Paul Petersen

Posted June, 2012

paulpetersen2Once upon a time in America, most TV sets in family living rooms (where the only TV in the house was located), had access to three – maybe four – channels.  Until the mid-sixties, the shows were in black and white and it would be several years before color TV’s were standard fare in most family living rooms.

Programming was positive and family-friendly. The moral of most stories presented on TV – and, yes, there was morals back then – were usually positive, wholesome messages intended for the betterment of the individual, the family and society as a whole. It never entered into the minds of parents that they would – or should – monitor what their children saw on the TV screen.

Classic programs like The Andy Griffith Show, Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best and The Donna Reed Show were warmly and genuinely welcomed into homes all across America as wholesome guests.  Parents wanted their kids to grow up like Opie Taylor, the Beaver, a James Anderson, Jr. or a Jeff Stone. 

Gradually, boundaries were pushed. Themes normally discussed in the privacy of one’s bedroom were slowly but surely being piped through the TV screens and into family living rooms. New channels began to appear, cable TV began to grow and expand and, with it, the perceived “need” to provide ever more provocative and edgy programming, bringing us to the state of television as we have it today.

I recently had the distinct privilege of speaking by phone with Paul “Jeff Stone” Petersen, who was an original Mouseketeer and the brother on The Donna Reed Show.   In addition to being a co-star of that iconic TV show, Paul also enjoyed a successful singing career before moving on to an adult career as an acclaimed novelist.  Over the last twenty-two years, however, Petersen’s passionate mission has been his child advocacy group, A Minor Consideration.

My conversation with Paul covered the entire span of his career and activist work.  Naturally, we started by talking about the impact of his early work on pop culture and the hearts and minds of the baby boomer generation.  I asked Petersen about what fans say to him about that impact on their lives and memories.

 “Randy, it’s wonderful because I grew up with them and they grew up with me. For many families – which were not the perfect ‘Donna Reed’ kind of family where Dad’s a doctor and works in the house and there’s a loving sister and, then, you have another loving sister  - for people who didn’t have the perfect family life, The Donna Reed Show provided an anchor for them – an image of what could be and how you might want to live your life. You know, with love and courtesy and to be well-groomed and well mannered. I believe that’s what most people carried away from especially the eight years on The Donna Reed Show. It was positive.  There was not a single episode out of 276 that I can’t stand behind and be proud of.”

Apologizing for tossing an admittedly softball question, I asked Paul what he thought has given those old shows and their peers the staying power that they have compared to the shows from, say, more recent series.

“But it’s not a softball question. It’s revelatory. It tells us what has happened to our culture. The shows have lasted a long time because they were better!  They were better written. They had more substantial acting talent. The directors who helped manage the whole team – even the delivery system - were much more positive and competent.

“Some of the shows today – particularly family sitcoms – are too prone to slip into gutter humor – to flush the toilet, if you will; to look for the cheap joke and to look to focus on issues and situations that most families don’t encounter for the duration of their existence. 

“Then, too, the shows were in black and white – at least until the early sixties. There was an awareness that you were watching a play. It was a morality play.  And for those people who were absent good images in their lives, a show like The Donna Reed Show or Father Knows Best – even Ozzie and Harriet – represented something you could aspire to.”

Petersen’s comment begged the question – perhaps a dumb one but I specialize in those – of whether he thought Hollywood negatively impacting society or was it the other way around.

“No, I think they are. It’s always a chicken and egg kind of thing. Is art representing life or does life trigger the art?  And, I must tell you, when you have lived with the power – the unbelievable power – of the medium, you begin to understand that it is shaping our lives in ways big and small. And, when you know the players in Hollywood, you come to see them as propagandist. It seems that everybody has an agenda these days.  It’s a very poisonous atmosphere.  Projects that are heavy on morality and doing the right thing have very tough sledding in the Hollywood of 2012.  People don’t want to see positive and upbeat things.”

When I mentioned that movies like Fireproof and Courageous have been money-makers for their producers, Paul passionately said, “Randy, that’s because the hunger is there!  You know, it used to be that you could go to the movies on any given Saturday matinee and you walked out of the movie theater feeling good.  The good guys won. The cartoons were funny – violent in their own way, of course, and filled with stereotypes.  But it was a cartoon, for goodness sake!  But, by and large, the message was very heartening. You felt good when you walked out of movies.

“Of course, Walt Disney had the formula when it came to these G rated movies. When he made a movie, he sold four tickets at a time and when these other guys made movies, one or two people would go to the movies (at a time).  The family is a larger unit than the individual.”

When I wondered aloud if Hollywood will re-learn that secret, Petersen said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon because, mostly, they make movies for themselves. I know too many people – very successful people – who are engaged in projects that they won’t let their young children see. And I say to them over and over, ‘If you won’t let your kids see this movie you’re making, why are you making it?’

Paul then solemnly added, “A certain coarseness has crept into our culture that I don’t approve of. I don’t understand the world of tattoos and deliberately mean acts. I don’t understand that.”

Shifting gears just a bit, and since Petersen enjoyed success in both the TV and music industries, I asked what he thought has been the most positive changes in those media since the 60’s as well as the negative changes.

“Look, I am for openness and I am for resolution. In this forest of entertainment product, there are still some wonderful examples of movie making and of music making. But the overall effect, I think, has been negative and I think it’s been that way, frankly, since the mid-sixties. It has been a steady decline.

“But, you’ll get a show like The Bill Cosby Show and you go, ‘Oh, man! It’s a wonderful show!’ It will stand on its own for a long time.  Then, you get Rosanne Barr and you say, ‘What is Hollywood thinking?’ 

“The music is particularly troubling to me because kids – just as we did – live with their music. It’s hard to find something positive in the world of music, especially now that the corporations have fractured it and its individual entrepreneurs. The whole rap music scene and the gangsta rap and the rest – it causes harm. There’s no doubt it causes harm.

“The problem is that the music is no longer left to the musicians and songwriting is no longer to the poets in our society and that’s a darn shame. However, the saving grace is there is so much entertainment product that, if you’re a discriminating person – especially a discriminating parent or grandparent – you can pick and choose what you are exposed to.

Petersen then draws his scope back on today’s TV programming.

“I look at the TV schedule sometimes and I just shake my head. I have over 400 different choices on any given hour. And it’s up to me to seek out those things which I think deserve my support.”

That comment was a perfect lead into my next question I had prepared to ask Paul: What kind of impact does he feel the growth in the pool of channels on public and cable TV has had on TV programming – family programming in particular?

“What I see as a professional is the degradation in the level of expertise – the true professionalism. I once had a flight to New York and my seat mate was a young girl – about nineteen or twenty – who watched two movies – two big budget movies – on her cell phone.  

“When the flight was over, I said to her – just conversationally – “Do you know how many hundreds of people who put their professional credentials on the line to make those movies you just watched on a two inch screen?’ And, of course, she had no idea - nor an appreciation - of the skill level of the true professionals who still remain in this business.  I mean, just think about it for a second: When you see a movie like Avatar, look at the wizardry!  It’s astonishing!”

Given his less than positive view of the state of TVLand, I asked Paul what he would do if he were made TV Czar by the president and given near total power with regards to programming.

“Well, first of all, I would demand a certain level of competence and experience before anyone was handed the reins to this very powerful beast.  I mentioned earlier the true impact and power of the medium – movies, television and music.  It’s so much larger than most people appreciate. I would not be permitting people to just walk into it without some life experience and an understanding of the basic psychology of the medium itself. That would cure a lot of ailments.

“Of course, referring again to something I said earlier, if you’re going to be making stuff that’s going to be broadcast over the air and you can’t show it to your children, well, then, maybe it ought not to be made.”

Paul then shifted the focus slightly to that of the messages delivered in television by sharing a very interesting story.

“One of the most telling stories is of a very successful man, Norman Lear, of his experience with All in the Family. Remember, Archie Bunker was supposed to be a buffoon. He was supposed to be the object of ridicule. The big shots and Norman Lear and many others involved with that show, instead, created a hero and it mystified them!  ‘Oh my god! People do think this way and talk this way!’ And they gave face to, frankly, an unattractive porcupine and, yet, it was called ‘success’.

“It was a wonderful show, don’t get me wrong. I’m a grown up. I can take it.  But, I thought as an example, that’s not family viewing. I think they were surprised that the impact of this show – which was meant to poke fun at families and the role of fathers and mothers, etc. – ended up creating a new template which, frankly, was not very uplifting.”

As for current TV roles, Paul shares that, “Here’s what I do. I think there are things that all of us of a certain age need to focus on at this point of our cultural life.

One of them is the condition of our seniors. This is a rapidly aging population.  I work with the Department of Aging here in Los Angeles and I have been hosting a show for the last eight years called Again Well in L.A. It really focuses on the many issues that impact the world of seniors - everything from financial abuse to non-medical in-home care, retirement communities, and how to guard against unnecessary health accidents. 

“The show has been on now for – well, we’re now just short of 200 episodes.  I get a kick out of doing that because it bridges rather neatly my continuing concern for young people who are working – and not just in the entertainment business but throughout the business world.”

Petersen then brings the subject of aging that is quite a bit more close to home.

“We have to recognize that one person turns 60 years old every seven seconds!  We are soon to have a population that will be twenty-five percent older than the generation I came from. I was born in 1945. In fact, I just escaped the boomer label by three months!

“But the fact is that our cohort is a significant demographic and we’re going to be very expensive to maintain because our expectations are so high. At seventy – back when I was a boy, my grandfather and grandmother lived with us – you were old!  And seventy today, heck! You’re going on cruises, you’re playing golf, and you may still be playing tennis. Now, you may be doing it with an artificial hip or knee replacement and you may have a pacemaker but you’re still out there. That’s what I mean by these rising expectations. We expect to be in good health.”

I was spellbound by Paul’s comments and tremendous insight into our generation and our continuing impact on society and culture. While digesting what he was saying, a comment and question came to mind that I hadn’t planned on asking.  I mentioned that I felt that our generation raised a calloused generation of narcissists (excluding our own kids, of course).  I asked him what he thought that will mean to our generation as we age.

“What that means is that they will not be able to afford us. This is not like the beginning of Social Security where there were 36 jobs for every retiree. We are at a place where, very soon, it’s going to take two workers to pay the freight for every one retiree.

“Speaking as an adult man with children and grandchildren, I believe it’s my personal responsibility to take care of my needs. I do not want to put that burden on my children. And, on a personal level, my wife and I – about eight years ago – suddenly confronted this reality that we had five senior women all over the age of 80 who had been independent their entire lives, who became dependent at various stages - everything from Alzheimer’s to mobility issues.  That became the focus of our lives – those five elderly women. Now, they have all passed in the past eight years. It was an extraordinary, emotional roller coaster.”

What does Petersen’s crystal ball tell him what we will wind up with in that area?

“Well, my crystal ball tells me that we’re going to have to make some hard choices. Second and third homes may be out the window and having that 40 fort long RV in the driveway may be things of the past. We may not be able to indulge ourselves with these kinds of toys and entrapments. We may, in fact, have to be going back to the day where a family has to pool all of its resources so that each generation within that family – and within the culture – gets those things that are critical to development and to good health. People – especially boomers – are going to have to stop being so selfish. Can you imagine the dread - if you’re a fifteen  year old girl who’s smart and doing well in school – the dread when you confront the true cost of a college education. It is frightening!  It really is frightening!

“It used to be – in large families – there was sort of a natural selection process where families over their dinner tables or in the fields or when they came home from work – actually made decisions as to which child was going to be the beneficiary of a college education. But, now, everybody expects it and not everyone is suited for it.

“Years ago – well, maybe not so many years ago – about five years ago – an 1870’s eight grade graduation test was posted on the internet. This was eighth grade level back then – the 1870’s. I very much doubt that 50 percent of our population could pass it.

“With internet degrees and the ability to fudge your resume, what is a college degree these days? I meet youngsters – particularly here in Southern California – who are functionally illiterate, graduating high school and that’s frightening to me. Literacy is still a very key component of the health and well-being of a society.”

Paul then added, “NFL players testified in front of Congress – these are guys with major university degrees.  The joke, of course, but a joke based on truth, is that O.J. Simpson has a degree in Chemical Engineering. That’s what we’ve become. We have so cheapened true knowledge and intelligence. We’ve cheapened it and that’s too bad.  They have an ad going right now that says, ‘Intelligent people solve problems and geniuses prevent them.’  I think that’s the key. There are too many voices out there which, if you looked behind the curtain, you would see a very hollow person issuing these proclamations.”

We shifted our conversational gears to Petersen’s passion and current life’s work: an organization he created called A Minor Consideration.  I asked him to tell me about it. 

“A Minor Consideration was started in tragedy. Three friends of mine, former kid stars, came to the end of their lives much too quickly.  Rusty Hamer was the most famous. He died by suicide at age 42. He was overweight and prone to violence and living in a trailer behind his brother’s home in DeRidder, Louisiana.  I knew Rusty very well. I had never taken the time to go see my friend. I was too busy writing books. I was too busy raising a family. Then, he was dead. This was January, 1990.

“It triggered in me a response that I’m really grateful for because it was the proverbial tap on the shoulder from a higher power that said to me, ‘You have to do something about this.’  Particularly as it relates to young performers who achieve the level of notoriety early in their life and then found a career was absent as they got into their twenties.

“It struck me particularly hard. I started A Minor Consideration with my wife with the purpose of intervening when I heard about trouble. If some former kid star was in trouble, I was going to show up.   In three years time, suddenly, I had a whole group of other former kid stars – over sixty – who shared with me the desire to help our friends – our classmates, if you will.

“And, then, my wife – who is a show business nurse – posed a very interesting question to all of us. ‘Why are we doing all these interventions’, she asked, ‘when should be preventing these troubles?’  We sort of branched off from our core mission of providing friendship and financial support and emotional support into actually tackling the structure within which young people work.  First, in entertainment then it got a little larger. Then it was sports. Then it was, ‘Well, wait a minute, there are a lot of working kids.’

“Five million children go to work every day in America.  In America! Five million.  And, many of them – like the children in the entertainment world – are exempt from federal child labor laws.

“Who’s watching the number of hours they put in? Who’s guarding their health in the work place? Who’s protecting their certain need for an education? When you see the hodgepodge of laws – limited though they may be – it really is alarming. We have let this area of the workplace go unattended. We all kind of say, ‘Well, we’re not a third world country.’ 

“Well, tell that to the 800,000 children who pick our food out of the fields of America who don’t go to school and who are busy trying to put food on the table. And there’s 800,000 of them!  It’s just not the 300,000 children in show business and the sports world who lack attention. There are millions – literally millions of children working who don’t have the protections we assume are in place.  That has truly become the focus of A Minor Consideration these days.  We need to change the rules.”

Those comments and statistics dumbfounded me as he easily rolled them off of his tongue. They also destroyed my assumption that surely, with all the laws and regulations in place today that weren’t in place when Petersen was a child actor, there isn’t a problem anymore. I was especially puzzled by the exposure of the 300,000 child actors in this country’s entertainment industry.  I mean, isn’t this the same “Hollywood” whose members always champion a wide variety of humanitarian causes?  I asked Paul exactly that question. 

“Well, that’s the lie, you see. It is my experience that a lot of liberals I know don’t seem to have any math skills. That’s why they constantly overspend their income. They talk a good game but they don’t live it!  When you see an adult person – a performer – working on a family sitcom in which all three children involved in the enterprise are in serious emotional trouble and don’t actually go to school even for the three hour minimum required by law and they don’t speak up, you gotta ask yourself, ‘What are they thinking?’

“The children don’t do this on their own – I mean, all of us have our troubles. ‘God, do I have to take this history test? Do I have to read the book on the history of the Middle Ages?’ And, yet, if you take that away from them, they pop out on the other side and become adults who are ignorant of history. That is the problem. We still have nineteen states that have no child labor laws for the entertainment business. “

Petersen then shifts the focus from Hollywood to the sports fields and the beauty pageant stages of America.

“You see it in sports all the time. In Little League, we say that a kid can’t pitch more than seven innings in a week and think that we have done well. But what about the misbehavior of the parents in the stands who are actually abusive to other children and coaches and the umpires in the process of a child’s game.

“Those are just some of the things. We have Olympic athletes – young ones. I’m talking 13, 14, 15 years old who are actually working - remember, they’re all paid now – 80 hours a week! An 80 hour work week when you’re a grown up and accept the responsibility of work and can say no, that’s one thing. But what if you can’t say no? 

“It’s not just me. I tell people over and over, ‘Go get Andre Agassi’s book. Read that. That’s the life of a professional athlete.’  When it starts at age nine or ten years old, you’re asking for trouble. This is the world we have created.

“Look at the world of beauty pageants.  It is, globally, a $5 BILLION business. And what these childhood beauty pageants really are is employment opportunities for about 100,000 adults who make a living out of turning out ornamental women and, sadly, unbalanced young boys. It’s an ugly world. And who establishes the criteria for beauty, for goodness sake? Who is watching these pageants? Who is participating?  This is across the board. 

“The world of children is a dangerous place these days.  When you have in this country a million teenagers go missing every year and are never accounted for thereafter.  A million!  “Those are sad statistics.  And, for children who view the world differently as you did and as I did when I was younger, there’s a great deal of entertainment product out there that is sending exactly the wrong message.

“For example, my nieces who are mid-teens, they watch an offering called Dance Moms and are rooting for the children and they see the children’s plight through the misbehavior of the parents. For them, it reinforces their idea that all adults are hypocrites and abusive. They find themselves in league with the children. For example, Paris Hilton. You talk to a young person and, to them, Paris Hilton is simply doing what she must to survive. I’m going, ‘Wait a minute! Wait a minute! We’ve got wonderfully talented children who’ve got something to say, who are securely anchored in their faith and character development who getting graduate degrees in music. They’re playing harps and they’re playing in orchestras and working hard to stay on the straight and narrow and you give them Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian?  Please!

“Randy, do you understand that the assaults on children are not something that is done in some smoke filled back room? We have major, national politicians who actually, in the past year, have been advocating for loosening the rules on child labor.

“For a good chunk of my life, I lived on a farm and everybody worked hard – really hard. But there was still that time when the work stopped for the kids and off you went to school. These days, we have whole families where school is the very last thing that they are thinking about.   ‘We’ve got a crop to get in. We have farm equipment that needs repair. We’ve got some fencing to take care of.”  It’s sad when you think about that!”

Paul began to pull the regulatory curtain back and show just how ugly the wizard is.

“The rules changed in 1938 when they passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. Whole categories of working children were exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act.  If you worked in agriculture and the family farm, you were exempted. If you worked in show business, you were exempted. If you worked for a non-profit, you were exempted. And the exemption itself bears the exemption from the kids who used to deliver our newspapers. That’s why it’s called the newsy exemption.

“But find me a family farm in 2012. My newspaper is not delivered by kid peddling his bike with two bags over the handle bars. It’s a business now.  That’s the change we have not kept pace with. And, in the entertainment world, the most visible children in the world – for them to not be protected, for them not to be given our best as a society, frankly, it drives me crazy!

“Look at the kids who were engaged in Scumdog Milliionaire - this huge, successful movie out of India. As soon as the children were done with their job, they were thrown back into the ghetto in Mumbai and yet the movie made $300 million!  I keep asking people wherever I go and wherever I speak, ‘Doesn’t it matter to you? Every person in that movie changed their address for the better except the children! That’s wrong!

 “I must tell you, Randy, sometimes I look over my shoulder and wonder, ‘Where’s the line? Where’s my army?’  Because I know from talking to people who are genuinely decent and God-fearing people – over 70 percent are God-fearing – why are you permitting this?  Why is it we accept that 250 million children in the world go to work every day at the same time 250 million heads of households are unemployed?  Isn’t that absurd?

“I look at people and say, ‘All you have to do is swap the positions. Okay, heads of households get hired first and children just don’t get hired. They go to school, you know or they play soccer in the streets but they don’t go to the workplace where they can be killed and abused.”

 With an organization such as A Minor Consideration, the challenges must be many and enormous. I asked Paul what their biggest challenge is today.

“Well, the biggest challenge, frankly – and I say this as a product of my age – is to recruit similarly experienced younger people to take up the banner. This problem is not going to go away and today’s working kids who have achieved a level of success are really the next in line to carry forward this mission. Every CEO of every company everywhere has an obligation to replace him or herself. That is what we are involved in.

“There’s a whole evolution of our membership - it’s over 600 former kid stars – but there’s an evolution going on because these famous youngsters just keep coming!  We hope to provide them with the tools and the resources so that they can more effectively carry on this battle.

“Our near term mission is to end the exemptions to child labor laws on a national level so that anywhere a kid works in America, the rules are going to be the same and the money they earn will belong to them. A portion of that money will be set aside for their future use in their young adult years.

“But that still leaves the rest of the world. I believe in my heart that, if people are brought up short, they will understand that there should be a larger focus on the welfare of children than we place on animals.”

After sharing the challenges of A Minor Consideration, I asked Paul what his team’s biggest achievement has been.

“First, the public education campaign has been wonderful. People accept the work we’re doing and support.  Just my airport conversations alone tell me that we’re making progress.   But, in California, we changed the rules so that the money that children earn in California belongs to them and that every child has a savings account for their use when they turn age 18.

“We have smoothed out some of the unbelievable loopholes in the law. It’s no longer legal to hire a premature baby to do to work.  Hollywood is such a wicked place. It wasn’t good enough that you could hire a baby who was fifteen days old. That wasn’t good enough for Hollywood because they like twins and triplets and quadruplets, etcetera. So, these children who were born ten weeks premature, after fifteen days were going work! My god!  Our ‘premie law” passed in ninety days, Randy. 

“But, the truth is that those things should be national. We’ve made progress internationally with our friends in Canada and Mexico and even in far-flung places like Ecuador and Chile. Brazil remains a puzzle but that’s how big this mission is. I’m not going to live long enough to see it successfully resolved but today’s working children – and you see them everywhere, right there on the television screens and movie screens – we hope to enlist them as a lifelong work; to pay attention to other visible and invisible children.”

How can people help A Minor Consideration?

“Well, in this world, we’re always starved for funds. That’s the reality of working with a non-profit. A Minor Consideration is a 501c3 with a special mission to change legislation.  People can find out about our work on the internet by going to or look up ‘Paul Petersen’ and the links are right there. Of course, they can help.

“But the other thing people can do is to speak up. If they’re at an AYSO soccer game and there is a parent shouting obscenities or berating the other team, you’ve got to walk up to that grown-up and say, ‘Excuse me! Your behavior is unacceptable.’  You just have to do it. We are all obligated to take care of young people. Sometimes, I know it’s painful and sometimes it might even be frightening. But you simply have to do it. When you see parental misbehavior, you must speak up.”

With our very interesting, thought provoking conversation wrapping up, I asked Paul how he hoped to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.

“I must say that this has changed over the course of my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to accomplish things in various fields. When I was on The Donna Reed Show, I thought that being an actor was the most important thing. Then, with the singing career, being successful in selling records was important. Then, when I was writing books – sixteen of them – writing a good book and having it succeed in the marketplace was important.

“But nothing compares to the work I’m doing now because it has real, on the ground, net effects. In my late thirties, I feared that my headstone would say, ‘Here lies the guy who grew up on The Donna Reed Show.’ I did believe that. But now I think my advocacy for the rights of working children is going the accomplishment that will be remembered. I hope it will be remembered and I hope that it continues – not in my name but in the name of what is good and just and fair.

“I keep telling young people particularly, ‘You didn’t just pop up on the scene. You had nothing to do with your own creation. You have a debt to the society that created environment into which you were born. Part of that is to take care of it, to nurture it and to make sure, as the Indian said, that it will survive down through the seventh generation. If each of us made decisions that we could stand by seven generations down the pipe, we’d be a lot better world.”

Dan Peek's Last Interview - Part Two

Posted September,2011

dan peek pointing livePhoto Courtesy of Dan PeekIn the last seventies and early eighties, one could say that I was neck deep into the contemporary Christian music (“CCM”) scene.  I tried to attend every Christian concert that came through the Phoenix area and was adding to my album collection if not every week, at least every pay day.

During those days, a lot of excitement was generated by some of the secular artist who “crossed over” to the CCM genre.  Folks like B. J. Thomas, Bob Dylan, Barry McGuire, Ritchie Furay and others created all sorts of buzz.  Another artist who made the switch was Dan Peek, founding member and co-songwriter of and for the group, America.

This second and last installment of my interview with Dan Peek focuses on his years in, and thoughts on, the CCM industry.  As in part one of this interview Peek’s comments are derived from three phone conversations that took as many hours over two days.  Our chats about the CCM days were interspersed throughout the calls. However, I’ve consolidated them into this final installment.  Some comments may be a repeat from part one.  If they are, they’re included here for the purposes of clarity and continuity.

In discussing Dan’s CCM work, I started out by asking the one question that I figured he’s been asked thousands of times but I wanted to gauge his pulse about it during our interview: Why did he leave America and why did he start focusing on Christian music?

 “Well, when I was twelve years old, I ‘got saved’. My mother, who had just gotten saved herself, basically came and told the entire family the Gospel.  I had never heard it.  I had been to a lot of churches and I heard ‘be good, be a good boy, be nice’.  But, when I heard the Gospel, it absolutely resonated with me and I got on my knees and prayed.  I knew I was a sinner at twelve already and asked Christ into my heart and life and to be my savior.

 “But the years drifted on (and) I got into my late teens, went away to college and just drifted away from any semblance of acting like a Christian. But when we formed the band America, we were living in London. I went into my own little room and I got on my knees and I said, ‘Lord, if you’ll make this group a success, I will use it as a platform to tell other people about you.’  I never told another soul.

 “Well, within a year of praying that prayer, we had a number one album and a number one single around the world. It hit me like a ton of bricks one day. Bam! “God answered your prayer! Now you need to live up to your end of the bargain!’  I kind of – not half-heartedly – I tried to share the Gospel with Dewey and Gerry. They weren’t interested. I tried to share it with some other people – they didn’t want to know. So, I just kind of withdrew into my shell as a heathen and then just became a practicing hedonist. So, for the next seven years, I’m living Lavita Loco to the max.

“The turning point came for me – I’m living in a million dollar house in Malibu, overlooking the sea. I’ve got the fancy schmancy cars in the driveway, a beautiful wife, the hot tub, the whole nine yards.  The walls covered with gold and platinum albums and a Grammy on my piano. And, yet, inside, I was so, so lost and in deep, deep despair because it was like, ‘Wait a minute! All this stuff is supposed to make me feel good! It’s not doin’ it. I’m lost!’  I knew there was darkness inside.

 “I remember my mother, when I did get saved – this just kinda came back to me – she said, ‘Son, if ever at any time, you wander away from Jesus, he will always take you back.  He will always take you back!’

 “So, I got on my knees in my beautiful home by the sea and cried out a prayer of repentance and I said, ‘Lord, I have sinned grievously against you. I don’t need all this stuff. This stuff’s not doing it. I want you now to be my Lord as well as my savior and I want to live my life to glorify you.’

 “Within about three months, our house burned in a fire and I’m out of the band.  It was like going through a divorce – everything was tied up.  It was probably the lowest ebb of my life on a material level which, six months earlier, I was at the absolute apogee, crescendo of life as a material person but was at the lowest ebb spiritually.   And, then, suddenly, the coin flipped over and I’m just on fire, wanting to preach the gospel and I had this incredible idea.

“I thought, ‘You know, I’m going to make an album of songs about the Lord!’; modern kind of music, not the old, standard, piano thumping music. I thought I had invented contemporary Christian music!  Little did I know that there was this huge industry already out there but they were so separate that I would go to places where there were people in CCM  and I would be introduced, ‘This is Dan Peek and he’s from the group, America’ and one guy would go, ‘Is that the juggling act that performs in Vegas?’

 “They didn’t know who I was; I didn’t know who they were but all I knew was that I wanted to fulfill my promise to the Lord. It was like when I did pray that prayer of rededication – some people will say that’s when I was really converted, I don’t want to split hairs – all I know is that I knew then that I wanted God as the central focus on my life, not the material stuff. It was like God said, ‘Okay, now you can live up to your promise.’

 “So, I embarked on a series of things. God put the right people in my place to be able to make (the album) All Things Are Possible. So, suddenly, there I was. I was able to share the glory of God and explain the Gospel and explain what God had done for me and my life and save a hopeless wretch like me.  It was like a huge weight was lifted off of me because I was suffering from tremendous guilt from living this double life.  Deep down inside, I’m a Christian but on the outside I am just like Keith Richards, only a little bit younger!”

 “So, that was the turning point. I left the band. I did the album. It was nominated for a Grammy. All Things Are Possible – the song – got huge, monstrous airplay. It was actually in the top five of the Adult Contemporary charts for two years in a row. So, it was, on some level, a ground breaking album.  B.J. (Thomas) had made his - Coming Home or Going Home, whatever it was (Home Where I Belong) – but All Things Are Possible really was a breakout record and then it was time to follow up.

 “Long story short, I had really butted heads with the guy who had produced it – whose name shall remain nameless – I ended up, three years later, thinking of something I heard Pat Robertson say, ‘You’ve got to bury the hatchet with somebody. If the Lord’s got something for you to do, you need to do it.’  So, I called him up and said, ‘Hey, we didn’t get along but let’s just bury the hatchet here.’

“So, the next album I made was Doer of the Word – we did that. It got some nice airplay and stuff but it wasn’t the breakout thing like All Things Are Possible that I did with him. Again, it was very, very strained - very stressed. It was a great record, really. I take a lot of pride in the record. But, after that, I was living not far from Nashville and started, basically, living in Nashville and went to the Benson Company and kept pestering people until I finally got a deal with Benson and made a couple of records for them – Electro Voice and Crossover. Then, after that, I put together bands and started touring – sometimes overseas – Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia – you name it, I was out there. I would play the America stuff.  That’s what most people came to hear but I would always throw in the CCM stuff and give a short testimony and then, usually, a pastor would come out and give an altar call afterwards.

I wanted to circle back and discuss the All Things Are Possible  album in a little more detail so I asked Dan for some more insight into it.  Clearly, even though 32 years have passed since that album was released, Peek still had some ardently felt thoughts and opinions about that project.

“When I left America, we had self-produced a couple of albums and co-produced the first album.  We had Sir George Martin produce five of the seven or eight albums we did with Warner Brothers. So, when I left, I wasn’t really thinking in terms of working with a producer. I really kind of wanted to self-produce which, probably, wasn’t a smart move but, as it turned out, the deal more or less hinged on using a producer. I met the guy, who shall remain nameless, and . . . he’s a very, very talented guy. Very talented. But, the impression I got from the guy was, ‘Who cares about your songs. Let’s get as many of my songs on the record as humanly possible.’

 “I found that kind of annoying because it was me wanting to express my take on things.  We butted heads constantly on everything, really. On some level it was ego – getting in the flesh and just ego. But I will say this: In the long run, it turned out, probably, to be a better album than it would have been had I self-produced.

“My experience over the years in working with producers is it kind of breaks out this way: A third of the songs will be better than probably what you could have done yourself; a third of the songs will be probably worse than if you done them yourself; and the other third will be about the same as what you had envisioned.  So, to me, it’s kind of a wash in working with producers. So, it was not a happy experience for a number of reasons.

“Like I said, later I swallowed my pride and called him back up and we mended fences and we did Doer of the Word and it turned out to be a really good album. He wasn’t quite so aggressive about putting every song that he had written that morning on the record.  But, also, he’s a big one for working with studio musicians. We (America) just never did. I think that, in all the records we had recorded over the years, we might have had two or three outside dudes come in and play stuff. I just figured we’d get a drummer and maybe a bass player and I’d go in there and knock these things out. For whatever reason, he had his own little list of ‘A List’ of players that he wanted to use and it was good. But, again, I felt that a third of the things came out better, a third of the things came out worse and the other third was probably about what I would have envisioned anyway.

 “After that (second album) was out, I was just determined to get my own deal to self-produce and have the reins firmly in my hands for the whole project. As it turned out, the deal with Benson – part of the problem I saw with Benson and a lot of labels, too, is a lot of people would sign deals with some of these labels, they’d make one album and that would be the end of it.  Their hopes and dreams are crushed. I think it created a lot of bad blood and hurt feelings.

“In secular music, a big label like Warner might have a hundred artists, maybe – tops.  Probably ten or fifteen of those are the ones that really keep the company in business.  Benson, they must have had a thousand artists. So, I do a record with them. Then we would do a two or three day promotion – basically phoning people – distributors, bookstores and maybe do a couple of interviews and it was like, ‘Okay, we spent two days on your project – we’re on to the next one.’  I just felt like nothing really got a chance to do anything because they were just overburdened with artists – way too big of a catalog.  Way too big a stable of artists. So, ultimately, later on, when the deal was up and I was out of it, I really didn’t want to sign with a label.”

With a clear idea of what he felt was wrong with the CCM industry, I asked Peek what he would do to fix what he feels ails it if he were made czar of the CCM world.

“If I was the czar, what I would do is trim the rosters.  I would just cull the herd. If they are like they were when I was out there, there was way too many artists per label for them to handle and help and nurture and guide and make a career out of them. Instead, they would just churn ‘em and burn ‘em.  There was a fixed formula.

“When my record came out, they used a formula for a first time signing on an artist and that was it.  I went, ‘Wait a minute. I’m not bragging here but I’ve got a huge amount of people out there who know me already. Why can’t we bump me up to like a third album release type of a guy because I already made 7 or 8 albums and some of them were historic records.’  There was just this mind set, they would just cut the legs and arms off of people so that they would fit into this slot.

 “I don’t mean this meanly but I would get rid of the marginal and possible dead weight and focus only on a smaller number of acts and promote them more heavily with the revenue, say, from making 190 albums a week for bands that aren’t probably going to make another album.”

And, if he could go back in time, what would Dan do differently in his CCM career?

“Wow, that’s a toughie!  As soon as I left America, I had two or three major labels courting me to sign. I put my foot down and said, ‘I’ll only do it if I can do a completely gospel album.’ There was a guy named Michael Kleffner who was with Atlantic and some other people with other labels who said, ‘Would you consider doing just one or two gospel songs?’ And I said no.

“The irony is that I go back and I listen to All Things Are Possible and it’s, basically, again, because it was so contemporary and it was so nebulous lyrically – there are only two or three songs on there that are really ‘smack you on the head’ and says, ‘this is a gospel song or Christian song’.  I should have said ‘yeah’ and just done them.  But, I don’t know, I also, at the same time, look back and think maybe that would’ve got me back in with a crowd of people that I couldn’t really survive. I was very, very weak and easily succumbed to temptation at that time. I think I needed to be surrounded with clean and sober people. I’m not saying that everybody that’s involved in the music business is high all the time but most of them are.

 “But that’s something that I would think long and hard about. Say, ‘Okay, sure. I’ll do a record for you. I’ll do one or two gospel songs.’ It’s easy to say that now but looking back, again, had I done that, I probably would have had just as many overtly Christian songs on that type of an album as I did on All Things Are Possible.  But, again, there’s that question mark of would I have been thrust into a situation where I walk into a room and somebody’s doing a line of blow or, ‘Hey, man, do you want a toke off of this reefer here?’ or, ‘the beer’s in the fridge’.  It’s a sort of a maybe/maybe not thing.”

  To carry further his thoughts about the virtues of casting his music in Christian stone, Peek shared a story that happened early this year.

“I’ve got my little label, Seven Mile Entertainment, and I’ve done 7 . . . 10 – I can’t remember – albums and I sent them to a manufacturer – who shall remain nameless – but they meta-tagged every one of them ‘religious’ which I didn’t figure it out until about six months ago. I never ripped or burned a song before. I went to rip it, burn it – whatever you do – and it would go ‘Dan Peek – blah, blah, blah, category: religious’ and I thought, ‘Wait a minute!’ and it really annoyed me because I wondered how many people might have looked at that and go, ‘Oh, it’s a religious album! I’m not interested.’ But, as I said, there were, quote, religious songs on them but it really, really bummed me out. In fact, I’ve almost called the owner and said, ‘What was your major malfunction there, buddy? Why did you do that?’ I’m trying to sell records here to everybody. I’m not trying to narrow-cast only to contemporary Christians because, for one thing, most of them would go, ‘Oh, this isn’t religious enough!’ But to turn people off from the git go with it only showing up under religious media just annoyed the heck out of me, I’ve got to tell you!”

My own limited personal experience within the CCM business showed me that the buying public often places the artists in no-win situations.  Various factions would be critical of the style of music played – it was either too “hard” or not hard enough.  What I found even more evident, though, was the expectation by the audience that the artists show themselves as hard core theologians.  What kind of theologian would be the subject of yet another round of criticisms?  And, if an artist were to stumble in some sort of human failure, then they were crucified on the cross of “Christian” public opinion.

Dan and I discussed this at some length and his comments were quite interesting.

 “Yeah, they bury their wounded. The pressure on people like B.J. Thomas who basically flipped out, in my opinion, later on – a lot of people who are brand new Christians and people expect them to be – like you said – theologians.  That’s an awful lot of pressure to put on people.

“Dylan, I’ve heard some people say that he’s recanted his Christianity. I don’t know. That’s between him and God but, obviously, there was a great deal of excitement when people heard that he was a brother. He was, apparently, no holds barred. He did some tours and a lot of people freaked out because they were wanting Blowin’ In The Wind and he’s doing Slow Train Coming or You Gotta Serve Somebody.

“I remember Pat Boone, when I first signed it was actually on his label which was distributed by Word (Records) – Lamb and Lion. Pat was talking to me and at the time he was talking, I didn’t really realize that he was saying it to me but I later understood it. He goes, ‘There’s a thing where Christians can be so on fire, they’re like a blast furnace and they just frighten people and they run, screaming, because they’re so on fire.  But, really, you must be like a camp fire where it’s like, ‘Oo! That looks cozy and warm! Let’s go sit by the camp fire and warm our hands and roast a weenie.’  Then I realized that he was actually talking to me! He was giving me some friendly advice without actually saying, ‘By the way, Dan, you’re a little bit over the top here.’

 “Ultimately, I tried to be the camp fire guy. You know, if I’m doing the 700 Club, I let it fly. If I’m doing an interview, I usually like to find out what the target audience is, what type of show it is or if the interviewer is a believer or not. I’m not going to try to beat people over the head with a ten pound Bible. I think that B.J., Bob Dylan and, probably others came out super on fire for the Lord and maybe had some bad experiences.  When you are a ‘Christian’ and in business – whether it’s Christian music business or whatever, there’s a lot of room for problems there. I found that I’m neither fish nor fowl. I’m too Christian for the secular people and I’m too secular for the Christians. I think that was part of the decision to segue into just ‘doin’ my own thang’ and let the chips fall where they may.”

At one point during one of our conversations, Dan shared a little more detail as to what led to his low-key, semi-reclusive life in the Caribbean.  The story shows that, while he claimed to be typically wishy-washy in his decisions, he wasn’t at all afraid to make big, bold decisions that would radically change his life.

 “As time went on, I was going to segue into a pure country career. But, all of a sudden, one day I sat down. My marriage was really on the rocks, really suffering because I had been on the road for so long. It puts such a strain – even as a Christian – it’s very stressful on a marriage. We used to do about 290 dates a year as America. If I do country, I’m looking at 322 dates a year and I thought, ‘I can’t go down that road again’. I spent the last twenty years touring and I had had enough.

 “My wife and I reconciled. We decided to move. We moved to the Caribbean. We wanted a fresh start. So, I hung up the recording studio thing and everything else. But the irony was, because of the situation, I just started writing song after song after song; book after book after book. So, it was a great way – without trying and without pressure on me, ‘Oh, you’ve got to deliver an album every 6 months’ just to be able to stockpile a huge amount of material and, ultimately, put it to tape or CD or whatever you want to call it. So, that worked out pretty good.”

In transcribing this quote as I was writing this piece, I wondered if there was a lot of unreleased music that Dan had either been working on or was waiting until the appropriate time to release the music on a new CD.  To get an answer to that question, I e-mailed Dan’s brother, Tom, who lives in Europe, to find out – specifically about the body of work that his brother referred to, above.  Tom’s response wasn’t very encouraging.

“The body of work Dan refers to is comprised of songs he has already released on his recent CD’s and downloads. Unless some record company gets their mind right, the CD’s will no longer see the light of day.

“Dan had a wealth of un-released/un-recorded songs just waiting to get out there. He took them with him.”  He closed his remarks by adding, “Dan’s download album “All America Boy” was his last release.  It contained tracks that were especially close to him.” (That album can be downloaded by clicking here.)

We never want the music to end.  I suppose the reason is that we associate the end of music with the end of a party or festivities. For the recording artist, it is associated with the end of their career or even of their life. In the case of Dan Peek, there, apparently, was much more music locked up in his creative cranium that he wished to unleash on this world but it wasn’t meant to be.

I’ve had quite a bit of time to reflect on the few hours I had chatted with Dan.  I’ve thought about all the music that was and could have been.  I’ve thought about the hearts touched by Dan’s music and by his expression of faith.  I’ve thought about the bold decisions he made to withdraw from the spotlight to a Caribbean island and enjoy countless days of quality time with his lovely bride, Catherine.  How many of us would love to be able to do the same thing?

I thought of his comments regarding his relationship with his former band mates.  I pretty much put everything he said into these two instalments.  What’s hard to convey is the feeling and tone in which he said them.  While he was obviously critical of them, I really did sense that he wanted more than anything to mend fences with them and to enjoy their friendship once again.  Of course, there are two sides to every story.  In this case, there are likely three.  I would love to give an opportunity for Gerry and Dewey to share their thoughts.  The invitation will always be open for them to speak their piece.

Reflecting on the relationship between these three great musicians who have written large parts of the soundtrack of my youth has caused me to cherish my friendships even more and to want to try extra hard not to ever take them for granted.  Fortunately, I don’t have any former close friends that I need to mend fences with

I usually don’t have a problem ending an interview piece but this one is different.  Dan is the first person I’ve interviewed who has passed away – let alone passing away before I had the chance to craft the article.  I think the best way to end it is by sharing with you his answer to my question as to whether or not America or Dan Peek fans will ever be able to have the chance to see him perform again.  His answer reflects his willingness to help a friend, his own vulnerabilities and his willingness to realize when to quit while he was ahead.

“You know? The last thing I did, I did as a favor for a friend of mine who was opening a coffee shop. He asked me if I would play and I said, ‘yeah’. It nearly killed me! I gotta tell ya, I was so nervous. I had never been so nervous in my life before a show. So I’m going to have to say, ‘Probably not’ - pretty much about a 99% chance of me not doing anything live.”

And, then, in his characteristic “aw shucks” manner, he said, “Sorry about that, folks!”

If you haven't read Part One of Dan Peek's last interview, click here to read it.

Rob Parissi (2011)

September, 2011

latebloomerYou know that you have a good relationship where, when they answer the call you’re placing to them, you both just start laughing.  Such is the case with my good friend, Rob Parissi. 

When I called Parissi at his Florida home, answered the phone “Dude!” with which I responded with the same greeting and then we just both started laughing.  Why? Not so much with how we said, “dude” to each other.  I suppose that it was because we both knew that we were each going to have to be on our toes because the jokes and one-liners would be flying back and forth.

My friendship with Rob began during our first interview together right at two years ago.  Because of his journey into the genre of smooth jazz, I mistakenly assumed that Parissi was a brooding, overly serious jazz musician with no sense of humor.  When you read that first interview (here), you’ll see that, while he is very serious about the smooth jazz that he creates, he sees the world – as well as himself – through a very humorous lens. 

Like most people with highly developed senses of humor, Rob has a depth in other areas of thought than just music and humor but also in the realms of business, politics, and religion.  That’s not to say that he doesn’t pepper his musings on those subjects with heavy doses of humor.  Over the last two years, I’ve watched him use humor to persuade others to his point of view and, failing that, to shut down conversations that weren’t going anywhere meaningful.

As Rob said during our chat about his online interactions, “I’m recording all the time. It looks like I have no life – that I’m just here (online) to wreak havoc.  Actually, it’s frustration because I need an ‘ear break” and then I go to Facebook and somebody says something and I go, ‘Well, how can I screw this up?’

Wait a minute!  You say you don’t know who Rob Parissi is?  I bet you actually do if you’re a baby boomer and were a teenager during the seventies.  Parissi is the founder of the seventies group, Wild Cherry and writer of the band’s signature hit, Play That Funky Music.  That song not only earned a prominent place on the soundtrack of our youth, it has wormed its way into countless movies and even TV shows like the ratings giant, American Idol.

So, as the beginning of our call got past the initial laughter, getting caught up on news, gossip, and Rob sharing his helpful hints as to what to do with those darn holiday leftovers, we got on to more serious subjects.  Subjects like his new smooth jazz CD, East Coast Vibe that he worked on, in part, with jazz great, Steve Oliver. 

He starts off by telling me how the album is doing.

“Things are going really well. It’s taking off. I’ve become really close friends with Steve Oliver so we’re on the phone all the time.  Five minute conversations with us turn into War and Peace. We’ll on the phone for a half a day! We do!  We just start and off we go! He’s in California.  It will start with him saying, ‘I hope that I didn’t call too early’ to , ‘well, it’s noon!’ I’m telling you, man, we just talk about ev-ry-thing in-the-world!”

Parissi then segued into bragging about Oliver and his accomplishments.

“Steve has had so much success. He doesn’t realize how big he is.  He doesn’t realize how large of a player he is in the genre. What frustrates him is there’s a click with certain people in that club (the smooth jazz market) and they’re all managed by a couple of people.  So, what they do is they put pressure on him and not invite him to things and not let him into that clique because they want him. He’s independent.  He owns everything. He owns all of his masters. His publishing, everything!  He’s done everything correctly. 

“I told him, ‘This is what it is and you need to recognize this. As far as I’m concerned, if they ever approach me, I’m going to tell them to go to hell in a way that they enjoy the trip.  That’s just what I do. I’m not going to join that club.  If you want to join my club, we’ll talk about that but I’m certainly not going to join your club.  And, if I get success despite what you want me to do then I would imagine why I aggravate you so much.  See what I mean?  That’s what they’re doing to him.  I mean, he gets number one tunes; number two tunes all the time despite it. He’s just totally independent.  It’s a good thing but that’s what he’s going through right now. 

“But, we spend a lot of time on the phone but, in the mean time, I mean, god, musically, if I give him an idea he’s just like lightning.  Steve and I wrote East Coast Vibe together on the phone in around 5 minutes with both of us recording on our gear and playing stuff back and forth for each other where we were - me in Florida and him in California.  It sounds weird, but it works great for us.  I call him and play something over the phone, send him an mp3, he'll either add a cooler drum groove, guitar, whatever, and the same if he sends me something.  We do tons of flying things back and forth and right about now, I want to do a free commercial for, which to any of us who record or have to send large files in the past and wait a week for a response or reply, Yousendit is both the 9th and 10th wonder of the world, as well as a cure for famine, drought, and cancer.”

Our chat would often veer off to other related subjects before being steered back on course.  One of those times, we started talking about the problems with the music industry and how, in the past, artists didn’t realize that the luxurious perks that were lavished on them were actually done so at the artist’s expense.  Parissi shed some light on that.

“If you get those jets and all of that crap from the record companies, then it’s all recoupable.  In other words, you’re never going to make a dime.  You’re always going to feel like a gigantic star but you’re never going to make any money!”

I suggested that, when the sales stopped, so did the luxuries and the artists would be broke.  Rob took it even further than that. “You’re not only broke but you’re in the hole to that record company so bad! That is what the problem is with the record companies. They spent so much money like that on people that did not even deserve it. They ran themselves into the ground.

“Instead of having their A&R people really get talent and hits, they just invested in a lot of people who didn’t have any longevity. They screwed themselves. And they weren’t ready for the whole internet thing – the whole downloading thing. No.  I was on the biggest label in the world and I realized that they just were not ready. They got caught with their pants down. They deserved everything that happened to them.

“But, now, we can do it all ourselves now. I was an A&R guy at the company when Play That Funky Music was out so I know – I got early experience even before that as a kid on how record companies worked and what goes on.  You either have got something or you don’t. If you have something, you can get it out there yourself. Now, with the way things are, I can get things out within a half hour!  I can assign this thing all over the world – to Rhapsody, CDBaby, iTunes.  It’s easy!”

While on the subject of who to do and not do business with, Rob brought up two notable friends in the music business that had recently passed away.

“There’s certain friends of mine that I wouldn’t do business with.  But, then, on the other hand, there were guys like Steve Popovich (founder of Cleveland International records and played a key role in the careers of Meat Loaf, Ted Nugent, Boston, the Jacksons and Cheap Trick, to name a few), he was one of my closest friends.  When he died (June 8th of this year), that really bothered me.

“Now, Frankie (Dileo, manager for Michael Jackson, Laura Branigan, and Richie Sambora, to name a few), the other day, he died. Frankie was another guy who, if he told you something, that was it. Frankie started out as a bookie. See, Frankie was from where I’m from and that’s how we got to know each other. He’s from my old stomping grounds there around Pittsburgh. He got his start back there like that. There are certain guys in the business that you’ve got to watch and there’s certain guys that you shake hands and everything’s good.”

So, I know that your core musical passion these days is smooth jazz and that certainly comes through East Coast Vibe.  What moved you from funk to smooth jazz?

“What happened was, when I first started getting interested in music, it was all because of just being a little kid and absorbing everything. My sister would bring home records – she’s ten years older than me but she would bring home these rock ‘n roll records by Little Richard and stuff like that.  My brother was six years older than me so he started to get into the whole thing, too – just when rock ‘n roll first started to take off.  Like, from the Bill Haley and the Comets days.  Even before that, Louie Prima, because my parents liked him.

“At the same time, I was watching TV as a kid – when I got to be about ten or eleven.  There were shows on like Mr. Lucky and Route 66 and Peter Gunn and Henry Mancini did the music some of the music on one or two of those shows.  Then, I found out that Henry Mancini was from Pittsburgh.  So, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh! If this guy can make it – wow! This is great!” And when I heard Route 66 – Nelson Riddle – it just blew me away.

“Then, I started to absorb everything that came from that way plus classical stuff like Mozart and things like that. My parents used to go to the grocery store and they had this thing where, if you bought so much in groceries, you’d get classical records. Dad brought home Mozart and I would put on Mozart.  It was like a mathematical cornucopia. Oh my god!

“I started listening to all of those chord changes and stuff and then I started listening to jazz stuff. Then, as time went on, as much as I got into the California surfer stuff and, then, after that the British invasion, there was also the other side of me that was into Cal Tjader, Miles Davis, and Walter Wanderley. There was some Latin/California influences. And, then, the New York stuff - Herbie Mann and people like that. I was just like a sponge for everything that was in that way. 

“But, when I listened to jazz, it was about the intricate, sophisticated mathematics, I learned later on, as far as chord structure and melodies that go with it. There’s four note theory where you write four notes and you go through related chord changes. That’s how guys write film scores. Guys like John Williams is a perfect example: all those things for Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and even the themes from Love Story and The Godfather; there are certain notes that you write and there are chord changes that tie to them and from that you can write 45 minutes of music – just using the 4 note theory or the five note theory, whatever you want to use.

“I got into that. I was a sponge for that. When anything came out that had a really interesting sound – with rock ‘n roll, especially – if it had more depth, like when bands like Chicago came out or Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, that was more than your basic rock and roll changes.

“When I got out of the rock and roll thing, my window for the Lady Gaga thing pretty much closed. I’m not going to be that. I had to figure, if I’m going to stay in the music business, what do I want to do?  I thought, ‘Well, what makes me happy?’ And when I started hearing that smooth jazz thing on the radio down here in Saint Pete, I said, ‘Well, you know? I can do that!’  I just started to experiment with it and find a place for myself.  The more I did it, the more it (music) started to be fun again.

“The rock and roll business, to me, got to be kind of like a job. I didn’t have to do anything anymore but I want to work. I’m too young not to. I can contribute something in that area.  Since then, that’s what I’ve been trying to do and to meet other guys who have been doing it all along.  It’s been a good thing.”

When I comment that this seems almost as natural to him as playing funk, Parissi jumps on the comment by saying, “Well, the funk thing, with me, I gotta tell ya: that funk thing happened because of where I come from. 

“See, Pittsburgh is an R&B town. Cleveland is a rock and roll town. They’re only about two and half hours away from each other. I grew up right in the middle of both places so we had everything rock and roll coming at us and we also had everything coming from Motown and Philly at us, too. That’s why, in Pittsburgh, groups like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Average White Band, even Humble Pie, Paul Rodgers – those kinds of people – anything that had a funk/rock thing was always popular in Pittsburgh. It was a very conducive environment to switch back and forth or to invent something in the middle there. That’s why, when I came up with Play That Funky Music, it was a combination of rock and funk. I didn’t have any problem seeing that. But it was the environment.  I mean, look at Funk 49 by the James Gang.  Joe (Walsh) got the same thing.”

Speaking of Play That Funky Music, imagine my shock and horror as a teenager when I found out that, not only was Rob not African-American, but, to quote Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk, he was going to stay that color.  When I tell Rob this story, he’s not at all surprised.

“I cannot believe how many people thought we were black! I’m tellin’ you something, we played several places where the stage lights came up and I heard everybody at the front of the auditorium say, ‘Oh my god, they’re white!’ We just looked other like, ‘Yeah? Listen to the song!’  We gotta big bang out of that at the onslaught.”

When I comment that Elvis had a similar experience, Rob comes back by saying, “Sam Phillips always said, ‘Find me a white kid that can sing black and I’ll make him a star’. Jerry Lee Lewis and all those guys had that same thing.

“Reading over the credits of East Coast Vibe, it’s readily apparent that Parissi assembled an impressive line-up of jazz whiz kids to help him with the album.  He shares the back story about how it all came about.

“Steve (Oliver) got to a point where he can pretty much ring anybody up and they’re there for him. He has been working a long time with Tom Schuman, the keyboard player for Spyro Gyra.  Tom’s probably one of the best keyboard players alive. Tom’s worked with Steve for a long time and Steve said to me, ‘You know? You ought to get Tom involved’.  He (Steve) was out in Las Vegas recording at Tom’s.  He goes, ‘How about if I lay a couple of these things on them and get maybe him and Bonny, the drummer (for Spyro Gyra), to be involved’.  Bonny B is not only an incredible drummer but Bonny is a very intricate songwriter himself even though he’s a drummer.

“So, they were there and he (Steve) had Bonny cut the drums. They had a minute and Bonny did the drums on one of my tunes in, like, one take.  Steve called me and said, ‘Listen to this’ and I said, ‘that’s good’. I was going to have Tom play on the same track but then I sent him all the tracks of that song. Spyro Gyra was going out the following week and I knew that he wouldn’t have time to break it all down.  He said, ‘Man, I’m so pressed for time’. I said, ‘Just do me a favor: I’m going to send you Windmills of Your Mind. You’ll hear what I’m hearing at around 2 minutes - something that needs help. I don’t know what to do with it.’ By the time I got home, he sent me a track that took my head off. That was just a good thing! 

“So, now we have Steve and I working together, of course. Then we had Bonny on another tune. We had Tom on Windmills which he brought that song really where it should be.  Kenny Blake was a friend of mine from Pittsburgh years ago. I just briefly met Kenny and the moment I met him I liked him. He’s a very humble guy. He also is one of those guys who can eat the sax alive. He told me, ‘If you ever need anybody, give me a call’.  I told him, ‘If I ever get a chance, I’m going to find a place for you, I just don’t know where.’

“When this thing happened like this, I said, ‘I’m going to find Kenny, too.’  I just gave him six songs. He said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ and I said, ‘Whatever you want to do. I’m going to give you six songs. You find two of them that you can kick some sort of booty on and I’ll send you to a guy, Rick Witkowski, that plays rhythm guitar for me when I do live dates’ – he was one of the members of Crack The Sky. He has a studio back home close to my hometown.

“I told Kenny, ‘I’ll send you down to Rick’s.’ I knew that Rick would be a good cheerleader and he was.  Kenny did two songs that he wanted and he kicked butt on that.  So, that’s it. That’s how it all happened. It was just one of those things where we found opportunities and we took advantage of them and everybody came through very good.”

“When I first talked to Steve about this, when we first met, actually, it was one of those things where you meet somebody and you just start talking for sixteen days.  We met and we were on the phone and on the phone and I said, ‘You know, whenever I hear you play, you have to understand that I want to quit and buy a farm with a lot of sheep’ and he said, ‘Seriously, when I hear you play, it drives me insane’. He said, ‘You have an east coast vibe!’  When he said that east coast vibe thing, I go, ‘You know what? That’s going to be the title of the next album’. Again, it was like a bunch of opportunities – the right place at the right time, actually, and we just took advantage of it.”

The CD has an amazing track list of 18 songs and clocks in at slightly over an hour.  I was just more than a little curious as to what drove his song selection and the quantity of music for the disc.

“He (Steve) told me when I did that, ‘Man! That’s a bold move!’ I told him, ‘Dude! I write every day! You know that! We’re writers. I’ve been that way ever since I was a little kid, I was writing in the Brill building. Those people write every single day. They go to work with their lunch and they sit by the piano and just write all day long. That’s what came out of that building.  That’s why Carole King and Ellie Greenwich and all of those people were so successful – they were songwriters.  Leiber and Stoller, same thing, the same building.

“I’ve been like that. I’ve been a writing machine ever since then. Even with I worked with Gary Bonds and Bruce Springsteen, that’s one thing I found out. He might write 50 songs to get 10 but that’s just what you do.

“So, I had a bunch of songs and I told Steve that I was going to do that.  But the thing in the back of my mind was if I put 18 songs on an album and sell it for $9.98 and you have to buy each one of those songs for 99 cents, what I’m pretty much doing is giving you twice as many tunes for the same price that you would have to download each of them for and you’ll buy the whole album.  To me, it was a business no-brainer kind of thing.”

When I asked Rob how long the album took to put together, I was expecting to hear something like a year or two.  Being well aware of what a songwritin’ fool the boy is, I should have known better.

“I’ve writing ever since the last album I had out, Ocean Sunset, that we released at the end of February. Everything I wrote after that from the end of February up until we released East Coast Vibe was those 18 songs and there was another 50 on top of that. Those were only the 18 from apart from those 50 or so that we chose. But, again, I’m deep in material here. Deep in doo-doo!  Ha! Ha!”

What will sure turn out to be a tune of huge interest to baby boomers around the world is Parissi’s smooth jazz treatment of his signature hit from the seventies: Play That Funky Music.  Again, Rob humbly shares how the song that made him famous found a place on the new album.

“That wasn’t my idea. It was everybody’s idea but mine. I swear, I wish that I could take credit for it. Everybody’s said what a great move it was, bleh, bleh, bleh. But I’ll tell you something: I fought everybody on that. First of all, the promotion guy jumped on me. He kept saying, ‘You know what? Did you ever think about doing a smooth jazz version of PTFM?” I kept sayin’, ‘No, I don’t think so.’

“Then, I met Steve and even he stared in on me. He said, ‘Hey! What about – ‘and I’m like, ‘Oh, man . . .’  My manager said the same thing. It’s like everybody said that but me.  And, so, finally, when I decided to do it, I told Steve one day on the phone, I said, ‘I’m going to tell you something: you do it. You do the basic track.’  He said, ‘Why?  You do it. I’ll send you the tracks and you can mix it.’ I said, ‘No, if I do that song, I’m going to do it the way I did it before. I don’t want to do that. Just do what you want to do but don’t be afraid to slow the dog gone thing down to around 104 beats per measure instead of 108.  You can lay it back a tad, in other words. Surprise me. Just do the track.’

I said, ‘Tell him to do whatever he wants to do, let him do it. I don’t want to do anything. When it comes time to do the lead guitar, I’ll put the lead guitar in.’  And that’s what I did and it worked but I didn’t want any of my influence on that basic track at all.

“So that’s what he did. When Steve and I talked about throwing some sax in key places on PTFM, I mentioned a few guys I knew could nail it because I'd heard them do their own versions of it along the way, namely Eric Marienthal and Warren Hill. Steve told me it would be no problem to get either of them. But it was Steve mentioning and suggesting Will - and being that I told him to do what he wanted, when I finally heard what Will did, I couldn't have been more pleased, and no one could have done a better job. 

“As for the sax work Will also did on East Coast Vibe, Steve played it for Will and he loved it,  and went home and wrote all the parts out he wanted to do and came to Steve's soon after and nailed that one right on the money, too.  When I also heard what Will did to East Coast Vibe, it was the same reaction, knowing no one could have done a better job. Bottom line; Will Donato is a killer player who's also going to eventually be an even bigger name in smooth jazz than he already is.  Steve produces all Will's tunes, as well as writes with Will and does guitar work on his tunes.

And what has been the overall response to the disc so far?

“Good!  We’ve sold out CD Baby for the third time and I just restocked them again. It’s on one of the charts with a bullet. It’s getting kind of close to the national charts. It’s the best response of anything so far in that genre. From what Steve says, it’s pretty impressive. In fact, he thinks it might be moving too fast and I understand what he’s talking about.

“When I cut that thing (Play That Funky Music) the first time, I didn’t even have the album done. As soon as it got on the radio, it was going from an extra to number maybe 35 and then maybe to 15, to 2 to 1. It turned out to be a seven week record then after that it hung out at number 1 for almost a month but I didn’t have the album done. In fact, we tried to hold that single back when it first came out because it was hitting so fast and we didn’t have the album done. But we made it and we got it in.

“I remember Casey Kasem telling me one week – we were talking on the phone so much – remember those little stories that he used to tell about the artists?  I talked to him so many times that he said, ‘Do you have anything else?’ I told him, ‘I swear to god, I’ve told you everything except what size underwear I wear. I don’t have anything else.’ 

“We started gabbing and he said, ‘That thing (PTFM) could be a curse because it hit so fast, it could be so hard for you to overcome that.’ I said, ‘You know? I’m starting to see that.’ Then I found out a couple of years later that a guy that worked at Capitol Records/EMI, he told me one day when we were having lunch, ‘Rob, I did some checking with the stats at Capitol. We said, ‘You know? Maybe the Beatles had 2 or 3 songs as big as Play That Funky Music.’

“Again, to answer your question, slow is good. Matter of fact, I’m glad the last album did okay and the debut album did alright. The more you go along, the better it gets. It’s good for me. I’ve had it the other way and it’s not that much fun. No.”

Later in our conversation, I told Rob about how, as a teenager in the seventies, I used to air guitar to his solo on Play That Funky Music. It was, and still is, one of my all-time favorite guitar solos.  In fact, I told Parissi that I would love to have an extended version of that tune with a 30 minute guitar solo in the middle of it.  Rob then tells me the scoop on that solo.

“Let me tell you what happened. Steve Popovich worked at CBS at the time. After he said, ‘Yeah, I want this tune’ those guys told me, ‘Yeah! We got it – the deal with CBS!’  It was the only place I didn’t go because I didn’t think that I could get into the building when I was trying to shop it myself.

“But, anyhow, I was in the office one day and they said, ‘We want to put horns on it (PTFM).’ I said, ‘Okay, but if you put horns on it, I’m going to tell them what to play because I don’t want it to sound like a damn disco record. But, if you want to put horns on it and I agree to it, what I want to do is change the guitar solo.’

“They went crazy.  They said, ‘How can you do that?!’  I said, ‘I’m tellin’ ya!  I don’t like what I did and I want to change that solo.’ Right at that moment we made a deal and they said ‘okay’.  So, I called the studio – it was four blocks away – and I said to Ken, ‘What are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I’m in the middle of a session. Why?’ I said, ‘Do me a favor.  I’m going to come down there in 10 minutes. Just queue up the 24 track and go to the tambourine track and get ready because I’m going to come down there and do that guitar solo again on top of that.’ He said, ‘Okay . . .?’  I said, ‘Who’s down there?’  He said, ‘Jackson’ – this black guitar player I knew. He’s a session player. He (Ken) said, ‘Jackson’s hanging out here’. I said, ‘Do me a favor. Tell Jackson that I would appreciate it if he would just hang out and let me use his rig because I don’t have my rig up here with me.’

“So, I went down and I used Jackson’s Stratocaster, wah-wah pedal and amp and I ripped that lead off in one take.  George Benson and I, we did the Grammy’s together. He was one of the presenters. George, Les Paul, Chet Atkins  and I were all talking – talking about a room full of the greatest!  George pulled me aside, ‘Rob, I never asked you: Who did the solo on Play That Funky Music?’  I said, ‘I did’ and he said, ‘Man! That’s a good solo’.  I said, ‘I can’t even tune up as good as you!’ He said, ‘No, man, I’m tellin’ you, it’s not how many notes you play. It’s what you choose to play. That’s just a good, good solo!’  I said, ‘Coming from you, I don’t even know what to say!’ 

“George Harrison told me the same thing and I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what to say’.  I never got that. I just went into the studio, ripped the solo and said goodbye and left because I knew he had another session coming in. I’m glad and I appreciate it but, geez . . .”

During my last interview with Rob, I broached the subject of touring or the occasional  personal appearance so that Wild Cherry fans could enjoy his music live again.  He shot the notion down quite soundly.  So, never afraid to ask a dumb question – and not above flattery or sucking up to get the answer I want – even with Rob – I asked him: “With this great CD, do you have any personal appearances planned to promote the disc?

“No. I’ll tell you something: I’m better off and more valuable here writing music, number one.  Number two, this is very interesting but it’s real. In the genre that Play That Funky Music hit first, I can still go out and get booked, doing one song, and making three times – four times –as much being on stage for five minutes as I can going out and doing a full hour of doing smooth jazz someplace. I’m in two different areas and I’m not going to jeopardize my standing where I’m at in that one area.

“So, until I get to a point to where I have enough success – if I do - to warrant me to go out and make a reasonable amount of money in that smooth jazz area, I’m better off staying home. Besides that, one thing that I look at is that I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to realize that, when I go out and do something live that I’ve already recorded, it’s like doing the same little magic trick everywhere just to prove to everybody that you can do that. To me, it’s like old news – it’s already done. Why do you want to see me go all around the country doing that?  Believe me, I love people and I do love that audience. There’s nothing that makes any of us happier than getting that response. But I’m not an attention junkie anymore at this point – where I need to be on stage to ‘feel da lo-o-ove’.

“I’m more valuable here, Randy. I’m writing here. Every time I go somewhere for 3, 4, 5, 6, 10 days, it’s time that I’m away from my gear. It’s time that I’m away from writing. Again, it gets back to the thing that I’m an everyday writer. If you really want me doing what’s most valuable to me and you as a listener, then leave me alone and let me stay home working.”

Being verbally thumped yet again by the Funkmeister, I guess he could sense my lip quivering from being so soundly rejected because he then softened up his answer by adding, “I don’t need to do anything but I work more now than I ever did in my life because I love it, I want to do it, I want to get somewhere and contribute something.”

It’s at this point that Rob extols the virtues of home recording.

“When we used to go to the studio – back before electricity was invented – we would be there and watch the clock all the time. When you’re in that studio and you’re doing what you’re doing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting a hit every time but they still charge you.

“So, it’s like ‘give a guy a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him forever’.  I always tell even newcomers that I know – my nephews are doing this. I’ve got tons of nephews and they all play. I told them when I was home for one of my parent’s funeral, we started talking and I said, ‘Make sure you have gear. Just buy gear. Don’t go into a studio. Buy gear and you’re going to be happier.’  They already did that. When they told me that, it made me happy.

“If you own gear and you learn how to work it and how to get a good sound because you can because that’s what technology is now, man!  The more time goes one, the better the gear gets and the cheaper it is. So, if you get some gear and you learn how to twist those knobs and learn how to get those sounds; you learn how to mic things up and what mics to use and just buy all that stuff, believe me, you’re going to pay for it the first time. 

“If you were to go into a recording session to cut one album – even if you were well rehearsed – you would end up spending as much at that studio cutting that one album as you would to buy all that gear. Then, you could record your fifteenth album on that same gear, you know what I’m sayin’?  So, to me, recording at home affords me the opportunity to just experiment and while still at home. Sometimes good ideas come; sometimes they don’t. You’re not going to get something good every day.

“When I was working with Springsteen and Gary Bonds, I ran into his guitar roadies in my neighborhood one day and I asked, ‘How’s it going?’ and they said, ‘We went into the studio with E Street and we recorded all these tunes at the Power Station’ - it was a couple hundred dollars an hour back then – ‘Bruce didn’t like any of it as it turned out. So, what he did is he took a little four track recorder and had it set up in his place and he’s recording the same songs in his living room.’  It turned out to be the Nebraska album.  He did that album after he cut all those tracks with E Street and he just went out to Long Island and cut them in a dog gone living room on four track gear. Daryl Hall and John Oates were doing that, too. They got studio sick. They did I Can’t Go For That with home gear.”

With the ink still drying on East Coast Vibe, I knew that it was still kind of soon to ask this question but the boy just got through saying a few minutes ago that he was a songwritin’ machine.  With my lip now having ceased it’s quivering, I asked Parissi when the next album was going

“I told my manager, Amanda, that I’m going to put so many songs on this album that we’re not going to have to release anything until 2025 if we’re lucky!” he said with a laugh.  “The thing is, with jazz things hit really slow. It could take a single six months to even find itself out there and ends up where it ends up. So it will probably be sometime next year before I put anything else out. We’re going to see what happens here and see how deep we are in singles. We’ll release whatever we can and, depending on how it’s received, we’ll just go on.”

Until that time comes, you can easily order or download East Coast Vibe at CD Baby, Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody and, of course, iTunes.  To make it easier for you, the album images are provided above. Just click on one of them and order away!

Now, about those darn holiday leftovers . . .

Dan Peek's Last Interview - Part One

Posted August 2011


america1Dan Peek (L), Gerry Beckley (front, seated) & Dewey Bunnell (R)Â Photo Courtesy of Dan PeekTo millions of baby boomers and classic rock fans, the group, America, represents some of the most memorable, smooth harmonic sounds of the seventies.  Such 70’s radio staples as Horse With No Name, Ventura Highway¸ Sister Golden Hair and many, many others serve as integral cuts on the soundtrack of our youth.

In those days, one third of that group was co-founding member and writer/co-writer of many of the band’s hits, was Dan Peek. He, along with Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley, formed the band sometime after completing high school together in London.  After recording their debut album, America, they were catapulted into international fame with their hit, A Horse with No Name.

From 1972 until after the band’s album, Harbor, came out in 1977, Dan Peek rode the wave of success until he suddenly decided to leave the band after returning to his Christian faith. Over the following eight years, Peek recorded four highly successful contemporary Christian music albums that also enjoyed “crossover” success in the non-Christian markets.

That period was followed by musical collaborations with Ken Marvin and Brian Gentry under the name, Peace.  When he wasn’t creating in the studio, Peek stayed productive writing books, both printed and electronic as well as publishing his own blog and working lots of other writing projects.

I was recently introduced to Mr. Peek by way of a mutual friend of ours, Steve Orchard, over at WJNR-101.5 FM in Iron Mountain, Michigan.  Steve conducted an excellent interview with Dan two years ago for Goldmine Magazine (here) and suggested that I interview Dan, as well.  The result was three phone conversations over as many hours that covered a wide range of subjects, some of which I’ll share in this piece.

On the morning of Monday, July 25, 2011, I got up early, as I usually do, and went through my normal early morning routines.  My intent was to begin working on the transcription of the audio files from those sessions.  As I was beginning to start transcribing, Steve Orchard sent me the following message:

“Randy – Brace yourself – Dan Peek passed away last night in his sleep . . .”

 I sat there, chilled to the bone, as I read and re-read that message thinking that surely I was reading it wrong.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t.

As I sat there, numb, my mind went back to the e-mail exchanges and phone calls that took place between Dan and I.  In word and in print, he was very warm, friendly and accommodating as we worked out the logistics of the interview.  He sent me a copy of the CD Amercia’s Greatest Hits/History as well as a couple of MP3’s of a couple of his more recent songs that he had written. He couldn’t have been more kind or obliging.

During our calls, Peek sounded relaxed, almost happy-go-lucky. He was obviously comfortable in his own skin and where he was in life. And, while our chats would reveal that he does have some questions as to why certain things are the way they are, he didn’t seem to be angry or bitter about them.

One thing was clear during our calls: While still a man of devout faith, the dogma that marked his words and walk back in the early 80’s has given way to a more demonstrable gentleness.  Opinionated? Of course.  However, the delivery of his thoughts and opinions were much more seasoned with the salt of his experiences over the last thirty years.  He came across as one who knew that he still made mistakes and wasn’t perfect.

As our first call began, we spent the first several minutes of our call discussing the tornadic activity in Missouri and several other areas of mutual interest that really just amounted to two baby boomers talking about various and sundry things.  No pretense. No star treatment chatter.  We were just two ordinary, aging guys sharing war stories and who love to talk.

At the beginning of the conversation, while we were sharing stories about the troubles and travails of managing websites, Dan said, “ . . . more or less, I’m in my twilight years, in many ways. My brother and I were talking about it and the only reason that I even have a website is that I wrote that book, An American Band, and I was able to present the Gospel. To me, that’s my ministry tool.  I also have a ministry page on my website which gets into some pretty heavy duty, end time prophecy issues.  If it wasn’t for that, I would probably not even have a website and just kind of fade away.

“But every time I’m ready to call my brother and say, ‘It’s over’, I’ll get an e-mail from someone saying, ‘I just read your book or I read your testimony or I read your ministry page and I was so blessed or uplifted or whatever”, it’s like I just have to take it as a sign from God to keep on truckin’.”

I encouraged Dan to keep the site going for his America and Christian music fans alike because of that feedback and his reply showed the serious thought and analysis he had given to the matter.

“Well, maybe with e-mail it’s different but it used to be that for every letter you got, that was, basically, a thousand people who would probably write the same letter but don’t get around to it. So, I’ve got to feel that, when I get an e-mail from someone and they say something, there’s got to be other people out there who feel the same way. They just haven’t bothered to send an e-mail. I’m just trying to labor away in the vineyard until the Lord comes back and gets us outta here!”

Dan and Catherine Peek left the rat race of the states and moved to the Cayman Islands, where they lived for 15 years.  I asked Peek about their island life and why they left it.

“You know, it’s really a miracle. My wife, who is a prayer warrior, came out one day and said, ‘The Lord told me that it’s time to move’ and I go, ‘Honey, this is ridiculous!’ We just spent eight years rehabbing a hundred year old house right on the ocean and the last thing in the world I wanted to do was move! But she was adamant. ‘It’s time to go! It’s time to go!’

“We found this agency that we jived with and they hooked us up with a buyer who made us a very fair offer – very close to the asking price. So, we sold and left and it was heart-breaking. We had made lot of good friends there.  Within three years, Hurricane Ivan struck and just demolished the house we had been in – demolished the entire road we had lived on – pretty much demolished the island.”

“It was a terrible, terrible event. We had already been through losing our house in a fire in California and I just think that everybody deserves no more than one (disaster) per customer – one total destruction of your home and everything you have then I think you should get a free pass for the rest of your life!  If I was making the rules, I think I would make that a rule.” Peek concludes as he laughs.

On the subject of his home burning, after hearing of Peek’s death, I reached out to several people that he knew and asked for comment.  One of those people was Chris Christian, the producer of his first two gospel albums.  Chris shared the story how Dan learned of his home burning.

“I love the time I spent with him, including some tough times such as the time we were at Pancake Pantry in Nashville for breakfast one morning.  The headlines of the Nashville Banner read ‘Malibu fires destroy homes’.   Dan looked up and said, ‘My house burned down’.  I said, ‘Ah, Dan, your house is okay.’ He tried to call his wife and got no answer.

“Long story short, the fire went over Malibu Highway 1. He was living on five acres in Malibu at the time.  His house and gold records had burned and his wife had to jump in the ocean to escape the fire.  That was really a test of faith at that point.”

Continuing our conversation about island life, I asked Dan if he and Catherine felt isolated living in the Caymans. He answered with the relaxed air that permeated our entire chat. Buried in his reply were statements that reflected his desire for seclusion.

“Nah, we were close to the mainland, which is a short hop.  I’m really a hermit by nature. I just could easily lock myself up for months on end. We didn’t have a TV. We virtually didn’t have a radio so I went through the most creative period of my entire life while we were living on Cayman.  After having moved, I got more into writing books and stuff. I’ve written the equivalent of probably six books. One, which is in paperback, American Band: The America Story. I just e-published it and a follow-up to it called A Day In The Sun, which was about was our 12 – 15 years of living in the Caribbean prior to leaving and, of course, the Ivan thing.

Because Dan had sent me a couple of MP3’s, I knew that he had to still be writing and recording music so I asked him about how he works on his music.

“I do everything myself. I’ve gotten to the point to where it’s easier, I know what I want, I hear it in my head.  Although I can’t play every instrument I want to, I can fake it with enough stuff – it’s like I have a 24 track recorder in my brain and I just take whatever’s in there and put it to tape. I’m well pleased – it really stretched me. It was a challenge but I felt that I got better and better and better at my craft the more I did. I really love working solo in terms of a studio.  I worked with Sir George Martin – incredible producer. Nice guy.

“The great thing about having a home studio these days is that you don’t have to take up an entire warehouse. You can just fit them (the recording equipment) in a small room. Then, if the mood strikes at eight in the morning or four in the afternoon, I don’t have to go in and kick somebody out or beg to be allowed to have some studio time.  It’s a great way to work and I found it to be something that works for me real good.”

“In the book (An American Band: The America Story), I describe at some point, with a manager and an agency behind me, I was poised to sign a deal with RCA. That’s when I said, ‘Wait a minute.  My marriage is already struggling and if I sign this deal, I’m going to be on the road for the rest of my life’ and I just bailed, which isn’t entirely like me. I guess in some ways it is.

“The thing that I felt worse about were the guys in the band who had really busted their hump for our live show. Basically, they had to start over from scratch to get a gig for themselves. I felt bad that I let my manager down. I felt bad that I let the agency down. They had booked a ton of shows. But, it was like, ‘I’m sorry. I know you can’t understand this but my marriage is more important to me right now than this career.  It’s God, family and career.’  It was a tough nut to crack for all of those people and I felt really badly. But, again, I just thought, ‘You know, I’ve been down this road more than once and I don’t want to go there anymore.’

“So, that was when I folded up my tent and found this place down in the islands and fell in love with it and spent about 15 years living there – eight of them were in rehabbing this one hundred year old cottage that was right on the sea.  It was a labor of love and had a ball doing it. We worked like dogs daylight to dark. But, at the same time, because of the lack of entertainment coming over the wire, we had to entertain ourselves. We were writing poems, my wife and I. I wrote a book while I was there and, I don’t know, 20 – 30 songs, at least.

“I also started working with two guys that I had met in Nashville back in the CCM days, Ken Marvin and Brian Gentry. They really, really wanted to form a trio and we did. I called it ‘Peace’ and we made, I think, three albums all together.  It was great! It was kind of like Dewey and Gerry only they were Christians. They were both so very talented as songwriters and musicians – even in the production department. There were times that they would bring them to me and go, ‘Do we need to change anything?’ and I’m, like, ‘It’s fine. You don’t need to change a thing. Just slap it on the record and it’s done. It’s ready to go!’  That really, in some ways, filled a void that I felt coming out of the trio experience. It wasn’t that I needed to be. At first, I was relieved to get out of the band.

“When I first got out of America, I just wanted to be ‘Mr. Solo’. But, then, later on I missed the camaraderie of other guys. I had put together three or four different groups of musicians that I toured with over the years. But, in terms of doing creative stuff like recording, Ken and Brian, which I dubbed ‘Peace’, that was a really nice break for me and, again, it took the pressure off of me having to write 10 or 12 songs to fill a CD. Both of them were prolific – especially Brian – a songwriting machine and they were good songs! I just thought that these dudes deserved to be heard. They begged me to manage them and I go, ‘Look, I am not a manager. I’m the creative type.’

“It was somewhat disappointing in that the music on some level never really saw the light of day. They needed a good manager and, as I said, ‘I am not a manager. I am not a mogul. I do produce. I can create. I can write. If you get a record deal, I know all the things you do to make it work. You need to tour. You need to do this and you need to do that but I’m not a deal maker. I’m more like a deal breaker.”

“That was all part of that ‘after America’ experience and one of the more pleasant aspects of the post-America thing was working with Ken and Brian. There’s a lot of music that we made together that I would love to see get out there but it’s such a rat race now. It’s the old joke: How do you make a million dollars in the music business?  You start out with two.”

I contacted Marvin and Gentry after news of Dan’s passing had made the news and asked them for their reflections on their friend.  Brian Gentry, speaking for both he and Ken, said, “We met Dan in 1987 and the history of that is recorded in our bio ( I remained in constant communication with Dan up until his death. Needless to say, was surprised to hear the news. We are all still in shock and trying to come to grips with his passing.

“Dan was more than a musical influence and collaborator, he was a great friend. He has been there for me through all my ups and downs and was the kind of friend that I could share my innermost thoughts with. Although we were always talking on the phone and through email, I recently spent a week with him at the Orchard, his home recording studio in Missouri. I was promoting a solo project that Ken produced at the time and was on my way to a gig in St. Louis. Dan and I hung out like old times and had several heart to heart conversations. That visit turned out to be the last time that we shared together.

“Our fondest memories will be all the times we spent at The Orchard with Dan and Catherine making the Peace records in the 90's up through the early 2000's. It was a magical time that Ken Marvin and I will always cherish.

“Dan was one of the funniest guys I have ever known. He had such a great sense of humor and was always finding a way to lighten things up with his sharp wit. We are so grateful for the years we shared together. He will be deeply missed.”

At another point in our conversation, Peek turned me on to a group out of Italy by the name of Laredo.  As he was telling me about the group, surprisingly, he started sharing about the current state of his relationship with his former America band mates.

“America plays in Italy all the time and one of the guys from Laredo wrote me and asked me if I would put in a good word (for Laredo to America).  I did put in a good word but I knew that it would go nowhere.  Gerry hates me, I’m sorry. It’s beyond dislike or ignoring. I’m an inconvenient truth for them.

“They’re going to be on the Walk of Fame and I’ve gotten dozens of e-mails, ‘Are you going to be there?’ There ain’t no way I’m going to be there – that they’re going to ask me to come and be on the Walk of Fame. I said, ‘Unless the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce makes it a deal breaker, I ain’t showin’ up!’  Dewey and Gerry, if left to their own devices, they want to have absolutely nothing to do with me. It kind of hurts my feelings but that’s just the way it is.

“As a believer – interesting point – the fact is, I was reading a very interesting article by a really great biblical scholar (and he said), ‘When a person gets saved, they die to the world. So, we’re like corpses. They don’t want to know us. On the other hand, they’re dead to us, in a way. It’s kind of like this chasm that almost can’t be breached. There’s even a verse about the gospel being a sweet savor – in other words, a sweet smell – to the Christian but, to an unbeliever, it’s the stench of death. That’s just the way it is.  I don’t blame them on a personal level. It could just be a spiritual thing.  Dewey just goes along for the ride. Gerry calls all the shots. Dewey, he doesn’t care. He’s very laissez-faire, laid back. But, believe me, Gerry runs the show.”

Peek continues by sharing another story.

“It had to be about ten years ago or so, I’m lying in my hammock, looking at the ocean, and I get a call from none other than John Hartman. He had been our manager for awhile and I would love to know why they ultimately parted ways – Dewey, Gerry and John -  but nobody has shed any light on that for me.

“But back to the point: John called me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve already talked to Dewey and Gerry and they said that they’ll do it. We’ve got a deal set up with Gary Katz - he produced Steely Dan and I don’t know all of the other bands but he’s a fairly legendary producer.  He (Hartman) said, ‘We’ve got a label deal set up with Sony and they’ve offered us a nice seven figure number’ that was attractive enough even if divided by three that would be very tempting to Dewey and Gerry and, certainly, to me, and he said, ‘but I just wanted to know are you in or are you out?’  I said, ‘Well, John, although it’s somewhat of a disruption to my life right now, I really do miss making music with the guys.’

As an aside, Dan shares, “That’s probably the thing I miss the most is just the studio experience of sitting down and making music. I somewhat miss a little bit of the performing aspect of it but, mainly, it was just making music together. It was a synergistic experience with the three of us.

“So, I said, ‘Okay, I’m game. I’m in!’  Two weeks later I get a call from him and he goes, ‘They changed their mind. They don’t want to do it. They don’t want to do a reunion album.’  Just one album.  It made me nuts!

“I sat down and I wrote a letter to Dewey and I said, ‘A) This is what John told me but, B) I want to hear it from your mouth what are the reasons that you are so opposed to reuniting in any form or fashion?’ He wrote back and he gave three reasons but the number one reason was, ‘All the attention will be on you.’  I thought, ‘Wow!’  The other thing was, ‘We’ve been beating our brains out for’ how many ever years it had been since I left to be established as a duo.  But the number one thing was that all eyes would be on Dan Peek.

“Certainly, there would be a tendency for the person who comes back to have a lot of the focus on them. That could be a reason.  Gerry’s the kind of guy, once he makes his mind up, that’s it. I’m a person who vacillates, just sort of wishy-washy about stuff. ‘Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, no, no, no.  But, okay, yeah, yeah, yeah.’  But he’s the type of person from knowing him for at least 12 years - we were friends before we played in a band – a high school band back in London in the 60’s - but he was the kind of guy, once he made his mind up, that was it. There was no going back.

“So, I was a little stunned when Hartman called and said that they – as far as I knew, I had never heard them say ‘no’. I think I read an interview where Dewey said, ‘We’ll never say never’ about a reunion.”

Clearly wanting to talk more about the status of the relationship with Dewey and Gerry, Peek segues into another related story.

“I have a blog site – you can get to it from – there’s a thing called ‘America Days’ that are some stories that didn’t make it into my book, An American Band: The America Story. One of them is called Let’s Not Do Lunch. This happened just a couple of years ago.  Because my family lives in Missouri, when I come back to the states, I come and hang with them.

“Rusty Young, of Poco, married a girl basically very near where my family lives. They ultimately built a place not far from this thing called Wildwood Springs and it’s a way-off-the-beaten-path, laid back venue where you go and spend the night in this old hotel with a gorgeous old dining room – sort of like The Shining. But, apparently, it’s a really cool venue. It only seats about a hundred people sitting in everything from folding chairs to over-stuffed arm chairs and couches.  Rusty is the unofficial mayor of Wildwood Springs because he now lives just down the road from there. He and his wife built a beautiful home out in that area – near Steelville.

“He called me one day. I just happened to be in town, visiting my folks.  He called and he said, ‘Dewey and Gerry are going to be playing at Wildwood Springs.  It would be so neat if you came and just popped in and sat in with them.  I said, ‘Rusty, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think that’s a surprise they don’t want to have.’ But I said, ‘I would love to see them.’

“Here’s the thing: The drive would take me a couple of hours, coming and going and I don’t really want to drive at night because it’s just a horrendous road to get there. It’s way out in the boonies. He had called me at, like, nine in the morning. I said, ‘Why don’t you just check with them. They’ve got the whole day off. They’re not doing their set until tonight. Why don’t I just come out, sit down and do lunch?’  He said, ‘Ah! That would be a great idea!’

“About hour, hour and a half goes by and I’m kind of wondering what’s up. Finally, Rusty calls back. He was so sheepish. He goes, ‘Dan, I’m sorry. They don’t want to do it.’  I really grilled him.  I said, ‘Look, just tell me exactly what they said.’ It was like, ‘The last thing in the world we want to do is to be perceived as reuniting’ as if somebody would be spying on this little barbeque stand out in the middle of nowhere!  A writer from Rolling Stone might be sitting at the next picnic table! Ha! Ha!

“It was, basically, his way of saying, ‘Ain’t no way! Nothing is going to get us back together - even for lunch!’  Frankly, it kinda hurt my feelings.  It was like, ‘Look, I don’t want to be back in the band. I don’t want to do an album. I don’t want to do a single. I don’t want to sit in on your set’ because I had been down that road before.

“There’s another episode. It’s called “It’s All Greek To Me” about a long time back when they asked me to come to the Greek Theater and see them and ask me out on stage. It turned into the most embarrassing, horrible debacle for me – maybe not for them but it was for me.

 “So, they made it loud and clear – and I think that they hurt Rusty’s feelings, too, because they said some nasty things about Wildwood and stuff like that.  It’s like his baby. He doesn’t own it but he’s best friends with the guy that does own it and Poco plays there a lot. America plays there a lot. A lot of bands do. It’s kind of an interesting venue.

“Long story short, I just don’t see any way in the world that there would ever be the possibility of a reunion. So, having said that, I think Americans love an underdog and I think I’m perceived as being the underdog in this battle or whatever it is. I know it drives them crazy because people continually ask, ‘Where’s the other guy? Where’s Dan Peek?’  It just gives me a chuckle thinking of that.  That sort of sums it up: They didn’t even want to do lunch with me.”

Sensing that Peek truly was bothered by the apparent permanent damage to the relationship with Dewey and Gerry, I asked him what he would change if he could rewind the tape, so to speak.

“I think with the wisdom of hindsight, we were way too competitive in some ways – as band members. I think I would reign in some of my competitive spirit a little bit. All three of us were like that. We were like three puppies fighting over one teet on the mamma dog. There’s healthy competition and there’s unhealthy. I think ours was an unhealthy competition.

“I think, at least for my own part – and I would hope the other guys, too, would have reigned back some of their competitive spirit – because there was a lot of pressure on each one of us – not just to write songs, but ‘he who got the first single release got the most money’.  That’s just the way it worked in the music business.  More money was poured into promoting the first single and he who got the single, period, made more money. So, we would use all our resources to knife each other in the back to make sure one of our songs got released as the single and, hopefully, as the first single out of the box.  Hopefully, the three of us would have backed that down a notch.”

“John Lennon and Paul McCartney, they made a deal at the very beginning: ‘We’re going to be a songwriting team and even if one of us writes an entire song and the other guy sneezes on the track, he’s going to be credited as a co-writer. That, I think, took away a lot of the unhealthy aspect of competition but George himself said they were competitive but it was a healthy competition. That was their method of dealing with – ultimately, I think there was a lot of jealousy. I think John was very jealous of Paul. Paul became kind of the dominant writer in the later years. But that was more for bragging rights. It wasn’t about the money. They were making money hand over fist. It didn’t matter who wrote the song.  Yesterday. Paul wrote the whole dadgum song but it’s credited as Paul McCartney and John Lennon. At least it took the edge off of the competition to the point that at least it wasn’t an unhealthy competition.

“I had suggested why didn’t we do the same thing because, on a lot of our songs, we would help each other out.  I would write some lyrics for the song, Sandman or Dewey would write a lyric for Donkey Jaw, Gerry would write a lyric for something else.

“On the first album, in fact, Gerry and I should probably have been credited with writing credits on virtually every song Dewey was credited for because we took snippets of little things Dewey had written and put them together and arranged them. But that was shot down quickly in terms of splitting the thing three ways. ‘Let’s just do a McCartney/Lennon thing and credit everything to the band.’

“I think U2 might have the same kind of arrangement. They’re all credited with as writers.  Who knows? Maybe on some level that takes the edge off of everybody and they become less competitive and, therefore, they don’t write as good a song? It could potentially backfire.  But, yeah, it was a jungle out there when it came down to who got the single and what order they were released.”

“The Bible says, ‘Where envy and strife enter in, all manner of sin can come in.’  On some level, it’s hard not to be envious and hard not to strive if you feel that somebody else is unfairly getting the single and that happened. There were times where, I think unfairly, somebody got the single green-light in the order of their choosing for reasons other than the quality of the song – the quality of the record. It kind of opens up a can of worms on some level.”

Shedding a slightly different light on the relationship, Chris Christian shared a story with me into the last time that he was in the studio with Gerry and Dewey.

“I probably had them (Dan, Dewey and Gerry) in the studio the last time they ever got together, that I’m aware of, was when we did a song called Love Is Just Another Word. I put it together because I knew Gerry real well and I knew Dan.  I called Gerry and said, ‘Hey, Gerry, would you and Dewey come over here and sing on this Christian record for Dan?’ He did it for me.

“I recorded that whole session. I had a recording going in between the takes so I not only got what they sang but I got all the conversations in between. I’ve never gone back to really listen to that. But it was all cordial. There was not any animosity – at least, not any apparent negative exchanges.  I think that’s the last time the three guys sang together.”

As our last conversation was drawing to a close, I asked Dan a couple of questions that required some more introspection.  His answer to my question as to if there was anything he hadn’t done, career-wise, that he wanted to accomplish revealed a contented man.

“I really, honestly can’t think of anything else on a musical level that I would want to do or haven’t done already. It’s been a great, very, very, very, very fulfilling career. Probably, four or five years ago I would have said, ‘Gee, I’d love to get back together and make a record with Dewey and Gerry’ but now I realize that it ain’t gonna happen and I don’t want someone doing something that they’re not a hundred percent into doing anyway. I don’t see how anybody could possibly hold their feet to a fire to make that happen.  I’ve kind of been there, done that and I’m pretty much a satisfied, happy camper.”

During that same call, Dan was updating me on the condition his father, who had recently fallen.  As he was describing how tough his dad is, Dan said something that turned out to be eerily prescient.

“Who knows? It may be his last fourth of July, who knows? He’s a tough old bird. I don’t know how he’s made it as far as he’s made it.  I think we’re devolving as a species. I don’t think that I’ll make it to 80, personally.  My doctor told me when I was in my thirties that I was a thirty year old man in an 80 year old body and I said, ‘Doc, it ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.’  It was all that ‘healthy’ living on the road. Never sleeping. Rarely eating.

“I’ll be sixty one in November. That’s between you, me and the girls. Again, it’s a lot of stuff. I had a lot of ill health as a kid – rheumatoid arthritis and it’s persisted on and off my whole life and, then, living like an absolute lunatic for 15  years or so and then got right with God and started taking better care of myself. But I still think, ultimately, you gotta pay the piper, you know?”

My last question to Dan is one that I’ve begun asking in most of my interviews:  “When everything is said and done and your life is over and people are remembering you, how do you want to be remembered?”  His answer was short and to the point.

“Oh, wow! That’s a toughie. That’s a toughie!  I think, probably, I gave it all I had. I did my best and I hope that it was good enough.”

Twenty-five days later, Dan Peek passed away quietly as he slept.  After hearing the news, one of the songs that Dan wrote for America’s self-titled debut album came to mind. The song is Never Found The Time and there’s a line in it that says, “If living don’t come easy, don’t stop your own voice, ‘cause the worst part of living is havin’ no choice . . .”.

I do believe that Dan lived that line.

Click here to read Part Two of Dan Peek's last interview.

Rob Parissi (2009)

October, 2009

latebloomerRemember Steve Martin's first movie, "The Jerk"? For those of you who haven't seen the 1979 hit, it's about a man, Navin Johnson, who is being raised by an African-American family who thinks he'll turn black as he gets older. One of the scenes early in the movie shows Navin trying to dance with the same grace and rhythm as his family. The out of rhythm, staccato-like, spasmodic moves that he called dancing fell woefully short of the mark.

Have that image indelibly burned into your mind and you'll have a pretty good idea of how I would've looked like on the high school dance floor as a teen. Well, okay, I dance the same way today but that's not the point of the story.

The point of the story is that there was a HUGE hit on the airwaves in 1976 that fooled us ungifted white-boy dancers into thinking we could actually dance. The song? Wild Cherry's, "Play That Funky Music".

Now, admit it. When I told you the name of the song, didn't you feel a little spasm in your butt and a tingle in your feet, making you almost want to jump up and dance? I know that you did so don't deny it.

Well, do I ever have a treat for you! The voice behind that smash hit, as well as the founding member of, and guitarist for, Wild Cherry, Rob Parissi, was gracious enough to take the time to answer some questions for Imagine my excitement that the man who played the mean guitar solo in the middle of "Funky" (and gave me many pleasurable hours playing air guitar along with) was going to take the time to chat with me from his home in the beautiful state of Florida. It was a laugh-filled blast.

Since the fun filled, funky days of the seventies, Parissi has made the move over into the genre of Smooth Jazz/Adult Contemporary. I asked him what influenced him to take the leap from Funk/Rock to Smooth Jazz. Reflectively, he says, "I knew music was going to be my life before I was 5 years old. However, when I was 10 or 11, and taking a serious interest in being a musician, it was the initial influence of Mozart, Henry Mancini, Cal Tjader, Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, artists like that who inspired me to learn. I think I was fascinated by the sophisticated chord changes, which I could hear and play by ear, but I didn't understand.

"Looking back, what was so interesting to me was the mathematics involved. It wasn't until several years after I started in a rock band after being influenced by the California instrumental surf bands, Bo Diddley, Beatles, AND GIRLS, that I learned my way around key, string, and percussion instruments and started to realize it was all about the math in the arrangements that brings it all together.

"That's what compelled me to also be an arranger and producer later on. These days, I also engineer all my work here in the studio, so it never ends, which is good in that it keeps me interested and always learning. Besides, robbing liquor stores always kept me on the run."

Since he mentioned the instruments he plays, I asked him about the kind of gear he's using these days.

"I've been playing a Fender Strat for over 30 years, primarily, but about 5 . . . . years ago, Gibson started to make a single cutaway model ES-137 Custom in Memphis that I bought without even playing or hearing because I could just see that it was going to be good, and it is. Before the Strat, I used a Les Paul. This ES-137 is a cross between a Les Paul, and a 335. When I'm recording, it's good to have a few different guitars lying around to layer parts with that complement each other. As for amp, in the studio, I play through an old Digitech 2112 rack mount straight into the console that pretty much gives me any sound I'm looking for. When I play out, we have a back line rider that requires rented gear, and I usually can deal with any name brand like Fender, Ampeg, Crate, and Mesa Boogie. As long as it has an overdrive two volume control and footswitch so that I can go between clean rhythm to crank it out mode. I'm also fabulous at playing the radio, and I do it loud and often.

His new disc, "Late Bloomer", has just been released so I asked Rob how sales have been for the disc.

"We've only released that CD with word of mouth thus far, and we're just starting to go after radio play at this point, so sales are what anyone would expect from just word of mouth. Ask me that again in about a year. I can tell you that my mom bought one."

When you listen to "Late Bloomer", you'll be caught off guard by the couple of funk tunes on the disc. I asked Parissi how his new audience takes his funky streak. He answers with a story that gives some background to his answer.

"Around 1996, I came to St. Petersburg from Ohio and bought a condo on the Gulf of Mexico to spend the winters. As I was driving around one day down here, I found a Smooth Jazz radio station and it was like I was 11 years old again. There was one particular instrumental band from England (Down To The Bone) that I loved, and they were doing jazz changes and riffs to funk beats with the drums and bass mixed way up heavy like dance records. I instantly got it and thought to myself, ‘that's the next place I'm going to pursue' (I always think to myself with quotation marks).

"Actually, it was like going back to what inspired me in the beginning, only now, I have enough education and experience to know why I'm doing what I am. Even back when Wild Cherry was active and had records on the charts, I spent my down time listening to people like George Benson, Lee Ritenour, and Larry Carlton. So, the jazz thing really never left me. It's just that I realized I couldn't make a living as easy as I could in a rock dance band with top 40 hits on the charts appealing to the masses out there. At this point, I can afford to do what I want and not have to worry about being a starving artist. Basically, I'm just trying to raise enough money to take the family to Dairy Queen."

With hopes of being able to catch him in a live show, I asked Rob if he was going to go on tour to promote the CD. With no mercy whatsoever, he cruelly dashes my hopes and dreams.

"I love people and the time in front of an audience on stage to death, and just starting the intro to ‘Play That Funky Music' is a rush to feel and hear the crowd go nuts. But I absolutely hate everything that goes along with it. There's nothing about putting a band together, hiring a road crew, worrying about the gear working, packing 6 suit cases, airports, limos, traveling, or hotels that appeals to me.

"If I sign with a major label again, one stipulation is that I will not be obligated to tour. I get more done right here writing and recording in my Tampa home studio. If I did decide to tour, it would be by bus, and I'd have it gutted and loaded with a few beds and a ton of recording gear (and 10 cases of wine). I'd probably be recording from the time I woke up till sound check at the next hall. Besides, we spend every weekend at my beach home over on the gulf, so I'm always busy from Fridays to Tuesdays."

As many of you Boomerocity readers know, there are a lot of people out there who claim to be a certain celebrity or band. You may have even shown up at a venue to see who you thought was going to be your favorite band or artist from the past, only to find out that they aren't who they've been promoted to be. Many of these incidences are the brainchild of unscrupulous promoters trying to make a fast, dishonest buck. Wild Cherry has been "counterfeited" like this and Parissi, who owns the rights to the Wild Cherry name, is vigorously protecting his copyright.

"In every business, unfortunately, there are always a few slime bags. They don't always wear name tags identifying themselves as "Sammy Slime Bag", so they can be hard to spot. There are a few booking agents that realize that bands who've had major hits, but little visibility, can make a buck for them. Most times, we're talking very small potatoes for all their effort. So, they put together 5 bands, call them Wild Cherry, and send them to little clubs around the country for $750 a pop, which wouldn't even pay for the sound system rental had they actually hired me.

"One of these genius weasels just happened to try to book one of his bogus Wild Cherry groups in my home town at a friend's night club telling him that I would be there in the band. This kind of person would also dress up and try to go Halloweening at his own home. Anyway, my friend contacted me and we busted him red handed. Since then, the word has spread and it's not so easy for him these days. It's almost like you have to hope club owners approached by these bogus agents would just Google my name and they'd immediately learn that they're about to be burned."

Call me stupid, but I have to ask Rob, again, (this time, from a slightly different angle), about going on tour. So, I ask him, "Don't hate me for asking this, but, with Adam Lambert doing a tweaked up version of ‘Funky Music', and the song winding up o Guitar Hero 5 (congrats to that, by the way!), are you EVER going to take Wild Cherry on the road again?"

"I don't hate you, no matter what anyone else says about you, so get that out of your head. It seems that someone on American Idol does that song at some point, almost every other year, and ‘Play That Funky Music' is used in Hallmark cards, mechanical toys, movies, on and on, and a few kinky sex toys. (Okay, I made that last one up) No one could ever imagine how much I appreciate the 'legs' that song still has after all this time, but nothing ever urges me to pull a Jake and Elwood and get the band back together. Besides, it's like I told the guys years ago when they approached me about it: 'Just think about it... we only have one hit, so unless you want to go up on stage and play an hour and a half version of 'Play That Funky Music', forget it".

Darn! Oh well. I tried.

In 2008, Rob performed at a benefit for the educational program for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here's what he had to say about the Hall and his feelings about performing at the benefit:

"God Bless Terry Stewart, president of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He honestly believes Play That Funky Music should be the theme song of the Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio, and probably the rest of the United States. He really is the best thing that ever happened to that place, and not just because he's a fan, but he's a great person who's done more to make the R&RHOF a success than anyone before, and when he leaves, he'll be a tough act to follow. He phoned me a few years ago and asked me to come to Cleveland to do that show, and he also asked me to close the event that night, which was an honor that brought me to tears, as everyone on that show had more hits than my little ‘one hit wonder'."

I later contacted Terry Stewart and asked him for his opinion of Parissi's work and legacy. His input was glowingly complimentary.

"Rob's song ‘Play that Funky Music White Boy' is certainly one of the great anthems of music in the past 40 years as evidenced by how often it's played and sampled. Plus, it came right out of Cleveland.

"We were thrilled to have Rob as a part of our all-star lineup for the 2008 It's Only Rock and Roll Annual Benefit for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Artists and bands come together each year to show support for the Rock Hall's work and to raise money for our educational programs. In fact, our programs have become the most celebrated and award-winning emanating from any fine arts museum in the nation. We greatly appreciated Rob's support and talent. It was a fantastic show that raised nearly $250,000 for the Museum's acclaimed education programs that reach all ages, from toddlers to adults."

Still in a serious vein, I asked Parissi what the one thing that he feels has been least covered and understood about him and his work.

"That I'm really a woman named Martha. No, really, I'm not one who feels misunderstood. I'm white, I'm a boy, I sang a song about playing funky music, that's pretty much the whole enchilada. Now, for example, had I written a song with a line like, "someone left the cake out in the rain", I'd probably be in therapy."
Sorry, folks. I tried to be serious. Honest.

We later talked about music of the 60's and 70's and what the similarities and differences are, culturally. When I asked him for his thoughts on the subject, he waxes philosophical.

"Well, one decade contained a "6", and the other one a "7", but they both were followed by a "0". So, you see, there are differences between the two, but the "0" definitely made them similar. Of course, now, we're in a whole new millennium, which is no longer preceded by 19, but 20.

"So, your question gives me great anxiety and I don't think I'm qualified to answer. In fact, I just took a Valium. Culturally, you had your Beatle hair cut and troll hanging on the car rear view mirror in the 60's, soon followed by the Afro, white Saturday Night Fever suit, and disco ball in those fabulous 70's. I still stop dead and do a split every time I hear "Stayin Alive", even if I'm visiting someone in the hospital. But now days, I have a hard time getting in and out of my new Corvette, so, you tell me. BTW, the Valium's starting to work."

Okay. So, my take-aways from his comments are: If you hear "Stayin' Alive" start to play while hangin' with Rob, have your camera ready. It's going to get fun.
Continuing in this same line of thinking, he comments about the positive and negative changes that he's seen in the music industry since the 70's. "The biggest positive change is, that white people no longer suffer from peer pressure to get perms to create the ‘fro' look. The biggest negative change is Kanye West and his tourettes-syndrome-style outbursts at awards shows. Okay, maybe also that Michael Jackson started out black, but then somehow managed to turn himself white. Things like this confuse me, because I knew him when he was black. The farther I go along in this interview, the more I realize that I really do need to get into therapy."

Since I've lost all hope of control over this interview, I ask him for one of his Valium. He's so cool, he gave me one of his more powerful prescriptions called "Placebo". It seemed to call me down almost immediately.

Having regained my composure, I asked Mr. Parissi if there is any new talent that has captured his attention. With the Placebo kicking in to full force, I don't mind his answer one bit. "There was this seal I saw at Sea World last week, but that's another story. Actually, I'm still a huge fan of it all, and anybody good gets my attention, which brings me back to that seal."

As I'm peaking from the gift from Rob, I asked him what was next, CD-wise, from him or the band (still trying to wrangle a Wild Cherry Reunion Tour commitment out of him). "The band's dead, get over it. As for me, I'm gonna keep doing the smooth jazz/adult contemporary thing until people hold a telethon and raise enough money to convince me to stop and get out of the business."

In all seriousness (no, really), Rob Parissi was a lot of fun to interview. His talent and his sense of humor are very engaging and, while he has instructed me to "get over it" about the band, I still can't help but hope that I'll get to catch Rob and the guys "Play That Funky Music" just one more time.

Thank you, Rob Parissi, for giving our generation such a fun song to, uh, well, to TRY and dance to!