Dave Fields

Posted October, 2012

davefieldsbybobgruen2Photo by the Legendary Bob GruenLast month I had the privilege of reviewing a CD of an artist who I had only very recently became aware of. The CD was entitled Detonation and the artist is a great guitarist by the name of Dave Fields.

The album is great, the sounds addicting and the whole approach is fresh and new.  I knew that, after listening to the CD for a bazillion times, I wanted to interview the up and coming guitar slinger and so it was.  Mr. Fields called me from his Manhattan apartment to discuss Detonation, his career and, of course, guitars.

As we started off our chat, I asked Dave what the reception has been so far to Detonation.

“It’s been amazing. People have really loved the CD and I’m pleased with the way it’s been going. You know, it’s already number eight on the RMR Top Fifty Blues charts after ten days. I just couldn’t be more pleased. It’s number twenty on the House of Blues charts. It’s been wonderful. Everybody keeps telling me that this is a great next CD for me to do. It’s my third one. Exactly what I wanted to have happen is people embrace it that way.”

As Fields mentioned, Detonation is his third album, following 2008’s All Wound Up and Time’s A Wastin (2007).    I asked him how this album was it different for him personally, technically, musically, and process-wise, than the other albums.

“Well, you know, I’m a producer in my own right. I produced a CD that one ‘Best Blues CD’ in 2006 at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. I have a long track record of producing things. And on this CD we actually hired David Z – who is a Grammy winning producer – to do the CD because I wanted to try to capture something live in the studio. I wanted to capture the essence of Dave Fields live and it’s very hard for me to be playing and doing my thing and producing myself live. It’s very tough.

“We put the whole band in the studio which is, basically - what the CD is – with minimum overdubs. We just kind of did the whole thing live. All the guitar solos and lead vocals are basically live.

“So, what I had also done in the process was I rehearsed the band as best as I could. We picked the songs with David Z. He came a couple of weeks earlier to New York. We had it all ready to go, went into the studio, we played, got the best takes and, hopefully, people will hear the fire.

“My first two CD’s were more ‘studio’ CDs. There were a couple of tunes that were live in the studio like this.  I crafted some of the songs – and being that I’m an engineer, too – I record in a certain way. David Z had a completely different approach to the way he did things. He’s more old-school about everything. It turned out beautiful. I’m still pinching myself from working with him! He’s a wonderful guy.”

As I’ve said before in other interviews: Long ago I gave up on asking artists what their favorite song on their latest album so I wasn’t going to ask Dave any question of the sort.  However, what I did ask him was: if there was only one song off of Detonation that could be listened to as a sample before one were to decide whether to buy it, what song would he point them to?

“Well, you know, that’s a very subjective question because it will change with how I’m feeling that day. If it’s somebody off the street and I have no idea who they are – hmmm, that’s a good question. I will tell you that all of the songs are about personal things that have happened to me – with the exception of one that I kind of crafted. Lately, though, I have been loving, You Will Remember Me, which is the last song. To me it’s the most powerful one on a personal level. They all have different meanings to different things, though.”

As Dave was giving his answer, the thought popped into my head as to how raw those emotions can be when pouring your heart out into a song. I asked him if it’s difficult to open one’s heart up in a song for the world to see.

“You know what? My favorite artists always did that. They always poured their souls into their music. That, to me, is what made them so powerful. That was the connection. They shared something – some human emotion that they went through that was very powerful – that we all felt. I’m always driven to do that.

“That’s not to say that I don’t ‘craft’ songs. Doing Hard Time, for example, I kinda crafted. I mean, I don’t aspire to be in jail! Ha! Ha!  It’s a funny song. It’s also a part of me that likes to have fun and silly with my songs. Like Bad Hair Day – a silly song. On my last CD I have a song called Big Fat Ludus. It’s a song about nothing. It’s about silliness. I think that’s important, too. There are many different facets to who I am as a person and I don’t mind barring my soul. I have a song called Rabbi Blues. I grew up as a Jewish boy in New York so I had to do a little dig at my heritage – but in a fun way! It goes both ways.

“Same Old Me is another personal song. It’s about my dad. I’m definitely barring my soul on that one. I think it’s more powerful. I want to connect with people on that level, if that makes any sense.”

As for touring in support of the album, Fields said, “Right now, because the CD just came out, we’re working on doing an east coast tour. We’ve got a bunch of places lined up that are in the works right now that are coming down for the east coast. I’m also working on a Midwest tour which will probably be Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois at this point. We’re still working it all out. Oh, and I’m going to Norway in two weeks! I’ll be there from the 16th through the 30th of October and it will be my fifth time going back there. That’s really exciting.  The crowds are there amazing!  Norway is such a beautiful country. Everybody speaks English, which is wonderful for me. They love American music. They grew up listening to American music. When they actually get to hear a real American playing American music, it’s a big thing for them. I’ve got a great following there and it’s been a blessing to be able to connect with them. I love my Norwegian friends! I feel blessed. What can I say?”

While listening to Detonation, it was pretty easy for me to pick out some of Dave’s musical influences in his music.  However, I asked him to share with who those musical influences were and are.

“There are so many. My gosh! As a kid, the first thing I loved was ‘50’s rock and roll. I loved Chuck Berry. I loved Fats Domino. I loved Jerry Lee Lewis. I loved Elvis Presley. My dad is a noted composer/arranger/producer here in Manhattan and he’s a virtuoso piano player. He started playing this kind of New Orleans thing on piano once. It was a boogie-woogie kind of New Orleans thing. When I heard that I went wild. It was like, ‘Oh, my god! I love this!’ From there it grew into blues.

“You know, early rock and roll is blues as far as I’m concerned. As I listened to more and more and more of it, I asked my dad, ‘Who’s the best guitar player in the world?’ ‘Well, some people say Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix.’ I started listening to them and I was, like, wow!  I love the British rock guys. You can really hear Jimi Hendrix a lot on the CD. I was exposed to so many different kinds of music. Growing up in New York City, it’s a melting pot of music, as well, besides cultures. I listened to everybody from Roy Clark to George Benson to Alan Hallsworth to so many people – James Taylor to funk guys. I just tried to take it all in.

“I also studied piano. Piano was my first instrument. There are a lot of musical influences that go with my guitar playing that had nothing to do with guitar. They’re just musical influences. I used to listen to John Coltrane, the famous sax player. I used to listen to Charlie Parker. Lee Allen, one of my favorite horn players.

“Lately, I’ve been on this Chopin kick, believe it or not. Yeah! I just love Frederic Chopin! What can I say? My musical listening is so diverse. The thing is for me – the key component on everything I listen to, to me, I just like it to be real. I don’t like people lying to me or trying to take me out with their music – which happens with a lot of pop music or a lot of artists who are trying to sound like somebody else. We all have our influences but – it’s just about the sincerity. That’s the thing I judge it by.”

Dave Fields has jammed with some pretty impressive people. I asked the guitar virtuoso who he hasn’t worked or played with that are on his dream list of people to work or play with.

“Growing up in New York City and listening to a lot of jazz – it was something I was exposed to. I always wanted to play with Randy Brecker. He passed away a couple of years ago. I always wanted to play with Miles Davis. He’s passed away.

“People who are alive now who I would like to collaborate with – gosh, there are so many! Gosh!  Eric Clapton. There are tons of blues rock people who are friends who I would still like to continue collaborate with. I got to collaborate with Joe Lewis Walker on my CD. I did that duet with him. That was amazing.”

The first guitar a guitarist owns is never forgotten.  I asked Dave what his first guitar was and if he still owns it.

“Great question! The first guitar I ever owned was a cheap K-Mart guitar. I don’t even remember the name of it. It self-destructed after a week. Literally, it did! After that, I used to borrow my friends guitars. In fact, I was playing piano at the time, still. I’d be playing piano in the band and dream about playing guitar. I’d like, ‘Hey, let me borrow your guitar for a second’ and I’d noodle around on it. The first guitar after that was a Sekova = a Korean guitar. It was a Les Paul copy. I had no money. I was the son of a single musician parent. I begged my dad to buy me a guitar. Finally, a year later he took me to a music store and I bought a white Les Paul – which I still have – and Les Paul wound up signing it. So my first real guitar was a white Les Paul. I don’t remember the year of it off the top of my head.”

And how did Fields wind up playing a Fender?

“Well, I’ll tell you, first of all, most Les Paul’s are too heavy for me. I just can’t deal with how heavy they are. As I explored other guitars there were things I liked about the Strats. What I’ve come to now is I’ve decided that I don’t even want to buy a guitar off the shelf.  I’ve just been playing custom guitars because I know exactly what I want in guitars.

“Basically, with the guitar I’m playing now – which is on the cover of Detonation – is a Fender style guitar. However, it’s kind of a hybrid between a Gibson and a Strat – a Fender. For example, the body is mahogany and maple, just like a Les Paul – like a maple top Les Paul. And even though the neck is solid maple like a Strat, it feels like a Gibson because it has a flat radius which means there’s no curve to the fret board. It’s completely flat which, is something that Fender doesn’t do. It’s something that I always liked. That’s what I loved about Gibson and it’s a really thin neck – like an old Stratocaster. So it’s really a hybrid of both things.

“I always tinker with my guitars and my amps. It took me all this time to finally realize this is exactly how I always want my guitars all be. Warmuth made the body, which is a custom shop out of Oregon and this company called ‘Musikraft’ in New Jersey built the neck for me. They’re building me another one, I liked it that much. I’ve got to have two of everything in case something breaks, unfortunately.”

When I asked Fields how many guitars he owned, I was a little surprised by the answer he gave me.

“Let me clarify this by saying I play electric guitar, acoustic guitar, a little bit of classical guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, ukulele, banjo, lap steel, and bass as well as upright bass. So, I have a lot of stringed instruments and living in an apartment in New York City, I’ve got a have storage space filled with them!  But I have close to thirty if not more. But, truthfully, I’m really considering selling all my guitars I don’t play anymore because I really just want to play my custom guitars because I know what I want and the other ones I can’t play anymore. They just don’t feel right to me.”

Every serious guitarist has an idea of what they consider the holy grail of guitars to be. Dave Fields is no different.

“Yeah, there is a holy grail of guitars I’d like to own. It would be one I would like to build to my specifications. It would be a one piece maple neck Strat – with super jumbo frets, flat radius, and the body would be chambered mahogany - which means that they put holes in it so that it’s lighter – with quilted maple and would want it painted either a blue jean dye or if they could do a gold dye with gold glitter in it. I would deck it out with all the pick-ups I would want in it. It would only run me $1,500 – that’s it!”

As for what’s on the docket for the next year and planned for the next five years, Dave shared, “As I said before, I’m going to Norway in two weeks.  Between now and then I’ve got a bunch of dates here in the New York City area that I’m playing – like in New Jersey, here in the city and Westchester. Next year we’re doing a tour through the east coast. I’m scheduled to do a couple of festivals next year.

“My five year plan is to connect with so many people. One thing that I love about being a musician is the opportunity to meet so many amazing people who love music. I get to see them, help them put a smile on their face and make them feel better. It’s really rewarding for me to entertain people. There’s nothing more exciting and more fun for me than to strap on my guitar, plug into the amp and just play for people. I get so worked up and fired up!”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Mr. Fields to think ahead to when he’s stepped off the stage for the final time and has gone to that great gig in the sky. What does he hope that his legacy will be and how does he want to be remembered?

“I would like to be remembered as somebody who brought joy to this world and made people feel good – feel happy; brought happiness to people. I hope that my music touched and made their life better or made them not feel alone in this world.”

Mark Farner

Posted July, 2011

markfarner1aAs I’ve written several times before in other interviews and pieces, when I was a teenager, I played a mean air guitar while accompanied by some of the best rock and roll to come across my stereo.  One of my favorite tunes to play some of my best air guitar to was Grand Funk Railroad’s, We’re An American Band.

My sweet rock star, guitar god poses and moves were often best struck to that tune as a teen.  For those of you who are wondering, I refuse to answer if those same poses and moves are still being struck at my tender age of 50 – something. A guy’s gotta maintain a certain level of dignity.

When the opportunity presented itself to interview the driving force behind those aforementioned moves, Mark Farner, I gently laid down my air guitar and replied with a resounding yes.

Farner called me from his home in Michigan where he and his wife share the responsibility of caring for their son, Jesse, who was severely injured in an accidental fall.  Despite the very serious circumstances of his son’s condition, Mark’s chooses to maintain a positive, sunny disposition.  This is evident in his response to my typical phone greeting of, “How are you doing?”

He has me laughing with his reply, “I’m doin’ but I’m not mildewin’!”

Mark then slightly cracks open the door into the Farner household by sharing, “I’m so busy here at home. I’m ‘handicapping’ the house for my son. I didn’t know if you knew what happened to our youngest boy.  He broke his neck last July and he’s quadriplegic. So, we’ve had to revamp our home. We had to take all the carpet out because he’s a vent patient, too. Not only is he quadriplegic, it takes electricity to keep this boy alive.  But we’re praying for a miracle.  The doctors say he’s stuck where he’s at and to not expect any better but we do.

“We feed him fresh juice and my wife is into all the alternative medicines. He’s only on a blood thinner.  He’s doing a whole lot better because he’s got a girlfriend in his life now. Yeah, man! It’s like a miracle there!  That’s an answer to prayer.

“Anyway, I’m used up. When I’m home, you can’t imagine how busy I am.”

I complimented him as to his selflessness in attending to the needs of his son in a day when we read about parents accused of abandoning or, worse, killing their own children.  Farner responds with continued positive perspective that is founded on a faith that might blow some peoples minds.

“It’s spiritual growth and whatever it takes, that’s really to our benefit to allow it to be and to accept it. That’s where I think that I’m at with it. I have seen other things – other than what people normally see.  I’ve seen – in the supernatural  realm – I know of this realm – I haven’t seen the angels that stand on either side of me but people in three different states at three different times, of course, have seen them and identified them to-the-t!”

Farner then quotes what the people in the three different states have told him.

“‘Ten feet tall.  One has his hand on your left shoulder, the other one has his hand on your right shoulder and they’re just lookin’ out!  They’ve just got you.  They’ve got you!’  So, I’m thinkin’ that’s where I’m feeling that. Something besides what I feel when I looked up into the heavens.  Now I look into Heaven because that’s where Heaven is.  The kingdom is within. That’s what it says in Luke. That’s where love is. That’s who I really am. The original blueprint is down there. It has been obstructed by a few events.  I go back and recoil, and retreat and go back. But I’m coming back out because that’s what love does – coming out. I’m going in and it’s coming out!”

We began chatting about more carnal things such as Farner’s participation in this summer’s Hippiefest tour along with rock legends, Dave Mason, the Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere, Gary Wright and Rick Derringer.  I asked Mark if this the first time he has been involved with the show.

“I worked with Hippiefest for a few dates – oh, man! – when they first got started a few years ago. But I haven’t been back out because I’ve been doing other things, of course.  This year, it happened to line up with the time they wanted me for. I hadn’t been booked yet. We worked it out and I’m glad to be on there with them.”

With a stellar roster like Derringer, Wright, Cavaliere and Mason, I asked if he had ever worked with any of these giants before.

“I worked with all those guys before. Gary – I didn’t work with him. When he jammed – he came out to one of the rehearsals when we were in Vancouver rehearsing with Ringo’s band.”

Farner then goes on to share what fans can expect to hear from him at the Hippiefest shows.

“It’s gonna rock, I know that!  They’re gonna hear the hits (from his Grand Funk Railroad days). That’s what the people want to hear – mainly the hits but there might be a couple of three piece numbers thrown in there because people want to hear that, too.”

While the subject of GFR came up, I went ahead and asked Mark the obvious question that I know he’s been asked at least ten thousand times: Are there any plans at all for any kind of temporary reunion between him and his former GFR band mates for a few shows?

“Randy, I’ll tell ya, I’ve been tryin’ to do that very thing for a number of years but they’re just – it’s like putting a man and wife back together that got a divorce. You know, try that once and see how far you get with that!  That’s kinda like what it is.  That’s really how it is putting a band back together.

“But, I am willing and I have made it known to those guys.  In fact, even though I’m not an officer in the corporation because they threw me out in ’98, I still sit in on a phone call of the corporate board meeting. Every once in a while I’ll say something. Like, last time I said, ‘While we’re all three still sucking air, why don’t we give the fans what neither one of us can do separately – give them Grand Funk Railroad.’

“Brewer said, ‘Put something together and bring it back to us after we get done touring in the fall.’”  Farner laughs and then adds – with just a little bit of sarcasm, “So, I’m going to do that. I’m going to run right out and do that since I have all this time on my hands.  But that’s where it is.  I’m willing but only for the sake of the fans, brother. I’m telling you, Randy, I am a fan – I wanted to see the Beatles get back together while they were all still on the earth at the same time.  What a magnificent thing that would have been and I missed it!  I thought that’s how bad I wanted it.

“From the fans viewpoint, there are some fanatics who want to see Grand Funk. They don’t care about the internal bickering or anything, they just want to see the band.  For that purpose – for the fan – for the sake of that loyal fan – I would go out there and not pay any attention to the other stuff that’s going on and just rock the crap out of it.”

Acknowledging the financial rewards of such a reunion, Farner adds, “Wouldn’t they be doing the corporation a better service by making as much money as they could?  I’m just a minority shareholder over here.”  He concludes with a laugh.

So, until the fan-demanded GFR reunion takes place, I wondered if Mark has any other collaboration or solo projects in the works in the mean time.

“Yes, a matter of fact, Ronnie Montrose, Eric St. Holmes, Pat Travers and myself just did a gig in St. Louis as The Guitar Godz of the Seventies. That’s ‘g-o-d-z’ of the seventies – and it came off.  People showed up and we rocked them.  Prior to that show, I had been with Pat Travers down in Tallahassee shooting a 3D video – the first 3D rock video ever shot – Panasonic actually sponsored it and supplied all the gear. It’s awesome!

“There’s only a few cable satellite channels that carries 3D content but they are looking for content because 3D – by next Christmas – everybody will have a 3D iPhone.  3D is coming on!  You’ll have a screen that’s 3D without glasses. You hold it right there in  your hand and see 3D! I’ve got one already on a camera and it works great – it actually does it!  When they come out with a TV that will do that, then they’ve got something.  Right now, you’ve got to have the glasses but, even with the glasses, it’s awesome, man!  To be in a rock concert?  You standing right with these guys!”

Bringing it back to the “Guitar Godz” concept, Mark adds, “We’re definitely going to bring that show to more locations. And, as far as working with Pat . . . he came up with me and did Closer To Home  and a few of my songs at a concert in Tallahassee at a club down there where we taped the whole thing in 3D with the audience.

“That (Guitar Godz) is a strong possibility because Pat’s coming up to my place to write.  He know that I can’t get out from here because I’m strapped but I can take a few hours here and there and he can be there and we’ll write.  We’ve already got a spark and ‘iron sharpens iron’.  That’s one of our songs already and that’s going to rock.  And that boy is playing some slide! Woo, man!”

Of all the questions and interest in you/your work, what would be the one thing that you feel has been least covered and understood about you, your work and your legacy?

“I believe it’s the sincerity to which I am committed. It’s been the same the whole time but it’s been obscured in the early years by different things, events, consequences, recoveries, collisions – life goes on.  But, what’s driving me is love. I gave myself to love. Every day that I stay in the bones, love becomes more a part of me. It becomes bigger because it’s erasing that hurt and the things that shove me back into the hole that I was buried in. But that is emerging, coming out of me and emerging into who I am. I believe, because I gave myself to love, love has given itself to me and that I might just flip out of these bones without even knowin’ it - that’s how good it is . . .” and, with another chuckle, he reiterates, “. . . without even knowin’ it! Just to the next stage. Not bad!” Mark then cackles out loud at the thought of the beauty of that realization.

As I have with many other icons, I asked Mark what negative changes, culturally and within the music business, he sees between now and the sixties and seventies.

“Generally speaking, it’s the shock value that one has to go for or, like when Kiss came out and dressed up and became bigger than life – dimensional.  They added more to it.  It was a theatrical performance with fireworks and everything. Now, to see what live shows are about, to see the culture of music reflects a ‘debt consciousness’.  We’re in debt to something. The whole move is based upon ‘debt’.

“What influenced back in the day, making music, was I had a DJ in my local town who went to California. He was in L.A. for a week and he came back. He said, ‘This is what I heard. Listen to this!’ and he spun Deep Purple’s Hush and Flint, Michigan, fell in love with Deep Purple and Hush, dude! That’s how music got around. That is no longer possible since 1995 because the FCC had the 7/7/7 rule which limited you to the ownership of 7 AM, 7 FM and 7 television stations.

“Until 1995, the culture – what we saw – was pretty much based on fact and actual news reporting and people who weren’t paid off to say certain things and to make things appear as though they were but they’re really not. That’s what’s going on now. You used to have a moral conscience that governed our cultural and now what governs our culture is the influence of distinct, utter – you talk about the devil, this is evil. This is evil.  There’s no devil because, in my opinion, when Christ came out of the earth with the keys to the kingdom of Hell and of death, that just showed – not only the resurrection, the power of the resurrection – it showed unconditional love because He redeemed his brother, Lucifer’s, soul and now holds the keys that Lucifer once held. We’re ‘in’ because of that.

“That’s the Jesus I know and these people that used to have a moral conscience to govern that and to instill morality in our children have lost the grip to all the fantasies – the computer generated bull*** they see on the television. It’s not good. It’s in the hands of sick men who have never had to earn anything. They don’t have a sense of value. It’s skewed and they’re hell-bent on taking over the world – this one world order, new world order, Global baloney B.S. and, really, nobody is stopping them.

“Music had a chance before they had a grip on us. Now, it’s a stranglehold.  Clear Channel owns everything and Live Nation went in and bought up all these promoters, all their contracts with all the amphitheaters in all the major cities.  You can’t go in and play a market unless you play at Live Nation and if Live Nation ain’t playin’ you, you’re not going to play that city and that is B.S.!”

It’s at this juncture of his comments that Farner injects his political and economic views that aren’t always popular with folks but he puts them out there anyway.

“It’s in the hands of Mr. Money and Mr. Money happens to be the European families who own the Federal Reserve and have no patriotic interest in the United States of America. Their interest is in destroying the potential for freedom because we were getting strong with our factories. We were getting debt free. We were getting towards that when they pulled the rug out from beneath us. We were getting to be a strong nation but they control us by the issuance of our currency. The fact that they are all Jewish families is not coincidental and the fact that we are kicking the crap out of Palestinians in Afghanistan and in Iraq and they’re rattling the saber to go into Iran.  It’s them in control by virtue of television to confuse people and put us in a state of disinformation and we base our opinions on B.S.  Well, what does that say about our opinions?

“Man is such an egomaniac anyway, we believe what we believe is true. We’ve been lied to so much, we believe it’s true. Really, the acting out before us shows selfishness. As long as this evil rules – and that’s what it’s going to do to every country that it issues currency to – that country will become ruined.

“It’s just like following Rome. You’re going to follow that?  You’re going to follow Rome. You’re going to follow that you’re going to follow the false god because those guys are the ‘Wizards of Oz’. They’ve got the big levers. They’ve got the buttons and the whistles in their hands but they’re hiding behind a very expensive curtain.

“The internet has helped expose who these rats are.  They’re just insane with the lust for power. It’s not about money. If you own the machine that prints money – just by virtue of the scenery on a hundred dollar bill and what I have to do to earn it and what it’s face value is and what it costs them to print it – are you kidding me? How are you ever going to overcome that debt and they charge you interest to borrow some of it! Unbelievable!”

One may not agree with Mark Farner’s view of all things political and economic but one thing is for certain: You’ll know exactly where he stands when you discuss them with him.

And what Farner view as being the biggest positive changes in the music industry since the 60’s/70’s?

“The positive is there are a lot of people coming to things like that Guitar Godz show – the first 20 rows were all young people – to the shows where I’m playing music – I don’t know if it’s because of Guitar Hero or what but there’s a lot of kids coming. They want to shake your hand. They want an autograph. That’s great. I love that because they’re gettin’ a grip on it. They’re fed up with this other stuff. They don’t want to hear the negative point of view. They want to hear the hope. I’ve always stayed with the lighter side but I’ve always been political, if I felt it, in my writing and I’ve been spiritual at times. I stay true to my heart and that’s what the young people want – somebody that is staying true to their heart and is saying what they have instinctive for. That you can’t deny.

“We are people. We’re men. We have needs. The women have needs.  We need balance. The problem is balance. It’s a man’s world and how does feminine energy – how do we let it in?  How do we let it balance us?  If we don’t, these men are going to get us all killed!” Farner concludes, laughing.

“My Cherokee blood is to esteem my woman to be equal with myself. How could you love somebody with all your heart unless you did?”

One thing that is apparent in the music world is that what we all refer to as “classic rock” is still incredibly popular as evidenced in its inclusion in movies, commercials and video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.  Also, acts like McCartney, the Stones and Springsteen are still clocking in record revenues and attendance records. I asked Farner why he thought it was that classic rock still has the “legs” that it does.

“The groove.  I mean, you can flash your guitar and rip the neck off of it and it’s fine. But there is a groove and rock and roll has a groove to dance to. It has a groove to set your soul to – if the words are right – and take you in that direction. You have a natural inclination to follow the groove because the groove is made out of love. This other stuff that masquerades as rock and roll, they’ve missed the whole groove. It’s got all the flash and the audience has bought the marketing scheme or scam, whatever. It doesn’t fulfill them. They’ve got to have the groove and, my friend, we gotta to have the groove. That’s what sets our certain music apart – it’s got a groove to it. I fit right in there.”

To that point, I asked Mark if he felt if any of the new music had a message that compelled people to action like it did in the sixties and seventies.

“I don’t listen to the radio enough to give you an answer. I really don’t listen to the radio at all. I only hear what my son, Jesse, is playing.  It’s in the house because he’s in the house and I can’t deny him his music because it overshadows the sounds of that vent. It’s a noisy S.O.B., it really is. But that’s what I hear. I don’t know the group names. I’m not in an out of that room enough to stay on a song to say, ‘Oh, who’s that?’  I’m trying to keep my mind clear too, Randy, so that I can stay open to ‘incoming’.

What is coming to your town is this former member the American Band, Grand Funk Railroad, to help you “party it down” during the Hippefest Tour next month and concluding in early September.  You can find out when and where it stops near you by clicking here.  You can keep up with Mark Farner and how things are progressing for his son, Jesse, by visiting www.markfarner.com and signing up for Mark’s free newsletter.

Sully Erna, Lzzy Hale and Mike Mushok Mass Chaos Interview

Posted April, 2012

lzzy2Metal fans across the fruited plains are amped up over the recent announcement by Staind, Godsmack and Halestorm that they have joined forces for a tour labeled Mass Chaos 2012.  In the spirit of the band’s constant efforts to stay close to their legions of fans, the name of the tour is the result of the bands engaging the help those fans.

As the intensity of interest in the tour increased in the fan and press communities, there came with it an overwhelming number of interview requests with various members of the bands.  So much so that there management couldn’t possibly accommodate them all individually.  With the Solomon-like wisdom, they set up a conference call between various members of the rock journalist community and Mike Mushok of Staind (see the earlier Boomerocity interview with Mike here), Sully Erna of Godsmack and Lzzy Hale of Halestorm.

Because I like to think of myself as a gentleman, I’ll share with you the questions that were asked of the always beautiful Lzzy Hale.  Though she has the least seniority when it comes to the music business, she is quite comfortable with handling boneheaded journalists like me.  I was quite impressed with the ease in which she handled the questioning.

For instance, Ms. Hale was asked what is a girl to do with a male dominated band and yet another tour dominated by males.

“What's a girl to do? Well, I kind of have a different view of all of that than I think many of my female counterparts. I freaking love being a girl on an all guy bill! It's an honor to be on a bill like this. I mean, it's great. You feel like a little sister in rock almost. You've got these big brothers around you. You learn a helluva lot and you stick out like a sore thumb. I love it! I think I've always taken the positive route when it comes to being a lone woman on a tour dominated by dudes.”

When asked if she was star-struck while in the company of the choir boys from Staind and Godsmack, Lzzy was quite the skilled diplomat.

“You know, there definitely has been the occasion. I am a girl after all and being surrounded by such handsome men on nearly a daily basis, it's a great position to be in! Ha! Anyway, it's great, man. I mean, to think, I think that, again, you learn so much from all these people and the fact that both of these guys, Staind and Godsmack, have had such huge careers and have such experience on the road. 

“I think that to me I'm really looking forward to just watching and listening, and just being completely put in my place, because it seems like every time I think, ‘Well, you know what? I've got this. I'm the boss.’ And then you play a tour like this and you're like, ‘Man, I've got to practice.’

“So, I am star struck. I’m amazed every night at what there is to learn from these great bands. I've also had the amazing privilege to open for some of my classic idol such as Megadeth, Black Sabbath with Dio, Alice Cooper. And they definitely leave me speechless. I'm going to be talking with Pat Benatar soon, too. It's like, ‘Man, what do I say to these people?’ Mike and I go way back, and today, I'm talkin’ to Sully on the phone! Ha!  Hopefully, he likes me in person.”

Last year Halestorm released a CD of covers entitled ReAniMate and the question was asked if Lzzy planned on the band performing anything from the album during Mass Chaos.

“ As far as our cover EP, ReAniMate, goes . . .  we loved running the gamut and covering Beatles, Skid Row, Guns and Roses, Temple of the Dog, and Heart to Lady Gaga. They all had reasons for being chosen. The Beatles cover was the first song that the guys in my band and I ever jammed to, just to kind of feel each other out when we first met. And the Heart one was my go-to karaoke song.

“We used to crash some karaoke bars every now and then.  Now I don't voluntarily, but my guys will sometimes volunteer me and I'm like, ‘Really, guys?’ So, it was the deal, that if I did the song on the EP, they won’t make me do it twenty times at karaoke! Ha! Ha! But coming on this tour, we're probably not. We might throw in one or two depending on the show, but considering the new album is dropping, we're going to be playing most of our new stuff!”

While Lzzy was on the subject of Halestorm’s upcoming CD, Strange Case of (landing on May 1st), a few questions were thrown at her about it – starting with finding out what aspects of the new release Ms. Hale is most excited about.

“Everything! I'm so proud of this record. I mean, when we made our first record, it's our first record so we weren't really sure what we were doing and we weren't sure who would grab on to it  and who we were actually going to be singing to. So, with this record, we had just a better concept of our fans and a lot of what we did was inspired by them and the feeling that we got during our live shows.

“Also, the music is bridging the gap between what we do live and what we can do in the studio. This was lost on our last record, so for the people that are geeks about this stuff, we recorded drums to two inch tape and we hashed out most of the stuff - just the four of us sitting in a room as a band. So, it's a nice step up from the last record! There more energy and also more intimacy. You're going to be hearing and tasting a lot of different sides of Halestorm on this record. I'm excited about what people are gonna think!”

Word is around that the first song written for Strange was the tune Love Bites. The question was asked if that song set the tone for the new record.

“Well, yes, Love Bites, our newest single, yes that was the first song that we wrote and the first song that we recorded for the new record. That particular song was directly inspired by the cover Slave to the Grind by Skid Row that we put out a couple months ago. When we recorded it we discovered that, wow, we can actually do a song at this tempo. We should write one like this. So, we ended recording Love Bites (So Do I).

“You have to realize that we literally got off tour, had 24 hours to pack, and then got on a plane to L.A., were in the studio the next day recording this song. We got to record drums for it at Sunset Sound in the Van Halen room! It sounds amazing, but I don't know, it definitely set the tone for the record because we were barely off tour.  The amps were still ringing in our ears. So, there's a lot of energy that we captured while we were still kind of in that tour mode.

“So, really that one and then the first eight songs that we recorded to be considered for the record were very aggressive and probably the most aggressive that we've ever done and they're very risk heavy and I'm screaming my head off.  It's funny because then what ended up happening halfway through was I ended up writing some of the most intimate and personal songs that I've ever written, and I was like, ‘Wow! What a turn!’

“So, the finished product ended up being this record that has a very strange duality to it and showing literally all sides of myself. But, yeah, definitely Loves Bites gave us the road map for keeping that sort of live, human element throughout this record.”

And how would Lzzy describe the sound of Strange?

“Wow! Well, this new record was a lot of fun to make and it kind of came together - it's us really not boxing ourselves in. On our last record, we paid so much attention - we were trying really hard to make sure everything is consistent, that there was like, a theme. Everything was on 10. With this new one, we just kind of let it be what it was going to be. 

“It's extremely flattering that Revolver said it is the most anticipated or they consider it one of the most anticipated, because the anticipation is killing me, because I want it to be out there now! But, I mean, definitely the sound on this record is a lot more ‘human’ than the last record. I decided to be brave on this record and go to all extremes.”

Lzzy was asked if Strange contains musical leftovers from the previous album or even older tunes that were never recorded. 

“It's kind of all of the above, because it's not necessarily the same songs from anything that was considered for last record. Basically that entire time is kind of cut off and we started anew. However, there were a lot of riffs and small parts that were written around that time that we were incorporating into some of these new songs. 

“We were listening to a lot of Lamb of God at that time and my guitar player, Joe, had this amazing riff and I kind of turned to him like, ‘Do you want to do something strange?’ I wanted to kind of harness my inner James Hetfield for the bridge/breakdown, and ranted some crazy stuff over his riff.

“With Love Bites (So Do I) we're trying to do something different that would stick out and on the radio and by us playing it atsully1 that Alamo Dome show and on that tour gave us the confidence to go for it. So, you know what? We can thank you guys for enabling us to do get riskier!” 

Shifting attention to Sully Erna, he was asked for his thoughts about Staind and working with them – especially Mushok - on the Mass Chaos tour. He quickly broke the ice with his characteristic humor.

“Yeah, our paths cross way too often. I can't stand any of these guys. It hasn't been long enough.”  Then, immediately shifting into a relatively more serious mode, added, “No, it's good. Listen, we're New England brothers, man, and we've been playing together since even before we were signed. 

“I know we were on album number two . . . but, yeah, and we had a great time. It was very cool. I mean, the guys get along great and me and Mike this time did a Town Press together and we had a blast together. So, I'm just anticipating it's going to a really fun tour. I don't see any problems.” 

When asked how he shifts emotionally from one tune to the next, Sully replied, “I don't know. I haven't really thought about that. I guess it depends if I'm going from Godsmack to the solo stuff and it's a completely different world.  But within Godsmack genre, it's all kind of the same. I don't know. I mean, the band's fairly aggressive and loud and raw and so, I mean, it's pretty easy to stay there. But switching from Godsmack to the solo stuff, if that's what you mean, yeah, I need to kind of separate the two for sure, because one's very different from the other, but I need balance to both.

“So, I mean, I need to be one to be the other and so I think the stuff I do as Sully Erna is the more serene kind of humble stuff and then Godsmack is obviously for Godsmack. And so, I don't know, there's really no set preparation I do. It is what it is. I just can't blend the two together. I couldn't do a bunch of Godsmack songs and then switch right into solo stuff; it wouldn't work. But I don't, like, sit Indian style and float in the air, if that's what you mean.” 

May 15th will see the release of Godsmack’s live album, Live and Inspired, so Sully chatted up the album as well as what fans can expect from their lives shows during the Mass Chaos tour.  

“Well, we're not supporting, like, a new studio record, but . . . we're doing this live CD. I think that's what we've been known for is the live show. And so it's nice to capture that finally and put together this CD.

“It's a live record from Detroit, Rock City, that we thought it was just kind of a very exceptional show for us. We had a really good show. We were recording a lot on that tour. We actually recorded the whole tour. We were going to do a compilation, so like this song was from Vegas, a song from Chicago, some from Dallas, but I don't know, the more we looked in this Detroit show and the more, we just kind of figured out that it was just, it was a really good show for us and it's always a great audience, as any rock band will tell you, playing there. It's just a special kind of fan base that they have there. They live up to their reputation. They're a great rock audience. And so that's where the record has been recorded from.”

About the tour shows, Erna adds, “I think we just have the mentality of going out for, like, kind of the greatest hits tour out of that supporting new music. So, we're just going to put together a really fun set. Obviously we'll have the drum battle that me and Shannon do and we're just going to try to put together the best songs we can, the most energetic songs that we can, and stuff that we feel is going to be the most interactive for the audience.

“So, this is actually kind of a vacation for us a lot in the sense there's no real hard work behind prepping for a new record and all that stuff. This is kind of ‘let loose and have fun with it’.”

While talking about what Godsmack fans can expect during the Mass Chaos tour, Sully shared what it’s like working with the band’s drummer, Shannon Larkin, and what he brings to the band.

“I'm probably his biggest cheerleader. I've known Shannon since 1986, '87, somewhere around there. We met when we were both drumming in different bands and we did a bunch of shows together and probably he was the first and only guy since I've seen that made my jaw hit the floor when I watched him play. And if you've seen Shannon, you know what I mean. He's the most animated - he's just amazing. Like, to me, he's probably the showman drummer I've ever seen and watched.

“He's got a great energy about him. He's a really super great guy. He's got a great heart. He's real considerate. But on stage he's a monster; he's so not what he is offstage than what he is onstage, but he's been one of my idols and I'm really proud and grateful to have him in this band. He was my first choice and he wasn't available when I first reached out to him when I started the band, and then years later when we decided to let go of our drummer (Tommy Stewart), I reached out to him just one more time, and he had just happened to leave his band and he was going to give it up. I mean, he was pretty much hanging it up. Shannon's a great guy, man. He's a great drummer and, I don't know, I can't say enough about him.”

Before Mike Mushok joins the conversation, Sully’s asked when a new Godsmack studio album will be coming out.

“We're hoping for 2013. We just started listening to some ideas. It's very, very, very early in that stage, so we're not sure yet, but we are going to shoot for 2013 sometime.”

Mushok and Erna were asked if a tour such as the Mass Chaos tour is an economic necessity in order to survive.  Mike responded first by saying, “I mean, my opinion of it is it's something we've always tried to do. I know whenever we try to put through - we basically put through the best package we can. And I think in this economy it's tough for people to have extra money to be able to go to a show. It's kind of like a little bit of a luxury. So, I mean, the more bang for the buck you can give them, I think the more likely chance you have of getting people there and, hopefully, give them the most value for the dollars. So, that was really the idea for us and we had this record and we were looking to who we could play with and Godsmack was like, ‘That would be fantastic if those guys wanted to do it.’ So, we went and put it together.”

Sully injected, “Yeah. You know what? It's really not that different than how it used to be back in the day anyways. I mean, there was always at least two strong bands that went out and obviously a third or a fourth, even back in the '80's when it was Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe or whatever. So I don't think this is really that uncommon. I think that question is maybe more geared towards festivals where it takes seven, eight bands to fill up an amphitheater or whatever.”

When you put monster talent together like is being done for this tour, it’s not unusual for there to be hard-fought battles as to opens and closes the shows let alone any on-stage collaboration. Both men address both of these very forthrightly and their comments betray the true collaborative spirit that is the foundation of this tour.

Mike comments first by saying, “I mean there was talk about swapping back and forth, but I have no problem with Godsmack closing the show at the end of the night. I think, like you said, Sully, you guys do your drum thing and we kind of just go out there and play our songs. So, we'll play the same amount of time, the same productions, so as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't really matter to me. So, and I'd love to do a collaboration thing.”

Sully adds, “Yeah. I'm the same, man. I feel like either band could close. I mean, both bands are strong; all three bands are strong. The whole line-up is great. Any single one of these bands could go on first, second, or third; it wouldn't matter. I mean, the whole package is really strong and I'm really excited about it.

“As far as collaborating, me and Mike have spoken about it. We're going to try to figure out a handful of songs that a bunch of us could jump up and just have some fun with a band of the night, which we're all about. And so we don't know what those are yet, but we're definitely going to consider it and we're going to try to put something together that just tops the night off and becomes fun for everybody.”

Both Staind and Godsmack were formed in 1995. When Mike and Sully were asked what they think are the reasons for such longevity in such a brutal and fickle business, Sully deferred to Mike to provide the answer.

“You know, look, honestly I think that we, and obviously I think Godsmack is going to make this a great tour, Sully and Halestorm, too. I know you guys have some great fans. But, I mean, look, obviously I think all three of us know that if it wasn't for the fans, we wouldn't be here. They allow us to do this. Those are the ones that buy a ticket, come to the show, support the bands, and, I mean, that's why we're still around obviously. We do our best to write the best music we can. I know Lzzy and Sully do also and you try to put out the best product that you can and you hope that people like it and want to listen to it and be a part of it. So, we've been fortunate so far and, hopefully, we can continue.”

Mushok was asked his thoughts about playing with Godsmack.  His answer reflected what are obviously pleasant memories and a long held respect for Sully and the boys that dates back to the late 90’s.

“I remember hearing those guys locally on the radio. We were trying to get our stuff played, like right around the same time, and, I mean, our first, I think we played a Warped tour, like on the local stage together. I think we did some show in Springfield together, and then kind of didn't really see each other until . . . we were just about to put out our second record.  Theirs had just come out, and we did a tour together in 2000, and really kind of became good friends.

mushok1“In fact, Sully, we stayed in touch for a bunch of years after that and we kind of lost track of each other and I came to this opportunity again to play together. And as I said earlier, I mean, I just thought it was a great way to kind of reunite with these guys and, I mean, I think that between all the bands on there, you're definitely going to have heard some of the songs that are played during the evening before. So, it should be fun.”

Since Mike reached back to the band’s beginning, it begged the question of what the differences are between the Staind of 1995 and today’s band.

“Well, we have a drummer now; that's one big difference. Look, I think what we tried to do on this record is kind of come back to what Staind of '99 was. I mean, that was really the idea behind it, to kind of get a little more aggressive and really the reason why we started the band was kind of play more aggressive music. We kind of went on this journey and I think the last record you lose the progress; really kind of took us as far away from that and we could have gotten almost. And, look, I enjoy the journey. I love some of the songs on the last record, but I think after kind of completing that, we said, "Let's kind of come back to why we started the band," and that's really what the idea was behind the album.”                  

With a nod to the successful solo career of his band mate, Aaron Lewis, Mike adds, “And, look, obviously now Aaron has a solo thing going on, so that kind of ties up his time, so it makes it a little more difficult to get all the time we need for Staind. So, those are really the big differences.”

Mike mentioned drummers in the band.  Coincidentally, one topic of recent interest to Staind fans has been the addition to the band of drummer, Sal Giancarelli, who took the place of Jon Wysocki. Mushok was asked for his view of Sal’s contribution to the band.

“Well, look, Sal has been with the band since '99 and previous to that he was in bands . . . that we played gigs with. So, we always knew he was a great drummer and even during his career as being a drum tech, there's been a few times along the way that he had other bands that he tried to pursue a career in music, which he always wanted to do, and used being able to be a drum tech as a way of getting out there and kind of getting some of his stuff out there.

“And even along the way, I mean, there was a couple shows where John was sick; I mean, it wasn't the first time Sal played with us. He's sat in before on one tour, I think, specifically that he played a couple of shows. So, look, we've always known that he was a great drummer and, when it came time, it just seemed like the perfect fit to go from behind the drums to playing them, because he knew all the material and we knew he could more than handle it.

“Personality-wise, I mean, he's the same guy. We had this thing that we joked about on our website, these webisodes, where we made him seem like this big egotistical guy and wanted to name the band after him, so it was all a joke. I mean, Sal's the most quiet, down-to-earth guy you'll ever meet, and he hasn't changed one bit. And that's another reason why, sometimes when you introduce someone else, it's a whole other personality. We knew his personality. He's been on the road with us for 12, 13 years so he was already part of the family.”

Mushok was asked about the reasoning and thought processes behind the naming of the recently released self-titled album.

“Yeah, what I was kind of alluding to early, we really wanted to kind of go back to where we started as far as a band, and I think with that was kind of why we ultimately decided on having it self-titled. I mean, there was talk about it being called, Seven, because this is the seventh record and that's what seven demons on the cover kind of represents is that. And so that's kind of how we incorporated it. But, no, it was really just about the fact that we kind of got back to playing with the music.”

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the three bands have created the Mass Chaos tour with lots of direct involvement from the fans.  When asked if the bands were going to be greeting fans at the gates or if the fans will be part of the show, Mushok jokingly said, “I think we're going to let the fans actually play the shows. I'm just going to be a lazy boy on the side actually and watch them play.”  Then, shifting into the serious gear added, “I think it's kind of cool that the way things are nowadays. You know, you can put this stuff out there and let some of the fans who are creative be a part of it, and some of the poster submissions, especially some of them were great, I thought. As far as the tour goes, I think we're just going to go out there and do our thing.”

Then, jumping on the whole concept of fans taking over, Sully added with a laugh, “But I love that idea. I think we should find fans that look like every band and just have one night where we kick back in lawn chairs and watch them go. That would be awesome, man!”

With these innovative, forward thinking musical giants, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sitting next to Sully, Mike and Lzzy, watching fans play tribute to the real thing.

You just never know.

Check your favorite band’s website for details about the Mass Chaos tour.

Staind     Godsmack     Halestorm

Ned Evett

Posted February, 2012

nedevett2Photo by Gregg RothIt’s pretty safe to say that anyone reading this right now knows someone who has been devastated by this meat grinder of an economy.  You may have been directly impacted by it yourself.  I know that I certainly have.

Fortunately, compared to many people I know and know about, I was only lightly affected.  I know of bankruptcies and divorces. I know of PhD’s having to get jobs at Home Depot in order to survive.  I’ve seen former managers in the high tech field wait tables in restaurants and think, “There but by the grace of God . . .” knowing that the person I saw didn’t deserve their lot in life. It just happened.

With that as an emotional backdrop, last month I reviewed an album (here) that resonated with me on so many levels. The album, Treehouse, is the latest album by singer, songwriter and fretless guitar hero, Ned Evett, and was written with huge chunks of his soul oozing from every note played and sung.  As I wrote in my review of Treehouse, “Ned pours out his tale of emotional, vocational, financial and marital devastation in this 14 song autobiographical CD”.

I knew when I listened to it that I had to talk with this man. Contacts were made and a phone interview arranged with the man behind those heart-rending songs.  Ned called me from his home in Nashville, Tennessee (aka, “the throne of God” – at least in the Patterson household it is).  As me made introductory small talk, I asked him what brought him to Nashville.

“When I moved here a year ago, I got a place out by Adrian Belew’s studio because of the record. The record took nine days to record but it really took a couple of months to get everything done.  I did demos and I wanted to be able to spend some time with Adrian prior to going into the studio. That’s one of the reasons I moved to Nashville.

“I really studied the music scene here to try and see where I fit on a performance level. There’s everything here – from the Ryman clear on down to The Family Wash in East Nashville.  The scenes are all pretty different – the real commercial country stuff - which isn’t my bag. Then you have the alternative country thing but it’s totally my bag. And, then, you have experimental guys like Reeves Gabrels who lives here. So does Adrian Belew, as you know, as well as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – it’s very diverse.”

His comments sparked an unplanned question in my mind. Nashville has the reputation among some in the music business – though the town is incredibly friendly – that it can be a bit tough to “fit in” – that, musically, it can be a bit cliquish.  I’m not a musician nor do I live there (unfortunately) so I have no idea if that rap is earned or not.  So, I asked Ned what his perception of the town was in that regard.

“I have not had a problem.  Like you said, people are very friendly- it’s part of the culture and that’s nice. On a musical level, I’ve found people to be very welcoming. It’s been pretty positive for me. I don’t know why that is. I mean, I’m certainly an outsider musically.  I mean, I play a strange guitar in a strange manner but I’m from here so I had reasons beyond the music business for moving here – just exploring and catching up with my roots. That helps.  Perhaps if I had moved here exclusively just to try to become a Nashville star or something, then I might have a different opinion of it.”

We veered off with small talk about Dallas area venues – especially the beautiful and historic Granada Theater where Evett has played before. Ned shared that “it was great!  I played there about a year ago. It was the first gig that I had been at – we were the support act for Joe Satriani and it was the first gig where people were actually hollering for us before we went on. People were, like, ‘Ned Triple Double! Ned Triple Double!’ (Triple Double being the name of Evett’s band).  That was really cool. It was a great night.

“Interestingly enough, the gig before that was the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. We had two days to make the drive to Dallas. That’s a pretty healthy drive.  Our van – which was a nice rig – broke down in New Mexico. We had to get it towed 200 miles. We had to rent another van. We literally pulled up into Dallas a half hour before we were to go on.  Every available second went into getting to that show.”

Though I usually ask about tour plans later in an interview, since we were talking about the Granada Theater, I went ahead and asked if there were any tour plans in support of Treehouse.

“Tour plans.  I don’t really have any tour plans, as such, to discuss yet. It’s still kind of early in the process. I don’t really have anything lined up. I love Texas, though. I love Austin. We played Houston at the House of Blues.  Stephen Robinson – who’s an astronaut – is a friend of mine and he gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the NASA Space Center – the whole band.  That was killer!  I can’t wait to come back to Texas.  Also, my manager is from Texas – League City. So, yeah, I really enjoy Texas.”

 When you get your copy of Treehouse (and for the life of me, I don’t know why you don’t already have it), you’ll notice on the cover of the enclosed booklet a picture of the most amazing tree house you’ve ever seen.  That tree house is the famous creation of one Horace Burgess in Crossville, Tennessee, and it will blow your mind.

While I am obviously very impressed with that amazing creation, I asked Ned the obvious question: Why the “Treehouse” theme?  I really wanted to know what the significance of a tree house was to him and the theme of the album.

“There’s a literal connection. Starting in 2009 I lived in a two bedroom apartment that was surrounded by 100 year old oak trees in Boise, Idaho. It was like living in a forest canopy at night when I opened up the windows and there would be squirrels chasing each other. It was tucked way off of Main Street and over a market. At night, the market closed and the traffic would die down and the sounds of the canopy would take over. I would just lie there, listening to that, dealing with a lot of stuff, obviously.

 “That apartment, for me, became my first independently operated space following living with someone for 20 years. It had all my things in it - all my guitars. I rekindled my sculpting – my visual art, as well. For the first time, I combined something that I never felt there was a place for it before in my life.

“So, the ‘treehouse’ was a combination of my artistic stuff and my music.  It always felt very tenuous in some ways but very alive. An actual tree house is that way, too. It’s attached to a living thing and that thing is always growing and, ultimately, that structure can’t last. It comes down when the tree dies or before. I liked the metaphor of the tree house – of impermanence.

“Prior to my period in ‘the tree house’ I had lost my job. I was able, briefly, as a contractor, to resuscitate and cobble together an income but it didn’t last. I was torpedoed a second time, and lost the tree house apartment. For a period of 5 months I was without a permanent address. I lived in my car for a couple of weeks, couch surfed. Then I was able to find a place to stay – I did a house-sitting gig for a while. I had a world tour with Joe Satriani lined up that took almost four months to complete. I had that on the calendar and I knew it was coming up so I basically sold all my possessions and put all of the things that I wanted to hold onto in storage. In October of that year (2010), I hit the road with him.

“When I came off the road, I lived in a hotel and then moved to Nashville on Valentine’s Day last year, came to Nashville, started to work with Adrian, recorded Treehouse and I’m still kind of catching up.”

In sharing common stories between us as to how life’s trials impacted us and our view of the world, Ned shared, “It’s actually very strange going through it. I went through a divorce after losing my job and divorce bestows a certain amount of surrender. I wound up surrendering in a way that a lot of people do. You let a lot of stuff slide and, coupled without having any sort of income it was pretty much it for me.

“People stepped in when they could. They helped out. There were situations where friends – as well intentioned as they were – what can they do? They can give encouragement but this recession was large enough that it really dwarfs people’s abilities to really help out.”

When artists create from their sense of trial and need, they often say that the process is – to use a word that is often overused - cathartic for them. I wondered if that was the case with Evett. He paused as he digested the question before very slowly and deliberately answering it.

“Yes, I definitely process emotion into my songwriting. I’ve been writing songs for a long time and that was not always the case. But, at some point, it became – with another overused phrase – a free source of therapy – and very healing. Once you tap into that, if you need that, it’s there for you – like a good friend.  But, then, on Treehouse, Mars River Delta 2128 is certainly not a process of anything I went through.

“So, songwriting is very broad and can be so expansive. You can write about anything. The sky’s the limit. But, then, sometimes, at the end of the day, writing what’s in your heart and what you’re going through is what gets done. On Treehouse, I certainly wrote about a lot of stuff.”

I asked Ned a question that I recently asked Mitch Ryder:  What has been the impact of this album on the relationships that the songs cover?

“The sad thing for me is a lot of people I wish would hear the record probably will never listen to it just because of having friends and falling out, things like that. That’s always hard. That’s always difficult. There’s not a lot of apologies going on in Treehouse and I’m not sure that I’ll ever get around to some of that. It’s not apologetic. I’m just chronicling my own take on it – my own emotional take.

“That being said, Just About Over This Time is told from the standpoint of the person slamming the door in your face and what they’re going through. I tell you what: If you had to have people sign a release to the songs about them, wow! I don’t think a lot of songs would ever get written.”

In my own experience, one of the results of the trials I went through was the conscious effort to relate better to everyone – my wife, my daughter, my family – to be a better friend.  I asked Ned if his experiences have had an impact on how he relates to people.

“I lived in a really small town for a long time. I moved to Idaho ten years ago to start a family, work a middle class job and pursue music and it all kind of went up in a fire when the job left. I left town when my support system collapsed. Coming here to make Treehouse took me out of that situation and has given me a lot of time to think about the damage. To be honest with you, I don’t know where a lot of that stands.

 “In a lot of ways, I’m still waiting to rebuild my life here. It’s a lot to let go of. I have family in Boise. I don’t want to just let go completely. So, how do you move on in your life and still keep hold of something that’s two thousand miles away? People move on with their lives. It’s like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity – a theory of emotional relativity, almost. Generally, people that are left behind have a different sense of things than those that shoot off – that are displaced – that economic displacement. The diaspora – that experience - is different than for the people that remain.”

Lest Evett be viewed as someone who feels that he’s the only one who has, and is, experiencing this economic and emotional roller coaster, he added, “As we both know, Randy, we’re talking about millions of people who have gone through this. The scope of it is big. I guess I didn’t realize that (before). That was one of my issues back in my scenario.”

Then, sharing more details about his own personal job loss, Ned said, “Most of the people I knew were unaffected by the economic downturn. They all had jobs. They were the ones that were selected to stay and I was not. I ran a commercial recording studio and I did commercial music and voice-over recording. It was a great gig.  I had started with this company and it had grown. I had been there for almost ten years.

“Their core customers just stopped spending money. HP and Intel, companies like that all stopped spending money for a long time and affected a lot of people – not just me, of course. But I had bought into ‘this company is family and we’ll all hunker down’ and I had started to hunker down with everybody else. And, then, when you’re laid off while you’re trying to marshal your resources to push the company forward, it’s very difficult.

“I had pursued my music career on the side for a long time. In a lot of ways, it was a compliment to my ‘day job’ – as part of the culture of the company.  I’m definitely a ‘fly-below-the-radar’ type of individual and I don’t ostentatiously shake my accomplishments in people’s faces but I had accomplished some things that were huge – that even the HP engineers and executives in Idaho were aware of.  I had been on PBS television in 2004, so I was on national television and getting some praise. I always tried to keep that separate from my day gig and the company itself started to embrace that and celebrating my work/life balance. That felt really good. I was reluctant to combine those things so, when I was laid off, it was really, really difficult and I lost a lot.

“It really sucks when you feel that you’re not one of those resources that people need to in order to move forward. Plus, when they laid me off, they actually told everyone in the company – and it’s a large company of 300 employees –that I had quit – that I had voluntarily left. This was made known to me months later. I had noticed a distance in people – being very confused as to why I was leaving. It baffled me because I had worked with these people, in some cases, eight years or so.  Finally, one of them said, ‘Why did you leave without saying goodbye?’ and I said that I was let go. I was let go the day before Thanksgiving and was out the door.

“They promised me contract work to kind of placate me. But, overall, I felt thrown out. Maybe they didn’t want to leave the impression that they were laying people off yet.  I was one of the first people laid off. Later, they (the layoffs) came fast and they came deep. To go from being embraced and being part of the culture, which I did not want to do but eventually succumbed to, to go from that to being laid off, it’s hard.

The comment was made that we can’t let life’s events be poison in our lives.  To that point, Ned added, “Honestly, the ‘poison’ kept me going for a long time. I’m coming to the end of it now. I can’t sustain it and, when I go back to draw upon it for some kind of strength or direction, I realize the futility of it.  Fortunately, I have other things in my life that are much more positiveI have a very monastic, artistic kind of life. I’m staring at my guitars and my art work. I’m making a video right now for Bend Me off of Treehouse – I’m a stop sculptor/animator, as well. I built all of the characters out of clay.  That’s all great.

“My timeline is moving forward. I can feel that and I’m thankful for that. I have some great people looking out for me like my manager, Sandra Prow, for one, who lives in London and Chris Kelly from Peavey, who lives in Austin; Carol Kaye, who’s Jeff Beck’s publicist in New York City and has been handling the record part quite well. I really like her.”

Shifting our conversation to his album, I asked Evett if he were to point to just one tune on Treehouse that he would want people to listen to, which one would it be?

“It’s funny, midway through the record, you have Bend Me and Bend Me is very positive. It’s at that point where you have the information and you’re willing to accept people telling you that it’s going to be okay. I think, in this world, that’s probably a very important point to reach. It’s like, ‘okay, I can’t just crater for the rest of my life.’  Most of us have individuals, friends and family that say that you’ve got to get yourself together. Bend Me is about that experience. It’s about going ‘Okay! Alright! I’ll listen to you and I’ll find that change within myself. I’m ready.’

Evett bringing up Bend Me provided me the perfect segue to ask him about a couple of other tunes that are on Treehouse. I first asked him what the back-story is on Nightmare and a Dream Come True.

“Nightmare and a Dream Come True is about when you live alone – particularly your first time out on your own – living alone for the first time in 20 years. You have a lot of dark nights of the soul because you don’t realize the comfort just being with somebody brings.

“I guess Nightmare is also about new people in your life, helping you through important things but you’re not sure yet who they are. It can vacillate between being very positive in your life and being very negative. Sometimes, when you’re estranged from your friends and your family, there’s a big vacuum and you tend to gravitate towards people you don’t know that well. They may be going through the same things you’re going through but that can be very disorienting.”

Another great tune from the album that I wanted to know more about was Say Goodbye For Both of Us.

 “I had the chorus of the song before I had the verse. That’s sort of the nuts and bolts of the whole thing. It is autobiographical. I’m from out west. We’re all from rural America one way or another. We come from funny little towns with unpronounceable names. It’s hard to let go of people, too. In this day and age, it’s really hard to completely drop someone. They won’t stay gone. You can get rid of their cell information and stuff like that – you can lose people’s numbers on purpose but, eventually, they can track you down.

“Say Goodbye For Both of Us is also about ‘I’m going to do the right thing here and I’m going to stop contacting you and, then, you will stop contacting me and we’ll both get on with our lives’. Someone’s got to do it.”

The last tune that I asked Ned about was Why Can’t I Believe?

“Yes!  Well, this is a very honest song. Belief in yourself, for some people, it’s just their condition. They believe in themselves no matter what. On a musical level, look at American Idol, look at the singers who think that they’re the best thing ever but they’re completely horrible. There’s that personality type, in the extreme, and then there are people who are extraordinarily talented who have a hard time feeling that they are. I sort of fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum; that song is about that and about someone close to you who believes in you but you cannot let go of your own insecurity and see you the way they see you and how difficult that is.”

It’s clear that Ned Evett is listening more and more to those voices who say, “Yes, you are! Yes, you can!” and moving positively forward with his life and his career. His style, songwriting and musical mastery insure that we’ll be hearing a lot about this artist for years to come.

If you like listening to artists and songs who have lived what you have lived; experienced what you have experienced; felt the same kinds of pain that you have felt or are feeling; and who has articulated all of those feelings and experiences into great music, you will want to follow Ned Evett and purchase Treehouse. Believe me when I say that it will resonate with you.  Listen to Treehouse and you’ll be a fan for life.

Tommy Emmanuel

Posted January, 2011


tommyemmanuelWhile attending my “30-something” class reunion last fall, a classmate and I were exchanging names of various artist who we had become fans of but others might not have heard about.  In the course of the conversation, she mentions the name, Tommy Emmanuel, whom I haven’t heard of until then. She raved about how great this guy was on the guitar and strongly encouraged me to check him out. She assured me that my feeble mind would be blown.

I did and it was.

I scoured YouTube for some of his performances and was entertained by a rich list of some of the best covers of some of the more memorable songs from the last 50 years. There were also lots of video of Emmanuel performing some of his own creations, most notably, Initiation. It was that last song that sealed the deal with me, making me a new Tommy Emmanuel fan for life.

Further research showed me that Emmanuel was performing professionally with his family’s quartet by the age of five and performed all over Australia by the age of 10.  Tommy and his brother, Phil, were appropriately deemed child prodigies, further broadening their appeal to Australian audiences.  His fame and appeal has continued to grow, eventually branching out well beyond the shores of his homeland and to audiences around the world.

Naturally, I wanted to speak with this acoustic thunder from down under and was fortunate to line up a phone interview during the Knoxville stop during his U.S. tour last October.  The engaging warmth and conversation that I saw in the concert videos were evident during our chat.

I began our conversation by asking him to, for benefit of the uninitiated U.S. crowd who might not have ever heard of him, how would he introduce himself?

“Well, I’m a 55 year old guy from Australia who plays guitar because I love to play. I’ve been on stage ever since I was five years old. I’ve never wanted to do anything else but play the guitar and entertain people. I see myself as a person who entertains people using whatever gifts I have and I work tirelessly on the instrument. I try to learn from every musician I come across. I guess I’m a person who loves to entertain people.”

Tommy continues by segueing from his introduction to sharing how his love for music and entertaining was nurtured.  “My mother gave me my first guitar for my fourth birthday but I didn’t play in public until I was five. She showed me how to play rhythm for her. She was playing the lap steel guitar at that time. We both loved to try to make music together.

“My brothers and sisters all took up instruments as well. My brother, Phil, my older brother, he has a similar gift to me except he approaches things in a different way. When we were kids, I was the rhythm player and he was the lead player. He would learn a song – he could figure it out pretty quickly – and he would say, ‘Here are the chords’ and then I would learn the chords and the structure of the song and then we’d play it together. 

“Then, when I got a little older, I discovered that, because I’m an ear player – I play everything by ear – I don’t read music, I never had any formal training of any sort - I discovered that I could figure out a song pretty quickly and hear the pattern in the song and work out where the song went. I got interested in song writing and that’s when my world exploded and that’s when I discovered that I could write songs and that I had a gift in music somehow.

“Of course, being on stage is whole different thing to being a song writer. It’s like two different roles. I loved being on stage. I loved performing. I loved getting a reaction from the audience. I loved making the audience laugh and surprising them. We’d be doing a song and I’d dance across the stage and people wouldn’t expect it. Stuff like that. I discovered that that was what I enjoyed the most was to make people laugh and to feel good and to take their mind away.

“These days, what I do on stage is I use every element of whatever I have to distract people from whatever they’re thinking and take them into another space kind of thing- make them feel good. So, I try to dazzle them with whatever technique I’ve got. I try to disarm them with the fun that I have and then make them laugh at me laughing at myself.  So, it’s like I’m the Three Stooges in one person.” He says with a laugh.

“It’s also so much fun and challenging to play the instrument. The instrument is so beautiful and so challenging. But I enjoy playing my songs and telling my stories and try to paint a picture in music without words for people.”

When I made a comment based on the assumption that he only played acoustic guitar, Emmanuel politely corrected me.

“I do play electric guitar. Certainly, I do!  All of my early albums – my really successful albums in Australia – were seventy percent electric and just a few acoustic songs. I do a bit of everything.”

The video of Tommy’s performances revealed that he is as also a master in the use of the electronic effect known as delay.  I asked him what inspired him to use delays and if there was somebody who used them that who inspired him.

“I was just messing around with a delay one day. A lot of people have done that. Les Paul did it a lot. Chet Atkins did it a lot. People don’t realize that the sound they were listening to is a guitar playing against itself.  It’s a brilliant sound.”

Ah! The great Chet Atkins!  My pre-interview research revealed that Emmanuel discovered the incredible talent of Chet Atkins in 1962, becoming a lifelong fan of Mister Guitar, spending countless hours as a student of learning Atkins’ style of playing.  He established a long distance friendship with the guitar great via mail and, 18 years after first being turned on to him, finally got to meet his idol and established a close friendship until Chet’s passing in 2001.  I asked Tommy about his relationship with Atkins.

“Yes, I wrote to Chet when I was eleven years old. He wrote back to me. We became kind of pen pals with me living in Australia, of course.” He then shares what his first thoughts are when he thinks of Atkins.  “Oh! There’s so much! He was like a daddy to me. He was a innovator. He was a great leader. He was a great organizer. He could put the right team together to do a certain project for a certain artist. He knew exactly who had what gift. He was very clever in that way. But the thing I learned the most about Chet was look for a good song and look for a melody that touches your heart and your soul and play it for people.


“Before he died, we had a beautiful day together. There’s a song he used to sing for his dad called I Still Can’t Say Goodbye. He asked me to keep singing that song. He said, ‘When I’m gone, I want you to sing that song.’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t do that. That’s sacred to you.’ He said, ‘You don’t understand. People need to hear that. That’s what’s important and therein lies the lesson. Forget what you think. Do what you know is going to be good for other people.’ That summed him up perfectly.

“The same thing for me. I’ve been playing Guitar Boogie and Classical Gas. I’ve been playing them all my life and you would think, ‘Why don’t you play something different?’  The moment that I don’t play Guitar Boogie, Classical Gas or whatever, people will come up and say, ‘I drove 500 miles to hear you tonight and you didn’t play my favorite song!’  You’re there for the people. Forget yourself! Get out there and do what you were born to do and do it for the people.”

As he wraps up his thoughts about the lessons he learned from Chet Atkins, Emmanuel shares the thoughts of a man truly in awe of the blessings in his life and the lessons he has been fortunate to learn.

“If you would have told me twenty years ago that I would be laying in a bed in Knoxville, talking to you, I would have told you that you were crazy. But so much has happened in the last twenty years of my life, it’s been extraordinary. I’ve taken my music to everywhere I wanted to go like Russia and China, Croatia, Hungary, Brazil, Africa. It’s just been an incredible journey. It’s only really just beginning. I’ve been playing for 50 years and I feel like I’m just getting going now.”

Who else has inspired and influenced Tommy?

“Oh, man, there were so many! Last night, I watched Carole King and James Taylor. They’re two of my favorites. I draw a lot of inspiration from those two. Carole King’s songwriting is just on a level that’s just so stellar – so beautiful. Same with James.

“I listen to everything. The only thing I don’t like is rap music. I don’t criticize it or say that it’s bad. I just can’t stand it. I listen to all music from Beyoncé to Metallica. I listen to everything. I don’t like everything but I listen to things to try and learn and to wake up my senses to hear something different.”

Having graced stages and delighted audiences all over the world, I asked Tommy if there was any place he hasn’t performed yet.

“Well, next year I’m playing in Chile, Argentina, Venezuela and places like that – where I haven’t been. So there are a few other countries that I haven’t been yet. I’ll be in China next week and I was in Russia last month. They are countries I really wanted to take my music to because I knew something was up. Especially with Russia and China because there were Russian and Chinese people coming to my shows in Amsterdam, Berlin and places like that and they had come from their countries for the show. When I met people to sign autographs, they were like, ‘When are you going to come to Russia? When are you going to come to China? We come to your shows from China. Why don’t you come to China?’

“I got a lot of e-mail from those countries so I found a promoter there and put the show on. Two thousand people came. It was unbelievable! A lot of that has to do with YouTube.”

I’ve read lots of interviews, biographies and autobiographies where an artist gets bored with what made them famous and no longer derive satisfaction from their work.  With that in mind, I asked Tommy what is the biggest thrill or satisfaction he gets from his work.

“We’re travelling on a bus for this tour and I have a great guitar player named Frank Vignola playing with me at the moment. Frank’s one of my favorite players. Yesterday, we learned a bunch of Charlie Christian songs. That was so cool to go back and listen to Charlie Christian again. That was just like going to school yesterday. We spent the whole day playing in the bus. It was great and I learned a lot of new songs.”

As I stated at the beginning of this article, I was particularly blown away by Emmanuel’s composition, Initiation.  I asked him what inspired that song and how long did it take him to put that piece together. 

“That’s the song I use the delay on. I spent most of my young years based in the outback in a place called Alice Springs. I played to mostly Aboriginal audiences and I heard a lot of Aboriginal music. What I tried to do with that song is tell a story of pain and suffering of the hardship of life for those people and to make it a haunting kind of thing. Some nights, I can really conjure up the sound that I heard as a kid. The sound of when an Aboriginal group is doing their corroboree or their getting together and making music, they’re telling stories and acting out dances. The sounds of all of that are in that song somehow.  It’s a very simple piece. It’s not brain surgery. I try to keep it as simple as possible because you don’t want to be putting the influences of other things in that. You want it to be as pure as it can.”

I said, “You say it’s simple but you’re talking to somebody who would just love to play your mistakes!”

He laughed and said, “Yeah, you leave my mistakes to me!”

Tommy Emmanuel has played on some well known hits and performed with some pretty big names.  Thinking of that, I asked him a two part question. First, what kind of project would he like to do that he hasn’t done yet?  Second, who hasn’t he played with, on stage, on record or in private that he really wants to play with?

“I’ve fulfilled a few goals – a few lifetime dreams in the last year. Larry Carlton was my guest a couple of weeks ago in Austin. I’d love to work with Larry more. He’s one of my big influences and one of my favorites. And the other guy that I got to really know and would love to work with is George Benson. They’re two of the guys that I would love to play with and love to work with.

“I’ve yet to find another singer that I would love to work with because it’s all about the songs. For me, it’s the quality of your work and the quality that you put out to the people that is important. Sometimes you can do that with a complete unknown. Sometimes you can do that with someone really famous. So I’m still on the lookout for the right kind of partner to either write songs with.”

Almost as an aside, Tommy dropped this bombshell on me.

“I just played on a track for Michael Jackson which I love. I hope that they release it. I don’t know what is going to happen with Michael’s new stuff. I just played on a beautiful track on his – I hope it’s on his new album! They haven’t told me if it’s going to be released or not but they asked me to play on this track and I did. When I was in London they sent me the stuff on the internet and we downloaded it in the studio in London. I played a solo and a backing part for Michael who has been one of my heroes in my life, too. It’s an incredible vocal, I’ve got to tell you. I hope it comes out.”

The Jackson album Tommy referred to did, in fact, come out in December.  Entitled, Michael, it does include Much Too Soon and is a phenomenal piece of work. Congratulations, Tommy!

As he concludes his story about working on Much To Soon, Emmanuel says: “It’s been really good – it’s been a great journey. A couple of years ago I got a call from a guy named Peter Asher who used to manage James Taylor.  Peter’s a great producer and a good singer himself. He was managing and producing Diana Ross’s new project and I ended up playing on that as well. Things like that come along now and then and I really enjoy that. It’s so exciting and so challenging. I can’t tell you the feeling I had, especially with Michael’s track.  I was in London and the producers were in Los Angeles and they’re trusting me with his track. That’s a big responsibility and I have such a big respect and admiration for Michael and the quality of his work. Nobody raised the bar like him. It’s phenomenal.”

When answering my question as to what can a new fan expect from one of his shows and who makes up his audience, Emmanuel says, “To be surprised and to be reminded to have fun in life and to fly your kite as high as you can. Live in the moment. Be in the moment. Be in the moment!” Regarding his audience demographic, “Baby’s to grandparents. Everybody! I get heavy metal guys. I get jazzers. I get folkies. I get blue grassers. I get blues guys. I get grannies. I get pimply teenagers. I get everybody and that’s great. That’s the human race!”

For the pure musician Boomerocity readers out there who are learning of Tommy Emmanuel for the first time, I asked him to share what kinds of guitars he plays.

“I have a quite a collection of guitars in my homes. I have a home here in America and one in England and I have guitars stored in Australia as well. I have some homemade guitars that are made by friends of mine that I don’t take on the road. My main instruments are made by the Maton Guitar Company in Australia. These guitars are not like other instruments. They have a beautiful sound but they have the best electronics that you’ll ever hear. It was Jean Larrivée from  Larrivée Guitars who said to me, ‘Building a great guitar is a no-brainer. Getting the pickup right is almost impossible and that’s what these people have done!’

“So, if you want an acoustic guitar that you can mic up or, more importantly, you can plug in and get a good sound, there’s no guitar like a Maton guitar. As you can see by the finishes on my guitars, they can take a beating, too!” He concludes with a laugh.

After my chat with Tommy, I was struck by the fact that it took me so dang long to discover this gifted artist.  So that YOU won’t be the last one on this fan train, I would encourage you to tell others who love great guitar work or gifted entertainers about Tommy Emmanuel.

You can keep up with the latest news with Tommy Emmanuel by signing up for his mailing list at www.tommyemmanuel.com. If you don’t order any of the music flagged in the pages of this interview, then you can certainly order his great CD’s, DVD’s and other great times from his online store.  Oh, and, of course, you can be among the first to know when he’s going to appear at a town or city near you – wherever you are in the world.