Article Search...

Ron Dante

March/April, 2011

RonDante1As a pre-teen kid growing up in the Phoenix area, one of my usual Saturday morning routines was watching “The Archies” cartoon show.  It was good, clean entertainment and had me hooked for a year or two.  I also developed a crush on Veronica but that’s a whole ‘nother story and one that will be kept between me and my therapist, thank you.

As a teen, I began buying as many record albums as my meager, minimum wage funds would permit.  Among my pristine vinyl discs were some Barry Manilow albums.  There just wasn’t a better love song writer in the 70’s than Manilow.  Oh, and the girls I wanted to date seemed to like him a lot so that helped my record buying decisions significantly.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “Great stories, Randy, but what the heck do The Archies and Barry Manilow have to do with each other anyway?”

I’m glad that you asked.

It just so happens that one man, Ron Dante, had everything to do with both The Archies and those Barry Manilow albums.  Dante sang all of the male parts on the Archies’ records.  He was also the singing voice of many commercials including the famous “You Deserve A Break Today” by McDonald’s.  A few years later, he produced the first six albums that Barry Manilow recorded and which sold multiple millions of copies around the world.  He has also produced albums for countless other artists including Cher and Pat Benatar.

As if all of that isn’t enough, Ron Dante is also well known by theater goers for his production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’ (which earned him a Tony) and “Children of a Lesser God” which won the Tony for best drama.  He’s also invested in the stage versions of “Crimes Of The Heart”, “Whose Life Is It Anyway”, and “Duet For One”.   For two years, Ron also held the position of publisher for Paris Review.

Do you think the label, Over Achiever, could be slapped on this guy’s forehead?

When I was planning the launch of Boomerocity, I made a very long list of people who I wanted to interview.  Ron Dante was on that list but I hadn’t approached him.  During a conversation with a dear, mutual friend of ours, Rob Parissi, Rob encouraged me to contact Dante for an interview.  Introductions were made and, soon, I had the privilege of talking with this musical icon.

As I just mentioned, Dante has his hands in a lot of different projects that include live shows and producing other acts and shows.  I first asked Ron about his live work.

 “I go out about once a month – in between session dates and things that I do here with my music in Los Angeles. I do go out and perform. I just got back from New York City where I did a gig at B.B. King’s on Broadway. That was fun. I play Jackson, Tennessee, every year for a charity benefit. I play Boston regularly. I get around and really enjoy it.  The last couple of years have been a little leaner than others because of the economy. The first things to go are the live shows – they usually get impacted.  I have a group of guys that I perform with – legendary lead singers from different groups from the sixties and seventies – we go out.  I have the lead singer of The Buckinghams, Dennis Tufano, who does Kind of A Drag, one of the big hits of the 60’s, as well as Susan.

“Also part of the group is Sonny Geraci, who did who did the hit Precious and Few with the band, Climax, and Time Won’t Let Me with The Outsiders.  I also go out with Gary Lewis and The Playboys. I’m working with them here in town this month, actually.  So, I get around. I like the live stuff. It keeps me fresh because you can’t hide in the studio. You’ve got to go out and perform. I do enjoy that.”

As if his schedule of live performances aren’t enough to keep him busy, Ron is neck deep in other creative work.

 “I’m doing that and I’m working on a brand new company in Vegas that I can’t say much about right now but it will be debuting in a few months.  I’m in the studio with a legendary guy by the name of Steve Lawrence.  Guys like Tony Bennett and Steve Lawrence have a following and they’re not forgotten.”

I thought that avalanche of work was all there was but, like the old Ronco commercials of the 70’s used to say, “But, wait! There’s more!”

“I just did a children’s project for PBS. I supplied the voices for a bunch of songs. I brought in Tommy James  to sing one song. I brought in Davy Jones from the Monkee’s.  I brought in both of those guys to sing for this kid’s show called Shush-A-Bye which will be on in April.  I always have something to do. I keep myself active, I must say.”

No kidding!

Of all the variety of accomplishments that Ron Dante can proudly point to, I wondered which area of work he enjoys doing most.

“I’m basically a singer who, by necessity, has become a producer. So, singing is my first love. Producing is my second love. I have found magical moments in both of those endeavors over the years. They have brought me great happiness, I must say - especially in producing with Barry Manilow. We had three or four number one records. We had ten hit albums. I did some vocal work with him on his latest album, recently. It’s a 35 – 36 year relationship of knowing him and producing with him. Both of those things do give me pleasure but I do love performing live. That’s a great kick – to get out on stage and interact with the audience with my hits and with songs that I like. That’s a lot of fun. “

“If I had to put it in order of preference, on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 would be performing; 9 would be producing.  Producing is so much fun.  Orson Welles once said, ‘Producing movies is like having the biggest train set in the world to play with.’ It’s the same thing with making a record – producing an artist like Manilow or Cher or Benatar or my own records. You get to play with every aspect of it, from the inception to the rhythm section to the strings to the mixing, then, to get it out and even help promote it. It’s a full event for anyone like me. I always enjoy it. I never get bored with the music. Anything to do with music, I have the most fun – whether it’s a live show, recording or producing. Thank goodness, it still inspires me because the music keeps changing and evolving and I have the energy and imagination to keep it going.”

As we chatted, our conversation drifted to the current state of music.  Ron shared that, “It’s tough.  The pop music field has gone to pot.  Unfortunately, singing and songwriting has gone out the window and what you hear is a new form of entertainment but it’s not music.  A lot of it is in between music and live performance.  There’s a lot of very strange stuff out there and I’m not very impressed. I love country and Christian music. All of the good songwriters and singers have gone into those fields.  Country music is the pop music of the late seventies. To me, it’s unbelievably good. There are some great, heart-felt songs out there and great lyrics. People are still writing songs and good singers are singing them. That’s why I was so placed pleased to see Lady Antebellum win their five Grammy’s this year.”

While talking about the current strength of country music, I asked Dante if he thought the strength was due, in part, to the fact that there are two strong cable channels that drive interest in the music.

“Thank god!  The boom in the music industry came when MTV debuted in the early 80’s. All of a sudden, there was a visual medium that helped promote the music.  Now, MTV has gotten completely away from that. So, who has picked up the slack?  The country networks.  You get to see a visual of your favorite song.  The thing is, they get played in a regular rotation and people get to catch it.  I’m a big fan of that and I’m so sorry that MTV became the ‘reality show network’ because it absolutely ruined music television and pop music. 

“I remember that Epic Records almost had to sue MTV to get Michael Jackson on there.  They weren’t playing R&B or black music. They had to say, ‘Listen, Michael Jackson is bigger than all of that.’ That’s when Beat It and Thriller got all of its exposure. That was a great time but, unfortunately, it’s not happening today. Thank god for YouTube where you can pick up your favorite artists and listen to everything that they’ve ever done, almost, and see it. It’s an amazing medium.”

Having witnessed several paradigm shifts in the industry, I asked Ron what he thought, from his unique vantage point, were the biggest positive and negative changes in the music business that have taken place during his career.

“Wow! The positive change has been access. That has been the overwhelming positive change for me. It has to be the internet and places like YouTube and iTunes. iTunes, especially, revolutionized the music business. Until iTunes came out, nobody had a handle on this internet thing. It was all thievery. The record companies – the MAJOR record companies – who knew what to do, didn’t do it. They lagged behind and got caught in the switch between how they (the record companies) delivered music and the way people access it. That’s been the revolutionary change – the way people can listen to their favorite song, their favorite album, their favorite artists, anytime, 24 hours a day; buy it and have it instantaneously. That’s unbelievable! And, thank goodness for Steve Jobs who, ten years ago, was on the cover of Newsweek with Sheryl Crow and said, ‘I’m opening up a company called iTunes and everything is going to be 99 cents.’

“Some scoffers said, ‘He’s not a music guy. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ Now, everybody has taken his model and run with it. That’s a very good development.  And people can see you. The technology allows you to make a video of your music – doing whatever you want – because the cameras are so inexpensive and so high def. You can put it on YouTube and start a fan base and you can interact with millions of people who are like-minded and who like this kind of music. The opportunities have grown so much. That’s the very good thing that has happened in the music industry, in my opinion.”

And what does Ron feel is the biggest negative change in the business?

“The negative change is the lack of songwriting credentials. The good songwriters in popular music and the top 40 area, they can’t seem to find a niche and they get pushed out by the new ‘beats’ and by the new types of entertainment that are intruding into it. That’s been the biggest negative, is the rise and the preference of the radio stations around the country that only play hip-hop or rap or the latest novelty record. That has hurt. 

“The demise of the songwriter has been a terrible thing. They have to look for other avenues for their songs nowadays. If Paul McCartney and John Lennon were starting out and writing today, they couldn’t get anybody to record their songs. It would be very difficult. They would have to go into the Christian market or country music because popular music stations wouldn’t play them.  It’s a tough time and that’s been the biggest negative – the demise of the songwriter.”

With an added touch of melancholy, Ron adds, “I’m looking for the resurgence of the independent songwriter/singer, people who can touch you in many ways through a melody and a lyric and not get too angry. A lot of the stuff today makes you angry! It’s venting and raging against things. I understand that there’s an area for that but there should be room and balance. That’s what I miss.”

I often ask the following question of many people I interview.  I was especially interested in what Dante would do to fix the music business and it’s business model if he were made Czar of the music industry.

“Well, it’s a question of talent rising to the top. You must find the best talent. Not the derivative talent. The best talents, the new Bruce Springsteen, the new U2, the new Garth Brooks in different areas. These people who are coming up who have incredible talent and expose them on a platform that people can access and listen to and watch. I’m actually working with a new company – a press release will be coming out in the next few weeks – that will allow new bands and new artists to show their wares and rise to the top and to be seen by professionals in the music industry – songwriters, producers, musicians who have succeeded in the music business over the years – and they will help and mentor these young artists and new artists coming up. It will give access to millions of people. That’s the kind of thing that I would do and, in fact, am doing now with a good friend of mine from Las Vegas.”

“If I was running the world of music right now, I would start new radio stations that would come to you through Sirius, through local distributors that give you the opportunity to listen to a collection of different music instead of bombarding you with just one type. That would be the second thing I would do – revamp radio a bit.”

What about the societal and cultural similarities and differences he sees today from when he first started out in the business?

“One of the similarities that I’m seeing is that teen pop is still prevalent and making in-roads and is a huge influence on America. Look at the teen idols of the 60’s – the Monkee’s to Bobby Sherman to David Cassidy to today’s young teens – the Disney group of teens like the Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montanah and that beautiful country girl, Taylor Swift, she seems to be the Shelly Fabre of this generation. She’s very talented, very pretty and a great singer/songwriter. I love her success!   But, there’s a connection between the girl groups and the girl singers of the sixties. That’s a similarity that seems to go on forever and I love that: that the teens want their own idols and their own music. 

“Even the pre-teens want their own music. The Archie’s was a pre-teen group, really. Even though we crossed all generations and it became an adult hit all over the world, it was mainly aimed at pre-teens and young teens and succeeded beautifully on that front.

“The dissimilarities are that more people were exposed on TV and radio – Shindig, The Ed Sullivan Show and the Dick Clark shows – a lot of acts got on those shows and got to show who they were.  Today, there’s a narrower focus so not too many acts can get their shot nationally. Not everybody can be a Lady Gaga in terms of publicity – getting all of that media attention. Unfortunately, it’s become narrowed so much that they’ve become a sound bite.  There was a broad exposure in the 60’s and 70’s of the artists and now there’s a very narrow exposure of artists. Thank goodness for the internet because it’ll open it up to new and upcoming people.”

As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I watched “The Archie’s” cartoon as a kid. I also had the Sugar, Sugar 45 rpm.  Even in those pre-teen years, certain musical hooks caught my attention.  One of those hooks was the soulful voice on the line, “I’m going to make your life so sweet . . .” on Sugar, Sugar.  While conducting my research on Dante, I got the impression that he overdubbed his voice on all of the parts of that song, singing falsetto on the ‘Betty and Veronica’ parts.  I asked Ron about that.

“No.  On Sugar, Sugar, there’s a female voice singing for both ‘Betty’ and ‘Veronica’ and that’s Miss Toni Wine.  She’s the voice of ‘I’m going to make your life so sweet’.  She sang the lower part and the higher part. So, she was both ‘Betty’ and ‘Veronica’.  She’s a fabulous singer and a fabulous Nashville songwriter.  She wrote Tony Orlando’s biggest hit, Candida.  She also wrote the Mind Benders/Phil Collins hit, Groovy Kind of Love and another song called Black Pearl (recorded by Sonny Charles and the Checkmates).  She was married to a legendary Nashville producer, Chips Moman for many, many years.  She was also the voice on Gene Pitney on his song, It Hurts To Be In Love – a very cool song. In the middle of it, there’s a little female ‘answer’. That’s her doubling her voice.  She was ‘Dawn’ for Tony Orlando and Dawn. She was the background group on that Candida record, Knock Three Times and a whole bunch of other songs.  She has a very beautiful voice.  She still sings and is on the road today with Tony Orlando, in his band.  Everywhere he goes – there’s Toni on the keyboards, singing background.

 “No, I did a lot of voices on all of those records but, especially that first album, that’s all Toni Wine and myself.”

Our conversation migrated to the subject of his musical relationship with Barry Manilow. I was bragging about Manilow’s body of work – especially in the 70’s and in which Ron played a key role.  From the first album through Even Now and the various compilations and greatest hits albums that the first albums fed, Dante’s skilled production was instrumental in helping drive multiple millions of album sales around the world.

Ron shared his thoughts and feelings about that music. 

“Those songs hold up.  Mandy stopped traffic.  We knew we had it the night in the studio when it was recorded. We knew that lightning had struck.  That was a live vocal. That’s Barry playing the piano. We just did it with a few instruments.  The third take was the final, magic take. Later, I overdubbed strings and backgrounds, horns – you know, beefed up the track. But that’s the live vocal.  We just knew that we had some very special – a special song and the voice that was meant to sing it sang it.  It launched his career.

“Then, six months later, we put out a song that we recorded before that called Could It Be Magic.  That solidified his hold on that part of the music industry. Those were very wonderful sessions.  It’s amazing, the strength of the music and the records we made that, to this day, get used in movies and they get played constantly. I’m very proud of all that work. It was the best years in the studio. It was just so smooth.  The musicians were the top guys in New York City and L.A. The top people were arranging for us. It was a labor of love. I just had to make it perfect. 

“Each album was a little gem – especially the Even Now album. I’m very proud of that one.  That was the first one we did in Los Angeles.  We had done two or three albums in New York City and then he moved out here to do some work so I came out here to produce him.  We worked at the A&M studios on Even Now.  The magic of that studio got into our music, too. It’s the same place that Carole King recorded, the Carpenter’s, Sergio Mendez,  and Herb Albert. It was a great studio.

Ron concludes his thoughts about Manilow by sharing some news about his soon-to-be-released album.

“He’s got a new album coming out. It’s called 15 Minutes. He’s written all the songs. It’s great. It’s about 15 minutes of fame – what fame does to an artist in this world. It’s very deep and, yet, very entertaining. It’s a very entertaining album. It should be out this summer.”

What advice does Dante have for anyone wishing to enter the music business?

“I would say to really concentrate on the songs. Really find or write the very best melodies and lyrics out there. Record it on your own dime. Do a little video and put it on YouTube. Develop a really hot live act and get it out there in some cities. Develop your fan base that way because the internet is the new star making vehicle. Look at what it’s done for Justin Bieber. He might have never gotten a shot if it wasn’t for the internet. Look at what it’s done for him.  There are stars being developed on the internet. 

“More and more, artists are going directly to their fans. Every artist I know are selling their CD’s at their live shows. Everybody has a CD at the show. That would be what I would be doing but I would start with great material - something that is a little different – something that catches people’s hearts and minds. That’s very important. That would be the first order of business. You can’t go out and make a great movie without a great screenplay and it’s the same thing with a new artist. You can’t make a great, new artist without a cool song that breaks down the barriers.

“This is all off the top of my head – that’s what I would be doing if I were starting out today or advising new people. You also have to concentrate on the look. Not everybody can be an instant star on American Idol. Some people have to work long, hard years to develop their style, their look and their songs. It’s, like 0.1 percent of the population gets a chance on American Idol. The rest of the population has to really get out there and work the clubs and bring what they bring.  Also, have a good PR person if you can find one. It’s very important to have a good PR person when you do perform to let people know about it.”

As for the style of music that he would gravitate to if he were just starting out, Dante says, “There are great bands out there with lead singers that are writing great songs – really cool songs and are accompanying themselves really well with their bands. I would be doing a band type of thing.  Also, as a producer, I would be doing exactly what I am doing now and that’s working with younger people and older people – everybody!  That’s because there’s a market out there for everyone. I would work with teens on Disney projects, which I have. I would also work with the classics of the 60’s and 70’s who want to make new records. I would honor the music.”

I’m always curious what people have on their iPod’s that they’re listening to and I’m never afraid to ask. I asked Dante that question, expecting to hear some cool, eclectic range of music.  His answer surprised me.

“You know, I’m not listening to much lately. I’m trying to my input to a minimum since I’m producing an album. I try to keep music in my head. I haven’t been listening to a lot of music. When I do, I listen KOST (103.5 FM) which plays the greatest songs in the world. It’s a big radio station here in Los Angeles. It’s a middle of the road station. And, of course, I listen to 101 FM out here.

“When I’m at home, I’m listening to new songs from songwriters. I’m producing this incredible girl from Australia this summer and I’m now looking for songs for her. She’s kind of a Katie Perry type of artist. I’m listening to people submitting songs for her by MP3. I spend most of my day listening to those. When I have to relax, I listen to a little bit of classical music once in awhile.  That’s it. I try to keep the input a little low when I’m making an album because you don’t want to be influenced by too much. You want to go by your instincts and create a combination of things and you don’t want to be influenced by one genre or another.”

Bringing the conversation back around to our own generations, Ron adds, “When you look at the biggest tours of the last two or three years have been Paul McCartney, Simon and Garfunkel with the Everly Brothers was a huge tour. Or Carole King and James Taylor together was a huge tour. Bon Jovi, which had their biggest tour ever. And my friend, Davy Jones and the Monkee’s are regrouping and they’re doing a tour in Europe, as you know. That’s going to be a huge tour when they hit the states.”

“I just produced a single with Davy called Amoré and it’s on iTunes. It’s a really cool dance number that I did with him. He sent me a video of him at a concert with U2. Bono brings Davy up on stage a couple of years ago at Dodger Stadium, I think.  Eighty thousand people were there and the entire audience was singing Daydream Believer.  I said, ‘Look at that! Bono brings Davy up and the entire audience sings the choruses!’  The music stops and all 80,000 people were singing the chorus!  Think about that!  That audience wasn’t full of people in their 60’s. It was a cross-section of people of all ages.  I find that inspiring that music can still bring a crowd to its feet.”

As our schedules pressured us to draw our conversation to a close, I asked the legendary singer/songwriter/producer what haven’t he done yet that he would like to do, career wise?

“I’ve been very blessed and fortunate. Every dream I had as a kid came true. So, right now, I’m just doing what I love to do. There’s nothing that I haven’t done. At one point, I’d love to produce Aerosmith or the Rolling Stones.  I’d love to do a couple of records with those people or Elton John.  Faith Hill – I’d love to produce her. Those are the kind of people that I would like to work with. I’ve gotten to do a lot of what I dreamed of as a teen and young man.”

Ken Corday

Posted August, 2010

KenCorday001Corday Ken Corday with Alison Sweeney (L) and Kristian Alfonso Photo Courtesy of ©jpistudios.comMy first few years of life were spent in the states of Tennessee, Florida, Alabama and Texas. Whether my playtime was on the rolling hills of Tennessee and Alabama or the sandy beaches of Florida, there was one thing I could almost always count on: My mom stopping whatever she was doing so that she could watch her “stories”.

Now, in my childish southern lexicon, “stories” had several meanings.  One meaning of the word, of course, was something that would be told or read to me at bed time.  Another meaning of “story” was a sugarcoated word for telling a lie. For instance, if I ate a cookie when I was told not to, and, when asked if I ate one, I said I didn’t, my mom would ask (knowing the answer), “Randy, are you telling me a story?”  You get the picture.

Finally, “story” is often used by the broadest cross-section of America to refer to daytime soap operas.  Soap operas was what Mom was talking about.  I believe that every mom and housewife in the country would pop up their ironing boards, fire up the iron, and watch their favorite “stories” while pressing pants and shirts with the grand finale being the sound of Faultless Spray-On Starch sizzling as it was being pressed into our clothes.

By the way, the commercial that I just hyperlinked to was so convincing to me that, while my mom left the room during a commercial break from one of her “stories”, I tried spraying stars out of her can of Faultless Spray-On Starch.  Nothing.  It must have been how I was holding the can.

Back to the “stories”.

One of the giants of daytime soaps, both in those by-gone days of the sixties as well as today, was (and is) Days of our Lives.  Even now, as I evoke the name of that monster hit program, the majestic, authoritative voice of Days’ late cast member, Macdonald Carey, gently echoes in my brain, “Like sands through the hourglass . . . so are the days of our lives.”

Days of our Lives debuted 45 years ago this November. I didn’t stutter: Yes, I said, “45 years ago”.  Let that sink in for just a moment or two.  The show was created by Ted and Betty Corday , Irna Phillips and Allan Chase. Sadly, Ted Corday passed away before the show completed its first year on the air.  Betty Corday helped lead the show to incredible ratings popularity.  In the late seventies, Ted and Betty’s youngest son, Ken began his work on the show by writing music for it.  He learned about production along the way, eventually earning the Associate Producer slot and then ultimately took over the reins of the show when his mom felt that she was no longer strong enough to produce the show.Ken Corday has recently published a book about the history and family (both cast and “blood”) that have been or are currently involved in the iconic TV drama,  entitled The Days of our Lives: The True Story Of One Family’s Dream And The Untold History Of Days Of Our Lives. While I admit that I’ve never had the opportunity to be a regular viewer of daytime soaps, I was very intrigued by the engrossing history of the show (as well as of him and his family) that Mr. Corday shares in his book.

One of the stories that I was naturally intrigued by involves Ken’s band, Lucky Mud. that he played drums in.    I asked Ken what it was like opening for Jimi Hendrix in Hawaii in 1970 and for more details about it.

“Well, I hate to use the phrase ‘out of body experience’ because the band had moved to Hawaii approximately three months before, playing with some ‘name’ groups over there like Quicksilver Messenger Service and Buddy Miles’ band – which was then called ‘The Buddy Miles Band’ before it was called A Band of Gypsys. That’s how we got to meet Jimi Hendrix.  We played with Buddy on July 4th and word got around. Then Hendrix came and played in Hawaii – I believe that it was on August 2nd or 3rd, 1970 and the concert promoter booked us as the opening act – the only other act on the bill.

“So, you can imagine playing what was then called the Honolulu International Center – HIC – it’s some other name now. It’s the biggest concert venue in Honolulu .  We got to spend some time with him when he arrived during sound check and after sound check.  Then we played.  It was an amazing hour because we hadn’t played in front of that many people.  You can imagine that many people coming to a Jimi Hendrix concert – the level of their intoxication or drug influence.  It was pretty much as high as it was going to be – or, at least, getting there – so we had a captive audience, so to speak.

“He looked like any guy coming in off of a golf course when we saw him  before the show – a golf shirt, white Levi’s, VERY short, black hair.  We went back into the dressing room before he went on and he put on the big afro and all the rainbow colors  . . . “

It was at that point that I had to interrupt Ken.  Hendrix wore a wig?

“At that time it was a wig. Yeah, he went on and he played for over two hours. As I said in the book, it was the most " allowtransparency="no" width="120" height="240">remarkable performance I had ever seen – before or after – from any musician – classical included. The energy he exuded was incredible and to do it with just a trio and to play for that long  . . . we were literally stage right and stage left watching.  I remember looking at our guitarist and he couldn’t close his mouth. Jimi Hendrix could do so many things with a guitar. He had amazing physical ability.  He had very large hands. He was able to use his thumb to play the bass line, chord with his three fingers and trill with his pinky.

“But he was a very soft-spoken fella. After the concert was over, we talked to him and our guitarist gave him this peacock feather, of all things.  He was into the Hare Krishna thing. Jimi said, ‘Hey, thanks, man!’ and he laid it on top of his Stratocaster and closed the case. The next day he was on his way to England to play the Isle of Wight concert the last week of August and he was dead almost three weeks after that.”

We continued discussing our classic rock roots, chatting about icons like Janis Joplin, the Stones and many others.  Corday opined, “I think it was the seminal moment in changing rock and roll from, say, 1964, not including the advent of the British invasion but what happened to rhythm and blues rock and roll in this country – moving into a different place – first in L.A., really, and then in San Francisco.

“You know, I don’t think anyone will ever get close to Janis Joplin for female blues singer. I remember watching her jump in what was then the pool in front of the stage at the Hollywood Bowl, mic in hand. Those years – I would say 1966 thru ’70 – spawned so many amazing groups that then continued to influence music. Well, there was a strange period called ‘disco’ but after that went away, that influence was still there AND is still there today.”

Wrapping up the subject of music, I asked why he got drifted away from rock music.

“Well, funny that you should ask.  Coming out of that period – I talk about it in the book – from ’70 to ’73, the band came back to California and knocked around.  Rock and roll had kind of the fatal shot fired at Altamont and just faded out in the next three years. I found myself in ’73 without the real musical knowledge to do what I wanted to do except play the drums. So, I was fortunate enough to enter the University of California in Santa Cruz in ’73 and graduated from there in ’75. I went to graduate school at San Jose State and graduated in 1977 with a Masters in Music and was going to teach composition because that is what I always wanted to do.

“You know, percussion performance is somewhat limiting but I always had the desire to write so I learned how to write for the entire symphony orchestra in those four years.  That was it!  That was what I was going to do and happy doing – write symphonies and concertos and a song or two here and there.  As luck would have it, I came to Los Angeles in the summer – I believe it was the summer of ’77 and met the music director of Days – I should say ‘dated’ the music director of the show.

“She said, ‘Well, why don’t you write a few music queues for the show?’ The rest is history.”

Corday joined the Days staff somewhat reluctantly.  However, he did so out of love and support for his mother.  I asked Ken if he ever looked back after making that decision and wished he had stayed in the music business.

“I never looked back because, of course, this is an amazingly larger pond down here than in the academic world. But, the grace of it all – my mental health break, so to speak – is that I still write all the music for the show unless we license a song from a popular artist. So, being able to go into a recording studio two or three times a week in the afternoon and either pen or score a song for the show  keeps my hand in that (music). Things have changed over the last 30 years of writing music for daytime television. 

“So, in direct answer to your question: no, I never really looked back and went, ‘Darn! I should’ve stayed in school!’” Concluding his answer with a chuckle, Corday adds, “Actually, in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t because at 27, with all of those beautiful, young coeds and being a professor, I probably would have found myself married and divorced a few times.”

I commented that my mom would say when I was a little kid, “It’s time for me to watch my stories.” Ken enthusiastically pipes in by saying, “Oh, I know! And I think it’s such an apt thing to say because I hear it all through the nation – rural and urban – ‘I want to watch my story.’ And that’s what it’s about.  People don’t want to see one actor or one set. They want to watch ‘the story’ and if the story is not there, the viewers aren’t there. If the story is there – and I hate to say this, but – no matter how terrible the acting may be, they (the viewers) are still with us. The acting is important. I shouldn’t diminish that but stories are what drive daytime drama.”

With its remarkable ability to stay on the air with an incredibly loyal fan base, I asked Ken what he felt is the single biggest attribute or reason why the show has been so successful and has had the staying power that it has.

“It’s simple. Again, my mother’s lesson to me was it’s about the ‘story’. You’re only really as good as last week’s ratings. You can’t rest on your laurels.  But, directly, it’s about family values. I’m sure that all of the other shows would say this but this show, more than any others, still has the founding family at its center – the Hortons and two other families, now, over the last 35 or 40 years: the Bradys and the evil DiMeras. But, more than anything, it’s about family values, the redemptive power of love and, to be honest with you, we deal with the Deity on this show – much more than any others.  We take flack for it from certain of the less religious groups but I believe that it’s an important part of the show. It’s referenced right back to the opening couplet, ‘Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives” - I believe that is the second or third  to last line of the 23rd Psalm.

“So, whether subtle or not, whether people cop to it or not, it’s there. We try to keep our pulse more on the mainstream --- what is really the quiet, common person in this country as opposed to the outspoken Conservative or Liberal.”

Is Corday saying that faith and the family values stance has been the one constant throughout the life of the show?

“That is the one constant. It also holds true behind the scenes.  What I call our ‘Days family’ – the crew, the cast, the staff .– they know – how do I put this - that I ‘have their back’.  This is the only one hour soap opera that’s family run – it’s a family business.  The others are owned by ABC or Sony. Bill Bell did start The Bold and the Beautiful and kept that one in the family but, again, it’s a half-hour show. I don’t know if the same thing is going on with their set. But, yes, that’s what has kept us together: a belief that in loving the genre and loving the work we have to do every day and loving each other, there’s something greater than the sum of all of the parts.”

In order for the show to survive for 45 years, Corday most definitely had to make sure the show adapted to the plethora of changes that have bombarded the genre over the years.  I asked him what was the biggest of those changes.

“That’s a VERY interesting question and is somewhat tough.  I would just have to ‘knee-jerk’. I’d have to say the financial changes – hopefully, you won’t see it on screen.  We used to be able to do the show five years ago any way we wanted to – all hours of the night.  Lavish exteriors.  Lavish locations. Because of the constraints of the economy, we’re dealing with a budget, now, that is less than half of what it used to be.  I don’t think it shows on screen as much as it does with whom we cast.

“So, the thing that has changed most is the economy and the networks’ desire for paying top dollar for a soap opera. In the nineties, the joke was that Days of our Lives and the Jay Leno Show – and, before that, the Johnny Carson Show – paid the rent at NBC and allowed them to do all of the pilots that never went on the air. That really isn’t the case as much today.  However, last year, we were the only show on the network that showed growth. They don’t want to admit that but they’re happy to admit that in front of their advertisers when they sell time for the next year.

“So, yeah, that is the biggest change and it certainly affects my job daily.  How do we make the same product every day for half as much?  I think ‘downsizing’, unfortunately, is the word. We still want the show to seem larger than life.  It can’t be the news.  It can’t be public service.

“I see other soap operas get stuck in that rut. ‘Let’s do something that’s topical or public service oriented; do something current.’ I think that you lose the fantasy. It’s about romance. Period.  Our show is about romance.  You can call it anything else but it’s about watching two people fall in love for the first time or the first time again after 25 years. That’s what makes it go.”

The business geek in me couldn’t help but ask Ken if he saw signs of the economic pressures turning around so that you can go back to the way it was producing shows or was the proverbial genie out of the bottle.

“It’s hard to say. I have very optimistic feelings – and, certainly, more optimistic associates that believe – that soaps MIGHT make a comeback. My feeling is that the genie really is out of the bottle. Once the network gets something, they are very, very much chagrined to give it back. We deal with what we deal with today. My job is to keep the show on the air year-to-year or, in some cases, 18 months to two years at a time and let all of the employees know that they don’t have to look over their shoulder every year.”

Corday starts his book with a tragic “bang”, literally, and shares his heart as to how that event impacted his late brother. Near the end of the book, he shares a great story as to how he obtained closure with his brother’s passing.  I asked Ken what he says to people who have family or friends who are suffering as his brother did and what advice does he have for them.

“Well, the first advice that I give them is to not keep it in the closet. Mental illness is something in the country that is swept under the carpet - kept in the closet. ‘Oh, there’s nothing wrong with him or her. They’re just having a bad week.’ Or, ‘It’s just the affects of this, that or the other thing.’ We’ve come miles in the last ten years in medical treatment for mental illness.  Yet, it’s still that six or eight inches between our ears that’s still the new frontier – the unknown.

“So, the advice that I would give to someone who has a family member who’s suffering from this is, a) EXTREME patience. B) Faith.  Whether it’s through a psychologist, a therapist, a minister or priest, try to believe or reach out for this person – for themselves - through faith. And, C), most importantly, don’t hide it because, with hiding it, the same wound scabs over and over. It needs to be cleaned out.

“This was the case with my brother.  My parents really, really never had to look square in the face how ill – how tragically ill – he was.  I dealt with that in the three years after my mother died to the point that it was dangerous to have him around my family. My wife was afraid of him for her sake and the children’s sake. This is the case with someone who is paranoid-schizophrenic or severely manic-depressive.  You know, one day or another, it can be night or day – a totally different person.

“Bottom line: Don’t give up hope. Hemmingway said it best.  ‘I’m not hopeless as long as I have hope. The day I don’t have hope, you’ll know it damn quick.’ And he did.  He certainly did.  Without hope we have nothing. That’s what people have to hold on to. There IS light at the end of the tunnel with ALL mental illness. Some people would say that I’m extremely naïve or ridiculously optimistic to say that but it’s not as terminal as some might think, you know?  The day that my brother was diagnosed, it was as terminal as having cancer only there was no period of time.  It could be a year or it could be twenty years, as it was with my brother. But that’s not the case these days.”

Moved both by Ken’s comments and the stories about his brother that he shares in the book, I commented that I think the book will be a helpful read to those who have family members who suffer from mental illness. His humility and sincerity was clear in his response.

“Thank you very much.  To me, that was the most curious thing in the way this book resonated was that I had a number of psychologists, talks shows, radio shows call me – not to talk about Days of Our Lives but to talk about this very issue.  If I can be of any help to anyone by writing about it, then it’s extremely gratifying.”

Shifting my emotional gears to a lighter speed, I bring up the hysterical story Corday tells in the book about Andrew Masset being accosted in the produce department of a grocery store by a lady with a zucchini.  I asked him if he felt that much of the viewing audience has a hard time separating life from art.

“I think that because we have  a shrinking world, more of an informational world these days, it’s not as much as we would see in the seventies or eighties. People are less naïve no matter how far into rural U.S.A. they are.  Yet, I still see it. I still see, at fan events, crazy fans just run up to the actors, refer to them by their character name and say they want to have their baby, et cetera, et cetera. And they’re completely in earnest about it!

“The eye opener was in New Orleans, I believe in 1983 or 1982, with our two characters, Bo and Hope, who were very young then.  We landed at the airport there and there were ten thousand people waiting. Fire Marshalls were beside themselves and all the crowd wanted to do was see this couple. And it was the same. “Oh, Bo, I want to have your baby!” or, “Hope, will you marry me?”

Ken shares a couple of incredible paranormal events that happened in the studio; one involving Deidre Hall and the prop man, Bob Bateman, and the other having to do with an apparition that he and the cast felt was Macdonald Carey. When you read about those events, you’ll swear that they could have been right out of the show’s script.  I asked Corday how he interpreted those events and, “We have a celebratory pictorial coffee table book coming out the first of November for the 45th anniversary It’s beautiful because the pictures are not what you would call ‘posed pictures’. They’re a behind the scenes look at mostly cast and crew. So, people are allowed inside the walls of the studio.

“We have three romance novels that are extended stories of very popular characters who are no longer on the show. ‘What happened to . . . Jack and Jennifer, Deidre Hall’, etc, etc, etc. written by our former head writer. And, then, I have a work of fiction – my first work of fiction, good lord! – that will be out next May.”

After our conversation, reflecting as I always do after an interview, I was struck but the sheer calm and serenity that Ken Corday projected over the phone.  I can imagine how much more warmth would permeate the room if I were meeting him in person.  Despite incredible pressures from all directions because of the crushing responsibilities he carries for the show and its cast and crew, he is calm.  Despite the pain of losing his father while young, losing his loving mother or the trauma and challenges of coping with  and then tragically losing his brother, Corday exemplifies a peacefulness rarely seen in the world today.

That’s my kind of story.

Jonathan Cain

Posted February/March, 2011

1cainathomePhoto Courtesy of Jonathan CainIf you are into rock music at all, then, in all likelihood, you’re more than aware of the incredible musical legacy of Journey.  How many school dances in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s played such great slow dance songs as Faithfully and Open Arms?

In their concerts, these songs and many, many others are greeted with squeals of approval and delight at the very opening piano riffs on those songs as well as on Who’s Crying Now.  The closest that I came to ever experiencing anything close to that reaction was the shrieks of horror during my piano recital performances.

But that’s a whole story of its own.

Always a huge Journey fan, my daughter bought me the Journey: Live In Houston 1981 Escape Tour DVD this past Christmas.  I smiled as I enjoyed the performances and remembered all the thoughts and memories their treasure chest of musical gems brought to mind.  Gems that drove worldwide sales of their albums to over 75 million. What also came to mind is the idea of chatting with one of the boys in the band.

I tracked down Journey keyboardist and co-writer of many of the band’s hits, Jonathan Cain.  He was gracious enough to grant me a phone interview. I was especially flattered that he would spend a considerable amount of time on the phone immediately after spending an hour in the dentist’s chair near his home in the Nashville, Tennessee, area.

After living in California for 30 years, Jonathan, his wife, Liz, and his three children, Madison, Weston and Liza, moved to Nashville late last year.  I go to the Bay Area a couple of times a year on business and, while I do find that part of the country absolutely beautiful and vibrant, I must confess that I left my heart in Nashville long ago.    I started our chat about what prompted his move to God’s favorite city.

 “Well, you know, I’ve been coming here since 2000 – writing with different people and we made a lot of friends in the last 10 years.  My daughter’s doing a recording down here.  We have this friend that was writing and I heard her (his daughter) sing country and I said, ‘My god, you’ve gotta sing country!’ because she’s got a great voice.  She was messing around with different styles and I heard her sing Redneck Woman and it was like, ‘Girl! This is your deal!’

“I wanted to get her in the studio right away so we did. She cut a couple of sides and we kept coming. Then, I got her into the songwriting room.  Now, she’s seventeen.  She auditioned for Capitol records a couple of days ago, so it’s pretty serious. We’ve got a couple of other labels and some other people interested in her.  She’s got a Carrie Underwood kind of thing going on.  She’s into the progressive country – kind of ‘crossover’ country.  She has a very strong voice and she writes some good songs.  She’s been fortunate enough to get into some songwriting sessions.  I’m getting a few licks in myself.”

Bringing the subject back around to why he moved to Nashville, Cain said, “I started in Nashville back in ’69 with Buddy Killen (the late, legendary producer and publisher). He signed me to Dial Records. I just had a singles deal down here. I kind of come full circle by coming back here.  Plus, I guess we kind of wore out our welcome in the Bay Area. It used to be such a vibrant, musical community and I think it’s kind of missing there.”

However, there was more than just the change in the music scene that compelled Cain to move his family to the Volunteer State.

“The whole school thing there (in the Bay Area) wasn’t so good and we knew that the schools are great here. You just know when it’s time. I just wrote a song about it – about leaving a place and just knowing that it’s time to go. I’d been there 30 years so my kids were all excited about meeting some new friends and getting the heck out of where they were. I guess we needed a life change and now we’re getting snowed on!”  With a laugh he adds, “They say that an ice age is coming and I believe them!  That’s what everybody’s saying – it’s not global warming – it’s the ice age!”

As a die-hard Nashville fan myself, I’ve been to the town several times and found how “celebrity friendly” it is compared to, say, Los Angeles, where there seems to be paparazzi behind every bush . . . or Bentley, so to speak.  Cain’s response reflected a refreshing matter-of-fact humility that permeated the rest of our chat.

“It is cool. I don’t have to worry about that, being a keyboard player. It’s a different way of life. I find people here are accountable citizens for people who live here.  It’s like a welcoming spirit – more than ever. It used to be, ‘Californian’s, go home!’ but I think they see that the changes are cool. The town really has a lot of culture and it has a conscience. I love the writers that are here and to get the opportunity to sit down and to sing with these great songwriters.

“I did a show on (satellite radio) XM with Jonathan Singleton, who wrote Red Light for David Nail. The opportunities you get are just incredible. I did a show with J.D. Souther and Brett James at Tin Pan South last year. So, it’s pretty cool to kind of sit in. My daughter (Madison) and I will do gigs. I’ll sit in at Puckett’s or the Blue Bird with her. Just the other day, she was asked to sing on a David Nail record.  That will be her first background on a big time record. So, yeah, you just get opportunities here that you never have in California.

“We got to go to the CMA awards together. My daughter has a website (www.madisoncain.com) and she’s tweeting all the time. She got to go down the red carpet at the CMA’s and she drug me along. She actually had a little feature on the E! Channel. It was ‘Rock Dads and Their Daughters’. They interviewed me, her and the family. It was a pretty good little blurb for her.”

One thing that many Journey fans may not be aware of is that Cain is quite the wine expert.  My pre-interview research uncovered the fact that Jonathan moved from an expert wine connoisseur to a successful entrepreneur of higher end wine.  Cain explained his venture to me.

“I’m sort of a wine savant. I go out and find the best grapes I can and make really high quality juice. We get a lot of money for it - $50 to $60 a bottle. I really like great wine. The wine I make is not for everybody. You have to have a palette to spend that kind of money on wine.

“I’m a ‘virtual winer’.  I don’t really have my own vineyard, per se. I get grapes from cool places and make the wine. I only do a couple of hundred cases a year. I do business here in Nashville and am trying to break out in Atlanta with it.  I’m trying to get into Chicago. I partnered with Horizon Wine and Spirits here. But that’s it. We have fun.  I like wine making and I think they’re (Horizon) awesome people. We have a lot in common.”

One of the tragedies in Chicago history took place on December 1, 1958.  A fire broke out at Our Lady of the Angels grade school, killing 3 nuns and 92 children.  From the research I conducted on the sad tragedy, families moved away, divorces destroyed several marriages of the parents of the victims, and emotional scars remained on all who were touched by the fire.

One of the children who was at school that day was Jonathan Cain.  The fire obviously had a tremendous impact on young Jonathan and was instrumental in leading him to immerse himself into music.  It’s against that backdrop that Cain uses to write a book.  I asked Jonathan about the yet-to-be published tome.

“It’s a memoir.  I end the book where I’m about thirteen years old. It’s about nine years of my life that I spent in Chicago. The new consensus is to finish the story and tell everybody how I got into Journey.  I don’t know. I’m going to give it a shot in the next couple of months. It’s called Mixed Blessings. I’m probably going to self-publish. It’s been a labor of love. I’ve been at it for four or five years. I’ve got some interest. I’ve got to keep going at it. The book business is in bad shape right now. It’s not good. So, the audio books are a good way to go. There are some more meetings we’re going to have next month. So, we’ll see. At this stage of the game it’s just a neat thing to be able to say you did.”

 “I was in a school fire back in ’58 where a hundred kids were killed and three nuns.  It’s telling the story of that neighborhood and how music really saved my life – from going insane. It helped me out a lot. I’m an old accordion player. We didn’t get any grief counseling or anything like that. I think that getting that squeeze box helped me get my mind straight. It’s really about the love affair I have with music.”

Cain continued, explaining how he got into songwriting.

“It was challenging. I wrote my first song in 8th grade. I had a piano teacher who saw something in me and challenged me. She was actually the music teacher at school – she taught choir. I wanted to get off the accordion and start playing the piano. So, she came to the house and gave me lessons. She said, ‘You have a good imagination with your music. You should try to write a song.

“So, we had this school play – an 8th grade play – so she said, ‘I want to leave a spot in that play for your song.’ So, I was on the spot to write the song. I wrote the song about a little girl that I had a crush on. I got up there and sang it and played it. It was copyrighted and the whole deal. That was the beginning. But it wasn’t easy. I was going to school and I was interested in the writing part – and my dad thought I could do it – so I kept writing, trying to get songs done.

“Then, when I was playing in clubs, we had a little slush fund that we saved money for studio time.  After about a year and a half or two years, we had enough money to go into the studio so that drove me to come up with ten songs. We went into a studio down in Pekin, Illinois, and recorded these songs I had written. I had been going downtown to see this guy, Bill Trout, from RCA. He would see me at the end of the day and listen to my songs and critique them and help me. I kind of had a mentor there. I was really fortunate to have him because he was big time – for Chicago, anyway. He was a producer and had his own production company.

“So, we made this little demo. The studio owner was sending tapes around to different people. He was quite a cool dude. He sent my demo to Buddy Killen – a big time producer and publisher – and that’s why I came here (to Nashville) in ’69 and did two or three sides with him.  We had about three years together, coming down here and doing that.

“That was my first plane flight. I got on an airplane to Nashville from Chicago and signed a record deal. My dad was with me. He was kind of my Svengali. Dad was always believing that good things were on the horizon with me. He pretty much was my cheerleader in rock for me.

“I always tell kids when I give seminars that you have to have a ‘vision keeper’. Somebody that buys into your plan and believe in what you want to do.  He (Jonathan’s dad) was that for me. I was blessed to have a vision keeper who was my own father.  In his mind, I was always going to be a success no matter what happened. No matter how dark or shadowy the thing got – and it certainly got like that a few times.  We thought we were off to a roaring start, getting signed at 19.  Then, it was just harder than hell after that.

“We slugged it out. Ended up on American Bandstand – went to L.A.  It was funny.  I had a friend who had seen the band. He liked our songs and liked what I was writing. He said, ‘You should come to L.A.’ It turned out that his partner was managing Wolfman Jack and they signed me as a solo artist. So, I moved to L.A. and slugged around there for awhile – hung out with Wolfman.  We got a little indie to sign us and had a Top 40 record in L.A. called Until It’s Time To Say Goodbye.  Then, I got on Dick Clark. Wolfman knew him and Dick Clark wanted somebody different. I was on the show with Natalie Cole – 1976. It was a pretty big break for me but it didn’t matter much having a single out in L.A. on the L.A. charts didn’t mean much so I still ended up doing gigs. That kind of went by the wayside. I kept going out with my band and playing different places and continuing to right a little more rock stuff.

“We were seen by Albert Grossman, who was Bob Dylan’s manager and Janis Joplin and Albert signed me to Bearsville in ’76 or ’77. I made an album in Bearsville called Windy City Breakdown. That didn’t go so good. Everything went wrong that could go wrong. Albert said, ‘Oh, come to Bearsville.’ And, I said, ‘Why can’t we just do it here? It would be so much easier.’ We had several studios we could have done it at.  We could have done it for nothing, you know?  But he was insistent that we go all the way up to Woodstock and record this thing.

“We went there and the studio was in shambles. Nothing worked.  The air conditioning was out and it was the dead of summer, out in the middle of forests. The place was haunted.  We were like, ‘What the hell?’  Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.  Tape machines breaking. Counts were going out. Not having enough tape. So, we would make little trips to New York City and party, trying to make the best of it. We were far from focused. You take city boys and bring them out into the woods and they go nuts.

“He (Grossman) got me to the Chateau Marmont and he said, ‘You made a piece of crap album.’ First he got me stoned – good and high – and then he told me that he didn’t like my record and he wasn’t going to put it out. So, I stormed out, telling him, basically, to stick it you-know-where. I got my lawyer and said, ‘I want the album coming out.’”

“We printed five thousand of them and made them put it out. And, nothing happened. Then, I got dropped from that shortly after.  I got to make a demo that was fun – with some of the Toto guys.  I got close to getting some interest but they didn’t want to know about it.”

While Cain was one of the few people to successfully flex his muscle against the notorious manager, the experience left him disillusioned about the music business.

“I quit the business for about two years and sold stereos in L.A. I just kind of had it. My dad was, like, ‘Well, you gotta do what you gotta do.’ I remember I had Manpower gigs where I would stack beer – Budweiser. I would do anything to get my mind off of show business. I continued to write songs in my apartment there.

“Then, I got a phone call from some guy that found me that wanted to write with me. I said, ‘Well, sure.’ I went over to his house. He had been writing with Fleetwood Mac. His name is Robbie Patton. We wrote a couple of cool songs. He was telling me about this audition for this band called The Baby’s. He said, ‘You know, you’re a rocker. You should really go there.’ I go, ‘I don’t know. Maybe.’  He said, ‘Well, show up for the audition and see what happens.’

“So, I did. It was a song I had written, really, that I think got me the gig. It was called Stick To Your Guns. I wrote it for my dad because that was his war cry.  When I would call him up and borrow money from him, that was the last thing he would always say to me, ‘Stick to your guns.’

“The audition went well but it was the song that stuck in their head.  So, I was the Stick To Your Guns guy. They had auditioned 40 people.  These guys (The Baby’s) were completely in debt.  It was just John (Waite), Wally (Stocker) and Tony (Brock).  They had been through it already in L.A.  They had a manager that just completely buried them.  They did a 99 city tour and he let them live like rock stars. They had roadies from England and rental cars.  After a year or two of that, you’re buried in red.

“I got the gig.  They called me a month later. I must have went back about six times and jammed with them and played with them.  The next thing I know, I was flying off to Amsterdam to do TV shows with them because they had just released Head First. Hanging out with John and those guys was really cool because they were really the rock and roll that I always wanted to know about. John had that voice. I wished that I could sing like John. He had a swagger about him that he taught me. I learned a lot him and those guys real quick – how to be a pro and how to act like a pro; how to do an interview.”

After the proper grooming, Cain’s education into the rough and tumble world of rock and roll went to the next level.  While the lessons learned were invaluable, the expected big payoff didn’t happen.

“We went on tour with Alice Cooper. That was an awesome tour, meeting Alice and his wife. He flew us around on his plane and pretty much treated us gold plated. Being around him is an honor because he’s a legend. It was the Welcome To My Nightmare tour. So it was me up there opening up with The Baby’s and Alice.  The Baby’s had been doing a bunch of Midnight Specials for (Burt) Sugerman back in L.A. We were almost like the house band for Wolfman. He was so proud of me because he had seen me kick around in L.A. When he found out I got the gig, he always had us on it seemed like. God bless Wolfman!

“It was cool.  We were just kind of bubbling under but we just couldn’t seem to get over the hump – so in debt and selling records but not really getting air play to sell enough to go platinum – you know, break the big one. I guess Midnight Rendezvous was the biggest record we had after those ballads that they had out and they didn’t even write them.  These two guys wrote them – (Jack) Conrad and Raymond Kennedy – these two songwriters from L.A.  They had worked with (Ron) Nevison, so we branched away from that Nevison thing and worked with Keith Olsen. So, we made a new album with Keith called Union Jacks.

“Then Chrysalis (The Baby’s label) wanted my publishing. I’m like, ‘No, you can’t have my publishing. I’m only making $250 a week.’ So, I had to get a lawyer to slug it out with Chrysalis and we won and I kept it.  I was fortunate – not unfortunate as with John, who they had a lien on. They had John’s publishing. It was one of those deals like with The Police. I felt bad for John because, even when he left us and went to EMI, Chrysalis was there attaching his new deal.

“Anyway, we had some success with Union Jacks. Union Jacks was what got me into Journey.  Journey always was kind of progressive. They heard the Union Jacks album and loved it so they wanted us to open for them. So, we showed up in San Diego and began a tour with them – 50 cities or so. I’d get to watch them every night. I started hanging out, watching the band because I was kind of curious as to what their deal was. I really liked the pieces. I liked Steve Perry voice. I liked Neal’s guitar playing. The fans were just unbelievable. They just loved that band.

“We used to open every night. We’d do our little 40 minute set and they’d get up there and figure out how to follow us.  So, they kept changing their set around. And, finally, they hit on this much more Spartan rock and roll set than what they were doing. They really started tearing it up.

“After the shows, Neal and I would go out drinking and jamming. John Waite would go out with us on some nights and Ricky Phillips, our bass player. Sometimes, Steve Perry would show up. We’d stick him on the drums and then we’d do all these old Motown/Wilson Pickett songs – all this old stuff and just have a good ol’ time.  Neal and I got going with each other and he would go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you knew all those chords!’ and we’d get pretty out there and start fusing.

Taking the conversation off course just a bit, I asked Jonathan what he feels is the most positive change in the record business that has taken place.

“I guess digital downloads, really. The internet is somewhat honest now. You still have the sharing sites that you can’t stop – the Limelighters and stuff. I think iTunes and the iPhone have really revolutionized music in the way it’s played. The fact that Don’t Stop Believing is number two in the most downloaded songs is still outrageous to me.  We get compensated for the downloads. ASCAP and BMI are looking after us.  It’s all worked out. It’s a far cry from when our album was ripped off back in 2000. Napster got hold of it and people were getting it for free. I hate to see people giving away music. I think it’s disturbing. These young bands have to stop that or they’re not going to get anywhere.”

I asked what Cain what he thought it’s going to take to fix all that’s wrong with the music business.  Again, his shrewd business sense kicks back into high gear.

“The biggest problem is sustainability. You have to have a sustainable product. That means when you sign an act, they have to have a place to play. You have to get the fans out to see them. You have to make sure that the fans are kept up to date, all that stuff. That’s a whole look at how we’re going to continue the process. If you sign an act that you think is great, you have to make sure that the garden is tended to and that it will continue to flourish. It’s a brand.

“Back in the old days, we had an army of people doing that on behalf of Journey. Today, they put a band out there and unless they have a shrewd manager and a team behind them, they just get lost in the shuffle. I think that’s a big issue. And I think that the places to play are sort of vanishing and clubs are dying. It’s not good.

“I talked to Bill Graham about this before he died. We need a sort of circuit that you can count on. A record company’s music people need to look at making sure that these places stay open. Maybe getting creative and doing things with the malls or something. If there’s no place to play for these acts to grow then how are they ever going to get anywhere?  How are they going to get seasoned? It’s a problem – the performing venues that are available. They’re far and few between. It all takes money but it can still happen.  You have the live streaming stuff that can happen. I just don’t think that the labels are thinking progressively enough.  If they’re going to feature a band and do a live feed somewhere and get the stream on the internet and let them have their shows and let the people see what they’re going to be buying. Show them what they’re doing. There’s just too much of this cloak and dagger thing going on right now.

“Rock and roll is dying because of exactly what I said, the sustainability, the places to play, the crowd’s interest is moving away from rock because there’s Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and all this other junk. Kids are listening to rap, grunge. The alternatives are dark. Rock has gotten a black eye for being depressing, gothic and dark. Heavy metal fans have taken over the rock and roll venue and that’s fine. There’s other music out there that’s not getting heard and not getting signed and that’s unfortunate.”

Obviously aware of the numbers side of the business, Cain adds, “Rap takes its place. It’s far more lucrative. They sell far more units than rock does. Rock is kind of out right now. It’s passé. It’s not the flavor of the month any more. These rappers have really honed in and taken MTV away from rock. I don’t think it’s going to change because they’re real avid buyers and they know what works. It’s all money driven in the end.

“But, again, I go back to where can you play? If there’s no place to play, I don’t know where you play rock and roll unless you’re a big time band. You’ll have to play in some little dive club. So, yeah, I feel bad for the young musicians trying to make it. Kings of Leon did it. They managed to slug it out. I don’t know their story but you certainly see enough of them, I know that.

“Now they’re talking about closing down the Hard Rock’s. They’re in trouble. The casino’s are keeping the old fogies alive and that’s good but it’s a tricky time. I think the whole business is up for grabs. I think whoever’s smart and can survive can do it. There’s sort of an upheaval going on.”

Who IS commanding Cain’s attention these days as far as the newer talent is concerned?

“You know, I’ve looked at a few different people. I thought that Carrie Underwood has done a nice job with her career. I’ve seen her show and it’s pretty darn good. I’ve never seen a bad show from her. As far as rock is concerned, there isn’t a whole lot out there that I even like.  I was kind of into Coldplay for awhile. I thought they were cool but they’re not really rock.

“Probably the neatest thing that’s come down the pike is Kings of Leon, I think. They’re pure cool rock and roll – that sounds like something.  It’s got that vintage thing to it which maybe appeals to me. I like Switchfoot. I like a lot of that stuff. I like some of the Nickelback stuff. They’re a successful group that has done well with their brand. They’ve done a really good job with branding their thing. I just think they play too loud.” He concludes with a chuckle. “They’re still a good brand. They’ve done a good job staying alive in this market which says a lot about them. They’ve written some cool songs. They’re good. Young guys, but smart. I got to meet them a couple of months ago – the two brothers, Chad and Mike. They’ve done a really good job. So, that’s about it, really.”

Wrapping up my chat with this legendary artist, I asked Cain what his plans were after Journey wrapped up its tour.

“Chilling. If all goes right and I don’t get cold feet, I’ll go ahead and finish up my studio. I’ve got grand plans for it. I’d like to get it to the point that it’s a facility and I can go in there and try some things. Maybe do some producing and help my daughter down the road. That’s what I’m hoping to do – make a little noise here in Nashville.”

Keep up with Journey at www.journeymusic.com.

David Cassidy

Posted January, 2010

CassidyhbIf my aging, feeble memory is serving me as I hope, I was introduced to David Cassidy by way of TV.  The year was 1970 and it was during my family’s first trip to Tennessee to see family since our move to Arizona.  A bunch of family was gathered at my maternal grandparents’ house when my cousins started to excitedly chatter about the Patridge Family about to come on television.

I thought to myself, “What’s this?  My cousins would to quit playing so we can watch some dumb documentary about BIRDS???”

Silly kid.

I quickly discovered what all the fuss was about.  The show was an engaging, fun filled, innocent show about a single mom (the ever gorgeous Shirley Jones) and her singing brood of talented kids.  The eldest of these was David Cassidy and, judging by the sighs, giggles, and muffled squeals, it was apparent that he was the biggest star of the show.

Over the next four years, I had to endure the many girls of my various dreams swoon over the image and voice of Cassidy.  Yeah, as I’ve already admitted previously, I was mildly jealous of the teen heart throbs of the day and all for legitimate reasons.  That said, I quickly outgrew the jealousy, but not the healthy admiration, of Cassidy and his peers.

Many years have passed since those days.  However, Cassidy is still wowing girls of all ages by way of concerts, TV appearances, films and Broadway performances.  It was because of an upcoming concert with fellow teen idol, Davy Jones, whom I had the privilege of talking with David by phone.

Cassidy projects a warm and gracious presence over the phone.  I say this because I knew that he literally walked in to his Florida home from the airport after a long flight from LA.  And, yet, he enthusiastically obliged to the interview.


We first chatted about a friend of his (and acquaintance of mine), legendary record producer and former U.S.

manager of Apple Records, Ken Mansfield, whom I interviewed in 2009.  Ken produced an album for David that, due to corporate thick headedness, never made it to American record stores.

Mansfield said of Cassidy wrote in The White Book, “David and I had spent an intense six months together, and I don’t believe I ever enjoyed my chosen vocation more than I did when I was working with him.”

In chatting about his upcoming Dallas appearance, David relayed his last experience in the DFW Metroplex back in 1995.

“I had such an amazing experience there.  I’ve done a couple of concerts there but I also did a Broadway show, Blood Brothers, with my brother, Shaun, in Dallas in ’95, I think it was. The audiences were amazing and my fans have been fantastic.

“Because it’s been so long since I’ve done a concert there, I’m going to do, basically, a whole – I’m going to do a lot of hits - both Partridge Family and myself.  I’ve gone back and dug out the really great songs from the 70’s.  I’ll take people through a musical journey of my life.”

At this point in our conversation, Cassidy takes a surprising and entertaining turn down memory lane.

“When I was thirteen, the Beatles broke.  I got to know all of them.  I got to know John very, very well.  I played with him a couple of times.  He came over to my house and we played some great Beatles songs.  He had forgotten them – the early stuff which I had really remembered.  I’m talking about Meet the Beatles and The Beatles Second Album.

“You know, when you’re thirteen and I saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show, like a million other guys, I went out and bought an electric guitar – like the next DAY!  I started playing in bands and garage bands through junior high and high school.  It was such an amazing, musical time.

“I also played with Paul once.  They were doing their final dress rehearsal for their Wings Over America tour (spanning 1975 and 1976). They did it for me and my guitar player.  They were in Paris at the time, rehearsing and I got to hang out and play a bit.

“But I got to know John really well.  I really think his spirit and his impact on the planet was so great.  I truly believe that he had more to do with changing the world and was willing to die for what he believed in.  He was just lambasted by the media and the press when they did the Bed-In; Nixon wanted to deport him.  But he was such incredibly inspirational guy – hysterically funny and amazingly bright.  They (The Beatles) all did – but he had such an incredible impact on me.”

Later in our conversation, I brought the subject of Lennon back up.  I asked him what his reaction was and what went through his mind and emotions when John was killed.  I could tell that Cassidy genuinely felt angst and pain as he recalled that horrible night in December, 1980.

“I got on an airplane and flew back to New York for reasons that are personal.  I didn’t want his funeral to be a circus.  I spent some time with Yoko at their apartment with a mutual friend of ours.  I spent a couple of days there.  It was, for me, a very personal thing.  I actually never talked about it because I talk about him and his life as opposed to the tragedy.

“But I miss his voice.  And I mean his voice, now more than ever, his belief in ‘All you need is love.  Love is all you need and all we’re saying is give peace a chance.’”  Trying to choke back tears, David continues, “And his commitment to that was a real and genuine as anyone as I had ever known.  I think he had a lot to do with changing the world and its perception.  He was a tremendous spirit.”

However, well before the emotional remembrance of his late friend, he excitedly shared his musical influences and memories, he lists a “who’s who” of rock royalty.

“I saw Hendrix when I was a kid FOUR times.  I saw Clapton and Cream.  I think it was the last show they did.  The live version of Crossroads – I think I was there for that legendary, incredible performance of Crossroads.  I saw THAT SHOW.  They did two nights.  I believe that was the last show they ever did until a couple of years ago when they got back together and played Royal Albert Hall. That’s gotta be, shew, forty years ago!”

As if to snap back from memory lane, David seamlessly brings the conversation back to his upcoming Dallas appearance.

“I might take people back to when John and I first got together and played.  Anyway, I might take them all through that and up through my last platinum album.  I’ll do a couple of my remixes from two years ago which I premiered on Oprah.  It was February two years ago and my album went to number one on Amazon the next day.  The impact of Oprah is quite remarkable.

“I just came off of doing a television series with my brothers, Ruby and the Rockets.  I cut down a lot of the dates because of my work back in television and I’ve moved back out to L.A.   I’m going to start doing a feature film – really a great script.  I’ve only done three features in my life – I’m talking about theatrical releases.  So, we shall see how it goes.  It’s the first show of the year for me and I’m very excited to do it.

“I did a show last year with Davy Jones, which was really successful.  He’s going to open for me and do the first half.  God knows, he really surprised me.  We forget that the Monkees had an awful lot of hits.  His shows are REALLY good. I think a lot of the audience – they were from the 60’s and mine are from the 70’s.  I think the audience will be filled with a night of incredible high energy.

“I’m chomping at the bit to get back and do it.  With all of the work and being in Los Angeles, I haven’t performed, I think, since the first weekend in December so it’s been a while.  I’ve got a lot of different sets that I do.  Every show I do different.  I don’t have any set pattern.  Who knows?  I may do a little bit of blues since I’ll be in Texas.  I’ll do some acoustic stuff.

I’ve learned from Cassidy and others that he is quite the equestrian.  I got the impression from him that, aside from his career and his family, that horses are the next thing nearest and dearest to his heart.

“Oh yeah!  I raise and breed thoroughbred race horses.  I’ve been doing that for over thirty years.  I race in New York.  I’ve got one in Louisiana at the fairgrounds that actually is going to start tomorrow.  He’s going to make his first start.

“But I’ve been breading and racing almost exclusively for the last ten years in New York.  I’ve been the leading breeder by percentage of stakes winners and average earnings although I don’t have anywhere near the kind of earning that some of the big farms do.  I have a small breeding operation with six or seven mares.  It’s been a real passion of mine, too.”

Ever the gentleman, David Cassidy brings the conversation back around his appreciation for Dallas.  He starts off by saying, “I am genuinely, genuinely excited about going back to Dallas.”  Then, switching gears, he tells a story about one of his last visits to the Metroplex.

“I had come from Detroit.  It was, like, 37 degrees and freezing in Detroit.  I got there (to Dallas) and it’s, like, 89!  And this beautiful, BEAUTIFUL girl, who was working for the promoter and producer, greeted me.  She said (and he puts on his best genuinely Southern, make that, Dallas, accent), “Hi, David!  Welcome to Dallas!”  It was 89 degrees and we’ve got gloves on.  It was night and day!  So, I have great memories of Dallas.

“I’ve played the Houston Astrodome.  I played a big Reunion Arena there in Dallas.  I’ve heard fantastic things about the Nokia Theater so I’m looking forward to playing there.  We’re going to try to blow the roof off of that place when we come down.”

THEN, he dropped this little teaser that I don’t think anyone has heard yet.

“My brother, Shaun, actually may come.  I don’t know for sure.”

You heard it here first, Dallasites.  If you were contemplating buying tickets for the Cassidy/Jones show, there MIGHT be an extra added bonus.  I dunno.  I’m just saying.

With our conversation about to wrap up, I asked Cassidy if there was anything unique or special that was going to be offered at the souvenir tables in the lobby.  His answer floored me.

“I think the experience itself – for me – it’s a celebration.”  Clearly, for Cassidy, it’s about the fans and the memories.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

To relive your teenage thrills, catch David Cassidy in concert at a venue near you.  His tour schedule is available at www.davidcassidy.com.

James Burton

Posted June, 2011

burton1bcroppedFor many, if not most, Baby Boomers, the days of their youth are marked and heavily influenced by music.  Some have even referred to the music of those days as the “soundtrack of our youth”.

I’ve said it before but I think that it’s worth repeating:  Many of us are instantly transported back in time as we hear a few notes or words of a song.  Music takes me back to my earliest memories.  It reminds me of school days and old flames.  It reminds me of dating and marrying my wife.  It takes me back to my daughter being born and watching her grow up.  It brings back memories of good times and not-so-good times.  I’m sure that music does the same to many of you.

One man who has been an integral part of the “soundtrack of our youth” – or, at least min - is guitar legend, James Burton.  Think back to the country music of the 50’s and the early days of rock and roll and some of the people, places and shows that fostered the genre’s birth and growth. In those memories, you’ll see James Burton.  Don’t believe me?  Then check this out:

Louisiana Hayride

Burton was there as part of the show’s staff band at the tender age of fourteen playing behind Johnny Horton, George Jones and other greats.

Dale Hawkins

The teenaged James Burton wrote the famous guitar licks of the rock standard, Suzie Q, and recorded it with Hawkins.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included this record on its list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Ricky Nelson/Ozzie and Harriet

Did you ever watch that show?  Well, that’s James playing in Rick’s band.  In fact, Burton lived with the Nelson’s for about two years.  The June, 2011, edition of Guitar Player magazine listed James’ solo on Nelson’s Hello, Mary Lou as one of the 40 Most Influential Rock Guitar Solos.

Shindig

Among the regulars on this popular hit TV show that aired on ABC was the house band that was ultimately called The Shindogs.  The band consisted of James Burton, Delaney Bramlett, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, Larry Knechtel, Glen D. Hardin, Chuck Blackwell and Joey Cooper.  This show hosted some of the most legendary names in music – often with the Shindogs playing right behind them.

The Wrecking Crew

Burton and some of his Shindog band mates also became much sought after session musicians.  Along with some of the other biggest names in the business like Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco and Hal Blaine (to name but just a few), this band of merry musical men (and woman – sorry, Carol!) became known as the Wreaking Crew.  This group of highly talented musicians played on some of the biggest hits in music history.

Some of the artists and bands that Burton played on back in the Wreaking Crew days are Dean Martin, Jackie DeShannon, The Crickets, Dick Dale & His Del-Tones, The Everly Brothers, Bobby Vee, Buck Owens, Jan & Dean, Merle Haggard, Buffalo Springfield and the Monkees (and that doesn’t name anywhere near all of them).

However, it’s likely that you know James Burton more from his work as Elvis Presley’s lead guitarist from ’69 through his death.  Or, perhaps you know him from his work as John Denver’s lead ax man for 15 years. Then again, you might remember him during his days of backing up Emmylou Harris or from playing lead guitar on Roy Orbison’s last recorded performance film, Black and White Night.

Regardless of where you might think you know Burton from, one thing is for certain: It’s no surprise that he’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer among many, many other honors bestowed on him.  It’s also no wonder that many of his fellow – if not equally as prolific – musician friends and industry insiders selflessly heap accolades on the man. Here is a sampling of what some of them had to say to me about Burton:

Chuck Leavell – Keyboardist for the Rolling Stones

“While I've never had the honor of playing with James Burton, I did have the honor of meeting him backstage on a Stones tour in Keith Richards' dressing room. He is certainly an icon of rock 'n roll, and is revered by every guitar player I know. James is the Real Deal.”

Rick Derringer – Legendary Guitar Player and Producer

“James Burton is one of the true innovators on the electric guitar. As a kid, I always looked forward to the OZZIE & HARRIET SHOW. When he was in his late teens, Rick Nelson would always perform his new music each week, and of course his guitarist was James Burton. Rick Nelson's records were alright, but the high point for me was hearing the guitar solos performed by James Burton. It was a real thrill when I finally had the opportunity to perform along with him at one of his benefits several years ago. I pray that he lives for many, many more years and I'll still look forward to hearing him every opportunity that I get.”

Bruce Kulick – Guitarist for Kiss and Grand Funk Railroad

“James Burton has always been a unique guitarist I think of whenever I hear Elvis Presley's name.  His biting attack on the Fender Telecaster was an important part of Elvis's later years of his career.  Although I am not the biggest fan of clean guitar tones, James made it magical working with The King and the other huge stars he recorded and performed with. Las Vegas era Elvis would not have been the same without his contribution.  Burton is a legend.”

Terry Stewart – CEO, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

“There are only a few guitarist that you hear across the breadth and the landscape in the history of rock and roll and, certainly, James Burton is one of them.  Whether it’s that enormous, extraordinary riff on Suzie Q with Dale Hawkins to all the great Ricky Nelson records that we’ve heard like Hello, Mary Lou; the various sessions with Elvis Presley – how much better does it get.  And, on top of that, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

Is it any wonder, then, that I would want to have a chat with this iconic man of the strings?  It was a pleasant surprise that I received word that I would get to have a lengthy chat with Mr. Burton.  He’s an incredibly youthful, vibrant and active 72 years young with a schedule that would exhaust many a teenager.  He’s still in huge demand all over the world and counts many of the biggest names in the business as his friends.

I called up Mr. Burton at his offices in Shreveport, Louisiana, in the middle of a very busy, hectic morning there.  Despite the flurry of activity, with laser-like focus, he blocked out that commotion and zeroed in on my questions.

Before I asked my first question, he apologetically told me, “It’s a mad house here right now. We’re changing things around. We already have ‘Studio A’ and we’re going to go for ‘Studio B’. There’s just a lot of stuff going on right now.  People like to come in on tours and see things.”

I first asked James about his charity, The James Burton Foundation.

 “Well, I’ve always wanted to do ‘my show’.  All of my friends in the business that I’ve worked with, we’re like a big family. I’ve always wanted to do my own show and invite my friends. Well, in doing that, there was something missing – something that I really wanted to do. I discussed it with my family – my wife and I, my son and my daughter – and we decided that this would be a great opportune time to form a foundation.

“So, we formed The James Burton Foundation because I wanted to give something back to the kids and work with the kids to give them the challenge of music in their lives.  In doing that, it was fantastic to be able to help the kids. We got music back in schools with teachers teaching kids how to play. It’s just unbelievable – and being able to go to places like St. Jude Children’s Hospital and furnish instruments to kids in Danny Thomas’s hospital there in Memphis is fantastic.

“Also, to do things for the Shriner’s – to give guitars to the Shriner’s because they have a wonderful hospital for the children and to go to the V.A. Hospital for the veterans – to do all those wonderful things like that and to get music back in schools is unbelievable!  Fantastic!

“And the show (the James Burton International Guitar Show in Shreveport, Louisiana) – the thing that we do for the kids, is non-profit - all volunteer.  Nobody gets paid. We don’t make a dime. The money goes strictly to the kids and music. That was a great thing about the studio – to get them in and do some recording and see how they’re progressing with their music and what they’re doing with their lives.  It’s just a great thing to invite my friends – the artists that came and performed at my show and donated their time for the kids and the foundation – it’s just unbelievable.”

Quite the salesman, he got me so excited about the foundation, I asked when the next show was going to be.

“Hopefully, we’re looking at next year.  This year is a very, very busy year. We’re going into (building) Studio B.  We’re going to have two nice working rooms. We’re going for that – to get that happening. Hopefully, if everything comes together the way we’ve planned, we’ll be able to have a wonderful show next year.”

Burton excitedly shared the names of some of the artists who have performed in past shows.

“Oh, yeah!  We’ve had some incredible talent. I mean, the list of talent we’ve had would just blow you away. You know, Steve Lukather and Eric Johnson, Brad Paisley, Steve Wariner, Dr. John, Steven Seagal – the list just goes on forever. The wonderful people that came and donated their time is just amazing. To continue what we’re doing to teach the kids through the foundation is just wonderful.”

 “One of my long term goals is – I’ve bought a building around the corner so we have the whole corner there – I want to put in a car museum.  It’s going to have cars, guitars and lots of memorabilia. It will be incredible.  The kids love stuff like that.  And then we have a lot of wonderful folks from around the world who come here – the tourists – they love it here.  We just had a group of people from Canada – from Ontario – walking around, taking pictures.”

Putting on his Shreveport Chamber of Commerce hat, Burton plugs what the rest of the city has to offer. “We have a statue of Elvis and myself right in front of the municipal auditorium.  I played there when I was 14 years old with all the top artists. Elvis came there – performed there. Hank Williams.  You’re talking Jerry Lee Lewis.  All the top artists. Roy Orbison.  Everyone performed there.  All the great country entertainers, a lot of rock and roll entertainers.  Even Jimi Hendrix performed in that building. Oh yeah, it’s just incredible.”

Continuing his sharing of the foundations goals, Mr. Burton says, “You know, though, the great thing is working with the kids, teaching the kids. Another goal we have is we’re having volunteers come in and teach the children how to play. We have a gentleman who volunteers his time to work on the guitars for the kids.  He works on professional people’s instruments, as well. That’s another part of the business . . . fix the instruments and put ‘em in top shape and to keep the ball rollin’. I’d like to record the kids and, hopefully, add a DVD to that, as well – of them sitting there playing so that they can see themselves doing what they’re doing and have a CD of what they played.

“When we opened on January 8th – on Elvis’ birthday – we had some young kids come and play – we recorded them in the studio. We had some of the young singers and some of the young players – it was fantastic!”

With such great work being accomplished by the foundation, I wondered if he is getting a lot of support from instrument manufacturers and artists.

“Yes, yes, we are. We certainly are. A lot of companies, they’re just so blown away with what we’re doing with the kids.  They’ve offered their services in any way possible to make it happen. I think it’s wonderful along with the artists that come and do the shows and the manufacturers that furnish things that we need to make all of this possible.”

With these great, lofty goals in mind for the future, I asked James what is the most memorable thing that the foundation has accomplished so far.

“I think that working with the kids and bringing the studio into the function and getting the music in the schools, helping the kids – it’s truly an honor and blessing from God, to be able to pull this together and make it work.  You know, getting music back in schools was a wonderful challenge, and we did it! That was a great thing. I think, just to remember what we’re doing for the kids is very important. It gives them a new life.

“It’s amazing the e-mails the letters and the phone calls that I get from all the kids, the parents and all the people that are involved in music, what it’s doing for the kids and what it’s doing for them in school. It’s just amazing. Teachers call and tell me what a wonderful thing it’s done for the kids. They want to go to school. They can’t wait to get there and play their instrument, do their homework and make good grades. It’s wonderful what’s happening.”

Knowing that many Boomerocity readers from around the world would want to be a part of what all the James Burton Foundation has going on, he shares, “We have the website, www.jamesburtonfoundation.org, that people can go to and make donations.  People can also send checks to:

James Burton Foundation

714 Elvis Presley Avenue

Shreveport, LA 71101

In 2001, James Burton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with such huge names as Aerosmith, Chris Blackwell, Solomon Burke, The Flamingos, Michael Jackson, Johnnie Johnson, Queen, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Talking Heads and Richie Valens.  To add to that honor, Burton’s induction was presented by none other than Keith Richards.

I asked Burton what were his thoughts when he learned that he was being inducted.

“It was incredible, man!  The excitement and - I mean, what an honor!  Truly an honor!  I believe that any award that you accomplish in your career – music or whatever you’re doing – it’s truly an honor and it proves the hard work that you’ve done and the hard work that you’ve accomplished over the years and how it’s accepted and appreciated, you know?  And, either way you look at it, it’s an honor. Incredible!”

I asked if Burton and Richards were friends before that or if that was a relatively new friendship.

“Yeah, Keith and I go back to 1964 – Shindig!  I had a group called the Shindogs.  Keith and the Rolling Stones came and they brought a singer that was on the show – Howlin’ Wolf – and I was nominated to play guitar for Howlin’ Wolf on the show. It was great.  Keith and I have been friends forever. He has been wonderful and has helped us with the foundation in all kinds of ways – like making donations. He’s a very busy person – one of his goals and one of my goals is to play together on my show – the show we do here – the guitar festival. Of course, Keith and I have worked together on the Gram Parson taping that we did up in Santa Barbara and in Universal City in California there. We’ve played together so it was an incredible honor to have him induct me into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t know if you know some of the other people that were inducted at the same time: Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Queen, Solomon Burke, Paul Simon and the list goes on from there.”

When I asked James if he and Keith were going to work on anything in the future like, say, at the guitar show, he gave me his signature “awe, shucks” tone as he said, “Ah, well, we hope so. I’m hoping to get him down here in my studio and do some recording together and have some fun.  He’s always there with me in the foundation for the kids because he believes in the same thing that I believe in – in helping the kids and doing all of those good things like that.  It’s all a blessing from God that we can do this.  He (God) makes all of these wonderful, great things happen.”

In addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Burton was inducted into the Musician’s Hall of Fame in Nashville, the Rock Walk in Hollywood, the Fender Hall of Fame, countless Country Music Award nominations with 7 awarded, a statue the aforementioned statue in his honor in Shreveport, a Grammy for your work on “Cluster Pluck” with Brad Paisley, and ranked 20th on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of top 100 guitarists of all time, among many other awards.  I put James on the spot by asking him, out of all of those awards, is there one that makes him keep pinching yourself and say, ‘Look, Ma!’.

With what sounded to me as the utmost in humility and sincerity, he said, “You know, I pretty much look at all of my awards like that. To me, it’s an honor to accept any award. I do have one coming up here real soon, matter of fact. On September the 10th, they’re going to induct me into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame in Ferriday, Louisiana, with Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley and I don’t know who all else is there. But I’ve had the call and they’re going to present me with the induction there.

“Again, all of these awards show the work that you’ve done through your career – all these awards to me are truly an honor and a blessing from God because it proves that you’re working towards some goal to do good things and you’ve given 120 percent. I believe that that’s what it’s all about.”

Despite the countless numbers of albums that he has played over his long career, Burton has come out with precious few of his own recordings.  His first was recorded with Ralph Mooney in 1969 and is entitled, Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin’.  His second album was a true solo effort in 1970 entitled, The Guitar Sounds of James Burton.  Recently, though, he released a family gospel project entitled, The Spiritual Strings of James Burton.  Since the interview took place before James sent me my own copy of the CD, I asked him to tell me about the album.

“Yeah, you know, I came home off of a tour.  I love gospel music.  Elvis, after every show, he loved singing gospel music. After performing two shows a night in Vegas, he would want to go upstairs to his suite and sing gospel music the rest of the night which would go on for hours and hours and hours.” Burton said with an effortless laugh that comes from obviously very pleasant memories.  “I’ve always loved gospel. I like playing in church. I think it’s great. My wife had a great vision – God came to her in a vision of me doing a gospel album with family.  My son plays and sings and she (Mrs. Burton) has two nieces that are really good singers.

“So we put this project together along with a friend, keyboard player and great singer and entertainer, Eddie Anders, a good friend who is up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Eddie talked to my wife and they came up with an idea to do this project.  We went into the studio and cut that record.  It’s really great. I had some wonderful guests like Marty Haggard – Merle Haggard’s son and a great singer – he came on and performed a couple of songs with us. My son played and sang on it. It’s a great project. We had so much fun doing it. I want to do another one as soon as I can slow down enough to get back into the studio and do it.”

As one might imagine, with countless Presley fans the world over, Burton’s time on the road is filled with Elvis related appearances and performances.  I asked about the demands on his time.

“Sometimes I think that I’m busier now than when I started!  It’s just amazing. Yeah, it’s non-stop. What little time that I have off I try to spend it with my family here in Shreveport. When I’m not travelling then I’m here working and helping with all of these projects going on for the foundation and in the studio. Also, I’m starting up work on the museum thing that we’re putting together.  I travel a lot. As a matter of fact, I’ve got so much stuff coming up the rest of the year I couldn’t find the time to even do a foundation show this year because of my schedule. I know that next year is looking quite the same way but I’m going to try to fit it (a foundation show) in for next year if it works out.”

“I’m doing a show coming up with Gunner and Matthew – Rick Nelson’s boys – we’re doing that up in Wisconsin – way up in that area. I’ve got a couple of shows that I’m doing with them.  The next day after that, I’m heading out to Vienna, Austria.”

When I commented about how wore out I got from reading his schedule when he’s hot and heavy on the road, he replied with a laugh, “Now you know how I feel! Ha! Ha!  Nah, I’m just kidding.  I really love it. Once you get busy, you’ll always be nineteen.”

Before the interview, I solicited some questions from Boomerocity readers for me to relay to Mr. Burton.  One question that I shared was: Who inspired you to pick up the guitar?

“You know, my mother said that, ever since I was big enough to walk, I ran around the house singing, beating on stuff and pretending I was playing on a guitar. God blessed me with my talent. It’s pretty much born in me. I never had training or lessons or anything.  I just picked it up ‘by ear’.  The good Lord was my teacher.  I don’t think that you can get any better than that.

“But being able to pick up an instrument and play by ear with whoever and any place and to love it and enjoy it and be right on, that’s truly a blessing.  I played the radio a lot. I pretty much was raised on country music and got into rhythm and blues, bluegrass, gospel, which turned into rockabilly then rock and roll. I guess that I was pretty much born at the right time. I got into music when the music was really good, simplistic and great.  You could understand the lyrics – good songs and good music. I was blessed with the right time – the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It wound up changing quite a bit in the 80’s and 90’s.”

I asked James if my research was accurate in saying that his first electric guitar was a 1953 Fender Telecaster.  He shared the story around the purchase of that guitar.

“My mother and dad bought me my first Telecaster – a ’53 Tele. Oh, yeah!  I saw that guitar in a music store here – J&S Music here in Shreveport – I was walking down Milam Street and looked up and saw this guitar hanging in the showroom window there.  Boy! That guitar really caught my eye so I went home and told my mother about it. So, my dad comes home from work and she says, ‘Well, I think he’s found a guitar that he’s pretty much set on – one he really likes.’ So, my dad said, ‘Well, take him down there and get it for him.’ We went down the next day and looked at it. I played it and, aw, man!  That was me!  It had my name all over it!

“So, mother and dad bought that for me. That was back in the 50’s – I guess around ’52, 3, something like that. Beautiful guitar, man!  I still have that guitar. It’s been on thousands and thousands and thousands of records.  It’s been with most of the top artists of the world. In ’68 – ’69, my ’68 paisley (Telecaster), I played with Elvis - it became very famous with Elvis, Emmylou Harris, the Hot Band and just a lot of great artists that I played that guitar with. Then, I did my signature guitar with Fender – the James Burton model – which everyone pretty much got what they call a “signature model” but I started that telecaster program with Fender – me and Dan Smith – the signature model, the JB model.  Of course, other guitar players – Eric (Clapton), Jeff Beck, Yngwie Malmsteen – everybody got signature models.  Fender started planning it out but I started that program – the signature model.”

Since he brought up his signature model, I asked how sales have been with the line.

“Fantastic!  I’ve done two or three different models – the black and gold paisley, the red and black paisley with some different colors – the solid pearl white, the solid red. Then, my latest one – the one with flames on it – they all sold really well and they’re still selling. It’s amazing. It’s a great guitar. I did a three pick up telecaster with a five-way switch. I put the flame paisley together for my show in 2005 – when I did my first show. I presented every artist on the show with a James Burton Signature Model – a flame guitar.  Eric Johnson looked at his – he was standing there, holding it – and he told me, ‘Oh my god! I don’t even own a Telecaster!  This is my first Telecaster!’  And then he told his tech guy, ‘Go set it up for me. I want to play it on the show!’ So, he played it on the show – as well as Brad Paisley and Dr. John.”

When James mentioned Brad Paisley, I couldn’t help but blurt out what a huge fan of his that I am.  Burton conveyed the same kind of excitement when he commented about Paisley.

“Oh, he’s a sweet man.  He’s just a wonderful talent.  He did my very first show.  Him, Eric Johnson, Dr. John, Steve Crawford, Gunner and Matthew (Nelson).  The list goes on forever– even my old buddy, Seymour Duncan played.  We just had a big line-up.  Johnny Rivers – I think we had 18 or 19 on the line-up for the first show. “

I asked the Master of the Telecaster how he feels about how technology has impacted the construction of guitars today.

“Well, you know, Leo (Fender) and I were talking and I told Leo one day – Leo Fender never stopped experimenting.  He felt like that if he handed a guitar to someone, that was the best guitar in their lives and they felt that there was nothing could be better on that guitar. I think they’ve made the best guitars.  I think making something different is what the manufacturer’s are trying to do – the technology they’re trying to change – the pick-ups, the different knob controls – you know there’s a lot of technology stuff.  The actual instrument is up to the individual.  When you pick up an instrument, how does it feel for you? Another person might pick up that instrument and say, ‘Nah, this is not for me’, you know? The technology is one thing but the actual playing – when a guy’s fingers – hands – touch that instrument, that’s when it happens. The instruments are all different. There’s hardly no two guitars alike, even though they came out of the same mold and they have same equipment on them and everything, there’s a difference.  Isn’t that amazing?

“The actual playing of the instrument is in your hands and your touch and your feel and things that come from the heart and the soul. I mean, just like two people can pick up the same instrument and what you hear is two different people. Some of these questions are very hard to answer but I just think that technology is one thing and the actual person playing the instrument is another thing, you know? Every person playing an instrument has their opinion of that instrument and the way they play.”

And just how many guitars does Burton own?

“Oh, my god, I have no idea.  I’ve got a few guitars and I just want to play some of them. I don’t know. I couldn’t even put a figure on it. I know that it’s more than two or three because I like to play more than two or three different instruments” James said, laughing.  “And I enjoy playing different instruments, you know? And the thing that you’ll know about a studio player is that they’re pretty much required to play different instruments. I like playing a dobro, banjo, mandolin, slide dobro, acoustic dobro – most all stringed instruments. Most guitar players sort of fall into that bag. But when you go into the studio to cut with an artist, the producer might say, ‘Hey, how about playing 12 string today? Or acoustic or, hey, put some dobro on this today?’ That’s the thing that we do.”

While even the casual observer can tell that Burton is just a tad partial to the Fender Telecaster, I wasn’t at all sure what his acoustic preferences were so I asked him.

“Well, I play a lot of different acoustics. I love a Taylor.  Taylor Guitar is probably one of my most favorite guitars now.  Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug, these guys are my friends.  When these guys got started with their company, they were building , like, five guitars a day. They went from five guitars a day to, like, five thousand a day. Just unbelievable. And QUALITY !  First class quality instruments and they would not release an instrument unless it was inspected, perfected and ready to go. They were my friends and they gave me some Taylor guitars when they first got started that I played and I loved. I just think that it’s one of the finest guitars made today.”

I try to remember to ask all guitar players if they have a guitar that they consider the “holy grail” that they either own or want to own.  I happened to remember to ask James. His answer was almost like peering into guitar history.

“You know, I can’t think of what that would be.  What would that be? Hmmm.  You know, I can’t think of anything – you know, there’s a lot of old guitars that you want to get a hold of – that Jimmie Rodgers played or something that’s, like, Marty Stuart playing the Clarence White B Bender.  Clarence White and I were friends.  He brought me this guitar and said, ‘Tell me what you think about this.’ He started building the B Bender, right?  He did – and I took him to Fender to see if they might be interested.  Of course, at that time, they weren’t ready for the B Bender but Marty Stuart’s playing Clarence White’s B Bender which is, I thought, a pretty interesting deal. And there’s some other guys – Gene Parsons and a lot of different people that had put some of those together – the B Benders.  But I can’t really think of anything unless I could come up with an old Martin that is too good to be true or an old, old, old Gibson,  something like that.

“You know, acoustic instruments are very, very fragile instruments and they’re very popular with the collectors to get, really, a good one, you know.  Like, if you can get the Stradivarius violin, that’s the one to have, you know what I mean? (Laughs) Of course, if you’re looking for a guitar or something like that, call George Gruhn, he knows guitars in and out.  He knows the real collector ones. I have several collector guitars and, you know, the pink paisley that I played with Elvis became very popular, you know, famous with a lot of the guitar players out there because they all wanted one. They didn’t make a lot – a lot of the originals.  The pink paisley – the one I played with Elvis – is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame up in Cleveland, along with one of my jump suits and some other stuff.”

As often happens when I interview people, an off-the-wall question comes to my mind that I feel compelled to ask.  Such was the case when I asked Mr. Burton whatever happened to the famous black Gibson Dove acoustic guitar that Elvis was seen with on stage in the early 70’s.

“Well, you know, I really don’t know but he went through a lot of different guitars. He played the Jumbo 200 – the blonde ones.  He threw two of those away one night, uh, in one show – the two blonde ones.  But then he played the Gibson guitar with the insignia – the karate insignia on it. I don’t know what happened to all of those guitars.  I’m sure they’re probably someplace in the collection at Graceland – I don’t know.

“I tell ya, Elvis did not care about material things, you know? He would give you the shirt off his back. He enjoyed giving stuff away to people – cars and all that stuff. He enjoyed it. That was one of the things that made him real happy, doing that.”

When I commented that there wasn’t enough people at that level who have a philanthropic heart like Presley’s, James is quick to add another icon to that list.

“John Denver was a wonderful, generous man, too. A great guy to work with and a great talent. But, you’re right. Elvis, he loved his fans. He loved his God. He always took his Bible with him every place he went. He really enjoyed reading it. Once in awhile, we’d all sit down and he would quote scriptures out of the Bible. Everybody’s looking around and he would say, ‘Let me go to my room and get my Bible and check this.’ I mean, he could not even open a Bible and quote all these scriptures, man, almost word-for-word, man. Unbelievable!  He loved it. He was just a great guy, man. Put aside being a great entertainer, singer. He was a natural talent. He was another ‘God’s Gift’ to the music world – the industry. He became THE icon.”

I mentioned to Mr. Burton that I’ve often wondered what would have happened if Elvis hadn’t gone into rock and roll and, instead, followed his passion for Southern Gospel music.  Mr. Burton shares a story that Elvis shared with him that took place before Presley broke into the music business.

“Oh, absolutely!  Absolutely!  Can you imagine what he could do for the young folks today – bringing them into the love of God, being a Christian and all of the wonderful things goes with it?  Elvis told me stories about when the (southern gospel quartet) Blackwood Brothers would do shows and J.D. (Sumner) was singing bass for them.  Elvis loved bass. He loved gospel.  He would go to the back door and try to sneak in to see the show because he loved gospel and he wanted to be there. So, J.D. let him come in and be there.  It was great.  Of course, he loved J.D. and all the gospel groups and quartets around the world.  He talked about it a lot and he always wanted to sing gospel after the shows. As I said earlier, we would go up for hours and hours and sing and play gospel music.”

When I asked James if the gospel singing was his most poignant memories of Elvis, he was quick with his answer.

“No, no. Just memories of being with him in general. It was a wonderful nine years – just what a great man he was. He touched many people around the world and did so much to help people.  I just remember what an incredible, great person he was other than being an incredible entertainer, actor, singer, even just a wonderful, fantastic person. He loved his family and all of his cousins, ‘brothers’, uncles and aunts. When he called me and asked me to put a band together for him in ’69 – he called me in ’68 but I was doing an album with Frank Sinatra – but, when he called me in ’69, we talked for three hours on the phone. He wanted me to put a band together for him and open Las Vegas at the International Hotel, which is now the Hilton.

“Incredible things happened through all of that. First off, it was a very hard decision I had to make because I had so many clients that I worked with in the studios, recording and that field.  It was a very tough decision on my part to say, ‘Okay, I’ll do this and I’ll go.’ But, I did do it and it worked out wonderful because I didn’t lose anything. I continued my career because I had a career before Elvis and a career after Elvis and this is all a blessing from God on me, you know what I’m saying?  To be able to work with so many great entertainers in the world – and I love it.”

Since Burton has seen and done it all, I asked him if there was any new talent that has commanded his attention.

“Well, you know, I think a lot of them sound alike, look alike.  I think that they’re all great. I still miss some of the old ones that aren’t being played on the radio. I think the radio has changed an awful lot in this business. I miss a lot of them. I miss Hank, Jr. I miss Merle Haggard. I miss a lot of the old Hank Williams. I miss some of the people that really made the music world opened up the lives of a lot of people. Of course, I appreciate a lot of the new talent, too. There’s a lot of great ones out there like the Keith Urban’s and the Brad Paisley’s – oh, wow!  These guys – they’re all fantastic.

“They’re just a whole bunch of them out there that’s just fantastic. I like them all. Of course, I don’t get a chance to listen to a lot of radio because, when you’re in the studio creating music, you don’t get a chance to go back and listen to a lot of stuff. But I like a lot of stuff out there.

“There’s a little girl out there, Christina Aguilera, she is fantastic!  I’m tellin’ ya, it’s unbelievable the things that she can do.  My wife and I watched her movie that’s out with Cher (“Burlesque”). Oh! You gotta see it, oh man!  That little girl – she can perform. She can get up there with the best and top of the line. She can lead the show. She’s just an AMAZING singer! I won’t say much about that (the movie) but you DO need to see that, if you can!”

“I’m doing a book – my life story. There’s so many things that I could write about. I could do a whole book on Elvis and a whole book on Ricky.  But I’m going to get my story out there and I think everyone is going to enjoy it.”

Any idea when it will be released? “Not at the moment. I’m ready to get rolling!”

After the call, I was struck by something Mr. Burton said during our chat.  He said, “I’ve been wonderfully blessed and I have a wonderful family and all of the wonderful support from my family and my mother and father.  My father has passed away and my mother is 96 years old and she’s a wonderful lady, hanging in there. I go visit her every chance I get and we spend as much time together as we can. She’s here in Shreveport so we’re truly blessed.”

On May 23rd, just a couple of weeks after our chat, James mother, Mrs. Lola Poland Burton, passed away at the age of 96 years young.  Among all the treasured memories that James and his family must have of Mrs. Burton, the world owes her a debt of gratitude for her fostering little James talent and making the sacrifice in purchasing that ’53 Telecaster.

You can keep up with James Burton’s incredibly busy world and the tremendous work his foundation is doing by checking out his website, www.james-burton.net.  While you’re at it, why don’t you drop by his foundation’s website and make a donation to the worthy cause that James is pursuing?  You can make your donation by visiting www.jamesburtonfoundation.org/supportus/