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Eric Sardinas

Posted September, 2011

Sardinas3I love the blues.  In fact, if I had to pick only one genre that I could listen to for the rest of my life, a) it would be a hard choice to make and I would bitterly complain about it and, b) I would be hard pressed to think of a genre that would dethrone the blues.  There’s something about the blues that just hits you where you’re at no matter what you’re going through in life.

Recently, I was turned on to an incredible blues player that blew me away with his style and performance. His name is Eric Sardinas and his band is Big Motor and, I’m telling you: You haven’t heard blues quite like this cat produces.  He’s a prolific slide guitarist and his weapon of choice is an electric resonator guitar.  His musical alchemy takes the basic elements of rock and blues and creates melodic gold that will both entice and thrill even the most discriminating blues enthusiast.

After writing a review of his latest project, Sticks and Stones, which drops September 13th, I had the opportunity to interview Sardinas by phone.  Relaxed but clearly anxious to hit the road for a short tour before heading to Europe, Erik was most gracious and engaging during our chat.

For the benefit of those of you who haven’t heard of Sardinas before, I asked him to give me the Reader’s Digest version of him and his work.

“I’m, basically, been a live band and pretty much forged my way through music – within music – by being a live band and have dedicated myself to pushing the boundaries of myself musically through the blues and blues rock genre – my style, through live performing and non-stop touring. That’s pretty much been the recipe for how I’ve been growing as a musician and, also, creating the music that I’ve recorded on the past albums.”

I knew that Eric had first picked up the guitar when he was six years old and was heavily influenced by his mother’s collection of gospel, Motown, soul and early rock and roll.  I was curious as to how old he was when he formed his first band and what kind of band it was.

“First band. Wow, I don’t know. I played in a lot of different bands when I was in school. I was always listening to blues and playing blues. There were some rock bands that I played in in school. Then I started doing my blues thing simultaneously, you know?”

I hate asking people that I interview questions that I know they’ve been asked a million times but sometimes they’re just hard to avoid.  In the case of Sardinas, I had to ask him: What made you chose an electric resonator guitar as your weapon of choice? Despite the fact that he was now answer the question for the “million and oneth” time, he was gracious in his answer.

“I don’t know, I really fell in love tonality and energy of resonator guitars. I think that was just my romance and my love for acoustic blues and the energy of pre-war country and Texas and Mississippi delta blues. I really found myself within that energy. I wanted to push that sound into a different place - the energy and the way that I play my kind of blues.  In fact, that instrument kind of grew with me and I took it outside of the box and I pushed the limits with it.”

As I do with many of the guitar slingers I interview, I was curious as to, a) how many resonators did Sardinas own and, b) is there a “holy grail” that he’s just dying to add to his collection.

“I’ve got quite a few – quite a few!  I have my favorites because no two are the same. I always have my favorites nearby. I have quite a few. I think I have somewhere along the line of 18 to 20-something.”

 “You know, I salivate a little bit when I see something I really like in the resonators. Yeah, I’m a big fan of the early National’s and, of course, anything that has that sort of mojo on it – something that I really connect with.”

Since I’m absolutely nuts about his latest CD, Sticks and Stones, I asked Eric to share how it all come about and what sets it apart from his previous five albums.

“This album’s been a long time coming – not in any other way but that it’s just been awhile since our last release. We were on the road non-stop. There were a lot of ups and downs.  The road takes you in all sorts of different ways. It was a long time coming and I think the motivation behind these songs – each song was a culmination of moments and places in time that everybody finds themselves at one point or another. I think these are moments and bits of that.  This album was really about capturing the energy of the band and bringing these songs to where I felt deserved to be with that energy.  That’s something that I’m always concerned about – in the studios – to capture that energy.”

 “I think each record is like a stepping stone in one way or another. Also, it’s like moment of time of where I’m at. This album – my goal was to really push myself musically and lyrically.  I feel that it came out very natural, as it should. There wasn’t anything forced. It was very natural. The songs all came from the heart.  There’s no sense of this album being forced or reaching too far out of the box. I think it has maturity and that it’s a move forward.”

Every artist approaches their craft differently – sometimes very uniquely.  For some, the music is easier for them to create.  With others, the lyrics come easy to them.  What’s the easiest part of it for you, creating the music or writing the lyrics?

“I think everything is kind of organic. I think it all melds itself together. There’s no real recipe I have for writing. Sometimes it’s lyrically; sometimes it’s musically. I never work on anything from front to back. Each song has its own energy and it comes together in my mind. I learned by ear and I don’t read music so I’m very unorthodox in the way I write and memorize things. I’m left-handed and I play right-handed. So, yeah, everything is a little unorthodox. It’s just one of those things where each song comes out differently. Some slow. Some take their time talking to me.”

I comment that blues just seems to be that way, lending itself to a natural, organic creation process.

“Yeah, exactly! It’s close to the human heart. It has that primal kind of beat to it that connects the energy, you know?”

As for how the crowds are reacting to the new tunes being included in the band’s live set, Eric says, “I like to play all of the record. We never really play the same song the same way twice. We’re always mixing it up. It’s been good. I think people are diggin’ it and I’m really enjoying playing it.”

While on the subject of his live shows, I asked Sardinas what people can expect from one of his shows.

“If you love your music and if you love the energy of a live show and of the blues – if you love your southern blues rock and like to get a little loose then it’s something then to where you should expect a little of the unexpected. It’s really about having a musical experience; about having a good time and connecting with what you need to be connected with and forgetting about all the things you need to forget about for a little while. When you take something away with you that makes you feel good, that makes me happy.

“Sometimes people need to see something or to actually experience it because it’s hard to explain.  ‘Oh, it’s blues’ or, ‘It’s rock’.  It’s what it is. I have my own voice. One of the worst questions people can ask is, ‘What’s your style?’  I just go, ‘It’s just what it is, man! Just come to the show!”  He says with a laugh.

With the economy in the toilet and the world facing dark geopolitical clouds, I asked Eric if he sees these things affecting the vibe of the crowds that he plays to.

“I have a song – and everybody has a song for everything they’ve been through – music’s the one thing that gets you through everything you’ve been through – good, bad, the ups and the downs.  There’s always been music for you there.  That’s really the romance of coming to see a show. I don’t think it’s escapism. I think it’s to feel music and to be plugged in to that place you go when you’re connecting to that. It’s part of the spirit.”

Great musicians tend to gravitate towards each other and find themselves sharing stages and studios.  While conducting my research before my interview with Sardinas, I saw found that he certainly was no exception to this trend, having jammed with the likes of such greats as Steve Vai and Johnny Winter.  Who else would Eric like to play with?

“There’s a lot guys out there. There’s so many great players. I had the pleasure of playing with Les Paul. That was great!  He had a series he would do called Les Paul and Friends and we got together and played a song together.  Jimmy Page.  I’d like to jam with him for a little while.”

Eric Sardinas and Big Motor have logged a lot of miles and years on the road, delighting crowds the world over.  With Sticks and Stones hitting the market, I asked the slide guitar virtuoso what his plans were for the next year, five years and ever ten years.  His answer revealed a man who knows where he is, where he’s going and what it takes to get there.

“We’re really going to hit the ground running here. We’re really looking forward to the release once the album’s out. We’re going to be doing the road – we’re going to be on the road pretty consistently. We’re pretty much gonna keep it pedal to the metal. New music is always being written in my mind as I’m travelling so I guess, technically, I’m always moving forward with where I’m gonna go next.

“If you ask me in six months where I’m going to be and I’m gonna say I’m going to be at the same place. I’m on the road and I’m ready to make a new record” he says with his engaging laugh.

“We’re going to be hitting Europe after this short run her in the States. At the end of September we’re going to Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland. I think we have something like 20 shows through Deutschland. We’ll end up back in Spain and the U.K. Then we come back and hit the states and continue on.”

I asked Sardinas to fast-forward the tape of his life to when he’s stepped off the tour bus for the final time and his life on earth is over, how does he want to be remembered?

“I suppose that it would be along the lines that I definitely put it all out there and I didn’t do anything except give it all I had.”

After watching this video of this man’s performances and feeling the incredible energy from his CD’s, I don’t think there’s any question that he’s accomplishing exactly that.

You can keep up with the latest happenings in Eric’s world, his touring schedule and even purchase his great CD’s by visiting www.ericsardinas.com.  Be warned: You’re going to be hooked.

Mitch Ryder

 Posted February, 2012

mitch1Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.  We’ve all heard the phrase and, in all likelihood, different rock stars come to each of our minds when we hear it.  If you are one who only enjoys the music from your radio or other listening device and don’t delve into stories behind the people singing them, your image of the person behind the voice may be completely different from reality.

I’m often guilty of just this imperfection of perception (Just watch: someone will take that line a build a million selling song around it).  In fact, until recently (and due to my lack of research early on), I had no clue as to just how true this phrase was for the voice behind some of the most iconic tunes of the soundtrack of the sixties.

I’m speaking, of course, about Mitch Ryder whose huge hits, Devil with a Blue Dress On, Jenny Take a Ride, and Sock It to Me – Baby had booties across the fruited plain twisting and shouting the nights away in the sixties.  What we didn’t know was that Ryder was neck-deep – strike that – in head over heels into sex and drugs while he was rockin’ and rollin’ - so much so that the lifestyle led him down wrong paths, wrong business decisions and littered the landscape with broken relationships.

Since those days of Ryder’s biggest{mprestriction ids="*"} hits, he has remained alive and well, cranking out new music and touring the world to the delight of fans everywhere.  In recent years, Mitch has made the tough (for him) decisions with regards to his actions and how they affect his relationships with others.  The row he faces to hoe is a long one fraught with the symbolic rocks, weeds and overly hard soil as a result of his past decisions. But hoe he must and hoe he does.

Part of that hoeing involved the writing and recent release of Ryder’s incredibly well written autobiography, Devils & Blue Dresses.  In this tome, Mitch tells his warts-and-all story as it has unfolded up to this point. It was while interviewing Ryder about his new CD, The Promise (see the review of that CD here) that I even learned that he had written Devils.

While Mitch was prepping his book for its release last December, he was also working on his latest CD, The Promise, which lands on February 14, 2012.  I had the honor of speaking with Ryder about both his book and his CD over the course of two phone conversations as he prepared for an upcoming European tour in support of both projects.

I called Mitch at his Detroit area home.   As I often say to people I interview when I know that they’re in the midst of an interview gauntlet, I made a comment about him having to endure pesty writers like me.  His response to my comment revealed a dry, well-developed and wickedly funny sense of humor that permeated what became two one hour long phone conversations.

“Most of the interviews I’ve done have been really, really intelligent interviews. When they get squirrelly – and I don’t know how they sneak in there - every once in a while you get one that really should be writing for a high school newspaper.”

Ouch!

I knew that, if I was going to have a successful chat with this iconic man, I was in for a wild ride and I was going to have to be on my toes.  He obviously doesn’t suffer fools lightly.

We began by discussing his upcoming tour.

“Yeah, we gotta go across the pond and do our annual tour.  It’s so different over there. I can’t even begin to describe it to you. I was just looking at the two set lists I’m having to put something together: The one we’re doing for Callahan’s (Auburn Hills, Michigan) this weekend and then the European set list. The one at Callahan’s is sixteen songs and the one for Europe that I’ve gotten together, so far, is 32 songs long. It’s a big difference. I have a real deep catalog over there that I can draw on so it’ very different – the two different careers.”

Since he brought that up, I referred to a comment made during my recent interview with Cyril Niccolai where he said that the rock audiences in Europe is hit and miss, being non-existent in France. I asked Ryder for his opinion on that observation.

“France became the refuge for expatriates from the jazz scene and Germany, in all actuality, became the refuge for expatriates for the rock scene. That’s my take on it. It’s interesting. The one big difference is that they, historically, value their culture in a different manner than we do. For example, if I can try to describe it to you, if they take you on as one of the artists that they want to follow, they follow your whole career.  Even the records that aren’t up to the quality and standards that they would have expected, it becomes a part of your history. Over here in America, unless you’re right there in everybody’s face on the hot 100, they don’t even know you’re alive.

“So, my advice to your friend is the time-honored advice: You need three things to make it happen for you and they all have to happen just like the stars in the sky and at certain very specific points. You’ve got to have talent. You’ve got to have luck and you’ve got to have connections. When those three things all collide at once, you’re in.”

I asked Mitch to drill in to more detail about his ‘two catalogs” comment.

“Yeah, it’s just the difference between being an oldies act and getting most of your gigs in the summer and going over there and doing contemporary material on one-nighters. I haven’t done many one-nighter tours here. It’s mostly weekend stuff unless I get involved in a package tour like Hippiefest. I was on that three times. Basically, you just come out and sing three or four songs or your “top tens” and then off stage. So, it’s not really a one-nighter tour like it is over in Europe for me.

“It’s getting harder at my age to do what is very difficult for young men to do and that is to be in a different city every friggin’ day. The hardest one I ever did was, I think, when we did 29 one-nighters in 31 days. After that, I went into arrhythmia. I had to go down to Barcelona to recover. We took a little place down there on the Mediterranean and it took three days for my heart to return to normal. We just relaxed for the last two days and did the tourist thing. Yeah, it was a tough one. I just burned out from doing too much.  The shows are two and a half hours long with no intermission.

“It’s quite different from here. We’ll be doing a 75 minute set at Callahan’s when normally we’ll do a two and half hour set overseas.  But the song catalog is deep enough to where I can pace things and throw in many different ballads that will slow things down so I can take a little breather. I don’t ever stop singing but I can at least manage the energy level. Over here it’s pretty much an in-your-face hard rock ‘n roll set. Over there I have choices.”

This was a perfect place to begin discussing Ryder’s new CD, The Promise - his first album in a couple of years.  In response to my question as to what this particular album means to him, he said, “They all mean the same to me since I decided the big revelation, if you will, that came to me was that I was a ‘manufactured’ star. That separated me from the pack of legitimate artists. So, my entire career – from the time I broke with Bob Crewe – has been this long, long journey to constantly keep a chronicle and build a history of my growth and progression as an artist up to this point. The Don Was experience was just another one of those steps along the way where I’m trying to grow as an artist and be relevant to myself.

“As I’ve said a couple of times in the course of all these interviews I’ve been doing, it would help if they were successful but that’s not the point of doing it. The point is to acknowledge to myself that I’m capable of this growth and capable of making myself better at my chosen craft. Whether it’s acknowledged publicly or not isn’t the point. I can die happy knowing that I did it.”

The Promise is another great Ryder rhythm and blues project that provides lots of great music that should spark continued or renewed interest in his work.  What does he hope the people that do listen to it take away from the album?

“This album with Don is essentially a rhythm and blues based album and he did a very good job of capturing my vocal timber and sound as it exists at my age. Quite frankly, I still have a very strong voice – probably, in many ways, better than it was before. I’ve increased my range.”

And what does he attribute that to?

“In-ear monitors”, he said with a chuckle, adding, “You don’t have to battle ego-maniac guitar players who think that they’re the only thing that’s on the stage. I actually lost some hearing to my right ear due to one guitar player. When I started using the in-ear monitors, I could hear myself and I wasn’t afraid to take chances in reaching for notes that, prior to that, I was afraid to take those chances because I didn’t know if I could even make them because I couldn’t hear whether I was making them or not.  I wanted to stop doing bad concerts and use the technology. It’s been that way for a few years now. I’m very happy with that invention.”

All albums are labors of love for artists so I asked how long this album took to produce.

“Including the mixing time, I don’t know. I wasn’t really present for a lot of the mixing. It was just a couple of weeks. He’s (Don Was) done it that way with bigger artists than me. It really depends a lot on the budget. I imagine that he loves doing the Rolling Stones thing because they have deep pockets. He’s done quite a few of them since the middle nineties, I think. They trust him and he understands the dynamics. It’s like being, in many ways, the coach of a basketball team where you have to try and get some team work involved out of all the really eccentric personalities that exist there – the ‘stars’.

“He didn’t have that problem with me. I was pretty humble. I mean, having the opportunity with a producer of his caliber to work with and, then, the musicians he selected were all top class. It was an easy thing. I came prepared. That helped a lot when you don’t have to screw around the studio wasting time. Preparedness is essential and always has been. I have enough songs ready to go for a recording that may be asked of me after the tour in Europe. So that’s completely ready. The autobiography is finished and out. The album I’ve done is about to be released. I’m immensely – and very determinedly so – stuck in the middle of a musical that I’m creating – a musical stage play. That is really taking a lot of energy and research on my part – and study.  I’ve read a number of books and educated myself on the process. I’ve learned how to construct it. It’s hard work! You have to apply yourself. So, there’s no moss gathering on any stone here!”

Mitch Ryder has worked on so many albums and has been in the business almost 50 years now.  I commented that, while working on this album, he had to have a flood of memories as you compare the span of time.

“Yeah, but it’s a waste of time to go through them unless you’re chatting and trying to make conversation and share good road stories. These are good ol’ time stories or talk about other musicians that you’ve met. It doesn’t do any good to discuss the technology because once you’re in the studio, you still have the headphones on and you’re still listening to your voice. In the end, the technology has ups and downs. The same thing we have in the music world with the internet.  There are problems inherent in the internet. There are problems inherent in the technology in the recording process. For a long time there was a great discussion about analog recording as opposed to digital and it was all based around decay time on tone. The digital people couldn’t solve that until recently.  That was a big issue.

“On the internet, the big issue in the beginning was the blatant robbery of music from artists that weren’t getting paid for it. Even bigger than that, though, the downside to the internet is the fact that it created anonymity for people who, prior to that, wouldn’t have the courage to put their names behind their opinions. Now they’re just everywhere screaming everything and talking about anything and most of the time they’re not even well informed or educated enough to being doing so. And yet they have the anonymity to hide behind. That’s the downside of it.

“But, you get these cool stories once in a while.  I know this one band, it took them a year but they sold a hundred thousand copies of their record and they did it using Pro Tools in their basement. But that’s the rarity.  There’s so much out there, it gets overlooked. It’s a showdown between that style of creating and the major studios trying to keep control of the ship. I really don’t know where the answer lies or where it’s going to end up. I’m just happy that I had the chance to work in a great studio with a great producer, great musicians and what I think are pretty good songs.”

If I had a gun held to my head and had to pick a favorite (and I wouldn’t want to), I would say that Crazy Beautiful would be it.  I asked Mitch what the back-story was on that tune.

“The New York Times called it ‘age relevant’. I guess that was a nice way of telling me that I’m getting older. But they did like the song. It started out with me trying to co-write with somebody. He threw out a line one day and his whole thing about writing is that he’s focused on women. Everything he writes is about women. He said, ‘She’s so crazy beautiful’ and I said, ‘You know, I’m tired of this. You need to broaden your view of life a little bit.’

“After he left, I said to myself, ‘What is there more important than girls? Life!  Of course!’ Then I wrote the song. ‘Life is crazy beautiful’. That’s how that developed.”

Another cut from the album that I’m absolutely nuts over is Ryder’s cover of the Jimmy Ruffin Motown standard, “What Becomes Of the Broken Hearted”.  It gives me chills every time I listen to it.

“I only included that for performance purposes to show people where my chops are. It felt good. I was singing it and when I made the decision during the song to make it something more than a cover version, when I turned loose on it and turned around, the drummer had a big smile on his face and everyone got energized then we drove it home. That was really cool.”

Taking my next question right out of my mouth as if he was reading my mind, Mitch added, “My other favorite is The Promise. It has nothing to do with Obama. In fact, it was written before he was elected. For me, those are the essentials in life. I’m not a rich man and I relate very, very closely to the working class population of America. Those are the things that are important to our class of people – things that other people take for granted because they have the money.

The passion is clearly boiling underneath the surface as Ryder continues.

“If you don’t have insurance and your kids don’t go to a school where they can get educated and you don’t have good tools to work with, and you can’t get medicine for your wife and your children when they need it, you’re not living in a fair country. You’re not living in a country that thinks of its citizens first. You’re living in a country that values materialism and possessions over human life. That is just wrong as wrong can be!  The politicians are gonna find out because they think that this is just about how many votes Mitt Romney got in New Hampshire. This is about whether this government can stand much longer in its present form. There will be an evolution, very close to a revolution.

“This ‘Occupy’ thing is just some kind of aberration – vision – of what really needs to be said. It’s very, very hard on too many people. The government can’t stand the way it’s being run now. We just can’t keep sending people to Washington so that they can become millionaires and avoid the people that sent them there. So it’s time to stop being fooled by the rhetoric because it’s always been the same. The rich will protect the rich and they don’t care about the poor or even the middle class which they’re trying to destroy. The effort of the people trying to retain themselves in the middle class is costing them their families because you have two parents at work and you’ve got nobody to raise the kids.  It’s just crazy. It can’t stand the way it is. It’s bound to collapse.”

With the state of the union obviously weighing heavily on Ryder’s heart, I asked him if he felt that there was much in the way of “message” music like there was in the sixties and seventies.

“To be honest with you, just let me say that I’m not an avid follower of current music so I couldn’t give you an honest answer to that. But, what I do know is what I hear on the radio and I haven’t heard anything on the radio that could match what we’re talking about. When I say that I’m ignorant, I’m saying that I can’t give you the name of a group that practices this kind of art form.

“I made a mention in my book about the song Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I said something like, ‘Yeah, and they were the first ones who bring that to the public attention and I would like to think that they sent the money they earned from the royalties on that song to the families of the students who were killed or injured.’ It’s clearly cynical and sarcastic but, you know, where did that money go?  I can tell you that it didn’t go for a liver! He (David Crosby) had to pay for that a long time after. But it did bump him up the ‘A List’. He got a liver over some poor guy that was probably younger than him and needed it worse but he got it because he was the big guy.”

Did I happen to mention that Mitch Ryder is quite outspoken and opinionated?

With the release of The Promise pending, I asked Ryder what his tour plans were for the U.S.

“I don’t know. They haven’t been good. Last year was really hard. It was the worst year in my entire career – in America. I’m only talking about America. So, I’m either going to fire my agent and get a new one or move to Europe. I don’t really have many choices. I can’t sustain myself if it turns out like last year. Last year was a real piece of crap to have to deal with for a number of reasons. The money I was earning I was having to finance the recordings and publicists and different things like that and preparation for my new project. I’m financing all of it. Some of the money’s being fronted to me but it’s going to be collected. It’s going to be gotten back before I ever see a cent. But I did use a good deal of my own money to make this happen. I’m hardly in a position to do it but I couldn’t stand to watch myself disappear from the American landscape without giving everything I’ve got including, practically, our livelihood. Nobody can fault me for doing my very best to make it happen.”

When I shared that I felt that that there was keen interest in the latest work by so-called “legacy acts”, Ryder said, “Well, there’s the key. There’s the key right there. What’s the new work? Have these artists been true to their craft their entire career?”

Then comes another Ryder rib poke.

“I’m not going to mention his name but he’s from the Detroit area and he put out two albums in the last twenty years. He’s on a comeback now and he’s touring again. But, for most of those twenty years he just spent living a life of luxury because he had earned it.  You can’t fault the man for spending the money that he earned, right? But you can fault him for deserting his fans.  That’s the part I didn’t like about it. He’s got several trophies for yacht contests and whatever. Now he needs money to maintain his lifestyle so he’s back out there doing it. Unfortunately, he’s been out of it for so long he’s still trying to get his voice together. One of the tours he did he had to lower his keys – four keys some of them. That’s a big drop in range. Plus, he smokes like a chimney. He’s overweight.” Then, with a tone in his voice that betrays the twinkle that had to be in his eyes, he added, “But I’m not gonna tell you who it is. I’ll just let you wonder.”

I’m clueless as to who he’s talking about.

Ryder comes back around to my comment about fans being interested in the new work of by the icons of our youth by highlighting the downside of the Hippeifest type of touring packages.  “But, see, then you couldn’t have those 4-song-per-artist things. You’d have to turn that into a festival – a weekend festival and let these artists that do have the credibility to do it, come out and show you what they’ve been doing. I’d love a crack at something like that. I’d love to mix both of my bands – my American band and my European band. I’d like to fly them over and show them off, too. They’re very, very good.” Then, again with his self-deprecating humor, he adds, “Well, with the medical advances are going they’ll probably be able to keep me alive long enough for it to happen. We’ll see.”

Clearly still artistically productive with lots still in him to come out, I asked Mitch what he would like to do that he hasn’t yet done.

“Well, the musical. Then I think I’d like to write a fiction book. You know? Something in the arts that I’m qualified for and have the background for. What really helped immensely in preparing for the musical stage play was actually writing lyrics for the CD’s that I’ve been putting out. The whole secret to songwriting is to hit the most people with the fewest amount of words. It called ‘universality’ and that’s what gives you hit records. If it doesn’t give you hit records it still allows you to connect with the most people. You have to learn how to do that – how to communicate in the simplest form with the most inclusive words.

“That prepared me for the writing of the libretto for the play because that’s essential in a play – you maximize the intent of the word and minimize the use. In fact, in theater you’re instructed to make sure that the audience can read the nature and the make-up of the character more by his presence and body language and actions on stage than anything he might speak. What he or she does speak has to be an affirmation of what the audience already suspects is the nature or character of the actor. That was an important lesson to learn as I studied creating this thing I’m involved in. That’s next on the docket. But, as I said earlier, I’m totally prepared to go into the studio tomorrow and walk out with a CD a few weeks later.

“I’m just a little ticked off about my age and discovering that I have all of these desires and wasted so many of my years just being a drug addict and a drunk. This is how it comes home to roost. When you really fall in love with the gifts you’ve been given, you find you’re being robbed by time. It’s crazy but it’s natural and nobody’s got more than one ticket a piece.”

As we quit chatting like a couple of rock and roll school girls, we got down to the matter of discussing Ryder’s autobiography, Devils and Blue Dresses.  As I said in my review of the book (here), not only was I captivated with the stories in the book, I’m genuinely impressed with how incredibly well written the book is.  As we began to discuss the book, I told him as much.  His response reflects the struggles that Mitch has gotten used to in his storied career.

“I took it on as a challenge simply to see if I could do it – if I had the ability to write. So far, everybody’s telling me that I have so I really have considered, ‘You know? Maybe I ought to write a book of fiction and see if I can make that transformation from an autobiography to fiction.’  That’s my plan in between, maybe, another CD. But, you know, the clock is ticking and I’m not 20 years old anymore. I’ve got all these grand ideas about these challenges I want to take on and one has to wonder if I will have the opportunity to do it.

“But to allude to the problem we’re having, it is apparently a very well written book and all of the reviews are fantastic. The problem we’re having is getting the literary world to accept it as something other than another junkie, rock and roll memoir. And the fact that I didn’t use any assistance in the writing – I wrote it myself – is important to me because I didn’t think anybody else would be capable.

“You know, you get autobiographies and they hire people to help them write it. Their job is to go in and cover up the warts and the nasty little things that don’t look good or feel good and make the character some kind of god. That wasn’t my intent at all. My intent was to simply tell the truth from the beginning to the end. My mom told me a long time ago that it can’t hurt you. It can only help you. She was not a simple-minded woman but she was an uneducated woman who quit school in the sixth grade down in Tennessee to go pick cotton to help keep the family alive. She gave me a lot of the really good advice that I’ve had in my life.

“For example, she told me, when I told her I wanted to be a singer, she said, ‘Okay, but you make sure you be you and don’t become a part of a group. Groups change and people come and go and nobody knows their names. You keep your own name. That will live as long as you live and you won’t have to worry about an ever-changing cast of characters around you and nobody knowing who you are.’

“In short, there’s only one Mitch Ryder and that’s because my mom told me that. She told me the other things, too, that I was sharing with you on the last call. Some of the most wise things come from folks that have lived through it and have experienced it. It’s not just throw-away quotes given to you from high-minded people who think they’re something. It’s from folks who have lived it and know what it’s about.

“So, anyway, we’re having trouble convincing the literary world that this is a book worthy of getting some attention from people that like to read books and, basically, the people that are buying and reading the book are involved, in one way or another, with the rock and roll world.  You can’t blame them.  If you remember who Mitch Ryder was, which is a big problem as well because you have to remember it’s been, what, five decades since I’ve had those hits. Just getting people to even remember that name then, when they do, they have a stereotype in mind. It’s an uphill battle.

“But it is a good book, I agree with you. Let’s hope that we can make that crossover and somehow get somebody from that other world where books are written by people for a living and get them to at least read it and give us an opinion about it.

In response to my add-on comment that one of the purposes of Boomerocity is to inform baby boomers of the latest work and activities of our heroes from back in the day, Mitch said, “I appreciate that so much because I have a great volume of work created but it’s all been overseas. As far as the American public knows, the last time I’ve had anything out here was the Mellencamp album in ’83 (Never Kick a Sleeping Dog). That was the last time I charted and that was a feat in itself considering most of my stuff was from the sixties.

“So, for all intents and purposes, unless they see me on a tour - if they see me, they’ll remember me. But, out of sight, out of mind, you know?  That’s pretty much what it is. It’s not about a shrinking demographic. They’re still alive, most of them. They just don’t know. They don’t know where I am. They don’t hear about me. Now, these two projects are coming, we’re getting some attention for them. Hopefully, it will all work out for the best.”

I commented that the book caused me to wince a lot.  He chortled, “YOU winced a lot? I couldn’t go to the bathroom for three days after one paragraph!” When I said that I put myself into his shoes as I was reading Devils, he chuckled and said, “You must have gray hair by now!”

The foundation of Mitch’s career is set in his R&B days in the greater Detroit area – particularly when he was with a black group called the Peps.  Because of comments I’ve heard during my interviews with greats like Bonnie Bramlett and Rob Parissi – both of whom cut their teeth in black dominated genres – I asked Mitch what were some of the experiences he’s had working in a black world.

“I have had in the past mixed groups in terms of ethnicity. But my biggest reference was to one of my earliest experiences when I was first coming up and I became part of an a cappella group at their invitation. They were called The Peps. It was an all black group except for me. What I learned was two things and I think I did a pretty good job in describing those in the book.  First of all, my parents weren’t racists so I didn’t have any fears or any of that going into my relationships with those people. We worked in the same place. We were friends.  You know? Music is beautiful for that. Music is color blind so it’s just a wonderful place to come from.

“They allowed me to sing with them and learn from them and actually learn to sing the music that I wanted to sing which was R&B.  I was in the Varsity Choir and was being trained by my vocal instructor to sing classical and semi-classical music and I had won awards for doing that in the Michigan area. When I became successful and he’d hear the kind of music I was doing, he went out of his mind. It was like he had thrown away five years of his life training this man. He taught me to breath from the stomach and when you do R&B your energy’s coming from your throat and not your stomach. So he just flipped right out.

“The second thing that I got was not only a peek but an immersion into the black culture because we were hanging out all the time together. I was going with them to watch them get their hair ‘did’, as they called it. They had that big bucket of lard and they’d put it on their hair, smooth it all out, comb it through and then they’d scrape off the excess and throw it back into the big bucket and that would be what would go on the next persons head. I actually had my hair done that way. It really looked kind of stupid on me.

“I remember one gig we were doing. This lady come up to me and said, ‘You know what?’ and she hugged me and she said, ‘You sing so pretty and you’re so light!’ and I’m going, ‘Whoa! I must be fittin’ in here somewhere!’

“Another thing I pointed out in the book, too, is that there was a difference in our appearances in front of white audiences and in front black audiences. The black audiences didn’t have much of a problem with me being there as much as the white audiences had with my black friends being around me. But it wasn’t ever anything violent. It never turned into anything violent. But, as you know, it was just a few scant years later – just a couple – when Detroit broke out and had some of the worst riots we’ve ever had in our history – the race riots.

“Musically and also socially it was a very positive thing that occurred in my life – that immersion into the black culture. I didn’t do it out of curiosity. It just happened. We wanted to sing together and we were looking for a certain sound. What we were thinking was, ‘Okay, let’s find a sound people are going to really enjoy.’ We looked at it as a competitive thing, actually – not race-wise but competitive against other groups that were in the arena at that time.   It was a very positive experience for me.

“Later on, when I ran into the bad side of some of the black culture, it was no different - getting my wallet stolen by a black guy was no different to me than getting it stolen by a white guy. It hurt just as much.”

Do those experiences still impact Ryder today?

“My passion, as I said early on, after being trained to go classical and semi-classical and then choosing to rhythm and blues, that has always been my goal – to be one of the best rhythm and blues singers in the history of our country.

“I got paid a very high complement at one time. He wasn’t a friend but he was an acquaintance.  We did bump into each other quite a bit. I believe that James Brown was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and they asked him who he thought was the best white soul singer was. He thought for just a split second and mentioned my name. I went out of my mind when I heard that. For most of the population in America it didn’t mean crap but to me, it was like the king passing the sword down.

“I always looked at my friends – Wilson Picket, we did a tour together and Otis Redding, getting to know him – I always viewed them as sort of competition.  They were in a place I wanted to be. I wanted to be considered to be one of those R&B singers because that was the music that moved me. That was the music that really, really thrilled me.

“If you order the hardcover book, there’s a code in the back and you’ll get the new CD downloaded for free. They’re all original songs on there except for one and it’s taken from a live concert. It’s my interpretation of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted by Jimmy Ruffin. It’s a good example of what my capabilities as a rhythm and blues singer are if you listen to the performance.

“I’m proud of the album. I’m proud of the book. These come as – not surprises but as very, very sought after and welcome gifts and acknowledgements. My entire career – to be honest about it – has been about getting rid of the perception that Bob Crewe had manufactured a star.  I want to be known – and go down swinging – as an artist of my own accord and judged by my own production and quality and output. It was important to me to keep a journal of this and the only way to keep a journal of your progress is to create. That explains all of that production that went on overseas. I had to keep a record of my growth as an artist and how I was developing and what my capabilities were. Whether anybody knew it or not, at least I would know – when the lights were about to be turned off – that I had done the very best I could with what God had given me. That’s all that mattered to me and that’s all that still matters to me.

“When you do something and take on a challenge and have it come out well, it doesn’t keep the lights on in the house but it really makes me feel good. If we happen to get a hit somewhere along the line with one of these projects, well, that’s a blessing and it will be a welcome blessing, too. We don’t live a lavish lifestyle at all. We live a very typical American lifestyle and we worry about the bills every month just like everybody else. The good part of the whole thing is somehow I have managed to keep me and my family alive – our families, actually – by doing something I love.

“There was only one point in my life where that didn’t occur.  I talk about it – the years I was in exile in Colorado and I actually had to work (hanging seamless gutters and warehouse work). I call it ‘work’ because I don’t consider what I do ‘work’. It’s just pure fun. It’s hard and you put a lot of hours into it – sometimes 16 or 18 hours a day. You get to choose your own schedule but choosing your own schedule don’t mean nothing if you’ve got to get a quart of milk and you don’t have the money for a quart of milk, you’ll work 20 hours straight if you have to. So, yeah, you’ve got the freedom to choose your own hours but you’ve also got the pressure to survive.

A friend of mine recently told me a joke that I shared with Mitch. It goes something like this: Do you know the difference between a musician and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four.  Getting a very real laugh out of that, Ryder shared, “Yeah, when you do the club circuit you’re lucky if you get a good check. That’s why I hate doing clubs and why I won’t do them if I don’t have to. Used to – I’m talking about decades ago before I got wise – they’d come and say, ‘Well, we didn’t sell enough drinks. I can’t give you what I promised you.’ And there you are trying to figure out how you’re going to get the gas to get to the next gig. It’s a stupid, stupid world. But, if you do it the right way, which I’ve kind of learned to do, you will get at least half of your money up front before you leave the house.

“I used to marvel at the behavior of people like Jerry Lee and Little Richard but they were the pioneers and are the ones who really got raped and screwed. They’re the ones who brought that whole change about – pay us half up front and the rest right before we go on.  They’re the ones who paid the price and drove all of those thousands of miles and they’re the ones who starved and they’re the ones who got kicked out of their houses.  They’re the ones who blazed the trail for people like me and God bless them. They’re the reason why we have the protections – what little protections we do have.”

In Devils & Blue Dresses Mitch shares quite a bit of detail about industry legend, Bob Crewe, who figured largely in Ryder’s career in the 60’s.  Not to give away some of the great stories in the book, I did ask Mitch if it was a fair statement that Crewe can be viewed in the same light as one of his contemporaries, Morris Levy.

“Yeah, except I don’t think that he was as violent. He didn’t have that violent streak in him that Morris did. Morris really thought like a gangster. I don’t think Crewe did. I just think Crewe was narcissistic with a little touch of evil in there. It wasn’t evil born of wanting to deliberately hurt somebody. It was an evil born of selfishness. He would rather pay himself some extra money to have fun with than to treat his artists the right way and pay them what he owed them.”

In his book, Ryder states that he feels that he was screwed out of millions of dollars by Mr. Crewe.  Why hasn’t he pursued Crewe for the money?

“Statute of limitations. We are collecting royalties on a quarterly basis – me and the rest of the Wheels because we sued Morris Levy. He (Levy) died and we continued the suit with his son and we settled with his son. However, they only allowed us to go back so many years. They didn’t allow us to go back and sue for the money that was taken in the gravy years when those things were selling millions and millions and millions. Had they been, those people would be broke right now. Now that Jersey Boys is a theater piece – which it shouldn’t be; it has nothing to do with theater – Bob Crewe was quoted as saying it was like hitting the lottery twice. He’s back in the bucks. He’s rolling in the dough.”

Out of the blue, Ryder shared something he said that Crewe told him regarding the inspiration behind a very popular song in the 70’s.

“One time, I spoke to him, oh, a long time ago but not long ago like back when we were working together – maybe 20 years ago – and he told me how he wrote My Eyes Adored You.  I will share that with you because I thought it was so scary.

“He said that he sat on a bed and he had arranged it so that he was completely surrounded by mirrors and then he wrote My Eyes Adored You.  Honest to God. That’s pretty telling, isn’t it? To each his own.”

While Ryder clearly – if not rightly – harbors much animosity towards Bob Crewe, he’s objective in his opinion of him.

“I also say in the book – and it’s true – we wouldn’t have had the hits without Mr. Crewe and we wouldn’t be talking today. I wouldn’t be Mitch Ryder if it wasn’t for Mr. Crewe. Give the man credit where credit’s due but he didn’t make my life easier from a financial point of view but he did give me fame. My mission has been to redefine that fame on my terms so I can keep my self-dignity and respect for myself. That’s what this journey has been about.

“The fame that he handed me was like a hot potato or a grenade about to go off. I had to take that from the beginning and redefine it over all these decades. I have and now I’m at a point where I’m able to share that with the public. Hopefully, in the future, I can share even more with the public that would be interested in that kind of a story. But today’s generation has its own heroes. The ones that followed me had their own heroes. The story has to be universal in its meaning in order to appeal to the broadest amount of people. Otherwise, we’ve got my demographic.”

Then, as if to lighten the tone of his words just a bit, Mitch adds, “I tell them at my concerts, ‘don’t stand up if you want an encore. I don’t want anyone getting hurt.’ I look out for my people” Ryder concludes with a laugh.

Prior to our second call – and because of what Mitch had shared about him – I looked up the current status of Crewe.  I was stunned to learn from a statement by his brother on Bob’s website that he was still alive but living in an assisted living facility in Casco Bay, Maine, with much of his thinking reportedly “confused”.  As Mitch and I talked Crewe, it became apparent to me that Ryder didn’t know what the current status of Bob Crewe was at the time of our chat.  I shared the news with him.

“This isn’t news! He wasn’t all there mentally fifty years ago!” Mitch said, laughing and then, in a more serious tone said, “I feel bad about that. I feel bad because I don’t want any human to suffer needlessly. Mr. Crewe didn’t treat us fairly and there’s a lot of people out there in the world who aren’t going to treat people fairly. But, if you’ve got it in your mind and your heart to treat everybody as your equal – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – those are simple rules, you know? They’re older than the hills! Life is not as complicated as we choose to make it.”

In the book, Ryder shares a story that I would have paid real good money to have witnessed.  It involves the time that he saw Tina Turner in the nude.

“Sure did!  It was everything it was cooked up to be.  You could hear her fists bouncing off of Ike’s head after the door closed. He was so messed up when he opened the door that he actually thought I was Mick Jagger. She responded by coming to the door nude.” Then, in what I now know to be Ryder’s sharp, dry sense of humor, he added, “I feel bad for her. That’s probably what led to their divorce.”

Speaking of Jagger, Mitch, in making brief comments about various artists at the back of his book, makes a very pointed comment regarding the Rolling Stones. He wrote, “For me . . . silence is a virtue.”  I wanted the “un-virtuous” version so I asked him for it.

 “I can say it’s their arrogance. Let’s be honest about it. I haven’t fallen out of a coconut tree because I’ve had the good sense to not try to climb one. I’m sixty-seven years old. I think he (Richards) ought to take up surfing next. But I do love their music. Absolutely.”

For you Beatles fans, Ryder also shares a  heartwarming story about his encounter with John Lennon.  I asked him about that.

“He was the good Beatle. There are a lot interesting parts in the book. My battle with identifying my sexuality and those issues; the stuff we like to hide but I don’t hide anything in the book. John Lennon, to the core of his heart, was a good person. I don’t know what it was in his chemistry that made him come out that way but the guy really cared.”

Mitch never met Lennon again.  However, he did share that, “I did have the pleasure of an entire album with his guitar player. He had a band in New York called Elephant’s Memory and Wayne Gabriel – who is now deceased – was one of the key components of that group. Wayne created the whole album How I Spent My Vacation which was the first album I did after coming back from Colorado. It’s beautiful guitar work. When you listen to the album you can understand why Lennon chose him as a guitar player.”

 Because Ryder details the myriad personal battles he’s fought and is fighting, I asked if the book was cathartic for him.

“It was just the documentation and also to prove whether or not I could write. It was taking on a challenge, seeing if I could do it which is important as an artist. I don’t think it was cathartic. I think it was just documentation – just so it is documented, get it out of the way, put it in the past and keep moving forward now. I’ve got other stuff to do. I thought it was necessary to document that.

“There was a book called It Was All Right written by James A. Mitchell who visited the house quite frequently to do tapings for that book. But that deal was mostly with my life in music and it doesn’t deal with my personal life like my book does.”

Mitch makes no bones about his responsibility for the destruction of many of his personal relationships.  He pretty much blames himself for the emotional debris he’s caused and left strewn over his personal landscape.  By doing so, has it helped at all in mending those relationships?

 “Well, we’re waiting for that. There’s a lot of things that can happen. The inevitable lawsuits if the book sells enough – they will suddenly appear because, at the scent of money, the woodwork squeaks and out comes the freaks. So, we’re waiting on that one.

“The bigotry and the bias, I haven’t had anything like that. I haven’t been confronted with that as of yet. I’ve gotten an enormous amount of support and applause and accolades for not only the work itself and the manner in which it’s constructed, but also for the fact that I chose to tell it in such a forthright manner without trying to hide anything. I do believe that it goes to what my mother told me: Tell the truth.  Warts and all, it’s there.

“There were some deletions but they weren’t by my choice, they were by the Legal department. There must’ve been something there that they thought was pretty explosive. They weren’t afraid of it, they just said, ‘You know, why part ourselves through this if we don’t have to?

“So, as I told them, ‘we have a general consensus of philosophy here in Michigan. We can live with omissions but we will not tolerate a lie.’ If you don’t mention something, then it doesn’t become a topic.”

I asked Ryder if the book has helped him in healing his emotional wounds as well as those whom he was and is close to.  Half expecting, at best, some PR spun feel-good story or, at worst, be told that it was none of my business, Mitch bared a piece of his heart and soul about the very sensitive matter.

“Those relationships don’t work off of Daddy’s product or what he puts out for the public. Those are much more personal and closer. There has been a strengthened bond between my wife and myself. My children – that’s the hardest part of the whole thing. My natural children are having a really hard time. My son teaches. He’s a teacher at a university here in the Detroit area. He’s won several awards for his writing. He was really, really young when I abandoned the family so he’s having a hard time with it. But he’s a very, very intelligent young man.

“We have gotten together, broken apart and gotten together and, currently, we’re broken apart. The issue is that they want – and they expect – to have a very private dialog with their father absent of reflections or sharing with my wife. I can’t have a strong marriage unless I’m willing to share everything in my life with my wife. My children resent that. I think they need to grow a little more beyond that point. They don’t have to accept her as ‘Mommy’ but they do have to honor our marriage and the fact that what makes a strong marriage is sharing. Once they get to that point and no longer demand that Daddy be separate from his current wife – I’m asking them to just be civilized and cordial towards her. They don’t have to be in love with her but they have to accept the fact that she is my wife and that’s important in my life. To try to circumvent that and create a separate dialog behind my wife’s back makes it very, very difficult.

“This comes from their missing me. It’s one thing to lose your dad to a divorce. But, then, to lose a famous dad to a divorce, that’s another burden on top of them. I understand what they’re going through. I really do and it breaks my heart to see them make the choices they’re making right now. Hopefully, they’ll see the light; they’ll see the wisdom in what I’m trying to tell them.

“We can have a wonderful relationship for the rest of our lives together.  You’ve simply got to accept the fact that a marriage is a sacred institution and, if you want it to work and you want it to work correctly, you have to be transparent with your spouse. You can’t have secrets. Even though it’s simple little things like talking about each other or with each other about the past and trying to repair the past with them, that’s one thing.

“But the dialog I’ve had with them so far, there are deliberate attempts on their part – ‘Don’t share this with Megan!’ Almost like a demand. ‘We want this simply between us and we don’t want this shared with anybody’ and it’s conflicting. It’s really tearing me apart. Just up until Christmas, everything was going fine and, then, this weird thing from the past – this unresolved past we haven’t come to grips with as father to son and father to daughter is really making it difficult to keep that going. It’s really emotionally draining. Sometimes, all you can do is pray. I know that it’s a copout.”

With roughly fifty years and counting in this business, I asked Ryder how do he want to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.

“I think just somebody who took the tools that was given to them and made the best he could with them – whether it was a hammer, shovel or pen. It really doesn’t matter. It could be on anybody’s gravestone – somebody that took the tools he had and did the best he could with them. Just as simple as that, really.”

As we wrapped up our final chat and we thanked each other and wished each other well, Mitch Ryder said added to his good-bye with one more shining example of his acerbic but wickedly funny wit by saying, “I want you to know the next free moment I have, I’m going to BobCrewe.com. I want to see what kind of assisted living he’s getting.”

Mark Rivera (2012)

Posted July, 2012

 

markrivera1Mark Rivera.  Perhaps only to the most die-hard music nuts like yours truly will the name immediately be familiar.  However, to any fan of rock and roll, you have definitely been touched by the music this incredible talented artist has been inextricably a part of.

First and foremost, you would know Rivera’s work as the sax man for Billy Joel since 1982.  Prior to joining the piano man, Rivera worked with a long list of musical dignitaries. In 1975, he worked with John Lennon and Yoko in a tribute to Sir Lew Grade that turned out to be Lennon’s last TV performance.  Mark remembers that, for that gig, “Yoko Ono had us put on skull caps and have a replica of our face to show the duality of American society. So, we did that gig and I did a couple of TV shows with him and he produced a Gary U.S. Bonds record that I played on.”

Mark went on to work with Sam and Dave as well as with Mutt Lange (“Mutt’s one of my favorite people in this business. I love him!”) and Foreigner on their groundbreaking Foreigner 4 album. In fact, Mutt, Lou Gramm, and Rivera sang all of the backing vocals on Juke Box Hero and Waiting on a Girl like You.

In 1982, Mark joined Billy Joel’s band and has been with him ever since.  While working with Joel, he has shared the stage with the likes of Elton John during the Face 2 Face tour and, during the historic The Last Play at Shea concert, performed with greats like Don Henley, Steven Tyler, Tony Bennett, Roger Daltrey, John Mellencamp, John Mayer and Sir Paul McCartney.  When not working with Mr. Joel, Mark has worked with other greats like Hall & Oates, Peter Gabriel, and Simon & Garfunkel.

Oh and there’s his current gig that he’s also held since the mid-nineties as music director for some guy named “Ringo Starr”.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him?  I didn’t think so.

Mark and I became acquainted by way of our mutual friend, acclaimed rock photographer, Rob Shanahan, whose work Boomerocity features each and every month in our Photo of the Month feature. Rob is Ringo’s official photographer as well as a trusted friend and it’s through this association that Rob and Mark know each other.

I was pleased to learn that Mark has been working on his first solo album ever and has just made the single available. Naturally, my ears perked up like a Doberman on that bit of news and so I knew that an interview with the sax man was certainly in order.  E-mails were exchanged and a time set as Mark was more than gracious enough to grant my request.

I called Rivera at his hotel room in New York City in between gigs with Mr. Starr. As he was cleaning up and awaiting the arrival of the lovely Mrs. Rivera, we exchanged small talk about the tour and how it was all going in its early stages – including my question as to why the All-Starr tour wasn’t stopping in Dallas for the second year in a row.

“Ah, I don’t know what’s up with that. We’re not going anywhere near Texas, in fact. I was hoping Austin, at least!  I know he (Ringo) loves Billy Bob’s and that’s in Fort Worth. I don’t know. I don’t know. But, what are ya gonna do?”

After discussing the All-Starr tour, we shifted the focus over to Mark’s new single and his plans for supporting its release after the All-Starr tour.

“Absolutely! What I’m going to be doing is pull some gigs together in the city (New York). I’ve got to put some final touches on my CD. I’ve got to do some vocals yet and couple of other things but nothing big but enough to get my happy butt busy, you know what I mean?”  But as for the complete album being released, Rivera adds, “It looks like it’s going to be more like October or into November, depending upon what the reality is. I’d rather get it right and spend the time to get it right than to push it and find out that I missed whatever part of it I wanted to get right.  I’m going to take my time and get it done.”

The single that Mark was referring to is the rocker, Turn Me Loose (read the Boomerocity review of it here), and, boy does it rock with lots of great sax work (read the Boomerocity review of it here). I asked Mark to tell me a little bit about the song and how it all came to together.

“That particular song – Jimmy Bralower is the producer and co-writer. He and I, we’ve been playing together forever. He kind of pushed me to even think of this project as a viable situation and that I should have a CD out. Because I’ve worked with so many people, it’s been difficult for me to actually spend the time to do it. Jimmy Bralower had a track with the guitar player, Jonny Gale and when I heard it, the first thing that I sang was ‘Turn Me Loose’.

“Anyway, long story short, Jimmy Bralower was the push behind all this. He had a track of guitar and some loops – some percussion loops that he had put together – just a barren track. For some reason, the person he was working with didn’t jump on it. He played it for me down in the basement one night – this is before I even had a thought of really doing a CD. I started singing stuff immediately. In fact, ‘turn me loose’ was the first or second thing out of my mouth and he said, ‘Buddy!’ and he pressed his iPhone and we had a hook. That was the germ of the whole thing.

“Again, everything took a long time because I was either touring with Billy or doing a bunch of corporate dates. But Jimmy said that we’ve got to up the ante and get into a real studio and get players. I wanted to use my very, very dear friend, Charley Drayton, the drummer. At the time, he was working with Simon and Garfunkel and then he was working in Australia with Cold Chisel and now, currently, he’s with Fiona Apple.  The guy is obviously very busy.

“So, I kept pushing the date around and, finally, the stars lined up and Charlie was available and my other very dear friend, Steve Conte, the guitar player. He lives in Amsterdam and now he’s touring with Michael Monroe. So, we got in there in the studio and that song was ready to go. We cut eleven tracks, all told, in two days, which is pretty ambitious. But, look, we had the right guys and we had the right studio. We did it at Avatar, which is the old Power Station where I did Sledgehammer (with Peter Gabriel) which had some sentimental value to me – or some vibe to it. Everything else went along well.

“That vocal in the room – as a scratch vocal – with the band and it ended up being the one on the record. If I remember right, Jimmy was upset with me because my favorite headphones are from another very dear friend of mine, John Grado, makes headphones.  Are you familiar with Grado Headphones?  They’re, like, state-of-the-art!  I love those phones and I had them on but they’re not meant for isolation. So, you have some drum leakage because I had the drums blasting in my ears. But I can’t sing his (Bralower’s) praises enough. Without him, this dream would’ve laid dormant forever. I guess that’s a long answer but that’s what got this thing going. I’m very, very proud of it and very pleased with the response I’ve been getting.”

In another part of our conversation, Mark indicated that the album has been in the works since August of last year.  However, songs that wound up on the album were written long before then.  Rivera explained, “There’s one song called Hard to Let Go – which Jimmy and I wrote together and Nils Lofgren’s played on that one – that was written, believe it or not – man, this will frighten you – back in 1991.  I’ve always written songs. In fact, I have two more that I’m ready to go back into the studio with. Jimmy always says that, before the actual CD comes out, the last thing you put on is sometimes the best thing you do because you’re not always ready to do it in the beginning. So, I still think some of the best stuff is still there to go!”

Then, almost as an afterthought, Mark added, “I’m 59 now and it’s pretty crazy to think that this is where I am now. I’ve done a lot of work with a lot of different people but this is my first solo album. This is the one!”

With Rivera mentioning the fact that he’s worked with so many different people, I mentioned that he should write a book like one of his other sax-playing peers, Bobby Keys, recently did.

“I have to tell ya, Bobby is in a position because of the people he’s worked with – this is really a compliment – he can say, ‘Hey, man, I can say it just like it was’ because he and Keith (Richards) were born on the same day – the same day, the same year. Pretty incredible. He can tell what it was like because he was in the thick of it all.

“I really believe that – I don’t know if it’s karma or whatever – I really don’t want to say anything that would put anyone in a bad light. Unfortunately, people want to read about the dirt about who was messing with who and who was doing drugs. Look, there’s no halo over my head. I’m not proud of everything that I’ve done but I will say that I don’t feel the need to cash in on that. SO, if I was to write a book it would be a nice book and nice books don’t sell!  I love talking about things I’ve done and sharing stories but it’s a crazy world out there with all of the reality TV and stuff. People drive by an accident, they can’t help but keep looking. I just say, ‘Keep driving and be grateful that you’re not hurt.’  That’s how I feel.”

In Mark’s forty year career, he has obviously worked on a ton of albums that had to have prepared him for his work on Common Bond.  I asked the sax man if, still, there were any surprises that he didn’t anticipate while working on the album.

“Yeah, the amount of work that goes into it – the amount of effort to get things right. That’s why I’m so amazed when I hear or see the level of how prolific the Beatles were – how much they did in such a short span of time. It always blows my mind.  I think what’s really surprising is the result because it’s really a double-edged sword. I mean, I’m shocked, first of all, that anybody cares and then I’m even more shocked when I hear the stuff.

“I’ve got to keep referring to Jimmy Bralower. He said, ‘When we mix these songs and work on these songs – and they’re like our children – you listen to them and until they’re at the stage that you feel so comfortable – you’re kind of holding your breath that something’s going to go wrong or that you’re going to hear something that you hate. When I finally heard the tracks in their final mix, I was then able to actually breathe! I’m not saying that my pitch is perfect or anything like that but there’s a great vibe, I think, and what’s being done with the song – it far surpasses anything – it exceeds my expectations far and away.”

Then, drilling down to what really surprised him, Mark added, “The surprising part is that I actually did it! That’s probably the biggest surprise. And, not to sound corny, but the fact that I took the time. I mean, I’m a working guy. I work for my family. I take care of my family. The time that Jimmy allotted for me – he’s running around. He’s got his own record company – Dynotone Records. Hopefully, I’ll put this CD out on that. He’s everything!  So, the fact that he would take the time out – he’s like, ‘Buddy, we’ve got work to do!’  So, by the grace of God – and Jimmy Bralower – I got this thing done!”

Rivera often lends his more than capable talents to very worthy causes and to help out friends in need.   A personal high point for him took place in January, 2007. Aninha Capaldi, the wife of the late Traffic co-founder, Jim Capaldi, tapped Mark as music director for the Jim Capaldi Tribute Concert at Roundhouse in London.  In that event, he worked with rock royalty such as the late Gary Moore, Steve Winwood, Joe Walsh, Jon Lord, Paul Weller, Bill Wyman, Yusuf Islam, Steve Lange, Ray Cooper, the Storys, Dennis Locorrieree.  Many of those performances were captured on the DVD, Dear Mr. Fantasy Featuring the Music of Jim Capaldi and Traffic: A Celebration for Jim Capaldi.

These days, Rivera works with such worthy charities as the Red Cross, Cure Autism Now Foundation, The Miami Children’s Hospital and Michael J. Fox’s Foundation For Parkinson’s Research.  The passion that Mark has for his music is brought full-force to help these groups raise money for their causes.  As if that’s not enough, he, along with some of his musician friends, is developing a program designed to educate and motivate young people in inner city school systems to develop their musical talents.

As we wrapped up our chat, Mark Rivera shared some introspective closing thoughts.

“The main thing is, just like my having been blessed by playing with bands like Foreigner on Foreigner 4, in particular; the work I did with Peter Gabriel on Sledgehammer and the work I’ve done with Billy, and one of my favorite bands ever which people don’t realize until they hear Start Over, is a band like Traffic. It’s going back to those times and this is a collection of all my records and all the songs that are in my head. Remembering, I guess; not allowing myself to forget that I’ve had an incredible ride so far and to, hopefully, let it continue.”

The ride continues with the release of Common Bond this fall. Until then, you can see Mark perform in Ringo’s All-Starr Band this summer and who knows what other friends he may be helping in the meantime?

Michele Rundgren

Posted December, 2011

todd michelle2V.1Michele and Todd Rundgren - Photo Courtesy of Michele RundgrenIt’s a worn out – but still very relevant – cliché that behind every great man is a great woman.  That saying couldn’t be more true when analyzing some of the greatest names in rock and roll in general and Todd Rundgren in particular.  For, behind the rock icon who has written some of rock’s most iconic tunes and has produced other history-making albums by others, there is his lovely wife, Michele.

Michele and Todd met in 1984 and, as she tells it, “Fell in love . . . sex, singing, touring, breeding . . . then he moved me to paradise (Kauai) and forced me to raise our progeny. “  No, this isn’t the voice of an embittered woman.  This is the humorous, matter-of-fact run down of a woman who knows who she is, where she has been and a real good idea of where she’s going.

Michele’s comes shining through as she describes herself a “has been” for she is or “has been”:

· A trapeze artist

· A singer, dancer and actor on and off Broadway

· A member of rock group, The Tubes

· A backup singer for Todd Rundgren

· A “Brood Sow” for the same Mr. Rundgren (Rex (Infielder for the Edmonton Capitals), Randy and Keoni call her “Mom”)

· A frequent guest on “The Late Show With David Letterman” often with the

· A host of her own PBS radio show, “Chick Rock, Chick Talk” on KKCR in Kauai

· Is still raising her husband, Mr. Michele Rundgren, four kids and five dogs.

· Currently, she’s the Director of Human & Creative Resources for DS Vocology, the parent company of a wonderful company, VocalizeU, that offers software and VIP instruction to singers.

One might think that Michele and Todd would just chill in Hawaii and not worry themselves with cares of life.  As easy as it might be to assume such things, greatness rarely rests and such is the case with both Mr. and Mrs. Rundgren.  When both aren’t cheering their sons on in their endeavors, Todd is still neck deep in his prodigious musical creativity and, as indicated above, Michele is quite the businesswoman, serving on the management team of DS Vocology, a relatively new company that produces a brand spankin’ new software application called VocalizeU which was a big reason why I wanted to speak with her.

I called Michele at her Southern California office where, despite being inundated with a day’s worth of computer problems, she didn’t let those technical travesties quash what I suspect is her perennial sunny disposition and effervescence.  With a laugh she said, “It’s funny. I guess my karma is up and now, having used computers since the early 80’s, I’m now suddenly paying off my free ride. My tech-problem free life over the last 25 years is now coming back and saying, ‘Oh! We’re going to give it back to you all in one week!’”

As we settled into the interview, I commented (after running down the list of her past and current accomplishments) how it’s obvious that she stays continuously busy.

“I guess it’s my parents fault. I was never one to play it safe and easy.  Same with Todd. I think that’s why we’re such a good match is because something always has to be going on. A few times a year we take small chunks of time off to totally relax and try to make each other relax. It’s pretty tough sometimes because we like to live life to its fullest – as packed as we can.

“The radio show I’ve been away from for two years. Our youngest son, Rebop, got into college at sixteen so I went to San Francisco to go with him for a year.  Then I was offered to be a part of this start-up company – to be a part of DS Vocology – exactly a year ago. I moved to L.A. so now Todd and I date each other! After 26 years, it’s worked out pretty good!”

I surmised that Todd comes through to see her often because of his work related travels.

“He always comes to the mainland - L.A. - for at least a day on his way to wherever he has to go. Flying from Hawaii to, say, the East Coast just takes so long, so, yeah, I see him a lot here. I’ve gone home three times in the last year: Once to help do production work on Live From Daryl’s House.  They did Live From Daryl’s House from our house.  That took a lot of pre-production work as well as production work.  Even though they bring their staff and are only there that day, we did a lot of prep work and help at the last second. Everything went wrong that could go wrong.  Charts needed to be printed up right before they start taping. You’re sneaking under cameras and handing them charts and getting the house ready.  I don’t know if you’ve seen it but it was a pretty big event and that’s a pretty big house to get ready.”

That it is.  Check out the entire episode here at Live From Daryl’s House.

We move to the subject of VocalizeU and DS Vocology.  I was very intrigued by the product and asked Michele to fill me in on it.

“One of my dear, dear friends, Dave Stroud, has been a sought after vocal teacher for, gosh, 20-some years.  He came up with a concept to put together a vocal studio in an iPad. It’s really a vocal tool for singers – beginners to professionals.  It can teach somebody how to sing and it can make professional singers sound better. Rather than meeting a voice teacher for anywhere from $100 to $500 an hour, for $40 on your iPad, you’ve got a studio that helps you determine what vocal habits you have, sending you to different workouts to correct the bad habits you have, extend your range and strengthen your voice.  If you decide that you need to work on a song or you want a live voice lesson, there’s a little picture of a telephone in your studio graphics and you tap that and it connects you to a live teacher. We say that it’s a virtual vocal lesson for anyone, anywhere, anytime. It’s pretty cool.

“We’re hoping to be a virtual college of music so we’re developing a lot of add-ons that are extensions taught by icons.  So, anything you want to learn in the music business, you can learn through VocalizeU.  Our next extensions that connect to our vocal studio are background singing with Denosh Bennett – she sings for all of the famous acts – Colbie Caillat, Drake, Justin Temberlake – a bunch of people.

“There’s The Art of Management by Justin Timberlake’s label manager (Dre Persons) to teach people how to be a manager. We try to make them really interactive and fun. The art of management is almost like a video game that you can program to really act like a manager where someone’s irate wife calls you on the phone and you have to make some decisions on your phone in the middle of the night in order to pass up to the next level.” Then, with her engaging laugh, she adds, “I’m taking all my experience of what exactly can go wrong on the road and sticking it into that one!”

Continuing on about the many courses available, Michele adds, “Matt Scannell from Vertical Horizon is doing a singer/songwriter course – beginning, intermediate and advance – and other artists will contribute to that.  Remember Martin Atkins, the drummer for P.I.L.? He’s doing an extension with us that every band can use that helps them become totally self-sufficient since all of the record companies have all disappeared on all the up-and-coming artists. So, this is ‘Band Smart’ How To Make a Living in the Music Business On Your Own.”

As for the operating platforms that VocalizeU is compatible with, Ms. Rundgren says that, in addition to the iPad, “It will be on Lion OS soon. We even have a version coming out any day now on iPhone. It’s a ‘lite’ version of VocalizeU where you can do your warm-ups and workouts. Hopefully, people will see how cool it is and want to buy the $39.99 VocalizeU.”

“VocalizeU, it’s amazing. It lets you record songs, import songs, export songs, video, face-to-face voice lessons, it has a journal.  It’s really cool. Sometimes I don’t even know what to say about it. A lot of people look at it and say, ‘Oh my god! This is amazing!’

“We just did a great deal with Guitar Center. They saw it and said, ‘This is what we’ve been looking for. We have sections for guitar players, keyboard players, drummers and bass players. We don’t have a section for singers and this is it!’

I asked Michele who would benefit most from the VocalizeU program.

“You know, we’re trying to own the vertical market of singers.  Singing – that’s the number two hobby in the world.  Golf is first, singers are second. Everyone wants to learn how to sing. Dave developed the tools for his celebrity clientele who are on the road all the time. Adam Lambert, Natasha Bedingfield and all of these people were flying him all over and he just couldn’t continue to go from celebrity to celebrity and service them all. So he came up with VocalizeU for them and then realized it’s not just a tool for people who know how to sing already. It’s a tool for people who want to learn to sing as well. It’s Photoshop® for singers!”

Even though Michele had earlier touched on future plans for VocalizeU, I asked her what else was on the boards as far as future enhancements and developments are concerned.

“Well, we have an accredited program for high schoolers and home schoolers - There are over 4 million homeschoolers out there! - that’s going to hit the market probably in Spring. All the music programs are disappearing in schools because of the budget cuts - well, they have been for years. So, we decided to try to cover that market. We’re trying to do a lot of charity work as well, but, if a homeschooler or a high schooler – say there’s one teacher with an iPad that can go around to the schools and give them their music classes – for $40 teachers and parents can buy classes for their kids.

“It also has a social network.  For instance, a singer in the middle of nowhere in Alabama can actually learn to sing a choir part, then participate online and actually go to some of our events where all the homeschoolers from around the nation are gathering in different areas - he walks in and knows his part and sings his part with all these people and they compete together.

“So, we’re trying to put music back into everyone’s life.  I’ve made such a great living doing it and it’s filled me up my whole life. I can’t imagine anyone being without it. I want people to have access to tools and knowledge and education no matter where they are.

“Also, our first four other languages for the program are Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and German. Singing is an international language.  When they sing, ‘guh, guh, guh’ or ‘nay, nay, nay’, those are not English words, those are phonetic sounds that everyone in the world can do as a singer. As long as we translate the educational information part of it, then the ‘doing of it’ is an international sound!  Can you tell I’m excited about it?!  You should see my house in Hawaii. It’s so close to the beach it’s ridiculous but it takes something like this to get me to leave my leisurely lifestyle and jump in!”

And how about plans to apply the same concept to musicians?

“Yes!  But our forte and our greatest knowledge base for us right now happens to be in the singers world.  So, yes, we’ll expand quite a bit but we should really tap into every single area for singers that we know how to do before we start working on guitar and bass. Other people are doing the instruments and no one is doing voice as in-depth as we are.”

I had to ask the obvious question of how singers can secure their own copy of VocalizeU.

“It’s VocalizeU in the Apple App Store!  Also, very, very soon, you’ll start to see some of our clients selling it on their website because they use it – such as Adam Lambert, Natasha Bedingfield, Jordan Sparks, a lot of the American Idol people that we coach. Almost everyone loves it so we’re letting them take it to their fan base and that’s part of our marketing. Because our celebrity clientele uses it and loves it, they’re willing to say, ‘I’m willing to tell my fans about this’. But, again, the easiest way to buy VocalizeU is at the Apple App Store - $39.99, I think.”

And what does the Nazz man think about VocalizeU?

“It’s funny, I’m going to show it to him the night before our launch party. He knows what I’m doing but I haven’t shown it to him because I wanted to do it without him. I want him to be really proud of it. He’s teasing me a lot but he’s going to see it the night before the launch party. There’ll be lots of press there and they’ll ask him about it so I don’t want him to go, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t seen it!’ But, he is really proud of me.  I even asked him after I was here for four months, ‘Is this working okay? We just date each other and live in two different cities?’  He said, ‘Is it okay if I said that I really like it?’  I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s okay!’

So, shifting my focus from VocalizeU to Michele specifically and find out what else she’s up to since she’s the poster child of multi-tasking and has the personal goal of keeping Todd a kept man.

“This has been my focus for a year solid.  It’s been 14 hour days 6 or 7 days a week. But I still occasionally have to – when he does some revival thing like Todd/Healing or AWATS or Utopia, I’ll be able to carve out some time and design and make him some costumes and help him with putting a tour together and helping with Live From Daryl’s House.  Those are the only things I’ve had any time to do other than to tune in to my son’s baseball games occasionally.

“Up until then, I was raising kids and had the radio show. I toured with a comedy act for awhile. I was not too bad at the comedy thing. I never experienced silence. Everybody always laughed but that is the hardest performance I’ve ever done is comedy. It’s scary and I have no stage fright whatsoever. But with comedy you can fail every 30 seconds – even though I never did, I don’t want to do it anymore! Never!”

That statement surprised me because it’s obvious that comedy comes easy to Michele.

“It does come easy for me but, when you sing, you just open your soul and express yourself through your voice and it’s very rewarding personally. The audience automatically claps for you. They’re predisposed to clap. They’re predisposed to enjoy that kind.

“In comedy, the audience is almost predisposed to fold their arms and go, ‘Okay now, prove it to me’. Even though I proved it to them over and over and experienced tons of laughter all the time, it’s just not as rewarding. Instead, it’s a fear of pleasing them every 10 seconds – every 30 seconds – that fear of ‘Are they going to like this? Are they going to like this?’ Where singing, I don’t care! I always have a good time when I sing! I don’t care if they have a good time or not!” And when Michele says all of this, she says it with a genuine, infectious laugh while concluding, “I think it’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done and I’ve had some pretty tough gigs. But, oh man!  It’s a love/hate thing. It really is.

“Singing is way safer! If I hit a wrong note, I just vibrate my way out of it!”

Since Michele is married to one of the premier maestros of our time, I was curious what she was listening to on her iPod these days – aside from his work, of course.

“It’s funny. I listen to our clients’ music when they come because they’re usually asking for a little bit of performance coaching and my partner, Dave, does vocal coaching. But it’s usually what Rebop is listening to. My son is 19 and I always like what I hear. I don’t listen to the radio anymore. I just let him bring music to me and thank God I love the kind of music he’s playing! My oldest boys, Rex and Randy? Ugh! I couldn’t stand their rap!”

Speaking of music, when Michele learned that I grew up in Phoenix, she immediately opened the door to the next subject I was planning on asking her about anyway: Her stint with the Phoenix based band, The Tubes.   I asked her what there might be about her and the band that fans might not readily know.

“I was actually a Broadway kid so I worked my whole life to get onto Broadway and audition for Kenny Ortega and was cast in a Broadway show that he was directing. I was also singing on Long Island after hours in little cover rock bands. He (Ortega) found out about that and called me into his office and asked me about it. I thought I was in trouble. I go, “I’ll quit! I’ll quit!’ He said, ‘No, I have a better job for you.’ I was like, ‘No! No! No! Please!’ He said, ‘You have to trust me. I know what I’m doing.’

“So, he sent me off to hang out with a band called The Tubes who was recording with David Foster at the time. He said, ‘Pack all your bags because you’re going to do this.’ So I went to the studio and was recording with Dave Foster and The Tubes and left for a European tour. It ended up being some of the best years of my life. It was amazing. I loved getting paid tons of money touring the world and having everybody wanting your autograph or a piece of your hair or clothing, being on a tour bus – I loved it!  It was a democracy and everybody could contribute. We all would write in the bus or make costumes or decide to do something or build a set together. It was absolutely amazing!  Todd produced two of The Tubes’ records. That’s how I met Todd. Then, when The Tubes lost their record deal, I just sort of went to work for Todd instead. I found out, ‘Oh! The democracy is over! Sing every note as written!’”

With Todd Rundgren arguably considered one of the most brilliant and intimidating musical geniuses in rock and roll, I asked Michele what is one of the most misunderstood or least known aspect about her husband.

“That’s very, very easy. I constantly, constantly have Todd fans come up to me who are amazing. We recognize that Todd fans have put our kids through college and helped us pay the mortgage. Of course, he’s giving them something that they cherish as well. It’s definitely a two way street. We’re very appreciative of them and we have events like, for his 60th birthday we invited fans to camp on our property for a week and have a celebration – and they did! That was really wild!  Toddstock!

“I think the most misunderstood thing is the fans are constantly telling me how lucky I am. ‘Oh, you’re so lucky! Does he play the guitar for you and sing?’  They think he is the man behind the music and that it’s a performance that he gives to me, too. But it’s not. He really is kind of a hermit and all that kind of creativity stays inside his brain.  His focus is all music. It’s almost like some idiot savant sitting in the corner who really doesn’t communicate with anybody at home unless you literally pull him up and say, ‘Okay, now we get to go talk or walk on the beach.’

“So, I facilitate that for him. I am the wife and the mom who runs the house and the family so that when he is not thinking about music, he can come into that world. We make it safe for him to also leave us mentally. He’s not really with us mentally very often but that’s not horrible for us. We’re the type of people that we understand that kind of focus.  It takes a while. Each kid is mad at dad at a certain point. It’s like, ‘I can’t believe that he’s not really a father’ then you have to show them, ‘Yes, he is. He’s just not like the TV dads.’  It’s hard to explain.”

I’ve seen it many times where fans, whether they realize it or not, come crashing into the life of a celebrity without having any thought or consideration about the celeb’s feelings or privacy.  Michele shared her insights into that aspect of their lives.

“I think that’s why he loves Hawaii so much – especially Kauai.  We have a lot of celebrities who live there and we’re very protective of them. I’d say that everyone is extremely respectful. Nobody walks up to our house like they used to in Sausilito or Woodstock.  Nobody’s knocking on the door. Nobody’s camping in our backyard.   We don’t have to have any guards at our kids Little League games or nursery schools like we used to. So it really is paradise for us. Yeah, he can walk on the beach everyday and nobody knows who he is or, if they do, they’re like, ‘hi’ and that’s it.”

While Michele Rundgren has seen and accomplished a lot, I asked what she hadn’t accomplished that she wishes to.

“Boy, I don’t think there’s anything that I haven’t done yet that I wanted to do. The only goal that I’ve never accomplished was my own solo record but I’ve had ten thousand goals that I have reached. I think the only that I think I regret is to not be able to continue my career as a singer. But having made the choice to move Kauai and raise my sons – it was the correct thing to do even though it was painful as an artist. Todd even said, ‘Hey, one of us has to stay home’ because our boys were hard to control and Todd and I were the only ones who could control them. ‘So, one of us has to stay home and I sell more tickets than you do’.  ‘OH! Yep, you’re right!’

“I’d say that I wish that I could have continued as a performer. So now I’m getting a little bit of joy – I’m getting a lot of joy actually – out of helping up-and-coming performers succeed and have their dreams of having a voice, having a career, having a great show – that’s what I do now and that’s what I really love!”

I followed up with Michele after the launch party to see how everything went.  She was ecstatic with the turn out and results.

“It was so successful, Rolling Stone Lounge asked us to do a weekly VocalizeU party. I thanked them but WHEW . . . a party for 1000 guests every week? I have to sleep sometime! We had many celebrities at the party.  Even my husband, Todd, had fun! I think Todd's and my sons favorite part of the party were the VocalizeU girls. Hot, young singers dressed in white VocalizeU onesie’s with just enough rhinestone bras showing to make the demo sparkle. Rex and Randy each got 4 demos. Hmmmm.

“The voice of VocalizeU and Justin Timberlake's latest artist signed to his Tennman records, "Bren", sang her showcase and brought the house down. What a voice ! Then, Natasha Bedingfield and her brother, Daniel, did an a cappella jam to close out the night. I am so proud of the work I have been a part of for the last year.”

Why blew my mind is the surprise that she is giving to Boomerocity readers who happen to own iPhones.  “My holiday gift to all of your readers is a FREE lite version of VocalizeU for their iPhones. Just go to the app store and type in VocalizeU lite free. We put it up this morning. I hope the lite version encourages people to buy the full suite of VocalizeU tools that every singer deserves!”

You heard the lady so what are you waiting for?  Click on the iTunes banner on this page and search for VocalizeU lite free. However, I have a hunch that you’re going to want to have the whole suite of functionality so you may as well go ahead and purchase the whole enchilada.  At $39.99, it’s such a steal. Also, because Michele is such a great lady, she’s given me the link to the great pictures shot at the launch party.  You can check ‘em all out right here. You just might recognize a person or two.

Oh, and remember: When you make it big as a singer, a) thank Michele and the DS Vocology team and, b) please, please, please, grant me an interview.

Redbeard

Posted September, 2010

RedbeardBack in the mid to late 80’s, in the aftermath of the breakup of the Bell System, I worked as an itinerant worker, installing new digital switching equipment in the central offices of phone companies all over the country.  Many of my assignments were in the Dallas/Ft. Worth areas.  One memory I have of those days is listing to one of the best radio stations in the area, Q102.  On Friday’s, their Music Director, known as Redbeard, hosted his Bring In The Weekend Party.

Hosted at area restaurants and watering holes, Redbeard would introduce the MetroPlex to great new music as well as interviews with some of the biggest names in rock and roll.  It was those interviews that I always looked forward to hearing whenever I was in town.  I was envious of his position to be able to meet and interview those artists. In many cases, these guys considered Redbeard a personal friend.  How cool is that?

Since those days, Redbeard moved on to other music related pursuits including helping in the pioneering of XM Satellite Radio.  Currently, he enjoys a successful radio program called In The Studio which is syndicated at radio stations all over North America.  Fans can also check out all the latest happenings at In The Studio by checking out (and subscribing to) his website, InTheStudio.net.

When I first launched Boomerocity.com, I was telling my eye doctor about my site as he was asking me to read the smallest lines on some chart a mile away.  He stopped what he was doing and told me that I really should see if I could chat with Redbeard.  I filed the suggestion into my cranium where it languished, as many good ideas do, until recently.

While doing some research for a piece I was working on, Dr. Wilhelmus’ suggestion suddenly came to mind.  As is often the case in my ADD fueled research methods, I tracked down the whereabouts of the radio legend.  I wanted to chat with him to learn how I could better perform my interviewing craft.  I knew that, if I could talk to Redbeard, I would be learning at the feet of the master.

After a few e-mails back and forth, we recently met for what I thought would be a brief chat and then a swift kick in my butt as he showed me the door.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  We talked for the fastest two hours that I ever experienced. Redbeard was entertaining, informative, educational and, most notably, generous and gracious with his time with me.  For this newbie to the business, I left our meeting walking on air.

After we settled in our chairs and commented on the rain that was eminent for our area, I asked Redbeard who was his first interview.

“I think that, possibly, the reason why I’ve been so blessed and fortunate in interviewing was because of the first one that I did.  The first person I ever interviewed – the first musician I ever interviewed – was Muddy Waters.”

My response was likely what yours was when you read that name: Oh my gosh!

“That’s what I said. At the time, I had no idea what his stature was. I knew that he was a blues man who influenced the Rolling Stones and so many people. So many of the albums I had in my house had his name – McKinley Morganfield was his real name – had his name in the credits. So I knew that a lot of Allman Brothers songs and stuff like that - that were my favorites  - that they didn’t write but, actually, this guy, Muddy Waters, had written.

“But, if I told you that I actually understood who I was interviewing and what his stature was, I’d be lying to you because I was nineteen years old; a white kid from a white Midwestern town. The only blues I knew was The Thrill Is Gone by B.B. King because it had been on Top 40 radio. So, I really didn’t know much about the blues.  I just knew enough that I knew that this guy was important to American music and that’s really all I knew.

“He was playing at a small college in the town that I started radio in Ohio. He let me interview him. He was staying in a motel that was about $12 a night. They were doubling up on rooms – a couple of guys. Willie ‘Big Eye’ Smith, his drummer back then, and Pine Top Perkins was his piano player. He (Waters) was so polite and was so indulgent to put up with my stupid questions and my uninformed questions and perceptions. I actually had to go buy some Muddy Waters albums in another town – because they didn’t have any the record stores in this little town – so I had to go to another bigger university town that had a better selection of music just to buy some Muddy Waters albums to tape the interview and put it with his music and make it into kind of a special at my first radio station.

“I would pay $10,000 to get that interview back.  I would write the check today. Not for the inane part of me but just to have that tape back. I’m sure that we recorded McDonald’s commercials or summer drive-in specials for $1 a car load – I’m sure we recorded over it. I mean, it’s gone forever. It’s been gone for a very long time.”

Does he backup his interviews now?

“Oh, I do now, even though a few still do get away. I could give you my list of those that got away. Oh, man, painful. But that was the first one. I must think that somewhere in Rock and Roll Heaven – in Music Heaven – that the god’s were smiling on me and that, somehow, got me started to where we are today. I mean, it’s hard for me to think that I actually interviewed Muddy Waters at ANY time in my career. But, for the first one? Oh my gosh! I mean, wow, I’m amazed! And it happened to me and I sit back and I go, ‘Did that really happen? Yeah, it did.’

“He was eating – I don’t think they have them on the menu anymore – but they had these fried – FRIED – deep fried fruit pies at McDonalds back then for about twenty-five cents. That’s what they could afford. He was eating deep fried fruit pies from McDonalds and sleeping in a $12 a night motel.”

While chatting “inside baseball” when, as an aside, said something that I strongly identified with in my journalistic work.

“I’m just a fan. I’m just a fan. If anyone ever asks me what I think my biggest attribute is to interviewing musicians, why have I done well with it, it’s because I love this stuff! I’d do it for free.”

Later in the discussion, he adds, “Honestly, I’m a fan. I don’t interview people I don’t like. I just happen to have an extremely broad, deep taste for music. It’s got to be really, really bad before I can’t find some redeeming qualities about music. I have turned down a couple of interviews over the decades. I won’t tell you who, but I’ve turned down a few because I really felt that they weren’t good, that they weren’t positive or, in one case, one band I thought was literally dangerous to their fans because people were getting hurt at their concerts and they were causing the riots at their concerts.  They were the biggest band, at that time, in America and I turned them down because I thought they were bad for rock and roll. I thought they were bad for their fans. I thought they were going to get somebody killed.”

In a follow-up conversation, Redbeard decides that he will divulge the identity of the person he refused to interview.

“I WILL tell you who : Axel Rose of Guns'n'Roses is the interview I turned down and the World Premiere broadcast of "Lose Your Illusion, 1 & 2", at the absolute height of their popularity and notoriety in 1991 . It probably damaged my career and it certainly cost me money , but I have never regretted the decision.

Still talking “inside baseball”, I queried Redbeard as to the wisdom of me interviewing new talent for Boomerocity. I’m glad I asked the question because, in sharing his own history, he gave me inspiration to continue as I have been.

“That’s one thing that I didn’t mention. One of the reasons – the big reason why I got to know the big bands is that I interviewed them when they were little bands and they remember. They dance with the ones that brung them. So I would play their first album and I would catch them when they were playing in clubs. The Police is a perfect example. The first time I interviewed The Police, I was the first person in the south to play Roxanne when it was a single. The album wasn’t even out. That was the fall of ’78. The first time I interviewed them, they were touring in a station wagon.

“So, when The Police played the Reunion, people asked, ‘How did you get Sting?’ I introduced Sting and The Police to 200 people at their first show. The next time around, they did two shows in a bar – turned the house and did another show. I brought them onstage for that. We sat at the bar when they were flipping the chairs up on the tables at closing time, me, Sting and Stewart were sitting at the bar with the lights on after the audience had left. That’s how you get the big fish. You don’t get ‘em when they’re big. You get ‘em when they’re small. When their ship comes in, you get to ride on it.”

While giving me some incredible insight into his methods and techniques, Redbeard shares an incredible story involving Sir Paul McCartney.

“One of the few times that I ever got writer’s block – it might have happened once or twice – but the one time that I rememberRedbeardSRVRedbeard and Stevie Ray Vaughn Photo Courtesy of Redbeard vividly, it was the first time that I ever got to interview Paul McCartney out at Texas Stadium when he was playing there about 20 years ago. Here I was, on the radio, during the traffic jam, live, with Paul McCartney, from Texas Stadium. A few hours before that, I was starring at a blank sheet of paper because, what had happened was, McCartney, he decided to produce a movie one time. Somebody convinced him that it would be a cool thing to do. Give My Regards To Broad Street.

“He made the movie and they get set to release it, the movie publicist said, ‘Well, you know that you’re going to have to go on the talk shows.’ He said, ‘No, you don’t understand. I don’t do that.’ They said, ‘No, no, no. YOU don’t understand. This is the MOVIE business and somebody has paid you millions of dollars to make and distribute this movie and, in America, if you want to people to come out and see your movie, THIS is how it’s done and you need to do this.’

“So, for the first time ever, McCartney went on the Tonight Show, when Johnny Carson was still the host. I was watching. So, McCartney comes out – he’s never been seen on TV since Ed Sullivan Show with the Beatles – he walks out as a guest and sits down. Of all the people that Johnny Carson had interviewed, you wouldn’t think that he would had the same thing that I was being faced with and that is being nervous. He says, ‘I can’t believe you’re sitting here.’ He (Carson) says, ‘The Beatles, and you, have been SO written about and SO scrutinized on so many aspects of your lives for so many years, is there ANY question that you haven’t been asked?’ And McCartney goes, ‘No, including that one.’

“Where do you go? Where do you go from there? The guy’s on national television. Where do you go from there? I’m getting goose bumps here just telling you this. I was watching that show when it was on live so this was on my mind. He had told Johnny Carson that he had been asked every question that ever existed, including that one. I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to say?’ It was an ‘Oh crap’ moment.  It was! It was, ‘OH CRAP! I’ve got this opportunity and the guy’s been asked everything. What can I say?’ How could you engage the guy? How could you start? He said that he’s been asked everything.

“So, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t mind admitting this. I got down on my knees in my office and I said, ‘Lord, I’ve got to call one in here. I need help on this! I need your help. I really do! I’ve got this opportunity and I don’t want to blow this.’

“Apparently, he answered because I said – now this was ‘LIVE-live’.  At least Carson was delayed by about four hours back in those days. This was ‘LIVE-live’. The guy that was Best Man at my wedding was also my program direction and he was standing over there with his back to us, running the controls of the remote broadcast. We’re up in a sky box in Texas Stadium. Paul walks in and says, ‘Red Beard!’  Pumps my hand.  Absolutely charms me. So we sit down, kind of like 60 Minutes, across from one another. So, I said, ‘You know, there was only one live Beatles album and the people screamed so loud, you couldn’t hear the band. Most of us, the vast majority of us, never got to see the Beatles live. I got to ask you: Were the Beatles ever any good ‘live’?”

“My boss later told me that he said to himself, ‘Okay, let’s just start packing up the equipment. That’s it. That’s it. Shut ‘er down.’ Paul goes, ‘That’s a great question! I never get the chance to talk about this.’  And FIFTY minutes later, he came up for air. You can’t tell me that the good Lord didn’t answer my prayer. You could say that he had been asked that before.  Yeah. But, for some reason, he took it EXACTLY in the spirit it had been given. I really, sincerely meant it. Like I said, we talked for almost an hour and could’ve gone for two but he had to go play to 55,000 people at Texas Stadium.”

As if to tie a tidy bow on this incredible package of a story, Redbeard concludes, “The greatest compliment that you’ll ever get in this business is somebody lets you do it again. So, the next tour, he invited me out and we did it again. I never expected to talk to one of the Beatles once in my life. I got to talk to him twice and the same thing with George Harrison. George Harrison did a one-on-one with me for about three hours and a couple of years later he invited me back again.”

Not to come across as only a Beatles fan, Redbeard shares this story about interviewing Mick Jagger.

“I remember talking to Mick Jagger in his bedroom outside of London for about two and half hours, one-on-one. After the interview was over, that’s when it hit me - same thing with McCartney. Same thing with George. And I started to levitate a couple of inches up off the ground. I just wanted to call my mother and tell somebody, ‘Mom, I just talked to Mick Jagger!’

“The voice I heard in 1965 on a seven transistor portable radio singing I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, it sounded like it was coming from another planet. Not another country – another PLANET! And all of those years later, I actually got to have meaningful – MEANINGFUL – conversation. At the end he said, ‘I want to thank you very much.  I really enjoyed the experience.’  I’m sorry, I don’t need to get paid for this! You don’t need to pay me a pay check, I just got more than I ever wanted!”

When you check out Redbeard’s website, www.inthestudio.net, you’ll swear that he has interviewed EVERYONE who could possibly be considered a rock star.  Still, I had to ask him: Are there any artists you haven’t interviewed yet that you wish you could? He immediately pointed his finger in the air and said, “VERY good question! I have a very short list. Bruce Springsteen, who is one of my all time favorites. Bob Dylan, who I stopped even trying to approach some years ago and now I’ve taken him off my list because I don’t want to interview him. He only does it for money and I don’t pay. Elvis Costello. I’ve been such a huge fan since day one. I would love to interview him. And, then, someone that nobody talks to, Van Morrison. Van doesn’t even talk to himself and I know that’s not going to happen either. So, of the four, two of them just ain’t gonna happen. I would still love to interview Bruce Springsteen.

Since Redbeard has probably seen and done it all in the area of covering rock music, I asked him if he catches many concerts these days.

“I don’t, I don’t. I’ve seen just about everybody. I’m older now so there’s a lot of stuff that I won’t put up with like I used to.  However, some place like House of Blues in Dallas, I think they’ve specifically set that up for those like ourselves who, also, the idea of slogging through the mud for three days was a cool idea in 1971, it’s just out of the question now. It’s just out of the question. We’re worried about where we’ll park and whether we’ll be able to find our keys when we get back to our car. Parking is, like, $30 before you even consider the price of a ticket.

“The trend that I’m all for – that I love – is the event coming to me.  The Cowboy’s - live sports in my home theater. I’m sorry. You can have the new Cowboy Stadium – it is an amazing edifice – but they’ve made, now, the viewing experience – I’m talking about broadcast high definition. I’m not talking about cable or satellite. You can get HD TV off the air for free, in 5.1 surround sound. You can hear the whistle. You can hear the hits. You can hear the cuss words on the sideline.

RedbeardandNugentRedbeard and Ted Nugent“It’s the same thing with concerts. Rather than put my money into live concerts and jump through all of those hoops, I’m puttin’ my money into the live concert DVD’s that I can watch with guests in my home and I’ve got the best seat in the house. I don’t have to worry if my wife can get into the rest room or not. Or a beer getting spilled on me and we don’t pay $30 for parking at my place, either.

“If I was younger, I know that I wouldn’t be saying any of the things but I’m not. I’ve experienced all of that. We’ve had it all. I’m in a different place, now. My point is, though, thank goodness that the musicians and their management companies realize that it’s not that the Boomer’s don’t love music and aren’t as passionate about it. We just want to control how we consume it - in a different way. We still want to hear songs by Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen but we may not want to be in a crowd of 20,000 to do that. We like to have a little more control over that AND we’re willing to pay for it.

“If you look at the cost of these fabulous concert DVD’s, they’re around $15 at a place like Amazon.com. They’ll send it to your mailbox, you’ll have it the next day. Whereas, if one person, with parking and a ticket, you might spend $100 per person and sit in the boonies and see what a musician friend of mine called ‘a puppet show’. Well, why spend all of that money for a puppet show when I can get the best thing in 5.1 surround sound in my home for fifteen bucks.

“Personally? Maybe the pricing thing is out of whack.  Maybe that should cost $100 because you get to keep it. Keep it and experience it over and over and over.  Fifteen bucks?  That’s past a bargain. That’s a steal!  It is. So, I’d rather pay a little more and less for the concert ticket and the parking. But I doubt anybody is going to change anything because I said it.”

Every observer of the music business knows that it is currently in a state of disarray with everyone trying to figure out where it’s heading.  I asked Redbeard his opinion of where it’s going to wind up.

“Oh, geez, it’s all up for grabs. It’s exciting. For people that need to make money on it, it’s unsettling. But, for the consumer - the fan - it’s exciting. The one thing that I’m starting to hear a lot is that the renegade nature of the internet for the 10, 12, 13 years, a lot of people are telling that it was fun for awhile but they’re starting to notice that they’re starting to miss  the – what’s the right word – they miss how the DJ used to be the qualifier – used to be the filter; that 90% of the stuff that came out was crap and that the cream of the crop got on the radio.

“With the internet, it’s like everything’s the same. If you’ve got a son or daughter and you think they’re pretty good, you can make an album, you can put it on internet and the thing is, there’s no qualifier now. The hack bar band is on the internet, trying to sell their stuff, right next to Bruce Springsteen and there IS a difference.

“But the thing is, this wide open, renegade utopian nature of the internet that made it an open and equal playing field, people are starting to tell me now that there’s no way that they can listen to all 100,000 songs that are out there new this week or all 10,000 videos that are new this week on YouTube.

“Used too be, people like editors and writers and DJ’s and program directors, because of the nature of media in this country, they had to filter the wheat from the chaff or people wouldn’t listen to their station or read their paper. If people didn’t listen to their station or read their paper, they would go out of business. So, there was an incentive, ‘I better do this well. I better surround myself with people who have the discernment to know the difference between some guy who thinks his daughter is the next Lady Gaga, and she’s not, and somebody that you should truly know about, who’s truly gifted and has great new music.

“Those gatekeepers that we were told ten years ago – we’ve finally gotten rid of the gatekeepers and, now, you can find the music that you want with nobody filtering it. Well, on paper, in a utopian world, that sounded good. But, in practicality, who’s going to listen to all of that and who’s going to filter all of that? And who’s going to help point you, in the little discretionary time and money that you have for entertainment, how are you going to be sure that you don’t waste your time or waste your money with a pig in a poke?

“That’s the thing I’m starting to hear about the entertainment aspect of the internet is that people are starting to ask me, Redbeard2‘Maybe we need people to do on the internet what you did for decades on the radio and that is point us towards stuff that we don’t want to miss and help us avoid the stuff that’s derivative or stuff that’s not unique. And, so, that’s where people like you come in is that people are looking for discernment. They don’t have the time or the initiative and someone needs to filter through this stuff on their behalf and help do what the New York Times does with books and movies and television shows and what radio used to do when it played new music and presented the best of it this week.”

With those comments, I shared with Redbeard what Gary Wright said to me during my interview with him.  He said that sites like Boomerocity serve as tastemakers to their readers much like wine stewards are to their customers.

Redbeard pounces on that analogy.

“What’s good? What’s the best value? What’s the sleeping giant that’s undervalued? The world of wine is a perfect example and Gary’s absolutely right. And, what I’m saying is that it was presented that people that did like I did and editors were actually barriers. Maybe, if a person doesn’t take their responsibility well, maybe they could actually become a barrier to the entre to new movies, new music, new books, new television.

“But the pendulum swung all the way on the internet and it’s like, “Oh, look! No barriers! No competition, no measurement, no yardstick at all. And, now, people are like, ‘You know what? I wish I had somebody that would point me towards the cool stuff and somebody whose taste I’ve learned to respect.’ So, I think that you’re going to see that – I know that you’re going to see that more and more on the internet. 

“My internet site was, basically, just a billboard in cyberspace saying what next week’s show was. But, I’ve been convinced to do like you are – to go on and do with the internet site what I did for years and years on the radio. I’ve been encouraged to do that so I’m doing it. People seem to be responding to that. They want that relationship.”

It’s that relationship that you will get if you go to InTheStudio.net and noodle around Redbeard’s website.  You’ll see incredible archives of his interviews with the biggest stars in rock and roll.  I would also encourage you to sign up for his e-newsletter to get a heads-up on his upcoming shows.

While you’re at it, why not ask your local rock station if they carry In The Studio and, if not, why not? Their audience will be very glad to see the show added.