Delbert McClinton

Posted November, 2014

Delbertmclinton0001I was first turned on to Delbert McClinton almost thirty-four years ago when the Texas born singer came out with his smash hit, “Giving It Up For Your Love.”  I mean, who can forget his memorable performance of that song on Saturday Night Live with the lovely and talented Bonnie Bramlett singing backup for him?  Absolutely amazing!

Still recording, touring and performing for fans all over America, the man’s music is as fresh and relevant as ever.  I recently caught up with Mr. McClinton by phone to talk about his current tour, the music business and his plans for the future.

Answering my question regarding how things are in his world these days, Delbert dropped a bit of a bombshell on me regarding his health.

“Well, I had a triple by-pass in April. It was successful. I didn’t have any heart damage. I knew something was wrong. So I listened to my body and they caught it. I had a ninety-five percent blockage in the main artery. He told me that I was just a breath away from being dead. So, that happened and that’s great. I’m back and totally recovered and ready for another fifty years.”
Naturally, this all begged the question as to whether or not this experienced changed McClinton’s perspective on life, relationships, career, content of songs or anything else.

“Yeah, it’s a life-changing event regardless of how it goes down. Like I said, I was very lucky. I was already in the process of recovery before I really even knew what I had. I mean, it happened so quick!  Heart surgery these days, they make it seem like it’s no more difficult than changing a tire on a little girl’s bicycle. I went in there. They operated one day. I was walking around on the third day. On the fifth day, I was out of there with big ol’ heart shaped pillow to hug and, boy, I was glad to have it! It becomes your best and only friend for a short time – especially right after surgery because, if you cough, you need to have a pillow to hold you together. Ha! Ha!

“But, you know, that didn’t go on for long. It was just a matter of just a couple of weeks. And, yes, it did change my perspective on an awful lot of things. First of all, you realize that it doesn’t always happen to someone else. That’s a pretty big game-changer when you have to face the fact that you almost died from it. It gets your attention. But, at the same time, I feel – I don’t feel twenty years younger but I feel a whole lot better! My voice is better than it’s been since I was a teenager. I don’t know. I could go on and on about the aftermath of having heart surgery but the bottom line is I’m sure glad I didn’t die! Ha! Ha!

“I mean, I don’t mind dying. We’re all gonna die. But I wasn’t ready to die. Of course, few people are but I was certainly aware of the fact that, hey! I’m in trouble!  So, it changes the whole way you think. I feel more at ease now because I know I’ve had something done that I corrected a major mess. Other than that, I’m relatively healthy. Life is good and I’m moving on.”
Putting a pleasant, humorous bow on the subject, Delbert said, “That’s the main thing that’s happened to me. That’s this year’s big deal. Ha! Ha!”
Another reason why I wanted to interview McClinton was I had learned that, as part of yet another busy touring season, he was going to be playing in my area - at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. I asked if he had performed there before.

“Oh, yeah, I’ve played at the Bijou before – several times! I love old theaters and that’s a good one!”

I asked what if McClinton’s performances have changed due to his surgery and what can fans expect from shows during this tour.

“It has changed but as far as trying to describe that, I don’t know how I would do that. I can’t not be different because something major occurred! I can breathe deeper than I’ve been able to breath in years. I don’t know, man, I don’t know. It’s all still pretty supernatural to me, in a way. In the last three years, my saxophone player had a heart attack while we were on the road and died after got him to the hospital. Then, my trumpet player had a heart attack on a day off while we were out. We took him to the hospital in Richmond, Virginia, and, after several hours, the doctor came walking out and said, ‘Everything’s fine.’  I saw him before he went in there and he looked awful! To see somebody walking after you’ve seen somebody that you just knew wasn’t going to make it . . . and he did!  He’s back and healthy.

“You know, you gotta live every minute like it’s the last. It can be over at any second - like blowin’ out a candle. That’s how easy it is. So, with that in mind, I’m having a lot of fun because I nearly wasn’t here! Ha! Ha! I don’t want to ride on that because I’m not the only one in the world who’s ever had heart surgery but you asked me what’s going on and that has occupied my every thought for the last several months. I’m just a very fortunate guy. I’ve got a lot more music in me. I’m making preparations now for another record. I’ve almost got enough songs to do a double album. We’re in the process of putting that together.”

Is keeping the road fresh and non-monotonous a challenge for Delbert?
“Well, it doesn’t necessarily wear me down. I love to go out and make music. I hate the hotels. I hate the goin’ there. If I never walked into another hotel room in my life, it would be too soon. They’re all the same and it comes with the lunch, you know? If you’re gonna do this, that’s where you’re gonna stay.
 
“I don’t work as much as I used to. I usually work two to three days a week. That’s hard working but it takes up four days a week – with the comin’ and the goin’. So, I’m at home ‘bout as much as I’m on the road and I like that. I don’t spring back as quick as I used to. I’m real good for two or three nights but if I’ve got to do five or six nights a week – I won’t say I couldn’t do it but I sure as hell don’t wanna do it because it’s a young man’s game out here doing this. I’m so fortunate that I have a career that allows me to not have to work all the time. I’m sittin’ pretty, man!”

When I asked McClinton what has changed, positively and negatively, about touring, he replied, “The road never changes. It just never changes. Every time I go back out, it’s just like I left it. Fortunately, again, I have a band – we’re all really good, close friends. Nobody’s a jerk. We don’t have to baby sit anybody. Nobody’s an abuser. We’re all adults and we enjoy making music. That’s the premier thing that we do.

“I spent a lot of years – a lot of ‘em – being that guy, myself. But that was a long time ago. I’ve got no time for fools or jerks. Delbertmclinton0002There’s no room for that. When you’re closed up in a tube with a bunch of guys, one sour apple can screw up the vibes all the way through the place and nobody needs that kind of behavior. But there are an awful lot of jerks out there. It’s a skull orchard out there and they’re just dumb as a rock, a lot of ‘em and you just have to deal with that, you know? I’m certainly not sayin’ everybody but there are those the shade never comes down and says, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t do. Maybe you shouldn’t say that.’ So, you’re on a pivot, ready to get out of the way all the time with some people.

“An example of the kind of people I’m talking about: We played in Vegas once and the shortcut back to my room was straight through the casino. I kinda closed my eyes and turned invisible and headed off through the casino. Some woman at a slot machine saw me. ‘THERE’s DELBERT!’ Running over there and grabbed me and was hollering at everybody, ‘Look! I got Delbert!’ You know? That’s just really squirrely. Ha! Ha!”

Our conversation shifted over to the state of the music business and record companies in general.  McClinton’s comments echoed what I’ve heard from other great artists.

“I don’t even think that there are such things as record companies any more. The thing that’s so incredibly difficult about it - and I don’t know how in the world they’ll ever stop it because you can’t. A good friend of mine is a writer and that’s pretty much all he does is be a songwriter. He’s written a lot of hits for people. Two years ago, his income went to one quarter of what it usually was because, once you record a song now, the minute you let it out, everybody’s got it. Anybody who wants it has got it. You can’t make any money. The only way to make any money is go perform.

“As far as making records, so many bands today give their records away just to create a fan base. Fortunately for me, I’ve got a fan base – a fantastic fan base. They’d take a bullet for me. That’s pretty special. I would hate to be a young guy trying to start out in this world today because, in the first place, I know anybody who starts out in this has the biggest dreams in the world. So many of them have confidence that will just scorch everybody else. But that’s not enough, unfortunately. You’ve gotta have more than that. The want-to is ninety-nine percent of it. The being-able-to is the other ninety-nine percent of it. It’s a hard way to make a living.

“Back when I started doing this, everybody in the world wasn’t in the business. But, today, it’s unbelievable, man. Everybody’s in it and, as hard as I try – well, maybe that’s not the right words because I don’t try that hard. I don’t listen to an awful lot of the new music. I’ve got a young daughter and she brings music around for me to listen to. But she grew up with me and I’d been feeding her Hank Williams and Ray Charles so I think she’s going to be okay. She’s got a good head on her as far as music goes.”

As our chat shifted gears, during the transition Delbert quoted Bob Dylan: “A lot of things get in the way when you try to do something right.” Both of us being Dylan fans, we chatted about the legend for a few minutes.

“It pisses me off every time I hear him say something because I go, ‘Damn! I wish I’d said that!’ He is the guy and always will be. He’s a phenomena that will keep people forever wondering, ‘What the hell?’ His word-smithing is just phenomenal!”

Still on a roll, talking about other great songsmiths, Delbert segued into talking about another artist.

“A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a Johnny Mercer CD that Clint Eastwood did called ‘The Dream’s On Me.’ I grew up listening to Johnny Mercer. He wrote ‘Moon River,” ‘Jeepers Creepers’ and ‘G.I. Jive.’ He was the voice of the Forties! He’s another tunesmith that puts words together that’s just unbelievable!”
McClinton then drew a comparison to today’s talent.

“I was reading an article here a while back. I try to stay away from things like this but Kanye West was running his mouth again. I think, ‘My god! How can anybody be so self-centered and stupid?’  He seems to think he’s God. He said that. I read that he said he’s a god. I’ve already had most of my life and I know where that heads to. It heads to a lot of really confused, uninformed, ultimately pitiful people. Not always but that’s the route, when you go to thinking that you’re the only one, that’s when they start heading for that brick wall. That ol’ brick wall is abrupt. I hit it three or four times and it’s a hard one to get past. First of all, you’ve got to admit that you’re wrong. For a lot of people, that’s a difficult thing to do.” 

I’ve counted 28 studio albums that Delbert has recorded n(ot counting compilation albums). I’ve listened to his latest CD, “Blind, Crippled and Crazy” and absolutely love the amazing, “Just When I Need You The Most.” I said as much to McClinton, to which he responded, “I agree. I agree. And that record did absolutely nothing (sales wise)! It got a lot of great reviews. I think it was a great record. It was a lot of fun. Glen and I always have so much fun singing together. When we went back to do this, it was like we’d never stopped. We do it so naturally, it’s just like fallin’ off a log. We don’t even have to try to sing together. We don’t really sing harmonies together. We just sing different parts together. Because of it, it makes everything go up on two wheels every once in a while which I think is exhilarating.”

You’ll recall that, earlier in the interview, Mr. McClinton mentioned that he planned on going into the studio in the near future. I circled back to that comment and asked him if he had any idea how he was going to go with it.

“It’s going to go every which way. I’ve been writing with some different people. Al Anderson and I have written two or three songs together that are of a Dixieland style which is really, really cool. We’ve got three good songs, at least. My bass player and guitar player have been working together and we’ve got four great songs that are different for me. I don’t play anything real well. I play the pull and jerk method on the guitar – just enough to do my songs. But when I sat down to write with these guys, they are professional musicians. They know more than three chords. So we sat down together and started pushing stuff around and it enabled me to sing and play like I don’t ordinarily get to. When I write songs, I usually don’t write them with more than about three chords. Ha! Ha!

“So, stretching out in this way has allowed me to explore whole different areas of vocal style because, now, I’ve got somebody to write with that can bring that to the table, you know? So, we’ve been having a lot of fun doing that. And I’ve just written a lot of songs over the last several years. The other day I was lookin’ and I think I have sixteen new songs. If I had about twenty, I’d put out a double album. We’re working on that and it might just happen.

“But, in answer to your original question, it’s going to be varying, different styles, from blues to jazz to a kind of New Orleans/Dixieland kind of thing. So, so far, that’s a bunch of the feel that’ll be on this record.”

When I told Delbert that I love the blues and how he sings them and that I can’t wait to hear the new album where he’ll sing some more, he replied with the humor that he peppered our chat with by saying, “Well, you’re gonna have to.”
What hasn’t Delbert done that he would like to do, career-wise?

“Make a s*** load of money.”

There’s that humor, again.

“Nah, I’m just kiddin’. I’ve got no reason to complain. I’ve done very well. It took a long time to get there. I didn’t make any money in this business until I was fifty-one years old. So, the last ten or twelve years, for me, have been premier time as far as me being a stable commodity and that’s a great place to be, man. I work as much as I want to. You can’t beat that! Ha! Ha! It’s as good as it gets!”

In answer to my question about who he would like to work with but hasn’t yet, Delbert replied, “I would’ve liked to have sung with Tina Turner. I think it would’ve been great fun to do something with her. But I don’t know, any more, you know? I really don’t. I have, all of my life, been singularly obsessed with what I’m trying to do that I miss so much music in my life. I would not recognize a Grateful Dead song. I know everybody else in the world lived and breathed by the Grateful Dead. I don’t know anything they ever did. I mean, if you played me something, I would recognize it. But, as far as knowing who they were and what they did? No idea. And there are so many people that just went right past me for whatever reason.

“The only reason I bring that up is that I think it’s unusual that I was so preoccupied with I’m not even sure what. I was preoccupied with what I was trying to do that everything else went by like a sign on the highway. I can’t talk to anybody about music, about who played that lick, about who did this except in a small area of music. I spent my whole life living in this area with soft edges.”

Delbertmclinton0003Is there anyone relatively “new” that’s catching McClinton’s attention in the music world?

“The last person that I remember hearing that really pulled me out of wherever I was and got my attention was Maroon 5. Fantastic! Fantastic band! Adam Levine, he’s an impressive guy. You can’t not recognize that those guys are doing well and bringing something new.

“Here’s the other and this will probably blow your mind. It blew my mind. Lady Gaga is amazing! You need to check her out because she is real talent. There’s just no denying that, if you give her a chance – I mean, good god!  She’s a power house, man! She and Tony Bennett did an album together and it came in at number one! Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. They are number one! He is amazing, of course. Since I’ve become a fan of hers – I’ve not heard the record yet but I have no doubt that it’s great.”

I had read that Delbert McClinton hosted the “Sandy Beaches Cruise” each year and asked him to tell me about it.

“This January will be the twenty-first year we’ve done it. It’s one week in the Caribbean with singers, songwriters, pony tricks and fire eaters and such and the music never stops. It goes from ten-thirty or eleven in the morning to five-thirty in the morning. People can sign up at 1-800-Delbert or Delbert.com.”

As to what is on McClinton’s career radar for the next year or so, he says, “Ha! Ha! Well, for the next year, I’ve got a record to make, which is always exciting. As far as whatever else, if I could just keep doing what I’m doing right now until I don’t want to do it any more, I’ll be a big winner.”

When Delbert steps off the tour bus for the final time and has gone to that great gig in the sky, how do he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be?

“Oh, man! That’s just fantasy, isn’t it? Well, when I hang it up, I hope it’s because I’ve dropped dead on stage because that would be the best way in the world to go out. Of course, you can’t pick that. I don’t know how to answer that question because it could be a real sappy answer if I’m not careful and I don’t want to have a sappy answer. When I’m done, I’m done. The last thing in the world I’d want to do is to have to answer questions like that anymore.”

Jeff Cook

October, 2014

alabamapressphoto00001In the very early eighties, as what would become classic rock arguably began to decline instature among the masses, country music was (like today) holding its own.  That is, until a group out of Fort Payne, Alabama, took country music stages across America by a storm. No, make that a countrified blitzkrieg.

How’s this for accomplishments?

• Have sold seventy-five million albums and singles (combined)
• Over 30 number one country hits according to Billboard magazine
• R.I.A.A. named them as Country Group of the Century in 1999
• Seven platinum albums
• According to Wikipedia, the band is considered the most awarded band in country music with over 200 awards from a plethora of organizations
• They’ve been credited with single-handedly broadening the appeal of country music well beyond its then-established boundaries, directly responsible for its continued appeal today
• Still touring and producing popular, relevant country music today

To that latter point, Alabama has just released a brand spankin’ new concert DVD entitled, “Alabama & Friends At The Ryman,” and it, once again, shows how and why the iconic country band has the staying power that it does.

I’ve known a person or two who have worked under the band in various positions such as security and other services. They spoke glowingly of the band’s kindness, generosity and creativity and I could tell that they were giving the band more than lip service.  Consequently, I have always wanted to interview one or more of the band. Because of this new release, I was afforded the opportunity to interview the band’s lead guitarist, Jeff Cook, and, of course, I jumped at the chance.

I reached Jeff on his cell phone as he was heading to Birmingham, Alabama, on some business and, after a little chit chat asked him what the feedback has been like, so far, on the DVD.

“The DVD hasn’t been out long enough, I don’t think, to get an accurate reading but just speculating, I think we’re going to have a pretty nice product here that people will want.” And what about comments from friends?  “Well, I haven’t talked to any of my friends who has it!”

I was curious how the band determined who would perform with them and if the guest artists were friends of theirs. His answer reflected the mind of a man who has been in the business for a long time.

“Well, I think we all had crossed paths at least once. A lot of it had to do with who could do it, contractually. There were some other folks who would’ve liked to have worked with us on it but couldn’t for a variety of reasons. There was no, ‘I like you better,’ kind of thing.”

I used Cook’s comment to jump ahead to a question I had planned to ask later in the interview which was: How did he see the impact of the changes on the business side of country music?

“This is a personal observation and opinion. I don’t think success can be achieved today as it was when it was our turn because the music and the industry is constantly changing. Methods of operation and everything that’s sometimes not always great.

“The positive changes, the way I look at it, are the recordings – the technology – has come along and getting stronger every day - quality of the music, the technical quality, not the content. That’s always debatable. Now, the guy who wrote the song probably loves it but that don’t mean his buddy does.”
Did the guest artists bring anything new to the songs?

“We stressed to ‘em, ‘Do your own thing to put your twist on it. Let’s see what your interpretation is’ instead of, ‘Let’s copy Alabama.’ I think that turned out what we intended it to be.”

Artists typically refuse to pick a favorite song of theirs because doing so would be akin to picking one’s favorite child. So, I asked Jeff which performance he would point to as a “calling card” for the video.

“I think, probably, Trisha Yearwood did a great job on the song she did. That’s a good sample of the quality of these songs and the interpretations by the artists.”

With such a wealthy catalog of additional great songs in their arsenal, I asked Jeff if there were any plans for any follow up concert videos like this one.
“I guess anything like that is possible. It just depends on the marketing minds that are working on it now. I would like to see another one of these down the pike. We need to give this one time to do its thing. ‘Course, being filmed at the Ryman didn’t hurt anything, either. In fact, it was an honor to be able to play there with so many great artists who’ve worked there. I think we’ve played the Opry – in that building – twice. The first time we played on the Opry out at Opryland, my mother and daddy were having their fiftieth anniversary. We did a dry run because I wanted to show them how to get into the back in the parking area. While we were there, Minnie Pearl and her entourage comes up. It was all over then. They didn’t care if we played or not since they got to talk to Minnie Pearl!”

While Jeff and I did share at length our admiration for various legacy country artists who were key to shaping and continuing the genre, I was curious who of the new crop of artists were commanding his attention.

“Well, it depends on watcha call ‘new.’ I like Brad Paisley’s stuff. Of course, I think one of the best female singers is, of course, Trisha Yearwood. Also, Martina McBride, but she’s not on this DVD, unfortunately.”

I shifted the course of our chat just a little by bringing up that the music industry (country, rock and other genres) seems to ignore the older talent that we still love to listen to its financial detriment, which makes no sense at all. I mentioned talent like the late George Jones as well as other Country Music Hall of Famers that seem to be virtually ignored by the industry. I asked Jeff what his take on it was.

“Well, first of all, I’d like to say that I like the older stuff, too, as well. I was fortunate enough to have an invitation extended to play with George (Jones) and did several shows with him prior to his death. He still put it all on the stage. That’s George and the way George does it. And it’s true of a lot of other artists, too. Some of them haven’t had time to build a catalog or a performance record that others have. But it comes down to the business side of the business instead of the performance side that I think could be changed to actually revert back to some of the stuff that worked better, maybe.”

That comment provoke my often asked question of artists: If you were made the Music Czar and given the mission to fix the alabamapressphoto00002industry, what would you do to fix it?

“Have laws passed that you couldn’t have a monopoly on radio stations – corporately owned. When Alabama did it, we sat down and wrote letters and sent out 45’s – remember those? – sent out 45 RPM records to radio stations. We’d get up and drive three different directions from Myrtle Beach. You’d get wet if you kept going east.  We’d go north, south and west and reach as many stations as we could visit and write letters to because there were actually program directors and music directors in the building. It wasn’t just a title. They actually got to decide what was played and it’s not that way in a lot of cases, any more. You can’t get that one-on-one relation with the stations. That would fix a lot of things, right there.

“If you’re any good at what you do, you can set up your own concerts and station visits and such as that. It’s gotten so complicated and full of red tape, too many hands out that it loses its personality. There’s a lot of things that could be changed or undone. You’ve got the people at the top who want to make all the money. Then you’ve got the people who are interested in the music and the performance.”

Cook then answered my questions about tour plans and what was on Alabama’s radar for the next year and, maybe, a little beyond.

“Oh, yes. We have been touring for the last two and a half years or so. We’ve already got fifteen shows booked into next year. We’re not going to do three hundred dates a year like we used to. But I think we’ll probably do twenty or thirty dates. We’re at a point in our career that we don’t have to play everyplace that’s offered. We can pick and choose. Is it going to kill us to get from Point A to Point B in x-amount of time?”

As for the future for the band, Jeff said, “Yeah, we’re coming out with a new country album. Give it about six months. We’re still looking for material. We’ll probably write some of it and take some that’s submitted. Hopefully, it will be good. Ha! Ha!

“Of course, we have the Cracker Barrel gospel album that we worked out with the Gaither people. That’s doing really well. They underestimated the sales by 209%. They’ve been sold out a lot. It’s a good thing but it’s a bad thing. Everybody buys the record at the first of the week. When the weekend comes and you get all the traffic through there that might see the signs to pick up a copy of the CD and there’s no product. But they’re working on that.

“The story behind that CD is that, for years, we toyed around with the possibility of doing a gospel album with recognizable tunes – things that you heard growing up, in church, and such as that. Finally, we had the opportunity to work with Bill Gaither’s companies. They’re the people that seem to have the thing refined, now, as far as getting gospel music out there. For the month of September, it was exclusive for Cracker Barrel and you get three bonus songs that won’t be on the others that, as of October first, it will be at Wal-Mart, K-Mart and all the normal outlets. I’m sure that it can be downloaded, also.”

Continuing about the gospel album, Cook said, “We picked from a list of songs suggested by the Gaither organization and then we added to it and got the top four new songs – new to me, anyway. One of them I wrote. I suggest to the people who might want a copy of this that they go to CrackerBarrel.com or pick one up at their local Cracker Barrel.”

When I joked with Jeff about why he hadn’t sent me a review copy of the album, he said, “I had buy mine from a Cracker Barrel off of I-65 going to Nashville.  That sounds funny but that’s the way it happened! I got two copies so that I could listen to it in quadraphonic sound. Ha! Ha!”

I asked Cook how the band’s upbringing (whether in or out of church) affected the song selection for the gospel album.

“Well, for us and our generation – even older than that, some of them were played in church. Teddy’s mentioned several times that the first songs that he ever heard were in church and then country came along, subsequently. Teddy’s mother and aunts sang in church. That’s where he picked up playing guitar. Of course, Randy’s family had made records and such before and we played on those. It just seemed like the natural thing to do for us. We didn’t have a whole lot of problem with lyric sheets because we knew the words.”

In the old days of Southern Gospel music, the groups and quartets had to pay for their own record production, handle their own marketing and sales and all other related activities. I commented to Jeff that it seems that up and coming acts are having to do pretty much the same thing and asked if that was an accurate observation on my part.

“I think a lot of those responsibilities fall back on the band and management – the promotion, as well. Of course, social networks help promote things – an electronic word of mouth helps get the product out there – the promotions and such – to the right people.”

As our time was winding down I asked Jeff if he had any solo work or other kinds of side projects going on.

“We’ve all done solo things. I work with another band called “All Star Good Time Band” – an eight piece group with a horn section and we do a little bit of everything. And, then, Randy’s doing some solo stuff and Teddy’s got a group that he calls, “Rocket City,” that he does a few things with. That’s that and then there’s “Alabama.”

My final question for Jeff Cook before we had to go was one that I ask many artists who have a long, distinguished career such as himself: How did he want to be remembered and what did he hope his and the band’s legacy would be?

“We’ve had so many firsts in our career; it’s going to be hard for anybody to catch up. We all feel that we’re not going to kill ourselves touring. We kind of pick and choose what we need and want to do. Things are a lot better as far as the touring situation. You can hardly get Randy and Teddy on an airplane but I don’t want to go anywhere unless I go on an airplane. Just little things like that.

“As far as being remembered, we’re the Country Group of the Century so we won’t be around to see who takes our place. So I guess I want us to be remembered as somebody who put out quality music, enjoyed life and made a lot of friends along the way.”

Mark Volman Discusses The Turtles 45 RPM Vinyl Singles Collection

Posted October, 2014

volman mark and kaylan howard cropMark Volman and Howard KaylanHave any of y’all ever met a real, gol’ dern rock and roll professor?  No, really. This is a serious question. Have you?  Did you know that one even existed? 

That’s what I thought.

Well, I didn’t, either, until I called The Turtles’ Mark Volman to chat about the new box set offering by him and his bandmate and business partner, Howard Kaylan.  As I was dialing the number to call Mr. Volman, I realized that the area code was in the greater Nashville area. When he answered my call, I asked him about it.

“I live in Franklin, Tennessee. I teach at Belmont. I’ve been teaching at Belmont, well, seven years full time and I was an adjunct for two or three years. I’m in the Mike Curb School of Music Business and Entertainment.” I asked the rock and roll professor how he liked teaching.

“Well, I’ve been teaching for eighteen years. I taught for nine years in Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount. So, yeah, I teach more than I play live, now. Ha! Ha!  Really, that’s what I do.  We came here in 2003. We really like it!”


As for the reason for our call, I wanted to talk to Mr. Volman about the release of an eight disc (45 RPM vinyl. Yeah. Seriously) entitled, “The Turtles 45 RPM Vinyl Singles.” I had an advance copy of the collection and enjoyed it. I knew that many others it the music press community had, too. So I broached the subject of it by asking him about what the feedback has been, so far, on it.

“You’re right; it’s finally reaching the public for the first time. But, actually, have been selling the box set at our shows for two years. The first was at Hippiefest 2011, we put together this box. It was different. What had happened is that we had been in a lawsuit with the company called Collectibles who was a company out of New Jersey. We won the lawsuit and were able to, pretty much, shut them down.

“They didn’t have, financially, what the court asked them to pay us so what they did was gave Howard and I all of their product and all of that product went into a locker, holding onto all of the recordings of The Turtles that they had put out on 45’s. So, what we did was we took all those Collectibles and we put together some really limited box sets – about a thousand box sets of the material – and we sold them at our show. It was the only place you could get them – these 45 RPM versions.

“One of the things that we wanted to do – which we started working on in getting all of the recordings together – was to bring it to a stage of re-mastering everything. We wanted everything to come out of the same place. We got together with the people who we work with over at Rhino and went into the studio last year and we put together the first box set of the FloEdCo version that you have. The only difference was that the next thousand we did, we sold at our 2013 shows and we had a different configuration. The box didn’t list everything. It didn’t have all of the 45’s listed with the A and B side and so forth.

“We knew we were heading towards a finished product and that’s the one you have. That is a collector’s dream for us which was to get all of the 45’s together, re-mastered, high quality state. The vinyl is really heavy so that it won’t skip and it sounds just as great as the original 45’s. There was a certain sound on 45’s that you couldn’t even get on 33’s – especially when we went to digital. That really changed.

“We worked really hard and it’s really exciting to be able to get the things out of it that we wanted to. So, this version is the first available to the public on a large scale. I’ve seen some great reviews with the Guitar Player magazine and a few others. You know, there are a lot of new writers writing about music and the people who have stayed with us for the past fifty years – there was never a question that they loved the Turtles. They knew that the Turtles were always going to bring a quality musical piece. There are a lot of younger people now who are discovering the band. The release has opened up the door for people to see how really valuable the Turtles were to that part of American music history.”

I wanted to make sure that I understood Mark correctly so I asked: These are not reproductions of the original 45 RPMs, correct? In other words, these are the singles matched up with different “B” sides, right?

“We did the greatest hits. We did the Happy Together album. We did the It Ain’t Me Babe album. Those things sounded really great and were the things that got us thinking about the 45’s because we thought, ‘Wow! Let’s do the singles!’ And, then, the singles became, ‘Well, let’s do a double-sided single so that it’s not just an A side with some goofy B side.’”

Continuing, Volman shared, “We made a decision – instead of the original A/B because they weren’t as good of songs – we just felt that we wanted to go with the highest quality of music. So, the B sides we changed – putting ‘Happy Together’ with ‘Grim Reaper.’ Putting ‘Elenore’ together with ‘Outside Chance.’ ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe,’ with ‘You Don’t Have To Walk In The Rain.’ We wanted to introduce people to some of the singles that didn’t get the consideration as a lot of the others. Records like, ‘You Know What I Mean’ and ‘Let Me Be,’ or ‘Love In The City.’ There’s some really good recordings that are taking the place of the B side which were some fun records but just not the quality we felt the singles were.

“So, what we did is we brought together all of the records that were released as singles. ‘Story Of Rock And Roll,’ ‘Sound Asleep,’ ‘Can I Get To Know You Better,’ – those were all released as singles. So, what we did is we put together the singles for this particular release.”

I wondered if, during the process of putting this together, did Mark and Howard find themselves thinking, “If we’d known then what we know today” or, “If we had this kind of gear back then, we would have . . . “?

He laughed while replying, “You mean a revelation kind of thing?  I think there’s always a revelation whenever you get a chance to listen to piece of music over and over and then kind of remembering back to the time we were making the records. I think if you take a record like ‘Love In The City’ or you take a record like ‘Story Of Rock And Roll,’ putting those on and hearing those records and thinking to myself, ‘My god! These were fantastic recordings!’ I mean, ‘Story Of Rock And Roll’ is an insane record! It’s a fantastic arrangement. It’s just a fantastic record and when you hear ‘Story Of Rock And Roll’ or you hear a record like ‘You Don’t Have To Walk In The Rain’ and you think to yourself, ‘The time we spent making this record!’ 

“The unfortunate thing was that there was so many problems that were beginning to escalate through the business part of The Turtles with White Whale Records. Sometimes you forget it. Yeah, maybe we could sit back and go, ‘Gee, isn’t it too bad that we weren’t on Capitol Records or we weren’t on Columbia Records.’ Or, artists like the Beatles and artists like Paul Revere and artists like The Mamas and the Papas, they all benefited from the fact that they were with major record companies who had a lot of money, who could allow them to make records for months on end; hiring the best studio musicians to come in and play ‘Pet Sounds’ and to play the records of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Tommy Tedesco and Hal Blain and all of those fantastic musicians!  We couldn’t do that!
 
“We were on such a small, little record company – White Whale Records – that is mind boggling to me how our records even got heard, sometimes. It’s amazing to me that a record on White Whale like ‘Happy Together’ could knock a record like ‘Penny Lane’ out of the number one slot in the United States. It was just a small, little, tiny company. We had to play on every record we made. The records you’re hearing are Al Nichol and Jim Tucker and Howard Kaylan and Don Murray. We’re not celebrating the great musicians of Hollywood with The Turtles music, at all. The only Wrecking Crew we had was the record company who almost wrecked our records!  Ha! Ha!”

Circling back around to answering my question, Professor Volman said, “Yeah, I mean, you can sit there and go, ‘Wow! What if we had been on ABC Dunhill? What if we’d been on those big record labels? Imagine what would’ve happened!’ But I think that every record we were fortunate enough to have – take a record like ‘Happy Together’ – it took ‘Happy Together’ to open up the next two years of recordings. People saw that we were more than a one hit group. Yes, we were fortunate to have one of the biggest records ever made. It’s probably in the top ten most played records on the radio in history – maybe more. But I think we were fortunate that ‘Happy Together’ introduced us into the public to records like, ‘She’d Rather Be With Me,’ ‘Elenore,’ ‘You Showed Me.’

“That was what was amazing about putting this box set together – sitting in the studio and realizing that The Turtles were really something.  Being away for as long as we have, we were able to listen to it and we would look at each other and go, ‘My god! This record is friggin’ crazy!’ When you listen to a record like ‘You Know What I Mean’ – it’s crazy! It’s full of music and the arrangement is fantastic. What we hope is that, with the Happy Together tour being out in the summer time and people getting the box set; you introducing a whole bunch of readers or online people to this music. Maybe it will finally solidify what The Turtles did in music history. That’s exciting to hear that the stuff has held up so good. I’m excited to see that it’s finally come out like this.”

Because Mark referenced the arrangements a couple of times, I asked him if he felt that it was the arrangements that made the songs stand the test of time or if it was the lightheartedness of their music that has given it such strong staying power.

“I think that we’ve been fortunate that we found ourselves connecting at a lot of different musical styles. We had that first little blast of folk rock with a lot of jingle jangle and twelve string guitars. Then having that ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’/’Let Me Be’ period that opened the door to a more pop record era which was going to be the ‘You Baby’, ‘Outside Chance’ – that period of time that opened the door, ultimately, for ‘Happy Together’ and the pop music of that era; the kind of tongue-in-cheek/comedy side of things when we got a record like ‘Battle Of The Bands’ where we had ‘Elenore’ come out. We were making fun of ourselves in record.”

Continuing, he added, “I think you see the Turtles’ career is not one style or one era of music. It really held strong for about five or six years and, then, I think, maybe, when Howard and I went off with Frank (Zappa) and we continued performing the Turtles songs in the Mothers of Inventions shows that sort of opened up to where people really saw that we were more than a singles flash in the pan/hit record band. It had a sense of humor. We had a sense of organization.

“I think our biggest fault was that we didn’t have the financial fire power in that era to be able to follow through building the audience that other artists could because of the amount of success a record company like Capitol Records with the Beach Boys was an asset we never got the benefit of. We never had the financial ability to hire a press agent month to month to be able to keep us on the cover of those magazines back then – the ‘16’s’ and the ‘Tiger Beat’s’ and all of those when groups were beginning to become more cheerful to the audience.
 
“We really had to fight our way through and I think that’s what made the Turtles music so strong. We couldn’t just put out a record and think that it was just gonna sell a million copies. We really had to continually be out there promoting it, continually be out touring with it. We were doing a lot of dates every year to sell those records. It’s hard to say but I think we’re seeing kind of a re-birth. The Happy Together tours the last five years have been highly successful. We did fifty-six cities. I’m kind of thinking we are sort of solidifying our place a little bit more. The tours really helped to do that. People come out to the shows now because they know that they’re going to get a quality show.
 
“We’re already having meetings about next summer. The ‘Happy Together’ moniker has really tied together the really great acts who couldn’t afford to be out there on their own. The tours have really helped us put together acts like The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, The Association, Cowsills, and Mark Lindsay and put those people together and try to tell them what you’re trying to do, philosophically, and just bring hit songs, one after another. Two and a half, three hours of just top ten records. People love that about those shows. It’s really been a fantastic reward for us on the back end.”

When I asked Volman if he and Kaylan would’ve likely still wound up with their music catalog if they had been with a major label, he replied, “It’s hard to speculate because of the way it all took place. It was totally unplanned. It was just one of those things that ownership happened as a by-product of some really negative stuff. I mean, the fact that we had the problems that we did with White Whale Records certainly is a big part of it. But I think, also, the thing I think about is that it might not have allowed us to perform.

“I think the thing that I think was kind of interesting for us is that we had the ability to play on everything. That was the thing that, when you to our shows, it was probably the reason that things ended up the way it did. It was us playing the music. It was us playing at the concerts. We weren’t trying to re-produce the music of the Turtles. We were the same people who made the records were out there playing the records. That was also a big part of it. I’m not sure how things would’ve come out had it have been different. I just know that all through it all, we played it all.

“Ownership wasn’t something we even considered. That just was not in the cards, at all, until the end and the lawsuits. Those were not great times. I mean, think about it: we were given the recordings because there was no money left. So, when we got those recordings, it was second to what we really wanted which was to get our money out of the record label. The record label spent all the money so we ended up with these recordings. That’s the great thing about it. The bad thing about it is that it took four years and in those four years, the band ended. We never really got to finish what we had set out to be as a band. That was the problem with everything in that it just ended. We kind of said goodbye one afternoon. We’re going into this lawsuit. Four years later, the lawsuit ended. There was no band. The band had pretty much ended. There wasn’t an ending that you could be happy about and that’s too bad.”

The professor’s reply was insightful when I asked if things have changed in putting out a vinyl offering today as compared to back then.

“Of course. A lot of that is just technology. You have to really ‘rope’ technology and bring it back to a much more basic feel to it. I’m not sure that this will be the last of it. I think that we’re at a really good place with this particular version – this box set. I’m not sure that we shouldn’t aspire to maybe do what the Beatles have just done which is because of our ownership we can go one more step with this which I think would be really fun and that’s do monaural. The original recordings that were made were made in monaural. In thinking about, ‘Now what do you do?’ We’re really right in the middle of all this stuff. It’s really fun because we have the support of Manifesto Records which is really a chief part of this – having one person who really gets it and says, ‘Let’s do this.’

“We’re doing small runs of these things because this is not a money-making kind of thing. Of course, our CD is out. People can get our CD. I think, last year, downloading of ‘Happy Together’ was over a hundred thousand downloads of the song itself, which we own. We’re trying to cover all the bases. One of the things we’ve been considering doing was a seven record box set for overseas of the Flo and Eddie albums, the reggae album, the crossfire stuff. We’re fortunate that we have just a lot of crazy shit. It’s really funny when you think about it because what was sort of building was this little vinyl fan base which is really excited. There was a lot of goofy stuff on the B side. These were all released as singles so that was a big part of it. We wanted it to have the best of the stuff. When you look at the titles, to the collectors who collect Turtles stuff, they were the best of it. They’re the same songs as our greatest hits we did as A and B sides. So, now, we’re thinking, ‘Now what?’"

Answering his own question, the professor said, “We’re kinda thinking Crossfires (their group before The Turtles). We’ve wanted to do the Crossfires for a long time. We were able to pull together a Crossfire record for Rhino back in the seventies or eighties. It’s available on digital on iTunes. When you think about how crazy it is to have an album made in high school – The Crossfires – is available on iTunes! It just makes us laugh because the things we have available are really fun. It’s fun stuff and like this guy mentioned to me a few days ago, he said, ‘I went to this garage sale and going through the records . . . I discovered a record you guys did called ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ which was a vinyl record that played from the center out. Rhino put that out and we’re now talking about re-doing that.

“We’re collectors, Howard and I. We collect. So, when we’re doing these kinds of things, we’re always thinking, ‘What would a collector think, too?’ I go to gatherings here in Nashville of people who just bring vinyl and everybody brings a half a dozen vinyls and throughout the night, a guy will go up and put it on. It will go from the door to 20 or 30 minutes of dialog, talking about this particular record. ‘High On Love’ by the Knickerbockers and all of a sudden, you’re off for a half hour talking about the Knickerbockers and vinyl. It’s like being a collector of vinyl art. It’s one of those things that brings people together.

“I know a couple of the guys who come to the vinyl party like Gary Tallent of the E Street Band and Henry Gross who wrote ‘Shannon’ and Bill Lloyd from Foster and Lloyd – it’s just a whole group of a bunch of guys from Third Man Records who are all involved in vinyl collectibles. So, a lot of the stuff we’re doing is for those people. We’re not trying to build a new fan. I mean, it’s great if we do but this was really done from the perspective of our deepest fan that really will get it – who will really be excited about having the eight 45 RPM singles of The Turtles; something that they could never get, really, in one place. It makes it really fun. That’s all it was really ever for.

“It’s so crazy because we’re really excited about the fact that we’ve been selling this for two years at our show and it paid for itself. If you did two thousand copies the first year – we were selling the box set for something like $50 or $60, autographed by me and Howard. We were selling six a night. Now, that doesn’t seem like a lot but if you do fifty shows, that’s about three hundred and fifty of those box sets we did. Then, the second year, we probably did about the same but we lowered the price because we were trying to make it more accessible. Then, the third year we actually did two thousand copies because through Manifesto (Records) we were able to put together the record stores and the international market place now where we’re selling our records to England and Scotland and Ireland and a lot of countries who still are fans of Flo and Eddie.

“Now we’re starting to see that there are a lot of vinyl stores! In Nashville, you’ve got, like, four very popular vinyl stores. Having our box set finally available to get out into the market place is exciting and it will be fun to see it get out there. I’m already seeing some really nice reviews. Guitar Player did a really nice review. People who are collectors and people who love vinyl are really going to enjoy the fun of having this."

When I told Mark that I had suggested in my review of the box set that you buy two so that one can be kept in its original wrapping, he laughed and said, “That’s what it’s become – this little secret has grown up. Jack White has made a living out of what he’s doing with his vinyl business. That record that he did with Neil Young – they did a direct to vinyl – we knew about that. I knew Ben – the guy who works with Jack – brought that record about six months before it came out. He was playing at the vinyl party for us parts of that record. It was just crazy! It was crazy because we were sitting there hearing a major artist – I mean, Neil is quirky enough – but Neil is a major artist and the fact that other artists have come to him to make records direct to vinyl, it’s really eerie. When you listen to it, you can hear the entire history of popular music comes to life. It really does. It just gives me the chills to think that’s the way records were made! And the fact that we can get that close, putting our records out on vinyl, it’s really exciting. It’s really fun. It’s fun to be in the studio and re-master it. It’s fun to put the cover together. It’s great to be able to look at; to be able to contemplate the history that is part of those records. It’s really fun.

“That’s the thing you lose when you go to digital – you lost that combination of cover to music where you could put it on and you used to sit there and look at this cover. It was all one. It was art! That’s the thing that we love about having our stuff coming out. It’s like when you hold this box in your hand and it opens up and you see the length of these records and feel of those sleeves and the fact that we were able to get a little plastic 45 and play it on your old player!  It’s just really fun! It’s like having a Lionel train set at Christmas, you know? That’s how it sorta feels. It just feels like a something that’s a part of American music history. Howard and I just love that. It might not get us into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but, you know what? It’s still really fun to spend the time and know that we’re doing this for about four hundred people. That’s just great because those four hundred people are turning into about four thousand of you, now. They’re all part of this kind of secret society! Ha! Ha!”

You can join Professor Volman, myself and a select few others in this secret society by clicking here (read the Boomerocity review of it here) and ordering your own copy of this limited edition box set. It’s history. It’s quality, and it’s fun!

Dave Mason Discusses His Traffic Jam Tour

Posted October, 2014

DAVEMASONPhotoCREDITPhotobyChrisJensen 0 0 cropPhoto by Chris JensenIf one were to make a list of attributes of a rock and roll icon, all of the qualifying boxes on that list would be checked under Dave Mason’s name.

• Great guitarist. Check
• Songwriter.  Check.
• Wrote and recorded songs that are part of the soundtrack of the baby boomer generation.  Check.
• Played with rock’s most historic figures like Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, The Rolling Stones and more.  Check.
• Has been – and still is – an actively amazing performer and concert draw. Check.
• Still putting out great music that people love. Check.
• An inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Check.

Dave Mason is all of that and more.  An energetically dynamic sixty-eight year old rocker, the co-founder of the legendary group, Traffic, still records fantastic, relevant music and still tours the country - and the world.
 
I recently contacted Mason at his California home to discuss his latest album, “Future’s Past,” and his current tour.  This was my second opportunity to interview the rock legend (the first interview is here).  Always warm and engaging, we started off our chat by discussing “Future’s Past”. For the rare fan who might not know the story behind the album, I asked Mason if he would tell readers what motivated him to record it.

“I have a studio at home. Making a CD or album like we used to, it’s something that I’ve kind of throw out the window at this point. But that being said, music is my life so, when I’m home, I’m always working on something in my studio. Albeit, it may be a revised version of an older song – I have versions of songs that I loved when I was growing up. There’s Eddie Cochran that I’ve done that hasn’t been released. And, then, I have new stuff that I’ve worked on.

“So, to say that I was consciously putting an album together – I wasn’t. But what I do have, as I said, is I just have a collection of music that I constantly keep making. A lot of it is never in one style, which has presented a problem in the sense that it’s hard to pigeon hole me, musically. Am I rock? Am I ballads? Am I blues? I’m not any one of those. I just want to cover the gambit of songwriting.

“So, I have a collection of stuff and I had some things sitting there and there was some stuff that I revisited. Like, I did a re-write of that version of ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’ and, yes, I was going out to do ‘Traffic Jam’ so it seemed appropriate to put a couple of things on that CD from that era. Then, I had some things like, ‘Sad and Deep As You,’ that I put on there that was from ‘Alone Together’ – my first solo album. It was such a strong and powerful version that I felt that it should go on there.

“So, essentially, I had a mix of stuff that was new and old and, hence, the title eventually becoming ‘Future’s Past’. A lot of my fans who have been following me for years, for them some of that stuff is old material. As an artist, one lives in the hope that there are some younger people that, to them, this will all be brand new material.

“Music, for me, doesn’t span any age or style. The music’s just good music. Essentially, ‘Future’s Past’ was just me putting together a collection of stuff that I thought was pretty cool and represented some things I was doing at the moment and part of what I do in my shows. Then, I was lucky enough to have a friend send me some stuff from Graham Nash’s art show and one of the things that he had was the cover which is done by Graham. It’s a photograph of me in the seventies when I was at his house in Kauai and he did artwork on it. So, the cover is done by Graham and it sort of seemed to fit perfectly with the title.”

Record sales for most artists in all genres have been tough over the past several years. Internet piracy is still a problem, DaveMason 94 photocreditbyChrisJensenPhoto by Chris Jensendetrimentally affecting album sales and decimating what we once knew as the record industry.  When I asked Dave what sales for “Future’s Past,” his matter-of-fact answer echoed those I’ve heard from virtually every other artist I’ve had the privilege of interviewing.
“Well, record sales are pretty much non-existent these days for anybody. We just basically have CDs at the shows.”

He continued by responding in a way that validated everything else I’ve heard about record sales.

“Everybody is stealing everything. That’s the easy way to put it. They’re taking it all off of the internet – which goes for literature, as well. All intellectual property is somewhat being decimated by the internet – but that’s been happening for a few years now.

“For any artist, it doesn’t really matter. I mean, even with Beyoncé and that new record, because a big corporation ordered a bunch of CDs to give away, otherwise, there are no record sales. They’ve just disappeared because everybody is just taking it from the internet. Some people are downloading and purchasing stuff, but for all us artists, a huge part of our life has disappeared. If I was to say, ‘Record sales are great!’ I’d be bullshitting and lying to you. It’s not just me. It’s pretty much any classic artist and any other artist. What would’ve been a big selling record, say, a half a million records or something like that, would now be maybe twenty thousand CDs.

“I’m not just cryin’ the blues for myself. I’m just saying that’s what’s happening to all of us. People would rather spend five dollars on a café frappe latte mocha than they would spend a dollar on a piece of music that’s going to last them forever.”

That all said Mason has, obviously, faced the piracy issue head on and has been an early adopter of online marketing and social media engagement of his extensive, global fan base.  One only has to sign up for his newsletter on his website (here) or follow him on Facebook (here) or Twitter (here) to see that he’s mastered the medium. As he remains resilient and adaptable to market changes, I’m sure that we’ll continue to observe Dave implement technology and changes in social media and implement them into his marketing efforts.
Our conversation shifted to his current Traffic Jam tour and the shows that are going to be held in my home region of East Tennessee.

“I’m looking forward to playing down there in Tennessee and some other states. I haven’t played these places in years! I’ve played Atlanta but not a lot of other places like Chattanooga and some other places but, I mean, it’s been years and years since I’ve played those places. I’m very much looking forward to playing there and hoping people will remember to come out. The band is great. The show is great. I’m as good at being Dave Mason as I’m going to be .Ha! Ha!”

As for the current band line-up and what fans can expect at one of the Traffic Jam shows, Mason said, “Alvino Bennett is still playing drums with me. Johnne Sambataro is playing guitar as well and I have a great keyboard player named Tony Patler but he also handles bass. So, basically, it’s just a four piece band and we push out a lot of music for a four piece band.

Mason said about the show, itself, that, “Basically, the Traffic Jam show runs about two hours and we do it in two sections. The first half of it is pretty much the songs from Traffic days when I was with them. Then we take a fifteen minute break and then we come back and we do stuff from my solo career. Along with it all there’s some visual stuff that goes with it. I’ll BS a little bit and tell some stories. You’ll get a bit of everything but I’m sure that there’s something that I’m going to not do that somebody will want.”

To that point, I had to ask Dave which version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” he would be playing during the Traffic Jam tour.

“It will be the way it is on ‘Future’s Past’. Song-wise, I prefer it. I really came up with it because I was doing acoustic shows a year or so ago and I was trying to find a more interesting way to do it acoustically. The original version, basically, only has three chords to it and, so, there wasn’t a lot of places to go, acoustic-wise, with it. I came up with this version, again, I just started messing around with it and we thought it started sounding pretty cool.”
When I ordered “Future’s Past” directly from his website, I took advantage of a pre-release offer wherein he also sent gave his live album, “Dave Mason Live at Belmont Park 1978”. What an amazing offering! Naturally, I was curious if he had any other goodies in the vault that might be released.

DAVEMASONPhotoCREDITPhotobyChrisJensen 0 0Photo by Chris Jensen“Yeah, I’m planning on a new CD which comes out at the end of this year or the beginning of next year – I’m not sure, yet. But, yes, we are working on some other combinations like that.”

Almost as an afterthought, I told Mason that my favorite song of his was “How Do I Get To Heaven” from his “26 Letters, 12 Notes” album, to which he replied, “Yeah, it’s a really beautiful song. It’s an example of something that would have – to our opening conversation – had this been twenty years ago that would probably have been a hit song.”

As our call was winding up, I asked Mr. Mason what 2015 looked like for him, tour (and other) wise.

“According to my agents, there seems to be a large demand for Traffic Jam so we may be playing this out through 2015. And, then, I’m hoping in April, to go to the United Kingdom. I’m not sure if it’s going to entail some of Europe but I haven’t played there in over thirty years. That’ll be interesting. After that, we’re toying around with the idea of doing what would be, ‘Alone Together, Again,’ where part of the show would be the whole of the ‘Alone Together’ album. But, at the moment, it seems that the Traffic Jam thing – there’s still venues that still want to do the show so it will probably go through a good part of next year.”

To see if Dave Mason is going to be appearing in or near your town, be sure to visit his website, DaveMasonMusic.com. While you’re there, be sure to shop around his online store and take advantage of his signed CD offerings. They’re a definite must-have for your own collection and excellent gifts for the music lovers in your life.

Jim Peterik

Posted September, 2014

jimpeterikbyLynnePeters0001 crop1 CopyIf you and I were sitting around, shooting the breeze about music and the people who write it, chances are that, unless you’re just a real propeller head about songwriters, you may not have heard the name, “Jim Peterik.” However, I’d betcha a dollar to a donut that you’ve undoubtedly heard music that he’s either written or co-written. Let’s rewind the soundtrack of your youth and see if I win this bet.

“Vehicle” by The Ides Of March?  Jim Peterik

“Eye Of The Tiger” by Survivor?  Jim Peterik

“Hold On Loosely,” “Rockin’ Into The Night” or “Caught Up In You” by .38 Special?  Guess.

“That’s Why God Made Radio” by The Beach Boys?  Y-y-y-yup.

Jim Peterik wrote or co-wrote those songs and many, many others as well as recorded some of them.  He’s also worked with Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Brian Wilson and The Doobie Brothers. So, yeah, odds are really strong that you have heard Jim Peterik’s music at least a couple of bazillion times.
I’ll take that donut now. Krispy Kreme. Glazed and fresh. 

In addition to all that great music that Jim’s written and even recorded, he is also a co-star of the reality TV show, “Ariel, Zoey and Eli” on the Cozi network. Oh, and he’s an author, too. Four years ago, he co-wrote “Songwriting For Dummies” with Cathy Lynn and Dave Austin.  This month, his autobiography (written with Lisa Torem), “Through The Eye Of The Tiger,” was released and is chock full of some great rock and roll history.

A couple of weeks before Jim and I were supposed to chat about his book, he (and Survivor fans around the world) learned of the unexpected passing of the band’s lead singer (and his dear friend), Jimi Jamison. Obviously, this put a damper on the positive vibe surrounding the release of the book. Before we got into discussing the meat of the book, I asked Peterik how he was doing.

“It felt like a punch in the heart, you know? I was at my cottage, chilling out and feeling good when I got a text from my personal trainer. She said, ‘It’s such a shame about Jimi” and I go, ‘What are you talking about? What. Are. You. Talking about?’

“It’s one thing when you get a warning when someone is dying of cancer and you get a few years, maybe, to get used to the idea. It’s always tragic. With Jimi, he did a show two days earlier. He was vital and sounded good. Then, suddenly, the phone rang and it was it was Amy Jamison and she was sobbing. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ She goes, ‘He died. My daddy died.’ I was devastated. Devastated.

“I spent most of that day phoning people and getting calls from a who’s who of the rock world from the eighties. Everybody was calling me because we were very close and they knew it. Jim and I had done many shows together over the past eight years. I do this thing called ‘World Stage’ and it’s kind of a who’s who of the eighties. He was always there for me. He called me two weeks before he passed and said, ‘Jim, I love you. I just want to hear you voice. I miss you, man.’ I called him back and left him a message and we traded calls. That was the last time I heard his voice.

“I’m still not over it. I’ll never get over it. He was not only one of the most talented singers I ever worked with - he was probably THE most – but he was also a dear friend. I loved the man.”

When I asked Jim how Jimi’s family were doing, he replied, “I think that they’re so busy planning a big memorial show that – sometimes busy work is the best thing to take your mind off of it. It’s going to be kind of a show with a backline and the whole bit. We’re all going to get up there and – it’s very unplanned at this point. It’s going to be a homage to Jimi. They (Jimi’s family) sound like they’re really holding it together.”
I asked Peterik what he would like Boomerocity readers to know about his dear friend.

“I think that it’s that he gave all to his fans. There was never a moment where he didn’t gladly shake hands or sign everything. Not only that, but give people the time of day. He valued everyone as a human being – not just as a fan. He made everybody a friend. He was warm and, yet, he could spot a phony a mile away – someone who was there for the wrong purpose or just trying to get on his good side for not the right reason. He would hold off. He would say, ‘Well, see ya later.’ But the real people he cherished.

“There’s an ‘X-Factor’ of a performer that you just can’t put your finger on. Yes, he’s got a great voice; yes, he was great looking but he connected with the audience. As a songwriter, it was such a gift when I would teach him a song and he would wrap his voice around it and improve the song. He made every word believable.

“My mind goes back to ‘The Search Is Over’. That was a very important song for the band and for myself because it was really from the heart. When I heard him sing it during the audition, it was like this song was written for him. In my book I tell the story of teaching him ‘The Search Is Over’ and he gets to the high note and cracks. I said, ‘Oh, Frankie, we better lower it a half step’ and Jimi looks me in the eye and goes, ‘Give half a man a chance, man!’ I played it again in the same key and he hit it like a trooper and it stayed in the higher key.”

Shifting to a little more brighter subject, I read in “Through The Eye Of The Tiger” that Jim met his lovely wife, Karen, when he was seventeen at a Turtles concert. They’ve been married over 42 years now so I asked him what he attributed to his successful marriage within the soul crushing atmosphere of the music business.

“I analyze that sometimes myself. I think that it has to do with Karen’s independence and not being the Yoko Ono type. She’s always had her own career. She also valued what we had. She knew how rare it was, the love that we found at the Turtles concert, waiting in line to see Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan.

“By the way, that was one of the best concerts I have ever seen. I talk about it in the book. They’re singing ‘Happy Together’ and suddenly, Karen – I had just met her – threw her leg over my leg and I’m going, ‘Holy crap! What the hell is going on?’  Her girlfriend goes, ‘Karen, what are you doing?’ and Karen goes, ‘It’s okay. It’s okay.’ And it was okay. But when you realize how special our relationship was – even when I was gone for months and months at a time – we knew that I would come back and it would be like it was. She was independent and had her own career as an interior designer then, later on, she makes wigs for women. She was very independent as was I.”

Continuing on, he added, “We had trust. I think trust is the number one word. I didn’t mess around. She didn’t mess around. There’s that feeling that this is stable and she trusted me. That’s an amazing thing because in my business - or any business – it’s very tempting out there. They used to call me ‘Father Jim’ because I used to counsel all the guys. ‘What are you doing, man? You’ve got a better looking girl at home!’ That’s just the way I was. The trust factor was huge.”

Peterik has worked with some amazing talent in co-writing songs like .38 Special’s biggest hits.  He’s also rubbed shoulders – quite literally – with some rock royalty. A couple of stories speak to his amazing integrity: Walking a very drunk Janis Joplin to her room without taking advantage of her and walking out of a particularly decadent Led Zeppelin after-show party.  Both took tremendous spine. I asked Jim what he attributed that spine and integrity to.

“It’s a good question. I come from a blue collar family. My dad worked at the phone company. My parents led by example. They really did. They didn’t lecture me ever. All the guys in the band had these parents that trusted us. When someone trusts you, you want to live up to that trust. Nowadays, it seems like there’s all these questions. Don’t do this and don’t do that. None of them told us ‘Don’t.’ We just knew what was right and what was wrong.

“The real reason I never partied – yes, I was tempted, but I have a thing called the gift of song. My belief is that we are all born with some gift whether it’s as a songwriter or singer, whatever, it’s very important to protect that gift. I saw people all around me squandering that gift and I’m going, ‘What are they doing?’ If I could do cocaine and smoke pot and still write great songs then maybe I’d do it but I can’t. It just doesn’t work.

“I mention a person in the book who will still remain nameless and he was a number one artist. He said, ‘Jimmy, I can’t write unless I’m on coke.’ I felt that that was so tragic because, eventually, it will bite you on the ass.”

Peterik first charted two years prior with his first band, The Ides of March. I asked rhetorically if he was still rockin’ along with that band.

“Yep! Fifty years! We have a lot of great celebrations on the 27th of this month (September). We’re playing in the town of jimpeterikbyLynnePeters0001 cropPhoto by Lynne PetersDupage which has this great venue in the suburbs of Chicago. We’re literally going to play the whole catalog. Then, we’re bringing on stage what we call ‘The Cornerstones of Chicago Rock.’ Carl Giamarese of The Buckinghams, Tom Doody from The Cryan’ Shames, Jimmy Sohns of The Shadows Of Knight and Ronnie Rice of The New Colony Six. It’s just going to be a blast. The, we’re putting out a three disc set. We released all of the original masters from Warner Bros., from Parrot, from RCA and we’ve got two brand new songs and a live video from the House of Blues. So, fifty years and we’re still standing! In fact, that’s the final cut, ‘Last Band Standing’. We’ve very proud of that. The original four from 1964 are still great friends and we’re blessed.”

Researching the work of this prolific artist, I lost track of what all he was working on so I asked him.

“Man, I tell ya, I’ve been busier than ever. When I left Survivor, it was like this blank sheet of paper and I can fill it however I want. The chains are off. It’s very confining to be in a band with Frankie (Sullivan) because Frankie felt that you don’t do anything outside of Survivor and I really wanted to do some other things. So, I left the band in ’96 and, before you know it, I was writing with Brian Wilson – one of my biggest heroes. We wrote two songs for the ‘Imagination’ album and in 1999 I was on the Letterman Show with Brian and it just went on from there.

“Currently, I’ve got a band that is popular in Europe called Pride of Lions, which you’ll need to check out the lead singer, Toby Hitchcock, who is just a fantastic singer and a great guy. We’re on our fifth album including a live one from Belgium – a DVD – that shows the band and what we can do and what I can do. Pride of Lions is kind of what I originally designed Survivor to be, which is co-lead singers. Toby and I share lead vocals where I’ll take the low parts and he’ll take the higher parts. That concept never went over because Frankie wanted it to be a one singer band and I went along with that for the greater good. I thought it was something that I should go along with.

“But, to this day, I so much love fronting the Ides of March and getting up there and being the guy that talks to the crowd and be the lead singer and lead guitar player. That’s the subtext to all my motivation. I love to exert myself.

“I have a new artist named Marc Scherer that just signed with Frontiers – an amazing tenor. I love to work with tenor voices – males. You’ll never be able to replace Jim Jamison. He’s the finest voice I’ve ever worked with. But Marc Scherer is absolutely terrific. I just wrote a tribute song to Jimi called 'Heaven Passes The Torch,' which is going to be premiered at Jimi’s memorial service. It’s going to be very emotional.

“I work with a new country artist – an eighteen year old male named Hunter Cook. We just released a real terrific country album which is more like 80’s rock except with fiddles and mandolins. You know, the new country is so much rock oriented. It fits my style of writing. And I have a reality TV show on the Cozi Network called, ‘Ariel, Zoey and Eli’. It documents me working in the studio with the kids, who are ages 13 through 15. I teach them songs, co-write with them, recording them at my studio. It’s a very interesting show and it’s really gaining in viewership so I’m really excited about that, as well.”

Jokingly, I asked Peterik what he did in his spare time, to which he said, “I collect guitars.” Because his book has a picture showing a small portion of his guitar collection, I asked him how many guitars he owned and what guitar does he consider to be the Holy Grail and whether or not he owns it.

“I have 182 guitars and almost all of them are out of the cases and displayed in the house somewhere. I have them in the foyer, which you saw. I have them in the bathrooms, in the kitchen, in the bedroom. My wife is a saint, believe me. It’s better than chasing women, you know? Ha! Ha!

“Holy Grail. It’s not always the most valuable guitar. For me, the Holy Grail is my 1969 gold top Les Paul that I played ‘Vehicle’ on. It traveled around the world with me. That’s the guitar I played with Led Zeppelin in Winnipeg, with (Janis) Joplin, the Grateful Dead, with Poco, with all the bands after Vehicle. I just pulled it out for a record I’m producing and it still has the mojo. It’s in the DNA of that instrument.”

When I suggested that he put out a photographic book featuring his guitar collection, Jim replied, “I’d like to do that. I have a video series now that’s called, ‘Guitars That Followed Me Home,’ that you can check out. Yeah, I didn’t buy it. It followed me home. Ha! Ha! It’s pretty cool and it’s on my Facebook page. Check it out. I’ve only got three episodes up so far but it’s fun.”
In the press release for the book, Jim is quoted as saying that writing this book tore him apart. I asked why that was.

“I think the main thing is that, when you live in the creative cocoon, you don’t realize all the crap you’re going through at the time. You hide. One of the reasons I didn’t know if I’d write a book was that I didn’t feel that I had enough drama in my life to hold interest. I was used to reading Motley Crue and all the train wrecks and drug addiction and I’m going, ‘Is my life going to be interesting enough?’ But, as I said, in writing it, it tore me apart because all the stuff I did go through was tempered by the music. If I hadn’t had music as a crutch, I probably would have lost it. It was my saving grace. So, I realized that there is plenty of drama in this book between inter-band struggles and marital problems and losing my father, losing my mother, there was a lot going on.”

When I asked Peterik what the biggest surprise people will learn about him from this book, his reply was cagey.

“Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise, then, would it? Ha! Ha!”  Gotta buy da book, folks, to learn the answer to that question!

With over fifty years in the music business, Jim has witnessed a lot of changes within it. I asked him what are the biggest positive and negative changes that he’s seen.

“I think the positives are that, because of the internet, you can get a buzz going for pretty cheap if you really got the goods. If you’ve got the goods and you know how to work it, you can get an enormous following and you don’t have to hire a publicist to do it. But it’s an art. It’s a skill. That’s the good side.

“The bad side of the internet is there’s a lot of illegal downloading. It’s harder to make money. And, as an artist, you better watch the road because that’s where you’re going to make the money. You’ve got to create a following. You’ve got to go out and hit the road. You’ve got to sell your merchandise. Expect the ol’ work ethic because there’s no brass ring any more. There’s always going to be artists who sell a million copies but it’s very rare. The royalty stream is way, way down. You better love what you’re doing or else get out of the business.”

Because of that perspective, I asked Peterik a question that I’ve asked others of his same stature in the business:  If the president were to contact you and appoint you as Music Industry Czar, what would you do to fix the industry?

“Gosh! No one’s ever asked me that. You know, I don’t think it can be fixed. I just think that it’s going to evolve. You have to be committed as an artist now. It’s not the dream. They’re not going to get signed automatically just because you look good. It’s going to separate the men from the boys. Cream is always going to rise to the top. You really can’t fix it. You just have to live with it and realize that real talent will shine on.”

And what advice would Peterik give to aspiring artists?

“I would say to write great songs. Hone your own style. To me, songs are still the coin of the realm. If you write a great song, write a great track, there’s a ton of potential for placements. Nowadays, the biggest money that I make is from licensing. It’s not just vintage artists like myself, it’s young acts. You watch a movie and you see unknown bands that have licensed their music and, literally, made a scene magical. Commercials. I know they used to be a bad word. They’re not a bad word any more. Television. Movies. Write a great song – it’s like Kevin Costner: ‘If you build it, they will come.’ It starts with the song. Hone your craft.”

In addition to his own successful work, Jim has collaborated with some pretty big names. I asked him who he hasn’t worked with that he either wishes he could’ve before they passed away or would still like to try to get together with.

“Mick Jagger. Yeah. I’m a pretty good riff guy. You’ve heard my riffs through the years. Keith Richards, of course, is the ultimate riff guy. I just love Jagger’s sensibilities and I love his lyrics. I would love to collaborate with him on the lyrics and the music. I love the Stones. The Beatles and the Beach Boys was always top tier. The Stones are just below it because I’m not as much of a blues guy as I am a pop guy. But, the older I get, the more I love the Stones. Other than Brian Wilson – was - and is - a dream come true – Jagger, to me, is so understated. He never toots his horn about how great he is, which is killing me. If I had that many hits, I’d be, like, ‘Listen to this lyric, man!” He’s, like, ‘Whatever, man. I just wrote it.” He’s like Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry was a poet but would never admit to being a genius.

“Burt Bacharach. I’m actually trying to write with Burt now. Burt Bacharach and Hal David. He needs a new Hal David. I wouldn’t mind throwing my hat in the ring. That would be number one, I think. I don’t know if you know this but Brian Wilson just finished a brand new album called, ‘Peer Pressure’ for Capitol. It’s coming out, I think, in January. I have a song that I wrote with Brian and Joe Thomas, and Larry Millas of The Ides called, ‘Sail Away.’ You’re probably familiar with ‘God Made The Radio’ by The Beach Boys. That is my song with the same team, so we did it again. It’s got Blondie Chaplin singing the first verse, which is brilliant. You’ve got Al Jardine singing the chorus and you’ve got Brian singing the second verse and the bridge. It’s just terrific! I can’t stop listening to it.”

And what’s on his radar for the next year or two?

“Well, Ides of March is big on my radar because of its fiftieth year, which spans from this October to next October; a lot of concerts; the triple disc set; continuing to produce these wonderful artists that I’m developing like Marc Scherer; a new Pride of Lions album is going to be happening; and a new Ariel, Zoey and Eli project. That’s been a lot of fun. I’d like to grow the viewership on that. Otherwise, I’m a lucky guy. I love my life and I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. The book was an enormous undertaking. I’m glad it’s done. I’ve got a book tour coming up in the Midwest and also in New York City. A lot of book signings in Nashville and Milwaukee, telling my story.”

“Through The Eye Of The Tiger” is a great book and Jim has a lot going on but asked that we fast forward many years from now to when he steps off the tour bus for the final time and are in that big gig in the sky. How does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be?

“Mainly, as a guy that put a lot of spirit and positivity in his songs and inspired people. My biggest royalty is not when I go to the mailbox – although that doesn’t suck. My biggest royalty are the stories that people tell me of inspiration and how a song like ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ got them through a rough patch or motivated them to the finish line first. Or, ‘The Search Is Over’ that they fell in love to that song. Those are the real royalties for me.

“I want to be remembered for creating those memories for people and gave them something to take home and, possibly, a little bit of wisdom along the way.”

Fans can follow all the latest goings-ons in Jim Peterik’s life at JimPeterik.com. While there, be sure to order his book, “Through The Eye Of The Tiger” as well as the box set from Ides Of March.