Beth Hart (2013)

Posted May, 2013


BethHartmay2013Beth Hart.  Haven’t heard of her?  Okay, well, she’s not quite yet a household name but just wait, she will be.  What makes me so sure?  I’m glad you asked. There are several reasons. 

First, for some people, it just seems to be a blinding glimpse of the obvious.  The story is told that, when she was four years old, she saw a commercial advertising pianos that had as a musical backdrop Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  In the middle of the night, she got up and played a segment of the song on the family piano, which drew out all of the family in amazement.  She says of that moment, “ . . . the ham in me knew right away that this was what I wanted to do. I just knew . . .”

Second, she’s been in the music business for over twenty years, getting a big, early boost by winning the national title to Ed McMahon’s Star Search – long before there was an American Idol or The Voice.  As her reputation grew, she garnered the attention of such guitar greats as Jeff Beck and Slash, working collaboratively with them on various projects. 

What has apparently set Beth’s musical career on a whole new trajectory was the result of a serendipitous meeting with guitar great, Joe Bonamassa, in a hotel lobby.  Beth was asked to join Bonamassa in 2011 on the Kevin Shirley produced CD, Don’t Explain – a great album of soul-rock covers. It was this CD that brought the classically trained Hart to the attention of Boomerocity and legions of other new fans-for-life.

Adding to the growing fan basecame Jeff Beck’s invitation for Beth to join him on the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors to pay tribute to blues legend Buddy Guy, performing the Etta James classic (and one of Boomerocity’s all-time-favorites) I’d Rather Go Blind. While viewers may have tuned in to see Led Zeppelin or David Letterman being honored, as the Baltimore Sun wrote, “Everyone was on their feet when {Beck and Hart’s} soul-searing performance ended.”

I can second that “emotion” by saying that every time I post the video of that performance on my Facebook

What a reintroduction to America!

In March of this year, Ms. Hart followed up Don’t Explain with the critically acclaimed Bang Bang Boom Boom. It was in support of this album that I was fortunate and privileged to speak with her about the album after her return from touring in Europe.  Despite the extensive globetrotting, she sounded relaxed and well-rested.  Obviously, she’s quite the seasoned tour veteran.

As we started our conversation I asked Beth what the reaction to Bang Bang Boom Boom has been so far both here and abroad.

“Well, you know, I just love the CD so much. I’m so excited about it. But, you know, I know better – I’ve been around long enough to know not everyone is going to like it, right? So, when I started doing the press work, I can’t believe how amazingly supportive everyone has been and it just thrills me to pieces! 

If I’ve counted correctly, in your twenty year career, Bang Bang Boom Boom is your ninth solo album (counting the ones with your bands), not counting your two duets with Joe Bonamassa, correct?

“It counts the Don’t Explain record but not the See Saw record.  The Seesaw record will be the tenth.  Also included in that is the Live at Paradiso DVD that we also made as a record. So, it would actually be the tenth if you include Seewaw.

With that impressive body of work solidly under her belt, I asked Beth what was different in making this album compared with her other work.

“Well, by far, the first record I ever made was a record called Ocean of Souls. I was twenty years old. I didn’t like it because I don’t think I was really confident in myself and the people I was working with. It was kind of all over the place. I was scared. But, then, once it was finished, I thought it was nice. But the actual process of it – you know, I’m kind of a neurotic, OCD type of personality and I’m used to being in the studio for years because my producer was also my manager for years – since I was fifteen.  So, we spent a lot of time in the studio together but now we were actually making a real record. 

“Then, when I signed over at Atlantic, I made a record called Immortal which was my first major record company album and I didn’t really enjoy that, either. Again, I loved the music. I loved my band.  But it was the process. I was going, ‘I guess making records is just not for me. I’m really not enjoying the process.’

“It wasn’t until I produced my third record, Screamin for My Supper, with a good buddy of mine, Tal Herzberg, who was my bass player. Then I started really enjoying making records! Maybe it was because I was more in control. Maybe that gave me more security. I could kind of do things the way I wanted. But, still, it never became my favorite thing to do until I did a record called 37 Days where we started recording everything live together as a band to tape with vocals. That’s when I found, “Okay! This is the way I’m supposed to make records! This is how I love it!” So, yeah, that’s the only way I like to do it now.”

As for her latest record, “It was real fluid, easy and exciting. Ever since we started with Joe Bonamassa on the Don’t Explain record with Kevin Shirley producing – who’s an absolute genius! He’s my favorite person to work with! I hope to God I get to work with him on every record for the rest of my life! And, then, the second record I worked with Kevin Shirley was Bang Bang Boom Boom – this record that we’re talking about tonight. And, then the third record is the Seesaw record, which has not come out yet. But all three records – the first one, Don’t Explain, four days to make the record. On Bang Bang Boom Boom, six days to make the record and Seesaw was six days.  So Kevin works fast and we do everything simultaneous to tape and it’s just heaven that way! It’s really great!”

As I’ve stated in other interviews, I know that artists refuse to pick a favorite song on their albums because it’s like picking your favorite child. However, I asked Beth if she were to pick only one song from the CD as THE song to play for someone to hopefully entice them to pick it up, which song would it be?  Before I could even finish the question, she blurted out unequivocally, “Baddest Blues. That’s by far my fave. Yeah, I love that song so much and I think it embodies the colors of the whole record within that one.”

Ms. Hart then shared the story behind that song.

“Well, one of my favorite songs is the Billie Holiday song, Don’t Explain, and a song called Strange Fruit. Nina Simone does a phenomenal version of Strange Fruit. I grew up as a kid just being a huge Billie fan because my mother was and my mother always had just the best taste in music. Anyway, I was thinking about those two songs. I started working on the music first, which is what I always do when I’m writing. I kind of got some music down for it and started working on arrangements for it. I had a bit of a melody that I was messing with, as well. And, then, when it came time for the lyrics - which is another thing I do, I let the music dictate to me what the lyric is going to be, what it makes me think of, whether it’s a memory or projection of some dream I may have of the future.

“So, what it started speaking to me about was my mother and father’s divorce. My mother is such a strong, strong survivor of a woman but it broke her for a period and she ended up in bed for a few months. She just couldn’t get out. And to see such a powerful, strong woman broken like that was devastating to a little girl to see that happen to your mother. Also, Billie Holiday, the pain she suffered in her life. Billie and my mother remind me so much of each other. So, that was my muse for the song. I just love it even though it’s a painful topic, the truth is she did survive. She made it through it and better for it on the other side. She’s just an honorable, beautiful woman. She’s seventy-seven and she’s still strong and has more energy than I’ll ever have.”

My research showed – as does Beth’s performances – that she’s a very intense person. I wondered if writing a song as personal and emotionally impactful to her, personally, does that drain her.

“No!  God no!  Not at all! It’s just the opposite.  You know what does drain me that I make sure I stay away from at all costs? Is trying to write something for radio or trying to write something that you think will be a hit. That is exhausting. Forget it. You can never do it. You never know what they’re going to play. It’s a waste of time. But what gives me energy is getting to the truth. The funny thing is for me to tell the truth. Even when I’m ready and I want to and I want to be able to divulge whatever things I’m dealing with or struggling with – or even excited about – to be about to articulate it in the most honest way possible is very, very hard. Not because I’m scared of anybody hearing it but I don’t know if I can get me to do it. Because I could be in denial or be in a protective place where I don’t want to admit to myself that’s how I feel.  So that’s really what the struggle is. It’s not the music, it’s the lyric. Really, I work on it and I work on it and I try to get myself to feel as safe and secure as I can to just be able to be a real human being; to not have it together; to not try and convince myself that I’m okay. And when I finally let myself divulge that, yeah, I’m not okay. I’m still screwed up with stuff, there’s something so freeing about that, getting that load off and go, ‘Ah!’, you know?  That’s my favorite part about writing. I love to get to that place.”

I hate asking artists questions that I know have been asked them a million times. However, since I know that Ms. Hart is a new name to some Boomerocity readers, I had to ask (for your benefit, of course) who her musical influences were as she was growing up. 

“I have so many, oh my god!  Beethoven, Bach, Rachmoninoff, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, The Ramones, Carol King, James Taylor, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline. I could just go on and on and on. Every genre of music I’ve ever been turned on to – any Latin music, African music, Chinese music, any kind that I’ve ever heard in my life, I’ve just been dumbfounded by the miracle of it, the beauty of it. Human beings have so much to say in all forms of art and it’s all over the world. It’s so beautiful. So gorgeous. It really shows you how people really feel about what’s going on in the world. It’s just fantastic. There’s some good stuff out there.”

Some in the industry have compared Beth to the late, great Janis Joplin. I asked her how she felt about that comparison.

“Oh, I just absolutely adore her! You know, I never grew up listening to her. It wasn’t until I got into my early twenties that I kept hearing people say, ‘Hey, you remind me of Janis.’ So I said, ‘I’ve gotta go out and I gotta get this Janis person and see who this is.’ Well! When I got some of her records and when I got some video tapes back when they had video stores and I watched some of her stuff live, I just realized that I was really looking a real legend; someone who was a pioneer; someone who had unbelievable courage; such talent and huge range!  I think she would’ve gone on to do so much more great and fabulous art. It’s an absolute tragedy to die so young but what she left behind was wonderful, I think, for men and absolutely for women. No matter who you are, if you get enough fight in you and gumption in you, you can do anything! She showed that a white woman could do heavy rock and roll and make it fabulous. She really delivered that. Every time someone mentions Janis to me, I’m so honored and happy to hear that! Of course!”

In a gee-whiz moment, I mentioned that I thought it would be great if she did a gig or two with Janis’ old band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Ms. Hart said, “You know, I got to work quite a bit with Sam Andrew (original and surviving member of BBHC), who was there original guitar player. He’s fantastic! He worked with us when we did the off-Broadway Love Janis. He’s a lovely man. Such a warm and kind man.  Highly intelligent. Oh yeah! I feel like an idiot when I’m talking to him but I love him anyway!  Ha! Ha!”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

With such great names having influenced her musical tastes as she was growing up, I asked her who was capturing her attention these days.

“Oh god! So many people are grabbing my attention!  I’m crazy in love with Vintage Trouble and, thankfully, I can say that I know the guys very, very well. They’re great guys! What AMAZING performers! Great music and so soulful! Ty Taylor is one of the best front men I’ve seen on stage. I’m a big fan! Aloe Blacc is so fantastic, the music he’s doing. Unbelievable talent!  I was the hugest fan in the world of Amy Winehouse. I know we just lost her a few years back now but I just loved what she was doing. I thought she was right up there with Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. Her writing, her singing, her phrasing – just an extraordinary talent. I’m a big fan of Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. She’s a great songwriter!  Great, great music they’re coming up with over there. I’m into Gary Clark, Jr. right now.  So, yeah, there’s some stuff out there that I really enjoy!”

Beth Hart has had to deal with a few personal matters in her life.  Those challenges have been thoroughly covered in other excellent interviews and I saw no need whatsoever to have her rehash them in this interview.  However, I know that she’s learned a lot from her challenges and I asked her what encouraging advice would she like to give to women – and even men – who deal with the same matters as she has and does.

“One in four people with mental illness will die of suicide. That’s a fact – a statistic. There’s no getting around that. If you have a bipolar disorder, it’s so dangerous. You absolutely, ABSOLUTELY have to find a doctor you trust and will get you on proper medication and then you have to take that medication. Just like you have to eat to live, you have to take the medication to not kill yourself or go so manic, so crazy that you end up in a hospital several times a year or you may hurt someone else.

“It’s a dangerous, dangerous disease. It’s not your fault. There’s no guilt or shame. That’s a big part of the illness – you feel very ashamed, very guilty. You don’t understand why you keep behaving this way. But it’s not because you’re bad at all – in any way. You’re sick. There really is help that can really make a difference in your life! Please! Get a good doctor and medicine and do whatever you can to learn how to take care of that brain! There’s a lot of wonderful, natural ways, also that help the brain but not without medication.”

With our time winding up, I asked Beth the same final question I have asked many other artists: When she’s performed her last gig and she’s gone to that great stage in the sky, how does she want to be remembered?

“I hope that I’ll be remembered that I really put it out there and loved being alive. How beautiful it is to be alive! And the gift – the gift of life, making music and having people you love; your family, your friends. Food!  How wonderful food is and nature and God. And, if you don’t believe in God, that’s cool, too, you know. Being an atheist, maybe is into the forest or something. It doesn’t matter. Just enjoy life and, hopefully, that came through the music – the joy of making music and of being alive, more than anything!”

Beth will undoubtedly be around for many years to come and will be delighting fans with her albums and performances.  Check out her website (here) to stay in the loop about her latest tour schedule and upcoming CD releases.

Bob Gruen

Posted March, 2010

bobgruen1Bob Gruen @ MoMA Collage Exhibit © Mandi NewallElvis.  Aerosmith. Elton John.  The Stones.  Alice Cooper. Zeppelin.  Lennon/Yoko. Dylan. Frampton.

These artists and icons dominated my mind (besides girls) in my youth.  Photo’s torn from my favorite rock magazines and posters purchased in the store (for the astronomical price of $1!) hung on my bedroom walls.

The images are burned into the firmware of my mind.  Their poses, grimaces and smiles frozen forever in their youth.  The close that they were in the shots influenced how I dressed and looked.  Jeans and jackets were purchased because of something similar Bob Dylan wore in a photo.  Platform shoes?  Thank you, Elton John.  Hair?  Thanks to a still shot of Mick Jagger in concert at Madison Square Garden, I started parting my longish hair in the middle, trying to feather it back just like Mick.

What single thread runs through these memories?  Many of the photos that hung on my walls, influenced my “look” and burned into my memory banks were taken by famous rock photographer, Bob Gruen.

Gruen was destined for rock and roll.  An avid fan of The Who in the sixties, they were the band that compelled him to join a crowd a half a million strong at a place called Yasgur’s Farm.  There, he witnessed not only the band that he braved the crowds and eliments to see, but many other historic performances that made the Woodstock festival the stuff of legends.

After Woodstock, Gruen eventually worked his way to the position of chief photographer for Rock Scene Magazine.  This afforded him the coveted vantage point of creating candid photos of bands and artist on and off the stage. 

Bob Gruen didn’t allow himself to be stuck in the seventies.  His interest in the music scene allowed him to effortlessly go with the flow of changes in the sights and sounds of musical tastes.  Gruen has covered almost every major act and artist the 70’s to today.

I recently caught up with Bob Gruen, by phone, at his gallery in New York City.  For some reason, I decided to start off the interview by asking Bob what career path he would’ve chosen had he not gone down the rock photographer path.  As with his answer during the rest of our conversation, his answers are open, honest and transparent.

“I have no idea.  Well, the 60’s were a different time from now.  Now, people really plan their future and their career.  In the 60’s it was turn on, tune in and drop out.  And that’s basically what I did.  I wasn’t really thinking about a career.  I didn’t really do very well in school and I didn’t have a major in college.

“I had an older brother who was an overachiever who always got straight A’s and it kind of left me with not much will to succeed on that level – to compete on that level.  So, I was living with a rock and roll band and having a good time. “

So, the obvious question in your mind would be, why photography, so I asked.

“Photography was always my hobby and I got pretty good at it.  When the band got signed, they used my pictures for the publicity.  I started meeting publicists for record companies and they started hiring me to take more and more pictures.  It just worked out that way. 

“I didn’t really have a plan to be a photographer in any specific sense – to be anything.  A policeman, fireman, anything like that. I really didn’t have a plan.  I was aimless.”

Boy, weren’t we all!

Having read his thoughts about attending Woodstock, I asked if he took any pictures while he was there.

“I did, actually.  I went as a fan of The Who and I like camping out.  Me and a couple of friends went up there to have a good time.  It’s funny, the pictures I took.  I did take pictures of my friends inside our tent so I have some ‘head shots’ with a green tent behind them but they don’t show much of the festival. 

“I did find a couple of dozen pictures of the festival that I took - a couple around my tent and a couple of the stage area.  I didn’t take any of the acts.  I wasn’t there to work in that sense.  I hadn’t yet started getting into the music business yet.  

Last summer, a French magazine asked me to put down my memories from Woodstock.  He (the editor) liked the idea that I was there as a fan and not working so I put together a story and put it up on my website (here.).

I asked Bob if he attended the 40th anniversary festivities back in August of last year.

“Not the 40th.  No, we didn’t go – or the 30th.  We went to, I think, the 25th.  Not the one that turned into an overblown riot but the first reunion which turned into a drunken mess.   We left half way through it.

“Actually, I went up the hill into Woodstock to see a real show.  We saw The Fugs, with Alan Ginsberg, who were playing on the Saturday night of the festival. 

All of us have stories of regrets and missed opportunities.  I asked Gruen if there were any shots or gigs that got away from him that he regretted missing.

“Oh, well, there are a lot of things I missed.  I wish that I could have photographed Otis Redding but I started a little too late to connect with him.  I met Jimi Hendrix once.  He said, ‘We’ll meet again’ but he was wrong” he adds with a sad chuckle before concluding by saying,  “But, other than that, I’ve pretty much met or photographed everybody that I wanted to.

Lots of changes have happened both in the music business and in the world of photography in general.  I asked Bob what he viewed as the most positive changes in his line of work.

“Oh, well, the ease of delivery.  We don’t have to rush to dupe slides and hire messengers and ship things to England overnight.  The idea of making multiple prints and rush and having to get them out to all the different magazines . . . now we just e-mail scans.  It’s a lot easier.”

And the biggest negative change in his line of work?

“Photography has gotten so easy that there’s tens of millions of people doing it!

“It used to be that a photographer had to be somewhat nerdy – to be a bit of a tech guy.  You had to focus and know what F stops and speeds meant.  You had to be able to develop and print film.  All of those things have been automated.  Now, you just pick up your phone and push one more button and whatever you’re looking at can be seen around the world.  That’s quite an advance.”

Gruen had voiced his displeasure with websites like Flikr. I wanted to know, though, if he saw the internet as more of a positive or a negative in his industry.

“Well, it negatively affects the work because people tend to think that everything they see on the internet is ‘free’.  Content is what I’ve sold all my life.  Everybody think it’s free.  It’s similar to the downloading of music files, people just take pictures and move them from one site to another and use them any way they want without even thinking that they have to pay for it.  So, this tremendously cuts into the income when people aren’t paying for your work.

I thought for sure that the proliferation of music videos and concert DVD’s over the years would have hurt the photography trade. Bob’s insights into this area set me straight on that perception.

“People tend to watch videos on YouTube or whatever.  You can’t put YouTube on your wall unless you have a big screen on your wall.  It recently came up in an article.  There was an exhibit recently at the Brooklyn Museum of Art called ‘Who Shot Rock’.  It’s about Rock Photography.  The reviewer wrote that he felt that video was the better way to review it.  We all could’ve been up in arms about that. 

“Video hardly captured the excitement of rock and roll at all.  To capture one peak moment in a still photograph that says so much about the energy and excitement, the mood of an artist - you can only do that in a photograph – a photograph that you can put on a wall and it’s just there.  You feel the inspiration.  Not like having to turn on a TV or to operate the machinery or video.  I don’t think that video cuts into the still.  The appreciation is still photo. “

As stated earlier, Bob Gruen isn’t stuck in the past.  I was curious, however, what his thoughts of the past are.  His answer is both philosophical and reflective.

“I respect the past and I think people should learn from the past but I don’t dwell in the past.  I don’t wish that I could go back to Max’s.  It’s like we shouldn’t even go back to high school.  Some people do but I certainly don’t.  I look forward , looking for new experiences.

Fast-forwarding to the present, I asked Bob what bands and artists command his attention today.  His response is instant.

“Greenday.  There are a few others that I enjoy. I’ve seen Courtney Love.  She’s a riveting performer.  You can’t take your eyes off of her.  But Greenday is certainly the top band of the land.  They’re the most powerful and meaningful band around.  And the most fun, especially if you’ve ever seen them live.  They’re the most fun band around today.

“There’s a group here in New York that I like called The Sex Slaves. They’re very  blunt and also a lot of fun.  But there’s not a lot.  I was never somebody who ever sought to follow every single group that ever existed and have an encyclopedic knowledge of it.  I just follow what I like.  I’m a fan.  I mostly follow my friends or people friends recommend.  I’m not out every night on the prowl looking for a new band.

“I’m a bit older now.  Thirty years ago it was fun for me to sit on a bus with 22 year olds who are getting drunk but it’s not really the same any more for me.”  With a laugh, he adds, “I’m a grandfather nowadays,  I prefer to spend time with my family.

With the mention of his family, I commented on the fact that his son, Khris, is pursuing a little bit different route in the music business than his.

“Yeah, he’s just finishing up his third CD, which should be out soon.  He’s got his fans and he’s getting more and more popular.   He started kind of late – somewhat intimidated by my reputation.  Also, my ex-wife married Joe Beck, the jazz guitar player, who is a world famous musician. And I think that, rather than encouraging Khris, it kind of held him back a bit because he felt he couldn’t on that kind of level.  And I’m very happy to see that he’s doing very well on his own and enjoying it a lot.

In the course of the conversation, I mention the use of his photo of John Lennon that graces the cover of Philip Norman’s biography of the man.  It brought to mind the many others Bob Gruen had known because of his line of work.  I asked him who are some of the people that he misses either due to their death or retirement from active life and what is it that you miss about them?

“I miss Joe Strummer – being able to hang out with him and spend time with him.  His shows were great.  He was great.  It was great fun. Whenever my wife and I would go out to dinner with Joe Strummer, we would have to remind each other to bring our sunglasses because we knew we weren’t coming back until after the sun was up.  When you walk out of a bar at eight in the morning you NEED your sunglasses” he finishes with a laugh.

“Of course, I miss John Lennon – hanging out with him.  He was great. Every time I saw him, I felt that I learned something.   I miss a lot of people.  I miss Johnny Thunders.  Joey Ramone.  But I make new friends.  The Sex Slaves, Green Day.  You move on.  That’s the down side to living longer than your friends, missing them” he says with a chuckle.

With so many accomplishments that he can point to, I asked Bob what he would like to achieve that he hasn’t already.  His deadpan answer floored me.

“Make a lot of money.”

Say WHAT?! I thought rock photographers made a lot of money?

“No, this is a VERY low budget operation!  I don’t know if there was more than two or three times in my life when I started the month with enough money to finish it.  I mean, I never had a cushion where I knew my bills were paid.  I’ve always had to work every week to insure that I would have an income.

“I think that people tend to think that if you hang out with Led Zeppelin or John Lennon that you have that kind of money – that you live on that kind of level rather than just visit.  I visit.  But then I come home to a small apartment in the Village.  I don’t have a yacht. For many years I never even had a new car.  Only recently, because my wife has an income and she shares with me am I able to lease a new car.

“I’m doing much better than I used to.  I’m at least leasing a new car rather than driving my old beaters.  It’s a misconception that you live the high life and travel around and make a lot of money.  Some photographers do.  A few. Not many. 

“Certain photographers working with a ‘boy band’ who sells dozens and dozens of pictures to every magazine around the world - if you have good access to them then you can make some good money.  But, for most people shooting most bands, especially nowadays there are so many magazines and so many online so-called magazines that pay practically nothing because there are tens of thousands of people interested in photography since it got so easy.  And many of them will just give away a picture for the credit.

“So, though prices have increased ten-fold, payment for photographs haven’t increased much at all since the 70’s.  If anything, it’s going down because of so many more people willing to just put it out there for credit.

“And then other things like Corbis and Getty – the major photo agencies that are buying up the other smaller photo agencies in the world – they’re trying to own the content and so they’re purposely setting out to put photo agencies and photographers out of business by licensing photos at tremendously discounted rates.  I mean, photos that we license for four or five hundred dollars, they license for five or ten dollars, literally that kind of difference. And to have to try and compete with those kinds of prices, we can’t.  That’s the point: those kinds of companies want to put all of the other people out of business.  They want to own all of the content for the future because content is king on the internet.”

Wow!  Who woulda thunk it?

How about touring exhibits?  I wanted to find out where I could see exhibitions featuring his art and if books were available featuring him.

“I don’t really have a world-wide agent organizing that.  I’m still pretty independent here.  So, I only do a few exhibitions a year.  I do have a some planned in June for London and, possibly, in the fall in Paris.  My John Lennon book is going to come out in French next October in France. 

“I just had a big collage piece of my work that was in the Museum of Modern Art over the last summer, but that’s over now.  ‘Who Shot Rock’ is going to travel to five other museums.  It may actually be down south there.

“We’re also excited about getting the show together for the opening here in NY – I don’t even have the list of where it’s going.  It closed here January 31st.  But then I know that it’s going to travel to a few other places.

“My website,, directs people to most of the available things.  My photos are available from several different galleries here in the states.  There’s one in particular that does a lot of business online.  My books, Clash is still in print but hard to get.  John Lennon is still available.  The New York Dolls book is available on Amazon or or whatever website people want to go to. 

“The best collection of my work, called Rockers. Currently it’s only published in Brazil but it’s available on my website but it’s a little pricey because it’s heavy and we have to ship it.  I think its $60 or $70 with the shipping.  But that’s the biggest collection of my work.

“I’m currently just beginning to work on a book that will be out in the fall 2011 that will be an American published collection of my work.”

My time with Bob Gruen was quickly coming to a close and I had a couple of more questions that I just had to ask.  One had to do with his thoughts about the artists’ he knew (other than Lennon) who are no longer with us.

“Joe Strummer comes to mind first.  I spent a lot of time with him.  Joey Ramone.  He was a wonderfully sweet guy. Johnny Thunders was a good friend.”

What about the other artist who he wasn’t quite as close to?

“Quite a lot of my photos were just done as jobs.  They were friendly but not necessarily friends.  You’re pleased to see each other but you don’t go out to dinner with each other. Some of them you develop friendships with. As in any business where you work with a lot of people there’s certain people that you hit it off with and wind up being friends with.

“I was lucky in that way to have a number of good friends.”

I thought I was wrapping up the interview by commenting as to how I thought it said a lot about him with the fact that he was able to develop the relationship and friendship with John Lennon and Yoko and that he still has the relationship with Yoko.  Only expecting a “thank you” for the compliment, Gruen, instead, takes the opportunity to defend his good friend, Yoko Ono.

“You know, Yoko’s been very maligned in the newspapers and in the press.  With her new album in the past year, she’s got quite a bit of positive press.  But, when people ask me what kind of women Yoko is, I always say that she’s the kind of women that John Lennon could marry.”

Since he opened the door to discussing Yoko Ono, I asked Bob what he thought the biggest misconception about her was.

“The biggest misconception?  That she doesn’t have a sense of humor. John said that she’s the most famous unknown artist in the world.  Everybody knows who she is but nobody knows what she does.  And I think with her new album out, she’s getting a lot of press, she’s getting a lot of attention.  More people are getting to see her perform and starting to get an idea of what a wonderfully open and how much humor her work has.

“She’s quite prolific.  On her website, Imagine Peace, she answers 10 to 15 questions every week from people all over the world.  They just write in questions and she comes up with almost zen-like answers.  She’s got a Twitter feed that she updates every few hours with, again, zen-like conceptual art ideas.  She’s just fascinating.”

Soon after, we wrapped up our chat.  While going through the rest of my hectic schedule on that January day, I reflected on the gems that Bob Gruen gave me in the way of stories and quotes.  I also realized that Bob still influences us today.  Long gone is our ability to squeeze into hip-hugging bell-bottom jeans and whose feet can handle wearing platform shoes? And I don’t even want to go down the path of discussing my hair. 

No, those are pains we can do without.  However, while Bob’s work from the past brings us smiles and memories, his work today is creating new impressions that will stay with us for the rest of our days.

Thank you, Bob Gruen, for all that you’ve done and are doing.

Dave Getz Talks About Janis Joplin

Dave Getz Talks About Janis Joplin




Read Randy Patterson's Interview With Dave Getz

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February 1, 2010




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Dave Getz

Posted May, 2010

DavePortraitAnyone who is a classic rock aficionado is aware of Janis Joplin and the band that propelled her to super-stardom, Big Brother and the Holding Company.  The history of Janis meeting up with BBHC back in the flower days in San Francisco has been more than well documented. Consequently, I won’t rehash the entire history.

However, I would like to briefly focus on the days immediately before, and the weeks after, the release of their historic number one hit album, Cheap Thrills.

In the summer of 1968, shortly before the release of Cheap Thrills, the band was rehearsing in a rehearsal studio in Manhattan. At one point they were jamming to a blues riff that drummer, Dave Getz, had come up with the year before. He originally called it, “C# Razzamatazz”.

Janis heard the bluesy call and response of the tune and promised to write some lyrics for the riff.  According to Dave Getz, sometime between that rehearsal and her announcement a few weeks later that she was leaving the band, Joplin came through.  Written on a party flyer that he still has, were, and are, the lyrics to what became the song and title to his latest album, Can’t Be The Only One.

Recently, Dave Getz and I chatted by phone about Can’t Be The Only One and the story behind the song and the stories behind the album. After discussing the history about the song, I asked him for a run down to getting the song onto this disc.

“Essentially, the song never got played so I had to, in some way, assume a melody to actually do it. And, over the years, I had in my mind – I heard what I thought she would have intended the melody to be, knowing the riff and the music.

“But, it just kind of got away from me.  I think that it was partly because of the nature of Big Brother – the way it’s gone up and down over the years. It’s been very hard for me, in that band, to introduce my music into that band and to get people to play it.  I don’t want to get into the personality thing or being critical.  I just don’t want to do that.  But, it’s just that the chemistry wasn’t right for me to bring my stuff into it. It just didn’t work.

“I tried a couple of other times with some other things and, at some point, I just said that I would just do my music off by myself in some way.  It’s not going to happen here in this situation with these particular players. I love Big Brother and I love what we do.  It’s been more like a vehicle for Sam (Andrew) because he’s in front and he’s playing the guitar and he’s singing a lot.  It works better in some way that he kind of interprets his songs.  But when it comes to my material or when James (Gurley) was in the band, and we would try to get that stuff done by the band, it just didn’t work.  The chemistry just wasn’t right.

“But, then, I’ve been in a few other bands. I have a band with my wife.  She’s a singer . . . sings American Song Book, jazz and things like that.  But she wasn’t the right singer to do it (the ‘Janis’ song).  I’ve worked with a few other people and I’ve done gigs with a few other bands over the years but it was just never right.

“But, then, in 2002, is when I really started to think seriously about doing an album. I went into the studio with some guys that I had been playing with – Tom Finch and a guy named Rob Fordyce – who are both on the CD. Some of the first tracks that we did then – the track that James Gurley is on – that track was originally recorded at that time – 2003. We did a bunch of other tracks which I later discarded.

“But it was somewhere in the last four years that I really, all of a sudden, looked at that song again – the Janis song – and said, ‘You know? I’ve gotta do this one. It’s just got to be part of it.’  It was that realization that motivated me back into recording again because I had done a bunch of stuff and then discarded it and had gotten kind of disillusioned. I put it away for a couple of years where I didn’t record at all and then I went in again and did some other stuff with Peter Albin and David Nelson that were some other tunes that I had written that had gone in sort of a country direction.  All sorts of things happened over a period of about six years.

“But, when I finally got the thing that ‘Can’t Be The Only One’ had to be almost crucial to it – I had to bring that song into reality, then everything else started to fall in place.  It’s just a funny kind of thing.  As I said in the liner notes, for a long time I had those lyrics and I would show them to people and I would lend them to people.  There was a book that came out called ‘The Janis Joplin Performance Diary’.  It was printed, I don’t know, about ten years ago and I had lent them those lyrics to put in that book.  People had been aware of the lyrics for a long time.  I think that Janis’s sister (Laura) knew that they existed and things like that. But putting it (the lyrics) into a song was a key thing for me and then everything else began to fall into place.”

The estate management business is a huge and fiercely guarded business.  Knowing that one of the most ardently protected estates is the Janis Joplin estate, managed by legendary estate manager, Jeff Jampol, I asked Getz if there was any firefight over his use of the lyrics Janis had written.

“You know, that’s a funny thing.  You can put this in the article because it’s kind of interesting. About two years ago, I put together a band - it’s called the Dave Getz Breakaway - and I wanted to perform that song. I put out an e-mail announcement that the band was going to perform locally - in Fairfax (California).

“Laura (Joplin, Janis’ sister) came down to that show and she was in the audience.  I announced from the audience and said, ‘Laura Joplin’s here tonight and we’re going to play a song that Janis wrote the lyrics for’ and we played it.

“A guy named J.J. – who’s not a great singer – was the singer (of that song) that night.  There were other singers sitting in but J.J. was the one who wanted to learn the song and wanted to perform it.  He did an okay job at it.

“Even before that, I had talked to Jeff Jampol about it, when I started thinking about putting this band together. He said, ‘Send me the song!’ I sent it to him and he wrote me back and said, ‘I LOVE it! It’s GREAT! Let me find somebody to record it.’  He called me a couple of times and started throw out names like Alicia Keys and Beyonce and he started to throw out these things and I said to myself, ‘This guy is full of crap.’

“He just doesn’t get it.  He was being nice in a way but I just thought the thing sounded like a lot of jive. But I said to him, ‘Yeah! Great! Fantastic! I’m willing to do anything, Jeff.  If you can get this song recorded by someone – Pink would be fabulous or Joss Stone would be great!’

“He said, ‘Well, let me handle it. Let me do it and I’ll get back to you.’ So, two – two and a half years went by and never heard from him again.  So, anyway, long story short, when I get my CD’s about three weeks ago from Disc Makers . . . I sent one to Michael Joplin (Janis and Laura’s brother) and I sent one to Jeff Jampol. I’m being sincere.  I really think that my album is great – let me just say that. But, I just think, also, that I did as great a job as I possibly could on that song and I thought that Kathi McDonald did a fabulous job.

“So, I send them (Laura, Michael and Jeff) these CD’s and then immediately got on my computer and wrote them an e-mail, telling them that I had sent them the CD with the track on it and that I hoped they really liked it and to call me and we could talk about it and, maybe, promote it together.

“In my mind, the way I look at it, I’m doing them a great favor. I’m creating product that, in some way, they’re going to own part of it that didn’t exist before - something that is more like Janis.  It’s a Dave Getz product but Janis is the songwriter and she’s going to have to be paid and it’s going to bring money into their pockets if they promote it.

“Anyway, four hours after I send this e-mail out, I get an e-mail back from their lawyer who handles their publishing legal stuff.  His name is Randal Wickson. I get this e-mail back and this is what it says: ‘Hi, Dave.  We represent Janis Joplin’s publishing interests, Strong Arm Music. The first use of a song is a very valuable right and constitutes an exclusive right which can only be granted by all copyright owners. The potential first use of this song is a very significant approval and irreparable harm and financial damage would come from a use not authorized by all parties.  You should not, under any circumstance, issue an exclusive first use mechanical or other license for ‘Can’t Be The Only One’. Let’s make this song as valuable as possible for all concerned.  Before you move forward, you should discuss approaches with the Joplin estate. Please contact Jeff Jampol, their manager.  Kathi McDonald, as a first use, would greatly devalue the intrinsic worth of the song because of potential and significant opportunity lost.  Thank you very much for your understanding.’

“So, I never even wrote back. Because, one thing, he’s just completely wrong.  I’m not granting a mechanical license.  I don’t know if you know what these things are but a mechanical license is when someone writes a song and another artist performs the song – like if I want to perform ‘Summertime’ by George Gershwin, I have to get a mechanical license from whoever runs his publishing company or owns the copyright.

“But, I don’t have to get a mechanical license for the Dave Getz Breakaway to do my own song!  And, I don’t have to get a mechanical license for Kathi McDonald to sing it because she’s part of my band on the record.  Anyway, I just felt that it was very insulting and, again, it’s like everything that’s ever happened with the Joplin’s in the last 25 or 35 years with them is that they try to sink any project that anybody else attempts unless they can control it. That’s been my experience with them.

“So, here they were, trying to torpedo me . . . but they’re not going to. Immediately, of course, I had to forward the e-mail to my lawyer and she assured me that there’s nothing there. Just ignore it.  I’ve had several conversations with Jeff Jampol who called me – and I like Jeff.  I like Jeff a lot.  He’s jive.  I said to him, ‘Jeff, I’m seventy years old and I gave you the song two and half years ago and you never called me back.  You never did anything with it.  You had your opportunity and I did something with it and I love what I did with it and I’m going with it. If you can still help me –‘ I told him and we agreed – ‘if you can get somebody like Pink to record the song and Pink calls me up and says, ‘I want to record this song but you have to – don’t sell any more of your CD’s.  Whatever’s out there is out there but let’s stop it and let me record it next month and we’ll put it out.’ Do you think I would say ‘no’? C’mon! That would be my dream but that ain’t going to happen.  He promised me that he would play the thing for people.”

I’m not a musician.  I don’t even play one on TV. However, even my simple mind realizes that drumming is quite a bit different artistry than, say, playing piano or guitar.  So, I was curious how a drummer writes and plans a solo album.  Dumb question, huh?

“Yeah, it’s a good question.  It’s not a dumb question because there are drummer jokes! There are whole websites full of drummer jokes and, basically, drummer jokes are like Polack jokes: they’re based on the drummer being a dumb animal type person and no skills.

“I consider myself the best musician in Big Brother and the Holding Company and I’ve been told that many times over the years by other musicians who I respect. Sam knows a lot about music. Sam’s more educated in some ways about certain things. But, I probably have been a professional musician longer than anybody in Big Brother.  I was in the musician’s union in New York when I was 15 and I was playing professionally when Sam and those guys were still in adolescence. I’m older than them.  I’ve been playing longer and I’ve played more different kinds of music, probably, more than any of them.

“I've played a lot of jazz.  I toured Europe when I was 19 with a Dixieland band.  I've played in Latin bands. I've played in country bands. I've played Gumbo, New Age music, Indian music, Polka bands, Klezmer music  I've played in actual orchestras and all kinds of bands. And I play some keyboards.  I'm not a great keyboard player but that's how I compose.  I started taking lessons as a kid but then I gave it up and I got into the drums when I was 15.

“When I was 27, when Big Brother was just starting to come out, I bought a piano – an actual piano.  After that, I had several different keyboards and I always, from the get-go, got back into it and started composing right from the beginning. I didn’t try to take piano lessons or take classical piano, I just used it – it became a voice for me.

“So, I taught myself a lot.  I taught myself chords and scales and how to read music. It’s been a long process and I still don’t know a lot in certain things but I probably know as much as anybody else about harmony.  Maybe I don’t know as much about harmony as Sam.  I don’t know. I probably know more about jazz than anybody else in that band.  I think my musical understanding is pretty sophisticated.

“So, that’s where it comes from.  When I’m recording something like that, the process is like this: I’ve composed all of these pieces and most of these pieces, if it has lyrics to it, it comes about by me giving a track that I’ve written that have, say, keyboards and drums on it that I’ve made – a demo track in my house. Then I give it to somebody and they might write lyrics to it. Then I’ll go into the studio and I’ll start out by laying down some sort of percussion track electronically. I’ll use a drum machine and just play on that.  And, then, I’ll play the keyboard part that I’ve written on that. And, then, from that, I’ll start adding parts, bringing in the bass.  I’ll build the thing one at a time, just as a musician – as any musician would.  When a bass player comes in, I’ll tell them what I want to hear. I’ll play the part on keyboards or something similar to what I want. I’m usually assuming that a good bass player or a good guitar player, of course, is going to embellish it and add to it and make it a little more complicated than I can play it, technically, on keyboards.

“I’m laying out these ideas. In some cases they’re more specific than in others. On the CD, for example, on the first and second tracks,  the bass part is something that I told the bass player to play. I played it for them.  Peter Albin is playing the bass on the second track but what he’s playing is something that I told him exactly, note for note, what to play.  He couldn’t play it, technically, all the way through. So, we take what he played perfectly and we patch it and we create a bass part from it – me and the engineer.  It’s all kinds of experience.  My musical experience, my ability to play something on keyboard, plus what I know can be done on Pro Tools.  I’m not adept, myself, at it but I know what the possibilities are so I can direct an engineer and say, “Okay, take this bar here and put it there” and create these tracks.

“You talk about as a drummer - my position on this particular CD was very limited.  I didn’t want to make it a drumming CD. I had to put just one place on there where I play a solo. But, in general, I’m really subordinating myself as a drummer and just putting in the part that I want to hear a drummer play . . . think more as a producer and as a total musician rather than as a drummer.”

I suggest that this speaks volumes to Getz’s ability to communicate what he wants at various levels and to a variety of musicians. His reply is unashamedly forthright.

“Right, that’s what I was saying before about Big Brother.  With Big Brother, the chemistry is a certain way – there’s a certain inability for me to be that kind of director that I needed to be. When you’re making your own CD and your literally hiring people and paying people to come in, in some cases some people just want to be on it without being paid.  In most cases, I like to hire people because the psychology is different then.  I’m hiring you and I can then direct you – give directions.

“When you are making a CD you have to be able to work people who are willing to take direction. At the same time, if people are only JUST going to take direction, that can be a limitation, too.  You want people who are willing to take direction but are also willing to try bring in something of their own – their own ideas. If the ideas enhance what you’re trying to say, that’s fantastic! It’s a great thing!”

Speaking of the people that Getz brought in to help on the album, I commented on the very long history he has with one of the vocalist on the project, Kathi McDonald. His delves into the history with enthusiasm.

“Yeah, actually, we do! After Big Brother broke up in the late 60’s, I actually was in a band with Kathi that we had together.  It was called Pendergrass. It wasn’t really my band. It was her band.  She had a boyfriend at the time – a guy who played bass. The guitarist in that band, for a very short time, was Ronnie Montrose. Ronnie was playing lead and a guy by the name of Michael Pendergrass – we used his name for the band – he was the lead guitarist.  There was a piano player named Roy Schmall and myself and Kathi and her boyfriend, Howie Schamm, who played bass.  It was a great band and we played mostly rhythm and blues.

“So, what happened was, when Big Brother got back together, which was when Sam was out there on the road with Janis and the Kozmic Blues Band  - this was when in late 1969 – and she fired him. And he came back and that’s when Big Brother got back together with Sam. And then I brought Kathi into Big Brother from Pendergrass.

“Eventually, I brought Michael Pendergrass in, too, and a couple of other people.  That’s when Big Brother got back together with Sam, myself, and James Gurley played bass.  He didn’t want to play guitar anymore. Peter Albin played guitar and we had a guitarist named Dave Schallock that I brought in from another band that I was in at the time called the Nuboogaloo Express. There was also Nick Gravenites who was sometimes in it.

“So that’s how Big Brother got back together in 1970.  But Kathi and I were playing together between the time that Janis and Sam left Big Brother to go with the Kozmic Blues Band, during that period, I had that band with Kathi, Pendergrass.

“There’s a Big Brother CD that I put out in 1995.  I put it out on a French label and it’s called, You Can’t Go Home Again. It’s by Big Brother and the Holding Company and Friends.  The friends really are the tracks that Pendergrass recorded. The first three or four tracks on that CD are really Big Brother.  They’re really Pendergrass with Kathi McDonald, myself playing drums and Ronnie Montrose playing guitar. But three fifths of that band later became part of Big Brother.

“Kathi’s played with Big Brother probably, since 1987 when we got back together, she’s probably done, I’m going to guess, somewhere in the neighborhood of six and twelve gigs with us – just a once in awhile kind of thing. I wish she’d do more, actually, but she’s also a funny kind of person in that she doesn’t really want to learn a lot of the new Big Brother stuff. She wants to come in and do what she knows from the past.  She’s not real willing to learn some of the new material that we’ve done since that time.  It’s a little difficult. She’s great, though.  I love her! I really love her!  She’s thrilled – totally thrilled with this CD.”

The legendary original guitarist for Big Brother, James Gurley, who Dave referenced earlier, passed away last year on December 20, just two days before he was to turn 70 years young.  Getz and Gurley had a falling out thirteen years prior, never to speak to each other that entire time.  However, I noticed that there was a cut on Dave’s CD entitled Trail of Tears that featured James on the guitar.

Obviously, I was very curious what the story was behind this. I also knew that a lot had already been said about Gurley’s passing and didn’t want to ask Dave to belabor his passing.  So, I asked Getz if he wanted to share anything else that about Gurley as well as the story behind Trail of Tears.

Getz matter-of-factly relays a couple of stories.

“I’ll tell you a story. It’s the first thing that comes to mind because it just happened this weekend and it’s fresh in my mind. I just told it to my wife and I’ll share it with you. We were driving in the car from Providence, Rhode Island, to somewhere in New Jersey on Saturday morning. Our singer, Sophia Ramos, is in the front seat.  Sophia, I don’t know if you know who she is, but she’s a monster! She’s a beast!  She’s one of the most incredible singers in terms of her technical ability and what she can do with her voice that we’ve ever sung with. She’s just way beyond!

“Anyway, she’s sitting in the front seat.  Peter Albin is driving and I’m sitting in the backseat and I hand Sophia one of my CD’s and I say, ‘Hey, Sophia, here’s a present for you.’ She says, ‘Oh, yeah! Great! Thank you!  Is this some of the stuff you played for me a few months back?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, some of it’s on there but there’s some new things on there, too, that you haven’t heard.’ Then Peter says, ‘Well, let’s play it!’ Peter’s already heard it and he really likes it. He’s been very complimentary and has said that it’s really great.

“I’m a little reticent so I say to Peter, ‘Oh, just play the first three songs. I don’t want to toot my own horn and play this album.’ They said, ‘No, play the whole thing!’ So, I say, ‘Well, play it up to the third or fourth track because then it starts getting weird.’  Sophia then said, ‘What’s wrong with that?’ So, I say, ‘Okay, okay, play it!  I’ll just sit back and I won’t say anything.’

“So, we’re playing it through and they’re digging it and we get to Trail of Tears. Peter’s talking to Sophia, saying, ‘This has got a track with James Gurley on it.’ I interrupt and say, ‘Yeah, you’re not going to like this’ because a lot of people say that his playing just isn’t ‘musical’ and I know what they mean by it. I understand completely.  It’s not ‘musical’ in the sense that it’s not melodic. It’s not your classic kind of blues playing or anything like that. And, in some ways, it’s almost like modern music. It has a certain noise factor that James was always in to.

“One of the first things that I remember about James is, when I wasn’t even in the band, watching him pick up his amplifier and slam it down on the stage to create sound and noise like explosions.  James was always into the sound factor and not so much the melodic, lyrical kind of player at all. Some people just can’t go there. So I thought to myself that Sophia might have trouble with this because she’s such a magnificent musician.

“Anyway, she listens to the track and she says, ‘Play that again!’ He (Peter) puts it back on and she listens to it again.  She then said, ‘That is HUGE balls! Huge balls! That is fantastic!’

“I thought that was great. There was somebody who got it – who could go there. A lot of people cannot go there.  They’ll listen to James and just say, ‘Turn that off.’ He was really willing to go there – willing to go to places like that and I wanted to have that on that track.”

Continuing his thoughts about James Gurley, Dave shares a little more insight to the riff that developed between Gurley and the rest of Big Brother. He then shares how it came about that James contributed to Can’t Be The Only One without actually speaking with him.

“One of the reasons why James left the band was that James and I had a big falling out together. Then it wound up that James and Sam having a big falling out then James and Peter.  But it started out with me and the reason that it started with me is that I had a lot of doubts about James’ guitar playing. I loved what he did in the past with the psychedelic stuff that we did in the sixties. But when we got back together in the 80’s, I felt that we had to do some new material and wanted to go to other places – more lyrical places with songs – more pop stuff.  I felt that he was unwilling – that he was stuck just doing what he was and that’s the kind of player he was. He just didn’t fit in in a lot of places and he knew that I felt that way.

“There was a passive-aggressive resentment built up between and eventually, when he left the band in ’97, it freed us up.  We couldn’t record anything when he was in the band because none of the music that we were trying to record provided the proper context for his style of playing. It was Sam’s material and Sam’s songs - more like soul. Sam doesn’t really write psychedelic stuff like James could play on.

“Anyway, I wrote Trail of Tears somewhere in the late 90’s – just a riff – something that I was playing on the keyboards. When I originally went in to record the track, it was with Tom Finch and Rob Fordyce and myself playing the drums. After we recorded the track, I thought, ‘This is a context in which James’ guitar playing would work.’ But, at the time – this is in 2003 – we’re not talking to each other at all – no relationship at all but I loved this guy. I felt for him and I appreciated his playing in some way that he didn’t really understand.  I think I also have an overview of it that he didn’t understand, either.

“Long story short, I called up a friend that knows James and saw James often.  I said to him, ‘I’ve recorded this track and I think that James would be great on it but I know that I can’t call him up – he won’t talk to me. So, would you call him up and ask if he would be willing to play on this track – see if he would be willing?’

“The guy called me back and said that James said to make him a CD of the track and he would listen to it and he’ll tell you.’ And that’s what happened. I made him a CD. I sent it to Richard. He sent it to James. James called Richard and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ Richard called me and said, ‘James will do it.’ I said to Richard, ‘Okay, this is the date that I’ll leave a check in the studio with the engineer. James can show up at one o’clock.  I won’t be there. No vibes. Nothing. We’ll see if he can do it.  Do several takes until he’s satisfied that he’s got what he wants and then he can take the check and go home.’

“And that’s exactly what happened. The next day, after he had recorded it in the studio, I went to the engineer and said, ‘Okay, what have we got?’ He played it for me and I was just thrilled. I thought, ‘This is it!’”

I knew that it was a sensitive area but I had to ask Getz, “So, you guys never spoke after that, huh?”

“Uh, no. We never spoke again. I saw him once at a party and I tried to talk to him and he turned away. And, it’s funny. After he died, I spoke to his wife and she said that he really felt the same way towards me but that he just couldn’t get past what had happened but that he also had love and warm feelings toward me. It’s very sad.”

I mentioned to Dave that my favorite songs on the CD are More and House on Fire. Kathi does a phenomenal job on the tunes, knocking them both out of the park but my favorite tune being House on Fire.

“Well, she sang on the original. The original version is on the Big Brother How Hard It Is album that came out in ’71. I wrote that song in ’71 and the version that we did then wasn’t right for me. It’s a different rhythm. The band sort of changed the rhythm, which was okay. But I always wanted to go back and do the song again with just Kathi singing and not Sam and do it in the original rhythm which was kind of a slow shuffle rhythm that I originally wrote the song in.  I was real pleased with it. I really felt that was the way I wanted it to sound.”

Getz has worked on countless recordings so I asked him what was different about working on this disc compared to other projects.

“Oh, it’s totally different!  I’m a pretty good side man. I’ve worked on other peoples records and I try to just be neutral and add what I add to give someone what they want and be willing to take direction. That’s really important.  I’m always in a situation where I’m either playing in the studio with a band, which is the way Big Brother has always recorded.  Big Brother has always tried to record, essentially, live in the studio – bass, drums, guitar – two guitars - and then do the vocals after that. Very traditional.

“With this situation, I pretty much, except for two or three tracks where we recorded bass, drums and guitar at one time, almost everything else was done the way I described before – with me starting with keyboards and an electronic drum track which acts like a click track because it’s perfect .  Eventually, I take those out and record live drums over it. So it’s pieced together to create the effect of real music.

“In some cases it sounds more live than in other cases. I think the first track, Can’t Be The Only One, that track was remixed by a friend of mine, Johnny Thompson. Johnny came to me and said, ‘You know, I’ve listened to your original track of Can’t Be The Only One.  Would you give me a chance – I want to make a mix of it. If you’ll let me do it, we’ll make a radio playable type of mix.’ I said ‘okay’.  We’ve been friends for a long time, Johnny and I, and I totally respect his ears and his ideas. He’s a great guitar player, a great drummer.  He’s one of these multi-talented guys.

“So, we went in, Johnny and his son, Mike, who was my engineer all through it, and myself, and I just said, ‘Go for it. I’ll be passive.  You do what you want.’ He took everything, cut it up and put it back together the way he wanted to hear it.  He took out all of the drum fills. He didn’t like the Chris Collins’ guitar.  He re-recorded his guitar, which was fine.

“You know, I loved what he did.  It’s a whole other thing than what I would’ve heard.  I thought it was great! It’s great to have two different ways of doing the same song with the same material, basically, with the same voice and taking these parts. It’s what you can do with Pro Tools these days. It’s like an art form in and of itself and Johnny is good at it. I have to give him credit on that one for his mix.  I mean, I was the guy who created all the parts but he took all the parts and really re-assembled them in a way that was beyond what I would’ve heard in some way and made it very listenable and very simplified. He took it down to his essentials and brought Kathi’s voice really up and emphasized the lyrics and the song and not so much about guitar playing and drumming or the bad.  He just got the essence of the song.”

Earlier, Dave commented that Kathi McDonald was kicking his butt about touring so I asked him if he had any plans to do so.

“If the album gets some play – it starts to get some attention and something really happens to where it was really possible for me to put my band back together – put the Breakaway together – it’s like everybody is on go with that.

“(But) we have to be able to make some money.  We can’t afford to go on the road any more if can’t we make any money.  Tom Finch and Chris Collins, they’re both great guitar players. They both make a very nice living staying in Marin County and teaching. They both have, like, 25 or 30 students. John Evans, the bass player, is playing with Tori Amos. I’d have to be able to offer up something substantial in order to make it worth our while.

“Big Brother’s busy through the summer but if something’s happening (with the disc) late in the year, I would definitely consider going out and performing with this stuff. I’d love to. That would be my dream!”

To find out if Dave Getz’s dream comes true, you’ll want to regularly visit the Big Brother and the Holding Company’s website,

Can’t Be The Only One is an excellent CD to add to your CD library.  It can be purchased by clicking on the album cover picture at the upper right of this page.