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Felix Cavaliere Discusses COVID-19, Life After, Music & Its Future

Posted June 2020

felixcavaliere001croppedIf you’re a baby boomer (or, at least, love the music that baby boomers love), then you’ve heard – and loved – the music of The Rascals. Songs like “Good Lovin’”, “Groovin’”, “A Beautiful Morning”, and “People Got To Be Free” jammed the airwaves back in the day. Even today, we’ll stop and turn up the radio just a tad whenever those phenomenal songs come on our radios and streaming gadgets.

The Rascals’ contribution to the soundtrack of our lives was rewarded in 1997 with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. More about that in a moment.

These days, you can enjoy the spirit of The Rascals by catching their keyboardist, Felix Cavaliere, who is wonderfully and brilliantly keeping the band’s spirit alive with a healthy tour schedule. I saw Felix work his magic shortly after I launched Boomerocity back in 2009 during a stop of the traveling show, Hippiefest. He held the Dallas crowd in the palm of uber-talented hands. What a night and what a memory!

When I was recently given the opportunity to interview Felix by phone at his Nashville area home, I reached out to Boomerocity friend and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Greg Harris, for comment about Felix.

“They’re just the ultimate Jersey soul. It’s a different vibe. It's a party time, good-time vibe . . . fun-loving, but serious, rock and roll; with Felix driving that organ . . . without Felix Cavaliere and the Rascals, you don't have Bruce Springsteen, the E Street Band.”

Reaching Felix at his Nashville home recently, I rang him up just as he was finishing his regular morning workout. Commending him on doing something that I really should be doing (especially during this pandemic), Felix replied:

I have no choice, man. I'm used to working out pretty hard. I haven't been doing it. I'm feeling it. Let me tell you.”

The pandemic was a natural first topic of conversation with me asking how it has affected him.

“We need places to work, man, I tell you, we miss it like crazy. And it's not only us. I mean, you know, I've got a lot of friends in restaurant businesses. They're really taking a hit, you know, and, of course, like the athletes, you know, I don't know what kind of contracts they have, but everything's closed. The Olympics are closed. The French Open's been moved. The NBA's been shut down. It's pretty serious stuff. Really serious.”

Asking Cavaliere what his guess was on what's going to happen with the music as we kind of stick our toes back in the water, he replied:

“As far as with my business? We have really no idea. I mean, there's a lot of theories as to what we're going to do. So, what we've been doing is preparing our guidelines so that when we do get back to work, at least they know what we're going to do, what we're not going to do. I mean, and basically, it's an interesting thing, because I carry a band with me when I travel. Some of the guys are a little squeamish to go out so we've got to make sure that they feel safe. And then, of course, I've got to feel safe. So, my manager's running a thing that would be our new . . . Whaddaya call that? . . . your backup plan . . . (contract) riders. It means is that we can't do meet and greets anymore, which is a major part of our thing. I mean, we can't have too much backstage interplay with people. He wants me to get to the show just before I go onstage. I mean, it's kind of like we're trying to make it easy for them on their side, and, of course, safe for us.

“We don't know. We have no idea. Believe me, anybody that tells you they know what they're doing or what's going to happen . . . The only thing that's come up is this drive-in thing, which is pretty interesting. But as you know, down here (in the south), man, you'd better wear some rainboots 'cause the drive-in's going to get a little sloppy. It's really funny, man. Going backward.”

Then, still giving it all serious thought, Felix concluded:

“Well, I mean, they got to do something and, as I say, the impact on people financially is pretty serious. And, of course, being from New York, I've got a lot of friends in New York that have picked this (the COVID-19 virus) up and they have actually gone through this Corona thing. It's not funny. They live in apartments there, these people and basically, if the filtration system is carrying it, you're going to get it. Simple as that. It's kind of really an interesting phenomenon that we've never, never experienced in our lifetime.”

Then, commenting about the confusing and ever-corrected COVID-19 virus statistics, Cavaliere added:

“But I'll tell you, if anything, they're being understated. They're not being overstated, believe me. When you close down New York City . . . think about that. I don't know if you've ever been to New York City. You close down New York City? Are you kidding me? I mean, that's like billions of dollars every hour. This is serious. This is not a joke. And they want to play with numbers. Trust me, we don't know all the numbers. The numbers are lower than they are because, first of all, it's so obvious that this stuff is spreading like wildfire, you know?

“But let's see, 'cause now we're starting to go out. Tennessee's still a little strict, but I believe it's up to the individuals, you know what I'm saying? Like, my wife, she really doesn't want to go out. So, guess what? We're not going out, you know? But it's up to the individual because there's no national guidelines here.

“And frankly, the way the United States is acting. I think it's a disgrace. I mean, seriously, I mean, people are rioting about, like we want to keep you safe, so we're gonna show up with guns? I mean, come on! What kind of country do we have here? Do you want to die? Go out and die, but don't make me sick or my kids sick. I don't understand it.

FELIX 319 1Photo By Leon Volskis“We should all be together on this. We should be united and say, ‘Look, here's what we're going to do. Let's see if we can lick this thing. How can we do it?’ I don't know. And they don't know. But I know at least you know what we can do, and that's to wash your hands, put the mask on, and that's what we're doing.

“I just did a session yesterday for the first time with (in a while). What I've been doing during this time is an album. I figured might as well utilize my time somehow, so I've been doing a recording. And, of course, it's been pretty interesting because we're doing it on our own online, with computers. But I'm doing it. I'm having a great time, man, and I'm really enjoying it. And you got to do something, right?”

When asked if he was using Pro Tools, Felix answered:

“Yeah, basically. We all have different what they call DAWS - digital audio workstations. It always ends up on Pro Tools. But, you know, it's kind of amazing because, first of all, it's fun. I mean, I just can't believe how much I miss playing, man. I mean, I've been doing this all my life and it's just part of your life. You don't realize it when you take it away. And it's really a withdrawal, you know?”

I latched on to his earlier comment about how VIP ‘Meet & Greets’ and I commented on how that will be a big disappointment to fans since it’s a rare opportunity to meet icons like him.

“Absolutely, well, it's fun, you know? And there's nothing like human interaction, there's no doubt about it; they're never going to take the place of that. But right now, we always shake hands with everybody when they come to the table and all that. Sometimes, God forbid, we even hug them. So, what do we do? I don't know. I mean, I really have no idea. But I think we're going to be okay here. You know, it's just a question of when and how. In the meantime, just to keep yourself in front of the public, I think it's important because you can disappear into thin air.”

All of this led to the bourgeoning concept of ‘home concerts’. Felix had plenty to say about this change.

“You know, the concept's been thrown around for a long time. I don't know that anybody's actually done it. It's certainly xpossible. It's not very difficult to do if you have the proper . . . again you have to have proper audio or proper cameras. You can't do it on, like, an iPad, you know. I mean, if, you watch a lot of these things that all of the new stations are having … and that's expensive. In most cases, it's pretty bad. The connections that they get, the pictures that they get, the audios that they get . . . they're terrible. We’ve got to do better than that. We've got to sound better and look better than that. And that's not free. I mean, they're going to have to perfect that a little bit, but I hope it doesn't come to that. I really do. I hope we're able to go out because I've been doing this all my life. What I know is that people who - you know, my peers, etc. - we love going on stage, man. I mean, we just . . . it's a gas. Anybody who's a musician will tell you the same thing. We enjoy it as much as the people enjoy it. You really have a good time playing. And now, we don't know. We don't know, man. We don't know whether that's gonna be around anymore. For the time being, it's not so it's very difficult. You don't realize how much you miss it until it's gone, you know?”

We shifted our talk to the album he mentioned earlier that he’s been working on.

“It's fun, man. We came up with an idea last year. I said, ‘Look, you know what? Why don't we take five songs that influenced you, re-record those kinds of like as a tribute to people like Ray Charles and Ben E. King and then write five new songs that shows the thread of influence?"

“We're having a ball. I mean, I'm just really enjoying it because I moved to Nashville in 1988 - 89 to write. I love to write. I love to use that part of my brain - the creativity part. So, I get a chance to do that. I get a chance to play because, as I say, we started this before this all happened so we got a good jump on it. So that's the concept. I don't know what we're gonna do as far as selling the product because we were counting kind of on the meet and greets and all that. But I also have a book that's kind of hopefully waiting to come out. We were also hoping to do something with the bookstores as far as maybe include this in a package or something like that. But the whole thing is, seriously, is to keep busy mentally and physically right now is really important. I was talking to you earlier about my exercise program. I'm really used to working pretty hard in the gyms and stuff like that. That's taken its toll. Well, it's the same thing for your brain. You've got to keep your mind going. Got to keep it going. Otherwise, you go to sleep, man. I'm not quite ready. I still enjoy what I do, tremendously.”

As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, I saw Felix perform in the Dallas area during the Hippiefest tour which included his peers like Leslie West of Mountain, Chuck Negron, Flo and Eddy, and himself. When I mentioned Leslie’s name, Felix pounced on it. “I gotta give him a call. I hope he's all right. I haven't heard anything about him lately. He had the amputation a few years ago. He's such a character, I've known him since he was a kid. I'll reach out... I'm glad you mentioned his name. He’s a trip. I guarantee you that. There's not too many Leslie Wests. He's a character. He's a great guy. I've known him since he was a kid. He's such a character. Oh, my God, when he had the bottom part of his leg amputated...the next day he went on Howard Stern's show. He says, "Man, I got to put this to some advantage." The next day! You don't meet too many guys like that.”

Just prior to my interview with Cavaliere, I also interviewed Carmine Appice, who I knew that Felix knows so I mentioned the chat with him.

felixcavaliere001“He's another guy that keeps busy, man. I mean, he doesn't stop and I think that's pretty cool. He's another old friend. I've known him for years. Matter of fact, we went out last summer to do a kind of like a, you know, sort of like a Rascals kind of tribute band. We had Gene in it, you know, and my guitar player, as you well know. He had a heart attack on stage and kind of interrupted that whole thing. It was September - I think it was the eleventh - and we were in Montana. Fortunately, he's still recuperating; still not doing that great. I got to give him a call also. So yeah, I was working with Carmine for a while and he's another character. I mean, there’s a lot of people around that should be in movies because they're so unique.”

When I mentioned that so many rockers, including my friend, Wild Cherry’s Rob Parissi, living in Florida, Felix piped in:

“Oh, yeah, I remember him, man. Wow, that was a long time ago. I met him when he just had his first hit record there – that ‘Play That Funky Music’ thing. I remember when he was lost in New York City. He was lost. I mean, he says, ‘I don't know what I'm doing here, man.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, you had a hit record, didn't you? And yet that's why you're here, right?’ He was a character. That was a long time ago. Tell him hello, man; tell him hello.”

I brought up the body of work that Felix - especially with the Rascals – and his peers have recorded and that it has clearly stood the test of time while, seemingly, the more recent music seems to quickly fade from memory. I asked him what he attributes that to. “Yeah, there's a lot of reasons for that. First of all, the era that we were in. I mean, you have to understand that our competition, for want of a better word, were some of the best that ever lived. I mean, you got the Beatles in there, man. You got Stones in there. You got people like the Kinks and the Lovin' Spoonful. The musical level, the creative ability, was very high. Kind of like in the art world during the Renaissance in France when you had all these great impressionist paintings. That's what we were experiencing. So, the level was way up there and the products were way up there. That's the first thing and the easiest answer I give you.

“The other answer I can give you is the fact that we were on Atlantic Records which, I'm very proud to say. I understand that everybody knows they had to make money, but they had a very, very high kind of bar also for quality. They had some of the finest minds in the engineering world, with Tom Dowd and these people that were behind the scenes. Of course, in the musical world, Ahmet Ertegun - I mean, the level there was pretty high, man.

“And, you know, it's so many of the records that were made in those days... Aretha, you know, us, they're all there still because they commanded it and demanded it. They provided us with an atmosphere like a laboratory that was, at that time, state of the art. So, I mean, you're doing quality with quality and, basically, it stands the test of time.

“Today, unfortunately . . . it changed. I always find it interesting that people are so enamored with Woodstock. Woodstock, Woodstock, Woodstock. Well, let me tell you something. That was the end, as far as I'm concerned, of our creativeness. Because what happened is, the Wall Street guys found out how much money there was to be made from our generation. They came into our business. It's just like, ‘You think you can write a song? You think a computer can write a song?’ Try it. It could be done, but it stinks. I mean, you have to have that human element.

“So, anyway, they put the business aspect - it used to be music business - it turned out to be business music. Unfortunately, felixcavaliere002that's pretty much what you have now. You've got a business and it's okay because there's always bolts of lightning coming into our business. There's always the John Legends and the Elton Johns and the Billy Joels. There's always people coming in. But for the most part, it's just product. It's just product, let's face it. You know, how do I advertise this product? Well, that's another whole subject. It's very easy. Seriously. Basically, it just takes money. You want to advertise something, you pay for it. And now it's in front of the public. So, therefore, it must be good because it's of the public, right? Not necessarily. It's a different world. And you know, it's okay because we had our day and, basically, our time. I'm very proud to have been part of it. Let me just leave it at that.”

I was curious what Felix thought the best and worst changes have been in the music industry.

“Well, as I say, it's the whole kind of like monetary . . . how should I put? I'm trying to find the right word. I feel like I'm writing a lyric. The emphasis is on making money rather than on making art. That's the biggest change. In the old days, for example, there was a label, I think it was the Red Label on Columbia Records. They had artists on there, they were never gonna sell any albums. Like Ornette Coleman, they would do Stravinsky. They would do people like composers. They knew they were not gonna sell two billion copies of that, but they had them on the label because it was a prestigious thing to allow talent of that ilk, that magnitude, to be heard. That's gone. That's totally gone.

“Now, it's like, if you can't sell records, then get out of here. If you can't sell a product, get out of here. I mean, if I can't take your publishing - and it's all right. That's what it is. It's all money. It's all capitalist. That's what it is and that's okay because, as I say, there will always be a star shining in the middle of that pond, like a lotus flower, that stands out. But it's just that there are so many people out there. It's just unbelievable how many people are now making records because you can do it in your home.

“So, the good part is I happen to like the technology. I think the technology has made wonderful changes. I was talking earlier about me doing a CD. I could do a lot of that out of my home. I love it. Now it's like anything else, it can be used against you. You know what I'm saying? People don't realize, but, you know, when you do a Microsoft Word program, for example, we have what's called spell check. Everybody knows what that is. You can't spell? Oh, well, that doesn't matter anymore, does it? I can spell for you. Unfortunately, it's the same thing with singing and it's the same thing with playing. You can't sing? I'll fix you up, don't worry about it. Just sing into this box. I'll put it through my programs and you'll be fine. We'll make you sound amazing.

“That's the part that's really interesting. It's kind of like when our parents heard Rock n Roll, they said, ‘What is this? This is nonsense.’ It's the same kind of thing but that's the way it is. So much easier now to make music and make records. You don't even have to know how to play anymore.

“It's like I said, you know, I used to study many years ago with a guru, Swami Satchidananda. He was the gentleman that opened up the Woodstock movie and they'd ask questions, and he would make an answer like this - this is a perfect answer to your question. ‘Electricity. Well, is it good or is it bad?’ He said, ‘Well, if you plug in your toaster, it's good. If you plug in your finger, it's bad.’ And that's the truth. So that's kind of how I look at the modern thing. It could be used for good; it could be used for bad.’”

When I mused that the world is still hungry for great, musical art, Cavaliere said:

“I think so. I'm glad to hear that. I hope so. I think that that's what mankind needs to survive all this, is that yearning. Because I don't know . . . I mean, for example, if you're watching TV, I mean, can you possibly have more commercials on than are on? I don't think it's impossible to say, "What commercial am I tuning into this half-hour?" It's gotten to where it's taken over everything in our lives; this capitalistic, monetary, corporate identity. People think they like it, but are you sure you like it? I mean, do you own the company or something? I don't think so.”

FELIX 327 1I asked Felix what he would do to fix the problems in the music business.

“Oh, wow! I'd have to go find a magic wand. Remember that song," If I Ruled the World"? Well, you know, that's the thing. I mean, like, say, I can remember having this amazing skull sessions with my bands and my friends, where we were a little high or something like that, and we just solved all the problems of the world . . . and then we went out the door. We’re not in charge of those things. Again, going back to my teacher, my guru, he would tell me, "Look, clean your house first and then worry about the rest of the city." Clean your house, take care of yourself. So that's what I'm trying to do - mentally, physically, spiritually - trying to stay healthy in all those aspects, as much as I can. Kind of be an example to my family, my kids, that, when you go through something of this manner - a pandemic - don't freak out. Just do your thing; concentrate on, basically, yourself, your health, your family, and your neighbors. What else can you do?”

Who would Felix like to work with, musically, that he hasn’t, so far?

“Well, god, I don't know. That's a really good question because I've worked with so many people over the years, that I've enjoyed every bit of it. I don't know. I guess, like if you're talking contemporary, probably Pharrell. I really like the stuff he does because he kind of relates back to, my time in a lot of his productions. Probably Pharrell.”

Are you reading this, Pharrell?

I asked Cavaliere what was on his radar for the year or so after the lockdown is lifted.

“Well, we had a number of shows booked. We had about 30, 35 shows that were supposed to have been played between January and now which have not been canceled, per se, but have been postponed. So, if, with the luck of God, we still can do those, I'll probably be glad to do those. They've postponed them. However, I think it's a little bit of wishful thinking, but we'll see. August, September are still on the books. As far as I know, the NFL is doing the same. I don't know that's going to happen. So, contractually, I'm still committed to doing those shows, if, in fact, they happen.

“Second of all, as I say, I'm just going to keep writing and doing some new work as much as I can. I really enjoy it. And I've got a band that . . . they enjoy playing. So, we were able to make product. And just, as I say, really, really make an attempt to keep my sanity. I’ve got to keep my brain on here, you know.

Wrapping up my chat with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, I concluded by asking Felix how he wants to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy is.

“Well, I mean, basically, I want to be remembered mostly as a musician and positive and positive messages, peaceful messages, civil rights messages; and as a good father and parent and husband. That's fine with me . . . as opposed to, you know, oh, that devil, you know. I mean, you make a contribution and all you really want is people to realize that this happened; you were part of it; enjoyed it. That's what I kind of leave around, you know.” And that he definitely does.

Keep up with Felix at his website, felixcavaliereandgenecornishsrascals.com, and, while you’re at it, why not update your listening library with his – and The Rascals’ – catalog of music?

Gideon King Unties Love Knot

Posted May 2020

 

gideonking001croppedAs readers of Boomerocity already know, we love letting you know about great artists and bands that are not yet “known” and are flying below the publicity radar.

Such is the case with a New York City band that recently appeared on the Boomerocity radar: Gideon King and City Blog. Think Steely Dan. Think Sade. Think Chicago. Then, you’ll have a very good idea of what kind of great band I’m talking about.

I wanted to chat with the band’s namesake after I heard the great music of the band so I recently reached out to Gideon King at his NYC area studio. The call took place a couple of weeks ago in the midst of the CORONA-19 crisis. I asked how it was affecting him.

“Well, you know, it's amazing. I grew up in New York City and I've seen a lot. New York City has seen riots and has seen blackouts and crime waves and economic booms, economic busts. But this is just incredible. It's like the whole damn city is just totally shut down. I'd like to see us all get back up and running again, but that's up to the geniuses who run our government.”

At the time of our call, I hadn’t known anyone who had the virus. I asked Gideon if he did.

“I got it. I had it. Yeah, I did. I was real sick. But you know what, man? I wasn't that sick. Like, I had really weird symptoms and symptoms I'd never had before in my life. But there was no point in time when I felt like my life was threatened. I was really out of breath or anything like that - which is the case for the vast majority of people. I mean, our press tends to exaggerate things for them. For most people, you just get some fever, which I had, but I'm pretty much back to normal now. But there were a few nights that were pretty f*****-up - for lack of a better expression. My rib cage was, like, freezing. My eyes hurt. I did lose my sense of taste. But it's all comeback and I don't have any fever now or anything like that. So, I'm actually pretty much all the way back. There is pressure in the chest. I had a positive diagnosis - 100% certain percent I had it. But, you know, honestly, not that big of a deal, really.

“The flu is probably more dangerous than this and affected fatality rates and confirmed fatality rates and stuff like that. This is a whole other discussion. I've done a lot of research into it. I do believe we've gone a little too far, shutting the economy down may have more serious and grave health consequences, both mental and otherwise, than the virus itself. I think we've gone too f***ing far. I'm not sure. That's an interview for another time.”

Shifting to the business at hand, I asked King to share his band’s story.

“When we walk on stage, it's eight people. It's three vocalists, Caleb Hawley, Alita Moses, and Sonny Step - three unbelievable vocalists with successful solo careers themselves. We have an incredible drummer, Jake Goldbas, and another drummer - they switch off drums and percussion – a guy named Zach Mullings. We have a piano/keys/synth guy, Bryan Reeder, the bass player, Jeff Hanley, and another bass player, Nathan Peck. This an interesting band. I mean, these are incredible musicians and are all trained jazz musicians. They're also really good pop musicians.

“The concept of the band really originally was inspired by my biggest influence, which was Steely Dan. They're probably my favorite band of all time, actually. I have - on and off - had members of Steely Dan in my band. Carol Lenhart and other people. So, our band is eight people when we walk on stage. I write the music; I write the lyrics. But I do bring that music and lyrics to rehearsal and that's when the tune really starts to take shape. Then all the cooks in the kitchen start sort of experimenting with things, different grooves, and different concepts and three-part harmonies. You have a musical director of the band whose name is Bryan Reeder. He sort of is the glue that holds everything together in terms of charting things and helping to write three-part harmonies. He's also a fabulous mother***er of a jazz pianist and classical pianist and pop musician as well.

“So, I write the music, I write the lyrics and I bring them to the band and we shape each tune together. I started as a studio band. Gideon King and City blog was a studio concept totally like Steely Dan, with a rotating group of musicians. I mean, everybody from John Scofield to Donny McCaslin to Marc Broussard to Greg Lamore' to James Genus, they're all on my CD. And it was just an unbelievable studio band.

“After my first C.D., Gideon King and City Blog, which got some pretty good reviews, I put out another C.D. and started to sort of toying with the idea of going live with this thing. That was about two and a half, three years ago. So, I started to hold auditions and conversations with different musicians. It took a while to sort of weed out the bullshit artists and get to the people who are killer musicians who came to rehearsal and came to gigs like professionals and were smart, funny, nice people. That process was a distillation process if you will. That's where we're at now, where we really have a very tight group of band members. We're friends. We hang out together. We drink together. We play tennis together. We take social distancing walks together in New York City. It's an unbelievable group. They're all technically trained. They can all read music. They can all write music. They're unbelievable musicians.

“I started going live about two years ago. We started with really small clubs. Places like the Bitter End. Places like Lockwood. Then, as we wrote more songs, we began to get a lot of traction. We started to get better lists on Spotify. We’re on the editorial playlist on Spotify now and some of the tunes have a lot of streams. We started to pick up a greater sort of New York presence. This is a very New York City-centric band. We were playing at the Blue Note. We did some sold-out shows at Joe's Pub and City Winery. We played in the Brooklyn Bowl. We’re just kind of growing.

“It's not really about a specific image that we're trying to project. But I do think that the music that we're making is unique. It has funk and jazz influence, but it is pop. The press has compared it to Steely Dan quite a lot because the musicians are so killer. I just continue to write away and continue to create and the band just grows tighter and we get better and better.

“We woke up sort of two and a half years later and now we have a presence. We have fans and we have followers and we’re on editorial playlists. So, it's growing. But, man, it's brick by brick. It's like building a business, to be honest. This notion of you write your song and there you are in front of 30,000 people - maybe that happens to some. Maybe that happens out there. But, you know, that's not how it's going for us. We build it brick by brick. We are releasing an EP now called, Love Knot, that's a three tune E.P. and I'm really excited about it. I don't know if you've heard it. The title cut is a duet. I really love duets - everything from the Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock duet, believe it or not, going back to Andy Gibb and Barbra Streisand on that tune, Guilty. Remember that one? Great f***ing tune. I'm a big fan of doing that so I figured I would do that. I've written a number of duets. Marc Broussard and Grace Weber sing one. Elliott Skinner from Third Story and Grace Weber sings one and now I have Alita Moses and Caleb Holly singing one.

“The title cut is a duet. I would describe this as kind of weird abstract love songs; sort of inside-out love songs is how I describe it. I'm not a huge fan of endlessly writing love songs. Most love songs - and most songs in general - lyrics kind of suck. The days of writing great lyrics like Neil Young and the Eagles, Steely Dan, not everybody writes great lyrics anymore. But I do try to hang together these abstractions that somehow people can relate to.”

Which song of the band’s would Gideon point to as a calling card for their entire body of work, to date?

“You know, I would say that would be two or three songs. I'd say there'd be a song called ‘Lady of a Thousand Sorries’, which has gotten a fair amount of attention on Spotify. That's one for sure that people really related to and they really like. For sure, ‘Love Knot’, which is the title cut of the EP; it’s a duet. Then, to be honest, there's the more obscure ones like, ‘Under My Head’, which features John Scofield. He plays a nice solo on that. That's Mark Burchard singing. For sure that would be one of them. And there's, ‘Upscale Madhouse’, the title cut of the last CD.

“So, here these tunes will feature piano solos and guitar solos and they will exemplify my lyrics, for sure. I guess I would mention one which is a more fusion oriented tune which is called ‘Broken and Beautiful’. That would be an example of more instrumental side of our music. But yeah, I mean, those tunes on ‘Love Knot’; the title cut for sure. Maybe ‘Lady of a Thousand Sorries’. People really like that song a lot. And ‘Gun To My Head’ is a tune that people really like. So, yeah that would give them a feel for the sort of pop, funk fusion style that we write - even with a touch of folk music; with a touch of Neil Young in there - one of the great lyricists. I was taking a drive yesterday to get out of the house. I was listening to that Neil Young tune, ‘A Man Needs a Mate’. What a great song. Neil's one of my greatest influences, not necessarily harmonically and musically, but I just think he's one of the great lyricists of all time. I love his music, too, and I am influenced to some extent by it. But I think he's one of the greatest. He's probably in my top five influences of all time.”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked what is on Gideon’s radar once the COVID-19 situation pipes down.

“Let's just kind of make a presupposition. As COVID goes away and our government lets us outside again, I guess I would say is we will, we will release our EP. We have another song coming out which is almost like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young tune called ‘Silent Sirens’. Beautiful. three, part harmony, acapella tune, with just piano. Really cool, man. I'd like to send it to you. But, you know, honestly, there is that old expression that man plans and God Laughs. So, we will just continue to craft really good tunes; tunes that we feel and we hope are different from what the maddening crowd is doing musically. We will continue to play bigger and bigger venues and we will continue to sharpen our game in terms of live performance.

“I don't have a specific guidepost. I don't have a number of streams on Spotify. I don't have a sign or signifier of a specific level of notoriety that I'm praying to. The only thing that I would say I'm praying to is getting better and better at writing songs that are harmonically sophisticated; relatable but also mysterious in their lyrical content so that people can project their own kind of psychic landscape onto it and make of the songs whatever they want. And just to grow like any band. More music, good music, more venues, bigger venues. Just try and try and really be creative. I'm the lead guitarist of the band and I'm always working on my guitar playing. That's not a very specific or exciting answer, but it's really the truth.”

Gideon King and City Blog really is a great, top-shelf band. Download their work. Follow them on their site, gideonkingcityblog.com. And, if you’re ever in the Big Apple, catch one of their gigs and tell them Boomerocity sent you.

Ken Mansfield Discusses The 50th Anniversary of Let It Be

Posted May 2020

Alternate roof shot copyOver the past couple of years, the world has experienced a lot of “it was fifty years ago today” events celebrating those anniversaries of various Beatles related albums and landmarks. The last of those (for a while, at least) is the 50th anniversary of the lads’ ‘Let It Be’ album and movie. After the recording of those two projects, the Fab Four went their separate ways.

For such a momentous celebration, it was only fitting to reach out to a dear friend of mine, Ken Mansfield, who is no stranger to Boomerocity. I first interviewed Ken eleven years ago about his then-new book, Between Wyomings (here). After that chat, he sat for two more interviews (here and here) as well as providing great commentary for my recent interview with his dear friend, Phil Keaggy, in addition to giving me guidance as well as for prayerful support since we first chatted.

After catching up on things and making sure that we were both untouched by the coronavirus currently scarring many in the world, I commented to Ken that I imagined his phone had been hot from interviews over the Let It Be anniversary.

“Yeah, it's starting to crank up and today's been real busy. This is the end of the 50th anniversaries on the 8th and the 13th of May. No more 50th’s no more 50th anniversaries involving all of the Beatles - all four Beatles. So, this is it. You know, there'll be no more 50th anniversaries. No real ones.”

With that, I asked Ken to share his thoughts about the whole Let It Be phenomena.

“I'll answer you with this thought based on that question of why it triggered these things. It's a pretty complicated 50th anniversary because of the timelines of when it was recorded and when it was released and the intentions of the whole Let It Be thing. How complicated it was because it started out being - oh, gosh, all the things it was going to be! It was going to be a TV special, then it was going to be something else, and then something else. And finally, George Harrison, as you know, just finally said, 'Look, let's just make a record.' He just wanted to settle down. So, we really ended up with the album, the film and the concert on the roof. Then, the fact in and of itself that it was Let It Be. But then it became Let It Be Naked, later. “Why couldn't that be another 50th anniversary? Yeah. In a way that was kind of a monumental thing to a lot of us because, especially, I was there sitting in the studio leaning against the wall when they were cutting Let it be. The concept was clearly to do something very live. They were a live band. At that time, they were really showing kind of their more - I don't know - ragged side. A more live feel and everything. So, when Phil Spector did that to the album, George Martin said, ‘Produced by George Martin, Overproduced by Phil Spector.’

“To me, it wasn't at all what I heard. I knew what was intended. So, when I heard Let It Be Naked, I actually almost got tears in my eyes. Oh, boy! It just pulled me right back to that time because that sounded like exactly what was going on without all that sound, all the overdubs and stuff that Spector did to it. So, the conversation we're having is that this is a simple 50th anniversary right now, but there was so much involved with that - with the album and going on the roof and the feelings going into it and the timeframe. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was almost like - think of what they were doing in a short time frame. They basically were doing Abbey Road and the White Album and Let It Be. I mean, all this stuff was just - how many songs and how much recording can one band do in a short period of time?

“So, it's just something about this anniversary - the physical anniversary - not when they're going to rerelease the film and all that stuff - other stuff coming up here in the. This date is the anniversary for the people who are Beatles aficionados and people who really follow the band. The other releases are going to be the commercial aspects. This is, to me - this is the real thing right now. And that's why I'm enjoying doing interviews because it was fifty years ago that it came out, you know.

In prepping for my chat with Ken, I came across several articles that mentioned that John Lennon allegedly disliked the title song and even took a swipe at it on the song that preceded it on the album. I asked Ken for his insights into that.

“Well, to me, it was a typical Paul McCartney ballad type song like Yesterday and these kinds of things. In a way, that was said of Paul. I just think the intent of Lennon - maybe especially - was if they wanted to be a different sound, he did not want to do the old stuff. And I'm very 'wingy' with you right now, because this is all personal opinion. And do correct me on anything that I'm saying that gets things off of a timeline or something. My thinking is that the group was splintering then, which is not a secret because of George wanting to do his stuff; and Paul and Ringo and Paul and John, you know, they were more guarded about their individual songs and having less involvement at times from each other. Just because all of a sudden, the old camaraderie and creative juices would jump back in. For me, I was a Beatles fan as the Beatles as a band. When they did the White Album and Let It Be - I'll be honest and I'll probably get crucified for this - but those are not my favorite albums at all. To me, when they came back and did Abbey Road, to me, that was the Beatles because there was more involvement, more their sound. There was more creativity. It's almost like there was a point they quit being quite so creative.

KenMansfield2018Reduced“So now on the other side of the coin, with those not being my favorite music, that was the music that I was most directly involved in. Especially with the White Album and Let It Be. I mean, I was there. I was really a witness. I would go to London for a Beatles session. It would be going into the studio, into Abbey Road, but normally you would be sitting outside in a waiting area or a lounge or something. You didn't go in the studio. You didn't go into a control room. And then a Beatle would come out and say hi. And then you could go home and say, ‘Yeah, I was at a Beatles session.’ You'd hear the music when the door opened from the studio. But in Let It Be, I was like sitting, as you know, sitting on the floor, just watching; sitting next to Billy (Preston) and he and I would have our little exchanges. They were very friendly to me. I was invited in and I didn't see anybody else in there that wasn't working except myself and Billy.

“On The White Album, I was very involved with that because George Harrison finished mastering it in L.A. I was with him when he heard the playback of the Capitol mastering and did not like it. I was there when he was re-mastering it. So, with both of those albums, I had a sense of involvement. I didn't have a word to say about anything, but I was there and experienced it. That makes those two particular projects special to me from that standpoint.

“But as I said, the prior work, I mean, doing something more exciting than Sgt. Pepper is almost unimaginable to me. I don't know about you. I'm sure we all remember when John F. Kennedy was shot and probably when we first heard Sgt. Pepper. That was probably two things that sticks out in all our minds, you know.

“In my case, I had an eight-track in my Cadillac and six of us jumped in the car, lit up some joints and got really stoned, and listen to that album for the first time. We could hardly contain ourselves. So mind-boggling.

“It's just that this whole thing. I'm very, very reflective at it this time, and that's why I said a minute ago, is details are almost immaterial to me anymore. The emotional things and remembering things like first time hearing Sgt. Pepper. I hadn't thought about that in a while.

“But the Beatle's for me was interesting because I kept hearing about this band called The Beatles, and I was driving on the San Diego freeway and I kept hearing about this band, the Beatles, and a record came on, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, or whatever it was. I went, 'What? What's The big deal here?' You know? I was totally nonplused. Then when I ended up at Capitol, it was a job. We had this monster band on our label and everything was so important surrounding it. I was a promotion man for the street promotion and I was district manager, that's where I started. The Beatles album was like being in a corral and having a pocket full of candy and carrots because you bought your way through the stations. Everything was about the Beatle product and giving people some free albums. Just something about the Beatles was your ticket on the field as a promotion man. You were the man on the street because you had the Beatles. There was me and maybe the RCA guy with the Stones. It was a thing like that. I still wasn't taking the band seriously.

“Then when they came in August of '65 and I worked with them, for lack of a better phrase, I still didn't get it, I guess. But it mansfield kenwas amazing. Loved them and all that. Worked with them; did the Hollywood Bowl thing. I hung out with them by the pool and we spent a day getting to know each other on a personal level, as well as the business level. Then, in ‘66 they come back. As I look back now in ‘65, it was really fun and was very exciting. In ‘66 there was a change in their demeanor.”

And what does Mansfield attribute that to?

“Well, didn't they just come off of something like, you know, Manila or the Lennon statement or something? Then a lot of things that happened. They were sick and tired of just singing and nobody listening and they were just disillusioned because of the bad press they would get because they supposedly snubbed somebody. They were just tired. I had no idea that the next day up in San Francisco, that was their last time. I'm sure that they had decided even before San Francisco that that was it. I'm sure they were in that mode of deciding not to tour anymore.

“In ‘65 they still had that British, childlike thing about them, still. They were kind of fascinated with me also because this was the first time, I think they had a day off in California. Like everybody else in England, they'd grown up with an image of the surfers and convertibles and the woodies and California girls and all that kind of thing. They were asking a lot of questions about California. John wanted to know where Grauman's Chinese Theater was. Ringo wanted to know if he could meet Buck Owens while he was here because Buck was on Capitol. They just had a lot of these questions. So here I am with the suntan and Cadillac convertible and a house up in the Hollywood Hills with a pool and all that. There was something felt kind of equal about us. I was fascinated with how they talked and they dressed and all the things they did. It was kind of a cultural exchange. Then, in ‘66, we didn't spend as much time together, but we worked together again. I honestly thought, Randy, 'You know what? I think I'm gonna end up working for these guys.' Then, for two years I didn't hear a word from anybody other than just doing my job in L.A. with the records and with our other artists.

: Then I start getting involved in the Apple thing and Capitol had to bid for that. We didn't have a slam dunk on Apple at all. The label was up for distribution and any label could have had it in their distribution system. But we had the one thing in our favor and that was the Beatles were on our label and we can give the Beatles their own label even though they were a Capitol act and they could still be on their label. The fact is that they did have years of proven relationships with Capitol so we would have a definite leg up there.

“Then Ron Kass and Paul finally came over and I was included as one of the few people who knew that we had Apple Records because I had to prepare as head of all the promotion and artist relations, and the director of independent labels. All of a sudden there's this new independent label and everything fell in my bailiwick. And so, the minute Paul and Ron Kass hit the ground there, I was involved with them the whole time. Again, our whole relationship just built from there. I was in such a position of influence for their needs because. I knew the territory and I knew the United States. I knew how to get records played and get things done in America. So, when they got back and then they turned around and called back and said that they wanted me to come over with Capitol President Stanley Gortikov and Larry Delaney, who the head of press relations and press and publicity for Capitol. That's when we went over and met in London and put the whole thing together; the promotion teams and what they would do ahead of time and when and where they had to do them. They were smart. They had done their homework. They knew America accounted for 50 percent of record sales worldwide. You had to break America. They weren't a slam dunk. Their label was not a slam dunk in America at all. We had to break that label. We had the Beatles, obviously, but we had to establish other artists, too. And we had to make it a real viable label.

“So, I got back and that's when I got a call that they wanted me to be a U.S. manager of Apple. That's when everything really changed for me because now, I was part of the team. The thing about the Beatles is there were a lot of inner circles. It's like when you dropped a pebble in a pond. Mal and Neal would obviously be the inner-inner circle. Being considered to be part of any of those inner circles was just incredible because they treated you accordingly. It was never like, ‘Well, I'm a Beatle and you're not,’ you know? I was just part of the team, that's all. They would be very open on things. John Lennon, especially. I thought he didn't like me because he was always so rough on me and Kass told me later on, 'John actually liked you best and that's why he was so caustic with you. He was just being a straight ahead. He felt he could talk to you and say what he was thinking.'

“I have my memories. They're all so very personal. People say, 'How did this sound like?' I can't remember when they put that out. I can't remember, ‘Did we sign before I left or after I left.’ It's just the facts just disappear and what's left in its wake is like a personal thing like any other story I've read. Like about George putting me to bed in London, knowing how much responsibility I had. He could see that I was sitting there at Apple, about ready to pass out. So, he said, 'C'mon, you're out of here,' and he took me over to the hotel and made sure I was upstairs in my room okay. And said, 'Don't worry about the meetings tomorrow. I'll cover for you. Just go in when you feel like it.’ So, it's always little things like that were very real.

“I always said - and I got jibed by Ringo later on - and I wrote about that, too - is the fact that I always thought they put on kind of a special face when I was around because I never saw any of the bad stuff. I never saw the real tension between anybody. You know, nothing. I never saw any of the bad things. And I was talking to somebody today. I said, 'well, maybe, you know, they grew up middle class or working class in Liverpool and they were taught, mind your manners. And all this kind of stuff. And you don't air your dirty laundry in front of strangers and things. So, I think that maybe they did reserve some things. I told Ringo - and you know this story - I told Ringo that I felt like they put a special face on from me and that's when he said, 'Oh, yeah, Ken, when we were the Beatles then we didn't really have that much to do. So, we would sit around saying how we could to impress you." That's what it was like with those guys.

“I got to have a kind of a personal segment with each one individually because, of course, Ringo came to L.A. He was there for years. He was part a part of a group of people there. Then George came over a lot when He was doing the live overdubs to Bangladesh. He was cleaning up some guitar stuff. My wife and Pattie (Boyd) were friends. We would just do things together and go shopping for jeans one day. When word got out that George was there, we had to boogie. But he would just do normal things.”

I was curious how the “suits” at Capitol reacted to ‘Let It Be’ as well as when it became apparent that the Beatles were breaking up.

“Well, I think - for Capitol - there was a gold mine there with the Beatles stuff and that's when they would put it in a different album together and stuff. But it was a shock. Well, it wasn't a shock. It wasn't a shock to me because I sensed that that day on the roof and a lot of people in the building sensed it but nobody said, 'You know, they're going to break up next week'. People just knew that things were changing. And then when Klein came in . . . it changed everything. The heart just left. People were let go with him there.

“Kass was just such a class guy, a guy that I would say for me as a young executive, Ron Kass and Stanley Gortikov were the two people that were really my mentors. I joined Kass at MGM because of my loyalty to him. Peter Asher and, Mike Connor, and I left together to be with Kass at MGM. Klein just tried everything to get me to stay because he thought I had an 'in' with McCartney because he knew that McCartney was probably the reason for me coming to Apple. But I didn't have any position with McCartney to have any influence on what he did, or thought, or anything. But I think Klein had misconstrued that. That's why he tried so hard to keep me at Apple. I don't know if I've either written this or not, but I went to Ron - I'd resigned from Apple and accepted MGM, the vice presidency there, and then Klein flew in to see me in L.A. and made me a horrendous offer and all that. I went to a Kass and said, ‘I need to talk to you, Ron.’ And I told him what Klein had offered me. I said, 'You know, I have family and stuff to think about. And it's just such an incredible offer. I don't know what to do. Just tell me what you think, Ron.' Ron said, 'Well, let me just put it this way, Ken: You can make up your own decision. But if you lay down with pigs, you’ll get up dirty.’

“I understood what he said. Sure, it would be fun for a while to be with the Beatles and then, of course, the Stones and Donovan and have all this stuff going. But then one day I would be known as Klein's guy and that was not good.”

With word widely circulating that renowned film director, screenwriter, and film producer, Peter Jackson, was tackling the redux of the ‘Let It Be’ film, I asked Ken what he knew about it.

“Well, the film - they've announced the release date of the film but I'm not sure it's going to hold because of the Coronavirus and so many things. Films are being set back. My understanding is - and I've talked to a few people - that - Peter Jackson technically is doing a beautiful job with through restorations of work, taking advantage of new technology and stuff. He's really lightening the thing up. And my understanding, too, is that he is showing the whole thing, that we were up on the roof. I heard is that it's going to be in the film. I can't imagine how they could put that much time in the film but I don't know. My understanding is the reason Ringo and Paul are so happy is because he's really showing it to be more than a lot of the darkness and the problems; that there was a lot of fun that went on at that time and lightheartedness and that it wasn't all bad. And, of course, Peter Jackson - my gosh, you know, having him do your film. I guess this is going to be called a documentary but it sounds like a full theatrical release. When people said that it was a documentary, I almost got the impression it's going to be way beyond that to me.”

I don’t know about y’all but whenever I’ve watched and listened to the “roof top concert”, I thought that the music was sounded much like the studio versions of the songs. Since Ken and I were talking about it, I asked him if the music in the film was actually live or was it dubbed in.

“Well, I've heard raw tapes on that and the sound - It surprised me - the fact that it was that cold and the guitars are that in-tune and a lot of things. Alan Parsons, I think one of his biggest problems was the wind and that's why he was going down, getting nylon stockings and stuff like that. He was really working, really focused on that not being a problem. I was amazed at how good everything sounded on that and how in-tuned it sounded and how well mic'd they were all this kind of stuff. Lennon's hands were so cold. He was really having a problem with that. And it was cold. It wasn't that cold in degrees as it was the wind and damp up on top of the roof. It was a dirty old roof. It wasn't like being in a garden. I mean, it was stark up there.”

Mansfield wrapped up our call by saying:

“I think in my book, The Roof, what I was trying to do, the kind of things you and I were just falling into with this kind of a conversation. I wanted people to have that feeling that it was something very personal about it all. I'm straight with you. I've been staying away from the factual stories. I'm talking more about- telling about when George took me to the hotel. The book was just to let people know what it was like to walk down Saville Row, which is the Mayfair District, one of the plushest areas of London and climb up those stairs and go through that door and be in there and working in there and working with people like Chris (Odell) or Jack Oliver - some of these people. It was so neat! And Derek Taylor was just such a story unto himself. He held court in his place. He's in that big wicker chair and the expensive champagne flowing. And there was a nice aroma throughout the building a lot of the time.”

I wonder what that was.

“Everything was very loose. In my book, I have a picture George, Derek and I think Chris O’Dell huddled around a small typewriter in the corner of somebody’s office, not in a big office. These things were done just naturally. I want people to get the feeling what’s going up on the roof and feeling the cold and in the sensations and the realization of something's happening here. I wasn't thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, this is the last time the Beatles are going to be together, playing together. Oh, my gosh! They're going to break up after this. Oh, my gosh! Everything's had changed drastically!’

“Now, at Apple, there were no thoughts like that. It was just like it was another day at the office. Everybody kind of looks at me crazy when I say it. It was another day at the office. Things are always happening around there. And there was footage that made it into the film and the concept was to have a live concert by the Beatles. So, time was running out. It was, again, just, 'Oh, my gosh, now go up on the roof.’ Not everybody in the building could do that. They couldn't have gone up anyway. The roof couldn't have withstood the weight. Some people didn't even know - most people, maybe, in the building didn't know what was going on. And so that's the kind of thing I want to impart to separate myself from the other writers to really put a personal thing in it. And oddly enough, I’m just now reading Geoff Emerick's book and I don't read many of the books because ever since I read a couple that I didn't like, I just haven't bothered with them. Geoff's book touches on that, too. You really get a feeling about them personally. That's the thing that fascinates me about the Beatles in the whole era. So that's what I want to leave with people.”

Ken Mansfield has written several excellent books with his most recent being “The Roof: The Beatles’ Last Concert” that we talked about. I encourage you to order that book as well as Ken’s other books. I have them all and they’re all great reads!

Adrian Vandenberg Talks '2020'

Posted May 2020

 

Adrian 13 c Stefan Schipper Reduced CroppedPhoto by Stefan SchipperBoomerocity is dedicated to the entertainment interests of you, the baby boomer, or, at least those who are younger and who love our music and the artists who made it. With that, one might wonder why the heck am I interviewing someone who was part of one of the major chunks of the soundtrack of the eighties.

Of course, I’m talking about Adrian Vandenberg, the former guitarist for the group, Whitesnake.

Why Whitesnake on Boomerocity?

Well, because Whitesnake was one of the bands who managed to reflect some of the sounds of the seventies into the eighties. An integral part of that sound was Adrian Vandenberg’s signature guitar licks.

Since those chart-topping, heady days of the eighties, the band split up and went their separate ways. Vandenberg has stayed busy with various projects. Most notably, his own self-named band. And speaking of his band, Adrian is dropping a new LP this month (the 29th, to be exact) entitled, “2020” – and it’s the kind of album you would expect from Vandenberg and his band.

I called Adrian at his home in Holland, a couple of hours from Amsterdam. While making small talk before asking him questions about his new album, I asked him how many guitars he currently owns.

“Quite a lot, to be honest. I think probably about twenty, twenty-five. There were even more. I mean, for a couple of years, as you probably know, when I went to work with Warren Demartini - he used to be in Ratt - he did a tour with us in Whitesnake - and he called it ‘the acquiring syndrome’ that guitar players have, you know. You run into a great Marshall amp somewhere that you think I'm never going to find it like this again.’ You get it and you put it in storage or something. The same goes for the guitars. You run into a great guitar and you think you never gonna find one like that anymore. The stupid thing is that I keep playing pretty much the same Les Paul that I had bought brand new in 1980. It's become like a body part. I get like an almost human connection with that piece of wood.”

When Adrian learned that I live in Nashville, he said:

“Nashville has become basically what L.A. was in the eighties, as far as music goes. Everybody kind of moved to Nashville and people who are originally from Nashville, weren't too happy about it because it became less relaxed than what it used to be.”

Moving our chat to the new album, Adrian said:

“Well, yeah, I suppose it sounds like cliché because everybody says it about their new album, but I'm really, really excited and very, very happy about it because it turned out exactly as what I was hoping for. Which is, you know, you'll be able to hear, is like very organic, fresh, dynamic, straight-in-your-face rock without too much polishing like what happened in the 80s, as we all know. It was a lot of production and got very, very polished and lots of reverb as if we were all the way in the back of a big stadium. It was something I really aimed to put this album to sound like a serious kick-ass rock band, where you are right in front of the stage at one of the best rehearsals; where the guitar and the bass and the drums and the vocals are loud and when you close your eyes, you see the band playing right in front of you. That was basically my hope that it would turn out like that, and it does!

“The funny thing is that I'm still playing it a couple of times a day for my own entertainment. That's never happened before. I write the songs and I demo the songs and all the stuff. I must have heard the song a hundred or a thousand times and I'm still playing it so that’s a serious way of measuring my enthusiasm on the record.

When asked how long the record took to make, Adrian said:

I started writing as soon as I knew Ronnie was going to be in, I probably wrote for about a month and a half, two months or something, and had little bits and pieces. Then I started working on it before Ronnie joined because I was hoping he was going to join. I had a couple of riffs that I already wrote and worked them out as soon as I knew Ronnie was on board. Then I flew to Madrid where he lived, and I recorded his vocals on my demo that I made on my iPad. That sounded great already. And, then when we went to Los Angeles, it probably took about two and a half weeks. When I got back home, I finished a couple of guitar parts that I didn't have the time to finish before. All in all, I think the actual recording and the mixing probably took about two to three weeks.”

How was this record different to record than his past efforts?

Adrian 13 c Stefan Schipper ReducedPhoto by Stefan Schipper“I had maybe a more specific plan about how I wanted it to work out, as far as dynamics, the content of it. It was – I wouldn’t say relatively easy, but in a way it was. It fell together very naturally. And I was really, really happy to find the drummer and the bass player in the band because they play about 90 percent of the album. Rudy Sarzo and Brian Tichy, they play two songs and all the other stuff is played by Koen (Herfst, on drums) and Randy (van der Elsen, on bass) – the bass player and the drummer. I'm really, really happy with the drummer.

The funny thing is I heard him in ’94 in Holland. It’s small here - the music scene is not too big. But I wasn’t aware with his playing until I found a drum solo of his online and I was blown away. What I really like about his drumming on this record is it's so energetic and kick-ass and loud and in-your-face and, at the same time, so graceful. It really has to drive that this kind of rock n roll needs, whether you're playing something mid-tempo or up-tempo or whatever. The energy of the whole band really comes across, which makes it an extra big bummer that we can't play for a while until all this Corona stuff is over. I think one of the strongest points of the record is that it really sounds like there's a band playing right in front of your face.”

In the course of the conversation, I brought up my recent chat with my friend and former Badlands’ bassist, Greg Chaisson. Adrian jumped right on the subject.

“I really like Badland. I know Jake E. Lee pretty well because I spent quite some time with him when Vandenberg was supporting Ozzy Osbourne on our first American tour at the time. I always thought it was so sad that Ray Gillam passed away because they were such a fantastic band and everybody that are into that kind of stuff and were into Badlands were really kind of expecting those guys would be pretty big. Then that happened. And apparently it kicked Jake's ass so hard - the whole sadness of it, he stayed way out of the music business for twelve or thirteen years.”

Concluding his thoughts on Badlands and its members, Adrian said about Chaisson:

“He’s a great player he always had a great time on stage and his cowboy hat. Very psyched, you know?”

Shifting gears, I asked Vandenberg to tell about his lead singer, Ronnie Romero.

“About five years ago, I read somewhere that Ritchie Blackmore wanted to do a couple of Rainbow shows again. I thought it was kind of curious because I've always been a very big Rainbow fan, especially from the period where Ronnie James Dio was singing. So, I was curious so I was gonna take a look on YouTube and see what he's going to do,

“I was blown away by this small Chilean guy singing like Dio in his best years. At the same time, singing songs like Soldier of Fortune that were originally, of course, sung by Coverdale and he sang it just as well. I thought, ‘Geez, where the hell does this guy come from?!’

“So, a couple of months ago when, Well, actually, a little longer than that - about three quarters of a year ago, I started Vandenberg 2020 Photo01Reducedthinking about reviving the name Vandenberg and making like a kick-ass album and putting the band on the road. I suddenly remembered Ronnie. I thought, ‘Hmmm, I'm curious, what are you doing these days? Because I knew that Blackmore only wanted to do a few such shows every two years. So, I said, ‘Maybe he’s interested in joining this band.’

“I got in touch with him. He was really enthusiastic because he does quite a lot of session stuff but he would prefer to be like in a main band like this, basically, and not sing everybody else's music all the time, like it like he does with all these other projects. So, it came at a good time for him, too.

“I flew to Madrid and we spent two days together. We hung out and we had a great connection right away, which is, of course, as you know, very important, because when you start touring, you're on each other's list, so to speak, all day. So, yeah, we had a great connection right away. I flew back a couple of weeks later, probably about a month or two months later when we had all the demos ready, which I like to record on my iPad, always makes. It makes it easier to work on a train or an airplane or wherever. And so, I went back to Madrid and explained the vocals to them, and he sang them already like 80 percent of the quality of how it sounds on the record. He just knew the songs. He's really quick. He said that it was because most of this music that I wrote fits him like a glove. You can hear that on the record.

“So, then a couple of weeks later, we found ourselves in LA recording the album with the Great Bob Marlette. We ended up working with Bob because he had exactly the same ideas about how this should sound as I did. And it turned out exactly what I was hoping for.”

What song would Adrian point to as a calling card for the entire album?

“Well, people who may never have heard of me, I would think if they hear Burning Heart, they will probably go, ‘Oh, yeah, I know that song’. But then I think a strong calling card would be ‘Shadows of the Night’ because it has all the elements that makes this band that strong. You know, it’s got great singing, amazing drumming. It's got the shortest guitar solo being the modest guy I am, the shortest guitar solo on the album.

“Another song would definitely be Hell and High Water because it's like an epic song. I really like one or two epic songs on any rock album that don't just do like four minutes, but definitely tell a longer story. So yeah, that those two are probably my main ones right now. But at the same time, I really got into a Freight Train because it's like one of those songs you like to play in your car and turn up and open the windows and let it blast away. It was one of those. So, I like those too, which one of the reasons why I play Highway to Hell still in my car because it's one of the songs. It would be great in a convertible cruising down some sunny road somewhere or some sunny highway.”

Because Vandenberg has been in the music business for as long as he has, I was curious about what the best and worst changes he has witnessed in it.

Vandenberg 2020 Photo Adrian Reduced“One of the best changes are a few that I noticed that - and it could be connected to the worst thing in the business - is that live shows seem to be doing really, really well the last couple of years, more so than probably by 10 years ago. It could be it's connected to the fact that record sales are shit, of course. Music became like a snake almost. You can log in on Spotify and you can pretty much listen to everything for free even though it takes a lot of effort for an artist to make a record and to write it and to record. It takes all the money and all that stuff. It's pretty much free. I don't know if that results in the fact that live shows seem to have gained momentum. I don’t know if it's the same where you live, but in Holland, definitely - especially the festivals are booming right now. I mean, the last five, six years - in a tiny country like Holland, there's a zillion festivals and they're all doing great.

“I suppose, the worst thing is definitely the fact that record sales and that a lot of people seem to think that artists are pissed off about it because of the money. But that's not really it. The thing is that records used to be like a thing. It used to be, ‘Oh, man, there’s a new album coming out from Aerosmith’ or whatever, and you would go to the shop and look at the cover, and it would be like a thing that you could pick up and you really have something in your hands. Right now, it's like an abstract type thing that flows in the air somewhere. All you do is push the enter button on your computer and it's right there. So, yeah, that's not such a great thing. But in the end, I've always been convinced, one way or another, that music is always going to be such an important element of life for everybody. So many people realized that that daily stuff is usually accompanied by music, you know? They don't seem to think about it too much. But music has to be created first and recorded and that takes effort, money, and energy.”

What are Adrian’s near-term plans and how does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy is?

“Well, I can make a little story about the two of them, I suppose. I'm dying to take it on the road. I'm pretty confident that by the end of the year, it's even possible to start touring again. I wouldn't be surprised either if they had to take steps to make sure that everybody has to wear a mask or something. Maybe by the time there's a combination of medication that can cure everybody. That could be possible, too. So that's definitely one thing that I'm hoping for and relying on.

As far as the second one? I would suppose that for me, it's important to, because I've always been conscious about wanting to
live like that, to be remembered as a guy who was to close himself artistically. I've never made any concessions in my music or in my art, which I consider a huge privilege that I actually, have had to be able to do that. I really have to thank all my fans so to speak - or followers or whatever you want to call it - for that because those are the people who put you up there, to give you the opportunity to do what you like to do most and that comes out of your heart.

“That's another thing that I would like to be remembered for, is that I always musically did what I believed in such a way stay close to my own heart to make music that way; to make music that is honest and not contrived and that's not written in order to try to make money with it. I've never made any decision in my life based on financial motivations. You have to make your money, of course. You have to make a certain amount of money to live a life that gives you the freedom to create. For me, my living style is not very different than it used to be 40 years ago when I was just an art student. For me, the ultimate freedom is the freedom to create, whether I live in a one-room apartment or whether I live in the south of France in whatever kind of place.

“So, yeah, it's basically, honestly staying true to yourself and do as little or no artistic concessions in order to please the more financially driven elements in your life. Like record companies or fashion and music or whatever.”

Keep up with all the latest going on with Adrian by following him on Twitter (@Adriandenberg).

Chris P. James Talks About The Burrito Brothers, Their New LP, and The Legacy of the Band

Posted May 2020

chrispjamescroppedFor those who may not have heard of them, you might think it’s some circus act or the name of some sort of Mexican food joint. But to the older siblings of the baby boomer generation, the name brings back memories and names from the late sixties and very early seventies. Memories associated with their songs like ‘If You Gotta Go,’ or names like the late Gram Parsons or Chris Hillman from the Byrds – both of whom formed the original incarnation of the band.

Since those wild and crazy days, the band has gone through almost innumerable line-up changes but have pretty much always stayed true to their innovative, Americana/country-rock sound.

Currently called The Burrito Brothers, the band consists of Bob Hatter on guitar, Peter Young on drums, Tony Paoletta on steel guitar, and Chris P. James on keys and vocals.

While confined by a government-ordered COVID-19 driven “sheltering in place”, Mr. James and I caught up with each other to chat about the band’s new disc, ‘The Notorious Burrito Brothers’. After exchanging thoughts and stories about what we saw, heard, and knew about the virus, I asked Chris to tell me about the new disc and which song from the new disc he would point to as the calling card for it.

“Well, we're thrilled with it. And we think we accomplished what we set out to do with it. We initially had this idea of pretty much a concept album. I mean, not a full story. Not like Tommy by The Who or something, but more like those albums that feel like their pace in such a way that it all hangs together, that it opens with the invite you in song, Bring It On, come on and join the party, kind of thing, and it finishes with a very definite finale that has little references to the previous songs and the songs before it on the album. The pacing is, as well, thought out and includes a 10- or 11-minute suite, which is four songs all kind of glued together - all put together to become one piece, and we just were all on the same page doing it.

“The musicianship is so sky-high in this group right now and being Tony Paoletta on pedal steel and Bob Hatter on guitar and Peter Young on drums and background vocals. They're just top-level guys who are in demand regularly. They do lots of sessions, probably less so right now with this virus.

“But that's their deal. They're just brilliant virtuoso level musicians. We're all longtime friends and we just kind of all got really on the same page more than I ever recall. We were close on our previous album from 2018, except that it took so long to finish. We made it. We were offered by John Sturdivant Jr. He's the owner and operator of Junction Studio in Madison, Tennessee. It’s on Kitty Wells Boulevard because it's got that connection, his grandmother - Kitty Wells. John offered to record an album. This was back in late 2016, at his place. I was really wanting to do it and my brother, Fred, who had produced our previous album, had this mindset that, ‘Nah, you don't do it till you got the deal and they paid for it and all that.’ It resulted in not making an album for about six years. So, when John offered, ‘Naw, let's just make one.’ And he did it and he produced it. I thought, ‘Sure, I'll take you up on that.’

‘It turned out he was kind of nitpicker or something. I don't want to knock the guy. But it just obsessive. It seems like we could never be done. He kept insisting that we had to tweak this or that. And he mixed it over and over again. And it just seemed to take forever. It took a couple of years. And the result was very nice. It came out on our own Junction label, which was kind of a mistake in hindsight. It's called, ‘Still Going Strong’. And after we weren't as successful as we hoped in trying to market it ourselves, we tried pitching it, saying, ‘You know, it wasn't a real label, it was just our own, we all own the rights and everything.’ We had a company that we're now with, SSM records in England, they really liked it, but said, ‘I'm sorry, even though you own it now, it's really still seen as having been released. It's available on download. You've got a registered UPC code, all this stuff.’ They do not want to handle an album that's already out there and pretend that it's a new release.

“So, they said, ‘Let us know as soon as you got something new.’ I told John that - this was the start of last year; which I loved the idea of 2019 being the 50th anniversary of the Flying Burrito Brothers Gilded Palace of Sin first album. ‘So, let's get an album done. Let's kind of knocked this one out and not spend all that time on it.’

“Well, that just wasn't John's way of doing stuff. He just flipped out about it. In his mind, he thought there might be another two, three years. Just finally finished one. And so, he bailed out of the group, which, if you look at the history of the Burrito Brothers, that's nothing new. There's always new guys coming in.

“Our answer was real easy because we just asked Peter Young, who was in the group before John if he'd come back. He was happy to. He's a real agreeable guy who's got enough irons in the fire, he's not that hung up on stuff. And he was the perfect answer, and he brought us to Alchematic studio in Franklin. Owned and operated by Mark Richardson who used to be at Electric Lady Land in New York.

burritobros003“We've got the best sound we've ever gotten and it just flowed so easy. We were out from under the previous nitpicking and taking too long and everything. And we just decided, ‘You know, let's compose and conceive of an album and just go do it.’ And when we were not even, gosh, we were just a little over halfway through, we sent our representative in England, Bob Boiling who's a great friend and a real good go-getter business guy. And I love his initials Bob Boiling, B B - like Burrito Brothers. He got it to this guy, Bryan Adams - not the Canadian rock singer but the same name, Head of SSM Records - who said, ‘Yep, I'll take it’, even before we were done. So, we knew we had a deal as we finished the album that we had a sweet, sweet situation and we just had a better report, just a whole respecting and liking each other. It just worked so nicely. It just feels to me like the smoothest I've seen and I'm confident that it's the best album that I've been involved with and it's probably the best Burrito Brothers album in a long time because it's really that good.

“It's also a pretty, pretty significant moment in the history of the group because it's such a nice deal. It’s a major label with worldwide distribution and promotion. I don't think that that's the biggest record deal that the Burrito Brothers have had in decades. So, it's a real sweet, nice time. Kind of weird to be marked by this pandemic at the same time, but it's still a special entry in the history of the Burrito Brothers.”

Regarding how long the album took to record, Chris said:

“I suppose you could say a year to make if you count everything. If you count us getting together long before going into the studio and writing and organizing all our plans and then going in and recording. But it seems to me the actual recording is only just about, three or four months, which is even misleading because with everybody's schedule and not having a massive budget. We probably went in one day every couple weeks or so. I think there may have even been occasions where more than two weeks went by between the sessions. It's probably a total of about five or six sessions. It was really efficiently done.

“The result proves that you don't have to belabor over it. In fact, I think, it's a decidedly better mix than the previous album. I think perhaps some of that obsessing doesn't result in a better product. Plus, it's a lot easier to be fired up about this one because it remained pretty fresh, we were still excited. There we were having a deal before we even finished it and we were just on a high on it.

“The other one I remember really distinctly thinking by the time it was out, it already felt old to me. I mean, we'd been doing the material for that album was less concisely figured out. The album before, Still Going Strong, in twenty eighteen is sound as ever in 2011. So, there's seven years there between those two albums. And I was going crazy. My favorite thing to do is make the new album. After a couple of years, you know, like about 2013 or 2014, I'm thinking, ‘Come on guys, it's time to do it again.’

“We had a couple of personnel shifts right in there. We had that idea that we needed the deal first and all this stuff. Yet it's not like I or the other members of the band weren't still into writing songs, I mean coming up with the material, I believe we could have made an album in 2013 quite easily. We had plenty of material. A lot of the stuff that wound up on Still Going Strong had been percolating for half a dozen years.”

What song would James point to as the calling card for the album?

“Well, I would think probably the first one. It's the one that invites everybody in. It's kind of that old idea - I'm sure many people said it but I remember Todd Rundgren telling me that you put that main radio song on first; the one you think is the one that could be the hit, that could draw people in. That's what we do. So, probably ‘Bring It’ is probably my choice if you had to pick one that you hope made an impression to make people want to hear more.”

I suggested that this album dovetailed nicely, to which Chris replied:

“Absolutely! It's a thing where to be the Burrito Brothers is something with some degree of already preset parameters; an ideaBurrito Brothers 2019 2 of the kind of stuff you should be doing. The initial concept brought out by Gram Parsons and Chris Hellman when they made the first album, which is now just widely regarded as a bona fide classic – The Gilded Palace of Sin. The idea is to bring some country aesthetics - some of the idea of country music into the rock arena. They were not marketed or treated as if they were a country band. They were in the rock crowd, but they were wanting to turn that crowd on to the idea that country wasn't just a bunch of old fogies or whatever. It could be cool that there were good sounds there. It was part of a whole wave, a whole movement, all those hippie country-rock groups like a Pure Prairie League and Poco and New Riders of the Purple Sage and, for that matter, Grateful Dead, The Byrds. Those groups, if you A-B’d them to what’s on country radio today, probably sound more like an older school country than today's boogie and rock version. But, still, in their day that was filed under the genre of Rock that wasn't considered a country group. That's what I think - strongly believe we are. We're not a country group. We're a rock group. We incorporate flavors and instrumentation that is often associated with country but it's far more inventive, progressive sort of window we're looking out of; making the concept type album and liking things that are almost psychedelic and things like that. It's a group that utilizes that hybrid.”

And what’s on The Burrito Brothers’ radar for the next year or so?

“Part of the whole plan for this album, which was better realized than we'd been before, as I've already pretty much alluded to, even included a focus aimed at England and Europe and foreign countries. The idea, we feel, is that they'd be more receptive, even, dare I say, respectful of a group of seasoned professionals with a real ability to deliver this uniquely American art form and really good at it. I'd liken it to be the way some black jazz guys back in the 50s and 60s would go to Europe and find much better reception and success and respect. It's like that saying that you can't be a prophet in your own town. And speaking of hometown: in Nashville, there’s so many groups and everybody’s trying to get a little piece of attention. They’re much more into whatever they're doing. When you broaden that out to the rest of the country, I wouldn't say we aren't received well. We've done a lot of really nice gigs. But still, in a broader sense, they're not going to embrace this on the country charts. That's not their thing these days. The pop charts, pop radio or whatever is filled with those electronic sounding things that rap and synthesized tracks that have a drum sequence - not even real musicians playing; one guy in a studio, building a track that he gets somebody to talk over and sing to. We're just not in keeping with that at all. So, our goal was to aim toward the European market. The feeling is that it's such a global village now with the internet and everything and communications. Such big potential out there. I mean, all we got to do is find a few pockets that love us and we may have it made.

“But just the idea of aiming our attention in hopes of making some marks overseas is what we were saying. We've already spoken to an agent or two and we got a man over in England, Bob Boiling, and the plan was, upon release of this album and with a little bit of buzz from it, will bring about some nice little trips overseas.

“We’re not any kind of band who really wants to just be out on the road all the time. Too many family things. We just like a shorter, well-figured out, focused trip; you know, ten days, two weeks, something like that; handfuls of them during the year. Not that, ‘Boy, let's just get in the van and hit the road and be out there all year!’ No breaks.

“We sort of wondered if you had to name the genre for this band - for a while there, not quite ten years ago, we were wondering if we could make some inroads with Americana. But it seemed to not be as welcoming as we'd hoped. And we knew that the country music scene, its way to market, control, whatever, that an old group like us isn't that easily included.

“So, I thought we could call it classic rock. But I got corrected and I'm sure it was wrong because classic rock is just a radio format that plays old hits and it isn't really an ongoing genre. I mean, it's sort of, in a way, the definition of rock groups from a classic by-gone time. But the Burrito Brothers didn't have big mega-hits that everyone out there in the general public knows. They're more of a group that was regarded for having really good albums and always being a good solid group and having great musicians in it.

“But, you know, it's interesting that the fact that this group has lasted for 51 years - it's interesting that it's a whole different dynamic for most groups that have lasted like that. I suppose the Stones are one of the few exceptions of really essentially being intact. Most groups that have lasted for a long, long time have one last remaining guy from way back when; the original drummer or something. Then they a staffed group to go out and play those oldies shows or to play performances. This group has never had two albums in a row with the same person. Every single time they got around to making their next album, at least one guy is gone and the next guy is in. But interestingly, there's never been an audition. It's always the guys who remain who need to find the next guy to fill any vacancy. It’s like, ‘Oh, it's time to get our buddy here to join, which is essentially what happened with me in 2009. I've been around for a long time. Subbed on various occasions and even played on a couple of albums as a guest. And that's what happens. You finally get your turn. I should mention that each time the group reconstitutes, it's always because it's an offer. There's a label who's interested in them or there's a touring, booking guy who has dates. It's like little, you know, fine, if he doesn't want to do it anymore, he quit for whatever reason, get a new guy and let's get the band back up and running. What happens is there is a distinct tendency each time it's reconstituted to show their stuff to prove that this lineup is just as good as it was before. Check it, check us out and we're going to let you know that it's in the right hands.

“I strongly feel that we just did that with our new album, The Notorious Burrito Brothers. This is good. There's been a personnel change, but there's an upswing in the quality of the music that’s out now. There's the fact that the group was under the radar a lot of years. Perhaps you could even kind of say we still are. But hopefully, we are kind of surfacing a little more over time. That and just these days, weird, social media, judgmental, curmudgeonly mindset that many show.

“There's people who say, ‘Well, they're not the real Burrito Brothers.’ Well, unfortunately, you can't name anybody who is. I mean, maybe you could make the case that The Gilded Palace of Sin with Gram Parsons, Sneaky Pete Klein, Chris Hillman, and Chris Ethridge was the one and only real Burrito Brothers? They made one album. There was already a personnel change on the second, and Gram Parsons - the leading light - was gone by the third. And yet the group has continued the whole time. There isn't an iconic lineup unless it's that one. And how do you explain fifty-five years of carrying on and every single time, the personnel shifted. It was not a bunch of guys who had never been in the band. It was always the nucleus from before adding a new guy. There's a career and we got a timeline on our website and it shows how the whole thing transpired. There's an entry for each year since 1967 and who was in the band that year. If an album came out then it's just an entry for the whole crazy, convoluted progression. It is a definite lineage. It's not at any point where I remember some guy saying, ‘Oh, that's not the Burrito Brothers.’ I've learned not to engage in it. Does it make me look any good? But I want to say, ‘Yes, we are. We own the trademark rights and you can look it up on the timeline.’ But that's just not worth it. But this guy went so far as to say, 'Maybe I could just find three guys and we'll call ourselves The Beatles". I thought, ‘That's got to be one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. You're comparing a group that has absolutely a precedent of changing people throughout its entire history to the biggest group of all time who has four iconic names who cannot possibly ever be anyone else. There's no comparison, that's an absurd analogy.”

As we wrapped up our chat, Chris wanted to mention a particular song to be sure and listen to: ‘Acrostic’.

“Acrostic is a really cool thing. I didn't know what that word meant when I came across it a year and a half ago. I looked it up and it is a poetic lyrical tool in which the first letter of each line spells out a different message. It's like if you're looking at a lyric sheet, you read it vertically downward on the left-hand column, the first letter of each line, and I came up with one. Then I thought. ‘I don't know of a song that's an acrostic. I don't think anybody's done that before.’ So, I came up with a little message and then fitted lyrics that were really, really nice. My mother had just passed away and I came up with this idea of a mother or a parent giving their child some good words, some advice, about how to face life. It worked out really nice. The guy who did the artwork for the cover of the Notorious Burrito Brothers - his name was Warren Ells - he put together a conceptual video acrostic and it's not bad at all. I think we'll do another like that since we can't really do a video shoot right now. I thought that his conceptual treatment of that song worked out just fine.”

The Burrito Brothers are more than fine. Keep up with them at their website, TheBurritoBrothers.net.