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Leslie West

Posted July, 2009

westandvanhalenPhoto by Wade WeberIf you’re a middle-aged, “slightly overweight”, pasty white guy like me, you occasionally wish that you could go back in time.  You wish that you could go back to the smooth skinned, skinny person you were in high school or college.  You wish that you could go back in that time when you knew more than your parents and were fully aware of the solutions to all of the world’s problems.  In her top selling hit, Me and Bobby McGee, Janis Joplin wailed, “I’d trade all of my tomorrow’s for a single yesterday.”

Do I have some great news for you!  You can go back in time and it won’t cost you your future.  That’s right, folks!  Coming to a city or town near  you, you can catch the tour that is getting the Baby Boomer Generation’s tongues a-waggin’ and classic rock fans salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

That tour?  HippieFest and, this year, it has a dynamite line-up of some of the favorite artists and bands that blared from your radio while you wowed your imaginary legions of fans while you lip-synched or played the world’s best air guitar.  Artists such as Chuck Negron (the voice of Three Dog Night), and Flo and Eddie, Felix are on the line up as are Joe Molland (Bad Finger), Mitch Ryder, Brewer and Shipley, and Mountain and the surviving half of its founding duo, Leslie West.  West’s founding partner, Felix Pappalardi, was the victim of what was ruled as a negligent homicide committed by his wife, Gail Collins Pappalardi, in 1983.

Leslie West is a man who is comfortable with where he is in life while touring with his band that enjoys an impressive 40 year legacy that still commands broad support.  While Mountain still has fans that remember when they performed at Woodstock and bought their first vinyl album, West is introducing a new generation to his signature Mountain sound.  The bands iconic hit, Mississippi Queen, has been covered by artists and bands ranging from Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top to being sampled by current Rap artists.  This new surge in popularity has, no doubt, been helped by the band’s music being featured in TV shows, movies and, more recently, in video games.

Before the band boarded their tour bus to join the HippieFest tour, I had the privilege of chatting with Leslie West.  We started off by talking about what Mountain has been up to lately.

“Well, we just finished two months with Joe Satriani and all over the country and had the holidays, working on my guitar DVD that should be out soon and called, ‘Sounds of the Stories’ and getting ready to go on this tour, HippieFest  . . .”.  He also mentions with pride that he and the band will performing again at Woodstock forty years and one after the band made its appearance there.  In addition to performing the set they played in 1969, there will be a new, life changing event taking place on stage:  He’s going to marry his fiancé.

I was curious about the backstage environment between the bands on the HippeFest. “We travel with our own bus so we don’t really hang out to much.  We have a good time hanging out with Flo and Eddie and Felix Cavaliere.  I’ve known Felix for a long time – we’re old buddies.”  Later, he adds with a laugh, “Yeah, (the bands) us to talk a out buying cocaine and now they talk about buying Lipitor and Plavix and drugs like that, you know?”  This, no doubt, leads to a healthier line-up than in days gone by.

I asked West if the inclusion of “Mississippi Queen” in Guitar Hero III was creating a larger, younger audience for Mountain.

“Well, it’s been on Rock Band, also.  When you have a game like that, that did over a billion dollars in business, it sure does.  And, also, Kanye West and Jay-Zee used my songs for some of their songs, too.  That has helped quite a bit.   “99 problems” by Jay-Z  was my music is being sampled.  Kanye West is the same thing – the song, Long Red.  So, all of a sudden – go figure!”

With forty years of touring under his belt, Leslie West has seen and done it all.  I asked him what the main differences are that he sees in touring today as compared to the 60’s and 70’s.

“A better tour bus!  That makes it a lot easier because I hate to fly and it’s a pain in the *** - security and all that stuff and, uh, it takes a toll on you.  But, on the bus, you finish playing, you go relax and all of a sudden, you’re moving and in the next city and if you want to go to the hotel, you can relax.   Just to play the shows is tough enough.

“You know, what happened, I think, after 9-11 when nobody could fly and that all happened.  Well, these corporations and everybody else started saying, “Wow!  A tour bus is the only way we can get anywhere.  And they started using them and they started making them nicer.  Everybody wants a tour bus now. “

The Woodstock generation was one that clearly lived for the day.  I asked West, “When you were touring back in the 60’s and 70’s, what did you expect the world to be like 40 years later?”

He bluntly states, “I didn’t expect anything.  I was lucky we made it to a month!  I was a kid and we were writing rules as we went along.”  Reflecting on the idyllic mindset of those days, he adds, “You could leave the doors to your house open and, you know, nobody had guns, really, and, if you did, you were just shooting rabbits up in the country.  But, like Dylan said, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

This lead to talking about what he missed from those days.  He shared about missing being younger and thinking he was “bullet proof”.  “I could throw myself off a building and I wouldn’t hurt.  We’d finish – especially when we did this last tour with Satriani, I think it was 35 shows in 42 days.   But I also did the encore with him.  So, Mountain did our show then left and he did his show and I had to come back and do a half an hour with him.  So, it was, like, 70 shows in . . . 45 days.  It was a lot of work.  It was one after the other so you just keep going and don’t get a chance to exhale. “

Conversely, he mentions what he doesn’t miss about those days.  “What I don’t miss is . . . sometimes we had to do two festivals in one day.  (We would) get on the jet and do the Cincinnati Pop Festival then fly to Atlanta at night and do the Atlanta Pop Festival.  It was really rough.  I mean, all of a sudden, the festivals would hit and – I was lucky enough to be on them but it was an awful lot of travel.  I always thought we got paid to travel, not paid to play.  That’s what it felt like.

Still comparing the 60’s and 70’s to today, the conversation turns, naturally enough, to today’s music.  He loves Creed and says that “Mark Tremonti is a really great guitar player.”  But Creed is about the only current talent that commands his respect.  He doesn’t see anyone that offers anything new.

I suggest American Idol’s Adam Lambert but West slaps the offering down by saying, “Yeah, but there is nobody that is totally so -  so – so unique that you think, “Wow!  I never heard anything like that before!  The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

He also bemoans how music is made today, saying, “I tell you the truth, some of the music today, I don’t know what . . . I’m listening to.  Am I listening to machines?  Am I listening to tape of somebody?  I don’t know if somebody is really playing.  I can sometimes really tell if somebody is really playing the guitar.”

Speaking of guitars, West lights up talking about his “baby”:  His signature line of guitars manufactured by Dean Guitars.  “.  I’m really involved with my Leslie West Signature Guitar with Dean Guitars.  It’s important to me.  We got into it, finally, and I have my own model and now we have four models.  Check out DeanGuitars.com and look at the 40th Anniversary Leslie West Guitar.  We made this great looking guitar with inlay on it and a peace sign with my initials in it for the anniversary of Woodstock.

“ . . . they sold out of the anniversary ones they made.  They were quite expensive.  They only made 10 or 12 but the other ones are doing very well.  It took me a while to figure out what I wanted (the guitars) to look like.  I use to play a Les Paul Junior but this one is like a Ferrari version of that.  And, then, also we have my own Leslie West pick-ups – “M.O.T. “ (Mountain of Tone) pick-ups with Dean Guitars.  And, this summer, we’re coming out with the 40th Anniversary Mississippi Queen cow bells.  So, we’re doing pretty good.”

Walter Trout (2012)

Posted April, 2012

waltertroutA year ago last month, after discovering Walter Trout via his Common Ground CD, I caught his show at the beautiful and historic Granada Theater.  I proclaimed in that review that his work earned a spot on my list of artists that I would want with me should I be stranded on a desert island. I also wanted to interview the blues great. 

That position was further solidified early last month when I received a review copy of Trout’s latest CD, Blues for the Modern Daze.  I won’t go into my thoughts about that CD since I have that covered in the Boomerocity review here.  But, as I told a friend of mine after my first pass at listening to Daze, if I could play guitar, I would likely focus on the blues and, if I could play the blues any way I wanted, it would be just like Walter Trout does on that CD.

My year long desire to interview Trout was finally achieved recently when I called him at his California home shortly after his return from his European tour.  If he suffered from jetlag, I wouldn’t know it by how he came across on the phone.  He was immediately affable, engaging and caring, asking about if there was any impact to my family by the tornadoes that had hit the Dallas area earlier that week (thankfully, there wasn’t).

After discussing the horrible destruction that hit the Dallas area, we began discussing Blues for the Modern Daze. With almost 40 years as a musician and over 30 years recording records, Daze is Trout’s 21st solo album in addition to albums he worked on with Canned Heat and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.  With such a large body of work that he can be proud of, I asked Trout what makes Daze different from his other CDs.

“Well, it is really an attempt at just doing a blues album, which I’ve never done before. If you listen to something like Common Ground, just between that song and Open Book – at the time I was thinking to myself almost as a singer/songwriter and I was really trying to explore songwriting and experiment with it and try different things. On this one, I just sort of went back to where I started, which was with the blues – with old rock and roll. Very simple stuff. It was also an attempt at trying to capture in the studio the energy that my band puts out when we play live.”

When I shared with Walter my comment that I shared in the second paragraph of this piece, enthusiastically replied, “Well, thanks! There’s a lot of ways of doing the blues, you know? This was my attempt at really exploring that genre.  It’s my version of what the blues is. It’s not everybody’s version. Some people will like it, some people won’t but it’s a definite, honest attempt on my part to present to the public what the blues is to me.”

I don’t put Trout on the same level as a Bible-thumpin’ preacher. However, on Common Ground, I sensed a heightened level of spirituality or spiritual awareness.  I sensed the same kind of feel being carried through on Daze by the way he shared observations and life-lessons.  I asked if my perceptions were correct.

“Yeah, that’s a very correct thing and it’s been that way for me for years and years. Maybe on the song Common Ground I might have been a little more blatant with it. It’s turned up at various points in my career. There was a song called Down To You which is on one of my earlier records, Go the Distance, and that’s a pretty blatant kind of Christian song.

“I’m not a guy who’s out Bible thumpin’, either. It is important to me in my own life and I don’t want to turn people off. I don’t want to come off as the guy who’s knockin’ on your door and throwin’ it in your face because I think that turns people off. But I do like to, once in a while, put it out there that this is who I am and it’s important to me. Also, for instance, on the new CD (quoting lyrics from Brother’s Keeper), ‘I get sick of people out there who use religion and use Christianity to advance their own political agendas’. That’s what Brother’s Keeper is about. 

“For somebody to say, ‘Yeah, I’m a Christian but if there’s somebody dying on the street and they don’t have health care insurance, let ‘em die’, no, you’re not a Christian at that point. I’m sorry. You’re not. You’re hiding behind that label to advance your own agenda. That’s okay. That’s your agenda but don’t tell me that that has anything to do with the teachings of Jesus because you need to go back and re-read your Bible at that point.  It’s just like the song (Brother’s Keeper) said, ‘Jesus said to feed the hungry, Jesus said to help the poor, so many of these so-called Christians don’t believe in that no more’. That’s about as to the point as I could get.

“When I did that tune, my co-producer, Eric Corne, he said, ‘You know, you’re probably going to get into a lot of trouble for that song’.  I said, ‘I don’t care. I gotta write what I feel, here. I’m not gonna write an album about tulips and puppy dogs!”

With such a hard-hitting indictment against the church world, what does Walter hope the response would be from his listeners?

“Geez, I don’t know what the desired response would be.  Maybe it can get them to think a little bit. I’ll tell you that back when the decision was made that I would do a blues record – like, we’re in the process of putting this together with the record label and they’re like, ‘Well, we could do this or we could do that – we want to do something a little different. You could do an album of covers.’ ‘Nah, I don’t feel like doin’ an album of covers.’ ‘How about an acoustic album?’  ‘There’s no way I feel like doin’ an acoustic album. I like loud guitar.’ ‘You could do Full Circle II and get guests.’ “Yeah, how ‘bout we just do a blues album?’ and they’re, like, ‘Yeah, that’s great!’

“Then, a day later, as I thought about it, I said to ‘em, ‘You know, everybody that does a ‘blues album’, you’re gonna have version #683 of Got My Mojo Workin’ and version #845 of Hey, Hey, the Blues is Alright. I don’t wanna do that. It’s been done. When I turn on blues radio and here’s another artist doing Sweep My Broom, it’s like there’s fifteen songs that get done over and over and over and over. 

“I said, ‘How ‘bout we do a blues album but I’m gonna write the whole thing and I’m gonna write about what I feel, what I believe, my observations on life and I’m gonna make it a little bit of a concept about my feelings about the world we live right now’ and they said, ‘sure’.

“I did a lot of writing on here, for instance, about what I see as the corporate takeover of the American political system and that’s how I see it. I love this country dearly and I’m sadden to my core to think that you can go out and vote this year and it don’t mean anything because, as the song say, ‘Politicians bought and sold but they belong to Exxon and Goldman Sachs’. I really think this country has to get back to being a democracy and not The Corporate States of America.

“So, I wrote about a lot of things – not just spiritual. I wrote a lot about my feelings about what’s going on in the world. ‘You get yours, I’ll get mine, just make sure you toe the line.’ I don’t know if it’ll change anybody’s ideas but I certainly got a lot off my chest!”

We chatted a little longer about the political climate and problems in the U.S. While we were solving the world’s problems, Walter said something very interesting and compelling - something that I’ve mulled over and over ever since he said them to me.

“I’m married to a girl from Denmark.  She’s still a Danish citizen and my kids are Danish citizens. In Denmark, it is highly illegal for any corporation or business to donate money to political candidates because they see that as a conflict of interest. Any corporation that gives a political candidate a million bucks and that guy gets in office, he owes that corporation something. Really, who he owes something to would be the people of the country, not the corporations.

“I see a different way of doing it over there. It’s a completely different approach. They don’t have lobbyists. To my Danish wife, the idea of a lobbyist just outrages her to her core. It doesn’t compute at all because she was raised in a country where they can’t contribute, they can’t come in and push for laws to get passed that are going to help them make more profits at the expense of the people of the country. So, I’ve seen a different system and I think that this gets more and more and more out of hand.

“If you listen to Puppet Master and Money Rules the World, it’s right there.  We can agree on one thing here: We can say that you might be a right wing conservative and I might be a complete left wing wacko, but we can certainly agree that the money in politics has gotta go!  To me, whether you’re a fan of Rick Santorum or a fan of Joseph Stalin, whoever, you can see that it’s the money in our politics that is corrupting the system so much that the people are ending up getting the shaft here with the corporations making more money than they’ve ever made in history. To me, if you’ve got a problem with bail-outs, you should also have a problem with giving Exxon $60 billion a year in subsidies. Same thing! 

“I don’t know, man, something’s gotta change here!  As long as they’re (politicians) getting millions and millions of dollars and it’s based on influxes of money from corporate entities, none of them are going to do what they say because as soon as they get in, they owe. They owe those people big time! That’s where the problem arises I think.”

Trout accentuated those comments by sharing with me his love for our country and how that was fostered in his upbringing.

“I love this country. I was raised in the Philadelphia area and my mother took me to Independence Hall and we saw the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were written. Then, one summer, she took me to all the Civil War battlefields. The next summer we went to all the Revolutionary War battlefields. She raised me to be patriotic and to be thankful and happy to live where I live. I get despondent with it now.”

Over Trout’s 30-plus year career, he’s recorded a lot of great music, played with an impressive array of people and has played all sorts of well known venues.  With such an impressive resume, I wondered if there’s a project he hasn’t yet done that he wants to and who he would like to play with that he hasn’t.

“As far as a project that I want to do, it’s hard for me to even think about that now because I still haven’t gotten this one released, you know? Right now, I’m sorta like – as my wife would make the analogy – a lady who’s in her ninth month of pregnancy and is waitin’ to pop the kid out. The kid’s fully developed He’s in there. He just don’t want to come out. Right now, I’ve got a little more than two more weeks before this thing is released and I start getting some feedback on it from fans and people like you. I’m anxious to see how it’s received, you know what I mean?

“My wife always says that, when I do these CDs, it’s kind of like giving birth. I kind of disappear into my garage for three weeks and come out with a CD written. I do it in one, long three week period. She says, ‘Okay, it’s time for you to do a CD’ and I say, ‘Okay, I’ll see you in three weeks’ and I go sit in the garage and write a CD.  So, as far as the next project, I really don’t know the answer to that. I want to get this one out there and see how it does.”

In answering the question as to who he would like to play with, it’s not at all surprising to hear who that is.

“One time in my life I’d like to get up on stage with the Stones and stand there next to Keith Richards and play some rhythm guitar. That would be it. That would be about as much fun as I can imagine having!  I’ve done a bunch of playing in the past with Mick Taylor but I mean the band – the full band. To turn around and there’s Charlie Watts would just kill me. I’d just be like, ‘Wow! This is awesome!’

Regardless of one’s profession, it’s human nature to get tired or bored of what some might think is doing the same thing over and over again.  If you’ve ever had the privilege of watching Trout perform, you’ll see that is clearly not the case with him.  It’s obvious that he still has a blast entertaining crowds and performing his craft.  I asked him what is the biggest thrill or satisfaction that he still derives from his work and how does he keep it fresh and exciting for himself.

“I can just tell you, for instance, I just finished a tour of Europe. I got home three days ago. I’ll play a venue – say, The Paradiso in Amsterdam – and I’ll walk out on stage. It’s sold out. There’s, what, 1,800 people in there? It’s packed to the rafters. I walk on the stage and they freak out and they send me up waves of love! I play to them and I look them in the eye and I get right down in their face.

“If I’m playin’ a slow blues tune like Brother’s Keeper, there’s people in the front row and they’re visibly weeping. I realize that what I’m doing means something in their lives. It brings them joy. It brings them – not just entertainment – it means something. It matters to them and I feel that I’m the luckiest guy on the face of the earth.

“It’s not about huge commercial success here. I’m not the guy who’s out scraping and clawing to climb up to the next level and play the bigger venues. I just don’t care about that. Some of the best nights of my life happen in little bars.”

As Trout continues to answer my question, he becomes genuinely emotional.

“That’s what keeps it goin’ for me is to realize that I was blessed with a gift that I can do something that actually has some meaning for people. And, man, I don’t take it for granted. I used to when I was all messed up. I was a heroin addict for three years – back in the Jessie Ed days. That’s why I say that they’re a blur. But I don’t take it for granted anymore and I haven’t for years. I want to get as much of it as I can get.

“People will go, ‘you’re sixty-one, are you going to retire?’ Retire?  Retiring is what people who hate what they do! ‘I hate what I do and I want to stop doing it and go fishin’!’  No! I want to keep doin’ this until I can’t do it anymore. John Lee Hooker, who I played with, he was 85 and he played a gig two nights before he died. I take inspiration from those guys. I just did a couple of shows with B.B. King. He’s 86 and he still loves going out there. So, it’s easy to keep it fresh when, every night, you have the potential of really connecting with some people on a deeper level than just playing them some happy little ditty but connecting and seeing that it’s affecting them down into their heart and soul.”

With economic times being as dicey as they are, does Walter see a correlation between these hard times and the public’s receptiveness of the blues?

“Not particularly. I’ve been at it a long time and people enjoyed it as much during the boom years as they are during the bust years. I think it’s more about the common existential difficulties that everybody has in their life that goes beyond financial problems. Granted, some of those tunes will affect people more when they’re struggling and having a rough time but everybody has heartache – whether they’re a homeless guy on the street or they’re Bill Gates, they’re going to experience heartache. But the homeless guy on the street has a lot more to deal with just to get through a day. But I don’t notice that it chances the audiences any. It’s an interesting question.”

For relatively new fans like me – as well as for those of you who have followed Trout for quite a while - I asked him what fans can expect from the upcoming tour.

“We’ll be doing, pretty much, the new record. We’ll still do some old stuff and we’ll still do some spontaneous jammin’ but we’ll concentrate on the new record. I also wrote that record with the thought of doing it live, too.  There’s not a whole lot of production and stuff on there that we can’t come out and do those tunes. You’ll see the same band that’s on the record that I’ll have with me and we’ll be doin’ those tunes. We do change the tunes around a little bit. There’s a version of Brother’s Keeper that I just put on the fan page that we did in Cologne. It’s different than the record. I changed the key and I changed the melody. It’s on the Facebook fan page so you can see it there. I changed it a little bit but it’s the same tune.”

Let’s say that you and I were chatting and you had never heard of Walter Trout.  Let’s also say that I could play only one song off of Blues for the Modern Daze as an example of why you should buy the record.  Even though I’d make you listen to the whole CD, for the sake of this hypothetical example, I would play either Lonely or Brother’s Keeper. I asked Walter which song off of Daze he would point people to.

“Well, I can tell you that when I’m driving around and I’ve got that CD in my car, I probably keep going back to Lonely. I think the words to that song are very unique and very timely. I think there are people more of my generation who will understand what I’m trying to get at with that song.  I do go back to that song myself and listen to it a lot. I think it came out well.

“I wrote that at a Starbucks on a napkin as a poem. That’s why I say, ‘I’m waitin’ for my coffee and I’m standin’ in a crowd’. I was standin’ there and there was people screamin’ in their phones and lookin’ at computers, nobody’s talking to each other. So I grabbed this napkin as I stood there and I wrote the whole thing lyrically and stuck it in my pocket. When it was time to write the CD, there it was and I put it to music.

“At first, I read them and I thought, ‘Nah, these lyrics are a little too – nah, it’s not gonna lend themselves to this’ then I thought, ‘Screw it!’  That was, I think, the first song I did when I sat down to write this one. I found that napkin. I had stuck it in a folder of lyrics, opened it up, found that one, and went, ‘Well, if you want to write about today’s world, well, there you go!”

Speaking to the songs commentary about how technology as isolated us from one another, Walter said, “It’s really great. With the internet you have all the information in the history of the world at your finger tips, right?  That’s a beautiful thing. But I don’t see that it’s increasing our understanding as human beings at all. All it does is give people more ways - if you’re prone to be an intolerant, prejudiced person of a certain ilk - you can find others just like you and have a little community where it would’ve been harder before. So there’s a plus and a minus. I’ve always had this thought that, with every advance we make as a society we give something up, too.

“Have you ever seen the movie, Inherit the Wind? There’s a line in there that Spencer Tracy delivers about progress of technology. That happened in the twenties, right? So he does this line – I saw it as a kid and it stuck with me and I’ve remembered it – and he says, ‘You can have airplanes but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline so be prepared for that change’.  That’s it - with every advancement something falls by the wayside and that’s really what that song is about. I don’t think the internet’s a bad thing. I don’t technology is a bad thing. It’s a great thing! For instance, I have friends who, if they want to invite their next door neighbor over for dinner, they send them an e-mail. I’m, like, ‘Just go knock on the door, look them in the eye and say, ‘You wanna come over?’”

Speaking of technology, I was curious what Walter has playing on his iPod these days so I asked him.

“It’s funny, I really don’t listen to much that is like what I do because I do at least 200 shows a year and I’ve done 21 albums in 23 years. I need to get away from it so when I’m on tour and I’m sittin’ in the van and I’ve got my iPod goin’, I’m probably listening to anything from Joni Mitchell to Miles Davis to Duke Ellington to Crosby, Stills and Nash to James Taylor or Kate Bush or something like that. I kinda stay away from blues with loud guitars and stuff because, in order to do it at the level I do it at, I have to immerse myself in it and dive in completely. Then, when I’m done, I wanna hear something completely different. So, like I said, I’ll listen to jazz. I’m a big fan of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell and Ella Fitzgerald and Placido Domingo and lots of different stuff. Nothing like what I do.”

My final pair of technologically related questions had to do with guitars: how many does he own and is there what he considers a “Holy Grail” of guitars?

“I don’t know. Maybe about 20. I’m not collector. I’m not into the whole vintage thing. Matter of fact, the whole vintage thing ticks me off ‘cause they’ve taken those guitars out of the hands of players and put ‘em in the hands of guys who put ‘em in a safe. I’ve got a few Strats, got an old Tele – I own probably 20 guitars but I end up just using a couple of them.

And the Holy Grail of guitars?

“Oh, yeah, the old one that’s on the cover of all my CDs. I’ve owned that one – next year it’ll be 40 years and when I bought it, it was white.  We actually have it done as a mosaic in stone in the floor of our house. We have an exact duplicate of it in stone. When you walk in my house, that’s the first thing you see in the floor. So, that one for me is the Holy Grail. Actually, I use that on Lonely. That song is on my old guitar and after did that song with it – we started with that song and after I did it, the guitar broke electronically. It needs to be taken apart and re-soldered. The rest of the album is my touring guitar. I don’t take that old one on tour anymore. It’s too much stress. People go, ‘Well, why don’t you take it on tours?’ when I’m in Europe, and I go, ‘Because, if somebody stole it, I would exercise my Second Amendment rights’ and they look at me like, ‘What?’”

It’s an American thing.  They wouldn’t understand.

As we were wrapping up our chat, I asked Walter how he wished to be remembered when he goes to that great blues gig in the sky.

“I would hope they look back and go, ‘He was a dedicated artist who tried to say something with his art. Whether he succeeded or not, that is up to interpretation. That’s a guy who devoted his life to being an artist and was serious about it and, also, helped a lot of young people get going.’  I have a lot of young guitar players that I mentor and that means a lot to me.  Of course, I would want my wife and my kids to look back and say, ‘He was a good husband and a good father’. That’s incredibly important and probably the most important – three kids!  But as far as how the world would see me, a guy who just gave everything he could have to try to be the best artist he could be.”

Clearly, many of us are already saying just that.

Andy Timmons Discusses Sgt. Pepper

Posted December, 2011

 

AndyNew11Photo by Simone CecchettiOnce in a great while, one comes across an artist who is not only good but scary good.  One such person is former Danger Danger guitarist, Andy Timmons.  As I shared in my interview with Timmons last year, when I heard the strains of Cry For You wafting across the Dallas International Guitar Festival, I became an immediate fan . . . for life.

Since that interview, I’ve become increasingly aware of the level of high respect given to Timmons among his peers.  Some might even go as far as to say that they would just be happy to be able to play his mistakes.  Yeah, he’s that good.

During that interview, Andy mentioned that he was working on a new CD wherein he covers the entire Sgt. Pepper album instrumentally.  A year later, Andy shot me a note to ask me to meet up with him for coffee and to pick up a copy of his Pepper.  Boy! Is this album ever worth the wait!  You can catch the Boomerocity review of Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper here but, suffice it to say, I think you should add this album to your listening library.

After practically wearing out the CD, I, of course, wanted to chat with Andy about the album.  Between touring in support of the album and his continued work with Mesa Boogie as well as Olivia Newton-John, it was tough to get our schedules in sync.  We were able to carve out some time while he was on tour with Olivia.  In fact, it was during some down time during the tour, while Andy was paying homage to John Lennon at Strawberry Fieldsin New York City’s Central Park.

Before we got down to talking all things Pepper, I briefly continued discussion on a topic that Andy and I bantered back and forth on via e-mail a few days prior.  The subject matter was the theme song from a kid’s TV show that ruled the airwaves in the Phoenix area for over 30 years: The Wallace and Ladmo Show. The theme song was written and played by the late Mike Condello who was the musical force behind anything musical taking place on that show.  Andy had mentioned in a previous chat that the Wallace theme song was the second record he ever bought so I started our conversation on that subject.

Before you roll your eyes and fast-forward to Pepper chat, just hold on to your Walrus.  This has everything to do with the Beatles and segues quite nicely into our discussion about Pepper.

“That 45rpm record – I still have the original copy of it. It’s just one of those haunting instrumental tunes.  It’s a very sad, pensive kind of melody. I don’t know if it strikes you that way but for me the tune is very melancholy for a kid’s show. It must’ve been recorded in ’67 or ’68, obviously. It sounded very Abbey Road to me before Abbey Road came out – the way the harmony sounds – like Paul and George singing together. Mike always did a great job of copying Beatle-type stuff. He had quite a history of that. But, yeah, it was one of my first records. It’s an instrumental tune and I love it so much.”

And, just in case you folks think that this is purely a Phoenix thing, realize that greats like Alice Cooper and Steven Spielberg were heavily influenced by The Wallace and Ladmo Show and that the show’s reach spanned the globe.  Andy attests to this fact.

“I was actually in Sydney, Australia, back in about 2000 with Olivia. I was in a really cool collector’s CD shop and I found Wallace and Ladmo’s Greatest Hits in Australia of all places!  They had the theme song so it was nice to have a clean version of the theme song! It had all of the Mike Condello hits like Ladmo In The Sky With Diamonds!” Andy laughs at the memory of the fun of it all and concludes by saying of the theme, “It will always be one of my favorite recorded pieces of music”.

It goes to show you that kids are indelibly impacted by music at a very early age and underscores the importance of music education in the lives of our kids.  It’s a sad thing to see funding of music education fall victim to budget cuts in our schools.

We shifted our chat to Andy’s current tour with Ms. Newton-John and how his Pepper work factors into it.

“We’re actually right in the middle of it. We’ve done three shows and have four more. It’s a brief run.  She’s been very gracious and she’s asked me to open her show with some of my Pepper tunes.  So I’m out there doing that. That’s pretty cool.  She loves the CD and is very into it and very happy to help promote it.  She’s a sweetheart like that.”

As I mentioned earlier, Andy told me last year that he had already started working on the album.  I asked him how long it took to put the project together and out the door.

“The main time spent was just me coming up with the arrangements. I called it kind of a hobby for a couple of years because I wasn’t specifically setting out to make a record initially. We were doing Strawberry Fields live and it was going over great. A suggestion from my Italian promoter was, ‘Why don’t you do a whole set of Beatles?’  I really didn’t think that I could pull that off but it kind of got my wheels turning and I started experimenting with other Beatles songs but not necessarily Sgt. Pepper songs.  I think Lucy In The Sky was the next one that started to develop nicely.

“I thought, ‘How would it be to play the whole record just by myself in my studio just for fun?’ So, I just started working on other arrangements. I thought, ‘What if I did When I’m Sixty-Four or Lovely Rita?’ – like how I had approached the Resolutionrecord in that I wasn’t doing any overdubs. I was using chords and melody together a lot. So that’s how I approached this whole project. I didn’t want to approach it as far as ‘I’m going to do a bunch of overdubs and try to exactly replicate the record’. I wanted to see how much I could incorporate into one performance while really getting across all of the nuances and memorable things about each song.

“As I went about it, I also decided that I was just going to do it completely from memory. That should tell you how much I’ve AndyNew9Photo by Simone Cecchettiheard this music. Obviously, so many people have. It’s very ingrained. But I think it actually helped make it easier for me in that, going back and transcribing the record, per se, would have been a daunting task. Whereas this allowed me to replicate the music as I hear it in my head meaning that, depending how you experience music as you think about it, the important things tend to stick out to me - like whether it’s the vocal or guitar chord or an orchestration from George Martin, or whatever it might be. It’s what helped me thin it out and do what I could in performing it.  It made it fun and extra challenging. I think it’s also a cool story. People like to know as they listen to the record – it makes it more interesting than just somebody who sat at home with 24 tracks or whatever and tried to replicate it exactly. It makes it much more of a personal statement for me as opposed to the other direction.”

As Andy mentioned earlier, Olivia Newton-John loves Andy’s Pepper project.  I also knew that other of his guitar playing peers had received copies of the disc – folks like Steve Lukather and Andy’s label prez, the incomparable Steve Vai. I asked Andy what their feedback was.

“I think one of the most gratifying is Steve Lukather one of my early heroes for many years and we’ve gotten to know each other over time.  He couldn’t be a sweeter, more supportive kind of guy. There’s a handful of guys that I consider when I make a record and I think, ‘Man! I hope they dig this!’ because I respect their ears and I certainly respect their taste in music. My guitar player friends that are definitely Beatles fans , I’m really hoping they’ll connect with what I’ve done because there’s a lot of nuance there that the casual listener may not pick up on but some of the musicians will definitely understand and realize, ‘Alright, this wasn’t an easy feat’ and they can hear the labor of love.

“Steve – he was so sweet!  I sent him a link to the record before it was released.  He sent me a couple of e-mails over the course of a month, saying, ‘Hey, man, I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet. I’m traveling but I’ll get to it.’  Then, apparently, he listened to it while he had a day off in Osaka (Japan). I probably got six e-mails. He was going off on how much he loved it. He called it maybe his favorite instrumental record of all time.  Heavy praise from my hero!  That was very sweet!”

And what has Steve Vai had to say about it?

“He was the first guy to hear it – the first guy I sent it to. One of the most gratifying things he said was, ‘How did you get all those chords in tune?’  The guitar, in general, is a very imperfect instrument. You cannot possibly be perfectly in tune – especially when you have distortion. It magnifies all the impurities of the tuning – especially the more complex chords you’re trying to voice with distortion - it exaggerates the tuning imperfections. I spent a lot of time on that. Some songs happened very quickly on the CD and some I had to figure out how I could achieve the tuning, per se, to really make it listenable for me. It’s a blessing and a curse having great ears in that you know exactly what it sounds like in your head and to get it can be extremely frustrating. We went through a lot to get the tuning just right.”

Bringing his comments back around to what Vai had to say, Timmons said, “He also said that he thought it was a beautiful record and, ‘This is the kind of project everyone talks about doing but never does.’  As I would tell people what I was up to, everybody would have that look like, ‘Really? Is this going to work?’ 

“I have to admit, over the course of a couple of years – after I had the idea, ‘Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool to actually record this?’ I came in a confident mode where, for a while there I thought, ‘Man, this is really gonna work!’ and then when we did the recording, I thought, ‘Man, I don’t think this is going to work.” It took me quite awhile to get the confidence to really be sure, ‘Okay, I love this. I really think it’s going to work.’  Once I got to that place, it was really exciting!  I thought, ‘Regardless what happens, if a couple of my friends dig the way I’m digging it and the way the band’s digging it, then I’m successful.’ 

AndyNew12Photo by Simone Cecchetti“For Steve Vai and Lukather and other people who have been hearing it along the way – no matter what happens commercially, I’m already way successful with what the goal was – to try to present the music in a loving tribute, so to speak. But obviously, it’s nice that it’s getting out there and it’s selling pretty well. I think there’s potential to broaden my fan base that tends to be other guitarists – which is awesome and I’m so thankful for that – but, you know, largely, I want to appeal to a wider group of people and not just people who play the same instrument. I’m hoping this will translate to connecting with Beatles fans in general.

“Oddly enough, I get e-mails from people now that will start off by saying, ‘You know, I’m not really a Beatles fan but I really like your record!’  I’m like, ‘How could you not be a Beatles fan?’  I was fortunate that I was born in ’63 and I had older brothers that were all big fans so I grew up with every record that came out then. So it’s just ingrained in me. If you don’t grow up in that environment and aren’t exposed to it, you’re not as likely to be as connected.  The youth are obviously connecting when they’re exposed to it. It continues to appeal on such a large scale. 

“For me, it’s an honor to add anything to the realm of the Beatle world and to have it be so positively accepted by a lot of Beatles websites already.  Beatles Examiner and Steve Marinucci, I’ve subscribed to his Beatles newsletter which has come out every day for 15 years. I sent him a copy. I’ve never met him before but he immediately picked up on it and loved it. I was blown away because I’m sure he gets hammered with Beatle related releases every day. But he really took a liking to it and is helping spread the word.  It’s a very cool time for me.”

As he finished that particular thought, Andy interrupts himself by saying, “I’m sitting here staring at the Imagine mosaic, by the way, as we’re talking. I don’t know if you ever saw the back of my CD, ear X-tacy, there’s a picture of me sitting in this mosaic which had to be taken in 1993. Here I am, how many years later.”

With Andy’s extensive network of incredible musician friends, I asked if he’s heard whether or not Paul or Ringo have heard his CD yet.

“No, I haven’t. But that would be a dream of mine!  I know that (Beatle engineer) Geoff Emerick has it. I haven’t heard back from him. My publicist, Carol Kaye, actually manages Geoff so she gave him a copy a few weeks ago.”

I caught one of Andy’s performances recently in which he performed several cuts from Pepper, much to the crowd’s delight. I asked Andy what his favorite tune to perform from the disc.

“Ooh!  Interesting!  I do love all of it. We haven’t performed the whole record yet so it’s hard to say. We’ve done about half of it. Strawberry Fields is still a really strong song to perform live. I really enjoy playing She’s Leaving Home, as well. It’s one of the high points of the record just because it was always the most emotional Beatles song for me. It’s kind of like Paul had really gotten to the same emotional place that Brian Wilson was coming from on Pet Sounds. You hear Brian’s influence on Paul’s bass playing all over the record. But, vocally, that’s one of the influences you hear on that song where Paul gets into that high falsetto stuff. That’s total ‘Brian Wilson’. But he’s mentioned it many times how Pet Sounds was his inspiration, basically, for the Pepper record.

“But Brian Wilson’s music, for whatever reason, is highly emotional to a lot of people, obviously.  When you think of his ballads - not the surfing tunes - In My Room and Surfer Girl come from such a delicate, sweet place and, when you know more about his history and his painful childhood, you kind of understand where that stuff is coming from.  That one Beatles song kind of gets to that level.  It’s a very sentimental lyric, obviously. But what Paul did melodically is really strong.

“Anyway, I took a lot of time trying to get to that same place on the guitar – trying to get it through the guitar in that same way. People seem to really like that, as well.”

As for what he thinks the crowd favorite is, Timmons said, “Strawberry Fields, I think, for sure. It’s fun when we do things like Little Help From My Friends and Lucy In The Sky. No matter what country we’re in – anywhere in the world – the crowd is signing as loud as the band is playing. It’s so cool! Everybody knows the music so well! It turns into these wonderful sing-alongs. It’s awesome!”

For you musicians, guitar techies and gear heads, I asked Timmons about the equipment he used to play on Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper.  You can thank me with tens and twenties.

“Essentially, its four amps running at once. Again, being just one guitar performance we wanted the tone to be as stellar as possible. It’s essentially four Mesa Boogies. There was one Marshall amp involved on a couple of songs but my Mesa’s were basically beating out my vintage amps. When it comes to recording, it’s not about what logo is on the amp, it’s the best tone wins. It’s gonna last forever, hopefully. It’s gotta be right no matter what. I had two Mesa Boogie Lone Star’s and two Mesa Boogie Stilleto Deuce Stage Two heads all running through four separate Mesa Boogie rectifier 2x12 cabinets with vintage Celestion 30 watt speakers.

“So one guitar is basically feeding four amps in a variety of ways, split with an A/B box – one side going to the Lone Stars and those being split by a TC Electronic chorus delay. The other side is split by an A/B box and tube driver feeding into two tape echoes feeding into the Stilettos.  That’s the overall sound of the record, essentially.

“The guitar was my original AT100 Ibanez signature guitar – the prototype from 1994.  On Within You Without You I used a brand new production model AT100 that I set up with the tremolo floating slightly to get those Eastern inflections. I also used a 1968 Telecaster on When I’m Sixty-Four.  I was trying to replicate George Harrison’s Gretsch Tennessean tone like he used on Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby and Honey Don’t, those kinds of songs – his Carl Perkins tone. I have a ’62 Tennessean which is very similar to his guitar but the Tele actually sounded ‘Gretschier’ than the Gretsch. I use that old Tele for that ol’ rockabilly/country tone that I got as a tribute to George. But that’s it –those three guitars but it’s mainly my old AT100 – my old faithful – that’s just the home base for me.”

One thing about Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper that intrigued me was why he included Strawberry Fields at the tail end of the album.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled that he did. I was just curious as to why he did.

“Well, two reasons. Obviously, that was the arrangement that got us started in the first place. But, actually – and a lot of people do know this – but Strawberry Fields was the first song recorded for Sgt. Pepper. When the Beatles came off of vacation after they stopped touring in August of ’66, John went to Spain to film a movie called How I Won The War – another Richard Lester film. While he was there, he wrote Strawberry Fields. When they reconvened in the studio for what became Sgt. Pepper, that was his offering so they worked on that first in late ’66. Then Paul had Penny Lane as an answer. When I’m Sixty-Four was the next one. EMI came to Brian Epstein and said, ‘Hey, we need another single.’ So the label pulls Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane as a single. The Beatles didn’t want to put singles in front of the album. But that really was the first track recorded for Sgt. Pepper.

Timmons added, “We’re about to release an official video of us playing it in the studio.  We shot about six videos a couple of months ago and they’re just now being edited. Simple – just us in the studio playing the tunes but it’s kind of cool to see.”

I followed that bit of revelation by asking if he was planning to do like he did when he released Resolution and that was to film a full-blown concert video of the album.

“Yes! Absolutely!  We’re working on logistics as far as how and when and where we’re going to do it.”

When I interviewed Andy last year, he mentioned that he was also working on another CD in parallel with Pepper.  I asked him what the latest scoop was on that CD. 

“The only scoop at this point is that there’s 14 new songs that were recorded essentially at the same time as Pepper. So that’s going to be one of those situations like Resolution where I’m going to scrap everything I recorded guitar-wise and redo it. It will be awhile because I’m so focused now on promoting the Sgt. Pepper record and getting that out there. That’s why the Pepper record happened before that did because I cut about half of the tracks live with the band and I thought, ‘Okay, this is closer to being done. Let me finish this and then I’ll work on the other thing and get that to the place to where I’m happy with it. That was quite handy by the time we did the Pepper record. I knew exactly what I wanted arrangement wise because I’d been playing it by myself for a couple of years. The band hadn’t heard the arrangements. They had them thrust upon them over a 2 ½ day marathon of Beatles songs. Fortunately, the performances were good so I ended up keeping about half of what I did live with the band. I’m happy to have gone down that path the way we did.”

As we were wrapping up our chat, I mentioned that I had heard that he was going to be interviewed by David Lowry on Live From Music City and had heard that he (Andy) was going to phone in from a very interesting location for that interview.

“My dear friend, Uliana Salerno, has a hair salon in the village in New York City. It just happens to be Jimi Hendrix’s old apartment. That’s where I’m going to do the radio interview from. I decided that I would call in from her place. What a cool place to be able to do it from.”

Indeed, it is.  You can catch that interview here.  If you weren’t already an Andy Timmons fan, I’m sure that you are now.  You can keep up with all things Andy by visiting his website, www.andytimmons.com.  While you’re there, why don’t you load up on all of his CD’s and DVD’s in addition to ordering Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper?  You’re going to love everything he’s recorded.

If you’re interested in catching his work with Olivia Newton-John, you can find her latest tour dates that he will be working with her on at www.olivianewton-john.com/tour.html. Who knows? You just might be treated to an Andy Timmons performance before her appearance.

 

Tommy James

Posted April, 2010

tommyjamesbeI recently was channel surfing on my satellite radio while driving around the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex when the song, Hanky Panky, came on. As I often do when I hear a song, my brain kicks in (if it never does any other time) and began searching its cobweb laden memory banks for a benchmark of when I first heard that song.

As I started drilling in and through my gray matter, I quickly remembered that it was somewhere around the summer of ’69 or ’70 in Phoenix, Arizona.  A little girl was spending the summer with a a friend of my mom’s.  This little girl would come over and play with my little sister.

Very early on, this girl started bringing her one 45 record.  It was Tommy James and the Shondell’s ’66 recording of Hanky Panky.  That girl played that song over and over and over again. Surprisingly, none of us really got sick of it, as I recall.  However, the tune was forever burned into my memory.

Fast forward about 15 years.  My wife and I have a beautiful daughter that isn’t quite one year old.  Our family video library shows me standing her on my lap, twisting her back and forth like we’re doing the twist, and I’m singing Hanky Panky to her as she’s smiling.

That’s the funny – strike that – great thing about well written songs.  They become part of the soundtrack of our minds and they come out in the most unique ways.

Fast forward to today and back to my cruisin’ to the tunes.  Hearing the song inspired me to research what the latest happenings were with Tommy James.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the man JUST published his autobiography, Me, The Mob and The Music: One Helluva Ride With Tommy James and the Shondells.

I HAD to have that book.

Long story short, Tommy’s manager, Carol Ross-Durborow, sent me a copy of the book for me to review.  I COULD NOT put the book down, it was that captivating.  (You can read my review of the book here.) Before I even finished the book I knew I had to interview Tommy and Carol was very kind to set up the phone interview. 

From the first moment of the conversation, James is both warm and engaging in his conversation.  Right out of the chute, we start talking about the book with my confession that, when I received the book, that I really didn’t expect it to be a good read but, boy, was I wrong!

“You know, I’ve got to tell you, we’ve had such an amazing response from the fans and the media to this book.  I just can’t believe it.  It’s only been out about six weeks and they’re in their third printing already. It’s just blowing my mind. Also, it’s going to be a movie and a Broadway play.”

I mentioned that I had read that Martin Scorsese was mentioned as a possible director of the movie.

“Well, his office contacted us first. We’re talking to a couple of other people.  So, that decision is going to be made in the next two or three weeks.  We’re going to have a major announcement to make within a month.  And, it’s going to be produced by Barry Rosen and Mary Gleason for Triangle Pictures.  It’s going to be an A-1 cast.  There are going to be a lot of big names involved in this and I’m as thrilled as I can be.

“When you’re living your life you don’t think of it, necessarily, as a story. So, I’m just as happy as I can be.  And then at the same time, a Broadway play is going to be developed.  It’s going to open in L.A. in approximately nine months and then they’re going to bring it to Chicago and then to New York. So, we’re all flipped out!”

I shared with Tommy how stunned I was with his revelations of the seamier side of the music business.  I felt that my Pollyannaish, rose-colored view of the business and it’s history were stomped on with a slime covered boot.

“Well, you know something, Roulette Records was not only a functioning record company but also a front for the Genovese crime family in New York.  We learned this incrementally.

Our first hit record, Hanky Panky, exploded out of Pittsburgh in the spring of ’66, unexpectedly, I might add.  I couldn’t put the original band back together so I grabbed the first bar band I could find in Pittsburgh and brought them to New York.  We went to sell the master and we got a yes from every major company: Columbia, RCA, Epic, Atlantic, Kama Sutra.  We were so flipped out.  The last place they took the record to was Roulette.

“One by one, the next morning, all of the companies called up and said, ‘Listen, we’ve got to pass.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean that you’ve got to pass?’ Jerry Wexler at Atlantic finally told us what had happened – that Morris Levy had called up every one of the other labels and said, ‘This is my record.  Back off!’  And they did!  We were, apparently, going to be on Roulette Records. That’s literally how we wound up there.”

When I mentioned how one or two of the people I knew in the business felt about Morris Levy, Tommy didn’t exactly come to his defense or try to sugarcoat Levy’s reputation.

“Well, you know, Morris was, quite literally, financed by these people and was a gangster himself.  When we went to Roulette, we found out about what was going on there incrementally.  It didn’t all come at once. We had heard about their reputation and stuff.

“The day we were signing with Roulette, Morris was right out of the movies – right out of Central Casting.  He could have been in the Godfather.  He was about 6’-4”, weighed about 250, and he talked like this (breaks into a very tough sounding gangster voice).  He played the role really well.

“The day I first laid eyes on him, we’re sitting at his desk, talking about the record.  Two goons walk in, right in the middle of a sentence and he said (going into a tough gangster voice), ‘Scuse me’.  He gets up, goes over and talks to him.  They’re talking about beating some guy with baseball bats and breaking his legs out in Jersey for bootlegging records.

“He’s going on and Red Schwartz, the promo director, sitting and small taking with us like we’re ‘not hearing any of this’.  We’d meet people in Morris’ office and then two weeks later we would see them on the television news, arrested at a warehouse in New Jersey and taken out in handcuffs.  This kept happening.  We finally put two and two together and realized who we were dealing with.”

I asked, “That had to scare the ‘rain’ right out of you, didn’t it?”

Brilliant question, Patterson.

“Well, yeah, it did!  The book itself is an autobiography with about two thirds of it devoted to this crazy situation up at Roulette.  And the fact that we were having this music career with this dark and dangerous story going on behind us. Of course, we couldn’t talk about it.

“My co-author, Martin Fitzpatrick, and I – actually, I was very nervous talking about it as recently as five or six years ago because these guys were still walking around.  So, when we started writing the book, we were going to write a music book about the hits, the studios and stuff. 

“We were going to call it, Crimson and Clover.  We got about a third of the way into the book and realized that we’re only telling half of the story here.  If we don’t tell the Roulette Record story, this isn’t going to be nearly as interesting and it’s not going to make nearly the sense – a lot of it.

“We put it on the shelf for a couple of years and then when the last of the Roulette boys passed on in ’05, we felt like we could finish the book and we did. I gotta tell ya, we were lucky to make out of there in one piece.

“So many of these guys who started independent labels back then – of course RCA and Columbia were corporations – so many of these independent labels were street guys.  They weren’t all necessarily in the mob but were all right off of the streets. 

“There was a guttural kind of logic to the record business that permeates it today in a lot of ways. The thing about the record business was that it was a uniquely American industry.  I mean, it did spread to other countries eventually. But the record business, the rock and roll business, the delivery of rock and roll to teenagers was a very uniquely American experience. 

“The social element was real important. There was this network of radio stations across the country – these monolithic – the HUGE 50,000 watt AM stations that would service 5 to 10 million people at a time.

“Well, gradually, that all disintegrated.  Very little of that excited of that excitement and industry is left.  Downloading is fine but it’s got none of that romance or action that the industry had in the 60’s and 70’s.”

I wasn’t sure if Tommy would feel comfortable in answering my question of whether or not organized crime still controlled any segment of the music business but I asked him anyway.

“Most of any criminal activity is going on with repackaging oldies and stuff like that.  There’s very little of it in the front line music business because there’s very little front line business at all.

“It’s kind of like Vegas.  It was originally run by mob guys but then eventually it was all taken over by corporations.  That’s pretty much what has happened in the record business – except that there are no more records.  And when I say ‘the record business’, I really mean ‘the music business’.

“This business, unfortunately, is really dead.  It came crashing down like the twin towers. The amazing thing, and one of the amazing things about this project, is that we’re all sort of all dressed up and nowhere to go. 

“All the promo guys; all the A&R guys; all the record companies; even the fans; we’re all sitting here just amazed that the rock and roll industry has collapsed. Until there’s a delivery system again to deliver new music – new rock and roll – to the fans it’s going to stay dead.”

I shared with James my observation that the state of the music business has turned to where the old Southern Gospel business used to be until the ‘70’s by way of being a predominantly “indie” delivery model as well as handle their own marketing and publicity.

“You’re right and that’s very observant.  There are a couple of things that are going to happen. Number one, I really do believe that once High Def TV is a major part of our life – High Def TV being a combination of television technology and computer technology – once that goes together in High Def TV for real, I think the whole industry will move to television because that’s where the people are.

“I think we’re going to see things like the Sony Channel, if Sony still exists.  We’re going to see the Warner Channel.  The big corporate entities – EMI Music will probably have a channel – are probably going to have delivery systems on television where you can download stuff to your TV.  TV is probably going to become your iPod.

“Secondly, I believe we’re going to have things like video radio stations like what Imus did 12 years ago where he put digital cameras in his radio booth and basically had the number one television show in the morning.  There’s no reason why you can’t do that with music radio.

“And I think we’re probably going to have networks of radio stations – probably with a moderator in New York saying, ‘Let’s throw it out to Seattle.  What are you guys doing?’ They’ll have some face time in their broadcast booth and they’ll play a couple of records and then they’ll swing it out to Miami and then let’s see what’s going on in DALLAS!

“My guess is that you’ll have databases attached to all of these shows.  It wouldn’t surprise me if you have a trade paper.  You know, Cash Box is back, did you know that?  Cash Box, which gave Billboard competition, is back. And it’s possible that Cash Box will be on television with all of its features and charts based on downloading from these radio stations.

“I think that the ‘radio’ stations that are on the upper end of your cable TV menus will become interactive. The thing that is missing is putting new music in front of the fans.  You don’t type into your computer what you don’t know about. But this is where the relational databases will come in.

“There are a lot of great acts out there.  Listen, I go down to the Bitter End in New York a lot.  They’re down there by NYU.  Greenwich Village is ALIVE on any given night.  You’ll have four or five incredible new bands that are writing their own material. They’re all dressed up and nowhere to go. They write their own stuff.  They’re terrific musicians and they’re very hip kids and they sing great and the record companies don’t exist anymore. There’s nobody to cow tow to.

“You know what it is?  There’s no infrastructure anymore!  It’s a wild-west, every man for himself music business.  So, my guess is that we’re going to see bits and pieces of everything. 

“The question could be that, once High Def TV is here, is there still going to be a market for it.  I think there will always be a market for music.  The question is: are they going to create a delivery system and are your recordings simply something that you are going to give away for free like on YouTube or something.  Is there going to be any payday to making records? That’s an unknown. Is it going to just be a business card for your concerts? It could be that it’s not even a sellable commodity anymore.”

We started talking about different artists from different genres who are enjoying more success as indie artists than they did hooked up with a major label.  The subject of sales and breakeven points came up and how much lower those benchmarks are to determine a successful record.

James is very animated with his comments. “A hit album today is ten thousand pieces, did you know that?  When you look at Rhino, for example, for re-packaging, their idea of a success is ten thousand pieces. That’s where it’s gone to today.

“The other thing is, the one thing the iPod has done is to bring back the singles market. So, the album itself was always a contrivance of the record companies to sell more ‘plastic’.  I think that’s going to go away.  I don’t think there is such a thing as an ‘album’ anymore.”

I suggested to Tommy that what we are already seeing today and is making a comeback are the “EP’s”.

“Yes! I think that’s a very good point.  Multiple singles, maybe.”

I inject by saying, “More power to them because that’s where we’ll see the monetization come back to the music.”

With that, James stated, “I would like to think so.  I tell you one thing:  I look, for example, at this project and we’re talking about multimedia.  The original Shondells are back in the studio making music for this movie.

“We have just finished an incredible new version of I Think We’re Alone Now. Slow, no drums, almost singer/songwriter like – acoustic – for the closing credits of the movie. I wouldn’t be surprised, for example, if we start seeing big albums turned into movies with some sort of loose story with the main idea of ‘milking the music’ – even the same artist doing new music.”

Bringing the conversation back around to the book (since that’s what we were supposed to be discussing but we loved the direction the chat went towards instead), I commented to Tommy that I really hated to give the devil his due but Morris Levy was a genius when it came to the business of marketing and selling music.  James’ response was immediate and enthusiastic.

“You’re right! You’re right! Listen, he was one of the first people to realize that the reason for having a record was to promote your own publishing. Up until that time, they were two different businesses.”

Tommy continues on about Levy.

“You know what he did?  He bought and sold music by the pound. He thought of music in the same way as you would sell merchandise. He thought of it as a t-shirt.  He didn’t care if he was selling shoes, light bulbs or records.  They were all sort of the same thing to him.  You know?  He was right! 

“From a marketing standpoint, this is a business. The record business was always this diabolical relationship between business people and artists. It was never a happy relationship, philosophically.  It was a terrible relationship.  But, with Morris and I, it worked!  We sold 110 million records with Morris!

“We made money on our concerts, of course, and on our BMI and our air play.  But, of course, after Morris sold the company, we made it all! So, even though we did get ripped off for between $30 million and $40 million, we made a good chunk of it back.  And, I’m gettin’ to tell this story. That’s the most ironic thing! This story is probably going to be the biggest single project I’ve ever got involved in!

Later in our conversation, Tommy reflects on his feelings back in the day when he was releasing hit records.

“Let me just tell you: there was nothing more exciting in the world than an exploding hit single.  I don’t care what anybody says, there was nothing like it because there was the feeling – the exhilaration – of everyone hearing and playing the same music at the same time. It was incredible.

“You had these monolithic AM stations, coast to coast, that were 50,000 watts that would service 5 to 10 million people.  They were all playing the same music.  That’s nuts!  The average Top 20 record got more air play and was more widely known by the public than five number one records today!”

James continues on with some rhetorical questions.

“What’s a number one record?  I mean, what’s a record?  When you look at what’s being played today, radio is such a tiny little nothing.  Radio means practically nothing today.  But, it in some ways, it was bound to happen because of the advancement of technology. It’s just that the industry should have provided that technology.

“Instead, downloading and all this caught the industry blindsided and they shouldn’t have. They should have been the ones to came to the public with it.  And, essentially, the problem was that they got more use to selling widgets than selling music.  That’s because, basically, they were enamored with selling discs and the music was secondary.

“It’s almost like the oil industry protecting itself.  They did everything wrong and did everything they could to shoot themselves in the foot.  I’m not going to bore you with all of the details but, basically – well, Crimson and Clover, for example. We were so blessed to have Crimson and Clover when we did because it allowed us to go from singles and 45’s to albums.  No other album that we ever worked on would have allowed us to make that jump AM Top 40 singles to FM Progressive Rock.

“Well, that was a huge jump for the record business and that was the last time they ever made a good decision. Truthfully!  From that point on, they came up with this diabolical system of air play called ‘Parallel Stations’ where P1, P2, P3 stations meant that you couldn’t break out of one market any more like we did with Pittsburgh.

You had to market all of the little stations nationally; then all the medium stations nationally; and then all the big stations nationally. There was no way to make it out of a single market any more.  You had to spend that kind of money to break out.  Well, who has that kind of money?  Only the big labels.

“So, there was this investment into acts that they could market internationally and very little emphasis on the ‘farm teams’. It was like every record company was the Yankees and they didn’t pay any attention to the small ‘farm teams’, which is where the talent came from. 

“So, they cut off their own source of renewal.  They killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Plus, when CD’s came out, they jumped the price up to $17.98.  You’re essentially talking about a $20 single.  You weren’t going to break new acts that way.

“When I first got into this business there were over 300 record companies that you could have hits on. The business model was that you put out a single, which was relatively inexpensive to do, and you saw if the single scored or not – if it had ‘legs’.

“Well, if it did, you created the market for an album.  What you would do is release the album and the second single simultaneously but only after you determined if you had a market – only after the first single.  The first single basically came out with no album attached because you didn’t want to invest a lot of money in this one act.

“The point was, if you’re going to play at the dice table, you’ve going to play on an inexpensive bet.  You were going to see if you created a market for an album and the next single.  If the first record ‘stiffed’, then you could throw out another single if you wanted to but you didn’t do an album until you saw that you had a market for it. You didn’t spend the money on it.

“Well, somewhere in the 1970’s, somebody got the wise idea that you start out with albums. You cut an album and hoped that three singles make it from the album.  That’s suicide! That’s stupid!  Why would you do that?  Why would you spend a half a million dollars on an album before you know if you had one hit single?  So, they (the record labels) went broke.  That’s what’s happening in the record business. You can only ride that pony for so long before it dies underneath you and that’s what happened to the record business.”

We had gotten way off of the path of discussing Tommy’s book and we were quickly running out of time so we had to get back on track. So, after mentioning that, as evidenced with products like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, kids today are gravitating to classic rock music in huge droves.  Tommy agreed.

“One of the places that has taken to this book more than anybody else are colleges.  We’re doing college seminars.  I’m starting at Rutgers on the 28th. We’re going to be doing colleges all across the country. We’re going to be performing as well as doing the seminars.”

I asked James a question that I try to ask all of the artists I interview and that is:  If he was the age today that he was when he first started pursuing the music business, what would he do differently?

“Boy, that’s a great question.  I get asked by a lot of 20 year olds, ‘What should I do?’ and there’s an answer to that.

“First of all, I will always be a music junky. There’s no way I can’t be.  I love making records. It’s my favorite thing to do.  I don’t know how to do anything else.  MAYBE I could be a garbage man, I don’t know. I don’t know how to do anything else.

“Knowing what I know now, this moment we’re in right now is a very difficult moment.  It’s maybe the hardest moment I’ve ever seen in the record business. There is, essentially, no record business. That’s going to change.  I have a lot of faith in the collective greed of everyone in the music business to come up with a proper way of delivering their product.

“I believe as of this moment, what I would do if I was young band – a young singer, whatever – it would pay to be a band.  I think what should happen is you should write a whole bunch of songs, publish them yourself and then, instead of going to a record company, I would go to a music publisher like EMI - one of the big, and I mean BIG publishers. The publishers are the only ones making any money nowadays. They’re doing great."

“This is an age group that would be buying refrigerators, stereos, cars, houses, and they’re not there.  When Hanky Panky hit, there were approximately 60 million baby boom kids with money in their pockets that financed rock ‘n roll. Those numbers aren’t there anymore.  It’s maybe a tenth of that. So, when you look at who your market is for selling rock ‘n roll, it’s basically still the baby boomers who are still active, by the way, who still love to hear music.  Look at American Idol.  Look at the hunger for new music but there’s no delivery system.

“By the way, they’ve (the Baby Boomers) been pretty much left out of the equation.  They’ve got Oldie stations but nobody is making new rock ‘n roll – new classic rock. Nobody’s doing it. That should be done.

“The younger kids think they should have it for free and they can’t afford it, anyway. So, I don’t know if you have a market.”  He later adds, “The problem is, as I see it, there’s no delivery system that anywhere compares to the delivery system that we had.  There’s not these monolithic radio stations – kids aren’t listening to the radio anymore.

“I will say that YouTube has really done a pretty good job. But, still, there’s no payday with YouTube.”

I hated asking Tommy this next question because I know that he had to be asked at least 100,000 times but I just had to ask him if there are any regrets for not performing at Woodstock.

“Sure! I’ve gotten a lot of mileage from telling the story, frankly, of missing Woodstock.  The thing of it is, in hindsight, we were very fortunate to have been asked because we were one of the few pop acts that got asked to do that. Really, even the Doors didn’t do Woodstock.  You know, who knew?

“We were, basically, sitting in Honolulu, at the foot of Diamond Head and my secretary called and asked, ‘Would you play a pig farm?’  I’m, like, ‘Gee, I don’t think so.’ So, what I’m saying, it would have been – who knows?  I think that it would have probably been really great but we could’ve ended up on the edit room floor, too. That would’ve really been deflating – humiliating, really.

“So, probably, over the years I’ve gotten almost as good mileage out of telling that story as if we had actually have done it.”

What would be the one thing that Tommy thinks has been the least covered and misunderstood – or least understood – about him and his work.

“Well, maybe that it’s that we have a very large catalog of music that we’ve made since 1980.  You know, Three Times In Love,  came out in 1980 and we had three chart records in ’80.  We actually had three top 5 Adult Contemporary singles in ’06 taken from the Hold The Fire album.  In fact, Love Words, which went number one forty years to the week after Hanky Panky.  Very little is known about this.  I never had three more joyless hit records.  It’s incredible.  You can have a number one record and no one knows that you have a record out!  What it really means – this is Adult Contemporary, of course – but what it means is that nobody is listening to radio and that’s a terrible state of affairs.

“But, you know, guys like you and me, we’re very lucky to be able to do this and see this in an historical way because, I don’t know, is rock ‘n roll going to go the way of big bands and vaudeville?  I don’t think so. I think there’s enough interest in modern music to keep the ball rolling.  The question is going to be the delivery system. We’re going to watch this over the next couple of years.  I told you that it’s television because that’s where the people are. So, it’s got to be a version of television.

“I see light at the end of the tunnel on this thing although it’s going to take a long time.”

My final question to Tommy: What’s coming down pike, project wise?

“We are going to re-release our DVD of our live show that we recorded at the Bitter End a few years.  We’re re-releasing that now on our own label, Aura Records.  It will be in the stores, a double package – DVD and CD in one package. That will be released in about a month, maybe two.

“If you go to our website, TommyJames.com, our three most recent projects are right there: the Forty Year package, which is all of our singles from ’66 to ’06.  Our book you can get anywhere, Borders, Simon and Schuster’s website, Amazon, wherever.  The Hold The Fire album, which these three singles came from in ’06 is there. 

“Also just released is Collector’s Choice 4 CD set that includes Travelin’, I Think We’re Alone Now, Gettin’ Together and My Head, My Bed and My Red Guitar and are all available at their website (www.ccmusic.com) .

“The Shondells and I are actually going to do a new project together.  Although we’re making songs for the soundtrack which, by the way, is going to be humongous, t won’t just be out stuff but also of the people we worked with.  We intend to put out singles  We have several singles we want to put out.  I’m not sure what that’s going to mean.  I’m not a big album fan right now because I agree with you – I think singles and EP’s are where it’s going to be.  We may do an EP.

“By the way, our Christmas album, which we released last year, will be re-released this year and every year at Christmas.  I did a track on there with the Shondells.  It’s all there on the website and in the stores.”

A few days after my interview with Tommy James, I was on the phone with Terry Stewart, CEO of The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  I asked him for his thoughts and memories the music icon.

“Tommy James is an artist that I’ve always been particularly fond of, personally.  One that I first saw back in the 60’s when I was in college.  He’s an artist, interestingly enough, people don’t talk about as much as they should, that spans sort of a change period. 

“When you think about the things that he recorded in the beginning with Tom and the Tornadoes, that’s still a holdover from the 50’s in some ways. Hanky Panky is basically a 50’s song done by the Raindrops, originally . . . a true basic, three chord rock and roll song.  When it first came out, I thought it was a throw back (to the 50’s) even then.  I liked it! I loved it! But I thought, ‘Wow! Here’s an OLD song,’ you know?

“So, you go from that to Tommy quickly becoming a hit factory. Everything that comes out is fabulous.  Everybody loves it.  He, in turn, morphs into a 60’s, psychedelic producer/arranger/writer sort of guy.  It’s pretty remarkable that he was able to make that transition.  He had a long run in terms of his chart success.  If you have a couple of years here in this business, you’re pretty good.”

Mr. Stewart’s response to my question as to whether or not he had read Tommy’s book.

“Yeah, I enjoyed it! I was thrilled that somebody finally put down some stuff about Morris (Levy) and the boys. I knew Tommy’s (then) wife, Ronnie.  She ran a record shop in Stamford, Connecticut. I used to buy all my singles there.  I have a half million records in my collection so it’s a serious, serious obsession with me. In fact, I still yet to have the Tommy and the Tornadoes 45.  There’s not that many of them but I’ll find it eventually.  Ronnie would tell me stories about trying to get paid by Morris. So it was interesting to see Tommy flesh it out in the book.

“Tommy had been here a number of times and had recounted to us in person about what happened with Hanky Panky when they took it to the labels and everybody loved it. And, then, the next day one label was going to have it and it was Morris and that was the end of that story.  He chronicles that whole story quite well.”

Commenting on James’ visit to the Hall next month, Mr. Stewart says, “I’m excited about him being here next month.  We’re spending an evening with him, talking about his book, doing a book signing, and then he’s playing a gala.

“He’s an artist that’s been nominated many times (to be inducted into the Hall).  He’s not yet made it to the final ballot.  I certainly think that he should be in and may others do, too. The way the process works, I think when he gets on the final ballot, I think he succeeds.  I really do.”

Mr. Stewart concludes his thoughts about James by stating,  “Tommy is seminal artist who really made a huge impact on popular music in a period when it was changing dramatically.  When you think about Hanky Panky come out, with the British Invasion, folk rock, Motown, all this stuff, it’s a testament to him that he broke through with his music and had that much of an impact.  It really is.”

As I always do after an interview with an icon from my past, I’m always impressed with their knowledge, viewpoints and wealth of insight and information into what has become the soundtrack of our lives. This is especially the case after my chat with Tommy James. What insight.  What knowledge.  What intellect. 

Andy Timmons (2010)

Posted October, 2010

AT8True story:  Back in April of this year, as I have done for most of the last six years, I attended the Dallas International Guitar Festival.  It’s three days of wheeling and dealing on guitars and gear as well as seeing some incredibly talented guitarist showing their stuff on a six string.

This year was a little different.  A dear friend of mine from Arkansas came down to the show, bringing his teenage son with him for some quality father/son time.  On the last day of the festival, we were standing in the main all of Dallas Market Hall, having a conversation about who-knows-what when we found ourselves stopping in mid-sentence, listening to the most incredible music that either of us had heard in an incredibly long time.

We looked at each other and said almost simultaneously, “Who is that and where s it coming from?”  Almost cartoon-like, it felt as though we were levitating off the floor and drifting to the back hall area of the main hall.  We floated to the entrance and stopped to look at the artist roster. It was there that the incredible music we heard was the incomparable Andy Timmons, closing his set with Cry For You. The three of us boys became instant Timmons fans and I knew that I had to chat with this man.

After a brief chat after his set, we played e-mail tag for a few months until we could line up a date and time to meet up.  Yeah, meet up because Mr. Timmons lives in the Dallas area as do I. There was no way (if I could help it) that I was going to let the interview be by phone.

We met at an area seafood restaurant that was conveniently located for both of us and proceeded to chat like we had known each other forever. I noticed right away that Andy’s demeanor is consistent with friend and fan alike.  I’ve observed him show the same graciousness towards admiring fans (including this dopey writer) as he did toward the likes of fellow rockers like Ted Nugent.

After we made some small talk while ordering our lunch, I mentioned that I saw Andy chat with Nugent at the festival.  I was pleasantly surprised at the story Timmons shared about the story behind how he came to know the Motor City Mad Man.

“ I’ve had a lot of good experiences with Ted.  I was a big fan. Some of the first tunes I learned were from that first (self titled) Nugent record. Stranglehold, Storm Troopin’ and Just What The Doctor Ordered, those were the songs I played in my first band. So, he figured largely in my guitar education.

“Then years later I got a chance to do a gig with him. There was a guy, Gary Sitton, out in Abilene, Texas, - he’s a roofing contractor and he’s a big guitar fan and he had been bringing Ted out to big concert events because they were big hunting buddies as well. But he was also bringing guys in like Chris Duarte.

A buddy of Gary’s had seen me play. I used to play every Wednesday night at a club called the Blue Cat Blues with my band, The Pawn Kings, which was a pseudo blues band. We called ourselves a blues band but we did everything from Hendrix, to my original stuff, to old blues tunes, some Booker T. – that kind of thing. We had a great Hammond B3 organ player by the name of Tommy Young.

“Long story-short, this guy calls his buddy, Gary, and says, ‘Hey, there’s this guy in Dallas that you’ve got to bring to Abilene.’ So, he got in contact and brought me out for a show. He let me know that during that show, he was going to video tape it and send it to Ted. I thought, ‘Okay, that’s kinda cool” because Ted’s a big hero of mine.

“So, just joking around, I go into Stranglehold. We had never rehearsed it but the guys, they were in so we played the tune. I guess we did a pretty good job of it. He (Sitton) sent the tape to Ted and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard a thousand guys try to play Stranglehold and nobody plays it right. You tell Andy if he can play that song right, he’s got a date.’

“So, long story short, Gary sends him to tape and he (Ted) said, ‘Tell Andy we’ve got a date!’ That was kind of a cool nod from Ted. Then, maybe a year later that same guy put together a big guitar festival and it had Ted, Chris Duarte and my band. We got to play together and jammed with them at the end of the night. So that was kind of cool.

“He came back to Texas later that year, playing with Bad Company – kind of a co-headline – I went out there. He’s going into a song and he says, “I want to do a blues tune because Texas has got so many great blues guitar players – Billy Gibbons, Stevie Ray and Andy Timmons.” I about fell over! I was kind of embarrassed. I’m not in that league. But it was really cool. He’s a really sweet guy.

“I saw him at the guitar show, too. That was a great show because for him to be back with Derek St. Holmes and Rob Grange.  That’s the first time they’ve played together in 34 years! I don’t know if you realize that. The huge fan that I am, and was, it was pretty magical to hear that voice and that guitar – it was really great.”

“It was clear to me Derek Saint Holmes had rehearsed because there was a drummer that Ted hadn’t played with. That was the first time that drummer had ever played that music with Ted. The bass player and the guitar player – that was like an old fit. They were from the original band.  That drummer did a phenomenal job.  You can tell, having been in that position many times, you could tell how he was really watching everybody, he had done his homework. It was clear that Derek had probably rehearsed with him, cluing him in on things.

“Ted was free-forming. He didn’t have a plan about what songs were going to happen – kind of making it up as he went. It was actually Derek who would say, ‘Hey, how about, Hey Baby?’ And Ted’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s do that one! The record version.” That was there rehearsal.  It was a thrill. I thought it was great!”

With our conversation pretty much unstructured, I mentioned in passing about my recent meeting with Dallas radio legend and XM Satellite Radio pioneer, Redbeard, and that we chatted about Andy for a bit.  A grateful, humble smile crosses Timmons’ face as he responds.

“ Such a good guy. He’s been such a good supporter of me and my career since day one. I will never forget the day that he called me up. I just released my first CD called ear X-tacy. I had run into him at a show in Deep Ellum – it had to be in 1995 – I was playing in another band called Tin Man that he had come to check out. There was still a lot of label buzz about this band. We had done some recording so I said, ‘By the way, Redbeard, I’ve got my new record I just put out. If you get a chance check it out.’

“ I get a call from him the next week from his office on a Tuesday morning. His was in the office with some other record promoter and he said, ‘Hey, Andy, I just wanted to let you know I’m adding your song, Carpe Diem, from ear X-tacy to our regular rotation on Q102.’ 

“This is an independent, local artist with no promotional budget whatsoever and I just happened to hand it to the guy and he liked it! He said, ‘You know what? This sounds as good as Joe Satriani’s stuff to me. I like this a lot.’ He played it a lot! It helped us have a great foundation built here in the area.”

When I comment that he would likely not have that kind of break in radio today, Andy concurs enthusiastically.

“Nearly impossible! Back then, it wasn’t much more possible, though. But the programmers did have a lot more leeway. Each market could have a ‘personality’, so to speak, which is nearly impossible now. But I’ll never forget that. I’ll be forever thankful that he took it in his heart and enjoyed at face value. ‘This is what it is. I like this.’ He’s such a good dude. I’m so glad our paths have crossed.”

For a man who has such immense talent, my research on Andy indicated that he has not followed the usual path that musicians of his rare bread typically pursue.  I asked him how he would describe how he has managed his career and what is it that he wants to accomplish.  The ease in which he offers up his answer and the expression on his face as he explained his career philosophy, indicated that his words reflected his heart and the core of his being.

AT6“For me, it’s about having balance of family and career. That becomes the most difficult thing – especially since the birth of my son six years ago. I’ve really made an effort not to be gone too much. As a musician my entire life, I was always concerned about what was going to happen when I have a child someday. So much of your career as an artist is traveling, touring, promoting so that was always in the back of my mind: what if?

“Obviously, since Alex (his son) has come along, the decisions I make are based on how this will affect my family. Will I be gone for too long?  I generally try not to be gone for more than two weeks at a time. Most of the situations that I’m working in, most of the people are aware of that and understand that.  I’ll go tour Europe and I’ll keep under two weeks. I’ll just probably go twice a year instead of doing it all at once. It’s actually financially beneficial to do it all at once. There are less flights, but, again, maybe someday Alex will be able to go with me on some of these trips. That would be fun, too.

“But, for now, it’s like I don’t want to wake up 15 years from now and say, ‘Man, I wish I had been there for my son. That’s the most important thing. You’re faced with decisions: ‘Okay, this might be financially beneficial.’ I’ve turned down a couple of major tours. I can’t really mention what they were, I just had to make that decision. ‘Okay, that might be good for my career or for money purposes but I just can’t because of the family. I just don’t feel right about it.’

“I’m really blessed that the way I’m handling it is really working. I’m still getting out there. The internet has been an amazing thing because the world is at your door step. People, more and more, have been finding out about me without a huge label or budget. It’s happening all on the merit of the music. That’s the most gratifying thing.

“Yeah, to be famous is one thing. I never started playing music to be famous. It never entered my mind. I just love music so much. I love guitar so much. I just wanted to do it. I did it out of that passion out of the genuine love of it. Obviously, I realized that I had to start making a living doing this, if it’s all I’m going to do. And it is all I’ve ever done. ‘I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do.’

“I figured out pretty quickly that making it in a rock band is like winning the lottery. It’s such a long shot. I was in a really great band back in Indiana. I moved from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Evansville, Indiana, when I was five. So, I grew up from five to 18 or 19 and then moved to Miami for college. But I figured out once while reading Guitar Player magazine that there are guys like Larry Carlton and Tommy Tedesco making a living as a studio musician playing other styles and playing on other peoples records. I thought, ‘Man! That seems like the key for me.’

“But I also realized at that point – I was self taught - I started when I was 5 years old. I thought, ‘These guys know how to read music. They can play any style. So I actually sought out a local guitar teacher in Evansville. I was hearing about this guy. His name was Ron Pritchett. He was known to be a great jazz guitar player but he was the best guitar teacher in that whole tri-state area. So, it took me about a week to get the nerve to call him. I was so shy about it. I thought, ‘Wow! This is the guy.’ But I finally called him up. It took a couple of months to get a slot. He started me off on lesson one. Notes on the treble string. I was fifteen or sixteen and was already playing pretty well, playing since 8th grade in cover bands.”

“By ear is definitely the best way. For a musician, it’s our most valuable asset. It’s great to be able to read music but once you internalize it through your ears, you learn it differently. I think it stores in the brain differently. So, when it comes time to make your own music, you’ve got a healthy intuition. It helps you tune in to what’s happening around you musically – not just focusing on your part but really knowing when to play and not to play and what to play in relation to what’s happening musically.

“So, that was the epiphany. I need to learn about all styles of music. I was fortunate in that I just loved anything on the guitar. I wanted to know how to do it. I’d hear a country tune – Wow! The jazz stuff drove me crazy. How do these guys know what notes to play on all these crazy chords? Ron saw that I had the ability. He’d give me these simple lessons and, then, at the end of the lesson, he’d start playing Barney Kessel, Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson – the jazz pianist. So, he started broadening my ears with that and give me the chord changes to a standard like Satin Doll and Misty. He had written a chord book so I’d take the chord book and so I would find the chord that I would learn to play all these voicings. I would play for him the next week. I would play my little reading exercise and then I would back him up while he was playing these tunes.

“That set me on the course. My thirst for knowledge increased tremendously. So, two years of that. I continued to do that my first two years of college. I went to school in Evansville, Indiana. I kept Mom happy by staying in school. The local university – the University of Evansville, offered a classical guitar program. I said, ‘Well, I know nothing about classical guitar but, great! It’s a guitar – I’m going to learn!’ I started going to the library and checking out Segovia and Julian Bream records. I just wanted to get it in my ear.

“So, I got a nylon string guitar. My audition to get in, I had a Les Paul. It was a cream colored, maple neck Electra Les Paul copy. I didn’t know any classical so I learned a bastardized version of Mood For A Day by Steve Howe on a Yes record. It kinda sounded classical.” Timmons says with a laugh. “So I’m playing it on this electric guitar. They let me in on merit because they could see that I could play but ‘okay, we have a lot of work to do!’

“So, I was still in my rock and roll band – The Taylor Bay Band. I was playing three or four nights a week gigging. I was still taking my jazz lessons. I’m in music school taking classical guitar. So, this really set me up for the future, basically, by being able to do so many different things.

“My third and fourth year of college, I transferred to the University of Miami. I was really more into modern music. The classical was great experience but I had been hearing about the University of Miami because Steve Morse and the Dregs had played there. Pat Matheny had been there. So, this was the place I needed to be. I couldn’t afford to go down there and audition so I made a cassette tape. I got the help of a local buddy of mine on keyboards. It was a cheap demo. I sent it down there and got in.

“So, the two years there were, by far, the two biggest years of musical growth because of the level of players that were there. I was definitely a rock player. I was learning about jazz but there were guys there that were every bit as good as Jim Hall or Larry Carlton. These guys were amazing players. It was kind of sink or swim. Luckily, I was encouraged and not discouraged. Some people get in that position and go, ‘Oh, man!’ and slink back home with their tail between their legs. It just inspired me. That was the beauty of it because we just inspired each other. Everybody had their strong points. It was never competitive and that was what was so amazing because later in life I’ve been in situations where it can be very competitive. But it was a very open bunch of guys who were all equally talented but just in different ways. I got as much from that as I did the faculty and curriculum. It was so valuable.”

With the conversation coming back around full circle, I asked Andy just exactly how does he support his family.

“It’s not that I don’t tour. I do. I’ll be out for the next two weeks for Mesa Boogie doing a clinic tour.  I select when I go and how long I go. I go back to Japan in February for a couple of weeks. I got Olivia Newton-John who has some show in Japan also in November.”

“So, between that and recording work here locally – I produce things for people. I record on other peoples’ sessions. I can record at my home and send it out. Of course, there’s sales of my merchandise that kind of keeps the whole business rolling. It could be better but, at the same time, it keeps getting better. I’m pretty amazed at how the music keeps getting out there and generating more fans.”

Andy then shared with me some insight into an incredible album that he has coming out in the near future.  I won’t tell you about it now but I’ll give you a hint: Think “Beatles”.  That’s all I’m going to say.

With all out chat about the Beatles, it led me to share with Timmons my belief that any new music that is worth listening to has, as its foundation, the sound of the 60’s and 70’s. I wasn’t at all surprised by his response.

“I’m the same way. There are occasionally some modern, recent songs that I connect with – not that many – but I continually go back and always get inspiration and great vibe from that era of music. Absolutely!

Referring again to his upcoming album that I’m not going to tell you about, “I’m excited to see what the potential and possibilities are. So, in that case, maybe I go out and tour a little bit more. We’ll see. Again, I just want to balance it in the right way.”

“Simultaneously, I was working on those Beatles arrangements but I was also working on a lot of new material for the next Andy Timmons Band original recordings.  That material’s being worked on, too. So, I’ve got the Beatles thing out first and then, sometime later, maybe in 2011, release the next record - get the momentum going.”

I asked if that album was going to be a live album.

“We did a live DVD. When we released the Resolution CD, we played at the Granada the day that it came out. We played the whole record start to finish.  We recorded the show in video and we eventually put it out as a live DVD. That’s only available on my website right now. There’s no other distribution – just AndyTimmons.com.”

You can’t talk about great guitarist in the state of Texas without mentioning the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died 20 years ago. I shared with him my story about attending Vaughan’s funeral.

“I was there, too!  I remember it being a really hot day. Me and my friend, Sylvia, went, all dressed in black. It was such an emotional thing.  When Nile Rodgers delivered his speech and played that track, oh man!” Finishing his thoughts about Vaughan, Andy stares off as he says, “It’s hard to believe.  It seems like forever but, then again, it doesn’t.”

Turning the conversation to album sales, I asked if what I heard about sales going well was true. He replies with obvious and well deserved pride.

“It is! There’s a lot being distributed illegally, too.  That’s the blessing and the curse of the internet. There’s no doubt about it – it’s done so much for players out there that don’t have a label behind them. Even though I’m with Favored Nations – Steve Vai’s label – there’s not a lot of promotional budget. But will gravitate towards it or stumble across it accidentally in regards to another artist that they like that spurs them on. There are certainly a lot of people that know how to download it illegally if they want to get it. That’s an unfortunate byproduct. There are still a lot people that know the value of actually supporting the artists. Those people are still out there that have a conscience and know the value of that. If the artist can’t afford to spend the time and money to make these recordings, there won’t be any more music of the quality that they’re hoping to see.”

Our subject of discussion naturally segued into the state of the music business.  I asked if there was much in the way of label support for artist.

“It was that way at one point. If there was a major label artist, even though it was their money being spent – they might not have been totally aware of that – but, yeah, there was bigger budgets but there was a lot of excess all through the industry and it finally collapsed upon itself. That’s what’s happening now. It’s a much more grass roots approach and everybody is really responsible for every penny and that’s a good thing.”

When I shared with Andy some of the insights of rock icon, Tommy James, he chimes in that, “It’s obviously fascinating to me. I’d be curious to see what kind of ideas they come up with. But there’s this feeling that the cat’s out of the bag. It’s just running rampant and is out of control. But, again, there will be less quality if people don’t really realize that they need to support those artists. But  I think that there a lot of artists that support that – the free downloading – ‘maybe people will listen to it and then come to the show and maybe buy a t-shirt.  Once you get to a certain level with people coming out, yeah.  When I tour, we do pretty well. I won’t be retiring next year by any stretch but it’s great.

Where are Timmons’ hottest fan spots are, he indicated that they Asia and parts of Europe, especially Italy.  I asked Andy if that was, in part, due to his work with Danger Danger.

 “My foot was in the door in Asia because of Danger Danger. But the following I have now is purely on the merit of what I’ve done post those days. But in Europe, it’s most definitely more on the musician side that I do. I’m constantly blown away by how many people still really like that band (Danger Danger) and still revere that music. They were a great bunch of guys and I think that what we eventually did was really great.”

Timmons continued to share his reflections on his experience with Danger, Danger.

 “There was some problems with the label. Epic admitted, ‘We kind of messed up on your record. We learned what not to do with you.’ They really said that!  Firehouse was also on the same label and they broke really big right after that. ‘We learned what not to do with you with Firehouse.’ Thanks, y’all.

“But, honestly, those days, Randy, that really geared me towards how I was going to run my career from those days, on. One thing I always point out as being when the light bulb went off in my head: We were up at Epic records and we were having a meeting with some of the A&R people and the vice president of the label. They’re promising, ‘We’re going to promote you guys and get you on the road!’ Blah, blah, blah.

“Meanwile, somebody comes in – one of the secretaries – to ask this question of this person that is having the meeting with us. ‘Oh, I wanted to ask you about this particular band.’ I won’t mention the band’s name. “I wanted to ask you about . . .” and he (the vice president) says, ‘Don’t worry about those guys.’

“I knew right then that that bands career came to a screeching halt because this one person said, ‘You know? Don’t worry about this band.’ Again, a naïve kid growing up in Indiana that just wanted to play music and be treated fairly because I was a good person, I’m in the middle of this going, ‘What am I in the middle of here?’

“We recorded our third record for Epic that was going to be called Cockroach. This was around the time Seattle and Rap were taking over. We finished the record and turned it in to the label. They were ecstatic – loved it.   But, then, the styles were changing. They’re like, ‘We’re going to put it off.’ Finally, we were told, ‘We’re not going to release the album.’

“So, we had this third record and we realized that it’s not going to come out. At that point, it’s considered that you’ve been dropped by the label. We’re like, ‘Okay, we can continue on and see if we can get the rights to the masters back so that we can release it on our own.’

“Well, they came up with some astronomical figure – hundreds of thousands of dollars – because that’s how much debt the band was in. The musician was so far down the totem pole, it’s just mind numbing. Anyway, long story short, they made it impossible for the band to get the masters back at that time.

“There was the second part of my education. I never want to be in the position where I don’t own my own work. Why would anybody want to put themselves in that position?  Musicians since the 40’s and 50’s will sign anything. ‘I just want to create my art. I just want to get my music out there. Who cares?’  The Beatles fell victim to it, too. They signed horrible deals because Brian Epstein didn’t know any better. I am never going to be in that position again.

“So, I came back to Texas. I had been recording the tracks that ended up on ear X-tacy for several years already. I said, ‘I’m just going to press some copies’ which is where Redbeard comes into play. I didn’t send it to any labels. I was pretty jaded at that point. I just didn’t care about that end of it anymore. Also, I had been in a band that had been chasing the tail of the industry. “We need someone like ‘this’ because that’s a hit’ or ‘we need someone like that’. I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted to make the music that was in my heart because I wasn’t doing that at that time.

“I was having a good time. Don’t get me wrong. I was enjoying being that team player.  We played some great shows. We opened for KISS on a couple of tours. We did a whole tour with Alice during his Trash tour in the 1990. All legends and idols that I learned from. No regrets in that way. Anytime I made a decision in the music business based on money or business, it’s always been the wrong decision. If I don’t follow my heart, something’s not right. Everything since those days has been very much about that. I’ve got to really follow that voice so things tend to go really well.”

One of the things that voice helped Timmons decide was aligning himself with Steve Vai’s record label, Favored Nations Entertainment. I expressed my thoughts as to how huge that was.  In a voice that reveals the sense of wonderment of it all, he tells the story of what led up to joining Favored Nations.

“He’s been another huge supporter. For him to want me on his record label?  I didn’t approach him, he came to me.  G3 was coming to town and they played in Fort Worth – John Petrucci, Satriani and Vai. He (Steve Vai) invited me out and I go out there and play. That night Steve said, ‘I’m forming this label and here’s how I’m going to run it. What do you think?’

We further discussed the genius of Steve Vai. It was then that Andy says this about the guitar legend: “He’s really one of the sharpest people I’ve ever met. He’s a really down to earth guy but both sides of the brain are firing heavily”, he says with a laugh. “He’s got a great balance going on. He was the first guy that, as a label, made sense to me. He split things equally with the artists after all of the budgets grosses and stuff. A publicist would be hired and they take out some ads here and there. Not a huge budget but, again, you’re sharing the load and the responsibility.

Despite having played with an impressive list of artists, I asked Andy who he hasn’t worked or jammed with that he would like to.

Before I could even finish the question, Andy enthusiastically injects, “Paul McCartney! No hesitation. No thought process. Ding!  Either he or Ringo would be a dream come true. To do anything at all with them.  Otherwise, Pat Metheny is a guy that I’m a huge admirer of. I have played a couple of times with Eric Johnson. I’d like to play some more with him. Mike Stern is another guy I’ve known over the years. We’ve played together a few times but it would be nice to collaborate with him on something.  Gosh! (Larry) Carlton, Robben Ford, there are so many great players. But, of course, Paul and Ringo would be at the top of the list, hands down!”

What would be your dream gig?                                                                                

“Paul would be it. What’s ironic is the guitarist in his band, Brian Ray, from a distance, the first time I saw Paul with his band in the early 2000’s, we were watching the show and I looked at my wife and said, ‘Does that look kind of like me up there?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, it does!’ Which kind of hurt a little bit because I wished that I was up there!  Ha! Ha!

“I’ve got to meet those guys. Not Paul but Brian and the other guitar player, Rusty (Anderson). Really, really great guys. In case somebody gets sick, I’m it. Call me!”  he says with a chuckle.

Wrapping up our discussion about the Fab Four, I asked Timmons if he ever had the chance to meet Ringo Starr.  Just like a kid meeting his favorite super hero, Andy shares a his story of when he met the famous drummer.

“I finally got to meet him one of the last times he was in Dallas. That was a tough one to arrange. I knew people in the band and on the crew. I understand it because of me working with Olivia, everybody is always trying to get to her and you’re kind of a line of defense. You don’t want to bug this person that you work with and love dearly. So, I also know better than to bug someone in order to meet someone.  I won’t go into the whole story as to how it happened. It was a very brief meeting but it was fantastic. I’ve got a great picture of it!”

I wondered if Andy had a project that he would like to do but was hesitant because of questionable marketability?

“I think that there will be a variety of different kinds of things from me in the future. I would love to do a jazz album. I would like to do some mellower music. I won’t use the term ‘easy listening’ but I think that by the nature of the electric guitar and the way that I play it, there are a lot of high intensity moments on my records. And that’s not necessarily the cup of tea of some of the average listeners or people who are into less notes. But, I think that there’s a huge amount of room to grow as far as the guitar as an expressive instrument. Jeff Beck’s new record is, by far, his best record, in my opinion. It’s kind of like – he’s got to the place where I want to be. He’s 20 or 30 years ahead of me. He’s playing much simpler but every note is so gorgeous and has so much impact behind it. That’s where I want to be.”

“There might be some acoustic moments. Not necessarily quieter but certain ways that it’s delivered and a certain beauty to the whole thing. There are actually things along those lines on my other record of original material coming out. Growing up as an artist in the 80’s, there was so much emphasis on the electric guitar player to be fast.  There was Yngwie (Malmsteen), then Eddie (Van Halen) and then (Joe) Satriani came along. It was fun – the athletic, acrobatic ability. But I’ve always tried to utilize it in a way that it made musical sense – as a device and not as a side show or circus act. There may be those moments in my tunes but, hopefully, they’re balanced by some great melody and a time of passionate direction behind the notes. But I could see it going a lot further in the opposite direction and less about that type of ability. I always liken it to painting a picture. If you play fast all the time, it’s like having a red painting, it’s going to be boring. I like painting with a lot of different colors. I’m taking things much further in that direction. A much simpler approach. I think it would be great – really great.

“This is a horrible analogy but Kenny G’s music connected for a reason. It was a very simple approach. It was hated by a lot of people, as well. But I think there could be music made that would straddle the balance beam of the musician side of it and what the general listening audience would be into and still impact emotionally on both sides of the fence.”

I asked if his The Prayer/The Answer was an example of what he was talking about.

“The intro to that song is certainly in the direction I’m talking about. Some of it has some substance and spirituality.”

I asked Timmons what he listens to when he’s not working.

“It’s the sixties and seventies.  In my car I have XM so I either have Deep Tracks, which Red Beard used to be a part of. Oh my god! The Tom Petty Show and The Bob Dylan Show!  Have you heard those? Ah!  They’re so entertaining! They play the coolest stuff and their witty asides in between the tunes are great! Tom’s demeanor is just so cool and laid back. There was one day where Bob Dylan – he has themes. So the theme that day was ‘I’m Walkin’. Every song that day had to have walking in the title or was about walking. So, at the very end, he recites my favorite poem of all time, The Road Less Travelled by Robert Frost.  He’s reciting this poem with music in the background.  I’m driving down the road and I’m tearing up! It was the coolest thing I had ever heard. It had such power to hear a guy like that recite those words. It was magical.”

After our lunch, I was thinking about the whole conversation that we had.  Yes, I am in awe of Andy Timmons’ talent.  Yes, I would love to meet some of the people that he crosses paths with.  Yes, I’m looking forward to many more years of music from this man.

However, what impressed me more than anything else is that Andy Timmons puts his family first.  If more of us were to do exactly that, the world would be a much better place to live.  And, that, my friends, is truly magical.

You can keep up with all the Andy Timmons happenings by checking out his website, www. AndyTimmons.com.  While you’re there, avail yourself to Andy’s incredible work.  Or, if you don’t want to wait, click on the images to the right and order them now. Believe me when I say that they will provide you with countless hours of listening pleasure.