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Edgar Winter

Posted June, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Waite

Posted May, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.”

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.