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Neal Morse

Posted March, 2012

NealMorse Portrait3 Credit Joey PippinV.2When you mention the Progressive Rock genre to a baby boomer, bands such as Yes, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, early Genesis, King Crimson, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and Emerson, Lake and Palmer easily come to mind. Today, bands such as Transatlantic, Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater would be the top of mind names in today’s prog rock genre.

Imagine, if you will, putting together members of – oh, let’s say – each of today’s dominant prog rock bands (with a couple of highly talented and successful artists in for additional flavor) and put them under the superior talents of a world class producer.  Do you think such a band would pass the “fan test” of acceptability?

If so, you would be absolutely correct.  In fact, it would do so with Flying Colors.  Wait, I mean Flying Colors the band and not a figure of speech or expression.

To say that Flying Colors is the new prog rock super group would not be an overstatement in the slightest.  Consider who makes up this incredible band:  Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple),  Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev, Endochine), Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, The Steve Morse Band), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic) and Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic).  Put this nuclear powerhouse of musical talent under the incredible production talent of Peter Collins (Rush, Alice Cooper, Bon Jovi, Indigo Girls, Suicidal Tendencies) and one is assured of an explosion of awesome creativity resulting in sound of epic proportions.

I received my review copy of the debut Flying Colors CD last month and have been savoring it ever since.  I won’t repeat my thoughts about that album but you can read the Boomerocity review here.  That said, as stoked as I am about this album, imagine my “stokedness” when the opportunity presented itself to interview the keyboardist for Flying Colors, the multi-talented Neal Morse.

I called Neal up at his Nashville area home.  Immediately friendly and engaging, our conversation got off to an incredibly upbeat start.  We began by discussing how the group’s debut album was different for him than all of the other projects he has been involved with.

“Oh, well, there are a lot of things on Flying Colors that are completely unique from my life and career. One of them is it’s the first time I’ve ever been produced – like ever! I’ve always been the producer or collaborator on everything that I’ve worked on.  The Transatlantic stuff it says ‘Produced by Transatlantic’.

“So, that was a trip – to have some English dude (Peter Collins) on the other side of the glass going (speaking in a bang-on British accent), ‘Oh, yes, can you try it again? Maybe, perhaps, with a bit more feeling?’ – you know, that whole kind of thing. He was very funny. He’d go, ‘Alright, chaps, this one’s for England and the Queen’ and stuff like that. It was really a lot of fun. He had a lot of really great opinions. It was much more collaborative all the way through than anything I’ve ever done before, either.

“For example, the lyrics were all Casey, Peter and I – we all got together when Casey came to Nashville to do his lead vocals.  We talked about every lyric. That never happened before. With Spock’s Beard, I pretty much wrote everything. We’d change it a little bit but I don’t think we ever changed any lyrics – hardly ever. Transatlantic was really the same. They just let me say whatever I wanted to say.

“So, this (Flying Colors) was really unique. Casey was different. Working with a singer like him was really cool – really different. And Casey is very particular about lyrics in a way that has kind of changed me. Casey likes to have imagery in every line. He wants to have something cool and different about everything that he sings or else he’s not into it.

“I’m not really like that. I’ll have the imagery and cool things but sometimes I sing stuff because I like the way it sounds. I don’t look into the lyrics with a magnifying glass that these guys both did. That was an interesting and cool learning experience for me.”

With that all being said, I asked Neal if it was hard for him to let go of the control of the production and creative process.

“Sometimes. There were a few times when it was difficult to let go. But I’ve learned from some of my other collaborations that the whole thing becomes a process of letting go. You have to stay kind of unattached – especially when there are so many cooks in the kitchen.  For me, as a Believer, I felt that God wanted me to do this project. So the last thing I would want to do is squelch someone else because I felt that God wanted me to be there to work with them and their gifts. So, it was really interesting and very cool.”

Knowing that some of the Boomerocity readers are big Transatlantic fans, I had to ask Neal what he felt Transatlantic fans will like about the Flying Colors disc and what they might think is noticeably different between them.

“Well, I think Flying Colors is really different from Transatlantic. I think what they’ll like about it is the musicality of it, the playing – the players are all amazing.  Everybody seems to dig Casey’s voice a lot. I think anybody who loves good music is going to like it. So far, it’s getting outrageous reviews. There’s a lot of interesting music. Infinite Fire is the prog epic of the album even though it’s not as long as anything Transatlantic has done. It’s got a certain epic quality to it.  I think they’ll enjoy that. A lot of the songs are really strong. I think anybody who loves good music will love it.”

 Long ago I gave up on asking artists what their favorite song on their latest album is so I didn’t ask Neal that question.  However, I did ask him if he could point to only one song off of Flying Colors that could be listened to as a sample before one were to decide whether to buy it, what song would he point them to?

“I guess I would pick Kayla. I think it has all of the good Flying Colors elements. That was Casey’s verse and then we collaborated together on the chorus. I think I did the bridge part and then Steve Morse constructed his solo. Of course, we all worked and shaped the whole thing. I think it’s a nice piece.”

With such a great debut album, fans will naturally want to catch these guys live.  From what Neal shared, we may have to be a bit of a wait.

“We’re trying to (organize some performances). It’s really between Steve’s Deep Purple schedule and Mike’s Adrenaline Mob and other projects and them finding a window. So far, they haven’t been able to find one, which is kind of a bummer. We’re hopeful. I’m just praying about it and am hopeful that something will happen. If it’s supposed to happen, then it will happen and it will be great. Right now, we’re watching and waiting to see what the record will do, do interviews and support the release and just hoping for the best.”

As Neal unashamedly let be known early in our conversation, he is a Christian.  His solo work has been predominantly religious in theme.  For those of you who think that Christian music is still relegated to the old Southern Gospel quartet style of singing, think again.  Neal is among the best and most innovative singer/songwriter/musicians in that market.  He has worked with such stellar CCM musicians as guitarist, Phil Keaggy.  I’m a huge Phil Keaggy fan so, naturally, I asked if he and Phil were going to work together again.

“We talk every once in awhile. We’ve been trying to get together to work on something. He’s pretty busy and I’m pretty busy but we’d love to. He’s amazing! I’ve been working on The Making of ‘One’ DVD – my inner-circle, my subscription thing – with some Phil Keaggy footage in there.”

Staying on the subject of Morse’s faith, I wondered what the reaction has been to the proclamation of his faith and how his faith has affected his work and creativity.

“It’s been amazingly positive. I think God’s put me in a pretty unique position to be able to sing some very straight forward Christian lyrics to largely secular audiences. I think that’s extraordinary. How many people get to do that?  They eat it up!  My friend put it a good way. He said, ‘If you feed them enough music that they love, they’ll swallow Christ along with it and not even realize it.’ It’s been an awesome thing.

 “I’m always praying for the Lord to show me what he wants me to do with whoever he wants me to do it with. It’s just that daily walk of faith. There isn’t really any ‘how-to’ – I’m always testing the waters, praying, writing songs, seeking the Lord, and I don’t always know what He’s doing or how He’s going to do it. Sometimes it’s hard to make decisions about what to do. I don’t really operate that way so much as I try to trust that what He’s giving me is the right thing and I just keep moving forward with that. It’s an adventure. It’s a great adventure!”

My pre-interview research on Neal led me to interviews and CD reviews within the Christian press.  As might be expected, when one doesn’t espouse a particular theological nuance, one “sect” or another will express their displeasure and place their labels on the person they disagree with.  Not surprisingly, I found reaction to those interviews and reviews that indicate Morse has suffered the same treatment.  I asked him about that.

“The people in the secular world that I’ve offended and the people in the Christian that I’ve offended – they just, basically, don’t have me come or they just don’t come to my concerts. There have been some people who have wanted to work against what I’m doing but they do it all behind the scenes; they talk to other people and every once in awhile I find out about something but it’s pretty rare. Usually I just give it all to the Lord anyway so I’m like, ‘Well, that’s interesting. I’ll pray about that.’ You know what I mean? There isn’t really much that I can do about those things except give it over to Him.

“But, I haven’t encountered very much. A little bit sometimes but, like I said, it’s kind of a hush-hush kind of thing. A lot of times people are actually very kind. They’ll visit me and be very kind to me. Then, as they’re leaving, they’ll give me a book on Christology, giving me the message – in their view – that they’re wanting to help me to have the ‘correct view’.  I appreciate that. Operating in love is the premium thing.”

While we wait to see what kind of touring Flying Colors is going to do, Neal certainly isn’t letting the grass grow under his feet as he has some interesting things in the hopper.

“I’ve got a new album in the works that will be released in the fall. It’s going to be called Momentum. Also, we’re going to have a Cover to Cover Part 2 that’s coming out in May. Gotta keep things going!”

You can keep up with Neal Morse and Flying Colors at the following websites:

www.nealmorse.com      FlyingColorsMusic.com

Patricia Kennealy-Morrison

Posted December 8, 2009

PatriciaMorrison2aMy earliest recollection of hearing a Doors song was at the wedding of some people we knew in the church circles my family moved in.  As near as I can piece together, the wedding took place sometime in 1970.  I was all of around 11 years old and really hadn’t broadened my scope of music beyond the occasional Elvis record.  But during that particular wedding, I was introduced to Jim Morrison and the Doors.

The groom was, and is, a very gifted composer and singer of gospel music.  One of the aspects of the marriage ceremony was a song that he arranged and recorded that was played at a certain part of the vows.  I can’t tell you much about the rest of the song he sang to his bride, but I distinctly remember that in the middle of the medley the groom so seamlessly strung together were these lines from The Doors’ “Touch Me”:



I'm gonna love you
Till the heavens stop the rain
I'm gonna love you
Till the stars fall from the sky for you and I
I'm gonna love you
Till the heavens stop the rain
I'm gonna love you
Till the stars fall from the sky for you and I



For some strange reason, that one section of the song stuck in my prepubescent brain.  Go figure.  I do know that the groom went on to become an award-winning gospel songwriter and producer who produced some of the biggest names in gospel music in the 70’s and early 80’s.  One of his songs was even sung at Elvis’ funeral.

But I digress.

The same year that the above-mentioned wedding occurred, another solemn Celtic marriage ceremony took place, which also involved the name Jim Morrison.  In fact, it actually involved Jim Morrison and a young lady that he met and fell in love with, by the name of Patricia Kennealy, a noted rock critic who blazed the trail for women in a vocation dominated up to that point by men.

Ms. Kennealy was not only a gifted writer but was, and is, a priestess in a Celtic Pagan tradition. It was while interviewing Morrison for the magazine she edited and wrote for, Jazz and Pop, that an intellectually based friendship began, which led to a passionate romance.  On June 24, 1970, they sealed their commitment to one another in a Celtic Pagan ceremony known as handfasting.

Patricia Kennealy-Morrison shares her story of her relationship with Jim Morrison in her memoir, Strange Days.  Her chronicles have resulted in a tremendous amount of criticism and ridicule. One doesn’t sense that the battles with her detractors have worn her down.  On the contrary, it’s apparent that she has only become stronger, as well as more determined and resolute, in her convictions and story with regards to her relationship with Morrison.  Regardless of one’s opinion of what she has to say, it cannot be said that she has withered from the attacks that she has withstood.

Her character is portrayed (inaccurately, according to both her and, believe it or not, Oliver Stone himself) in Stone’s 1991 movie “The Doors” by actress Kathleen Quinlan, and the handfasting ceremony is actually performed by Patricia in the movie.  But to get Kennealy-Morrison’s perspective of the vows and everything involved, you’ll want to read Strange Days yourself.

I recently approached Ms. Kennealy-Morrison for an interview and she happily obliged.  She’s a very intelligent person to converse with and has very strong, definite views —some of which she shared during our chats.  We eventually discussed her relationship with Morrison, of course, but I started off  by asking about the most recent series of books she’s authored, “The Rock and Roll Murders.”

She explains, “They’re a series of murder mysteries set in the Sixties, at rock venues and events, some real, some fictional: murder at the Fillmore East, murder at Woodstock, murder aboard a rock festival train, murder at Abbey Road studios. The first one is Ungrateful Dead: Murder at the Fillmore, the second is California Screamin’: Murder at Monterey Pop; the third, out in December 2009, is Love Him Madly: Murder at the Whisky. The fourth, which I’m working on at the moment and hope to release in spring of 2010, will be A Hard Slay’s Night: Murder at the Royal Albert Hall.

“The young protagonist is Rennie Stride, a newspaper reporter (something I never was, and kind of regret) who seems to be the Angel of Death’s groupie, at least where rock death is concerned. Everywhere she goes, somebody turns up dead, and she has to check it out. She’s not a detective, so that’s a little limiting, but as a reporter she can ask questions and poke around in ways that cops can’t, and she’s very, very observant.

“Her mandatory sidekick is Prax McKenna, a bi superstar who’s a kind of combo Janis Joplin/Grace Slick clone, and the mandatory love interest is Turk Wayland, another superstar, an Eric Clapton clone, only without the drug problems.

“As you can probably tell, I’m having big fun with these.”

With the infamous scenes and provocative titles, I couldn’t resist asking if there were any “veiled truths” woven into the plots.

“Not really. All the ‘truths’, such as they are, are pretty naked. Good ones and less good ones alike. The characters, of course, are fictional. Rennie is not me, and Turk is certainly not Jim. And back in the actual day, there weren’t any big dramatic rock murders of the sort I cook up.

“But the band dynamics, the record company rip-offs, the personal stuff: that’s all very real indeed. And a lot of it was not very nice —which makes it absolutely perfect for the series.”

While on the subject of writing, I got into the topic of her book Strange Days, published in 1992, a year after Oliver Stone came out with his Doors movie. It’s a riveting work that covers virtually every aspect of her relationship with Jim Morrison. I asked her what the reaction to the book was.

“Thank you for appreciating it. Well, reaction depends on who you are, and if you’re too smart to have fallen for the ‘Ballad of Jim and Pam’ that assorted ignoramuses and apologists and people with personal and money-driven agendas have tried to cram down the public’s throat for the past 40 years.

“Most people with half a brain realized long ago that Jim couldn’t possibly have been the drunk, drug-besotted creature that his (male) biographers put out there for public consumption. Where would the songs and poems have come from, if he was stoned all the time? Short answer: they wouldn’t and he wasn’t.

“Days got very good reviews, except from a few morons with personal axes to grind at my expense. But readers were thrilled, at least many thousands of them have told me so, to hear what Jim was really like, and that he had a real relationship with someone who was on his own level, and who wouldn’t take crap from him or play games but called him on his B.S. and loved him enough to tell him…someone whom he loved enough to marry. And anyone who read some of my reviews of his work and still wanted to put a wedding ring on my finger was not only a man in love but a very brave man indeed.”

The marriage. Of all aspects of her story about her relationship with Morrison, this is arguably the one event over which she receives the most heat from her critics. Among the more serious Doors fans, there are those who side with Patricia that the ceremony legitimately and legally wedded her to Morrison, and there are those who don’t agree and challenge her from a variety of perspectives, the most consistent one being that the marriage wasn’t legally recognized.

It’s on that point that I ask Patricia how she answers her critics. Her response is lengthy and detailed.

“Actually, according to New York State case law, our marriage could be considered a valid one. There was a court case, Persaud vs. Balram, in which a Hindu man sought to have himself declared never married because he and his wife had not obtained a marriage license and because the Hindu priest who performed their purely religious ceremony, before witnesses, was not authorized to perform marriages in New York State.

“Well, the judge ruled that the man was indeed married, that his marriage had been a legal one despite those issues, and if he wanted to be lawfully shed of his wife he would have to go through a legal divorce like everybody else.

“Jim and I were in a similar situation: we too had no license and the ceremony was a purely religious one, though carried out by a Presbyterian minister empowered to perform marriages in NY State.

“So, according to this case (which two separate lawyers have brought to my attention), and this wasn’t the only one or even the first one, I consider that Jim and I were married. I simply choose not to pursue it and take it to court, because I don't want people's mucky hands all over our private life, because I don't grub in the gutter for money, and because I want to protect the identities of the officiant and witness. And most importantly, because I want to protect Jim’s and my privacy, the few scraps of it we still have left. There are things in my possession which Jim is the last person to have touched, apart from me, and they’re going to stay that way.

“The signed marriage paper [reproduced in Strange Days] isn't the only piece of documentation I have. There are letters and poems from Jim in which he refers to me as Mrs. James Morrison, his wife and other such titles—in his own handwriting—things his own family has seen.

“So yes, I think I do have grounds to consider myself Jim's spouse, and anyone who says otherwise can go to hell. Jim said I was his wife, and that's more than enough for me. And he should know who his wife is. Plus, how disrespectful is that kind of attitude of Jim himself? I’m the Yoko Ono of the Doors, and I’m very weary of being treated that way when all I have ever done for Jim has been out of love.

“On the other hand, it’s also rather telling that neither the Morrison family nor the Courson family, in the almost 18 years since Strange Days appeared or the almost 30 years since No One Here Gets Out Alive (which said publicly in print, for the first time, and I quote, ‘Jim and Patricia were married’), ever made any attempt to prevent me from using the words wife, marriage or the name Morrison, which I have used privately ever since June 24, 1970 and assumed legally in 1979, after I left the music business.

“If they didn't in all this time seek to stop me, I have to assume they just don't care...or, perhaps,  their legal advisors were aware of the case law and didn't want the hassle of another court fight, which, based on New York State law at least, they might very well lose. I’ve never been in it for the money and I never accepted a cent from Jim, except once in a situation that was his rightful responsibility, so that’s not even an issue for me.

“Maybe they figure it’s easier and more effective to discredit me by ridicule. Well, for my husband and myself, I can take it. This is the most I’ve ever said publicly about this. And that’s all I’m going to say.”

Bringing the conversation back to her book, Patricia went on to say that intelligent readers got what she had to say and saw through the ‘romanticization’ of Morrison’s relationship with Pamela Courson.  A relationship “that, in the end, had become little more than a comfortable, non-sexual (they both told me so) relationship between two addicts and mutual enablers. Jim’s and my relationship was one of a young man and a younger woman who had a great romantic, intellectual and sexual partnership. And people—the right people—recognize this.

“Listen, I’ve never denied the importance of others in Jim’s life—and I’ve certainly never denied Pam’s importance— yet people, many of whom weren’t even alive then, deny my importance in his life all the time. Others in Jim’s life, and many who never even knew him, make a big deal of how much they loved him, yet they write endless books or plays or movies that profit off him; they even sell his possessions for money, which I would sooner starve in the gutter than do.

“Yet when I speak of how desperately much I love him, of how I’ve stayed stainlessly faithful to him for forty years and will to the end of my days, of my unending grief and loss, somehow that doesn’t count, and my writing ONE book, as opposed to their Morrison cottage industry, the only book that really shows him the way he was and has insights nobody else can match, somehow I’m Satan’s concubine for doing that. How is it okay for them to endlessly make money off Jim, but not okay for me to have written a single book about him—a book which was also about me and which, though it sold well, has hardly made me a wealthy woman? Well, that’s hideously cruel, hypocritical and unfair, and Jim would be the first person to say so.

“He was quoted as having once told Danny Sugerman that if his, Jim’s, name could ever buy Danny a cup of coffee, Danny shouldn’t hesitate to use it. And as we all know, Danny never hesitated for a heartbeat to capitalize on Jim. How is that more honorable than what I’ve done for Jim, at great personal cost to us both, with Strange Days? I’ve kept the faith better, and done better by Jim, and more lovingly, than just about all of them.”

Writers often wish that they had said, or not said, something in their work.  I asked Kennealy-Morrison if there was anything she wrote in Days that she wished later that she hadn’t.

“Nope. It all had to be there. If the bad stuff wasn’t there, nobody would believe the good stuff. And there’s a lot of good stuff that people really should be believing, stuff they’re not getting anywhere else. If I didn’t include it all, I’d be as bad as Oliver Stone. Worse, because I know better. Anyway, it’s my story as well as Jim’s, half of it mine and half of it his, and I have every right to write about it.”

Was there anything she wished that she had either written about or provided more detail in the book?  Her response is even more firm and very much to the point.

“Again nope. Well, maybe I wish I’d been even harder on the idiots who are so hard on me. They weren’t there. Or if they were, they still don’t know and they have absolutely no business saying what they say. All they can legitimately say is that they don’t know. Jim kept his life very compartmentalized, to protect his own privacy and that of the people he cared about. The naysayers haven’t seen the proofs I’ve got. The people who have, or even just the people with a brain, have no problem whatsoever believing and accepting what I have to say. Because it makes sense. Why would anyone who truly admires Jim want to take the word of biographers and groupies who trash him and make him look like a buffoon, and not listen to the one person who’s telling them of his dignity and beauty and intelligence and courage and grace of spirit? What kind of fan is that?

“The ones who are still strip-mining Jim’s life and legend to this day, movie makers and writers and such, have chosen to go with the official party line, and they don’t often bother to consult me. They just don’t want to hear what I have to tell them. They prefer their own, utterly erroneous take on it. And I just can’t imagine why. The truth is so much better and more beautiful.

“Bottom line, why the hell would I, already a successful and respected author with a fan following of my own, put myself and my love for Jim out there as a target for their cheap and unspeakably hateful shots, for forty years, if it wasn’t the complete and utter truth? Nobody’s that much of a masochist.”

Since she mentioned that others have Morrison all wrong, I asked her what would be the one thing that she feels has been least covered and understood about him.  Without hesitation, she cut right to the chase, with multiple points.

“His desire not to be an icon. Jim was one of the great iconoclasts of all time, one of the great image-breakers, as I’ve said many times. He’d hate what people have made of him.

“Also his humanity. People project their unsavory fantasies and wish-fulfillment trips onto him, and he doesn’t deserve it. They did it when he was alive, and a million times more so since he’s been dead. He was a beautiful, courteous, intelligent, sweet, generous, humorous, loving soul. But the Doorzoids and Pambots don’t want to hear that. I’d say that’s their loss, but really the loss is, tragically, Jim’s.”

In Strange Days, Patricia muses about what Morrison would have accomplished had he not died in Paris in 1971. Since almost 18 years have passed since the book was published, I asked her if she would mind speculating as to what she thought he would have accomplished or progressed to.

“Well, I very much doubt he’d still be on tour with John, Manzarek and Krieger, if that’s what you’re wondering! [I was.]

“I would imagine he’d have turned full-time to writing and film-making. He’d probably never have abandoned music completely, because he loved it too much; in fact, he’d asked me to look into New York studios and engineers, for when he came back from Paris to live with me here, and his plan was to record a solo album. But by the end, he truly believed music hadn’t served him well—or at least that fame and stardom hadn’t served him well—and he desperately wanted out of it. And, well, he got his wish.”

What would blow Jim’s mind the most about today’s music?

“How artificial, colorless, stupid, boring, trivial, shallow and talentless it is. He’d hate it.”

Ouch!

In the years following Jim Morrison’s untimely death, there were bitter legal battles over his estate.  Ultimately, Pamela Courson won control of the estate shortly before she died of a heroin overdose in 1974 (after a career as a prostitute, a sad and horrific fact affirmed by even her friends and Jim’s biographers). The estate was jointly managed by her parents and Morrison’s parents, until Morrison’s parents passed away (his mother in 2005 and his father in December, 2008).  Does Kennealy-Morrison have any comments about the estate and its impact on Morrison’s legacy?

“I have nothing to do with it. Pam’s father is dead now too, so it’s just her mother left of the older generation. I have no idea how it’s handled, and I don’t particularly care.

“The one thing about the estate that does affect me and upset me is the fact that I will probably never be able to publish the many unpublished poems, letters, songs and drawings Jim left with me. According to current law (though that’s changing), they’re all considered part of his literary estate. I own the physical material, but not the publishing rights. I could sell them, or eat them, or even exhibit them, but I can’t publish them. I’d actually have to ask the estate’s permission to publish. To publish my own private love letters, written for me and given to me by the man I love, the man who loved me back! But I haven’t given up hope, though; at least not yet.

“They’re achingly beautiful, gorgeous, loving words, some of it ‘jaw-droppingly erotic’, as a London reporter, to whom I’d shown a number of pieces, wrote in her feature article—very hot stuff indeed, and why wouldn’t it be, we had a very passionate relationship—and the poems were clearly evolving into real worth, as a poet friend of Jim’s who’s also seen some of it said. Other people who actually knew Jim have seen a lot of the material, including family members and friends, so they know. It’s a great pity and shame that Jim’s fans will probably never have that privilege.

“I had planned to call the book Fireheart: The True Lost Writings of James Douglas Morrison, with extensive comment and annotations by me, and publish it 50 years after Jim’s death, when copyright constraints would be up. Unfortunately, Sonny Bono and Walt Disney shoved through an amendment to the copyright law, so now it’s 75 years and we’ll probably never see it. Thanks a lot, guys!”

What a treasure trove those documents would be!

For years there has been speculation that Jim Morrison never actually died but went into seclusion with a new identity and a new life. What does Patricia have to say about such theories?

“Anyone who doesn’t believe Jim Morrison is dead is too stupid to be allowed to live.”

Not wanting to be considered one of the stupid, I change the subject to the fact that Kennealy-Morrison was a pioneer in the realm of female rock critics, to which she responds, “It was a boys’ club then, a seething cesspit of male chauvinism. There weren’t many women around, and I was the only one who was not only a working, writing critic but the editor of a national magazine [Jazz & Pop].

“You got tarred with the groupie brush, especially if you were in the least bit attractive. That, unfortunately, was the kind of thing female rock writers ran into all the time. You had to be twice as tough as the guys to get through it and do your job. Jim, to his credit, was ever the gentleman and the professional."

Does Patricia have a current female rock critic who commands her attention?

“I have no idea who’s a rock critic these days, male or female. I don’t bother to keep up with it, since I loathe the ‘music’.  Pretty much the only rock critic I've read recently is Steve Hochman, formerly of the Los Angeles Times and now with his own column online.  And from time to time, people I knew in the old days.  Otherwise, though, not so much.”

Surely she’s seeing some positive changes in rock journalism?

“I haven’t read rock journalism since the mid-70s, so I really couldn’t say. I know that many more women got into it after me, so of course I think that’s a very good thing. And I’m quite proud of having been a pioneer and a groundbreaker, though I don’t get much credit for it —credit which, by the way, I feel I absolutely deserve.”

What are some of the negative changes Patricia sees today?

“Oh, just speculating, but it’s probably all puffery. Back in the Sixties, rock critics and journalists were in some senses almost co-creators with the artists, or, if that sounds too conceited, at least interpreters and apostles and proselytizers. Missionaries, even. Today, nobody wants to actually criticize anything, heaven forbid. But then, there’s really nothing creative there to criticize.  It’s just commercial, artificial, record-company-generated trash.”

Double ouch!

I later asked Ms. Kennealy-Morrison where she saw rock journalism heading.  I wasn’t expecting a positive outlook from her, and she didn’t disappoint me.

“It’s dead. Long ago, Jim said rock was dead, and now I say rock journalism’s dead, and has been for decades.”

Expecting a similar response, I still had to ask her if there are any artists or bands that are commanding her attention today.

“I don’t listen. Every now and then I’ll hear something startlingly good, on a movie soundtrack or as incidental music to a TV show, and I even buy it on iTunes: Piers Faccini, Susan Enan, Lenka, Sufjan Stevens, among others. But the cuts never seem to translate into good albums. It’s usually just the one brilliant song, cherry-picked by ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ or ‘Bones’ or ‘House’ or whatever, and the rest just don’t hold up. I haven’t got the time, nor indeed the inclination, to sift through everything else.”

Still in “dumb question” mode, I asked her if she thought the music produced today has the same kind of meat and substance that our music from the 60’s and 70’s had.  I duck for the answer.

“Of course not!  How could it?  The socio-political-cultural substrate that gave our music its weight and grace and heft and beauty isn’t there for it to take root in. The talent isn’t there either. Where’s the present-day Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Lennon?  They’re not here, and neither are the heirs and successors they should have had. All I see is prancing nitwits who can’t sing or write a decent lyric and troglodyte strummers who robotically thud out the same three chords because they can’t play anything else—posers who just want to be celebrities. They don’t give a damn about being artists.

“There isn’t anyone alive today who even comes close to having the musical chops that our artists did. If they’re out there, good luck to them, because we’ll never hear them. That kind of art and artistry will never be seen again. It’s why I listen in the past—Airplane, Big Brother, Cream, Ventures, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Kinks, Dead, Beatles, Who, early Stones, Hollies, Four Seasons, Everly Brothers, Dusty Springfield, Sandy Bull, many, many more; or to the artists from then who are still around and still making real music—Eric Clapton, Patti Smith; or to Celtic or folk-rock artists like Alan Stivell, Loreena McKennitt, Altan, Tannahill Weavers, my friends Steeleye Span. I don’t listen to the Doors, or very, very seldom, like one track every few years; it’s just too painful to hear Jim’s voice. Which is sad, because when he died, not only did I lose the love of my life, I lost my artist-hero of all time, and I loved his music before I loved him.”

As a journalist, Kennealy-Morrison covered Woodstock, and shared her feelings about the festival in Strange Days. I asked if she had any further thoughts about the event.  Again, with her acerbic wit, she answers.

“A murder or two might have made it more interesting— at least it will in the mystery novel I’m currently working on about it!  But nobody played well at Woodstock. I think it was Pete Townshend who said that he always knows when people are lying about having been at Woodstock, because the people who weren’t there all say how great the music was and the people who were there all say how horrible the music was. He’s absolutely right.”

STILL stuck on stupid, I asked her if she went to any of the reunion events and if she thought the idealism promoted at Woodstock was ever achieved.

“Certainly not!  It was bad enough having been at the original.”  As for the idealism, “It never happened apart from those three days, and not really even then. It’s mostly autohype: sure, no violence for three days, but people were too stoned to even move, let alone beat up on their neighbor, so not as admirable as all that. Sorry if that sounds cynical, but I felt that way even as I was sitting there in the middle of it, in the performers’ pavilion with a performer’s stage pass around my neck, and I feel that way now.”

Shifting into a slightly less masochistic line of questioning, I asked Patricia what her plans are for the next five years and what can her readership expect from her.

” Oh, more rock mysteries, for sure. I have plans for at least eight more, reaching to around 1971, which I consider the end of the Sixties, with Jim’s death and the Concert for Bangladesh, on a personal and professional level respectively.

“I’d also like to get back to my Celtic science-fantasy series, The Keltiad, for two more books, just to complete the series and give everybody a nice solid ending and send-off, readers and characters alike. And there’s a Viking book I want to finish writing, a historical novel set in the ninth century.

“There’s also some effort being put into trying to sell the Rennie books as a cable TV series. We’ll see how that goes.

“But all that should, I think, see me out. I plan to die writing. Hopefully they’ll find me slumped dead over the laptop. Not a bad way to go.”  To die doing what we all love to do is, indeed, a great way to go.

After completing the interview with Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, I took time to reflect on everything that I have read by, and about, her as well as everything she shared in the interview.  After a lot of thought and reflection, I break down my thoughts and opinions into two categories: those who knew Jim and know Patricia and those of us who don’t. I’ll start with the latter.

To those of us who don’t know Patricia and didn’t know Jim, the bottom line is that our opinions really don’t matter. I’ll put myself at the top of that list. At the end of the day, we’re observers and readers of the stories of the players in the play. You don’t go along with the story Ms. Kennealy-Morrison shares? Fine. She will add you to her list of whom she considers ignoramuses. You do go along with her story? I think she would say, “But of course!  It’s the truth and you get it!”

The other category of observation is reading the reactions to Patricia’s story from others who knew, or claimed to have known, Morrison. It’s clear that this group is motivated by one of two forces: either a continuing love for Jim and his legacy or greed to profit from it.  I’ll focus on the former. The latter is self-evident.

No doubt, from what I’ve pieced together from what I’ve read about Morrison, he would be amused and maybe saddened by the infighting among those who have loved him with an obviously deep and sincere love, romantically or brotherly. But in the end, he would, no doubt, revel in the love expressed.

Both types of love are rooted in their interactions with the man that have left each of those people feeling that they have a unique insight into this complex, multi-dimensional man. Patricia Kennealy-Morrison provides a very intimate peek into a part of her relationship with Jim Morrison. She likely has many more gems in her treasure chest of memories of her brief time with this iconoclast of rock and poetry. This relationship, as with others whose lives intersected with his, left her life forever changed and with memories that she cannot nor wants to escape from. And, by telling her story, she has elected to open herself up to vicious attacks and ridicule as well as to respect and admiration.

Has she profited from her story?  Perhaps, but I doubt that she’s made herself rich from offering the world a glimpse into the previously mentioned treasure chest. The gratification of sharing this small section of her life with the world far outweighs any money that she could possibly receive from telling it. That said, I’ll wager that whatever money she may have made from book sales and from participating in the Oliver Stone film, the pain from the withering attacks far outweighs any money she may have earned from her tale.

Perhaps she is taking as her own the words Morrison sang in another line from the song I quoted at the beginning, “Touch Me”, wherein he sings, “Can’t you see that I am not afraid?”

Barry McGuire

Posted August, 2009

 

Photo by Deirdra Doan

In a previous career life, I was a commodities broker. The head trader at our trade desk would update our price screens with relative news and very brief commentary. On one particular day, when there was very little activity in the market, he sent the following message to our screens: "The market is sharply unchanged." That comment is not dissimilar to the old saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Both of the above quotes can be used to describe 60's icon, Barry McGuire. To compare him today with the McGuire of the mid to late ‘60's, you would see a sharply unchanged and yet radically different person.

The Barry McGuire of the 60's was a folk singing phenomenon. Early in his career, he was a member of the folk group, The New Christy Minstrels. With group founder, Randy Sparks, McGuire co-wrote the groups largest selling hit, "Green, Green".

After leaving the group in early 1965, Barry went on to record his largest solo hit, "Eve of Destruction" and starred in the Broadway musical, "Hair". McGuire is also credited with introducing The Mama's and the Papa's to legendary producer, Lou Adler, after first recording a song of theirs that they later recorded and became their huge first hit.

The song? "California Dreamin'".

In the early 70's, McGuire became a follower of Christ. It wasn't long before he became one of the pre-eminent contemporary Christian artists in that fledgling genre of music. If you were to ask anyone today how they view Barry McGuire, the odds are that you would get an even split between those who know him as a 60's folk singer and as a Christian artist.

I recently had the privilege of talking to Barry over a series of phone conversations. The topics of discussion ran the gamut of music, politics, church, marriage, and homosexuality. At the beginning of our first chat, I asked him what he's been up to lately.

"What can I say? What have I been up to? I've been up to the same thing that I've always been up to and that is just sinking in to the reality that enfolds me, you know? I set out when I was in the Christy Minstrels to discover what is, what is "IT"; what is life; what is "stuff" made of. You know, I mean, where did we come from? Where were we 500 years ago? Where were you? Where are you going to be 500 years from now? What is this biological hunk of meat that we live in? It's kind of like a ‘bio-mobile'. We feed it and we bathe it and we give it rest and we give it exercise. Well, what is it? Where did it come from and what is the entity that causes us to move and pick up a cup of tea - I'm drinking tea right now. I'll have a sip (sips). Well, what was it that caused me to do that? What is the driver, the motivator, the observer that lives within the mind?

"If you cut your arms and legs off, well, you're not dead so, obviously, your arms and legs aren't you. They're just extensions of your ‘bio-mobile'. And, so, what are you? What am I? And that's the search that started back in 1963, I guess. And, after about a year and a half of searching for answers, I discovered, uh, there were others that were on the same quest that I was on.

"I heard in Bob Dylan's music, a mystery that was like he had glimpses of the same mystery, and I felt a resonance in the words that he used - that he was writing that excited me because it felt like a gravitational pull, you know? He wrote about social hypocrisy and held a mirror up with his words that we could all - I could see myself in those words in that mirror.

"Then, when I met Phil Sloan who wrote ‘Eve of Destruction', there was another mirror. ‘Eve of Destruction' is nothing more than a mirror and it reflected reality more accurately than any thought up to that time that I'd ever heard. And that's why I sang it because it reflected reality FROM MY PERSPECTIVE - not from everybody's - because you're perspective IS your reality."

In classic McGuire fashion, Barry offers a very unique analogy to illustrate his point about how one's perceived reality affects their religious, racial and political views.
"If you have a thousand people all holding hands in a big circle and you put an elephant down in the middle of them and you ask each one to describe the elephant, well you're going to get a thousand different descriptions of the elephant because every one of them sees the elephant from a different perspective.

"Even your left eye sees reality from a different perspective than your right eye does. You hold your finger up in front of your face and close one eye and open the other and then close that one and open the one that was closed - you go back and forth and your finger is going to move back and forth because your eyes don't even see things the same way. But it gives you depth perception, doesn't it?

"So if you have a thousand people, all holding hands, looking at the elephant, well you have a depth perception that one person wouldn't have. And don't you know that God is a pretty big elephant?"

I couldn't resist asking the obvious tongue-in-cheek question: "Does that make Him a Republican?"

Chuckling, he replies, "Well, from some respects He might be. From others, he's a donkey. It depends on your perspective. And, the thing of it is, is that it's both the flip sides of the same coin, you know? The front of the elephant is just the flip side of the back of the elephants. And the Republicans and the Democrats are just flip sides of the same coin. There's only one coin and they're battling away at each other and they're the same coin.

"There's only one government. There are only one people. There's only one race. If you say that you're an Irishman - as soon as you call yourself an Irishman, you become a racist. As soon you call yourself Black you're a racist. As soon as you call yourself White, you're a racist. There's only one race. All these labels divide us. Just like the heads and tails on a coin, uh, you know, if you look at one, it's one. If you look at the other, it's the other. But if you look at the coin overall, there's only one coin and the value is the same.

"And there's only one God no matter what you call Him - Allah, or, whatever. You know, there's only one ‘elephant'. It's just that we've been raised - there's 650 billion people looking at this ‘elephant' and every human being in the world has a different perspective of the elephant. So, instead of rubbishing everybody else's perception, you know, we should listen to what they have to say. Maybe we might get a better understanding of what this ‘elephant' really is and really looks like.
One might think they know what McGuire's positions are on these subjects since he's a Christian musician.

Don't be so quick to jump to conclusions.

McGuire is, and always has been, an astute observer of his life and times. He's also a student of history. Whatever goes into his bright, laughing eyes is then processed through his fertile mind, a little insight, experience, and brevity are applied, and it comes out of his mouth in thought provoking, if not controversial, prose. His straight, illustrative talk often gives his listeners blinding glimpses of the obvious. More often, it's not what "the establishment" really wants to hear.

A perfect example of this is demonstrated in a story Barry told me about a conversation that he had with a pastor of a church. He asked that pastor, "'How many practicing gays and lesbians do you have in your congregation?' It gets real quiet. He says, ‘Oh, well, we-we-we, we don't have any of those.' I say, ‘Oh! How many practicing adulterers do you have in your congregation?' Then it gets real quiet. ‘Oh, well, you see, people DO get divorced and, you know, they ask for forgiveness and God forgives them.'

"I said, ‘Well, what's the difference between a committed gay relationship - you know, two men, two women, living together for years? Loving each other; faithful to each other; partners, you know? What's the difference with two adulterers living together for years?'

"The pastor says, ‘Oh, but homosexuality is a sexual sin.' I said, ‘Every time adulterers sleep together - have sex - it's a sexual sin. That's what adultery is. It's fornicating with somebody else who's not your original (spouse).' So, what's the difference? How come our churches are filled with adulterers but no gays and lesbians are allowed? It's called ‘hypocrisy'!"

Being a man of both faith and principle, McGuire doesn't delineate from his stand - even if it's unpopular in churches. He acknowledges that this view has affected his invitations from churches to perform, saying, "I don't get invited to many churches anymore."

It will amaze almost anyone who meets or talks to him that McGuire turns 74 years young this October. He still performs at the churches that have no issues with his straight talk. He has also kicked off a tour with former Byrds member, John York, that's called, "Trippin' The Sixties" (http://www.trippinthesixties.com/) . Barry describes "Trippin'" this way:

"It's unbelievable. You know, I don't have a booking agent and I don't solicit shows. People contact me and ask me if I can come and do something. Or, they will see me doing a show and they will say, "Can you come and do a show in our city?"

"So, right now we're looking at the rest of this year. We've got another 30 shows to do - or 40 - before the end of the year. We're going to be going to Europe in about four weeks. We've got eight shows there. We've got two in Ireland and five in England and one in Scotland. And then we come back and we've got shows all up around the Seattle area and then after that we go back to Europe. We've got eighteen shows coming up over in Europe in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Norway.

"'Trippin the 60's' is not to be done in churches. I don't do it in churches. I do it in secular auditoriums, and we advertise in all of the oldies stations." He later states, "The purpose of the show is to reconnect to the world, you know? I think the church, totally from my perspective, which is very narrow, is not connected any more. And the purpose of ‘Trippin'' is to connect with the world - to reconnect and let them know that we're valid - I'm valid. I'm a valid entertainer. I'm a performer and I've had experiences that I - it's not, TOTALLY not an evangelistic show. It's just a show that takes us through all the great songs and friends of mine that I hung out with and performed with and recorded with during the sixties."

The turnout to his "Trippin'" shows indicate that there is a very good market that wants to see and hear the great songs from that era. The show provides them one more trip to their more innocent days and helps them remember how they got to where they are today.

As I stated at the beginning of this piece, we discussed a wide range of subjects. However, regardless of the subject matter discussed, McGuire is articulate, engaging, and very well read. More times than not, he takes even the more secular of topics and presents the view that there is a spiritual aspect to it. One may not necessarily agree with his view point but you will certainly be challenged, if not entertained, by what he has to say.

I bring up the subject of today's music and his opinion of it. I asked Barry if he sees the same quality in music wherein it provides a "rung" for kids to latch on to like it did in the sixties and seventies.

"Well, yeah it gives them something of meaning to latch on to but it may not be healthy to them. It's something they can identify with. I mean, our society is going to Hell in a hatbox real fast. And the kids know more than anybody else. They can see through all of the crap that's coming down. That it's a bunch of lies. So, that's why there's a lot of gangster rap and there's a lot of very violent music and movies because that's where they live- what they look for. That's what the video games are all about.

"Our society has sunken to a level that we would've never dreamed could've happened back in the 50's and 60's, you know? And there ARE songs. Have you ever heard of Iris Dement? Well, she's got a song called, ‘There's A Wall in Washington' and it's just a killer. In fact, I want to record it if I can, if I can get the money together to get into a studio. And there's another song that she does called, "When My Mornin' Comes Around". I sing it in concert. I just absolutely love the song.

"Madonna has a couple of tunes that I do. I absolutely love ‘em. One is ‘Frozen'. ‘You only see what your eyes want to see; how come it can't be what you want it to be; you're frozen when you're hearts not open; you're so concerned with how much you can get; wasting your time with hate and regret. You're frozen when your heart's not open.'

"It's just incredible. It's an incredible song. Of course, nobody hears it. I sing it in concert and I ask my audience - I mean, huge - 4, 500 people - and I say, ‘How many people have heard this song before?' Not one hand goes up. I say, ‘I was going to ask you if you knew who wrote it and recorded it. If you hadn't heard it, you wouldn't know that. Well, this is a Madonna song.' And everybody gasps!"

"And then one girl the other night, (she exclaims) ‘Oh - oh - oh yes!' She recognized it. Because people just don't listen - they don't listen. I've heard it because of my son's CD's. He always has something in the car that's playing and I'm saying, ‘Wow! What was that? Play that again!' Then I will Google it, get on iTunes and buy a copy, go out and learn how it goes and put it in my show.

"There are songs out there but they're not as prevalent as they were in the sixties. They don't seem to develop the excitement and the camaraderie - the camaradic energy - if that's even a word - the brotherhood of love."

I asked McGuire if he thought that the cause of this is due to the overabundance of music, adding that when we were growing up, to get a 45 was a rare treat. And now we can download whole albums in seconds.

"No, I think it's because there's a lack of communicators - message communicators. Because, there's not any people that are really communicating a musical message and I put myself in that same bag of ‘lack'. Not communicating musically a TRUTH that can - that is undeniable.

"When Bob Dylan wrote in the early days, 'The Times, They Are A Changin', 'Blowin' In The Wind', and 'Chimes of Freedom' - those were truths that were undeniable. I don't care what your religion was, when you heard your spiritual persuasion, you could not deny those realities.

"'Eve of Destruction' was a truth that could not be denied. Anybody that had any kind of sensitivity or awareness of reality could hear the words to those songs and would see the truth. They would see their own lives resonating in the words of those songs.

I suggest that "Eve" is still relevant today.

"It is! Phil Sloan really caught a glimpse of reality and he nailed it when he wrote the song. All prophetic songs are just mirroring - all a prophet is, is a mirror - just mirrors of reality and people don't like reality. They don't want to look at reality because the reality of it all is - in fact I was listening to it and I'm going to put it in my show. I bought a copy of . . . Buffy St. Marie, "Universal Soldier."

Barry then quotes the song: "This is not a way to put an end to war, he knows that he shouldn't kill but he knows he always will; he'll kill me for you and he'll kill you for me because he's a universal soldier; he's been doing it for a thousand years; he never reads the writing on the wall."

"There's so much truth in the song. I don't know if anybody will hear it anymore. It's like the Titanic is sinking, man, and a lot of the decks are already underwater and the people trapped down there are having a party because they know there's no way out. I mean, they don't know there's a way out. There IS a way but they don't know about it. And they're so trapped in their own minds that they can't see the light. They don't even know there is a tunnel, let alone a light at the end of the tunnel. And it's all they see in us as Christians are a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites."

Is the sound I hear that of an eraser eliminating the names of a few more churches off of the "invited" list?

I change the topic to that of McGuire's marriage to his wife of 36 years, Mari. I asked what he attributed to its success and longevity. Not surprisingly, he quickly attributes its success to their faith.

"Well, two things. First, the foundation was that both of us were totally surrendered to Christ - not committed but surrendered. There's a difference between commitment and surrender. And because of that surrender to Christ, we knew that we were where we were supposed to be. We were with who we were supposed to be with even though we were totally opposites from each other.

"The first four years of our life together were just horrible for both of us. She was staring and just wouldn't talk and would just stare and would cry. And I would pray, "Oh God! Were it not for her . . ." . I'd pray for me. "What have you done to me?"

"So, one night I was praying. We were on a ship - going to this south island and we're doing concerts with The Second Chapter of Acts back then. I was out on a deck and I was moaning and groaning and God just spoke to me. I don't hear voices or anything. I just - they're just pulses that rise up from within me - thoughts. I just felt God speak through my heart and say, ‘Would you just be this lady's friend? She's never had a man-friend' because every guy that's ever met her was hittin' on her - wanting to get in bed with her. They wanted to get their hands on her body.

"He said, ‘Why don't you just be her friend?' And I said, ‘God, I don't want that! I want to be Mr. (sings) ‘I'll take romance!'. I wanted to be Prince Valiant, Prince Charming. But that wasn't in the mix. ‘If she needs it, would you push her around in a wheelchair and change her bag and be her male nurse for the rest of her life? For the rest of YOUR life?'

"And, man, I didn't want that. I had SO violated my male/female relationships in my past life. I thought, ‘Well, this is my just desserts, isn't it? For all of the women that I had violated, this is what I deserved!' It was a thing of ‘surrender'. I go, ‘Okay. I give. I'll do this! This is your path for me, I'll walk it.'

"So I went down to the cabin and she was sitting down there in the dark, starring at the wall. She had the little night light on. Ships have those little night lights in the cabin. But it was very dark and dim. I sat down next to her for about five minutes. It seemed like four hours. And then, I thought - this little thought rose up in me to ask her, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?' So I leaned over and I asked her, ‘Honey, would you like a cup of tea?' And she kinda stopped and goes, ‘Oh! I would love a cup of tea.' So, I got her a cup of tea.

"That was our first "turn" in our relationship - ‘would you like a cup of tea?' You know, it was the opening line in the rest of our life."

"And we just became best friends. I mean, we still, after 35 years, have pillow fights when we make the bed."

McGuire then relates another story relating to his marriage. "Mari was in New Zealand. Her brother was very, very ill. He was in Intensive Care for, like, 80 days or something. And every life support machine in the hospital was hooked to him. We just didn't expect him to live.

"I went to Florida to do a Christian Athletes retreat. All these guys - Super Bowl guys with gold Super Bowl rings and five pounds of gold hanging around their necks and diamond earrings - the best looking men that I've ever seen in my life. They had beautiful wives and they're all driving these big BMW's and Mercedes-Benz's. You know, Super Bowl guys! They're all rich! But they love Christ with all of their hearts and they were there having this retreat. I thought that I went down there to minister to them but they SO ministered to me, man!

"And one of the things that happened is God showed me that Mari was the king of my house and that I was to be the priest. She's to the king of the house. She runs the house. The house is her castle and I'm the priest!

"I saw that I had not - that I had laid down - hadn't fulfilled my position as covering the house in Christ - allowing Christ to stream through me and fill the house with spiritual truth! And so on the way I'm saying, ‘God, what can do? I can't just walk in saying, ‘Okay, now! I'm going to be the priest!' You know? And God just told me, ‘Just get up every morning and spend time with me!'

"So, I did! I started doing that! And Mari would come down the hall. I was drinking coffee. I would make my coffee and put the tea water on. And pretty soon, she would come down and she'd see me sitting here and I'd be reading or just talk with God.

"‘What are you doing?' And I'd tell her and she would sit down and we would have morning time together. And it just changed our life! It just absolutely had changed our life!"

After our visits, I reflected on all that was discussed. I was struck by McGuire's youthful exuberance in stating his views and faith. I couldn't help but notice that our conversations could have easily taken place in the late sixties and been applicable then as they are today. The only difference would be that Barry's faith is at the forefront of his mind instead of his search. That faith affects what his world view is. He loves mankind and desires to see hope, love and peace in the world.
In that way, Barry McGuire is sharply unchanged.

You can keep up with Barry, including his blog, personal tour schedule as well as his "Trippin' The Sixties" by visiting www.barrymcguire.com/ and www.trippinthesixties.com/ . While visiting both sites, be sure and download the two newer versions of "Eve of Destruction" (with one featuring Mick Fleetwood on drums).

Monte Montgomery

Posted January, 2011

In June of this year, I enjoyed one of those rare dates with my 26 year old daughter, Lacie.  One of the things that Lacie and I mutually enjoy is music – especially from icons from “my day”.  Ten years earlier, I took her to see Peter Frampton for her birthday and, to this day, my wife wonders if the present wasn’t really for me instead of Lacie.

I’ll never tell.

Anyway, back to my story.

On this particular June father/daughter date, Lacie joined me to catch the legendary Johnny Winter in concert at the Granada Theater (read the review of that show here).  Prior to the opening act, this great, intimate venue ran video clips of shows that had either recently graced its stage or were scheduled to appear soon.

One particular clip that commanded my attention was some concert footage of an amazing acoustic guitar player.  This guy skillfully and appropriately played licks on his Alvarez acoustic that seemed to defy the laws of speed and sound.  I didn’t want the clips to end.

His name? Monte Montgomery and I knew that I wanted to make a point to learn more about this guy.

Over the ensuing months, as I worked through my backlog of scheduled interviews and reviews, I conducted research on Montgomery. I watched countless, flawless performances on YouTube, often posting them on Facebook to gauge what the reaction would be from Boomerocity readers.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege to chat on the phone with Monte. My first impression of the man was, and is, very similar to my impression of Johnny Winter: A confident musician who is really not all that comfortable promoting himself.  He lives to play the guitar and entertaining people.  He’s comfortable in his own skin but doesn’t really like talking about it. This was evident in his response to my first question where I ask him to describe himself, his history and his work for those of you who aren’t familiar with him.

Chuckling, Montgomery says, “First of all, that would never happen because I hate talking about myself. I let other people figure all of that out. I always get asked from people that aren’t familiar with my work, ‘What kind of music do you do?’ and I’m, like, ‘Well, that’s not for me to say.’  It’s kind of all over the map. I don’t really fit into one specific genre. It’s kind of my own thing. It’s kind of hard to describe.”

That statement was bang on. All one has to do is look at Montgomery’s performances on YouTube or listen to any of his CD’s to get that message loud and clear.  In addition to his own creations, you can see the cross-genre approach to his work with his interpretations of Hall and Oates’, Sarah Smile, to Jim Hendrix’s, Little Wing to his Stairway to Freebird (his brilliant combination of Stairway to Heaven and Freebird).

In telling when he became interested in the guitar, he shares that, “I picked up the guitar at thirteen. It was a Gibson J-45. It was one of my mom’s guitars.”  How many guitars does he own now? “Oh, my god, probably 30 or more. Most of those were given to me. I’ve had a few endorsements over the years and most of the guitars were given to me. I’ve probably only paid for five of those.”

“Honestly, it’s gotten to a point to where I’ve started giving guitars away to some of my friends that need them. I’ve given a few away to charities to auction off. I don’t need 30 guitars. I’ve just collected them over the years- unintentionally collected. I don’t mean like as a collector. But, yeah, the numbers are dwindling”, he says with a laugh.

Most guitar players envision a “Holy Grail” guitar that they fantasize about owning. I asked Montgomery if there is such a thing as a “Holy Grail” he hopes to own.

 “Wow. I don’t really think of them in those terms. I’ve been using the same guitar for 22 years now. So, I’m not one of those guys that goes after a Martin because I want a Martin because it has that distinct Martin sound. I’m just not that guy. I’m more of a guy who found a guitar that works for me and I also had to find a way to make myself work on that guitar.

“I didn’t find the perfect guitar for me but I was able to manipulate my relationship with my guitar and build it. Some people are, like, ‘I’ve got to have that guitar!’ For me, I had to learn to play this guitar a little bit and I think that the guitar had to yield to my demands at the same time. A lot of people call me crazy for traveling all over the world, carrying one guitar. But that’s pretty much the way I’ve made my career – playing the same guitar.  It’s a really special guitar that I’ve broken in. People has equated it to Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger.  It’s a similar kind of relationship. You’ll rarely see play anything but that guitar.”

Monte’s weapon of choice is his acoustic Alvarez. I asked him if this was because technology can make his guitar sound however he wishes or is it just a preference.  His answer didn’t surprise me.

“No. It’s my preference.  I’ve done both. When I was younger, I was in bands – kind of a ‘hard’ guy and playing electric. I remember, earlier on, I’d be get hired by a band, playing electric and I’d feel like I was losing my acoustic chops. I would quit that band and would take the acoustic and play that for a year. Then I’d get another offer for a gig on an electric – I kind of bounced around doing that for a few years.  Then, when I put my own band together, I did both – I played acoustic and electric. But, over time, I started realizing that all this stuff I was doing on electric, I could do on acoustic. I was running everything through the same pedal board. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I just leave the heavy amps and electric at home and just play acoustic?’ That’s basically what I started doing.” And, with another chuckle, adds, “I think that the whole reason was just to cut down on carrying so much equipment all the times.  A couple of electrics, an acoustic, two amps and I think, back then, I was carrying around the entire PA system, as well. So, I said, ‘I think I can leave all this stuff behind and just play my acoustic with the band.’ It was basically that simple. I’ve just come to lean on the acoustic.

“I don’t think anybody out there really wants to see me play electric. That’s part of the fascination with what I do is the fact that I playing acoustic. I’m doing what I’m doing but I’m doing it on a beat up acoustic. That’s just not what you see people do.”

I posit that it’s similar to what Australian guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel, does.  Montgomery notes some valid differences.

“Well, it goes beyond that. I know Tommy. I take it even further than that. I do a lot of distortion and Eric Johnson-esque during my show and make it sound more like a Les Paul.  If you weren’t watching me play that acoustic, at times, you would not know that I was playing an acoustic.”

Anyone who aspires to play guitar has their idols they envision being able to play like. I asked Montgomery who he had burned into his brain as he practiced for hours on end.

“Of course, I listened to anybody that I could get my hands on when I was younger - people like Lindsay Buckingham and Mark Knopfler.  I was fascinated with their ability to do all this cool guitar work without a tech. They were two of my earliest influences.  I could go on and on from there. Michael Hedges, Bruce Colburn to Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Steve Morse – all the greats, basically - anyone who was good on the guitar.”

Monte knew a year after he started playing guitar that he wanted to pursue a career in music. “I’ve basically known what I was meant to do on this earth at a very young age. Like I said, I started getting hired with bands when I was 14. That’s all I’ve done my whole life is play music.”

If you noodle around YouTube, watching the various Monte Montgomery clips, one of the more captivating ones is his appearance on Daryl Hall’s web show, Live From Daryl’s House.  In addition to being a new Monte Montgomery fan, I’m also a 30-plus year Hall and Oates fan so, naturally, I was very interested in the story behind Monte’s appearance on Daryl’s show.

“He saw me on YouTube.  I think his manager got wind of the fact that there was this guy doing a song of his on YouTube.  So, he checked it out and passed it on to Daryl. ‘Daryl, you’ve got to check this out.’ So, he (Daryl) went on there (YouTube) and watched me do a version of Sara Smile. He was so blown away that he contacted me. I ended up at his house and that show. That was basically it. If it wasn’t for YouTube, that would have never happened.”  When asked if he had done any more work with Hall since then, he replied, “No, but I think we will, eventually. We’ve talked about it.”

I was struck by Monte’s low key, unassuming manner in which he answered my question regarding who else he has played with. “Oh, I don’t really have a list of people that I’ve played with like that. I play with all kinds of people. I know Tommy Emmanuel really well and have done a couple of shows together. Delbert McClinton. I’ve sat in with a bunch of different people. I would say that the biggest name I’ve done anything with would be Daryl.”

Monte’s appearance on the PBS nationally broadcasted show, Austin City Limits, was one for the record books, catapulting him to national recognition, commanding the attention of artists, industry insiders and enthusiasts alike.  I asked him if there’s been another gig that was as important to him as the ACL telecast.

“Honestly, man, I couldn’t point to an actual gig that was more important than that one. I don’t even think that there’s a close second. That wasn’t just a gig. That was national television exposure to anyone that owns a television. Nothing comes even close to that. That show enabled me to tour nationally and have people show up without any airplay on the radio, which I didn’t have.  That was a pivotal point.”

When I asked him who else he would like to jam with that he hasn’t already, he hesitates and then, as if he mentally goes back in time to his early to mid-teens, he said, “Uh, everybody!  Ha! Ha! I’ve always dreamed of playing with Lindsay Buckingham – a childhood hero of mine. I think that would be a gas. Fleetwood Mac, that’s all I listened to at a young age. I was pretty much obsessed with them. Other than that, anybody that I respect which are all the people that I mentioned earlier. I played with Tommy (Emmanuel) and that guy and I’ve never seen a better acoustic player than that guy. He’s a super talent and a tremendous guy.”

With Monte’s last CD being his self-titled project released in 2008, I wanted to know if he was working on a new release. “I don’t have one I’m working on currently. But some opportunities are lining up for me for the next year – I’ll definitely start working on something next year.”

While I’m disappointed that he doesn’t have one ready for immediate release in the near future, it’s good to know that Montgomery enjoys a healthy tour schedule around the country and the world. Speaking of: If you’re going to be in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area on
New Year’s Eve, he will be appearing at Love and War In Texas  at Grapevine Mills Mall. He’ll also be kicking off the new year with appearances in Los Angeles, San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth.

Monte Montgomery isn’t an acquired taste.  He’s an immediate addiction. You really do need to check this guy out. Trust me. You’ll become a fan for life, as I did.  Check out the YouTube clips that are mentioned in this piece. You’ll also want to check out his website, www.montemontgomery.net and, while you’re there, sign up for his newsletter and noodle around in his store and order his impressive roster of work.

If you like great guitar work, you’re going to love Monte Montgomery . . . and you’ll want to own everything he has ever produced so have your credit card ready.

Beverly McClellan

Posted December, 2011

 

Photo by V. Michelle Oprisi - Visit www.oprisi.com

Beverly McClellan.  Have you heard of her?  If you watched the new hit TV show, The Voice, on NBC this season, you are more than just vaguely familiar with this vocal dynamo.  I must admit that I didn’t watch The Voice and I honestly don’t know why since I am a big fan of both Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton. 

What was I thinking?

I can assure you that, after having the distinct privilege of chatting with Ms. McClellan,  that particular mistake won’t happen again.  I recently reached Beverly at her Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home to chat about life since coming in at a very respectable 3rd place on The Voice as well as discuss her latest CD, Fear Nothing.

Beverly McClellan is one of those kinds of people who, from the first “hello” makes a total stranger feel like a lifelong friend.  Oozing her laid-back, what-you-see-is-what-you-get charm, I felt that one of us should be pouring the other some coffee while we chatted.

As we made a little bit of small talk before we started the interview, I asked Beverly is she was tired of the interview gauntlet that she no doubt has had to endure.  Her reply reflects the almost “aw shucks” tone that permeated our chat. 

“Aw, no, man! It’s just talkin’ to people.  I don’t stress out about that. I don’t stress out about much, really. You gotta make it interesting for yourself, dude!  The less I know, the more interesting it is. I don’t know if that makes sense. “

McClellan is all about chillin’, relaxin’ and not putting on pretenses.  She’s all about being real.  A story about a recent appearance in San Diego illustrates the point.

“I just got back from San Diego. Loved it – playing the Anthology Club.  Really awesome. A really nice room there. It’s great!  Three levels.  Very elegant, quaint.  They told everybody to keep their cell phones off and be quiet. Well, I walked out and lifted that ban immediately!  I said, ‘If you want to take a picture or you want to call your friend that wasn’t able to be here and let them hear, by all means do and make as much noise as you want to! I’m not like whoever’s played here before but this is like my living room tonight so we’re going to have us a party! The end.’  It was great!”

With the incredible exposure to the world that Beverly enjoyed during her incredible run on The Voice, I asked her what all has happened, career-wise, since she blasted her way into America’s consciousness .  Things like record deals, tours and special appearances.  Her response reveals a woman who is both excited and truly appreciative of the blessings that have been bestowed on her. 

“All the above, man!  I have management. I have international distribution.  I have my own label.  ‘Beverly’ is a whole train runnin’! That’s pretty much what I needed because I’m really just an artist. I keep it on that level for myself where I don’t lose myself in the business sense.  Not that I don’t want to know, I just don’t want it to dull who I am. Honestly, it’s about the party that I make – not anything else for me. I like going into a place – no matter how big or how small it is, if I’m plugged in, we’re having a party!  Simple as that. Just do it!”

Even though Ms. McClellan is new to the international stage, I asked her what she thinks is the biggest misconception about her so far.

“Well, I think from TV to now, people see me as a rocker and, no doubt, I can rock. No doubt. But my heart is with the blues. Both of those things collide – rock ‘n roll and blues. I hope that it’s appealing to everybody. I listen to everything from rap to country so I can only imagine that it will appeal.  I kept it ‘PG’ but there are some real adult feelings in there. It’s music for everybody.”

Since Beverly mentioned the blues, I broke from my list of questions to ask her who her favorite blues artist is.

“Etta James. Etta James.  Etta James!  Hands down!”

Speaking of, I read somewhere that she calls herself a “Janis Joplin-Melissa Etheridge-Etta James hybrid”.  I couldn’t agree with her more – except maybe to add that you probably have a little bit of Bonnie Bramlett mixed in there, too.    

“I’d say that there’s a little Bonnie Raitt in there, too. Hey, man! Whatever it sounds like to anybody, I hope to capture all the people I love and admire in my voice. Those are the people who’s been appealing  to me coming up along with Journey, John Lennon, c’mon! There are so many! But I’m definitely a classic rock/blues kind of – that’s where my heart lies.”

I’m a real sucker for finding out the stories behind songs and it’s no different regarding some of the tunes on Beverly’s new CD, Fear Nothing.  The first song I asked her about, for my own person reasons, was Never Will Forget.  She has a line in the song where she comments about “them Tennessee hills”.  I asked her about the inspiration behind that song, telling her that I was born in east Tennessee.

“Me, too! Kingsport.  Kingsport, Tennessee!  It’s only because they didn’t have a hospital in Gate City (Virginia).  Right on the state line.  Five churches but no hospital in my town. I just went over the state line and was born in Kingsport, Tennessee.  It’s the Smoky’s either way. Them hills knew how to raise me for sure!   You know exactly what I speak of.

“I just think you gotta know where you come from in order to know where you’re goin’. That’s what I think. I’m writin’ about my roots and thinks that I remember and how I grew up.  It does not even compare to today. We didn’t have technology. We had a water hose outside and a bunch of fruit trees, berry bushes, gardens, cows and tobacco fields; population 3,500 and the best thing we all did together was go to church and sing. That’s what I come from.”

Since Beverly brought it up, I asked her what her church background was.

“Southern Baptist!  Alive and well in them hills, boy! God loves everybody. It don’t matter what religion you come from. I took away a lot of the good but I left the bad. I think some of the things are people’s own opinion and they’re not the ones who ultimately make the decision for all of us at the end of our lives. I believe that I’m following a pretty good path and I started in a good, general direction with God in my life.

“It’s where I started - in church singing. There wasn’t anybody up there saying, ‘Boo! Shut up!’ You know? Not in church.  ‘Sing for Jesus, honey!’ That was my grandma. ‘Sing louder, baby!’  So, yeah, it was real easy to start out and have good confidence. Whenever the doors of the church were open, my family was always there. My mamma was the piano player for the church so we had to be there. And singin’ was required – always! Gotta sing to Jesus. Praise the Lord!”

How about the song Come to Me?

Come To Me – that’s very heartfelt right there. I wrote that one during the end of The Voice. You watch 77 to 100 people that you make friends with go through the same audition process as yourself but they’re leavin’ and you’re not. They come to you and they cry and they express all of their feelings. It was a tough position to be in but I was their friend. I was the oldest one there. I’m 41 and you get a 16 year old coming to you, crying and going, ‘I was cut’ and I’m goin’, ‘Baby, don’t give up!  Look at me.  I’m 41. I’m still in the runnin’. Geez! You can do this again. Who knows in 20 years what competition there will be? You’re already in the game. You’re already bein’ seen at 16 years old.’  It was wild, man.

Come to Me was about all my friends there – my family. It’s a powerful feeling. All those people are my ‘Voice’ family.”

I couldn’t let the call go without asking Beverly her reasons for covering the Nina Simone classic, Nobody’s Fault But Mine.

“Well, it wasn’t covered, number 1.  Number 2, I love Nina Simone. Did you ever watch that movie, Point of No Return where the actress in there – Jane Fonda’s daughter, Bridget Fonda – she was a assassin and they brought her back to life to be an assassin?  She said, ‘I want Nina Simone records’.   That prompted me to look up Nina Simone since she covered Here Comes The Sun by the Beatles. That was beautiful! I fell in love with that song (Nobody’s Fault But Mine) because I related to it in my life. If I die and my soul’s lost, it’s nobody’s fault but mine. It really speaks volumes to me coming from a very Christian background, etcetera. But, being the wild child that I am . . . honey, I dance with the devil in the moonlight, I’m drawn to the ones who ain’t afraid, especially. I think I am one of those ones. I don’t fear anything at this point. They broke me of that. Put ya in front of 19 million viewers a week and tell ya, ‘3-2-1, you’re live on television’, that right there will stop anybody or make ‘em.

“I did what I set out to do. I gave my music wings and I just keep watching my wings unfold longer than I ever thought they were. So, God bless this whole situation. It changed my life, man! It’s great! Either way, however this all unfolds, I’m glad to have been part of a show that was hand-in-hand with artists that have current careers themselves. I mean, Cee Lo’s at the top of his game right now. So is Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. I’m gonna be honest: I didn’t even know who he was until this competition. But, man! He’s awesome! He’s the best guy ever and his music is really cool! He opened me up to his stuff just by being his self. So, it’s easy for me to say that I’m going to reach people because I know that I’m impressionable and I can talk to anybody.  Seventy years old or seven years old, it don’t matter. We’re all human and there’s basic communication and love and understanding that shines through all of it. That’s definitely what I have in my heart for every human being in this world.”

One final song I asked her about was I Can’t Hide Me.

“Yeah!  That one was when I figured out that I was going to be on national TV.” Beverly then startsed citing the lyrics from the song.  “‘I can’t hide me. I don’t want to anyway . . . Can’t go turning myself around, I need more backbone for this town’  L.A.? Yeah.  It makes sense now that you’re hearin’ what I’m sayin’. Two and two make four, man.

“Listen, you’re never gonna really know until you come into Beverly’s living room and have a concert. What I mean by ‘my livin’ room’ is wherever I play, that’s my livin’ room. Doesn’t matter. If it’s 500 or 5 people, I’m gonna give you a good understandin’ what I’ve been through and where I’ve come from and who I am today . . . and I might do it all in one song! I’m just that way.”

Our tight schedules making our chat feel like it was ending far too soon, I asked Beverly what her 2012 plans are and, when she’s left this life, what does she hope her legacy will be.

“Ah! I’m taking over the world, man!  Everybody’s gonna sing the blues before it’s all over, man!”

“I don’t ever want to figure that my life is over. Life is never over. I’m just going to something else after this. But as far as what people here would remember, I want them to smile and remember me as the character I truly was. Personality – I didn’t get short-changed on that. God gave me a slew of talent and I’ve just got to share it with the world.  What else is there?  Sit at home and play for my dogs? What’s that, you know? I got it in my heart so I hope the world takes that with them just as Nina Simone captured me long after she was gone. But I didn’t know that. I thought, ‘Wow! Who’s this? Oh, she’s not here? Really. Well, let me go back on her life’s work.’ It’s incredible!  Who knows years from now who’ll find me, you know what I mean? That is my legacy so I really need to be careful with the messages that I put out. Like I said, I’m proud to stand behind this album. It’s heart-felt. I had one person tell me, ‘I’ve never had so much heartache by listening to your show. But, yet, felt okay about it. Thank you.’  That was cool.”

As the old saying goes, “When words fail, music speaks” and nothing symbolizes that more than that story. 

No doubt, we will hear a lot about, and from, Beverly McClellan for years to come.  You can board the “Beverly Train”, by visiting www.beverlymcclellan.com.  You can also catch the Boomerocity review of her new CD, Fear Nothing, here.  I’ll just tell you now, though, that I love it and encourage you to pick up a copy or two.  You’re going to love it.