Alice Cooper Being His Normal Paranormal Self

Posted March 2018

As a pre-teen growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, my only real exposure to rock and roll was whatever Elvis music my parents listened to and the Rolling Stones records my cousin (and now business partner) had in the spare room of my paternal grandparents’ house.

Alice Cooper Paranormal press pictures print copyright earMUSIC credit Rob Fenn 1Photo by Rob FennAs I crawled into Junior High, some of my friends turned me on to the Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and a few others. Somehow or other, even the Osmond Brothers creeped into the mix.

Don’t laugh.

Back to my baptism into rock and roll.

While in eighth grade, the fad was for us to bring battery operated cassette players to school (not Walkman size. Much bigger) and listen to the latest cassettes we’d bought or borrowed.

One night, I was at a friend’s house and he started playing this new tape he’d just bought. It was by some band called “Alice Cooper”. As I recall (and as luck would have it), the first song I heard from that tape was “Sick Things”. It creeped me to the deepest part of my pre-pubescent being. THEN, two songs later, “I Love the Dead”.

I was convinced that I was listening to the voice of the devil himself. EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited

Who the heck was this Alice Cooper anyway and why did “she” sound like a dude . . . and a devil dude, at that? I bet they even had a house littered with satanic bibles and dead babies.

OH MY GOSH! I soon learned that Alice even had a song called “Dead Babies”. WHAT. THE. HECK!

I quickly learned that she was a he and that he was actually from right there in Phoenix, Arizona, by way of Detroit. The band and its sound quickly grew on me and I became a fan. Becoming a fan was certainly helped by the fact that my parents hated them/him and by the urban legend/rumor in my church that one of our local pastors was mentioned in the Cooper song, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”.

Here's how the rumor went and some background on it:

In the very small denomination that I grew up in, it’s largest church in the city – as well as the state – was the 44th Street Church of God. The pastor of said church was the (now late) Herschel Diffie.

Coop fans can see where this is going.

The story goes that Alice slipped into the 44th Street CoG one Sunday night and was “preached under conviction” by Rev. Diffie – so much so that he immortalized the religious experience in “No More Mr. Nice Guy”. That, alone, solidified me as a rebellious, pre-teen fan.

I’m told that the story was repeated at Rev. Diffie’s funeral many years later.Alice Cooper Paranormal press pictures online print copyright earMUSIC credit Rob Fenn 4Photo by Rob Fenn

But the rumor isn’t true.

Forty-plus years later, I found out indirectly from Mrs. Cooper that the rumor isn’t true. That the truth is as the lyrics are written (“. . . the Rev. Smith, he recognized me . . .”). A couple of years later, in an interview with Alice’s original bassist, Dennis Dunaway, that it was definitely “Rev. Smith”.

One more Alice Cooper story from my youth before moving on into the interview y’all are dying to read:

The School’s Out album had just been recently released. My high school girlfriend of the moment, Adrienne (RIP), had loaned me her copy for me to listen to.

Now, I’ll stop right her to ‘splain to you newbies about this album. Through shear brilliance, Alice’s manager, Shep Gordon, came up with the idea of replacing the dust sleeve that routinely protected albums within their covers with a pair of paper panties. It was shear marketing brilliance on Shep’s part.

Back to my story.

Knowing that the panties were on the album, I came home, and my parents asked me about the album. I told them that it was the new Alice Cooper album that Adrienne let me borrow. I showed them how the album cover opened like an old school desk. Then, I pulled out the album.

The look on my parents’ face was priceless as they saw the panties on the album was absolutely priceless! I shrugged my shoulders and said something to the effect of, “Oh. Adrienne must’ve lost the dust cover and improvised.” I went to my room and had a good laugh and later told them the truth.

I don’t think they believed me.

Back to the devil and Alice Cooper.

Alice Cooper Paranormal press pictures online print copyright earMUSIC credit Rob Fenn 3Photo by Rob FennOver the years, there were all sorts of other rumors and urban legends about our favorite Phoenician. But the fact was, Alice Cooper (born one Vincent Furnier) rocked our world with incredible – if now shocking – rock and roll as well as theater. Yes, theater. He did so before KISS. Before Marilyn Manson. Before Insane Clown Posse. Before a whole lot of other knock-off bands.

Since those days, Alice Cooper has recorded some 27 studio albums, 11 live albums that are all joined by 21 compilation albums.

Because Alice was going to be performing at a venue near me, I was given the opportunity to interview him by phone. When I called him at his Paradise Valley, Arizona, home, we made some small talk before starting the interview. When I mentioned that I grew up in Phoenix, he wanted to know what high school I went to. When I told him that I went to Moon Valley – the rival to his beloved Cortez High School, it started a great, impromptu chat about our high school days.

For instance, when I told Alice that I ran Cross Country my freshman year, sucked at it, and not invited to run the following years of high school, he said:

“Wow. That was my sport. I was a four-year letterman at Cortez. The Cortez Colts, when I was there, we couldn’t win a football game to save our life. But we were 72-0 in Cross Country. I was running a 4:40 mile and I was the seventh guy on the team. There were guys running 4:20, 4:19, 4:16 on the mile. So, I mean, we were pretty unbeatable in Cross Country. Anything else? We got killed in.”

“We ran the canal. Monday would be sort of the long run. We would do, maybe, an eight to ten mile run on Monday. Tuesday, was Hell Day, and that was eight 80’s for time. Wednesday was more of a sprint kind of thing just for kicking at the end and, then, Thursday was a little bit of a layoff because Friday was the meet.”

Just prior to our interview, Alice celebrated his 70th birthday that was celebrated via a fundraiser for his charity, the Solid Rock Foundation. His life-long career manager, Shep Gordon, put the whole thing together, including an amazing cake that looked just like Alice.  When I mentioned it (and wished him a belated Happy Birthday), Cooper said:

“Shep did the whole thing. You know, it was a fundraiser for Solid Rock, which is my charity here. It was a very eventful AliceCooperBirthdayCakeAlice's Birthday Cake - Photo by Danny Zeliskobirthday. On my birthday was the Super Bowl. All my friends were there from Bernie Taupin to Richie Sambora. I mean, everybody was there at the party.

“Two days before that, I was in a head-on collision. It hurt my shoulder, but it wasn’t that bad. And, then, I announced that night – on my seventieth birthday – that some period during the year, I would shoot my age in golf. The very next day, I shot 69. I shot a two under par at Arizona Biltmore Country Club. It was great! I made everything!”

Before cutting to the purpose of our interview, I mentioned a mutual friend of ours, Cherylanne Devita, founder and CEO of DeVita Natural Skin Care and Color Cosmetics

“Oh, yeah! Cherylanne is on our board – the Solid Rock board! She does a great job with Solid Rock, too. She’s one of the people that really – she’s a go-getter that we really like!”

Shifting from the personal to the paranormally professional, I asked Alice about his latest CD, Paranormal.

“You know? It’s funny. Every once in a while, you hit on an album with the right people at the right time with the right producer and the right songs. This album was in the top ten in thirty countries. It was just one of those albums that caught on. I don’t know if it was the fact that I switched things around. I used Larry Mullen, Jr. on drums – from U2 and that was a big shock to people. They said, ‘Well, that doesn’t sound like it would fit.’ It fit perfectly!

“Getting Billy Gibbons to play on, ‘Fallen In Love (and I Can’t Get Up)’. It was the perfect song for him! Roger Glover (current bassist for Deep Purple) playing on ‘Paranormal’ – the idea was to put the right person on the right song. And Bob Ezrin and I and Tommy (Denander), we sat down and our only goal on this album was we all have to get off on every song. It has to be a song that all of us go, ‘Yeah! That really works!’

“And, then, adding the original band for three songs made it even more of an eclectic kind of album but it all stayed to hard rock. That’s all we’re gonna do is hard rock. It’ll have a different flavor here and a different flavor there depending on who’s playing on it but it’s always going to be a hard rock album for Alice Cooper.”

Coop is an amazing lyricist/songwriter that is often underappreciated. I asked if writing songs was getting easier or harder for him now.

“No, that’s actually the easiest thing for me. To me, writing lyrics is, for some reason, that’s the easiest part for me. I’ve got a rhythm to it. I’ve got a certain – not a formula – but I kinda write in the same way. I try to write about things that are interesting to me about people. Not necessarily situations, but people.

“I think when Bob Dylan heard ‘Only Women Bleed’ or something like that, that was the one song that he mentioned in Rolling Stone. He said, ‘I think that Alice is the most underappreciated writer in America.’ For me to get a compliment like that from Bob Dylan was, you know, you can’t get any better than that! I didn’t think he even knew I existed! That was a nice push.

“Then, being nominated for the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame this year is one of those things, also, you never expect. I expected the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I didn’t really expect the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. I would love to be in the same Hall of Fame as Burt Bacharach and people like that. Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney.”

When I said that I appreciated the intricacies and tongue-in-cheek humor in his lyrics, Cooper replied:

“I think that I got a little bit of that from Kurt Vonnegut. I used to read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut. His sense of humor matched up with my sense of humor. I think that shows up every once in a while in the songs.”

Even at seventy-years young, Alice is still a touring animal, performing concerts around the world for much of each year. I asked him what fans can expect from shows in the upcoming tour.

“Right now, the number one drummer in rock and roll, Glen Sobel, was just voted Best Drummer in Rock and Roll. He’s my drummer. 

“I’ve got Hurricane Nita Strauss on guitar. She was with The Iron Maidens. I needed a shredder. I had Orianthi in the band and she left and went with Richie Sambora and, so, I wanted another girl guitar player. I didn’t even go after a girl guitar player, but I heard Nita play and she was exactly what I was looking for: a shredder. Because I already had Ryan Roxie, who is one of the great rock and roll players. And I had Tommy Kenriksen, who was a producer and writer.

“And, then, Chuck Garric has been with me for almost twenty years. What I love about this band is that nobody has ever heard an argument backstage.

“Everybody in the band are best friends and they all can’t wait to get onstage. They’re there for all the right reasons. It’s funAlice Cooper Paranormal press pictures online print copyright earMUSIC credit Rob Fenn 3bPhoto by Rob Fenn being with a band that is having fun in what they’re doing rather than complaining all the time. Even on off days, a lot of bands on days off, everybody goes their own way. In this band, everybody goes to the movies together. And, then, everybody goes to the sushi bar together. And, then, I go back home with Sheryl (Mrs. Cooper) and they all go out to clubs and find clubs to play in.

“The show is just absolutely pure Alice Cooper. I mean, it’s got everything you could imagine in it. It’s got every element of Alice Cooper in it. I’ve never seen such good reviews as this tour and it’s just going to keep going on and on.”

Many feels that the music business is horribly broken. I asked Cooper if he felt that the music business is broken and, if so, what would he do to fix it.

“Well, right now, there’s very little rock and roll in the music business. It’s what I call ‘modern music’ or it’s ‘young adults music’. But there’s very few outlaws out there. There’s very few bands – Guns ‘n Roses, Alice Coopers, Aerosmiths – those were the bands whose signature was the fact that they were already pirates. They were already outlaws.

“Rock and Roll should have an outlaw attitude to it and everybody is so wimpy at this point. That’s why I like young bands that come up and they’ve got attitude. Foo Fighters. Great band. Bands like Green Day. High energy bands like that. That’s what we need. We need young kids, right now, in the garages learning Guns ‘n Roses and bands like that. And I think that’ll happen. But, right now, the most exciting guy out there is Bruno Mars. I don’t even like that kind of music and I really think he’s the most talented guy out there. But the rest of it to me is just so – I watched the Grammy’s and I went, ‘I don’t know who any of these people are!’ There was no rock and roll in the whole show.

“What’s it about now is the metal bands are the only bands that have an attitude. They’re the only ones that get up there with attitude and having fun with what they’re doing. I see bands up there that, Geez! I go, ‘How boring can you be?’ And they think it’s rock and roll. It’s not rock and roll.”

Alice Cooper has accomplished a lot in his career. Still, there has something he hasn’t done yet, professionally, that he still wants to do.  What would that be?

“Well, I mean, you know, the Broadway thing, doing Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar, that’s only a one-night thing. But I would love to see Welcome To My Nightmare on Broadway. The show’s already written. I mean, all you have to do is get up and plan it. So, if somebody comes up to us and says, ‘I would like to produce Welcome To My Nightmare on Broadway,’ I would say that would be a great idea.”

When I asked if he would want to star in it or have someone else do it, Cooper replied:

“I could but at the same time, somebody else could play Alice Cooper, too. I would want to be involved in the direction of it only because I wrote the whole show. I would want to see how this guy plays Alice and sort of direct him and say, ‘Alice would never do that’ or ‘Alice would never take it there.’”

When I posited that it was kind of like the “Love, Janis” stage show, Alice piped in and said, ‘Yeah, except that usually Alice Cooper Paranormal press pictures online print copyright earMUSIC credit Rob Fenn 4Photo by Rob Fennhappens when you’re dead!’

Wrapping up our chat, I asked the legendary shock rocker how he wanted to be remembered and what did he hope his legacy would be.

“Well, I think that it’s pretty much written that Alice will always be the Busby Berkley meets Bela Lugosi. Shock Rock has always been termed with Alice Cooper. But, really, we brought theater to rock and roll. I mean, we brought really legitimate theater to rock and roll, and nobody had done it before us. Being very modest about this, I don’t think anybody’s ever done it better than us. That’s always been my key thing.

“If you’re going to be an Alice Cooper show, it has to be guitar rock, take-no-prisoners rock and roll. And it has to be theatrical. To me, that’s what I think I’ll be known as: maybe the Barnum and Bailey of rock and roll.”

You can keep up with Alice and the latest in his career by visiting AliceCooper.com. Be sure to see where he’ll be performing near you and snag up some tickets. It will definitely be the experience of a lifetime.

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Don McLean: American As American Pie

Published March 2018

 

DonMcLean001Every writer dreams of writing the great American novel and songwriters dream of writing that one song that everyone knows.  Forty-seven years ago, Singer/Songwriter, Don McLean, accomplished both with his masterpiece song, American Pie.

While McLean has written other huge hits such as “And I Love You So” and “Vincent”, “American Pie” is THE song. The hit. The indelible mark on humanity and culture around the world. It doesn’t get much headier than that.

I met with Don McLean and his publicist in his hotel suite in downtown Nashville. He was there for a brief exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame as well as to receive BMI’s Million-Air Award.

As we made small talk, he asked about Boomerocity and the other publications I write for as well as my background. When I mentioned that my first concert was Elvis and my first “interview” was a chance conversation with Colonel Parker before the show, it started an impromptu chat about all things Elvis. It was such a rare privilege to hear one icon to speak in-depth about another icon. McLean had a lot to say about Presley.

“It’s hard to believe that he was bankrupt when he died. Isn’t that unbelievable? And, then, his wife ends up being this business genius; turns it all around and makes it (Graceland) the most visited place in the United States; makes hundreds of millions of dollars. Only if they had stayed together, imagine what a great combination they would’ve been! He basically couldn’t exist. He didn’t like being without her.”

Then, with a bit of what appeared to be mild disgust, Don added:EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited

“He had those boys he was always with! Imagine waking up in the morning, ‘Hey, Priscilla! You’re lookin’ purty good!’ I mean, c’mon! All in the pool together. Those guys not only killed his marriage, but then they went and wrote that book (Elvis: What Happened by Red West, Sonny West, and Dave Hebler), which really killed him.”

The discussion then slightly veered over to Elvis’ musicians. McLean started off by telling a story about a quote by Jerry Scheff, Elvis’ bassist for many years.

 “I read an interview by the bass player and he said the sound was Vegas Punk. That’s what he thought of the sound of Elvis’ group was. Hard edged. Very basic. A punk rock, Vegas thing, is what they were, basically. Isn’t that a funny perception of their sound? As I listen to it with that in my mind, sometimes, I hear what he’s saying. Ronnie Tutt (Elvis’ drummer), that guys is like an octopus! Nobody plays like he does! He (Elvis) had the right people.

“I’ve read a number of books about Elvis Presley. It’s funny because I remember Gordon Stoker (of the Jordanaires, Elvis’s former backup group), whose son, Alan, is the reason why they’re doing this little tribute to me and my music. He would talk about Elvis because Gordon just couldn’t stop talking about him. Nobody could. Nobody has! Those guys were close to him, you know? We would talk, and we would always go around to Elvis and he says, ‘Oh, this story and that story.’

“He said one thing – it’s a very simple thing that he said. He said two things, actually. He said, ‘You couldn’t tell the Presley’s nothing.’ That’s interesting. They’re their own little clan; keeping their own counsel; you couldn’t tell them nothing – no matter how wrong or right it was, whatever. They knew it. He died but they did know. They were going to stay with the Colonel no matter what. The Colonel took his half but made him what he was.

“And the other thing he said – and this is a cute phrase that he used – when Elvis realized that he wasn’t going to be in A Star Is Born or one of those things where he was going to be a real actor, he said, ‘He took down his sign.’ That’s what Gordon said. ‘He just took down his sign.’ Out of business. He was just sleepwalking from that point on. I don’t think he realized, ‘What am I going to do after the jumpsuit and the show gets old and I’m getting tired.’ Can’t retire! He was saying that he couldn’t retire. Too many people to feed. Too many expenses. He’d been swamped by all these expenses.

DonMcLean002“I sat with Tom Jones once. We were talking about him (Elvis), of course, and talking about Vegas. I said, ‘Do you realize that in a month, Elvis Presley got paid $150,000 for the week; 15 shows a week; 60 for the month. He got only half of that which is only $75,000 for 15 shows and he bore the expenses. So, you’re talking two grand a night to do these shows for two hours. He was killing himself!

“At the same time, I was making $7,000, $8,000 a night myself and The King was making two grand a night, what it comes down to. And that’s what killed him was those shows; working like a rented mule!”

I used our conversation about The King to lead into a question I had slotted for later in the interview and that was what Don’s favorite cover of was one of his songs. I’d told him that mine was Elvis’ treatment of “And I Love You So”.

“Well, Elvis’ cover of that song was one of my favorites and the other one was the Fred Astaire version of Wonderful Baby. Those are two that I’m very proud of. Elvis recorded the song twice. He recorded it live. It’s on his last album – the concert album and he recorded it on that Today album. But he also did it just about every night in that last year of his life. So, there are now quite a few, I guess, board mixes floating around of those shows. The song is on every one of them.

“It thrilled me because when I was a little boy – 1956, I guess – I was, like, eleven, and Elvis had just come out. I had two 78 rpm records of Elvis Presley. That’s the first ones I had were 78’s. My grandmother and I used to sit and listen to those. My parents didn’t understand any of that, but she loved music and she loved the Jordanaires.

“So, it was a big thrill for me many, many years later – in 1978 – to be in Nashville and record Since I Don’t Have You, DonMcLean003Crying, and do two albums, Castles In The Air, the re-recording, all with the Jordanaires; two whole albums with them. I got to know them, and I took them on the road. Played Carnegie Hall three times, I think. And we also went overseas and did a BBC television special with a lot of guys from Nashville and the Jordanaires in 1978, around there. So, there was a lot of that.

“I worked with them off and on through the eighties. On all the records I later made, I always try to have them on there; on my Christmas stuff and all that. So, I got to know them and their families as well as the sidemen in town. That’s the only personal connection I had with other artists is in Nashville. My legal people are here. Everything has sort of grown out of Nashville. I don’t know why. It’s just like this natural affinity for me.

“Chet Atkins used to do Vincent every knight. He’s the one who brought And I Love You So to Perry Como. He called me to his house when he was dying. He wanted to say goodbye to me. Tony Migliore, his piano player for twenty years, who has been mine for twenty years now, or more, went with me and we said goodbye to Chet who was very sick. He said, ‘I’m just glad I got to know you.’ Isn’t that a nice thing?

“I remember when I was on the Grammys. The Grammys were here in Nashville. Vincent – the whole “Pie” thing was up for Grammys; four different categories they were in. I didn’t win in any of them. I sang Vincent on the show. Johnny Cash invited me to his house and I stayed there for a couple of days and met his family. So, you can imagine that I was swimming in legendary oxygen. Very heady.

DonMcLean004“So, as I was leaving, I was going down this escalator to go to the gate at the airport and George Jones is going up the escalator. It was in the crew cut days. He had a Nudie suit on and he turned to me and said, ‘Nice singin’, boy. That was good singin’, son.’

“So, they immediately took to me. I’ve always been kind of a loaner and it was a beautiful thing to be appreciated. I’ve had my supporters in the world of rock and roll and in the world of straight pop music and so on, but I never really had the across the board – I got to know Brenda Lee; I got to know many other folks who would send me Christmas cards. Ralph Emery and people like that. It’s a nice thing for me.”

Since we were talking about Nashville, I asked Don to tell me about the exhibit of his at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

“Yeah! It’s a real nice thing because of that. Again, I’m not one of those powerhouse guys with all these platinum records. I do have gold and platinum records all around the world in many countries; amounting to forty, I guess. But I’m not a major store or a major commercial entity but I am a piece of Americana, I think. For that, I think Americans like me. They like my music and it belongs, I think, in the exhibit. I think it will be entertaining. Interesting.”

I also asked about the BMI Million-Air award McLean was receiving.

“Well, it’s so often, I guess, when they notice that I’m with BMI, they decide to look and see how many plays off of so many songs. So, that’s what’s gonna happen.”

As I stated at the beginning of this article, writers dream of writing the great American novel and Don McLean pretty much did that with American Pie. He’s obviously had a lot of years to reflect on it and endured a lot of idiotic questions about it, so I wondered with him being at this stage of his life, what was his assessment about why it still stands so well and why the intrigue about its mystique?

“Well, it was always a phenomenon, you know, from the very beginning. It always dominated my image – to the detriment, really, of people listening to my sound, my style, my singing style, my guitar playing, my performing skills. It’s always been about the fascination with that song. And as I’ve gotten older, now, I’m really thankful that I have something somebody wants to hear because I’m seventy-two years old. I’ve been on the road for fifty years. Played all over the planet and all over these United States; in every little place and big place.

“It’s a wonderful thing, now, because I can be interviewed and get my ideas across. The albums sell well. The ‘Best Of’s’ sell DonMcLean005well. People know the material and it’s because of that song – always being fresh. Always pushing on to new generations; not dying off with the generation that it started with. So, it started off as a bit of a drag and then it turned out to be a very good thing as time went by.”

It was at that point that I interjected that, for the record (no pun intended), that, in addition to American Pie and Vincent, the most moving song off that album is The Grave; that it’s still applicable today with war still going on. Don replied:

“They always will be going on. As long as we have the Military Industrial Complex, you’re going to have venues to try out this stuff. That’s usually what it comes down to. So, that’s it and Eisenhower warned us about this and here we are, you know?

“It’s the same thing with this global warming stuff. When I was with Pete Seeger forty years ago, there were lots of scientists who would give little lectures. We had this thing called the Hudson River Sloop and it was an environment project. They said, ‘In forty years, if we don’t do something, the following things are going to happen.’ And they’re happening! The prognostication was absolutely correct. Therefore, there’s some aspect of this that has to do with what we’re doing.

“Now, having said that, the planet’s changing all the time. Things are happening all the time. It’s almost like trying to figure out what complex thing is happening. You can’t really blame one thing. But, it’s not helping people with asthma, I’ll tell ya that so who needs it, right?”

Since he brought up his Pete Seeger days, I asked him a question that I’ve asked others who had performed in the sixties and seventies. I had listened to other interviews with McLean where he talked about how it was in the sixties and seventies and how that was the fodder for what he wrote in American Pie and other songs. I asked him to think back to what was going on in his mind back in those early days, what was he imagining fifty years from then being like and what was going to happen between then and now; how close to that was he and how far off was he?

“I can give you a very simple answer. I never looked ahead that far, at all. All I can say is that I feel the same as I always did. People seem to be somewhat the same. But, I would think that – the big change that I’ve seen – there’s many things I could say. Too many. But one of the things is that I think people have become more superstitious. They’ve become less empirical in their knowledge and in wanting to know things. They’re more likely to say, ‘Well, you know, if I’m blessed, this will happen to me.’ Doing something that’s sort of outside the norm of, ‘Well, why dontcha just get a goal for yourself and make that happen?’ You know what I mean? I think that has to do with the decaying of a lot of institutions. The church. The schools. Family life. Morality. Civility.

“Gradually, over a period of time of many, many, many years – starting out, everybody thinks that the sixties was such a great thing. I never thought it was. I thought the music was interesting but I didn’t like the idea of everything sort of disintegrating. ‘Tear it down! Steal this book!’ What are you gonna replace it with?

“The human being has a ferocious subconscious which is capable of doing anything and law is the only reason that we don’t. Without law and some sort of belief in morality and right and wrong. I think part of it – if I want to go one step further – I think that it’s part of – I hate to say this – but I think, really, we are always in a struggle totalitarianism; with communism; and they love to see our resolve fractured and our beliefs challenged. And they love to see us not know quite where we’re at because it helps them. And I hate to say this but I really think that this is an ongoing struggle we sort of don’t realize is always happening. You can see it more, now, this whole Russian thing that’s going on; the Chinese thing and the fact that we allow them to manufacture everything. EVERYTHING. And it ain’t good!

“We look back as if you could sort of sit here like your question was just like that. You’re sitting here, now, ‘What did you think it would be like then?’ Well, to start with, back when Kennedy was around, there were a hundred million people in the United States. There’s three hundred and fifty million (now). Sixty percent of them were on the farm. Farms are shrinking like mad. You’re gonna have this genetically altered food. All this weird crap that we’re gonna eat.

“The only thing we have before us now is clear skies. I would imagine if we manage to survive for another two or three hundred years, then you’re gonna have a lot of junk flying around in the sky. Little people with their own little things. Little drones carrying things because everybody has to have everything yesterday. ‘Oh! It will be landing here on a little pad!’ I can’t see office space being of any value because everybody’s going to be doing this (taps my laptop) or out of their phone or out of their new devices that we haven’t even started to see, yet. I can nanotechnology with this stuff plugged into us; everybody all locked into everything. No privacy! Everywhere you go, every second. There ain’t no privacy now!

“And the other thing – I’m really talking too much now – but the thing I say is this whole bringing people down with accusations, which is happening right here in Nashville. There’s a PR guy, Kirt Webster, destroyed in a week by accusations. Nobody was convicted of anything. There’s no proof of anything. There ain’t nothin’ except a bunch of people saying some things and it’s happened over and over and over. That’s not American, I don’t think, and I think a lot of people are starting to realize this and it’s making people afraid to interact.

“I never worked for anybody. I never had a job. I never had a boss. I’m just an observer and that’s where the songs come in. I’ll write things and put stuff in a song, from my observations. Why? I’m unemployable. I could never work for anyone. I’d say the wrong thing the first week I was there!

“That’s one of the things that I’ve learned. THAT’s the way things of have changed! I’m almost like Rip Van Winkle. I have awoken or awakened – whatever the word is – and realized between the social networking – it’s always about power. It’s always about power. Certain groups wanted to get power and finding ways to get power. Always about power . . . and about money. Always about those two things. Power, first, and then you get the money. I don’t know if this particular strategy is going to last.

“We have a lot of technology and a lot of stuff that keeps coming every second and making everything go faster. I think we’re pretty much going as fast as we can go. I think that’s why people go postal. I don’t think it’s too hard to figure out. They just throw up their hands. That’s the wonderful thing about my life is that I have places that I can go and properties I have which are – I’m into my horses, the land, solitude to some degree. I say that I’ve never had a boss or human resources counselor or anything like that so I’m still free to think and say what I wanna.”

As we got close to wrapping up our time, I asked Don McLean what did he hope, at this stage of his life, his legacy will be and how did he want to be remembered.

“Well, if you had asked me that ten years ago, we didn’t have YouTube. Now, I know that anybody that’s interested in singing and songwriting and guitar playing can follow me back to 1969 see me progress along with hundreds of these performances of many, many, many different songs and, also, lots of different situations. TV shows; in the studio; in front of thousands of people; outside; inside; small venue; whatever. And interviews to go with it so that anybody can find out – and then there are books telling my story and hundreds and hundreds of articles written about me.”

I interjected and asked if he was going to write a book, to which he replied:

“Maybe before I die I might start to write something which would be very personal but I’m not sure I wanna say any more about me than has been said. I don’t really know. There are a lot of personal, interesting things that I’ve experienced and seen that I might want to write about. I don’t know what I’m going to do.

“I know the story is out there. It’s an accurate story. The two books that have been written about me are accurate. And, as I say, all of this footage; all these appearances. People can make a decision about me. I never was trying to become the new Don McLean. I was always the same one. They say, ‘He reinvented himself.’ I say, ‘I was alright to begin with! I just need to keep on going!’”

When I, again, interjected - this time about how his guitar work was tastefully intricate from the get-go and only improved from there, Don said:

“You have to have taste. You have to know what your limits are. You have to keep things tasteful. Less is more! I hate these common phrases that everybody uses but that’s a true one. As you become more economical, as you go through the years, it’s easier to do the things that you wanted to do because you’ve done it so much.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed with a lot of the kids – very good singers and players and performers that are amateurs on television, on these shows, is that they over sing everything. They put ten notes in where two will do.

“Go listen to a Sinatra record. Listen to a ballad off that album, No One Cares. Listen to him sing. It’s not the number of notes, it’s the tone. It’s the control. It’s the vibrato. And the notes, exactly when they’re supposed to happen. Timing. Real timing. Not singing all kinds of stuff all over the place but moments. Judy Garland. Listen to that Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall, sometime, if you want to hear some singing. She’s stoned out of her mind and forty pounds, and probably a little drunk. Nobody can sing like that. This is a function of doing it. Not doing it at home but traveling, working, doing it, doing it, doing it. Year in. Year out. Year in and year out until you have command of this stuff. It’s a nice thing. It’s a nice feeling.

“My command is disintegrating, somewhat. I probably peaked in my fifties and maybe even in my early sixties. I’m getting older. I’m a little tired. There’s that thing. You really have to work hard. Maybe lift some weights and do some vocal exercises. Drink a little less. Eat a little less. All that stuff.

“Also, you have peaks. I had a certain voice in 1970 and another voice in 1980 and, then, another voice in the nineties. A little darker. A little lighter. I still have the high notes but a different voice now. I still sing everything in the same key. But I don’t hit outrageously high notes like I might’ve done when I was twenty-five.”

When I brought up about him taking opera lessons as a kid, he said:

“I took a few for maybe a month – two months, until my voice just started to change and then she kicked me out and said, ‘Come back sometime when you’re finished.’

“I never came back but I remembered everything she told me and I did the exercises. I kept building my voice. The voice is anDonMcLean006 amazing instrument because it’s a muscle and, if you use it properly and use throughout the years – if you have a run, say, a tour of a month or two months where you’re singing every few nights, that voice will be much better when you’re finished than it was when you started. If you don’t know how to sing, it will probably crash.”

My last question should’ve been my first and that was for him to tell me about his new album, Botanical Gardens.

“It’s a new album. All new songs. The album is called Botanical Gardens. It all stems from the theme song or the title song, I should say, which is a guy – an older man thinking about his life. It’s gotten kinda stale. ‘What am I gonna do? I’m going to this botanical garden and I see all these beautiful women and all these lovely flowers and colorful birds and memories of my youth. Start dreaming about romance and that wonderful youth and feeling. As the day goes by, the sun goes down, the gates are going to be closing. ‘Do I leave or do I stay? Do I go back to the world or do I stay?’ A kind of heaven. All the other stuff flows from that.”

Botanical Gardens is available March 23rd online wherever great music is sold. You can also keep up with Don McLean at his website, Don-McLean.com.

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Beth Hart Talks About Her 2018 Tour

Posted February 2018

mona nordoy beth hart 0379 croppedPhoto by Mona NordoyIf you’ve been a reader and follower of Boomerocity for any time at all, you already know that we’re huge fans of the lovely and talented Beth Hart. We were introduced to her by way of her duet album with blues great, Joe Bonamassa. After passing the litmus test of successfully daring to cover Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” (and we warn people, “Don’t be messin’ with our Etta James’ work, now!). Blowing us away, we’ve become steadfast fans of this remarkable artist. So much so, this piece marks the unprecedented FOURTH interview with her (here, here, and here, being the first three).

I called Beth up at her SoCal home. After we compared notes about my weather in Eastern Tennessee and her weather in L.A, we started catching up on news since we had talked earlier in 2017. When I asked how the then recent fires had affected her and her husband, she said, “It didn’t really mess with us here too bad. I mean, it’s just really sad to see you know? But I do know a few people who almost lost their homes but they didn’t. And it’s still going!

Continuing, she added, “There were only about two days that it got kinda smoky where we are. We could smell it. But the winds have been so high, it just blows it right out.”

During our last conversation, Beth shared with me about the home renovation she and her husband, Scott, were undergoing due to some flooding so I asked her how that all turned out.

“My manager told me - because he had had a flood at his house – he said, ‘You wait and see. It’s going to be so much better when they fix it. You’re gonna like it better – what happens to it after than what it was before.’ And it’s so true because they repainted everything and built some shelves and they, obviously, had to rebuild the walls and stuff like that. Now, it’s ten times nicer now than what it was before the flood. So, it was a blessing! Thanks for asking about that! I was freaking out about that, wasn’t I?”

Our last chat focused on her then-new-CD, Fire On The Floor, so I was curious as to how it had been doing for her and what fan and crowd reaction had been.

EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited“Oh, Fire On The Floor?  Well, you know? People really seem to love that record when we play it live. I mean, we don’t play all the songs from it every night. We play different songs from the record at different times. If you go to all the shows on that tour or whatever, you’ll see the whole record at some point. We’ll do maybe four or five songs off the record and then switch them out on different nights. It’s just gone over like gangbusters and it’s funny because I loved ‘Better Than Home’ even better as a record.

“But it seems like ‘Fire On the Floor’ goes over better for live shows for some reason. I don’t know, maybe because ‘Better Than Home’ was a lot of ballads. ‘Fire On the Floor’ is more up tempo. Maybe that’s part of it. It’s been so much fun playing that record! I love that record! Oliver (Leiber) did a great job on that record, though. He’s a great producer! And all those great musicians he had. I mean, you kinda can’t go wrong with that!

“I started making a new record, though, with Rob Cavallo and we just got into the studio ten days ago. We started our first round for four days. We have Vinnie Colaiuta on drums which is really exciting for me because I’d only done the show with Jeff Beck that he had me do with him years ago. Vinnie Colaiuta was the drummer in our band. So it’s amazing, now, that I got him for one of my records! I can’t believe it! And Chris Chaney on bass and Stephen Pierce on guitar and, of course, Rob is playing guitar. It’s just a really great group of people and it’s so fun making a new record! So I’m excited about that.”

When I asked when we could expect to see the new record come out, Beth said, “You know? I’m not sure ‘cause I’m on the road so much and this is not like the typical records that I’ve been doing the last seven or eight records where we go in with the band then we basically play live to tape. We’re really not doing that this time. This time, we’re taking it in layers. Then, when I’m on the road, I come back and, then, if we get four or five days, we’ll go in with them and then I go back out on the road and then we come back and we do it again. And we just go until Rob says, ‘Hey! We got it!’

mona nordoy beth hart 1133Photo By Mona Nordoy“But I think we have a really nice start and the songs are really lovely and I’m just really happy and thankful, you know? It’s just so nice to get on and to have such a great connection. They were playing the other night to the song called “Let It Grow’ and I was just listening to them laying it down. What happened to me never happened to me on a record before. I started crying really hard just being moved by them and what they were doing with that song. It was just a neat thing, man, and Rob was crying and everybody started to cry. We were big cry babies! We were all hugging each other! It was really sweet! I never had that happen before. It was a neat, neat thing!”

Is there a crowd favorite from the album?

“Yeah! It’s like ‘Bang Bang’ had that kind of thing – the Bang Bang Boom Boom record – where people just want to have fun with those songs and dig in. It’s just been really, really cool. My band plays the hell out of it. They play it so great! I mean, my band right now is playing better than I ever heard them play. It’s ljust ike we’ve really gelled and become like a band. Everything is effortless and really fun! I love them so much! We’re going to start back up here in a little over a month. I’m go and do a one-off in Russia and I come back and we start a states tour with my band. I’m really looking forward to that. I miss them! I see them all the time but I still miss them!”

News of a new duet disc with Ms. Hart and Joe Bonamassa has been floating around. I asked her to clue me in on it.

“I don’t if the record has actually been released yet but I know that they put out the first song. It’s a song called ‘Black Coffee’ and that’s the name of the record, as well, is ‘Black Coffee’.  They put out a video tape of us in the studio when we were making it. So, I thought it really came out good. I was, like, ‘Wow!’ ‘Cause, I don’t know if you know, but I tend to be pretty tough on myself. I don’t really like to listen to my records once I they’re done. You know what I mean? I don’t really like to hear myself sing so much. I love TO sing but to hear myself sing is like another thing. You know what I mean?

“So, I watched it. Oh my god! This is rockin’! We seem really on it and it’s a really great song and I adore and worship Stevemona nordoy beth hart 4238 reducedPhoto by Mona Nordoy Marriott. So, yeah, it’s cool! I’m happy with that, for sure. The experience was tough for me in the studio this time. I don’t know why it was. It was a struggle. We weren’t in there very long. We were only in for three or four days.  But I struggled with it. I felt extra insecure. I wasn’t sure about the songs. There were some other players that I hadn’t played with before so I didn’t really get a chance to connect with,  you know, when we went in. But they seemed thrilled with it. Kevin’s really happy with it. Joe’s really happy with it. That’s what matters the most. Sometimes, when records are difficult to make, Kevin was saying, Kevin Shirley, the producer, he was saying that some of the best stuff comes from that.”

The main purpose of this particular interview with Beth was to cover the tour that was going to include a stop in my town. I wondered what fans could expect from her during this tour.

“You know, this is always been what I do and it’s probably will always be what I do is that we go out and we just play songs from every record and we change it up night after night. That way, it’s always seemingly fresh to us and then, hopefully, that energy translates to the audience. I think, more than anything, I just want that little bit of on-the-edge energy there. And what I try and do is I don’t assume that people have all the records. Sometimes, people will have one record of yours, you know? So, maybe we have a shot at giving them at least a song or two that they know really well or that they really like. It’s not like I’m a hit song person, you know what I’m saying? Where I know that I have certain songs that are, “Oh, my, my, my!” You know what I mean? So I mix it up night after night and just truly try and have fun with that.

mona nordoy beth hart 0379Photo by Mona Nordoy“So, we’re definitely going to be playing some stuff off of Fire On the Floor and then stuff from all the other records but I’m not sure exactly what songs, yet, because each night I make a new little set list. So, yeah, we’ll see, but it will be a mix. But, then, I’ve got my stuff where we’re rockin’ and we’re doing some soul stuff. And, then, I sit and play by myself at the piano. And, then, John and I do an acoustic set where I play some base and some acoustic guitar with him. Tell a lot of stories and that kind of thing.”

What else is on Beth Hart’s radar for 2018?

“Touring and figuring out what songs we’re going to do on the new ‘Joe’ record and, hopefully, people will like it. And, then, really working on this new record with Rob. It’s going to be something very different. That’s another reason why I like working with different producers on each record is that you just don’t know what new, fresh thing is going to happen. Then, plus, you know, I tend to write all over the place, genre-wise, anyway and different producers like different genres. Rob leans more towards rock or that singer/songwriter/heartbreak kinda like frickin’ storytellin’ stuff. So, it’s probably going to be along the lines of more of that. It’s an exciting thing to do! And he’s so nice! He’s so sensitive and sweet and I love that!”

Be sure to log in to BethHart.com to see the latest on her and to see where she’s going to be performing near you. I guarantee you that, if you’re not already a fan of hers, you will be a lifer after listening to her and seeing her perform. 

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Marc Copley of JD and the Straight Shot

Posted February 2018

 

JDTSS MainPressPhoto Photo Cred Kristin Barlowe CroppedIf you’re heavy into what is increasingly being called “Americana” music, then odds are high that you’ve heard of the genre-pushing band, JD & The Straight Shot.  However, because people from around the globe rely on Boomerocity to turn them on to artists whom they may have not heard of, let me take a moment to introduce you to this cutting-edge, Americana band.

The band isn’t some half-shod group of Eagles wannabes. Nope. Not in the slightest.  Each musician in this band is top shelf talent all the way. The band consists Jim “JD” Dolan on guitar and vocals. Helping out is Carolyn Dawn Johnson (who has also played with Miranda Lambert and Kenny Chesney) and Marc Copely (who also produced the band’s latest CD, “Good Luck and Good Night” and has played with none other than the great B.B. King as well with Rosanne Cash. Formerly with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Robert Plant is bassist, Byron House.

Great Americana bands are rarely complete without a fiddler and this one has one of the best: Erin Slaver (Martina McBride and Rod Stewart).  Beating the skins is percussionist/drummer, Shawn Pelton (also with the Saturday Night Live band and has played with Levon Helms, and Sheryl Crow).

It was with the band’s own Marc Copely that I communicated with about the exciting year they have coming up which includes opening for legendary bands the Eagles, Chicago and The Doobie Brothers on different tour legs kicking off on March 14th in Chicago at United Center.

My chat started off with congratulating Marc and the band for opening for the Eagles soon and asked him how it felt to be, JDTSS MainPressPhoto Photo Cred Kristin BarlowePhoto by Kristin Barloweonce again, opening for the legendary band.

“It’s certainly an honor and pleasure to tour with The Eagles. I mean... it’s THE Eagles!!! It’s a lesson on harmony singing every show for sure.”

Not only have they toured with the Eagles before, but JD & The Straight Shot has also toured with Don Henley in the past. I asked Marc how he feels the band’s music and style dovetails with both Henley’s solo work and with the Eagles? 

“I think we’re a perfect fit. We focus on vocal harmonies and also come from the tradition on American Roots music.” 

Copely produced JD & The Straight Shot’s new, all-acoustic album Good Luck And Good Night. I wondered how it was juggling producing responsibilities with also being a band member.

“It was great. The band is super supportive and creative, and they really let me take it where I wanted to go sonically. Everyone’s input is important to the overall result.” 

As for what his favorite songs from the new album to play live, Marc said, “I have a blast with “Run For Me” since our fiddler/violinist Erin Slaver and I get to go crazy on a Celtic-inspired instrumental part of the song. We love that!”

As for what fans can expect from JD and the Straight Shot’s live performances, Copley replied, “High energy, thoughtful lyrics that tell a story, and lots of fun.”

The band is doing quite well riding the Americana wave that really has been swelling for, oh, say, fifty-something years now. I asked Marc what he thought the state of Americana music is today.

“Americana is hot since we’ve seen so much commercial success with artists like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell. I don’t think Americana has ever sold as many records, and the crowds have been outstanding.” 

And what does Copley think the future of the Americana genre looks like in the coming years?

“Looks bright to me! American roots music is about the human condition and the honesty in telling the stories of that condition. It's the truth and the truth will always find its way.”

JD & The Straight Shot has worked with a lot of big names in music which is a testament to you and the band’s standard of excellence. When I asked who the band hasn’t worked with that is still on their bucket list, March said, “We’d like to hang with Chris Stapleton. Maybe do some shows with Bob Weir?” 

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Marc Copely what was on the band’s radar for the rest of 2018.

“This year there will be lots of touring, and we’re looking towards making a new record by the end of the year. We want to come out and play some new tunes for everyone first though!”

Boomerocity will definitely be keeping up with this groundbreaking band and hope to join some of you at one or more of their tour stops this year. Be sure check out JD and the Straight Shot’s tour schedule on developments at their website, www.jdandthestraightshot.com.  Their latest CD, "Good Luck and Good Night", (as well as all of their previous releases) is available on Amazon.com and iTunes. 

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Jonny Lang Talks About Signs

Posted February 2018

F Jonny Lang Photo Credit Daniella Hovsepian bxw croppedPhoto By Daniella HovsepianBoomerocity thinks that there’s nothing like a great rock and blues artist. One such artist is Jonny Lang. We’ve been tracking Jonny for a few years now and we’ve finally had the opportunity to chat with the young guitarist about his new CD, Signs.

We started out with Jonny sharing what the reception to “Signs” has been so far and which songs seem to be fan favorites.

“It’s been really positive, man, for the most part, I think. Yeah! We’ve been having some really good reviews about it. It seems to be reflecting at the live shows. Some more people coming out. A lot of people seem to know the lyrics. They sing along. Those are all the things you want, you know?”

And what are the fan favorites?

“Man! It’s all over the place, really! I haven’t seen one that people have tended toward. When people write in or at the shows or anything like that. It seems to be pretty evenly dispersed – maybe five or six of them. So, that’s pretty cool!”

With several albums under his belt, I asked Jonny how “Signs” was different to put together as compared with his previous discs.

“Man, I can’t say that a whole lot was different about the approach other than just life changing for me. You’re just growing as a person. What that did, naturally, to inform the style and subject matter of the songs. I guess I never really go into making a record or writing a song – or anything else in life, really, for that matter – with a plan, really. I guess, man, the first time I felt that feeling of whatever you want to call it: this inspiration; that unbridled sort of inspiration where you can just let go.

“All of a sudden, you’re not thinking. Something’s happening and it’s just flowing. It’s like, ‘Wow! I can experience life like this! It’s crazy! I don’t have to strive or struggle or think my way through it. I didn’t know this part of life could exist.’ And when I first felt that, I just chased it for the rest of my life! It continues to be that way. As a lot of the people that I work with can probably tell you – and my wife and a lot of my friends – they could probably tell you I could stand to be a whole lot more proactive about the way I do things. And they’re right, I’m sure. I think that I have to learn how to do that because I tend to get in my own way. That was a pretty long answer to your question and I really didn’t answer your question.”

EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditedI interjected, “You kinda did! Because you inspired a subset to that question because I’d read that, like me, you’re a Believer, too. The question you inspired to me was do you feel that God gives you songs in the process?”

“I think God’s influence in my life – in anybody’s life – we shouldn’t really designate it to the moments that feel magical. I think it starts when you arrive here on this earth. He builds a lot of it into you. It’s my thinking, anyways, we’re built with the tools that we need to accomplish what our purpose is. Agreeing with the plan with that purpose, on our part, is a tricky part. But, yes, I do. There are moments where it’s, like, I feel there’s another person at work. There are times where I feel, ‘That didn’t come from me. I never even come close to thinking this or feeling that way before or conceiving of what just came out of me. So, yeah, I mean, I would definitely give God the credit for something like that even though I couldn’t give you empirical data, empirical proof. But it just seems there’s these – I don’t know, man! It’s like there’s this radio signal that’s constantly going and sometimes your antenna picks it up.”

Lang is touring in support of “Signs” so I asked what fans can expect from his shows during this tour.

“Shoot! I don’t know what to expect from our shows! Ha! Ha! A lot of new stuff off the new record. We have a form of each song. There’s a basic form, arrangement wise, that’s in that. There’s a lot of room to change things – the intricacies of it within the song. We all know each other so well, musically, and trust each other with those moments to where most of the time it ends up being a cool thing. Sometimes, we fall on our face real quick and then pick ourselves up and hope nobody saw! Ha! Ha! We just go with the flow, man, and have fun with it.”

I hadn’t planned on asking Jonny this, but it popped into my aging, feeble mind so I did. I asked him if he were to be made music czar, what would he do to fix the music business - or does it need fixing.

“Man! I would immediately redirect that responsibility to my second. Okay, ‘music business’ – to me, that has nothing to do with any reason that I do what I do. It’s a human system, right? All kinds of different humans have all kinds of different ideas how that system ought to work. Yet, there’s got to be a G Jonny Lang Photo Credit Daniella Hovsepian ReducedPhoto By Daniella Hovsepiansystem. The ones that don’t like it grit their teeth and get through it. The ones that love it try to preserve it and make it work so that they can benefit from it – really because of the motivation. I would hope that people can be motivationally sincere when we’re conducting business. Then we would be fine. But that’s just not the case and it never will be. It’s always going to be messed up in one way or another for one group or another. Gotta just go with the flow and keep remembering why you’re doing it. Hopefully, it’s because you love it!”

Lang is thirty-seven years old, so we expect him to be around for many more years to come. However, to close out the interview, I wanted to know how he wanted to be remembered and what did he hope his legacy would be when his life is over.

“Ha! Ha! Oh, man! I hope if there’s any hope or a thought that I’ve ever given to leaving behind something, I definitely don’t want to be remembered for some sort of greatness or some sort of way that I was personally amazing or something like that. I just hope that it can be said that I loved more than I didn’t and helped people along the way when I could. Something along those lines. I hope my kids turn out to be lovers of people. I guess they would probably be the legacy if anything was.”

Keep up with Jonny Lang at JonnyLang.com.

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