, "I was brought up that way but I feel that religion is a personal thing.  And organized religions are sometimes problematical.  And that's a different a thing.  But music for me, that was the thing that helped illumine that spiritual path - to me.

"When I played Woodstock, it really changed my life because, up to that point, I had been a serious musician as a kid.  It was my own private escape world.  I just loved music.  I loved the beauty of harmony and rhythm and just loved it in and of itself rather than a means to an end."

In bringing back the discussion to "Rebel Road, I comment, "There are two great country cuts on your latest CD.  How come there's not a crossover there.  Do you not want to go ‘country'?"

The Texan rises up in him again.  "I'm from Texas and I grew up playing country music.  Being around it and  . . . it's just sort of odd that it's one of the influences that's never really come out in my music.

"I had written some lyrics to a song that I thought was a blues song, "Horns of a Dilemma".  And the guys that I was writing with, Curt and James, took a look at these lyrics and, "Oh, that's a great Country song!" "What?  I thought it was a Blues song!" "No, man!  It's a great Country rocker!"  They came up with a treatment of it.  I thought about it and said, "You know?  You could be right.  It could be that."  So, uh, I've really thought about doing a Country album until, until we did those two songs.  Now that's another thing I might do.

"It's like "Power of Positive Drinkin'".  It's clever like some kind of play on words from a familiar phrase.  A lot of them, they're kinda geared in that way.  I've always enjoyed those.  Those are good examples of it.  "Horns of a Dilemma".  Familiar phrase.

I mention the fact that his friend and country star, Clint Black, is on the two country tunes.

"Yeah . . . Clint, you know, it was just so great to have him on both of those songs.  All the guests! Slash did a great job on "Rebel Road" and Johnny was great on "Rockin' the Blues".  When I listen to THAT song and close my eyes, it takes me back to when we were kids.

"You know, you always, in the process of making an album, there's those magical moments that happen.  "The Closer I Get" is that way for me.  And the one I wrote for Ringo, "Peace and Love", is another one.  That's all of what you always hope for in the process of making music is that you're gonna really, like, it's - I think that's why they use to call them "albums" because it's like - sort of like a musical snapshot that captures a moment in time when something really happened."

I mention to him that "one thing that really stood out to me about your album is how positive it is.  The over-arching theme of Rebel Road is by-the-numbers great rock and roll and some blues.  But your message in there is a positive, refreshing feel."

"Yeah, most of my songs are optimistic.  I have a dark one occasionally.  But, uh, yeah, rock is about having a good time.  And . . . I think the thing about blues - even though . . . a lot of the content is sad, it's still like transforming suffering into joy.  It's still happy music.  It's a hard thing to explain.  But you listen to it and you say, ‘Oh, I thought things were bad for me!  Man!  I'm pretty well off, actually.'

"But, yeah, thanks!  Writing, it's one of those stream-of-consciousness things - and I suppose it just reflects the fact that I am really happy now.  I love the music I'm making.  I love my band.  I love my wife, Monique.  (We've been) married for 30 years.  And . . . it means the world to me to be able to do what I most love and see people out there having a great time.  What could be better than that?

"I would be playing regardless if whether paid for it because I love to play.  I don't even think of it as a career.  To me, it's like a hobby.  Just something that I love to do.  Well, not a hobby.  It's a consuming interest.  It's really my life.  A lot of people think of it as a business.  I really never have.

"What's most important to me is just that I'm making honest music.  Whenever anybody asks me about advice, I always say that the thing is just to follow your heart and do what you really believe in and what really matters to you.  Don't try to think about what's going to sell or try to second guess what audiences - what people are going to want to hear.  You do the music that's in your heart - that you really love and care about and I think that will communicate more than anything else to an audience and to the people that hear it."

I turn the conversation to his participation in the "Heroes of Woodstock" tour of shows.

Smiling, he says, "You know, a lot of people are not aware that I played Woodstock because our footage was not in the movie or any of the CD's or any of that stuff.  We played the whole set.  He, at that point, Johnny did the part of his show with his blues trio.  No one even knew that I existed back then.  ‘Now, I'm going to bring on my little brother, Edgar!'  And I came on, (mimicking the audience) ‘Oh, wow!  There's two of them!'

And then, he would do, "Rollin' and Tumblin'", "Mean Town Blues", I forget all exactly - probably "Hustle Down in Texas".  Just a lot of his standard blues songs.  I did "Tobacco Road" with the band.  We did a version of what became "Frankenstein", the instrumental, which we use to call "The Double Drum Song" - we did that.  The Ray Charles song called, "Tell The Truth".  I don't remember if we played it at Woodstock but that was one of the songs that we did.

"I know that there are 10 or 12 of those ‘Heroes of Woodstock' things.  We're not sure how many of those we're going to be doing.  I think that there's only one of them that's for sure."

Our conversation involved other work, the record industry and life in general.  Certainly to much to include in this story.  However, I left the interview sensing Edgar Winter's profound love for his wife, his brother, those near to him, and people in general.  He exudes a sincerity that is commonly found in the rarified air of celebrity.  As they say in the south about people like him, "he's good people."

This article written by Randy Patterson.  All rights reserved and cannot not be used without written permission, which can be obtained by writing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Johnny Winter (2010)

Posted May, 2010

johnnywintertoday.2Do you remember the “Jay Walking” bit that Jay Leno did on his original late night show? He might still do it but I gave up late night TV for  . . . for . . . sleep!  Anyway, I would love to do my own version of Jay Walking.  What I would do is ask people various trivia questions about classic rock.  Based on my own private discussions with friends, it would be a hoot to see what kind of answers I would get.

Case in point: Take the subject of Johnny Winter.  I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut that the person on the street will react in one of three ways (just like some of my friends), when I mention this legends name.  Those reactions would be either a blank stare and then, not wanting to look ignorant, say something really stupid like, “Any relation to Jack Frost?”Or, they may try saying something "brainy" like, “Oh, yeah, that comedian dude from the late sixties!

But the truly brainy ones, those well versed in all things classic rock and blues, a knowing smile will spread across their face with a response that will go something like, “Ah, yes!  PHENOMENAL guitar player!” Or, “YES!  One of the all time blues greats!”

As for me, when I ask myself these kinds of questions (and I do!), my mind flashes immediately back to the early seventies.  I’m sitting in the living room, having managed, somehow, to commandeer the only TV in the house, and watching Midnight Special.

I forget who else was on the show but I remember a fella by the name of Johnny Winter being introduced and this scrawny guitarist (are there any other kind?) runs out on stage and starts wailing away the most incredible version of Jumpin’ Jack Flash that I had ever heard.

I was mesmerized. I was in awe of the other-wordliness of the guitar playing and the showmanship.  In my pubescent mind, I was watching the bleeding edge of rock and roll.

Later, I was to discover Johnny’s equally musically prodigious brother, Edgar.  Both men grew up in Beaumont, Texas, just 22 short miles from Port Arthur and another 60’s rock icon, Janis Joplin.  Johnny and Edgar were heavily influenced by the blues and gravitated to the blues clubs in the area, often being the only white guys in the crowd and not being hassled in the slightest.

While making a musical name for himself in Beaumont and the surrounding towns, Johnny was discovered by Rolling Stone Magazine, who featured him in a story about the music scene in Texas and declared him the hottest thing going outside of Janis Joplin.

This ultimately led to Columbia Records winning a bidding war for Winter to join their roster of artists. Later, Johnny drags kid brother Edgar along for what became their legendary performance at Woodstock.  While the performance didn’t make the original cinematic release, Johnny’s appearance is featured in the 40th anniversary DVD released last year.

With career spanning six consecutive decades, Winter shows no signs of letting up in touring and productivity.  In addition to a heaving solo touring schedule, he’s also slated to appear, again, at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival in Chicago on June 6th, 2010. He’ll join a long list of other guitar legends for a day long festival of incredible music.

It was checking out Johnny’s tour schedule that I was excited to learn that he was going to be appearing in the Dallas area.  As I typically do, I did my darnedest to seek out an interview with Mr. Winter.  I was successful in landing a brief chat with Johnny a couple of weeks ago, being kind enough to answer a few questions.

Like Edgar, who I interviewed last year (here), Johnny is somewhat soft spoken and is a man of even fewer words. Since I knew our chat would be brief, I got right to my questions by asking what he had been up the last couple of years.

With his signature brevity, he replies quite honestly, “Enjoying the fruits of finally cleaning up my act by getting off of drugs and alcohol. It has made such a difference in my life.”

What else can be added to that?  With those monkeys off of his back, Winter has the strength and stamina to present stellar performances while on the road.  To that point, I asked him what can a fan expect to experience at one of his shows today?

“Mostly blues, but with some rock mixed in. I do songs from my past and present recordings. I have a great new band and a fantastic new guitarist Paul Nelson and of course I bring out my Gibson Firebird and play some slide. I don’t want to give away my whole set, but we really have a great time playing.”

In preparation for the interview, I had read where a book on Johnny was set for publication just after our chat was taking place.  I asked about it and, again, got a brief but informative answer.

“Yes, it’s called Raising Cane. I had a writer follow me around for some time and it covers my whole life from start to present. It makes for a very interesting read” he concludes with a laugh.

As I always try to do when interviewing people, I asked what would be the one thing that he felt has been least covered and understood about him and his work.

“Actually there has been nothing in my life that I haven’t been asked about - from drugs and playing to sex and rock and roll. If anyone has any questions they should read the book. It’s a very descriptive account of my life even though a few of the people that were interviewed for the book might have sugar coated some of their stories about me for personal recognition. That’s happened a lot in my life. People say that they know me more than they actually do or that they’ve been involved in helping me more than they really did.”

Since most fans, critics and observers consider Johnny Winter the definitive “blues man”, I asked him what his opinion of the state of the blues today in today’s music market.

“I don’t think the blues will ever go away. It has moments when it rises to the top and moments when it takes the back seat. But it is and will always be an important part of any style of music.”

Since the blues is foundational to much of rock music, I asked Winter if he saw the blues saving the music business or was it even the place of the blues to do so.

“Like I just said, there has to be blues in any style of music. That’s what gives it its feel and soul.”

As previously noted, Johnny Winter’s career spans six decades.  He’s, no doubt, observed lots of changes, both positive and negative, in the music business. I asked him what has been the most positive change he’s seen in the business.

“There’s been hundreds of changes, both in promotion and the birth of new styles of music out of old styles. Nowadays, which is a good thing, both old and new music is respected.”

I asked Johnny to reflect, for just a moment, on if he were a teenager today and was angling to get into the music business.  I asked him how he would enter the business today, given what he knows now and would his style, musicianship and musical interests be different.

“I don’t think it matters what era you’re in. If you’re good, you’re good.  You really have to practice and study hard. If you have the talent someone will notice.”

“I have always and will always love the blues. Whether I started in the 60’s or last week, I’m a bluesman and I will stay that way until I die”, he says with his trademark smile.

I asked Winter if there are any new artists out that is commanding his attention.  I had a few names in made (who will remain nameless) that I thought for sure he would mention.  I should have known better.

“The truth is I really only like listening to blues from the past. Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, and mostly blues from the 50s.  That’s what inspires me!”

As was mentioned earlier, Johnny was born and raised 22 miles northwest of where Jani Joplin was born and raised.  This October will mark the 40th anniversary of the death of Joplin. Their professional paths wound up crossing and he come to know Janis.  I asked him if there was anything he felt was misunderstood about the late icon.  Again, his answer is short and sweet.

“I think the description of her history has been pretty accurate.”

In asking what his foremost memory of Joplin was, Winter shared this amusing story:

“I remember one time we went together to see a Mae West movie and I was wearing a long coat with fur lapels. The audience turned around, saw me and started to applaud, thinking that I was Mae West coming to watch my own movie.”

With no signs of slowing down, I wanted to know what was next, CD-wise, from the guitarmeister.

“I just signed a deal with Megaforce Records and I plan on putting something out within the next year.”

After the interview, I reflected the conversation and how, if at all, my impressions of the man had changed.  I suppose that I expected someone who was as flamboyant in conversation as he is on stage. Obviously, Winter is the exact opposite.  He’s a man of few words but what he says reflects exactly what he means.  Nothing more, nothing less.

While putting the interview to paper, I decided to check out other interviews to see what I could have done better.  While watching the videos of some of his interviews, I was noticed something about this legendary man.  As when I interviewed Johnny, when the subject is about Johnny the man, he says only what needs to be said.  I chalk that up to humility.

However, when Winter is asked about other people or music, he breaks out beyond the tight circle of words and is much more vocal.  Even when talking about his music, he becomes very animated.  While some might say, “Of course! He’s talking about HIS music!”

I don’t think that’s the point.  I believe that it’s because he’s talking about MUSIC, period.  Johnny Winter is all about the music, especially the blues.  That is his love, his passion and is what flows in his now clean and always gifted veins. To Johnny, it’s always about the music.

While minor aspects of my perceptions of Johnny have been slightly altered, what hasn’t changed is my perception of Johnny Winter being the consummate rock and blues guitarist.  He’s that and more. He’s a man who, after long, painful battles, has finally successfully conquered his demons while not quenching the creative spirit within.

Read more about Johnny’s story in Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter, published by Backbeat Books. If that doesn’t satisfy your Winter itch, check out his website, www.johnnywinter.net.  In addition to finding out what he’s up to, you can avail yourself to the many quality items he has for sell at his online store.

John Waite

Posted May, 2012

johnwaite1If you’ve been listening to rock and roll since the late seventies, then John Waite is no stranger to you. He was the face and voice of The Babys with whom he enjoyed Top 20 successes with their hits, Isn’t It Time and Every Time I Think of You.

Since those days, John has gone on to a successfully satisfying solo career that last year launched his tenth studio album (on top of two live and two compilation albums). That tenth album, entitled Rough and Tumble, is enjoying radio and, for the last year and continuing, is being supported by a world-wide tour.  Because that tour is bringing Waite to my area of the world (Dallas, Texas, May 8th, Poor David’s Pub), I had the good fortunate to be able to have a phone interview with Waite arranged for me by the promoter.

Waite called me from his home in Southern California at what I thought would be awfully early for a rock and roller in his time zone. He quickly let me know otherwise.  “No!  No! No! No!  That’s a myth!  I leap out of bed when the sun comes up!  I do!”

We cut right to the chase by talking about John’s Rough and Tumble tour.  He said of the tour, “It’s been great! We’ve been on it for a year. We’ve been all over Europe and all over America. For the first half of it we were joined by Matchbox 20’s guitar player, Kyle Cook. We have a number one single on radio with Rough and Tumble and the response in Europe is very pleasing. We played in my home town, which was incredible. It was a whole different ballgame than playing anywhere else.

“But, it’s been great. We enjoy what we do. We’ve been taking off a couple of weeks here and there and then going back out for a couple of weeks and looking at the summer. The summer is going to be interesting because we might go overseas again like Australia and Japan. We just might tour through America. There’s just so much up in the air right now. It’s hard to say.”

I have listened to “Rough and Tumble” several times and I have to say with all sincerity – it’s great!  My personal favorites are If You Ever Get Lonely, Skyward and Further the Sky.  I asked John if he had a sense as to which song is the audience’s favorite.

“I think If You Ever Get Lonely – people have been cutting it. I think it’s coming out on a couple of different records. It’s interesting to see that. Basically, it’s a beautiful song. It’s a little dark but sincere, you know?”

While sharing with me what the response has been like to the album, Waite said, “Well, like I said, we have a number one single but the music business is absolutely upside down. I don’t know if it’s going to be one of those things where we keep putting records out to give you an excuse to tour. I don’t think since everybody’s downloading music now – and quite a lot of it’s for free – it isn’t substantial. You put a record out – like I said, it went number one on the radio and we sold big numbers. It’s like all the fans have it and then you’re there playing all the hits which you have to do as well.

“So I don’t know which end of the music business I’m in other than I’m looking forward to playing! It’s a good thing to make a successful record and it’s a great thing to be able to sing with people that play well and make a life as a musician. Apart from that the music business is completely out of its head at the moment.”

Because Waite lamented the state of the music business, I asked him what he would do to fix it if he were appointed its czar.

“I love that!  ‘Czar’.  I do!  I like that. Good choice of words!  I like it!  Um, what would I do? Well, I think it’s sort of being done. Twenty years ago people were signed to record contracts and they gave you an advance to make a record. Then you went in and made the record and then they paid you 14 points of the profit. They kept eighty-five percent and they charged you back for everything!  Manufacturing, photography, promotion, dinners, backhanders, bribes, drugs, whatever. They charged you back for everything. It was very unfair.

“Now, with the internet and iTunes, you can make a record and you can put it up there. If you’re a small band in a small town you can actually achieve a world wide release by doing it yourself. What I do is make a record – and I make it at a pretty high standard because that’s what I do – but I license it to record companies and they distribute it around the world or different territories. But the fact that anybody can go online now and download music, a record of that is kept so iTunes has to pay the artists. It bypasses a lot of the record companies. I don’t think it’s as dishonest of a business as it was because people have more of a voice. Surely that’s what it must be about!

“Some guy chomping on a cigar, sitting behind a desk, telling you that he doesn’t hear a single doesn’t really work for me. It never did. So, I’m quite happy that I have the freedom I’ve got now. I never needed a big record company to make big records. And you actually get paid now. The record company’s job was not to pay the artists. They would give you the advance and you might as well say, ‘Thanks for the memories’ and then disappear because, apart from the publishing checks and the air play checks, they’re not going to pay you if they can help it. It was just the way the record business was run. It was a ridiculous thing that people could be that dishonest but it’s the truth and it’s how it worked.”

With over 30 years in the rough and tumble world of the music business and a lot of albums under his belt, I asked John how was working on Rough and Tumble different – as well as the same – as compared to his other recordings.

“Well, the fact that you can record digital and not cut two inch tape with a razor blade at three in the morning. It’s very primitive to do that. Digital recording has come so far now – just so far! It’s almost impossible to tell the difference whereas fifteen years ago everything that was digital sounded incredibly ‘tinny’ and had less aspects of sound – sonic frequency – in the music. It just didn’t have it. It was a more limited rendition of sound.

“During the first half of Rough and Tumble, we met in a songwriting room in Nashville with David Thoener – the co-producer and he’s a very, very good engineer/producer – and he helped me and Kyle navigate through working in broom closets and storage rooms and singing live in the room to save money. But we did go into a studio called Treasure Island and knocked out the drums and bass. In and out very quick . . . and that was done in analog, I think.

“The second half of the record was made in four days. I cut seven tracks in four days in this small studio in Thousand Oaks in California – just hell-for-leather! It was kind of like, ‘I’m just going to finish this thing if it kills me.’ I went into the studio the day before. We wrote Rough and Tumble ­ - the track itself. I pulled in a couple of old songs and rearranged them. Did a Tina Turner song and, hey!  Presto! I almost gave myself a nervous breakdown and wore myself out.

“But the difference now is if you really want an album quickly and you’re focused, you can do it almost as quickly as you think to the end product. It’s just so fast!  That means to me that you can capture a lot of emotion and live performance without having to deal with, again, two inch tape and a very primitive set-up.

“When  you look back at what The Babys went through in the studio, trying to capture things on two inch tape and mixing down all the time and transferring performances to virgin tape so that it wouldn’t get worn out by being rolled over a recording head. I mean, it’s gigantic work! While being in the studio, you should be in free-fall. You just feel like doing it. You record it, thank you and good night!

“And, besides, not to whine on about this, but the analog sound is a precious thing and it’s very much about a certain period. We live in a digital world now and the music of the digital world is cut digitally. And to keep going back – and it’s an anachronistic kind of view of, like, maybe it’s going to sound like yesterday, why? It was great yesterday. It’s been done. You can go and buy those records and it sounds wonderful!  But I feel that the problem might be here is to sound like we’re in the present day and still be authentic! That’s exactly what I’m trying to say with my music. I’m trying to sound authentic in the present day without having to be referred as being from a different period.”

At the risk of sounding as though I was patronizing him, I offered to John that I strongly believed that the music buying public is hungry for something “present day” that is built on a classic rock foundation much like he’s done with Rough and Tumble.

“If I could hear that from somebody, then I know that I’ve done it successfully.  I mean, that’s exactly what I was trying to do. I was not trying to become something else to be successful. I’ve seen people do that in their careers. They go off and be ‘disco’ for five minutes. But I wanted to do something that was like Evil is almost like Miss You by the Stones . . . it sounds like somebody’s really out of their mind and he’s sexy because of that. He’s very seventies and very Studio 54.

“Peace of Mind is like this song that’s based on Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf and he has a monologue in it where I’m talking and telling a story as the song begins. That’s heavy stuff, you know, when you have other bands that are doing the same old stuff from thirty years ago and trying to sound like 30 years ago.

“My job as a musician – as a writer – is to try and push out into different areas. I think that this album did it. Some of it is very produced like Peace of Mind because that’s what was needed for this song to rock but the track is cut live.  I used all I could in the studio to be clever with that, capture the live sound but keep it like a movie. Rough and Tumble is just a three piece band and a singer and that’s what I really love the most, I suppose.”

Earlier, Waite had alluded that his hometown crowd was a different kind of experience. I reached back to that comment and I asked him if he found that crowds in different parts of the U.S. or the globe react differently.

“No, the European audiences are extremely different. The Dutch and the Germans stand there and check you out and you better throw down!  They know every syllable. They know where you’re coming from. They have all the old records. They have the new records. They have records that you didn’t think did too well. They know what you’re doing up there. There’s nowhere to hide.

“A couple of years ago on stage in London, I was in Camden at the Underworld and I was singing Isn’t It Time and I was thinking, ‘Well, this is all very nice but I’ve got so much more to offer than a song book.’ I mean, it’s beautiful to go out there and do a song that makes the audience erupt. There’s nothing quite like it because you’ve earned it. It’s one of your songs. What do you want to do, not play it?

But the idea is to do half of the songs that the people expect and the other half – that’s going to be anything I can think of before I go on stage to shake things up. That’s what all the great bands used to do. I remember when I went to go see The Who and the Small Faces and Free and Family at Lancaster University when I was about sixteen. Imagine seeing The Who! Imagine it and being that impressionable and you’re just dabbling in psychedelics and finding your feet as a young man and there’s The Who! And that is enough to blow your hair back and your mind right out of the room. That’s what we all came for.

“I feel that there has to be a part of a performance where you’re flying by the seat of your pants and if that isn’t in the performance . . .” At that point, Waite interrupted himself and opened the curtains of today’s rock and roll Oz by saying, “Unfortunately, a lot of the bands – the arena rock bands – play along to tapes. They just do it. They do it because they ain’t got what it used to be. They come out with all the keyboards and all the harmonies and sometimes a lot of the lead vocals, it’s just pre-recorded. You stand there and you watch these bands lip-sync. I can’t imagine anything more dishonest or dreadful. They think so little of the audience that they would do that but they do.”

I mentioned that legendary singer, Mitch Ryder, told me the same thing about German audiences. Waite excitedly commented about Ryder.

“I saw him play in Michigan last year and he was something else! He was every bit as good as he used to be!  It was like, ‘HELLO!’ It was really a throw down! I was thinking that it was going to be on the edge but it wasn’t.  He was totally in control.”

I asked John if he knew – from his side of the microphone – which songs from Rough and Tumble the crowds seem to enjoy the most at his shows.

“As I expected, maybe, Rough and Tumble because it got so much air play and knocked everybody out of the way to get to number one. So, they know it. They know it in Europe and they know it in America.  The one that seems to bring everyone to a grand stop is If You Ever Get Lonely. I think it’s because the song is that good. But from the moment we start to play it the place tends to go quiet. I don’t know if it’s because they’ve heard it before or because it’s that kind of song but those two songs just really seem to kill people”

After listening to Rough and Tumble a few times, I would argue that tunes like If You Ever Get Lonely, Skyward, and Hanging Tree would be great candidates for the air play on country radio.  I asked Waite about that possibility.

“I don’t differentiate between whatever is country – or classic country – or rock and roll. There was a time that it was all the same thing. That’s what I like the best. I have a lot of country influence – especially western songs as a kid – country and western but the western end of it. So, yeah, it’s in the consciousness. I worked with Alison Krauss a few years ago and spent a great deal of time in Nashville and got to meet a lot of very serious country people. I sat down and talked to Dolly Parton and hung out with Vince Gill and Larry Sparks and the Del McCoury Band. It’s (country music) very authentic. Rock and roll? You can’t tell anymore.”

Some artists who have enjoyed a long, successful and distinguished career as John enjoys often feel that there’s something else they still need to accomplish that they haven’t already. When I asked Mr. Waite if there was anything he’s yet to accomplish, his reply revealed a man who is both comfortable in his own skin and has an understandable pride in the work he’s already accomplished.

“I’m afraid that I’ve done everything that I thought I was going to do. I think I’ve been number one a couple of times in two different entities – when I was in The Babys which was kind of a cutting edge band – certainly the first version. I made a few mistakes. But I’ve basically succeeded. Missing You was number one around the world and was regarded as a piece of art. I didn’t sell out. I still make music. I think I’m pretty happy.”

John Waite has worked with many talented people, from the likes of Alison Krauss to Ringo Starr.  I asked him who he would like to work with that he hasn’t worked with already.

“Well, not many.  Maybe some people from bluegrass. I really like bluegrass music and that kind of poetry. That’s the magic of song: it’s all inter-connected. But things happen naturally with me. I don’t go after things like career moves. People come to me and say, ‘Hey, do you want to sing this song with me or do you want to do this session or can I play with you on this gig?’ It all works out. I’m not a business man.”

On the subject of a follow-up to Rough and Tumble, Waite said, “We usually travel for two and a half or three years after a record. There is talk of doing a live album towards the end of the year with special guests showing up. There’s a location that we’re checking out now. It’s wide open. I’m sure that we’re going to have a very, very busy year playing live and it would be nice to record towards the end because we’ll probably be firing on all cylinders by then.”

What can fans expect from one of Waite’s shows during this tour - especially here in Dallas at Poor David’s Pub?

“You have the boundaries of a three piece band. It’s pretty rockin’. We touch on all the songs you might expect. We do try to make things interesting and bring nearly all the new stuff. The people that show up to hear the music seem to know it so it’s pretty loose. We may change direction right in the middle of a set. It’s a pretty good time!”

John Waite undoubtedly has many, many more years of music left in him to create.  That said, I asked him if he has any thoughts about what he hopes his legacy will be and how he’ll be remembered when he’s no longer on this planet rocking the world stages.

“Well, I feel that would be ego-trippin’ to start talking about how you want to be remembered. It’s like having a gravestone . . . though I’ll probably have a gravestone. It’s the whole idea of being buried. But I think that if I have moved somebody or made somebody pick up the guitar themselves or become a writer of some sort, I’ve passed it along to somebody and I think that’s important. I think that to inspire somebody else is the highest thing that you can bring to a life.

“People inspired my life since I was a kid – from country singers to western singers to blues singers to rock n’ roll singers, songwriters, writers of literature, political people, people that made a difference in the world and actually really changed people or elevate people – if only for a brief moment.”

Then, with obvious and sincere humility, he added, “I’m just, at the end of the day, a singer/songwriter. If I could’ve lifted somebody up with a song during my time here, I think that’s pretty good!”