Billy Gibbons

Posted November, 2016

Photo by Levi PervinPhoto by Levi PervinRock and blues fans get their music from all over the world. One favored and revered band started almost fifty years ago in Houston, Texas. That band is ZZ Top who became known as the “little ol’ band from Texas.” They have been making huge, monster hits ever since their landmark album, “Tres Hombres,” and never looked back.

I’ve never had the privilege of seeing the band perform. The only time I’ve ever seen them in person, in fact, was at Stevie Ray Vaughan’s funeral in 1990. Because the band is performing at Knoxville’s beautiful Tennessee Theatre, the opportunity presented itself to ask the band’s iconic Billy Gibbons a few questions.

To say that I was thrilled would be an obvious understatement.

Our brief exchange took place while Gibbons was in France. Flattered that he took the time to answer my questions, I made sure that they were short and sweet, starting with asking how many tours their current tour made for the band.

“In total? The word “incalculable” springs to mind because the truth is it's a definite uncertainty when one tour ends and the next one begins. The best guess places it somewhere in four digits yet, again, that’s just a guess.”

And how has touring changed for ZZ Top since the first tours?

“We’ve graduated from a rented station-wagon, stuffed full of gear and band members to streamlined touring coaches which makes for a rolling home when we’re not at home. The streamlining is now way better keeping in touch with the outside world. During the outings in ZZ's early years, we were last to know our albums were playing on radio and were starting to hit hard. Now, it's all about onboard Wi-Fi, re-runs of black-and-white Perry Mason, and full-service kitchen preparations on wheels. Way back then, complaints were few as we were getting to groove with the folks getting into what we were puttin’ down. That groove continues to rock on and fortunately the pathways these days are straight ahead.”

When asked what can fans expect from shows on this tour – especially during the Knoxville stop?

“We’re coming to Knoxville fresh from a run of European tour dates so being back home always puts the band in a good frame of mind. We’re the last to know what we’re gonna do until we do it making each night something of a mystery what goes on up on deck, however it’s with a great deal of certainty that it’s gonna be loud and it’s gonna rock.”

Shifting gears, I asked Billy what his take was on the music industry today.

“It’s a fluid field everywhere. One could obsess about the vast changes that we’ve all witnessed, yet it's still the focus, first and foremost, to play it. Did I mention ‘loud’?”

Since Gibbons has been in the rock and roll business for almost fifty years, I asked him what would he do to fix the music business if he were made Music Czar.

zz top by ross halfinPhoto by Ross Halfin

“It starts with good writing behind a good song. Delivering that certain something that satisfies. And, as a band of renegade misfits, we conspire to place importance to press on with the notion that motivates getting to do just that…creating that certain something that takes it a step 

further.”

With an over-abundance of music flooding the market in many different ways, I was curious who is commanding Mr. Gibbons’ attention, musically, these days.

“We’ve remained close to Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age, of course, and are digging some up and coming bands including a punk outfit out of LA called Surprise Vacation and Lecherous Gaze from Oakland. Isaac Rother & The Phantoms are cool as is Leon Bridges, the hip young soul guy from Ft. Worth. We’re partial to Buddy Guy’s young protégé Quinn Sullivan.”

Boomerocity has a lot of readers who are musicians so, for the gear heads out there, I asked Billy what is the “holy grail” of guitars is and did he own it.

“You bet I do. It’s the infamous ’59 Les Paul Standard named Pearly Gates that’s been the cornerstone since ZZ Top’s existence. Nothing plays or sounds like 'er. She’s so singular that the Gibson company borrowed her back and did a proper reissue tribute. Talk about ‘fine . . .'”

zz top billygibbons by levi pervin 16Photo by Levi PervinAs for what’s on the band’s radar in the foreseeable future, Billy responded:

“Actually, ZZ Top's first full length live release set for release at the end of August is up and coming. It’s got all your favorites and, as a bonus, a version of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” with our good buddy, Jeff Beck, joining in. Fifteen tracks, recorded in a variety of outposts around the globe as far reaching as Las Vegas to Paris, Chicago to São Paolo, LA to London, back to Berlin, down to Dallas, over to Houston, Memphis and Mississippi and, probably, some places I’ve left out.”

We all hope that Billy and the band have many, many more years of playing and recording left in them. However, I ask this of many of the people I’ve had the privilege of interviewing: When you step off the tour bus of life and go to that great gig in the sky (to cop a line from Pink Floyd), how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be? I ran that question by Gibbons.

“No plan to ‘step off’ for a long while however, it would be nice to think of ZZ Top as the band that rocked it with “tone, taste and tenacity.” Any and all association with the ongoing interpretation of the blues would be a bonus.”

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Lawrence Gowan Of Styx

Posted October, 2016

 

styx reducedFew bands have impacted the seventies and eighties like Styx. With monster hits like Lady, Renegade, Come Sail Away, Too Much Time On My Hands, and many others, it’s no surprise that the band’s music still permeates airwaves and stereos all over the world as well as being prominently placed in movies and TV shows.

The current configuration of this iconic band consists of founding member and bassist, Chuck Panozzo; co-founder/guitarist, James “J.Y.” Young; Tommy Shaw (who joined the band in 1976 as a guitarist); drummer, Todd Sucherman (with the band since 1995; Ricky Philips (rhythm guitar and bass, joining the band in 2003); and Lawrence Gowan, keyboardist/vocalist who joined the band back in 1999.

Of the replacements, Gowan undoubtedly had the toughest role in stepping into the big shoes left vacant with the departure of Dennis DeYoung.

Fill ‘em, he did, and quite well, thank you. Already a huge, chart-topping artist in his own right in his native Canada, Lawrence was quite up to the task.

I recently spoke with the band’s keyboardist and vocalist, Lawrence Gowan, to discuss the band’s new DVD, “Styx Live at Orleans Arena Las Vegas” as well as the latest happenings with the band.

I started off by asking Lawrence if, in his wildest dreams, he ever imagined joining a band like Styx.

“In Styx, I think that’s one of the best cards that life has dealt me. I thoroughly enjoyed my solo years. I had a fourteen solo career prior to joining Styx. I had several platinum records and gold records in Canada and a greatest hits album had come out just prior to them calling me and I just figured, ‘You know? I think Act 2 being a member of this legendary band - as far as my career goes - it would be a great little adventure.

“It’s been everything that I could have anticipated and far more, because we’ve played around the world so many times. This line-up of the band has played more shows than any previous era of the group and I’ve seen over the past ten years younger and younger people coming to the shows I’d say over the past ten years, younger and younger people come to the show. Now, on any given night, Randy, half the audience is under thirty years of age and weren’t even born when some of the biggest Styx records were at the top of the charts. It’s a fantastic thing to be a part of and to witness and to enjoy and see the smiles on so many people’s faces every night.”

“So as I look back on it, on the one hand I am surprised, on the other hand I just think ‘this just seems really natural to me’. Who would ever want to give up the experience of some of the greatest moments of my life are just standing in the audience listening to Pink Floyd or being at a Paul McCartney show. It’s an amazing thing to experience so why would you stop that?”

To Gowan’s comment that the demographic of more and more people are under the age of thirty, I asked if he thought that it was shows like South Park incorporating Styx music into some of their shows was instrumental in introducing the band to younger crowds.

“I think I remember J.Y. (James Young) saying this when I first joined the band because the movie ‘Big Daddy’ featured a scene at the end where Adam Sandler is sitting there and looking at his young son in the witness stand and he went on a radio announcer – I can quote it exactly – and the lady says, ‘Did your Daddy teach you anything? He says, ‘Yes.’ ‘What did he teach you?’ And the little kid says, “I think ‘Styx’ is the greatest band in the world and that the critics are just a bunch of cynical assholes.’ It’s funny, that was the first kind of major cultural reference to the band from a new generation, Adam Sandler.

“Shortly after that I joined the group and then from there, as you say, ‘South Park, ‘Scrubs,’ ‘Sex in The City,’ all these various shows made all kinds of reference to Styx and how they connected to the band.

“I believe because young people seem to do their own programming because they are so internet savvy - they’re aware of bands from the classic rock era and they could do a quick little bit of research on it and find out that, ‘Wow, it wasn’t just Cartman saying, ‘Come Sail Away.’ It’s actually this band that’s been around since the 70s and there’s the original version of that song and there are all these live versions of it that have come out since then, and the band is coming to town. I might just go and check them out.’

“Once you’ve seen the group live, that’s when they become really galvanized to the whole experience and they seem to embrace it to the same degree as people that grew up with the band and that is a phenomenal thing to witness - the impact and how it’s crossed generations.

“I see it as we, on stage, we represent a culmination of the efforts of everyone that’s ever been in the band and, there’s only ever been eleven people in Styx, and for a band to be around and in its sixth decade of existence that’s a very, very low number. At least, to my mind, that’s really what we’re carrying forward into the future is all of that legacy and history that amassed to us at this point.”

As to what has been the most surprising aspect of being part of a band such as Styx, Lawrence said:

“Well, I think we just touched on it. I did not expect when I joined, I mean we figured ‘Oh, there’s probably at least four or five years of life left in the group.’ Now I think the most phenomenal thing is to have witnessed the fact that, no, it went well beyond those expectations. I think the most phenomenal thing is - an incremental thing - that I’ve noticed over the years is somehow I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a band with guys that are continually and endlessly looking for ways to up the ante and kind of improve and somehow extend what the experience can be to come and see the band live and to keep it a vital and breathing entity. That’s been the most impressive thing that has not wavered one little bit ever since I first stepped on stage with the group.”

And the least surprising thing?

“Ha! Ha! The least surprising thing to me is that - it’s kind of funny, when I first joined the band I had a hit with a song in Canada called ‘Criminal Mind’. That was kind of a signature song for me. When I opened for Styx in 1997, that’s the song I ended the show with, and of course, the audience in Montreal helped me sing every word of that song.

“After the show, Tommy Shaw came out to me and was very congratulatory on how the night went. When I first came to Tommy, I was just basically testing our voices with J.Y. and he and myself. Before we even played a Styx song, we played ‘Criminal Minds’. He wanted to do “Criminal Mind” at the end, so we did that. ‘We gotta make that a Styx song now.’

“So the least surprising thing to me is that the very first time we played that song in Canada - in Toronto, in fact - the audience’s response was overwhelming. It was a shock to me on the one hand, but on the other hand I thought ‘this is going to slay them’ because the audience there knows the song so well and to hear a classic band like Styx play it, I wasn’t surprised at how well it went over. And I don’t mean to say that in an immodest way. It just was like a tremendous moment.

“What else has been the least surprising? I think the least surprising is that the band has this legacy and that it has continued. I’m not all that surprised by it because rock music is the greatest form of entertainment that I’ve ever came up against in my life - probably yours too, Randy. And although we talk about it being over one day, I really can’t imagine that because it’s so much fun.

“So, on the one hand, it’s lovely to see, but, again, not to sound immodest, it really is a great time to be alive making this type of music. I’m not overwhelmed and I’m not completely taken aback at the fact that it’s continued to be such an embraced form of entertainment.

“So as I look back on it, on the one hand I am surprised, on the other hand I just think, ‘This just seems really natural to me.’ Who would ever want to give up the experience of some of the greatest moments of my life are just standing in the audience listening to Pink Floyd or being at a Paul McCartney show. It’s an amazing thing to experience so why would you stop that?”

Turning our chat to the band’s new DVD, Gowan had this to say:

“We’ve done a couple of live DVDs over the years. This one ‘Styx Live at The Orleans Arena Las Vegas,’ was recorded about a year, getting close to two years ago, that we actually recorded that show. But we wanted to kind of show a lot of the behind the scenes machinations or the way the whole thing comes together. So we included a lot of our crew and a lot of the experience of touring is included in this DVD, did you get to see some of that?”

“So I think that people are getting more of a behind the scenes view of what it is to be a band that is effectively touring as Styx are to this day. That’s really what the DVD focuses on - as much on that as on the show and the overwhelming response of the audience and just how the whole lifestyle and this life commitment and devotion that all of us have that’s driving this forward is captured on this ‘Styx Live at The Orleans.”

As for similarities and differences fans will see between that show on the DVD and then seeing the band during this tour at the fair, Lawrence said:

“Well, I don’t think it will be difficult for them to kind of connect the dots between the two. But, ultimately, I think that because we live in a world now where so much of is connected to small screens. We all go around with our iPads and laptops and can virtually delve into all kinds of aspects of the world and it really is very informative and it has a gigantic upside.

“Having said that, there’s nothing like the live experience of having something happen in real time with a few thousand people around you and experiencing this great, instantaneous communication of music in a fantastic arena. I’ve touched on that before. I think it’s the ultimate form of entertainment and it’s too large to be contained on a small screen. You go get a taste of it and then maybe it will whet your interest. But there’s nothing like that experience of seeing a band live and getting swept up in it like we do along with the audience.”

As for what’s on the band’s radar for the next year, Gowan says:

“We always little projects behind the scenes going on that we don’t want to overly focus on so styx reducedthere’s nothing imminent that I would like to make any pronouncements or announcements about other than the fact that I’m looking at my itinerary now and noticed we’ll finish up in December. We will have played 112 shows through 2016 and I’m already seeing about forty or fifty on the itinerary for next year. We try to keep our focus as close to that and over the next few months as possible. But, as I say, there are great things going on behind the scenes and projects that we’re working on that will, hopefully, see the light of day sooner than later.”

I couldn’t let Lawrence Gowan go without asking him if he had any plans for any solo work.

“Yeah, I still do a good number of solo dates. I was able to do nine this year so far in Canada. I actually did my first little solo adventure last year in December - did one in Baltimore, which was the first time I had done anything like that. So many Styx fans, they know all aspects of the band, they know Todd Sucherman, our drummer – who was voted Number One Progressive Rock Drummer in Modern Magazine now for several years. His drum clinics around the world are highly attended. Most of them are sold out. Our bass player, Ricky Phillips, used to play in the Babys and in Bad English, so there’s a lot of history there. Tommy with Damn Yankees, so there’s a lot of peripheral things that the band that somehow keep themselves a little bit involved in that can help to amass the overall effect of the band when we come together on stage.”

Keep up with all things Styx at their website, www.styxworld.com.

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Damon Johnson Discusses "Echo"

Posted August, 2016

 

damonjohnson2016002If you’re a fan of Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, or Black Star Riders, then you most definitely know who guitarist, Damon Johnson, is. His finesse on the axe has taken him around the world with these acts who are household names in the music world.

Damon recently released his latest five song EP entitled, “Echo” (available on Amazon and iTunes) and recently chatted with me about it, beginning with answering my question as to how many solo albums “Echo” makes for him.

“Yeah, I guess, technically, this would be my third but it is truly my first fully electric album. I put out two acoustic albums. The first one was almost a fluke. It was just for fun. Then, I put out another one back in 2010. So, this is my first, fully realized, full band, lots of guitar kind of album. I’m really, really proud of it. I hope that it’s the first of many.

“I love this idea of the EP. I really do think it’s a great concept to have four or five brand new songs and get those out. Then, maybe within a year, get another four or five songs out.”

Johnson shared what the motivation behind the EP was.

“I would say that, truly, the greatest motivating force had to be my producer and my great friend,johnsonschonguilfordDamon (R) with Journey's Neal Schon (L) & luthier John Guilford - Photo by Randy Patterson Nick Raskulinecz. Nick and I both live in Nashville. I have been a fan of Nick’s for years. He’s produced so many great rock records. So, when we met randomly at an Iron Maiden show a few years back, I was just knocked out to get to talk to this guy! He was so approachable and really cool. Ironically, our wives became really close because Nick and I have small kids. So, while he and I were doing our various things, the girls would actually connect and get the kids together and whatever.

“So, Nick produced the second Black Star Riders album, The Killer Instinct. It was a great experience for the whole band but it also gave Nick a chance to really get to know me and what I’m all about musically and as a rock writer and as a player. Not long after we finished that album, he called me out of the blue one day and he said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got some time. My studio is free. If you want to come on in and record some of your own stuff . . . “and he said, “I’m sure you’ve got songs,” which I did and always do.

“I think, really and truly, it was that phone call. In my head, I had always thought, ‘Wow! It would be great to record some stuff” but, man! It’s a process. There’s a lot of moving parts. You’ve got to get the guys. You’ve got to pay the guys. You’ve got to pay for the studio. There’s so many factors. With Nick’s help, it was incredible.

“Once we started taking steps in that direction, then I really got the momentum up in my brain to carry it all the way and get it done.”

Continuing by sharing who was on the EP with him, Damon said:

“There’s a guy on drums, Jarred Pope, who played with me in a band called Whiskey Falls. I did a country project back in 2007 for a couple of years. I met Jarred when he was still living in Bakersfield, California. I was blown away by his musical instincts as a drummer. I always told him, ‘One day, bro, we’re going to figure out a way to get a studio or get on stage and play some rock and roll.’ Ironically, Jarred is another transplant to Nashville. He moved to town a little before I did so as soon as I arrived, we hooked up and introduced him to some people I knew and vice versa. So, when I got ready to do this solo thing, I didn’t hesitate to reach out to Jarred.

“On the bass guitar, is a guy a named of Tony Nagy. I met Tony through my good friend, Chuck Garric. We played together in Alice Cooper. Chuck is still in Alice’s band. Chuck is also a new transplant to Nashville. I always call Chuck first because he’s my brother and we’ve done so much together. I love him and his wife. They’re amazing people. But he had so many other commitments so he said, ‘You gotta check out this guy, Tony Nagy.’ That’s how Tony came to me.

“So, it was just the three of us in the studio. I play all the guitar. All the keyboards. Taurus pedals. Some percussion. I just had a great time! I really couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

Johnson then shared a rundown about the stories behind the five songs.

damonalicegenland1Damon & His Former Boss, Alice Cooper - Photo Courtesy of Damon Johnson“There’s two songs: ‘Dead’ and another song called ‘The Waiting Kills Me’. I wrote them both with my friend, Kelly Gray. I don’t know if you remember, Randy, that Kelly produced the Wishpool album for Brother Cane. Kelly and I also had a band together for a little while called Slave To The System. These were two songs that we thought might make a sophomore STTS release. It just wasn’t possible to get everybody’s schedules to line up. I knew that they were both great songs so I’ve been kinda sitting on those for a while.

“Another song is “Nobody Using,” which I really love. It’s got so much tempo and energy. It just kicks ass, man. It reminds a lot of my fans of “Got No Shame” – kinda reminiscent of that in its intensity.

“Yet another song is “Just Move On” that I co-wrote with my buddy, Marty Frederickson, who I’ve worked with for two decades now. He and I wrote all those Brother Cane songs together. All the radio singles – we wrote those together.

“Then, Marty actually brought me what I feel is a gift in the form of a song called ‘Scars.’ ‘Scars’ is probably my favorite song of the five. Just an incredible lyric and an amazing vocal melody and it just gave me a bed to come up with some really – I guess – fulfilling guitar parts. I tried to keep them very lyrical. It’s a great lyric. It really spoke to me and I’ve had a lot of people reaching out and talking about how much they love that song.

“All five songs are different. Different in tempo and dynamic. Lyrical content. I kinda think that’s been my story my whole career. I’ve never really been part of one style or one specific sound. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m very pleased to get these five songs out to represent where I’m at, right now, and where I’m headed.”

When I asked Damon which song he would use as a calling card for “Echo”, he said:

“I guess that I would have to base that some feedback I’ve gotten from the fans, my friends, and my inner circle. I think a lot of people are gravitating towards ‘Dead’. ‘Dead,’ in some ways, it could’ve been a really cool Alice Cooper song. Lyrically. Guitar-wise. Kinda trashy. It’s got a real sexy tempo to it. I just think it’s exactly what you said. It just might be the statement song for the album. I have to mention ‘Nobody Using,’ as well. I’ve gotten a lot of great support in Europe. I’ve gotten some radio airplay. A lot of my Black Star Riders/Thin Lizzy supporters over there have gravitated towards that song. I have to give some credit to my great friend, Johnny Blade. He and I wrote that together. He’s another monster talent. I love to get into a room with another creative mind like that. Nine out of ten times, we not only come up with something, but we come up with something pretty fast. He and I are actually working on some new songs right now so you’ll hear more from that collaboration.”

As for tour plans in support of the EP, Johnson shared:

“There are absolutely plans to get out and tour. The way my schedule looks for the next six months, we’re going to do a handful of Thin Lizzy festival dates. In August, Black Star Riders are back in the studio with Nick Raskulinecz right here in Nashville to record the follow-up, which will be our third album. So, as soon as we get that wrapped up, that is totally my plan - is to be out, doing some dates to promote ‘Echo.’ That will probably be the latter part of September and into October and November. I’ve already done a handful of shows with my guys. The set list is just ridiculous. Plenty of Brother Cain songs. I play a couple of Black Star Rider songs. We certainly do a Thin Lizzy song. We pretty much play everything off of the new EP and we’ve actually worked up a medley of BAD. ASS Alice Cooper songs. It lasts about eleven minutes. It’s a barn burner, Randy! I hope you get to hear it!

The music world has been a-buzz with news that Damon’s former boss, Alice Cooper, was reuniting his original band members for a new album. I asked Johnson what his thoughts were about that news.

“I’ll say this: I’m a little out of the loop as to what or how those specific plans are coming together. I truly am. I know that Alice has been busy with his Hollywood Vampires thing and he has dates with his current band kind of booked throughout the remainder of the year. If there are, indeed, dates with the original band – there’s no question that that would be and is very, very cool! It’d have to be fun for Dennis and the guys to go out and do some proper dates with Coop like that. And I think it would be great of Alice to give those guys that opportunity.

“That original band was incredibly special. The further distance we get away from that, I think it becomes even more obvious how special they were. Alice has had dozens and dozens of different lineups as a solo artist through the years. But nothing can touch that original band. There was a special chemistry and it was a special sound that had a special swagger that’s not been duplicated since then. Not necessarily that he wants to but those guys played very, very unique together. You can bet – if they’re out there on some dates, I’m going to see one . . .or ten! Ha! Ha! If humanly possible, I’ll definitely be in the house to see that!”

Regarding what’s on his career radar for the foreseeable future, the renown axe man said:damonjohnsonthinlizzyPhoto Courtesy of Damon Johnson

“The plans for me, I’m hoping, are a mirror image of everything that has happened over the last twelve months. It’s really been the most fulfilling year I think I’ve ever had in my career. It’s an honor to be a part of Black Star Riders. It’s a real band. It’s truly growing its fan base at a time where it couldn’t be more difficult for guys our age just playing straight ahead rock to go out and build a following. We feel that momentum. We’re energized by it so we’re going to absolutely be balls to the wall with continuing Black Star Riders.

“Thin Lizzy, it’s Scott’s band. Scott is my brother; my bandmate in Black Star Riders. Whenever he wants to do a handful of those, I’m certainly available. Again, what an incredible experience for me and Ricky to be a part of that Thin Lizzy band with Scott, as well. The rest of the time, I’ll be doing my stuff. I really would love to put out another acoustic album. My wife laughs. She goes, ‘You’re kind of like a southern version of Neil Young. You can put out these introspective, folk singer/songwriter things and then fire up the amps with the band and be rockin’ in the free world.’ Ha! Ha! So, I told her that was an incredible compliment so I’m certainly flattered by it.”

Whether you catch Damon with Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, a random pick up jam band, or one of his amazing acoustic gigs, you will be in for an incredible musical treat. If you get the chance to meet him, you’ll have met one of the nicest, warmest, most genuine people God’s green earth.

Keep up with Damon at any of these links:

Website:     Damon Johnson     Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders

 

Twitter:      Damon Johnson      Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders         

Facebook:   Damon Johnson     Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders

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Michael Walden Narada

Posted September, 2016

 

michaelwaldennarada001r01How would you feel if you produced records for people like Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, George Michael, Mariah Carey, Stacy Lattisaw, Steve Winwood, Ray Charles, Sister Sledge, Patti Austin, Gladys Knight, Rev Al Green, Barbra Streisand, Lionel Ritchie, Elton John, Sting, Carlos Santana, Shanice Wilson, Tevin Campbell, Lisa Fischer, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones, Wynonna Judd and The Temptations?

On top of that, what if you were awarded Grammys for Producer of the Year, Album of the Year for a movie soundtrack for a major motion picture? Or named by Billboard Magazine as one of the “Top Ten Producers with the Most Number One Hits”?

Well, if you could claim all of those accomplishments, then you would have to be none other than Narada Michael Walden (he goes by Narada). And as amazing as all of that is, Narada has also earned equal acclaim as a solo recording and performing artist.

His solo work includes groundbreaking soundtrack work on such blockbuster films as The Bodyguard, Free Willy, Beverly Hills Cops II, 9 ½ Weeks and Stuart Little including Gladys Knight’s License to Kill for the James Bond Film, Jefferson Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now for Mannequin to the EMMY-winning One Moment in Time, the theme to the 1988 Olympic Games.

Let me stop and catch my breath.

Okay, I can go on now.

In early February 2012, Narada Michael Walden returned from a well-received 10-day stint of shows at the Blue Note in Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan to perform at the White House in an all-star band for President Obama’s “Red, White and Blues” concert with legends B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Trombone Shorty, Booker T Jones and more.

A while back, I had the opportunity to chat with Narada by phone while he was taking a break at his Tarpan Records studio. We chatted about a wide range of things, including his then just released album, “Evolution”.

In the press release for “Evolution”, Narada was quoted as saying that the album reflected his spirituality and his renewed feeling for life so our chat started off with me asking him to expound on that statement.

“From my side I had never had children before, I didn’t think I was going to have children. I waited very late in life to be blessed by the gift from God. I was sixty-one when I had my first child, but this completely stopped my world and it shocked me. Taking care of my oldest, who is now two years old yesterday – little Kelly. She’s just a bundle of energy, like a rocket ship. And, now, I have another one who is nine months old named Kayla who is kind of calm. Both these girls have completely won me over. It’s showed me there is so much to life. We are grateful. There’s just so much to life that’s right here in front of us if we’ll just open our eyes and see it.

“So when I started making music for this new album the experience I am having with my children kind of unfolded in this album and the sweetness I feel being with them and the happiness I feel being with them, so it’s a celebration doing that I get being with them. To see them dance around and jump around makes me very happy. So, that’s what about.

“You know my life is limited on the earth. They’ll outlive me so I want to make sure that they go michaelwaldennarada002r001forward, that they are given the gifts that God wants them to have. So everything is evolving. Nothing stays the same. You’re either slipping backwards or going forward. And I’d like my life to go forward, help my children go forward, help my wife and all my friends, everything move forward. That’s what my evolving purpose is. I really believe that God is good and great and mighty and blesses us on a daily basis. And it’s up to us to recognize that and be grateful for it. The more that we are grateful, the more the universe can bless us. It’s all wrapped up in my feeling of ‘Evolution’ and am I going forward with my life at this time.”

When I asked what he hoped people would get from his album, I expected to hear some canned, PR type answer. What Narada said in response was much more intense than I expected.

“I graduated from high school in 1970, so that would put there the last four years, ’67, ’68 ’69, ’70. A lot of what I think about my life stems from my high school meets now. So, the 60s feeling meets now is always kind of with me. I’m always kind of paralleling what I felt, what I saw from the bands in the 60s in a way, and the heart of the 60s and seeing people come together in the 60s, right? So, just break out and come together in that and/or you saw a lot of eruptions of violence, a lot of people coming together who didn’t like each other. In the south, you can’t go to school if you’re a certain color, you can’t drink from certain fountains, yet all of that started being exposed to where this was so ridiculous.

“So, I like that aspect of the 60s of how things were exposed and then we started working on making it better. I see the same thing happening now again. We’re being forced to come together as humanity to be a stronger people and I like that aspect of it. Like, now, when I was going on stage in New York City, as soon as I walked on the stage all that Paris outbreak happened with ISIS over in Paris. It brings us together to say, ‘what can we do to make our world safer and better for each other?’ Never mind the black, green, white, whatever color of our skins; let’s be tight and stand up for each other and look out for each other as a people. I like all that, it’s the 60s all over again. So, that element is always with me as I am living my life.”

I expected that an album of the amazing caliber as “Evolution”, that it had to have taken Narada a year or two to make. Not so.

“Not long. The Lord’s good to me so I can sit down and write songs quite quickly. I heard something a long time ago that says, ‘inspiration is with us 24 hours a day, we just reach our hands up to the sky and grab a breath of inspiration and bring it down into our lives.

“I learned that trick, so I can write a song a day. I wrote 40 songs for this new album, over a period of about 40 days and then producing it, you know however long that takes, but that’s always – I wear different hats basically to make everything sound beautiful.

“So I can’t really tell you how long it took but over a period of six months. I also took the song, “Long and Winding Road” by The Beatles a couple of years back and re-sang it and reworked. A few songs I had in my vault, like, “Tear the House Down”, that I wrote one with Lionel Richie twenty years ago. I took the inspiration of it and re-cut it.

“I felt like, again, going back, going forward, going back again, going forward. It’s some of the best things of the 60s back in my life and going forward.

“I think, ‘How do I make a hit out of the title like, ‘Billionaire On Soul Street?”, which my assistant mentioned one day - that title. I think, ‘How would Curtis Mayfield make a hit out of ‘Billionaire On Soul Street?” So, then I just channel Curtis Mayfield, or I’ll channel Rick James when I really want to get really funky and fun, that beat’s got it really going on, I channel Rick. Rick was a real good friend of mine. I played on his albums in the early days. He would say, ‘I wish I could play the drums like you, Narada. Then, I could have so much fun with the music.’

michaelwaldennarada003“So I channel Rick. I channel Smokey Robinson or I channel Hendrix. I channel all kinds of people whom I love and adore, musician wise, to open up different doors and keep alive that kind of feeling like we got back in the old days. When music actually meant something, it made you feel a certain way, the words are so high-tech that we couldn’t feel it. Yet, it’s important because my generation, my people who want my music, they want to feel something. They’re on their computers or they’re running around with their children or whatever, they want to hear something. That’s what I realized when I was on the road with Jeff Beck, a tour around the world about two years straight, a few years back, and it was packed everywhere. People want to feel something. They don’t mind coming and paying to see a show and feel something. People don’t buy as many CDs as they used to, but everyone wants to feel it. I’m aware of that. That’s what I am saying, when I put my music down I’m always aware of what would translate live; where I can go out there and play live and people are going to feel it. So I’m on that page too.”

What was different in putting together “Evolution” as compared to his other solo projects and other albums he’s worked on?

“As we evolve as people, I’m just a different person, now, than I was a year ago, even yesterday. I am always recognizing my growth and try to be honest to what I feel at this time. I’m an artist, and we open our hearts to where we are today and what does our heart want to say. It’s like a little journey we go on. That’s what makes me different today than yesterday, or the day before that. I’ve always wanted to be aware ---- also on this album--- to make an album that is more dance oriented. Because back in ‘78, when disco was very popular, I was at the helm of disco, again, making dance music. So I feel like here we are making music around the world people really want to dance. Their life is so intense that they want to dance it off and feel better about things. I just continued my act to go and I wound up playing live dance music, 60s live dance music meets now. So that’s predominately in my thought. Stevie Wonder is one of my teachers and he always says to me, ‘Narada, always keep it current’. So by keeping it current, I go, ‘What are we doing on the earth right now? Oh, we all want to dance again.’ Fine, but I want to dance with my own spin on it; and my own spin is really 60s meets now.”

I shared with Narada about the driving force in the creation of Boomerocity. My story prompted him to say:

“I think with the Boomer generation we changed things for the better and we’re still enjoying the fruit of that and we still want to maintain the good fruit of that and they’re learning from us; being brave to stand up and try it and come together as a strong people.

“Also on the album, I covered a jam by the great Richie Havens, who did a song called ‘Freedom, right? “Freedom” was his sixth encore at Woodstock. Can you imagine in front of all those people being asked to come back out six times? Because, for one reason, the band that was going to follow him was late so you had to kind of make up for a time. And, then, on the sixth encore he starts jamming and just looks around and starts singing ‘Freedom.’ I just love that. So, again, we need that message of ‘Freedom’ again. So I just asked the Lord could I do my version of Richie Haven’s song in honor to Richie Havens. Again, I just love all that unbridled spirit we had at that time meets now again.”

As for which song from “Evolution” Narada would point to as a calling card for the entire album, he shared:

“I want you to tell me that, I want you to say ‘this is what I enjoy’ because each person is different. I don’t want to ever limit someone of what they love by my own interpretation or whatever.
“From my side, my daughter speaks on the album at the very beginning ‘Evolution’ that’s very charming to me. That’s very charming, the message of that song speaks as I am speaking to you now. I should have taken better care of my mother earth. Am I taking care of my babies so they can do a wonderful job in our futures? So, that message is very dear to my heart. But, then, having said that, I like everything I put together on this record. The Paul McCartney and John Lennon tune, “The Long and Winding Road.’ My life has been a long and winding road. So, I’d have to say I offer it as a Thanksgiving meal and whatever you like, that’s what you’re going to enjoy.

Narada’s treatment of Richie Havens’ “Freedom” is especially powerful. I was interested in learning what drove him to cover that classic tune.

I’m a rock and roll man. In my heart of hearts, I’m a rock and roll man. I love the spirit of Hendrix, of Richie Havens, of the people that can do it, man! Really do it! I mean really just shake it up. That’s what I most admire. When I was a little kid, I admired Ray Charles’ live records. I admired Little Richard. Little Richard made me feel it! Wow! What the hell! They had so much control of their voice even when they were screaming, they would scream in tune. I just love all that control of the electricity! So, I’m turned on by that. I play drums. So, all that I can tell you is that we’re the heartbeat of music and we want to go full throttle. it just always spills into this burning ecstasy feeling. It just can’t help but overspill into that record.”

As I shared at the beginning of this piece, Narada has worked with an astonishing group of icons. That said, I wondered if there as anyone on his bucket list who he hasn’t yet worked with.

“I think there’s some new people coming out and people that are already popular and huge that I’ve met and that I’d like to work with. Beyoncé, I met her when she was younger but I would love to make a smash with her now. Adele is very hot in the world. I would like to make a smash with her. I met her at one of her concerts here in the Bay area and she was out in the street with no shoes on with all her fans around her, just loving her fans. I was very taken by her. My favorite song of hers is ‘Chasing Pavements.’ The chorus on that record is so Burt Bacarach-ish! So gorgeous! I want to work with her.

“To be honest, I’m open to anyone the good Lord wants to bring to me because I always say this, ‘Sometimes my mind is like, I don’t want to work with somebody.” But, then, that’s very limiting. I meet somebody who I felt that I wouldn’t have been so good with, then all of a sudden, ‘No, no! We get along like peas and carrots!’ So, I realize that I should never try to say this or that. Just be open to the flow of the universe and whatever God brings your way. Don’t block a blessing!”

I hit Narada with a two-part question: Do you feel like the music business needs to be fixed? And what would you do to fix it?

“If I was a music czar, I would be like Berry Gordy all over again. Barry Gordy brought an honesty and a sound of youth back to America - which we needed - with a bunch of funk and spirit and sound of great music. Be it The Four Tops, be it the Miracles, be it the Supremes, discovering Little Stevie Wonder. I think in our industry, now, we need a new influx of young and youthful stars as well as the rest just keeping their sound alive. But genuinely, the songs are really beautiful songs. I don’t want to see as an industry, and as a people, lose our innocence.

“Look at the song by the Beatles, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand." That song was a smash. We don’t think that way anymore. We don’t even think innocent-like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. How beautiful and what a charge you get from just touching someone’s hand that you’re crazy about. We were so innocent then. I don’t know if even we as a people could ever return to that kind of innocence, I would wish it if I was the czar – that we would make the music that touched the heartstrings of our innocence. To touch the heartstrings of human, pure emotion. That’s what I would wish for as a Czar.

“I’d find the greatest singers I could find. I’d find the greatest talent I could find - and the nicest people. I would want people who are talented and are nice who can get along, they aren’t going to try to mess it up and tear it up. And, once they get some power, misuse that power. I want people who could be God-ordained with their power. That’s what I want. I want to help angels do their work on the planet. That’s what I to help do if I’m the Czar. Great singers and great musicians who have a purpose of doing good for this world. That’s what I’m talking about, with wonderful songs. Yep, that’s what I’m talking about! It’s happening. We’re actually doing it and we’ll do lots more of it. “

What performances do you have planned in support of “Evolution”?michaelwaldennarada004

We just did a big show at the Iridium in New York City, a small club.
It’s a mighty powerful place because a lot of press gets in there and the people that are really in the know in New York City come to your show. I really felt a powerful experience there just last week. And then we postponed the rest of our tour for next year when we’ll have more a chance to let Michael Jensen get up to speed, get our album out, where people will get to hear more of it. It’s just so new and so fresh. So that’s what we’re going to do with it. We’ll be doing a little more touring next year. And I’m also raising a family so I have be smart about leaving town and how long I leave town for because my babies are so young still. So, it’s a balancing act.

As for what’s on Narada’s radar for the next few years, he shared:

“We’re building our label records called Tarpan Records and we are building and finding new artists. We’re building how to get music out in the world where people can all share and appreciate it and the artist can benefit in a bigger way and can maintain a bigger piece of the pie. So I want to be smart about that, and I want to just do everything I was meant to do. I feel like when Quincy Jones helped Michael Jackson, he was ripe to really help Michael. And I want to feel like, in my heart, I’m ripe to help the next big superstar of the world, and superstars of the world. I want to be a good producer, helper and coach for them, as well as I want to be able to get out and keep my sound flowing, and make a bigger name for myself.

“I’d like to go on with my band. So you will know, ‘oh, it’s this guy; this guy sings some good stuff.’ So, I want to have that open to me. That’s what I’m saying. I want to keep it flowing, production and artistry both.”

Keep up on the latest on Michael Walden Narada at, where else? http://www.naradamichaelwalden.com 

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Melissa Etheridge

Posted July, 2016

 

melissa ethridge photojohntsiavis08 crop02Photo by John TsiavisMelissa Etheridge represents many things to many people.

First and foremost, she’s primarily known as prolific and masterful songwriter and performer. Her lyrics reach to the depths of the listener’s soul and causes them to think deeper than they ever have before on whatever Etheridge is singing about. All of that has resulted in close to 14 million domestic album sales, earning her several platinum and gold records.

She’s an iconic gay rights activist and has been very bold in her support of the gay community and, likewise, they’ve been unabashedly loyal to her.

Others see Melissa as a courageous and victorious cancer survivor, and rightly so.

Etheridge is also a committed environmentalist. Her celebrity has given her the platform to promote smart energy.

It is because of the first point – and her performance this month at Knoxville’s historic and beautiful Tennessee Theatre (as well as Atlanta’s Chastain Park Amphitheater and Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium, if you’re inclined to make the day trips for those shows), that I was able to chat with Ms. Etheridge.

The first thing that I would like to say about our conversation is the total demonstration of class melissa ethridge photojohntsiavis07 reducedPhoto by John Tsiavisshe and her people showed. The interview was done as a favor and a few minutes were culled out of her jam-packed schedule just so she could speak with me about the tour and show. My phone number was transposed, making it impossible to get in touch with me at the appointed time. Yet, they persevered until they were able to get through to me.

This elevated Melissa and her team to a far taller pedestal than I already had them on. An artist of her status would have been well within their rights to blow off the call due to their busy schedule. The fact that Melissa didn’t speaks volumes of the kind of human being she is.

Once we connected and got through our introductions, I started the interview by asking how preparations for the tour were going. I was given a surprising glimpse into her personal life.

“It’s great. Right now, I’m in my quiet time. Get the kids finished up at school. I’m at home. That’s me prepping to go on the road, making sure that my teenagers are all set for the summer and that everybody is good.”

When I gasped that her kids are already teenagers (not realizing that THAT much time has elapsed since they entered her life), she gasped back by saying, “One of them is in college! She just finished her first year at Columbia University! Just amazing!”

For the Knoxville and other stops on this tour, I asked what we could expect from those shows.

“I’m kind of doing a couple of things this summer. I’m touring with Pat Benatar. That’s ninety minutes of the hits and we’re hitting it like that. The Knoxville stop will be my own show. What’s new about this is it’s a new configuration of musicians for me. I have played with three other pieces. I’ve played with full five piece bands. I’ve played with symphonies. But this show is going to be a trio. It’s me, and drums and bass.

melissa ethridge photojohntsiavis02 cropPhoto by John Tsiavis“Because I’ve been doing my solo shows, I’ve gotten really strong in my guitar playing. So, I said, ‘Look, I want to see what it’s like to move into this trio feel,’ which I was always relying on another guitar player or something else to fill it up. So, I go, ‘Let me see if I can go more into the Jimi Hendrix/Nirvana kind of space.

“I’m using a Nashville guy – David Santos is going to play bass and he’s just an amazing bass player. I’ve got Brian Delaney on drums so it’s going to be another new way of hearing ‘Come To My Window’ and ‘Bring Me Some Water’ and some of the hits you love. It allows me to really explore my own musicianship and re-imagining some of these songs. I’m really excited about it – a little scared, but that’s good!”

As a fan of both her solo and band performances, I was curious which environment she preferred to perform in.

“You know, it depends on the mood because, with a band, I get that dynamics. I totally get dynamics. Solo, I get to do everything myself but I don’t get dynamics because I have to do everything kind of on this one level. But I think I’ll always love playing with other musicians the best. I just like that experience.”

If you go to Melissa’s website, MelissaEtheridge.com, the first thing you see is a big splash about the cruise she’s hosting this fall. I asked her about it.

“Ah! It’s going to be so much fun! We’re going from Tampa, Florida, to Key West, Florida, then across the Gulf to Cozumel, Mexico, and, then, back. It’s all about music. There’s a lot about health; taking care of ourselves. It’s going to be a blast! It’s my very first cruise I’ve hosted so I’m really looking forward to it!”

As for what is on her radar for the near term besides the tour, Melissa shared:

“Next year! Speaking of Tennessee, I went down to Memphis at the beginning of the year. I went to Willie Mitchell’s old studio – Royal Studios – and I recorded with the High Rhythm Section. I’m re-imagining some Stax songs. I’m actually recording on Stax Records. They’ve been defunct and Concord bought the catalog. They’ve opened up and allowed me to use the Stax label. I made a Stax record. We’re actually mixing it right now. Vance Powell is actually mixing it down in Nashville. A lot of Tennessee influence on this next record!”

When I suggested that she’s got to do a blues album sometime, Etheridge replied:

“You’re gonna get some blues on this record. You’re gonna hear it! You’re finally going to hear me say, ‘That’s right!’ It all came from the blues. It’s where it all came from!”

As our chat was drawing to a close, I asked Ms. Etheridge what I ask many artists who have had a long, distinguished career: Looking many years ahead, when you’ve stepped off the tour bus at the great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

“Ah! I want people to say, ‘God, she made a difference! Because she was here, life was a little sweeter. Life had a little bit more of a soundtrack.’ That I just lived well; gave more than I took in the end.”

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