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Keith Howland Talks 25 Years With Chicago

Posted April 2020

 

keith howland large croppedThe coronavirus has affected every aspect of human life as we know it. It has especially impacted the entertainment industry as performances of all but the streaming kind have been canceled or postponed.

Such was the case with the group, Chicago. Originally slated to perform in Nashville and Chattanooga this month, I interviewed the band’s long-time guitar wiz, Keith Howland. Though those shows have been pushed out until December, the chat is still a good one to share with you now.

I reached Keith at his hotel room in Las Vegas where he and the band were performing during a residency at the Venetian. We started off by talking about what led to Keith getting his role in Chicago that he has held for over 25 years. Did he expect it to last this long?

“No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I remember when I got the gig, I remember thinking to myself, you know, the guys were into their 50s and the band had been around for 30 years or something along those lines. And I thought, well, you know if I get five years out of this thing, that would be great. It just kept going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny. We don't stop and we haven't taken a year off. We're actually probably doing more tour dates now than we were when I first joined the group.”

What does Howland attribute that to?

“I think I would attribute it to a couple of things. Some of the guys, when I joined the band, had younger kids, so maybe they didn't want to be out on the road. The kids are now grown and out of the house and, so they're more inclined to want to stay out on the road and just keep working. I just think that, also, as we keep moving forward, I think they're just as much - I don't know what the word is, but they're just feeling grateful and blessed that so many people want to come see us at this stage of the career. So, we're still putting out new music and we continue to tour and people keep coming to see us and we're having fun. So, I think that's probably the key element, is everybody's having a good time. It's real.

“But I think it's a testament to that - when you really look at the bands that are out there just continually doing good business and staying out there. The Doobie Brothers, and Earth, Wind and Fire, and us and Pat Benatar and Foreigner. We're all sort of a certain era that seems that transcends the generations. We see three generations coming to our concerts. There's the grandparents that were there from the beginning and the parents that came in the 80s, maybe. And then the kids are being dragged there by their parents and their grandparents and they enjoy it, too.”

In another interview, Keith was quoted as saying, 'Music is not just my job. Music is my hobby and who I am and what I am.’ I asked him to elaborate on that.

“Well, I mean, you know, growing up in a musical household, only in the sense that my parents weren't really musicians. My mother was in the church choir and she played piano. My father used to joke all the time that he played the radio. That was his instrument. But my older brother was playing drums when he was seven or eight and I was four years younger. So, for as long as I can remember, there was instruments and music being played in our household. At age seven, myself, I picked up the guitar and then, of course, my brother and I started jamming in my parent’s rec room. We put records on and we would just play to them and turn the lights off. We bought a couple of Christmas spotlights and put them on us and pretended like we were playing a concert or whatever. We used to do that actually to the Santana ‘Moonflower’ album a lot. I wound up learning all four sides of that record note for note. I could play right along with Carlos. Chicago was a big prevalent band in our house as well.

“I think the first time we saw them live was in '75 in Washington, D.C., so that was the original lineup. I got to see Terry Kath. It was kind of a life-changing moment for me because I was kind of a - I was kind of more of a rock guy. I was getting into Kiss and Ted Nugent. And, then, there was Van Halen. But the Chicago influence kind of pulled me in - and my brother actually pulled me in - the direction of a little bit more harmonically sophisticated music. My brother was listening to Earth, Wind and Fire, and the Crusaders and Weather Report. So, whether I liked it or not, I was hearing a lot of that music from him. We each had our own bedroom with our own stereos and one was louder than the next. I might turn Double Live Gonzo off and go next door and listen to my brother listening to Weather Report. It was expanding my harmonic palette.

“But yeah, I mean, it's all I've ever known. And the irony of it is, is that I went to college and I got a degree in communication arts and I played in three different bands when I was in college and not once did I think to myself, 'I want to be a professional musician'. Not once. I was twenty-two or twenty-three years old when my buddy, Lance, (he was my college roommate who was a bass player in all the bands I played in) and I decided, 'You know what? What are we gonna do? Let's go to L.A. and see if we can do something with this music thing, you know?' Up to that point, it was a hobby and I just thought it was going to continue to be a hobby and I was gonna get a job at a TV station or something in communications. Lo and behold, we wound up in L.A. and he wound up playing with Don Henley, I wound up playing with Chicago. It all worked out, I guess.

“I was going to say the odds of two stupid kids from Virginia loading up a Ryder truck, driving to Los Angeles and winding up both doing pretty well for themselves is pretty unlikely. But we were stupid enough and optimistic enough that we just went for it.”

Keith Howland profile 1Because Keith mentioned being in church and his mom being a pianist, I asked if he was a fan of Phil Keaggy when he was a teen.

“Yeah. Phil Keaggy, I touched on him, and, more recently, I've listened to more of his stuff. The guy is absolutely amazing. Absolutely amazing. I wish I would have gotten to him sooner; he would have been more of an influence on me.”

I asked Howland what are the biggest changes he’s seen both in the band and in the music industry since he’s been in both of them for such a long time.

“Well, I mean, the changes in the band, that's a pretty obvious one. Any band that's lasted for 53 years, there's going to be personnel changes. When I joined the band, there were eight guys - the four originals, which was Robert, Jimmy, Lee, and Walt. And then there was Bill Champlin and then Jason Scheff and Tris Imboden, and then me. At this point in the group, it's Robert, Jimmy, Lee, and then me, if you're talking seniority. Because Bill and Jason and Walt - Walt is still a member of the group, but he doesn't really tour anymore due to health reasons. But, Bill and Trist, and Jason are gone. So, I've slid up the ranks to the highest tenured non-original member.

“But you know what? The band is sort of much like Foreigner. This band doesn't hire slouch musicians. So, you know, I've gotten to play with several different lineups in my 25 years and all of them have been great. So, that's kind of where change happens. But that’s like you say, that's with any band that's been around for this long. That's going to happen, I feel. We have the two principle songwriters in the band still on stage in Jimmy and Robert. Obviously, Robert is the iconic voice of a lot of the early hits of the group. S

“The music industry, on the other hand - you know, the way that you get music to the masses is completely different these days.Chicago2019C reduced When I joined the group, you still went into a studio, made a record, and hoped that a record company would get behind it and you'd get a song on the radio. Now, it's all digital downloads and streaming and you're really making records to tour behind them. Like you said, you went and saw a different band, but you heard Phil Keaggy and you went out and you bought his records. When I was a kid, I would go see the band that I wanted to see and there would be an opening act and usually, the opening act was somebody I'd never heard of. Like Bryan Adams or the Dixie Dregs. I saw so many bands that became huge. Billy Squier. Had no idea who Billy Squier was. He opened for Rush, I think. And I went straight out and bought his record went straight out and bought Bryan Adams’ record. That doesn't really happen so much anymore. Usually, if you're on tour with another band, it's a well-known band. There's not a lot of bands sort of toting unknown talent out with them. You got to build that - which this is not so much unlike old school in that now, bands do have to build an audience in a grassroots fashion by going out, playing club dates, wherever they can be heard, which is what this band did back in the day. So, some things have changed and some are the same. You got to get out there and play to the people in order to get them to know who you are.

I asked Keith if he were made music czar, what would he do to change it, if anything, he replied:

“Well, I do think that there is a little too much expectation of consumers now that recorded music should be free. People grouse about having to pay 99 cents to download a song. You can't even get a cup of Starbucks coffee for 99 cents. But, yet, the consumer thinks that they should be able to get it for free. And they do with Spotify. Apple Music. Most everything that's released, you go right on YouTube. It's immediately up there for free. So, yeah. I mean, the idea of making music as a recording artist is somewhat limited today. And I think that that's probably the thing that needs to be addressed. That's also part of the reason why you see everybody is on the road because that's the only place to make money anymore.

What can fans expect on this tour?

keith howland large“Well, we're calling this tour 'Chicago and Their Greatest Hits'. So that pretty much says it all right there. You're going to get about two hours and 20 minutes of nothing but hit songs. There may be one or two deep cuts thrown in there, but they're probably familiar deep cuts. It's a two-set show with a 20-minute intermission. So, pack a picnic basket. It's a long night of music.

“But, yeah, I know we're rolling right along here. We’ve finished our rehearsals here in Las Vegas. In 'rehearsals', I mean, the shows that we're playing. We have been off for about, gosh, almost for months so our first gig out was kind of like, 'Do we remember this stuff?' We did.

What does the Chicago guitarist hope his legacy is and how he’ll be remembered?

“Boy, that's a tough question. I mean, I'd hope that people would remember me as somebody who sort of helped to perpetuate the legacy of a great Hall of Fame rock and roll band, just by sheer commitment and longevity. And I hope people remember me as a good guy and a good, good father. That's kind of all you can hope for."

Follow the latest with Keith and Chicago at Chicagotheband.com.

Cosmo Clifford Shares A Glimpse Through The Magic Window

Posted April 2020

Doug Clifford by Brent Clifford croppedPhoto by Brent Clifford croppedCreedence Clearwater Revival.

The mention of the band conjures up memories of their many hits like Suzie Q, Born On The Bayou, Proud Mary, Fortunate Son, and all the memories and images we’ve individually tied to those and other songs.

For me, Proud Mary is especially meaningful to me as it was the song my mom said that I had to learn on a borrowed guitar – from beginning to end – before she and my dad would buy me my own, new guitar. I did and they did. Mom is gone but I still have the guitar that she and my dad bought me. No amount of money would ever get me to sell. For that matter, no amount of money can erase the amazing memories I have that are forever tied to those amazing CCR hits.

The foundation of those legendary songs is the steady, driving rhythms that were laid down by the co-founding drummer, Doug ‘Cosmo’ Clifford. When CCR split up, he and bandmate, Stu Cook (whom we’ve interviewed twice – here and here), formed their own group, Creedence Clearwater Revisited. They retired the band last year after settling a lengthy and expensive lawsuit with John Fogerty.

Not one to settle into “retirement”, Cosmo recently unearthed a collection of very well recorded demo tapes with several albums’ worth of quite listenable (and enjoyable) material. The first of those albums is coming out and is titled, Magic Window, which is a wonderful collection of ten well-written, played and recorded songs that Clifford put together in the mid-eighties.

When I heard that he was putting the album out – and after listening to an advance copy of it – I immediately reached out to set up an interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.

Reaching him at his winter home in Arizona, I started off by thanking him for not only taking the time to chat with me but also for the many years of great music that makes up so much of the soundtrack of my youth. “The pleasure's mine, believe me. It was a dream that a13-year-old had and took it over the fence. It continued even though we just put Creedence Clearwater Revisited to bed. That was 25 years of touring; every year for 25 years. Another second career, if you will. Now, I'm going back into the creative side and putting records out. I've got a bunch of them. They're all songs that I've written or co-written. One of the things I did when I was writing a lot, I had a studio in the house and recorded them to be master quality demos. It's paying off, I guess. People Like the album I’ve got coming out.”

I shared with Cosmo that my two favorite cuts from the album are, ‘Don't Leave Me Alone Tonight’ (a great tune with a bit of a John Lennon ala his Double Fantasy album sound to it) and ‘Somebody Love Me Tonight’. When I shared that with him, he replied:

“That's a very high compliment to be mentioned with John Lennon. I have to say thank you. And, then, Somebody Love Me tonight, I didn't have anybody write that with me. That was 100% my song. I have three of them that I wrote by myself and the rest were all co-written. When I write, I limit it to one other writer. I've been in a situation where three or four guys write and then you kind of lose track. Somebody would say, 'Well, I had more lines than you did so I should get this percentage' - 'Wait a minute!'

“We cut it down the middle, make life easier, make the best song we can. So that's how I do my deal.”

Then, circling back around to the story behind Magic Window, he added:

“Yeah, it is a complete surprise. I forgot about this record and there it was. and I didn't know if it would even play. I found ten other reels. I've got about a hundred songs with other some with different vocalists. I've got some stuff with Bobby Whitlock and we have a guy that sounded like Rod Stewart singing on some stuff. This was the closest thing I've ever had to being an artist and wearing all the hats. Writing. Producing. Singing.

“The singing, for me, was the tough part because I didn't do much of it. I had a decent voice because my mother, she sang on the radio when she was a teenager but got married young. And so, I sort of took her dreams with Creedence to the Graceland, so to speak. She was very supportive. I said, 'If she can sing like that, I just have to practice.' So, practice I did! Ha! Ha!”

I told Clifford that the thing that I found remarkable about Magic Window is that, though the album had been in a vault, so to speak, for thirty-five years, and not heard until now, the songs have a classic, stand-the-test-of-time sound and feel to them. They hit me like well-worn standards. He agreed.

“Yeah, I have to agree with you. It was done in the 80s. I guess the giveaway there is Simmons toms, Ha! Ha! That was the big deal. I had just bought those toms and I was playing away on them. It was all the rage back then. I've heard some Simmons' toms on some of the newer stuff that's out now. So, maybe they've come back. I hope so.

“But it sounds - when I listened to it - it happened so long ago and I haven't done anything like that since - t's like I'm listening to somebody else. You know, I like it because I'm my own worst critic. I'm going, 'Gee! Who is this guy?' And it's me! That's me and I'm not in the shower. How about that?”

What song on Magic Window would Cosmo point to as a calling card to entice people to purchase the entire album?

“Well, I would say, probably, Don't Leave Me Alone Tonight or Just Another Girl. I picked those two out because they're balanced. The up-tempo stuff is something that everyone expects from me being a drummer. So, I think there's a lot more to a ballad, especially from the musical standpoint. So, those are, I think, my two best vocals. Those two songs.”

Concluding his answer to my question, Clifford closed by saying:

“I like every song in it. That's why they're in there. I think it's probably my best writing, as well. I've put a lot of time in putting all the parts together. And then, by the time I had all the parts, I had been working on my voice and I was ready. So. It's a labor of love. I'm very, very proud of it. As I say, when I listen to it, it's like, wow. Who are those guys?”

I asked if the songs are as intensely personal as they sound.

“Well, yeah, it's pretty fair. Some more than others. Sort of my writing style was - Rob Polomsky, I wrote four of the six songs with him - He was a local guy. I saw him all the time. I had more time with him to write than the other guys. But, you know, as I say, I've written with Steve Wright and some other guys over the years. He would have a little guitar hook. It might not even be two - a lot of them were less than two bars or four bars. Not a lot. ‘Listen to this lyric.’ I listened to it. And then I'd go, 'Hmmmm, what does that spark?'

“So that's kind of the deal. If it doesn't spark something, give me another one. That's how we would do it. And he just had a bunch of songs that are a bunch of hooks that sparked certain feelings or memories.

“For example, Just Another Girl. I said, 'You know, most loves songs are love at first sight. You know, ‘When I saw her, I fell in love head over heels.’ I said I want an opposite type deal. I want this guy not to be enamored coming out of the chute. 'The first time that I saw you, you were just another girl. I didn't know then you would change my whole world.' I mean, it's kind of like, ‘Hmm, just another girl.’ It's a different way to get into a song like that. So, I had a few little things that I liked to throw in and make, maybe something unique, if you will.”

When I asked Doug what he hoped listeners would take away from listening to Magic Window, he replied:

“I hope that they enjoy it and I hope it takes them down a Happy Road. Creedence didn't do any love songs so there's several love songs. I had to make up for the ones we didn't do. It just wasn't what we did. So, from that standpoint - that kind of is a pretty positive thing. You know, a love song and others are totally different. 'Somebody Love Me Tonight', that's one of those kinds of sad (songs) in the sense that there are a lot of people that are in that situation that they're looking for love for all the wrong reasons. Of course, that was a country hit. But I mean, that's a definition of that song.

“I'm a storyteller and, you know, it's general admission or parental guidance, 13 and older. But the songs come and you based those on merits. Hopefully, they are interesting to people and get their attention. That's really what it's all about. You want to engage people in your art.”

I hadn’t realized it until Cosmo said so that CCR never did love songs. I asked him why.

“I think John was uncomfortable in that arena. He was very shy, for one. And, you know, he had a tough childhood and I thinkDoug Clifford by Brent CliffordPhoto by Brent Clifford that that word was kind of guarded. I don't think he felt comfortable going down that road. You'd have to ask him.

“But, you know, I grew up with the guy. We were 13 when we met and when we started the band. And if you look at our concerts, I was right on the floor, no riser or anything, right on the floor, right next to him and his amp. And when he would do a solo, he would turn his back on the audience, come over and play the solo to me. That's how we did it when we were an instrumental trio. I was kind of his 'blankie', if you will. That's how we did it.

“You look at the - it'll be coming out this year, too: Live at the Royal Albert Hall. There's a video - it will be the only video we have out. But that's what he does is he comes over there and that's his area when he solos. He was uncomfortable going up and looking out at the audience because he didn't have dance moves or anything like that and was very uncomfortable in that role. So, I was the guy that was moving around and breaking things. It gave him solace when he was doing his solos.”

Speaking of concerts, I asked Cosmo if he has touring plans to support the new CD.

“No, I don't, because I had cancer and I had radiation. I haven't done any singing and I just quit touring. No, it's just too hard on your body. I've been going out with a band that's playing hits then to go out as the guy with an album that nobody knows about and try to travel or even get gigs to do that? You’ve got to get a hit first. I'd like to do videos; create something visual while the song's going on and kind of do it that way. Because, really what it is, I'm a singer, songwriter, publisher. That's what I'm doing.

“I've got albums that are waiting in the wings. I'll be releasing the next one, two, three, four or five or six or so albums. I've got a lot of a lot of really good songs, had some good writing partners. And I really enjoyed that that that procedure and the creativity that was involved in it. You know, I hope to surprise a few people. I'm talking to a lot of different people. Disc jockeys, yourself, and other people that are in the business and people that I know who will - if there's any doubt - they'll still say, ‘This thing is a piece of shit.’ Nobody's done that yet and these are people that they say, ‘You should really just stick to the drums and forget about it.’

“But I think I have something in this record. And, you know, now's a good time for music. Boy, I'll tell you, it's a medicine for sure and we need a lot of medicine in our world right now.”

wendyweisberg MagicWindowCosmoI asked Clifford what the worst and best changes that he’s seen in the music industry.

“Well, that's an interesting question. It's the same ones that stand out hugely and that the artists are getting screwed more and more every time there's some sort of technology change or boom, the result is the artist gets more screwed.

“For example, streaming is a fraction of what it used to make when you got airplay or when records were sold to people. The idea that people expect their music to be free is - I've never gotten that one. I would ask that guy - say he's a ditch digger – ‘Would you dig ditches all week and go up at the end of the week and say, 'Don't pay me. I expect to give you my ditches free.'

“It makes it pretty tough for talented people that don't have a chance at making a career or living at music, alone. It limits financially the future of the artists, for sure. And then the other side of it is the good side of it is that, for example, my album's coming out on CD Baby. I don't have a record company and I like the fact that I don't because I am the record company. I know enough about the business and I've been on the other side of it from a promotional standpoint, for years, both promoting Creedence and then promoting albums that Stu Cook and I made with a production company, so I understand it. And one of the things that I was talking to somebody about this and he said, 'I was so excited when I got my deal, they said, 'We're going to do this and we're going to do that' and they gave me a release date. They said, 'Be ready to go'. And the release date came and he went out there and they jumped up and down and did whatever they were going to do for a week. Then they said, ‘A new artist is coming out tomorrow so we hope that you've got enough from us to get on a radio station'.

“The guy's sitting there with his hopes and dreams in his hand. And, you know, the label just is disconnected. So, CD Baby, they distribute and they promote it. I've got independent promotion. Wendy is my press agent; I get to work on the Internet side of things. And then they set things up for me. I am doing it right now. I'm talking and having a conversation about the record and whatever they throw my way. And hopefully, that door is there because of my background. I've been very fortunate to have that on my resume so that I've got my own label and it's C.D. Baby. They have done a terrific job.

“And this is another thing to further add to your question. For a guy that has a record or even an EP, you can get your record out for less than one hundred bucks. That makes it really pretty cool. And if you're doing gigs, make sure that you get that information out to your audience, so they can go right to the Internet and download your record. So, there is the high and the low of what's happening out there.”

Because of his involvement in the music business span seven decades, I asked Cosmo what he would do to fix the music business if he were ever made “Music Czar”.

“Well, first and foremost, I'd make sure that the artists get fair pay for airplay - and that includes the engineers and people that are hopefully negotiated into the deal. That, of course, depends on who you are and what level you're at. You may just want to get paid an hourly wage because you don't expect anything to come of the project that you're working on. The other side of that is if you’ve got somebody that has a reasonable career going, it looks like or you've heard and you like what you hear and it looks like they have a shot at making something happen, you might want to negotiate time for a point. Work it out that way. There are a lot of ways you can do it. So, I would do that so it allows for being able to have a piece of the pie if the pie comes out really good. So, I would do that.

“Secondly, I would try to get a hold of government to have them take a look at who's got what. In other words, radio stations, they play music. The artist isn't getting a fair shake. They're selling advertising dollars on the backs of those artists. And this is kind of redundant, but I would really make sure that the artists got the percentage of that pie without paying the price of whatever it may be. Again, it's the big, big guys - the corporations - who are pulling the strings and I don't know how to change that.

When I asked Clifford, who was on his musical radar these days, he answered:

“I, for the most part, listen to classic rock. I like to hear my peers' music and make sure they're playing ours. And they are. Radio broke Creedence. We were on a little obscure jazz label in San Francisco and they didn't know anything about rock and roll except one thing: Rock bands made money. Jazz doesn't make money. Rock and roll does and that was their whole motivation for having us. They wanted to make money and money they made. It wasn't by their hand in promoting and whatnot. It was because they didn't know how to promote pop, rock, popular music.

“But they used to have song sheets back in the day and the guys pick sheets and there were certain guys that were really good at picking hit records. There was this one fella, Bill Drake, was the guy that was like the guru and he picked Susie Q as a single. And as a result, Susie Q got airplay and Susie Q was their top ten. Well, it got to eleven. I rounded off. He got us a gold record and it opened the door. Then our second - it was a cover song - our second cover song off that first album was Screaming Jay Hawkins’, ‘I Put A Spell On You’. It died at 53. So, our next record had to have an original single or where we were gonna be a one-hit wonder with Suzy Q. So, we thought, ‘Well, Born on the Bayou is very similar to groove to Susie Q’. And that really worked.

“That's my favorite Creedence song to this very day. So, I was happy about it, but it was a turntable hit. In other words, they got airplay, but it didn't get the sales and we had to have sales to go up the charts on the radio. So, Bill Drake sent out his second sheet. He says, 'You've got the right record. Just turn it over.'

“On the other side was Proud Mary. Gives me chills just talking every time. Talked about it a million times. 'Bill! Bill! Thank you!' 'You've got the right record, you just got to turn it.'”

On the subject of Proud Mary, I mentioned that James Burton had released a cover version of that song before playing it regularly with Elvis. I asked about that.

“Well, that was when Elvis did Proud Mary. That was really cool. We had Concerts West as our promoter back then and Concerts West had the cream of the crop. They had Elvis, they had the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra and they had us. So, we were kind of the cream of the crop. Elvis was coming into the Oakland Coliseum, which is in our backyard. Tom Hewitt, who ran concerts west, said 'Elvis wants to meet you guys. And so, after the show come on backstage.'

“We're like, 'Holy shit! We're going to meet Elvis!' So, in the middle of the show, Elvis finishes a song and then he walks up to the mic, puts his hand on the mic, and he goes, 'I know they're out there. I know they're out there. This one's for the Creedence boys, and, then, 'Two, three, four!' and went into Proud Mary!

“I'm crying. I'm sobbing. I'm not kidding you. Right now, I get teary-eyed about Elvis Presley's playing Proud Mary and dedicating it to us. Then, the other side of that coin is Elvis left the building so we didn't get to meet him. He had a death threat so he had to go.”

I mentioned Cosmo that Elvis was my first concert and that I actually got to meet the Colonel. He didn’t mince any words with his response.

“He was a prick. He treated Elvis like dirt. The stories we got from Tom Hewitt. He said, 'I tried to talk to him. He treats him worse than a junkyard dog.' He says, 'And Elvis just idolizes him.' He was a creep.”

Wrapping up our fun and informative chat, I asked Cosmo how he wanted to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy will be.

“I just hope I could be looked at as a decent human being and thanks his stars every day for the gift that I've received in my career, my personal life. I'm humbled by it and very proud to have been part of it.”

You can order Cosmo’s album, Magic Window, at CD Baby and please do. You will love having it as a great addition to your listening library.

Sass Jordan Talks Blues, Booze, and Bowie

Posted March 2020

 

sass jordan5 CropIn the first year of Boomerocity, I had the privilege of interviewing an extremely talented artist from Canada, Sass Jordan. She was so much fun to interview, that I just knew that I would be interviewing her a lot more in the future. However, that didn’t happen.

What the heck happened? Was it something I said?

I recently got to interview her for the long-coveted second time and it was more fun than it was all those years ago. Incredibly talented. Vivacious. Funny. Smart. Perennially beautiful. All the things that Sass has been known for her entire career. It’s tempting to repeat what all she’s accomplished in that career. However, I do encourage you to read what I originally wrote about her in my first interview with her, here.

One thing I will say about Sass from the git-go is that she loves to laugh and her laugh is infectious. If we all could learn to laugh as much, as hard, as heartfelt, and as often as she does, we’d all be happier and the world would be a much better and brighter place.

Because Sass has a new album out entitled “Rebel Moon Blues” (and let me tell you: It’s un-friggin’-believable! Order it now if you haven’t already. It’s a phenomenal disc!), I scheduled a call to chat with her about it. I called Ms. Jordan at her home in a little village outside of Toronto. Her exuberance was immediately evident.

“I'm in Toronto under five tons of snow. But the good news is in one day I'm going to Barbados and I cannot wait! Oh, my God. I can't wait. I'm like, over this! Wow! I don't exactly live in the town. I make it like a thing to not live in cities anymore. Ha! Ha!

“I live in a village north of there. If I said the village, nobody about it. It's close enough to Toronto. You know what I mean? When I fly in and out, it's always from the Toronto airport.”

We dove right into discussing her new album with me asking if I counted correctly that “Moon” is her eighth album to date.

“I have no idea! Ha! Ha! I guess I need to look at my catalog and count. I'm not kidding. I don't know. Yeah. Maybe that could be right. That's it. Who cares? It doesn't even matter, does it? It doesn't even matter. It certainly means nothing to me. I don't give a crrrrap one way or the other! But, yeah, t's the most recent and for some reason, it really seems to be hitting a nerve with people are just getting the most wonderful feedback from them and making me very, very happy. I had so much fun making it. You know, we made it last June - almost a year ago!

“It was supposed to come out in September. Then it was October. Then it was November. Then, it was like, forget about it! Maybe next year! It was one of those. So now it's finally coming out in March. And all the people that have been getting it to review or what have you - or interviews - it's just such a powerfully positive response!

“One of the main things I'm hearing is, ‘Why didn't you do this earlier?’ To which I reply, 'I just didn't.' I didn't think of it. It never occurred to me. And then somebody asked me to do it and I told them to go sit in the field because I wasn't having any part of making a blues record. Like, what do I know about that? And then, these things happened and I - and Derrick, who produced it, said to me, 'Why would you not want to sing a song like Still Got The Blues by Gary Moore? It sounds like a song you would've sung or written anyway.’ I could not argue with that in any way shape. Not to say that I could write such a great song, but I'm just saying it's definitely not a far reach from what I really do right now.

“Then it was like, okay, so let's get into stuff that I used to listen to. For example, Leaving Trunk by Taj Mahal. When I was 13 years old, I had that Taj Mahal record on repeat. I just played it over and over. I'd turn it over because it was vinyl. Play it over. I turned it over. That's what I did with all my favorite records, including the Bowie stuff - like Ziggy Stardust and all that. This music just found its way into my blood and into my bones and into my cellular memory. And, so, it completely makes sense that, now, 50 or 40 or how many ever years because I can't count. Now that it had this time to sink in or, you know, age like a fine wine, now I'm ready for it to come out of me as a celebration again. Everything I do now - this is my promise to me - is I don't do stuff if I don't really love it and enjoy it and have fun with it and feel uplifted by it and feel like I am expressing the highest part of me. I don't do it anymore unless that's what's happening. And it really made me feel that way. I'm so, so happy that I've had the opportunity to do this and I intend to do more of it.”

sass jordan6That opened the door to delve into the blues and the state of the blues today. I mentioned that the genre is experiencing a good, strong resurgence wherein people are really appreciating it. I reiterated to Sass that we need people like her who know how to deliver blues. That all said, we also are seeing a deluge of blues being released that is “smooth” – which, while it, too, sounds great, it’s not what the blues was intended to sound like. So, for Sass to have an album like this come out, it’s refreshing. It has the grit and the grind in it to where you can almost smell the whiskey; you can practically hear the creak of the floors in a chitlin joint somewhere. It just the way blues should be played and that's how Sass delivers it in ‘Rebel Moon Blues’.

When I said all of that to Ms. Jordan, I capped it all off by asking her which song from the disc she would point to as the calling card for the entire album. She replied:

“First of all, just let me say thank you for what you just said. Because, wow! You SO hit the needle on the head. I’ve heard some stuff from an artist who is enormously well respected and excellent, by the way, at what they do. And they're a blues artist and they've won tons of awards etc., etc., etc.. I was peripherally aware of them. I didn't actually really know who it was but it was mentioned in an article with me that somebody sent and I saw this artist and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, wicked! Let me go look this up. This sounds like this must be really cool!’

“I found it on YouTube and played it. And although it was really well done, it was exactly what you just said: too clean. It didn't sound like the blues to me, you know? Even though this is a highly respected blues artist, it was clinical, almost. It was the antithesis of what I would consider to be the blues. It's the other thing that you just mentioned that I want to say something about as well. as he was saying that it seems like the blues is having a renaissance in this time and I would say that's actually probably true because people are tired of the bullshit and sick of the complicated, lying, fake nonsense in the news, in music everywhere. And to go back to something so simple and so pure and that taps directly into an emotional state, I think that that's what the appeal of it is.

“As far as what song on this record, I would consider to be the calling card for this record. I don't really know because each sass jordan live1song - I think you can use any of them, to be honest. But I really don't think one of them was a miss and that's the first time I've felt like that about a record I've made in a long time. Actually, ever.

Sass Jordan: It's not predicated on image as stuff that's more contemporary now. It's not that all of it's bad. There's a lot of good stuff that's coming out now, as well, as far as I'm concerned, in a newer type of music - hybrid stuff. There's a lot of great stuff out there. It's not all bad. Under no circumstances would I say that. But there's just such a preponderance of this fake news type news. Like it's fake people, fake freak sounds, fake instruments; too paint-by-the-numbers. It's just like, oh, enough already. I was just adding on to what you said there, I guess, you know, but I also wanted to just make the point that I don't think everything is terrible at all. There's a lot of good stuff and a lot of honest, real artists, as well. Blues and non-blues. We can't paint everything with the same brush.”

In the course of our meandering, music-themed chatter, Sass threw this little aside into the mix:

“The person I want to work with - but I don't think - I don't even know what the heck they're doing now, and it has nothing to do with any of the kind of music we've been talking about. The person that I would really love to work is D'Angelo. I have no connection that I know of directly into that world, but I would love to do some musical stylings and stuff in that way. I just loved that music. Love, love, love, LOVE!”

Circling back around to Sass’s new CD, I asked how long it took to make it.

“Well, really, to record it and everything, it was like three days - four days. There was there was really no overdubbing that happened at all except maybe just one word here. Like I hadn't been close enough to the mic or something, but we just did it live so it was like, boom, boom. And it's my live band that I use, Champagne Hookers. So, we're all on the same page, basically.”

As for a tour to support it, Sass told me:

sass jordan4“Absolutely! The first dates that I've got coming up are in May or the beginning of June in the Netherlands. I've got a string of dates in the Netherlands. And, right now, the agents and the management peeps are working on as much as they can, trying to find a blues festival and stuff like that that we can be a part of this time, because, you know, this is gonna stretch on for a couple of years. This is like the very beginning of it all because the record isn't coming out until the 13th of March.

“When Mike Garson asked me to do this Bowie Celebration thing, I thought, ‘What the heck? Why the heck not? You know, I love Bowie and I adore Mike.’ And you know this will get me into some markets, albeit not doing my own music, but at least showing up so that some people know I'm alive and into to some markets that I haven't been in for 20 years. So, it makes sense, you know, in every way.”

Then, Ms. Jordan came out of left-field and hit me with this . . . well, “shot”:

“Well, you know, I have a whiskey coming out. I'm not kidding. I got a whiskey coming out! You'll never believe what it's called: Rebel Moon Whiskey! Ha! Ha! Oh yeah. I'm super excited about that too. It just makes all the sense in the world. And it's funny how it all happened at the same time.”

I asked Sass about her participation in the Bowie Celebration Tour.

“It's Mike Garson's thing. Mike Garson played with Bowie for like 40 years. He was in so many of his bands. He was like the one stalwart member that remained throughout most of Bowie's bands. Bowie maybe had a couple of bands without him. His piano playing is such a signature sound on so much of my favorite Bowie stuff when I was 13 rocking out in the living room with my girlfriend, Vickie, parents’ living room. Vickie and I listening to David Live from the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. We knew every single note on that record and it was Mike Garson on keyboards. At 13 years old my first concert I ever saw in my entire life? Diamond Dogs by David Bowie! The opening band was the Edgar Winter Group. Crazy!

"Anyways, so, what happens is, when they do this show, it's all alumni from different bands that Bowie had over the years - all people that played in them at some point or another, except for the singers, obviously, because he was the singer. The singers are the only ones that were not in Bowie's bands, per se. Some of them might have sung with him. I don't know. So, whenever they go into a new market, they'll often ask somebody who is from that market to come up and do a couple of songs with them as a guest.

“So, when they were in Toronto. Bernard Fowler was singing with them. And it's Bernard who said to Mike, 'We should get sass jordan live0Sass to come down and do a couple of songs.' It's because of Bernard. Bernard's the one that got me in. For the past two years, when they came to Toronto, they asked me to come and sing a couple of songs with them, which I did, and that was the end of that. I never even thought about it for two more seconds. It was a big thing for me because I loved Bowie and I still do. So, getting to perform some of those songs, it never occurred to me to do any of the songs in my show. You know what I mean? Because, why? But anyways, 'Why not?' is another good question. It just never came up. So, I got to do the songs with these people and it was wonderful.

“Then, out of the blue, about three months ago, Mike called me and said, 'Sass, we're doing this five-and-a-half-week tour in the states and Canada in March-April and I'd love you to do it with us.' I'm, like, 'What?' I said, 'I really don't know. I don't know if I can do that' You know, 5 1/2 weeks, that's a long time to commit yourself to something that isn't necessarily your thing. 'Okay. Let me see.'

Anyway, when I found out that the record was coming out March the 13th, I didn't have any other shows booked up until then. Everything just sort of fell into place like it was meant to happen. It just flowed. I said, ‘Sure. I guess I will do it.’ And then at the very last minute, about two weeks before, Mike, calls me and goes, 'Sass, one of the guys that was supposed to be doing Europe and Israel with us has dropped out. They can't do it. Can you do it?' And I'm like are you ****ing kidding me? Like, thanks for the warning. Thanks for the notice, bro!’ But I couldn't say no. Well, I love playing in Europe and I've never been to Israel so, what the heck! Let's go! But it was, oh my god, it was a relentless, intense experience. REALLY intense.

“But what's so spectacular for me about doing this show is the audiences freak out! (Singing a line from Bowie's 'Moonage Daydream') 'Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!' They freak out and it is absolutely mind-blowing. It really is and it's just so overwhelmingly moving and touching and it happens every single night, which is a testament to the power of music and his music in particular.

sass jordan live4“I tell you, it's like you see people of all ages, not just older people my age, that you would think are the ones that know his stuff. No! Like people of all ages and crying, singing every word, dancing, flipping out. It's just intense. Awesome!

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Sass what she hoped her legacy would be and how she wants to be remembered when she steps off the tour bus of life

“Well, there's funny saying - and thank you for asking: I don't care. I literally do not care because I won't be here! Anyone and everyone is invited to think or talk or forget about me. I absolutely, 100% just don't care! I won't be here. It's irrelevant to me in every way. It's like, you know. It's like if I manage to amass a fortune by that time, I'd like to leave it to whatever organization or charity that I choose closest to when I make that transition. But other than that, who gives a poop? I don't!

“I thought about it. I thought about it, too, because, you know, I have been asked stuff like that before. You just think about it, as in your life, you think about it. But I think I don't believe personally much in death, which is a weird thing to say. What I'm saying is it's like you don't die. Your body does. But you go on. I've got no doubt about that. I'm more interested in the adventures I'm gonna be getting into in the future rather than what happens in the past because it's all subjective, anyway. It's somebody else's opinion.”

Then, with that infectious laugh, she concludes: “It's me pontificating yet again. I appreciate the question.”

Keep up with all the latest with Sass Jordan at her website, SassJordan.com.

Kristen Stills Speaks Autism

Posted April 2020

Posted April 2020

Kristen Henry 001 CroppedAutism. According to the organization, Autism Speaks, an astonishing 1 in 54 children are affected by this condition. Those considered mildly “on the spectrum” can grow to be functioning and productive adults. Sadly, those considered severely autistic will require attention and care for their entire lives.

Autism is no respecter of persons or class or status. It hits the rich and the poor; the famous and the faceless. Fortunately, those famous who are affected are not sitting idly by as their loved ones live in that mysterious cage.

One such person who is actively involved in making a huge difference in the world of autism is Kristen Stills. She and her husband, legendary rocker, Stephen Stills, have a son, Henry, who is autistic. Kristen is rocking the autistic community with her active participation in not only helping her son and others who are on the spectrum, but she is also a formidable advocate and fundraiser for research and support for the autistic community.

Twelve years ago, Kristen was the executive producer for the HBO special, Autism: The Musical, “a poignant, heartwarming film that followed five children on the autism spectrum as they wrote and performed their own musical.” HBO recently commissioned a short follow-up film, Autism: The Sequel, to see where those children are today.

Like many people, my knowledge and understanding of autism is minimal, at best. When I saw that Autism: The Sequel was going to air, I reached out to Kristen for education and insight into the condition and the sequel. Note: though this article has run after the original airing of the sequel, it will be available on-demand on various streaming services.

Kristen started by sharing the history behind the sequel, beginning with “The Musical” and what we know about the condition.

“We shot it 14 years ago, we released it in 2007. All of the kids from that film are in the sequel. You see them as children. Then, on the 28th, you will get to see them today . . . transitioning into independent or inter-dependent living situations.

“Autism, itself, is a neurological developmental disorder. There are so many representations the communication piece is the really tough part because the young child on the autism spectrum may not have the impulse to connect with people. They're more inclined to kind of go into their own world, that's one of the primary, core symptoms. When that happens, the world becomes more and more unmanageable for them.

“So, in other words, if you take a child to a grocery store who is on the spectrum and let's say your parent doesn't know that about your kid yet, and they've just been sort of withdrawing into themselves more and more. They are aiming for controlling their own environment in that way as well. The music that's being piped through the grocery store is probably going to be too loud. The lights are too bright. The activity of people is too much to manage. It's all just overwhelming and confusing and that creates a lot of anxiety in the child. That is when you will start to see behavior which is a reaction to trying to manage all that sensory overload and the tantrums or throwing things or hitting parents or screaming. That's when stereotypical behaviors that people associate with autism are really just coming from a place of frustration and fear. That is a very simplified version of what autism is because it's such a complex disorder. Other developmental and neurological issues could be OCD, ADD. Tourette’s kind of weaves into there for some of the kids. It's really is case by case, depending on the child.

“Then, of course, the well-known characteristic is sometimes that the individual is nonverbal, so they cannot speak or initiate language. They have to be taught how to communicate in language or, in this day and age, technology.

When I shared with Mrs. Stills my limited experiences with severely autistic kids and adults and my inability to communicate with - or understand - them, I asked what was going on.

“Well, there's just an inability for whatever the reason - there are theories and scientific research as to why they are non-verbal and cannot initiate speech or language. But for those who are most severely impacted by autism, it's just not in their brain wiring to connect with another human being that way. So, when an infant who is neuro-typical, as they say, not affected by autism or any of those kinds of associated disorders, they want to connect. A baby wants to connect and communicate with the mother and the father and siblings and the dog, and that's the typical brain wiring of a human infant. That's when we see in our children what are known as milestones. You'd see a baby babbling and then you'd see a baby using one-word utterances and then ‘Momma’, ‘Dadda’ - whatever it is and with an infant on the spectrum you probably won't see those things as milestones being hit and other milestones, including crawling. Crawling is a really important thing because - not to get too geeked out on all that terminology - but when a baby - an infant - starts crawling, they're crossing the midline of their body, which integrates the left and right sides of the brain, which is necessary as a normal part of development. The idea is to have both sides of the brain working together in concert as needed and the crawling is actually making that wiring happen. So, if you don't see your infant crawling, that's an issue.

“When you see a pediatrician with an infant and they ask you those questions, ‘Is he crawling? Is he doing this? Is he sitting up? Is he rolling over?’ - all those things that doctors ask you? One of the reasons is that they are not doing those things. There could be a developmental issue. And that's one of the signs of autism - not meeting those marks.

“So why are they non-verbal? Hard to say.”

Autism: The Musical shows kids on the spectrum – one, in particular – with amazing musical talent. I have noticed similar abilities in others in the past. I asked about that.

“A savant ability. You will see that in both of these films, by the way. We have at least one child who is a musical prodigy, so it's very common. The way that I describe that, which is not scientific: imagine that there's some kind of a traffic jam in the brain and the cars can't get through a certain area, so that would be just regular, narrow transmission that is not happening in some area of the brain. So other areas of the brain will wire more profoundly. That is where you will see this kind of extreme talents and gifts. Because if one part of the brain is not functioning properly, the brain will change it. It will rewire itself if there's a weak, a very weakened, compromised area, it will wire very strongly in the other area. You will see that in autism. You'll see that child - he's a cellist and you will see him as a child playing his instrument, and then see him as an adult and how much he progresses. It's a pretty phenomenal story. He's at Berkeley School of Music. It's an interesting story because his mom here. His mom has to be with him a lot of the time. There are these moments where you see him wanting to separate from her and the mom always wants that, but sometimes the kid can put himself into danger. They're a vulnerable population. They might get in the car with somebody. They could wander off and get lost.

kristen and stephenKristen and Stephen“I have a friend who works at a local police force trying to train the officers about how an autistic person might behave if they had some kind of interaction with police officers because some of their behaviors just look like defiance. That can get you into a lot of trouble with an armed officer of the law. So, as much as parents want to sort of let them be more independent, there's a tremendous amount of fear around that.”

Later in our chat, Kristen commented more on the possible causes of autism.

“It’s very hard to know why some are impacted more than others, you know? There are genetic predispositions, there's family history. There are some people who believe environmental reasons that is a very hard thing to prove, so to speak, because it's just tricky. I believe that Autism Speaks - they're the organization that we do a lot of shows for - have embraced that, as well. There are certain pockets of the world where you'll see a high occurrence of autism and that certainly leads people to believe that there's some kind of exposure to something that is affecting their development, whether prenatal or early childhood. They're just genetic mutations that contribute to it. It's myriad.”

As to what she hopes viewers of Autism: The Sequel take away from the film, Kristen said:

“It just so happens that the kids - we chose kids for Autism: The Musical. We just chose a bunch of kids to do a musical theater production and we sort of thought we'll figure out who and where the great story for a documentary film audience will emerge and reveal themselves in. And, indeed, that's what happened. So, it just so happens that we got it. My big insistence in that process is that we show kids of varying severity of autism. We went from the highest functioning - which would be my son, Henry - to the most severely impacted and kind of a range in between. Fortunately, the sequel gives people a lot of hope - Autism The Sequel KA Vertical reducedpeople that have a young child at home and they are very concerned about that child's capacity to be in the world and have a full and rich life. We believe that the sequel will give people a lot of hope and promise that their child can have a good experience, you know. And that, you know, also there are a lot of things - we make a lot of assumptions about these kids and what they can and cannot do. Gratefully, we've made mistakes. We're not at all accurate about what they can and cannot do. They will surprise you. They surprise you in odd ways and I think that will be shown in the sequel, as well. From the perspective of a parent that's raised a kid on the spectrum, you are in a great deal of fight or flight while you're raising these kids from the moment they start showing behaviors that concern you until forever, you know? You're in a state of just making sure that they are safe and thriving and protected and happy, which is the job of every parent. But what it takes to get them there is much harder and it can be very tough. So, we think this film is going to show people that these kids will exceed everyone's expectations if given the opportunity.”

How can readers help Kristen help those who are on the autism spectrum?

“Well, the film itself is not necessarily connected to Autism Speaks. However, some of the kids in the film are - the actual musical theater program that featured in the film was supported at some point in time by Autism Speaks. I think it would be great (to donate to them) because right now is Autism Awareness Month. They have a donation page when you go to their website. This is a very tough year for all charities, obviously, because of what's happening and events being canceled. That's what we're doing and we know one of the reasons we had attached to that organization is that it's multifaceted. What they do, they do political advocacy. There are services for families and individuals on the spectrum, science, and research. There's a spectrum of things that the organization does to keep active in as many areas where they can be helpful as possible.

As we wrapped up our call, Kristen stressed a valuable point near and dear to many of us.

autismspeakslogo“Boomers are people that have grandchildren on the spectrum. At this point, most people are affected in some way by somebody on the spectrum and not. It's just that widespread. The current statistic is one in 54 people have autism so that that's a great number of people.”

If you don’t already help support an organization that helps those affected by autism, then please consider contributing to Autism Speaks by clicking on their logo on the left. Watch for fundraisers that are in the process of being scheduled and/or re-scheduled.

LISA FISCHER CASTS NO STONES

Posted March 2020

LisaFischer TwentyFeetFromStardomLisa Fischer As Seen In 20 Feet From StardomWhen one hears the name, Lisa Fischer, one of a few scenarios come to mind.

The first might be her 1991 Grammy Award-winning album, So Intense, and her hit song, How Can I Ease the Pain. Sexy. Smooth. Sultry. An incredible range. The entire package. Even today, she commands attention and accolades from her legions of fans who have followed her since. More about that in a moment.

Most likely, one will think of her as the sole – and soulful – female backup singer for the likes of Tina Turner, Luther Vandross, Roberta Flack, Teddy Pendergrass, Chaka Khan, Sting, Anane Vega, and, Chris Botti.

Oh, yeah. And the Rolling Stones.

For some of you, the light bulb has now lit up in your heads.

Yes, Ms. Fischer is THAT sexy singer who commanded everyone’s attention during her vocal solo during the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. The solo first recorded and made famous by the legendary Merry Clayton and that Lisa owned – lock, stock, and barrel – for the twenty years she toured and recorded with the bad boys of rock and roll.

All of this led to Lisa being among those featured in the award-winning documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. This led to an even greater interest in her and her talent which has led to a tour that is underway. For that reason, I had the personal thrill and opportunity to finally get to interview Ms. Fischer by phone to talk about her tour – among other things.

I started by telling her that I had just recently stumbled upon a video of her performing the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” with Scotty Sharrard that blew me away. When I shared that I felt that they both fed off of each other’s energy, she shared:

“That was my first time working with Tony. It was wonderful. It was at the Brooklyn Bowl - I think last year. Yeah. He's awesome.”

When I think of Lisa and her work and the energy that she projects when she performs - solo and otherwise - I sense a spirit of humility, confidence, and serenity. I sense a type of spirituality that is the foundation of her talent. I asked her if I was correct in my perception.

“Yeah, I think that's true. You know, kind of like you, as a person, you feel like everything around you affects you. When I was little, both of my grandmothers were church people. On my father's side - my paternal grandmother was the mother of a church in Brooklyn. My maternal grandmother, she was ill, but she read the Bible every day so she had church in her bed. And, so, I would always try to help her read the Bible and all that kind of stuff. So, I was always aware - or made aware - I was taught the awareness of something greater than that we're all just kind of here trying to figure it out. So, you know, this to me - there's so many threads in different spiritual practices that seemed to resonate with each other. It's just different colors and different names and different things. But the essence of it, if you were a baby and couldn't speak a word, it's the same feeling to me.

“It's interesting because my niece just had a baby last summer and the baby was smiling when she was born. It was just beautiful because, in my mind, I imagine that she's just fresh out of heaven and is still smiling, still seeing angels and maybe still seeing God. And still, you have all these scenarios in your mind like, why do babies smile? Why are you so happy? Certain babies are happier than others. And others are just kind of like more thoughtful. You have to kind of work on them to get them to giggle. But this one, she's just constantly smiling. She smiles in her sleep.”

I added that Ms. Fischer exudes level-headedness but, yet, a forcefulness of power behind her voice and in her stage presence that is much different than other excellent performers. She responded:

“It's so interesting you say that. It's funny because I think it's a background thing, which is, most of my life you have to learn how to listen, learn how to feel and listen. Sometimes, people say things without saying a word. And, so, you have to listen to those silent conversations as well. I've always had to be sensitive outside of myself, not just what it is I want to do. What does this person need? What do they require of me? What's the best way I can serve them and serve the music that they want to promote, promoting the dreams and their visions. And, so, having to shift gears so often, sometimes he's the same person, call you back to do something and they totally switch their whole perspective. So, it's like I have to constantly stay really open, really sensitive to what the job is, which really isn't work to me. It's really just a beautiful service. But when I get to do lead vocals, then the music becomes the boss. The music starts to become the boss in a melodic sense and a lyrical sense. The choices that I get to make become more intuitive. It's a lot of fun just shifting and molding, you know? Looking at a particular situation and go, 'What's required here?' It's just so much fun to feel that you're in service to a purpose.”

I didn’t plan on doing it, but I made a comment about the blinding glimpse of the obvious: It took a lot of guts and a steel spine to decide to walk away from a cushy gig like singing backup for the Rolling Stones as she had for twenty years. I asked her to tell me about what led to taking such a giant step.

“I was there. I was touring with the Stones. And though it is stable from the outside looking in, there's still a lot of instabilities on a day-to-day level for me because I never assumed that they're going to call me back. I never assumed that they may change their mind or find someone that they really want to try out because it's really the artist's decision what they want to do. But luckily, you know, everything worked out and then they continued to ask me back. I just felt so grateful that I would still be useful to the tour.

LisaFischer Djeneba Aduayom 2830 2 reducedPhoto by Djeneba Aduayom“But I never had any control over when I would work. And then there'd be times and huge spaces – years, maybe - that we wouldn't work. And, so, we’d have to go back to finding other things to do, which has also been a blessing. But it's definitely not stable in a working musician's mind if you know what I mean.

“With that said, the decision to kind of focus on myself came because I was trying to balance both worlds. I was trying to balance the Stones tour and then the aftermath of '20 Feet from Stardom' and the success of that. I had no idea what was going to happen. I just kind of did it as a labor of love and there was no money involved. I just kind of did it, you know, because it felt good to do. Gil Friesen, who - it was his brainchild and he sort of brought the whole thing to life - was such a beautiful man and it's such a beautiful purpose. I was just like, 'Wow, what a cool idea!' You know? Ask about background singers because he came to a show and he was, 'Oh, yeah, it's so great to see what you guys do and think about doing a movie about it.'

“So, fast-forward: The film wins an Oscar and I was getting offers to do shows on my own. It was so different from me. So, I said, 'Well, let me get a manager or someone to help me.' And I did. I have found Linda Goldstein who manages Bobby McFerrin. I've known her for a while and done some work with her. We had a really good rapport. Still do. And we worked it out to where I'd find out the Stones tour schedule, which was top secret even to me. Ha! Ha! I like it because it shifts and changes and it's their worlds, you know? You sort of ask, like, 'Hey, when are you guys working?' It's kind of like not such a comfortable conversation; not such a professional conversation. So, they were kind enough to give me the information that they knew. And then I would try to - not I - but my team would work on booking shows around the Stones tour. Fast forward. The Stones - some of those Stones tours got canceled for various reasons and they would have to reschedule. So, then I would have to reschedule.

“So, I'm thinking. 'I'm a new artist, even though I'm old, right? But I'm a new artist to these promoters and I don't want them to think I'm a flake. I call and I go, ‘Gee, well, you know, I know he kind of said I was going to do 30 shows, but I can't because the Stones are doing blah, blah, blah blah blah.’ It got to the point where I just felt like it's not fair, one, to the audience. It's not fair to the promoters. It's not fair to me as far as building my reputation in the business if I really want to do this.

Posted March 2020

 

“So, I had to make a very difficult decision. It's like I don't think I'm in the position anymore to try to work it out - with this scheduling - because life is a mystery and we never know why things have to change. But, you know, I have no control over that and, sometimes, neither do they. So, I had to kind of say, ‘Okay, it might be time.’ I thought that was one reason - just to sort of promote my own life and my own choices. And then also, too, I felt like, you know, I'm in my 50s now. I'm older and heavier now.”

To which I interjected: Aren't we all? Lisa laughed and continued:

“Yeah, well, everyone but the Stones. For some reason, they're just locked in time. Oh, my lord. And that's the truth. It's amazing. I think that's one of the reasons why I just get such a kick out of them. They give me hope, you know? So, it is LisaFischer Djeneba Aduayom 2934 reducedPhoto by Djeneba Aduayomhumanly possible! I just haven't figured it out yet for myself! Ha! Ha! It's humanly possible, you know what I mean? I always look at them with this wonderment and joy and appreciation. And it's so difficult to walk away from such a nurturing situation. It's like family. I watched the kids grow up. I've seen grandkids. It's just so much beauty and love and respect and joy. All the guys are just amazing and even all the side musicians - just love them. And, so, it was really emotionally difficult.

“I was doing a show in Canada and I had to call the promoter and I cried after I hung up the phone. It took me a while to pull myself together to do the show because I just like - it felt like a death. It felt like someone had died. Then the fear sets and it's like, ‘Did I make the right decision? Should I have, say, invested in my own path?’ It's a scary thing.

“It's been - I don't know - three years, four years now, maybe more. And so luckily for me, taking the chance was worth it. But I still miss them to pieces. I keep threatening to come and visit at a show, I just want to see them from a perspective that I've never got to see them. I've never gone to see a live Stones show. I've been in the shows. Yeah. It's like I keep threatening - before they decide to never tour again - to go and see them. I want to do that. So funny.”

I mentioned Mick Jagger’s health scare last year and that showed us that we’re all mere mortals. Lisa replied:

“Indeed. But, you know, you know, he does all the right things. And he's such a health-conscious human being. I think his dad was like a gymnast, a gym teacher. So, yeah, you know, health was really important - everything that he did and does. So that fragility that you're talking about – yeah, it's a crazy thing. And I know it's inevitable that we all happen to pass this way. You know, for some reason, I just feel like people live forever and ever - forever on certain planes. I look at Mick and Keith and Ronnie and Charlie and they're just so alive. They're alive beyond their living. I mean they live within us all as fans. People who love them. They live on different plains.”

While on the subject of the Rolling Stones, I asked Ms. Fischer if she was friends with her replacement, Sasha Allen, and if she had anything to do with her getting the gig.

“We've become friends. I've met her and she's just - I shouldn't say, like friends in the sense of, like, we go out to dinner. We are friendly and I really adore her. I think she's amazing. I didn't know her until after she was hired. I was trying to help them with names of different people to audition. You know, people that they hadn't seen before because they'd seen so many people some years back; to see who would be available and who would be a good fit. Only the Stones know what works for them. So, you put the name in the hat and you pray for the best for each person. I'm not sure how Sasha's name came into play, but it did. It wasn't through me, but it was a beautiful fit and they seem to love her. So, yeah, she's been doing a great job. She's got an awesome voice, a beautiful personality, a gorgeous girl, and the fans seem to really love her. So, it seems like a wonderful match.”

Lisa Fischer is embarking on a tour so I asked her to tell me about it and what fans can expect.

“This is a vocal piano duet show. It's a very personal show in the sense that it's very intimate. It gives me the chance to pick beautiful songs that have passed through me in my life. Some Stones tunes. Some Luther Vandross tunes. A couple of my songs and just songs that I like. Everything is really based on the message of the lyric for me because, as I'm walking through this path and realizing I can't really sing a lie, you know what I mean? It's kind of like I really want to sing stuff that at least makes sense to me in my head and my heart - mostly in my heart - and that has some kind of lingering energy and lingering message. So, it's a show of just intimacy between myself and Taylor Eigsti, who is an amazing and sensitive player. And we get to really dig our heels into the song - the craft of the song, not how it's made, but how it tastes, you know, what it smells like, what it feels like, what it breathes like. And, so, that's basically what the tour is about.”

All this begged the question: Can we expect a long-overdue solo album from her in the near future?

“Yeah, we've been talking about it. So, we hope to record this joining. It’s really beautiful to me. It's just something about the LisaFischer Djeneba Aduayom 2Photo by Djeneba Aduayom
way Taylor plays. He plays like a singer with as many voices as he has fingers and it's just so colorful. His choices are so tasty. And, so, I get to glide upon these beautiful choices and it makes me react differently to the melodies that are already set. It starts to become this other thing; not what you think you know; a little bit of what you know, but not completely what you know. It's almost like a new breath, a new kiss, a new experience when we're going through the music.”

As for what is on Lisa’s radar for the next year or two, she shared:

“I'm really interested in doing a Christmas record. I haven't done one ever and I've always wanted to do one. And, so, I’m in the process of collecting songs that I find really interesting. Some classic things. I also want to do some funny things, too, because I have a kind of sick sense of humor. Ha! Ha!

“I grew up with two boys. I'm the only girl so, a lot of times, they're giggling and teasing and doing all kinds of things. What would be funny to a boy sometimes isn't funny to a girl. But a lot of the stuff that my brothers did was hilarious to me. My sense of humor is a bit more boyish. So, yeah, I want to do a couple of things that are just kind of mischievous and other things that are a bit more classic. So, I'm looking forward to that.

“I'm also looking forward to just doing different joinings, different joinings with different people, different musicians; doing house concerts and different things like that where it's just personal. I just love the personal touch, even though I really enjoyed doing stadium work, because it's almost as though the whole stadium is one person. It's like all these people come together, all the different human beings come together in one space at a particular time to have and share an experience. So, in that sense, they are one body. I do love the sense of just the madness and the excitement of a stadium. And luckily for me, I've enjoyed so many different realms as far as concert halls or clubs or arenas or stadiums or just different places, you know, in someone's home. To me, it's music. It's all connection. It's all this conversation. It's all personal.

“I'm looking forward to just having different experiences and I never know what's going to happen, which is kind of exciting, too. You know, you may get a call to do X, Y or Z. Like, last year I got to sing with a woman named Ledisi, who's freakin awesome! She's an amazing artist and she was with Jules Buckley, the conductor and the Metropole Orkest and it was just so much fun. We did a Nina Simone tribute. It was on the BBC and it was really great. So, situations like that where I get to do art for art's sake. It's just so fun for me.

“And, then, my pet project in my mind, even though it's hard to find time, but I really do need to find time - is that I sort of believe that melodies and the vibration of sound can heal people on a - not only on a spiritual level but a medical level.

“Let's say, for example, sound breaking glass. I feel that certain illnesses could be healed in the same way, the same thought. We destroy cancer; you destroy mental illness; we destroy diabetes. I know it sounds crazy, but I'm sure there's been - there's been a lot of work, I think, that on it and I just need to read up and see what has been done. I can see where I can be useful in that realm because I have memories of pitches of songs and keys from years ago. I think I can remember the sound of the color of a note. It doesn't matter how long ago I heard it. So, I'm hoping that I can use that gift in order to help heal people in that realm. So, that's something I'm looking forward to exploring, as well.

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Lisa Fischer how she hoped to be remembered and what she hopes her legacy is.

“Actually, I haven't really thought about a legacy. I would hope that people feel a sense of feeling when they think of me singing something or any recording, perhaps. It's all about the healing, for me.”

Join us in keeping up with Lisa Fischer by visiting her website, LisaFischerMusic.com. While you’re there, check out her tour itinerary to see if she’ll be appearing near you. It will be a show that you won’t want to miss!