Posted June, 2015
Photo by Joel Piper
Every songwriter dreams of writing just one song – that song – that everyone knows and can sing – or, at the very least, hum. To be able to write two, well, that would be the rarified air segment of the songwriter hierarchy. More than that and you know that you’ve accomplished more than most songwriting mortals. You’re in an exclusive club that few belong to.
Such is the case with Jack Tempchin.
You may not have heard his name but you have most certainly heard many of the songs he’s written or co-written. Songs like “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Already Gone,” “The Girl From Yesterday,” “Somebody,” and “It’s Your World Now” by the Eagles. Of course, you’ve had to have heard, “Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancin’) by Johnny Rivers.
Perhaps you’re familiar with Glenn Frey’s hits, “The One You Love,” “You Belong to the City,” “Smuggler’s Blues,” “True Love” or “I Found Somebody”? If so, you now know that those, too, were co-written by Mr. Tempchin.
And those are the biggies. Jack has also written songs recorded by George Jones, Glen Campbell, Emmylou Harris and Randy Meisner, Sammy Kershaw, Patty Loveless, Tanya Tucker and many, many others.
If it were me who had a hand in all of those great songs, I’d be tempted to rest on my laurels and feel that I have nothing left to write or give. But not Jack Tempchin.
Tempchin recently released a four song EP entitled, “Room to Run”. Not only does it show that he has lots of great music still inside of him, it’s also musical foretaste of more great music to come.
I recently had the privilege of chatting with Jack by phone about “Room to Run” at his Southern California home. He started off sharing about the EP and how it was different to record than his previous albums.
“I have put five or six of my own albums out. Since the Eagles got back together in ’94, and I stopped doing the Glenn Frey albums, I put my own albums out. But I haven’t had a record deal. This is my first record deal since I was signed with Clive Davis and Arista Records. The last album was about three years ago.
“It’s so tremendously different. My new album is a completely different way of making a record for me. Of course, I’ve been using a combination of the traditional recording and Pro Tools. I partnered with Joel Piper, my producer. Joel is more of an EDM producer. He’s twenty-eight years old and was also in a band called Confide who played the Warped Tour. His whole experience of music in this world is completely different from mine because of his age. He’s been working with Pro Tools since he was nine years old, you know what I mean? He’s got the skills where he can do just about anything. He can hear any type of record from any era and duplicate it. Once I started working with him, I come to find that he actually plays every instrument really well and sings all the backgrounds. I thought, ‘Well, this is weird’. The song is mine, but he would put all this other stuff I would have never thought of putting in there.
“He’s such a great producer, because everything he does, to me, amplifies the song. It’s not his skill set; it’s the fact that he can use it to further the song. It’s been a real different experience of making a record. There are only two or three people on the record except for me and Joel. I play the guitar and sing, and he plays most everything else. I started thinking about it, and it’s not that much different than when I worked with Glenn Frey. We’d write the song, arrange it, and have a bunch of players come in. That’s the traditional way of making a record. I was still partnering with the guy who was doing all that. The only difference is Joel is playing all the stuff himself then doing all the engineering. Still, somebody has to do the thinking. It’s not that different except for the technology change that allows one guy to do all the stuff when it used to take fifteen guys. The bottom line is I would sing the song and get a great vocal with Joel. He would go away and come back with a track. I would go, ‘Gee, is this me?’ Like with ‘Room To Run’, it’s got this great pedal steal. I feel like I’m stepping into the future here. I’m making this record with the newest methodology and technology, but somehow it still feels really good for me. I like what’s coming out. That’s the bottom line.”
Sharing more about the album itself, Tempchin said:
“I was thinking about doing a record for a couple years. A lot of times you do a record, and nothing happens. I’m paying for it myself. Then I got a record deal like a thunderbolt out of the blue. My manager saw an advertisement that said they were looking for something. I went in, and the guy offered me a huge, fabulous record deal. It just exploded my brain in terms of creativity. I thought, ‘Wow, someone else wants to hear what I do’. I collected all these songs I had, and I wrote a bunch of new songs. I was really inspired by getting a record deal. Somebody else is going to be trying to push it besides me. I’m not very good at that.
“With ‘Room To Run’, I go to Nashville every year and write with people. My friend, Carey Ott, is a computer genius and great songwriter. We were thinking about that subject when we wrote that, so I pulled that out of my catalog. I really like it.
If I hadn’t had a record deal, I might not have made another record. These songs would just languish away in a drawer, and no one would ever hear them. I had been talking to a bunch of super successful people about their sad tales concerning going through divorces and losing all their money. My friend, Glenn Frey, said, ‘Divorce is a fraternity with a really difficult initiation’. It’s not my story; I’m happily married. But I was so moved by talking to these people, and I sat down at the kitchen table one day to write ‘The High Cost of Hate’. I thought to myself, ‘I’m never going to be able to play this song anywhere’, but I just had to get it out. About eight months later, I had a gig that happened to be for the top divorce lawyers in the country. They were having a convention in San Diego, and on the last night of the convention, they have a special dinner with the top 100 (out of a couple thousand). I just couldn’t resist singing that song for them. They gave me a standing ovation halfway through the song. The song says, ‘Let’s call it quits/And make some lawyers rich’. I’m nice to the lawyers in the song, so they really liked it. My label president is actually an attorney, so he got excited. That’s why they put the EP out. He just wanted to spread that song to other attorneys. I’m just delighted it’s getting out there somehow.
“And then I have ‘Jesus and Mohammed’. That was something I wrote with a friend of mine. He came up with the thought, and we wrote that. I put it on different projects, but I could never record it the way I wanted to. This is a good version of that, and I’m glad to have that out there.”
As for what the buzz has been like so far for the EP, Jack’s answer was matter of fact and without hype.
“It’s a little early. I played the Troubadour on May 7, and I did all the new songs from the album. That went really well, so that was cool. I’m not hearing any other feedback yet, and I’m very curious. I would like one person to go, ‘Hey, I like that!’”
I shared with Tempchin that I felt that if the fourth song on the EP, “Summertime Bum”, doesn’t get picked up for commercial use and/or in TV and movies, there’s definitely something wrong.
“Wow, that’s so cool! Many years ago, I had a house by the beach. It was summer. I was out on the hammock and wrote that song. I made a horrible little demo of it. I reviewed, and I’m going, ‘I still like this!’ That’s just great to hear.”
Jack shared his hopes as to what listeners will get from “Room to Run”:
“I’m fortunate that I’m a legacy artist that’s had a bunch of hits. That’s wonderful, and I’ve had a great life in music. I feel like I’m on fire with songs. I’m still there, and I still love this whole thing. Like everybody in my position, I would like people to enjoy what I’m doing now. I’m a new artist to most people, because everything I’ve done is in songwriting. I’d like people to enjoy my records of my songs and go, ‘Oh, this guy has a lot of cool songs I like to hear’. I don’t want to make a record of my hits, because I didn’t make those original records anyway. I’m not going to be able to beat them, and I love them the way they are. I’m trying to still be an artist, I guess. I go in my backyard with my producer, and I dig old songs out of my catalog. Or I get a song I started a few years ago, and I finish it. Or I write a brand new song. Then I get to record it, and put it out. Man, that’s all I care about. I’m just looking for people to start going, ‘Hey, I’m enjoying what you’re doing’. That’ll complete the circle for me.
“The album is called ‘Learning To Dance’. The four songs on the EP are the songs I left off the album. The record label decided they liked them, and they put them out as a four song EP. The reason I left them out is because ‘Learning To Dance’ is sort of a theme. It’s all love songs. It moves through the early, euphoric stages of love to the more confusing parts to looking back on love. It all fell into a theme, like love through the years. I picked those songs and left the others off, because they didn’t fit the theme.”
Continuing, Tempchin said:
“I love country. The whole thing about country is the song base. Like Tom T. Hall- the guy in the hospital is dying and wondering who’s going to the feed the hogs. I got all these hogs back home, and nobody’s feeding them. My wife can’t do it. The third day in the hospital, they think he’s a goner. But he gets up, walks out of the hospital, and goes back to the farm to feed the hogs. Stories, you know what I mean? You can’t be halfway through that song and turn it off. They basically put those stories into rock and roll with country rock. I guess I do come from all that.”
When I asked what he attributed the rising interest and popularity to music like his to, Jack was philosophical with his answer.
“I’m not sure. I’ll go to The Hotel Café in L.A., and I’ll see a couple girls play the old kind of music. They know all the stories about Lead Belly and all the folk tales. These people are twenty-one years old! How do they know all this? It used to be, with you and me, we just had the radio and the record store. That was the only place you could find music. Now days, the young people can look at all the music that was ever there and pick what they like. They can go, ‘Well, actually I’m a Sixties hippie’ or ‘I’m a grunge person’. When they go back and find this stuff, our music seems a little more real to them than the stuff that came after such as disco and hip hop. They see that you can do this music without machines. They can look back, drill into what interests them, and become experts on it. For some people, our music appeals to them, and they’re bringing it back. That’s the only thing I can think of.”
As I said at the beginning of this interview, Jack Tempchin has written the kind of songs that people dream about writing. I asked him what his biggest challenges as a songwriter are and what advice would he give songwriters today.
“I’m putting up a website called Go Write One on www.patreon.com where I’ve done a whole bunch of one minute or two minute videos about songwriting. What I don’t do is tell anybody how to write a song. I don’t tell them any of the details. I just talk about getting in the mood, getting excited, and getting yourself to do it. That’s coming up in about a week, and I’m going to put up the videos I’ve already shot. I can’t advise anybody about writing a hit, getting it on the radio, or anything like that. I just talk about why it’s cool to write songs and what you can get out of it. I’m in love with it, and I’m just trying to pass that along.
“It’s like the food we have is not as nourishing anymore. I’m looking for a song with some nourishment that I want to hear over and over, and it’s going to give me something. My friend, John Brannen, wrote a song called ‘I’m Still In The Game’. It’s great, and I love it. It inspires me. Unless I go back and listen to Mississippi Fred McDowell, who is somebody that everything they do is totally real and great. Sometimes I think it’s just me. I don’t look hard enough. When I was younger, I looked and looked and found things that were great.
“There are rock ‘n’ roll schools right around my neighborhood in San Diego where you send your kid, and they put together a band. I’m going, ‘Man, we never had that!’ Kids today go, ‘Oh, I want to be a rock star’, and we keep seeing Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix done over and over.”
With such a long and successful career in the rough and tumble world of rock and roll, Jack has seen lots of changes in the business. I asked him what are the best and worst changes he’s seen in the music business.
“In the late fifties and sixties, it went from pop music to the folk music era. Then it went from singer/songwriter to country rock to the huge rock tradition we had. That was a huge change. The Beatles were on TV. Elvis came along. That was just my generation taking a left turn from where music had gone before.
“I did learn along the way that there are several kinds of music for different purposes. Along with songs that move people, there is also dance music. In every era, the dance music suddenly predominates for awhile and pushes the other music off the charts. It started with Chubby Checker’s ‘The Twist’. It was a huge craze, and they came out with all the twist records. It was the same for disco, hip hop, and rap. It’s all essentially big beat dance music. When those things are going, you can’t get the other music in for awhile. I wouldn’t look at that as a bad change. It’s just part of the way it is. Dance music is just as valid as any other kind of music.
“The new technologies are kinda sad as far as the fact that some really creative people are not getting paid for their work. That’s not a good change. However, everyone’s work is now available to anyone who wants it. In a way, as far as spreading music through the planet, that’s a fabulous thing. You can hear something on the internet or radio, and Shazam that thing. You’ll know all about that person and other things they’ve done, and buy a couple songs. You could never do that before. When I heard Mississippi Fred McDowell, I had to go get the record or find someone who even knew he existed. There was no internet. Everybody can just gorge themselves on all the music they like, and I think that’s a positive change.”
Photo by Joel Piper
If he were named music czar, what would Jack Tempchin do to fix the business?
“I would encourage the Boomers to spend more money, so that there will be a little more balance in the pop music. From many eras, fourteen-year-old girls were the ones who were buying the singles, so all the songs were directed toward what they liked. I think it’s an improvement if you bring everyone in. They should have their music, but so should older folks. It should still be on the radio. People should be listening to the music that you and I liked before, new music from the same people. They should be finding really great songs that are new and presenting them to those of us who’d like to hear them. That’s not really happening as much as it could. Radio concentrates on the big, huge money hits. It kinda leaves us off.
"I’ll wake up and think, ‘Kris Kristofferson- he used to do some great songs. What has he done lately?’ I dig around and find that he did do an album. It’s real funky sounding, but sure enough, he’s got a couple killer songs on there. Nobody’s going to hear them.
“With my album, I’ll think, “Yea, I love it. Sounds great!’ But then, I’ll think, ‘What radio stations are we going to pitch it to?’ There’s nothing out there where people are listening to this stuff.”
As our conversation wrapped up, I asked Jack one final question: When you’ve gone to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?
“The song ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’- I used to sing to my kid to sing him to sleep. If some of my songs can get worked into the fabric of the culture where people can enjoy them for a long time, that’s great. As a writer and an artist who makes records, I guess I’m not tremendously concerned about that. Just the joy of having been able to write a song everybody knows, and when I sing it, they like it. It’s kind of an unbelievable gift in life very few people get. I don’t really need or want much beyond that which has already happened. Of course, I’m sitting here as an artist going, ‘I want people to hear this new great song I wrote!’ I guess I don’t think about the legacy that much in terms of which way it’s going to go. I’m just happy to be doing it.”
You can keep up with the latest in Jack Tempchin’s career and news about another upcoming album at www.jacktempchin.com. While you're there. order "Room To Run" or click on one of the widgets, below to order your copy of this great EP.