Paul Nelson Discusses Johnny Winter and Badass Generation

June, 2016

thepaulnelsonbandIt isn’t a stretch at all to say that Johnny Winter was one of the preeminent blues men of our time. Revered and respected, we lost him far too soon on July 14th 2014.

Before his death, I had the privilege of interviewing Johnny twice. Both interviews were orchestrated by his dear friend and manager, Paul Nelson. I recently interviewed Paul about his new album (included with this interview in its entirety on Boomerocity.com) but we started our chat about his late friend. At the outset, I said that, while I didn’t want to make this a “puff piece,” I also didn’t want this to a negative chat about his late, dear friend. Nelson jumped right on the comment.

“You know what? Everything was common knowledge. Even Johnny asked back in the day, ‘Should I be talking about this stuff?’ I go ‘yes.’ I go, “You need to say everything that you did. You went down to the dumps and came back up, and I know if you can that, do it at full swing. That’s what we gotta do. Plus, it’s going to be educational for people and you can help some people get off of drugs and this and that.’

So he was totally open about the shape he was in and what he was doing, so it’s all good.”

This was our first chat since Winter’s passing so I asked about how it had been for him in the days immediately after his dear friend’s death.

“It wasn’t easy. There is a lot of family involved, the band involved, but we put together the Johnny Winter All-Star shows, and that was great to honor Johnny. It was therapeutic for the band as well. And we still do it. We’re doing a series of these in February and March, the movie’s coming out, March 4 “Down and Dirty.” We had guests. I went to Jamaica, we did it with Govt. Mule and Warren Haynes and Sonny (Landreth) – good friends of mine. Edgar (Winter, Johnny’s brother) did one – actually, online at Buddy Guy’s at his Legends club. Ronnie Baker Brooks, Debbie Davies, Joe Lewis Walker, Earl Slick, Mike Zito.

“So we’ve been doing tons of these. It’s kind of like the Jimi Hendrix Experience thing. That started off as one show of B. B. King’s. It was birthday celebration for Hendrix. Johnny and I were on it and they developed to what you see now, this touring thing.

“We’ve lost so many important artists, each one, even B. B. King has the B. B. King All-Star Band. His drummer, T. C., put that together. It’s important for everyone. We have to keep his music going and it’s like I said, the movie’s coming out so is what we do, is they screen the movie at these concerts and then they see us play. These are the original members and we also have original members from Johnny’s past. Bobby Torello, the guy that played on previous albums and previous tours. So we’ve been doing that.

“Johnny had such a comeback toward the end, he got so much healthier except he had the emphysema, which finally was his downfall. But other than that, people saw this resurgence and that actually what the movie’s about, among other things about rock history; his history, and Blues.”

The last time Nelson and I talked about three or four years ago, I met with him and Johnny when they were appearing in Dallas. Johnny’s favorite guitar had just recently been stolen. I asked Paul if the guitar had ever been recovered.

“Yes, and the reason why we found it was because I didn’t publicize it. The key is to never publicize something like that because then it goes deeper and deeper into hiding. Luckily a fan saw it at a store being sold by someone else. He notified us, sent it over and we got the Laser back. It was stolen in Massachusetts. We got it back and that’s one of those rare things. You have an instrument like that and what can you do with it? The biggest fear is that it goes into hibernation and then comes back decades. Do not open until 2050. It worked.”

Before we switched to chatting about Paul’s new CD, I asked him for some closing thoughts about Johnny, maybe something about him that might surprise fans or something that he’d like to share that maybe they’re not hearing about the late blues master.

“He had a great sense of humor. Not only was he a great musician artist, but his love for the Blues made him, and I’ve only seen a few like this, like Billy Gibbons, Bill Wax, who works Bluesville, Dick Sherman, the producer. Blues historians, just knew everything about who played this, who was on this recording, who had the drinking problem or all the little nuances of the Blues, he knew everything and I was honored that he took me under his wing and that he turned me onto that. ‘Get this album and listen to this specific list, instead of going out and buying all the records by Chuck Berry, or all the records by different people.’ This is what I learned. This is what we all learned back in the day. That was great.

“On the tour bus, he listened to Blues. He had 15,000 songs on his IPod and he listened to it from when he awoke until showtime and then afterwards, every day. He was just constantly inputting that information and then he would, those lists would come up during that night’s performance. He was a sponge.

“He was a great guy. At the end of those past few years, he was totally clean. A lot of people don’t know I had him get laser surgery. He was no longer legally blind. That was a big deal. And then, of course, the methadone was gone, the drinking was gone, the smoking was gone. He was really enjoying his life toward the end. He was completely free of all that stuff, and the fans were noticing it. The way he was performing, that’s why it was so important to put out that record, Roots, Step Back, which got he and I the Grammies. What’s so important is that his voice was so strong, his playing was so much stronger, so that was the key. And then when we appeared on Letterman, he hadn’t been on TV because of his health. But this was a huge thing in TV, you can’t really lie. He had added a couple of pounds but other than that, he performed. He heard the whole record. And this movie, he saw the whole movie as well. He did witness everything that’s coming out now; which was important.”

I asked Nelson if he felt Winter would like how he’s being remembered and what his legacy is so far?

“Absolutely. There was a reason why he wasn’t up there with his cohorts and his old johnnywinterband colormanagement, he pushed the envelope too. He made Ozzy Osborne look like he had training wheels. But once that was cleaned up, everybody started realizing what an important piece of the puzzle Johnny was and how Rolling Stone should’ve mentioned him in the top 10 at least. I mean, it’s Hendrix, Johnny and, then (Stevie Ray) Vaughan. A lot of people don’t know that Stevie Ray Vaughan used to come over to Johnny’s in Texas and hang around with him. Johnny would teach him riffs.

“So Vaughan was Johnny’s student. It’s that important. I think that the Grammy solidified it. The TV appearances, Crossroads, these were all important things for him. I was honored that he trusted me enough and we were close friends, to help this out, to know what had to be done to get him back to that position.

"And, now, you have to buy Johnny’s stuff, you have to listen to Johnny. The whole jam band resurgence is the way Johnny played. His connections with the Allman Brothers, his connections with Hendrix, his connections with The Beatles, his connection with Janis Joplin, his connections with Vaughan, he was everywhere in musical history for decades. Every major event. The 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, the 90s were bad years. The movie described that. The movie is very enlightening about what happens. People are going to be surprised. They’ll finally see the man behind the music.”

Shifting to Nelson’s new CD, I asked him what was the story and motivation behind it and what did he set out to accomplish when he started making the album.

“I’ve been studying music for years. I studied with Steve Vai, with Michael Stern, Steve Kahn. I’ve toured with other bands and produced. Johnny was like, “Paul I know you’ve done a lot of other stuff, but I’m glad you just play blues with me. And we get along musically first.” That was first and foremost. He said, “I know no, you can play like Rick Derringer and do all that stuff.”

"We were always battling on guitar. He goes, “I like the fact that I know that you can play like that, but you don’t so that I can do my thing and we compliment each other really well.” And he was really proud of that, so that was cool.

"That musical background of all these styles that he recognized, he was actually going to be on this (CD). When Johnny passed, you have to continue on. We’re all artists, musicians, we have to do our thing so I continued playing, producing and all that. But I knew I wanted to do my own thing. I had done my own solo album - an instrumental thing – very ‘Eric Johnsony – before that, called “Look.” I had this singer that I’d produced a couple of years ago, and I had my eye on him from when I was working with his band; then the bass player, Chris Redan the drummer from Popa Chubby, Chris Alexander from Samantha Fish and then Morton Fredheim, who was actually number two on The Voice over in Europe. I said, ‘Let’s get together and start writing material.’

“So they came over and this stuff just started flowing out of me because I had such a great singer. This guy was like Paul Rogers on steroids. And then all of sudden it was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. I thought this was going to be this type of album?’ This stuff just spewed out of us. It was like retro, paying tribute to the 70s type of stuff, which everybody loves; but at the same time, it’s current.

“So all the different styles starting coming out, Jam, Southern Rock, Blues, and the lyrics started coming out of me; the music started coming out of me and it just happened.

“I got signed with Sony. They said, ‘We’ll put it out in February’ and then I have a separate deal with Sony Japan that comes out in April. I really wanted to write songs though. It’s inspirational when you work with a singer, though I didn’t want - there’s a real lack of front man nowadays. Now it’s just guitar players and singing. I’m going to be the one who changes it, but everybody professes that they love that kind of music, but then when you ask them to do it, they go, ‘Oh no.’ They’ve played guitars for years and then all of sudden they’re singers in a week. Now that I have a singer, the lyrics flow out. It’s so inspirational when you’re writing something and you know that you have the tools and the players to not worry whether it’s going to be good or not. It’s going to develop. While I’m writing this I go, ‘Boy, is this going to be something else when these guys get a hold of it’ and that’s what was happening. We made this real diverse package and, if you see the cover, it’s a cassette. That’s paying tribute to the past, but at the same time, ‘Bad Ass Generation’ refers to the term that everybody uses now to describe stuff, ‘Bad Ass.’ So, it’s us now appreciating from the past but still making sure that it’s current. And it’s doing really well.”

When I asked Paul how long it took to make the album, I was astonished by his answer.

"Three weeks, four weeks. I’m very particular and I had some good people working. I had an engineer, Phil Magnotti. He’s got like three Grammies, so he mixed it. I produced it. We really worked hard on it. The actual material was written in seven days."

Did it come out the way he wanted it to?

"Even better. There’s a million musicians saying that about their album as we speak, but I was really happy the way it came out because I used recording techniques of the past, but recording techniques of now. We recorded the drums a certain way, the guitars a certain way, the vocals a certain way. But we used today’s sound to beef that up. What if Boston recorded today? What if those guys recorded those same songs now and that kind of thing? We really analyzed and studied the school of the 70s before we started cooking, and then it just came out."

I asked if there was anything he did on the album that was like ‘I always wanted to do this in the studio and now’s my chance to do it?’ to which he replied:

“The whole thing was like that. I wanted to write and record stuff that reminded me of the stuff that influenced me. Luckily, everyone else was like that, as well. Aerosmith influences. Led Zeppelin influences. Tom Petty influences. All the other influences. We are at a really good time right now. Warren Haynes is a really close friend to all those guys. When you see the shows that are going on now, you’ll have someone play a blues song for the audience and then, all of a sudden, they’re playing a tribute to AC/DC. Then, they may be doing War Pigs from Sabbath and, then all of sudden, they’re doing Whipping Post. Then, all of sudden, Warren will bring out Scofield and now they’re doing Fusion. It’s the same crowd and they are looking going, ‘What?’

“I think the audiences are being groomed to be more open, which allows the artist to put more diverse stuff on one album. It’s not like you have to do this and you can’t change it, you can’t add any instrumentation, you can’t leave the blues world; you can’t leave the rock world, that kind of thing. Even Johnny got a lot of crap from being a rock/blues guy. He just wanted to be a blues purist. He hated when he was on top for rock. He thought he sold himself short, but now it’s okay to do that.

“We are at a good time. I thought that this album’s timing was perfect. It’s really getting a lot of airplay and catching people’s ears because the content, the lyric, the songs.”

As for what song Nelson would select as a “calling card” for the whole CD, he said:

“Actually, the tracks were placed strategically. The albums of the past - songs were put in to build up the listener, then bring them down, and then bring them back up at the crescendo at the end. That’s what going on.

“The first song, ‘Down Home Boogie,’ is one of those. I’m playing slide, which nobody knew that I did. Another one is ‘Roots of all Evil.’ A lot of people like that one. I like that one, too. I love the British kind of drum kind of groove to it. I love the tone of the guitars, the tightness, and then I’m a big fan of Danny Lewis from Gov’t Mule. He plays keys on ‘Keep It All Together.’ I love that song.

“Fans are, like, ‘I like tracks five and six’ and then another one ‘I like seven and eight’. I’m happy because no one is saying they don’t like anything, so all the songs are playable, airplay wise.”

One thing that stood out with me on the album was how, “Please Come Home”, has a bit of the Doors meets Ringo Starr meets Crosby, Stills and Nash. Pure musical brilliance. I asked Nelson to tell me the story behind that song.

“The mixing engineer goes, ‘Oh My God, this one’s a hit!’

“I wrote that with a singer at, like, four in the morning and we actually went to the rest of the band, we’re putting it together. We woke up and we’re like, ‘Hey, we wrote something last night and we apologize.’ They go, ‘What do you mean?’ We said, ‘Because it’s so different and we don’t know where it came from but we think we’re going to put it on the record.’

“When I brought it to the mixing engineer, he’s like, ‘This song, there’s something about it,’ to the point where it just got sent to the American Armed Forces Network, the radio for the military, ‘Please Come Home’.

“It’s got a 60s kind of thing and then all of a sudden an Allman Brothers kind of thing. It brings back memories of, like you said, those bands that you mentioned, absolutely. It came out of nowhere, that one. A lot of people are saying that one. You know a band will write all these heavy rock songs and, then, all of a sudden, that’s the one. They’re like, ‘Really? So that’s the one we have to play all the time?’ But we love it. We were so worried. This is a really different direction. Morton sang the hell out of it.

“Again, once I finished the album, I listened to it now as a fan, you have to separate yourself and go back and look from the outside of the chess game. This is the most I’ve been excited about my new record. There is something about this. This is actually something that I listened to. I put stuff out, then you go to the next album, the next album, but I keep on coming back to this. A lot of people do and they don’t stop listening to it. So, I’m really appreciative that it’s going over that well. I’m glad you mentioned that song because a lot of people are and that’s going to be the next lyric video that they put out for that one. They’re going to push that one.

Regarding touring in support of the CD, Paul said:

"Right now, I’m finishing playing on and producing a Paul Butterfield tribute album. Jimmy Vivino is on it. The keyboard player for Paul Butterfield band is on it. We’re working on getting Elvin Bishop, James Montgomery. We have Grace Kelly, the saxophone player from the Steve Colbert show. Then, we head out to do a two month run of the Johnny Winter All-Star stuff to coincide with the movie at the same time this comes out. In May, I start up with my band and my project and that’s what hits because Japan is going to release it so we’ll probably go over there."

As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Paul how he hoped to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.

paulnelsonband cover1650"I just want to write good music. I want people to enjoy it. That’s pretty strange because Johnny was asked that question a lot. He wanted on his headstone ‘Bluesman. That’s all he ever wanted to be. Myself, all I want to do is write music that I enjoy and that I know the people enjoy. It’s very important for me, because if they enjoy it, what I’ve been doing has been worth it. And, so far so good. You hear from the fans and they encourage you. They really help. The fans are really important because it’s your gauge that keeps you going saying, “you know what, keep on going, keep on doing it.” So I’ll keep on churning stuff out until that time, like you said."

You can follow the latest happenings in Paul Nelson’s career by visiting PaulNelsonGuitar.com.

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Kinky Friedman Speaks His Mind

Posted April, 2016

Kinky Friedman. Maybe some of you have heard of him. I’d describe him as the Will Rogers of our day. He is hands down one of the most entertaining and colorful people I’ve had the privilege of interviewing. Ever.

Friedman is one of the most gifted writers of any kind (music, literature, or punditry) I’ve ever read or met. Admittedly, a lot of what he has to say my singe the most sensitive of listeners. However, what he does say – and how he says it – is the most logically thought provoking words you’re ever likely to hear.

Kinky FriedmanPhoto by Brian Kanof

An accomplished singer, songwriter, and pundit, Kinky recently released his latest CD, The Loneliest Man I’ve Ever Met and I had the honor of chatting with Kinky by phone at his ranch about this album.

Before we started the official interview, Kinky slid into describing the kind of tour that he was about to embark on shortly after our chat.

“This is a tour on the Hank Williams level as far as driving is concerned. We’re performing 35 back-to-back shows with no nights off and that’s done deliberately to produce the affect that we’re running on pure adrenaline. It’s the idea that will make the show purer and rawer. We’ll see.”

Friedman ran as an Independent for the governor’s office in Texas, securing about 12% of the vote. Because of that, I asked him what he makes of the presidential contenders in both parties and what does he make of the news of Boehner having resigned earlier that day.

“None of it’s terrifically important. I feel that being a musician is such a higher calling than being a politician, anyway, having been both. I think Mark Twain had it right that in America, we have no criminal class except the U.S. Congress. I think he’s correct on that. I think they’re all pretty weak. I think that if musicians ran the place, we’d be in a lot better shape. I know it would, in fact. We wouldn’t get a hell of a lot done in the mornings but we’d work late . . . AND, we’d be honest!”

I was caught completely off guard by his comments so I asked him how, exactly, that would work out and what would really get accomplished if musicians ran our government.

“Say that I had won the governor’s race – a race that I won in every place but Texas in 2006 – let’s say I won and I appointed a number of musician friends to run various aspects of the state. I think you’d have decent people and, you know when you talk about occupations? Have you ever been in a room full of lawyers or real estate people or politicians – whatever – doctors, even, you don’t get that kind of decent feeling that you get when you have a group of musicians together.

“And, they’re problem solvers. They’re creative and, by and large, they’re decent people. The politicians have been corrupt before they even got into politics. They were hall monitors or something in elementary school. They were starting early.

“I’m telling ya, Randy, it’s a kind of bad person that is drawn to politics and that’s exactly what JFK did not want. He’s one of the guys like you and me that got into it to help the country. It’s a thankless waste of time in a lot of ways because the crowd always picks Barabbas. The crowd shouts, ‘Free Barabbas! Kill Jesus!’ They do it every time.

“So, that’s where we’re at and it’s been that way ever since. You give them a chance to elect an Obama or a Rick Perry, and they will . . . or a Jerry Brown or an Arnold Schwarzenegger, whoever – that guy will slip right through. But the Nelson Mandela’s and the Lincoln’s and the Churchill’s – that’s usually a fluke when they’re elected. It’s a twist of fate that gets them there.”

This begged the question as to whether or not Kinky saw a Churchill or Mandela in today’s political circles.

“Hell, no! Do you? Tell me where he is! No, I don’t. I was talking the other day about being a struggling songwriter and how really a beautiful thing that is to be – although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, maybe. But it is. It’s a wonderful thing to be. And to care enough about stuff like watch a movie twenty years ago and watching Willie Nelson signing autographs in the rain; a long line of people there along side his bus, it’s raining and he’s standing out there in the rain and they’re standing in the rain and he’s staying right with them. That was nice to see – autographs in the rain. All we’re talking about is inspiration!”

Since we were mixing entertainment and politics, I asked Friedman if he thought that the entertainment industry was in the role of the dance band on the Titanic.

“That’s an interesting thought. Well, that’s very possible. Speaking of the Titanic, one of my campaign slogans was ‘The professionals gave us the Titanic and the amateurs gave us the ark,’ which is partly true. Yeah, we might be listening to the dance band. Ha! Ha! It’s very possible. But I think we’re probably more resilient than that. I think that life is kind of like a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

“I don’t know if you the story about Nelson Mandela listening to ‘Ride ‘Em Jewboy’ in his prison cell on Robben Island. There’s nothing as farfetched as that, I would think. I mean, when I first heard that, I really could not believe it. If you had told me that he had listened to Bob Dylan there. That they smuggled in a tape, well, that’s not even a story, okay? But the idea that he did get tapes smuggled in and one of them was my first record, ‘Sold American,’ which he had not ordered specifically. It was just whatever they could give him, you know? And, on that record, the song that he played every night late, late, before he went to bed was ‘Ride ‘Em Jewboy’ and this is from the guy in the next prison cell who was his right hand man who they put right next to Mandela in the next cell. That is amazing. That almost makes it all worthwhile. It’s remarkable.

“The question was posed to me would I’d rather be a guy making millions playing in stadiums all over the country or would I rather know that a song I’d written was listened to by Nelson Mandela in his prison cell. The guy who asked me that said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you my choice, Kinky. I’d rather be you.’ Of course, I’m older than that guy. I gotta think about my goals as a young man which were to be fat, famous, financially fixed, and a faggot by fifty. Some of them I’ve achieved.”

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 39 years since his last album, “Lasso From El Paso”. I asked Kinky what so long to come out with a new studio album.

“Probably because life gets in the way. That pure place, Nashville, of the 60’s and 70’s, I was born a little too late on that one – to hang around Willie and the guys. But it was still a really cool place. Also, politics keeps intruding. It’s an addiction. Recently, Jamey Johnson, the singer, came up to me and suggested that we run on a ticket. I would run for governor of Texas and he would run for Lieutenant Governor and it would be the Kinky Johnson ticket.”

I refrained from laughing because I didn’t know if he was joking. He obviously was.

Continuing on . . .

“Life does get in the way. The animal rescue takes time. I suffer from the curse of being multi-talented. Writing books – more than thirty, now, that I’ve written. That takes time. It’s really been thirty-two years since I recorded and I didn’t see it going anywhere. This record has surprised me because I wasn’t expecting all that much. I don’t know the answer to that. If I saw that people were actually hearing stuff.

“There’s more buzz on this record than any record I’ve ever done except the very first one. This one sounds better. I attribute that – or I blame. Whatever goes wrong, I blame Brian Molnar – the producer who’s from New Jersey. So, he brings down this New Jersey kid named Joe Cirotti – who decimated my liquor cabinet. The kid – of course, a 47-year-old man could be a kid to me – but this kid did great! He really did some beautiful guitar work which is fortunate because that’s almost the only instrument on the record, it’s that sparse. What is added to it, then, is the harmonica genius of Mickey Raphael – Willie’s harp player. The Little Jewford played keyboards on ‘A Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square’ – two songs with long titles.

“Jewford is a Jew and he drives a Ford. But other than them – there’s a little bit of stand-up bass put on the record and that’s about it. Even the Willie cut was very sparse. All of it was kind of spontaneous – the Frank Sinatra method. If you don’t get it on one take, we’ll try two and after that, **** ‘em and feed ‘em Fruit Loops, you know? After that, to hell with it.

“We have a really good cut, actually, that we didn’t put on this, which is Mickey Newberry’s ‘San Francisco Mabel Joy’. That is a killer cut but, you know, enough’s enough. The album borders on the melancholy, perhaps. I think melancholy is very important. It’s a linkage between classical music and really great country music. I mean, anybody wants to be an artist better than others.

“Step one is to be miserable. Not unhappy or you’re not going to create anything. That’s pretty sure. You look at the guys now and go, ‘Well, how come Bob Dylan or Kristofferson or Willie is not writing at the level that they used to write at? How come we’re not getting ‘Hello Walls’ or ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ out of those guys?’ I do think it’s an interesting question and I would say that, probably, enough success and fame will distance you from your art. That’s for sure. So you can show up. You still do shows. The shows can be inspiring and great. I don’t mean to take away from these guys because if you want to get inspired, Randy, you and I could go around and see bands all day and we wouldn’t. We’d see a lot of derivative bands with really good musicians, perhaps. So, the guy sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughan. So the guy sounds like Roger Miller. That’s not what we’re looking for, here. I mean, we’re looking for an original.

“Maybe the gene pool is just dried up of talent. I don’t know. There’s a hell of a lot of good musicians and their hearts are in the right place. They want to be Townes Van Zandt when they grow up. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, for some reason, where Willie says all the dreams go down in Nashville – the kid with a pickup truck and guitars and a suitcase full of song lyrics. That’s where he goes. But, unfortunately, when he gets there, he sees that the guys making records and making all the money and all the success is going to guys their religion is click tracks and songs written by committee of four and five people. It sounds like background music for frat parties. Other than that, it’s fine.

“I kinda took a page from ‘Red Headed Stranger’. This is real sparse. It’s stripped down to the soul. On many of the cuts - there’s no drums on anything. There’s no bass on anything. Some of it’s out of sync – out of rhythm. That is a deliberate effect.

“On ‘Bloody Mary Morning,’ we want that to sound like it’s done in a West Texas bar room and that it’s spontaneous. We want that to come off. Now, listening to it, it’s close plus we’ve got a great couple of passages by the jazz cowboy, Willie Nelson, on Trigger (Nelson’s fabled, beat up acoustic guitar). Trigger rides again on this. That song, Willie told me, that Glen Campbell gave Willie twenty-five thousand dollars - back in the old days when it was a hell of a lot of money – so he would publish all of Willie’s songs for that year. The problem was that year Willie only wrote one song and Glen was not happy about that. The song was ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ which did not knock Glen’s **** to his watch pocket but it’s always been right up there with one of my favorite Willie songs AND it’s kind of a leg opener for the record.

“I had a girlfriend years ago that used to refer to Jagermeister as a great leg opener. Now this (Bloody Mary Morning) is a leg opener. It gets you into the record. It’s pretty good standing alone, actually, ‘cause, I guess, it’s pretty raw. That idea of Willie’s about never taking a night off when you’re out there – that’s very interesting. That’s what we’re trying to do. I’ve done it for as many as sixteen shows in Europe before. It makes you really raw and pure – especially if you’re doing something solo like that. You start hearing ‘Jesus’ and ‘Johnny Appleseed’ and ‘Richard Pryor’ calling you. Hank Williams. It’s like Hank Williams opening for Mozart. It really elevates the experience and you operate on the Hank Williams level because you get out of Dodge every night that way. I’m a kind of guy that likes to – I’m prepared to be a Wal-Mart greeter if my career goes south.”

When I commented that I would really like to see him as a greeter at Wal-Mart, Kinky didn’t miss a beat in responding.

“Well, I like people! I think it’s a spiritual thing. I think Wal-Mart greeters are imitations of Jesus. They’re certainly closer to Jesus than politicians are. I mean, politicians say all the right words but all the Wal-Mart greeter says is, ‘How can I help you?’ and usually with a friendly smile.”

Then, circling back to the CD and supporting tour, Friedman concluded:

“I’m kinda jazzed about this. It’s hard to get excited when you’re seventy years old and I can’t get my head around the idea that I’m seventy. Of course, I do read at the seventy-two-year-old level. We will see how this all transpires.”

Then, out of the blue, he adds:

“I wish that I could still be a struggling songwriter. I think that’s one of the highest callings – being a legitimate, struggling songwriter. I guess they’re there but Nashville has seemed to me to be very a very corporate place now. That’s why the song, ‘Tompall Glaser’ – he epitomizes the way it used to be. You know, Tompall – as well as singing backup for Marty Robbins on ‘El Paso’ with his brothers – did not have to be an outlaw. He didn’t have to fall in with Willie and Waylon ‘cause he was already King of the Hill with the establishment. But he did. That meant opening up his studio at all hours of the night because of crazy people. All kinds of things. I think he burned a lot of bridges with that. He’s kind of an unsung hero in that regards because Willie and Waylon had nothing to lose at that point.”

We had long since left his aforementioned “leg opener” remark so I had forgotten that Kinky had already answered my unasked question regarding which of the songs would he use as a calling card to people to entice them to want to buy “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met.” I led into the question by acknowledging that he had a few covers on the disc. He interrupted me by saying,

“We prefer to call them interpretations! Well, I mean, if Tony Bennett records ‘Girl From The North Country’, that would be a cover. With me, I never really had a recording style – not recording in thirty-two years. I think ‘Girl From The North Country’ would be halfway between Bob Dylan and Kinky Friedman. That’s where it is. So, it’s not quite ‘cover’, although, yes, you are correct. Some of them are important or significant like Warren Zevon’s ‘My **** ****ed Up’ or ‘My bleeps bleeped up’. Ha! Ha! A song written by a guy dying of cancer but a bigger song than that because it aptly describes the world today. Really a good description of where we’re at. It’s kind of a visionary song. In a Zen way, the doctor is Jesus Christ.”

Then, answering my “calling card” question, he adds:

“I would personally point them to ‘Pickin’ Time’. Johnny Cash’s song that almost nobody appears to know. Are you familiar with that one, Randy? I tell you, I’ve talked to Johnny Cash fans and they’ve never heard it! It is a song – again, it’s kinda like Warren Zevon’s song – those songs are very different. It’s not about a guy looking forward to hauling his cotton into town. It’s more than about pickin’ cotton. We all have a pickin’ time, you know? We damn sure better take advantage of it when pickin’ time comes.

“Then, again, ‘Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis’ is just a beauty. It’s interesting. That song has a real linkage to country music in that the whole song is a lie. The entire song is a fabrication just like you or I would say our career was not doing well. You ask a songwriter in Nashville, ‘How are things going for you?’ and they’ll say, ‘Great! We’ve got five new songs that they’re gonna record now’ and it’s all bull****. It’s all puttin’ up a front, you know? And we all do that – not as transparently as the hooker in Minneapolis – or a elaborately – but we all do that. Only the last lines of the song are true. ‘I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer. And, Kinky, hey, I’ll be eligible for parole come Valentine’s Day.’ I think it’s Tom Waits’ best song. And ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ is one of Willie’s.

“As sure as I’m telling you right now, Randy, I go around Texas here, talking to people in their thirties and they’re not sure if they’ve ever heard ‘Bloody Mary Morning.’ They don’t know who wrote it. The people don’t ******* know this.

“So, yeah, this record is personal. It’s not written to educate anybody. It’s written for a silent witness. That’s who it’s written for – who is either a dead sweetheart or a lost cat – both of which I have in my life. Yeah, and by the way, my animal rights group takes a lot of time.

“If you’re just into one thing – like Willie is just into the music. Well, three areas: music, drugs, and golf. I find golf stuffifyingly dull and the only two good balls I’ve hit were when I stepped on the garden rake. And, pot, I only smoke it when I’m with Willie. It’s a form of Texas etiquette and I sure smoked it on Bloody Mary Morning because, I tell ya, I can’t believe that he could even hold his guitar on that. I’m tellin’ ya, the song sounded to me like it was an hour and a half long. I started tellin’ him, ‘Willie, this is going on too long.’ It’s under three minutes. It REALLY throws my timing off. But he’s just pickin’ away there. That one was two takes.”

Kinky then proceeded to tell me the back story about how he got Willie involved on “Bloody Mary Morning.”

“Well, I did kind of a dirge like version of ‘Bloody Mary Morning’, which I really liked but it’s really slow. It’s real slow. You hear some lyrics that most people haven’t heard because nobody’s listening because he sings it so damn fast. But there’s some really nice lyrics in there.

“So, anyway, Willie didn’t like that take. He thought it was too slow. I was just doing it without Willie there. I played it for Willie and he didn’t like it. His people said, ‘Willie wants to do something you’ll both be proud of.’ I talked to him and he said, ‘Let’s do something more engaging. More upbeat.’ So, that’s what we did.

“Again, it was a Frank Sinatra style – not using any particular charts or anything like that. What the record mostly is, I think, is intimate. We brought down a big microphone. It was that easy. Everybody can use a big microphone and sound great. It’s just an old fashion microphone. It was done in a little house here on the ranch. Joe on guitar and Mickey on harp. I couldn’t believe the sound! How good the sound is. On the other hand, it is stripped down to the soul so I don’t know if radio is going to play it. The problem is that it’s a Miley Cyrus world. That’s the problem and how you break through that white noise is the question.

“So, not only do we shout out, ‘Free Barabbas! Free Jesus!’ but we’re all complicit in burying Mozart in a pauper’s grave. So, I don’t really know what we can do except to strive to be a struggling songwriter. I’m doing it with this tour. This is a privilege to me to be able to be out there and play to people who almost all of them are younger than the songs. In many of these places, I’ll be the oldest guy in the place. A lot of young people could not do thirty-five consecutive shows when you’re driving five hours, six hours, seven hours to the gig and playing. Then, getting out of Dodge afterwards after you meet everybody and all of that.

“People say really interesting things. Switzerland and Austria were terrific. I’m the new David Hasselhoff there. The thinking man’s David Hasselhoff. The audiences are very young there but they know all the songs. They’ve read the books. You know, forty years after these songs have been written – some cases more than that – that’s remarkable to be able to do this. It’s a privilege to be able to go out and do this.

“A teenager came up to me after a show on the last tour and he said, ‘Kinky, it’s so nice to see somebody enjoying his life.’ The kid didn’t know that I was in a tailspin of black despair at the time but he thought I was enjoying my life. Maybe I was. A little Jewish lady at the Jewish Community Center in Denver last year – she must’ve been four foot something – she was in her eighties or nineties – she toddled up to me and said, ‘Kinky, it’s so nice to have you on the planet.’ Then there was a guy in Texas that came up to me outside of Houston. This was not so long ago and I ended the show with, ‘They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore.’ He said, ‘Why did your people kill our lord?’ and I said, ‘Because the ************ had it comin’.’

“That’s been something I’ve been telling on stage. I never thought I would because I thought people are not going to like this. It’s a little too much but the Christians absolutely love it. They’re, like, spitting up on themselves.”

With so much discussed about Nashville and the state of music today – especially country music, I asked Kinky what he would do to fix the music business (if it was fixable) if he was made Music Czar.

“I think ***** ****** up. It’s unfixable and I think the problem is a combination of political correctness and cultural A.D.D.

“Again, I think you could put Hank Williams in with Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor – they’d all be homeless people today. They would be homeless people if they were around. Hank would be just like Johnny Cash. He would not be able to get a record deal in Nashville, which is not surprising.

“I don’t know if there’s been a good, standalone song that’s been written in decades there. If it has, it hasn’t emerged. There’s nothing against Toby Keith or Garth Brooks – I think Garth is the anti-Hank. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with those guys, especially. It’s just that when you’re writing in a corporate whore house with four other guys and you know that Garth is going to put his name on it or whoever wrote a little piece of it – all you can say is that this guy sounds like a young Billy Joe Shaver. You could say that’s a compliment. But, you don’t find anybody – except for geezers – that truly inspire and seem original. I guess that’s what I’m saying.

“I’m saying you’ve gotta see a geezer! You gotta see Merle Haggard or Kris or Willie or Bob Dylan or Billy Joe Shaver. I guess there’s a few more but we’ve lost a lot of them. Levon Helm used to have that affect on me. I would watch Levon Helm play drums and sing and you’d come away saying, ‘**** that was rock and roll!’ That was a really good form of it.

“Again, if inspiration is the source, we’re not getting it from the political landscape. I mean, if you look at the continent of Africa, do you see a bunch of Nelson Mandela’s popping up into leadership positions? Hell no! You see a bunch of corrupt, black leaders emulating what the white colonialists did. That’s all you see. Of course, in America, it’s not even worth mentioning. Look at all the candidates. Every damn one of them. We should have term limits for every elected official. I suggest two terms: one in office and one in prison. That would move the ball forward a little bit.

“As music czar, how to get something by a handful of geezers to inspire people in the field of music. How do we do it? Willie is much more optimistic about Nashville than I am. Willie says that this is where people with there dreams go and I’m telling him that it’s like Haight-Ashbury. It’s over and when it’s over, it’s over. It would be stupid for me and Willie to go out on the sidewalk of the East Village in New York and play right now. Forty or fifty years ago, it would be cool.”

When I asked if the old Nashville is the new Austin, Friedman said:

“I call Austin ‘Dallas with guitars.’ It’s become very corporate. They never met a condominium they didn’t like. Randy, I’m serious. They have these meters they go around with – decibel meters – and they check the clubs for how loud the music is. That’s the reason why the people bought the condos in the first place, is the live music scene – excitement around that. Now, they’re shutting them down. Of course, they’re only shutting down the mom and pop places.

“Anyway, I don’t know what the answer is. I mean, you do have to be miserable and frustrated to write in the first place. Maybe we’ve all changed, Randy? Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe this cultural A.D.D. has set in and we cannot listen to anything beyond not even a whole song. I really don’t know what the answer is except, shoot, the last time that I was in Nashville, they these three stories of bad music playing. It all sounded very similar. It sounded like this frat party music.

“I’m not saying that country music has to remain heartbreak/lonesome whatever but there is that linkage. I’m tellin’ ya, I do think there’s that linkage between country and classical.

As our call wrapped up, I asked Kinky Friedman how he wished to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy would be.

“Well, I don’t know about that. I’ve said that, when I die, I want to be cremated and have my ashes thrown in Rick Perry’s hair. Now, Rick’s gotten out of the race so that one doesn’t really work, anymore, really.

“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about what I want to remembered as. Any life that you look at too closely is a failure – particularly your own. If you look at people that you think were great men like Churchill and John Lennon, for instance, both were convinced that they were failures, you know, with good reason. I mean, Churchill won the war and they just pulled the rug out from under him. John Lennon was convinced that Paul McCartney was the genius of the Beatles. Paul did write a couple of great songs but John was the genius of the band.

“I saw Ringo in Austin at a concert that he did there. I had a chance to talk to him. I knew him from the Bob Dylan tour and all of that. He played the voice of Jesus on my song, ‘Men’s Room L.A.’ – which I did not write. It was written by Buck Fowler. Anyway, I asked Ringo who his favorite Beatle was and he said John. I said, ‘Me, too, present company excluded, of course.’

“But, now, the reason why he was the spiritual heavy weight was he inspired. Without him I doubt that they would’ve been an inspirational band. I mean, he reached people! That’s kinda what we’ve lost. Now we’ve got a president that is the Forrest Gump of all presidents. You would think that at least he could inspire but he can’t. I mean, he just can’t!

“I don’t know. I guess on my tombstone, how about, ‘I aspire to inspire before I expire.’”

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Austin Crum And Family

Posted January, 2016

 

Crum Austin 02croppedeffects      

The interviews that grace this webzine are normally of iconic, legendary, or up-and-coming artists. Big names, so to speak. This month, you are going to learn about a talent well before the rest of the world is turned on to him.

His name is Austin Crum and believe me when I say that this sixteen year old guitar prodigy is definitely the next Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Bonamassa. Rock. Blues. Country. You name it, Austin nails it.

Born to Gina and Chad Crum and raised in Newport, Austin literally cut his teeth on the guitar. To hear Austin’s parents tell it, they discovered that their son was gifted on the guitar at a very early age. Chad said: 

To hear Austin’s parents tell it, they discovered that their son was gifted on the guitar at a very early age. Chad said: 

“We knew he had talent when he was a baby. He could keep rhythm.”

Gina chimed in and said, “Yes! He had a little toy guitar. I’m talking little bitty. He was, probably, one. We gave him a pick and he would play along.”

Chad added, “He always carried a pick. When we would get ready to go to church, he would make sure that he had a pick in his little pocket when he was old enough to walk around.

“At our church we have a lot of music. We have a lot of drums, the bass, guitars, acoustics, piano; we had an organ at one time. We had a lot of music. Austin would watch the guitar player and he would actually have his pick. We’d be singing in the choir and he would be over there playing the guitar player’s licks.

“He sung his first song in church when he was four – ‘There’s Been A Change In Me’ – the old Gospel song.”

Gina added, “I sung it to him when he was little – taught it to him. When he was four, he learned the whole song and stand in church and sing it.”

The church they’re talking about is Centerview Free Will Baptist Church in Newport, Tennessee, and is where Chad Crum was “born and raised” in. 

I asked the Crum’s if they thought that pre-natal learning factors in to Austin’s talent. They both share a story in answer to that question.

“When World Championship Wrestling was really big, Hulk Hogan was really into wrestling. Gina has two brothers and when we first started dating at a real young age – and her nephew was thirteen. He was at a very impressionable age and me and him just kinda clicked. He was like my first son or little brother, whatever. We got to

     

where we were watching wrestling. The boys would come to our house and stay the weekend and watch wrestling with us. 

“We got to noticing that Hulk Hogan was walking out to ‘Voodoo Chile’ and we’re, like, ‘Man! That’s just a rockin’ version of Voodoo Chile! We gotta figure out who that is. We actually went to a CD store to look for it. The guy there told us that it was probably Stevie Ray Vaughan. He recommended ‘Live Alive’ and was the very first album I bought. 

“I worked at a body shop and a guy that I worked with – an older gentleman – he kinda dabbled in guitar just a little bit. He said, ‘Stevie Ray is an unbelievable guitar player. You just wouldn’t believe how good he is!’

“The first time I’d seen him was on the Johnny Carson Show. He had his initials on his guitar and he just wore it out! I got addicted to listening to him. Every time that I was in the car when she was pregnant, I was really, really hard core into Stevie. I bought all of his records and went back – even his earlier stuff. I went back to Texas Flood – just couldn’t get enough of it. I mean, really. I don’t know if that had anything at all to do with it. Ha! Ha! 

“But it all started with wrestling and Austin – he got RSV whenever he was three weeks old and really sickly. When he had trouble sleeping at night, we would put Pride And Joy on headphones and (snapping his fingers) he would go out just like a light. It’s truly his favorite song. 

“I don’t know. I guess only God knows if that had anything to do with it.”

I asked Gina and Chad how they’ve nurtured their son’s talent once they noticed that there was something special there. Pointing to Chad, Gina said, “He’s gone over and beyond anything he (Austin) has ever wanted due to that.”

Chad added, “You know the little toy guitars that you can buy from Wal-Mart? He used to get those. We use to have to buy the ones with steel strings because he’d know that when he drug that pick across them, it had to make a noise. The plastic ones, he just broke. He’d know that they weren’t real. 

“I played acoustic at the time in church. Whenever you’d had him the acoustic when he was small, he would actually try to strum the strings versus most of the kids would just jingle and jangle away. But he would actually look and try to give a rhythm. 

     

“But the little guitar’s she’s talking about that he had, he’s still got it. We probably wouldn’t sell it for anything!”

Later in our conversation, Chad mentioned, “When I noticed that he had rhythm was when I was listening to Pride And Joy and he was chunkin’ with Stevie in the song. No gettin’ out of time. No nothin’! I can actually remember being at a mall parking lot – Gina had run in to get something – and I was trying to work with Carlee (the Crum’s daughter) – she was real small – working on the groove. Austin was just little. They’re just two years apart. Austin was, like, ‘No, Sissy! Like this! Like this!’”

Surely, with all of this talent, there have to be some challenges that are faced.

“I guess people not taking him serious because of his age. I’ve seen him get mistreated a lot. Disrespect and envious of his talent. ‘You’re just a kid.’ He don’t play like a kid. They just look at him and disrespect him.

“Austin’s got a tremendous ear for tone. I mean tremendous! Most of your kids – most of your guitar players that you’ve got in high school – I teach high school now – they take a twenty dollar guitar pedal and plug it up. It’s just a racket. Austin’s like, ‘That’s not what I’m looking for.’ He’s got an ear for what he wants. All of his pedals are boutique pedals. The newest pedal that he’s got that’s a store bought pedal is the Mini Tube Screamer because we built him a small pedal board to travel to Nashville. The rest are boutique pedals that we’ve YouTubed and ‘I’d like to try that. I like that overdrive sound.’ Then we get it and, sometimes, he don’t like it. Then I put it on eBay and lose money on it. Ha! Ha!

Coming back around to the challenges faced, Chad concluded, “I guess trying to keep up with the sound that he’s looking for in his head. I think we’ve nailed it ‘cause people thinks he’s a Stevie Ray Vaughan prodigy; like he’s mimicking Stevie. But I’ve listened to Stevie so much, I hear Austin covering some Stevie songs with a Stevie lick here and there – it’s not note-for-note Stevie Ray Vaughan. I see kids on YouTube try to do that and it’s not. His (Austin’s) music tastes is getting so vast and so wide now, he’s venturing out into jazz. He’s a country picker. He can do some country stuff. It’s not just this box of Stevie Ray wannabe. I don’t want him to get painted that way. I don’t want him to get painted with that brush because I think he’s too talented to get painted with that brush.”

As a dad, myself, I know that I’ve run interference on things that involved my daughter. I asked Chad and Gina if they’ve had to do that.

“I’m real a real easy going kinda guy. You’ve got to do a lot to get under my skin. I think that’s a lot of the reason that’s kept people from getting hit in the mouth. There was one guy that talked down to him pretty bad and I didn’t even know it. Austin was eleven or twelve. He talked down to him. We had actually gotten in the car and Austin told me what he said. Who downgrades a kid? You should be wanting to be encouraging a kid that’s wanting to do and play. 

“A couple of weeks later, I got back around that man. Austin was doing some recording. I walked in to the sound engineer and I said, ‘Look, man, I’m not trying to tell you how to run your business but that guy better leave or I’m gonna whoop him right here in front of everybody. I haven’t gotten over how he talked to Austin last time. He needs to go somewhere. It’s either him or us. Whichever one you want it to be. No hard feelings either way but that’s my son.’ He left. We’d done what we were supposed to do. 

“But that’s probably the only time that I can say that I was about to lose my Christianity. I was fixin’ to hit somebody with the hand of fellowship! Ha! Ha!”

After getting a feel for the background and upbringing of this guitar prodigy, I turned my interviewing guns on Austin and began by asking him his earliest memories of loving the guitar.

“Well, everybody in the family plays. My cousins, Matthew and Steve play. I use to watch them growing up. Learned a lot of stuff off of them and just kinda built on it to

     

my own. That’s basically it. Everybody else was doing it at the time and I guess I wanted some of it, too. It led in to more than I thought, I guess.”

Austin couldn’t remember the first song that he learned but proud momma, Gina, knew: “Folson Prison Blues. That was the first song you ever performed out somewhere besides in church. And, you played it on a flat top.”

And Austin’s first gig?

“We’d done a kind of a talent show thing at school. We did Folsom Prison and he played bass and I played guitar and my granddaddy – he sings bass in church so he sung Johnny’s part on Folsom Prison. That’s probably our first thing we’d ever done out in front of many people like that.

“I was probably pretty nervous. It was in front of, probably, twelve hundred high school kids, or so. I liked it. I really enjoyed it. I wanted more of it.”

Kids can sometimes be pretty tough on each other – especially if they’re jealous of a peer for whatever reason. Responding to my question of whether his peers gave him a hard time or not, Austin said:

“They treat me really good, actually. They think it’s cool that I can play. They ask me to play. We have some guitars in the back of the chorus building. They tell me to get one out and play something. I mean, they’re actually pretty supportive about it. There will be a couple every now and then. They’ll be, like, ‘Betcha can’t play as good as my cousin.’ I just shrug it off my shoulder. It don’t bother me none.”

Chad added:

“In grade school, he entered a talent show four years in a row. He won First Place four years in a row. In his eighth grade year, he and Carlee entered together and did Sweet Child of Mine. She sung it and he played it.

“But most of his buddies are, like, ‘Austin’s the baddy on the guitar.’ I’ve not ever seen any jealousy or envy because I know of two guys that he went to school with ever since kindergarten and Austin’s told me that they’re the best basketball players he’s ever seen and they’ve said the same exact thing about Austin and the guitar. Mutual support and respect.”

As if I didn’t already know from hearing what all Gina and Chad had already said, I asked Austin who were his biggest influences on the guitar.

“I’d have to give it to Stevie. I mean, I’m straying into different kinds of music now but he’s the one who started it. I remember having a VHS of him and put it in and just watch him with his music videos and try to learn. I just have to give it to him. Austin City Limits, El Mocambo, Live in Tokyo – we got ‘em all, as far as I know.”

As we kibitzed about SRV, Chad added this little morsel of trivia:

“Austin actually got to share the stage with his (SRV’s) keyboard player, Reese Wynans. You couldn’t have washed that smile off of his (Austin’s) face. Austin was sitting in with Whitey Johnson at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Nashville. It sounds awful but it’s a family atmosphere. He shared the stage with Whitey Johnson and Reese was sitting in with Whitey. Austin come off stage and I remember him telling us, ‘Man, that was such a weird feeling to look over at Reese and nodding off to him, like, ‘Go ahead, Reese, take that.’”

The list that Austin gave me when I asked who all he’s jammed with is impressive. 

“Bart Walker. We jam all the time. Any time he’s in town, he always asks me to come play with him. He calls me his little brother all the time. I’d love to play with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Jack Pearson. Brent Mason. I’m listening to them more and more all the time. Of course, Kenny’s still got the good stuff but I’m venturing out to new things.”

Austin obviously has a good head on his young shoulders – the product of a solid family and strong upbringing. So, I asked him where he wants to be in five years. He answered without even so much as a nanosecond of hesitation.

“Nashville. I want to be a studio musician. I plan to move there when I’m eighteen and just play all the time and have a good time.”

East Tennessee has produced a lot of amazing, world-renowned talent. Mark my words: Austin Crum will be known as one of them. Because of that, I suspect that Austin will be nodding to many more great musicians in the future.

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Leslie West Discusses Soundcheck Hendrix, and More

Posted March 2016

Photo by Justin Borucki

     

One of the most talked about performances at Woodstock (but didn’t’ get to make it on the movie) is the eleven song set by Mountain. At the time, the band was mostly noted for it’s cover of the Jack Bruce tune, Theme for an Imaginary Western, as well as blistering guitar solos by the bands founder, Leslie West.

In the years that followed, the band continued to blaze musical trails, ultimately releasing eight studio and three live albums. It’s signature hit became “Mississippi Queen” that has been heard all over the world and used in movies, TV shows and commercials. 

Leslie West also simultaneously launched a successful solo career, marked by fifteen solo albums – sixteen when you include his new monumental effort, “Soundcheck.” It was for “Soundcheck” that I recently contacted West by phone. In fact, I called him on the 45th anniversary of the passing of Jimi Hendrix. I was curious about your thoughts about him.

“Well, it was really sad. He died at almost 28 years old. I’ve since become friends with his sister, Janie. She came through New York recently – within the last year. They’re doing a documentary on the Atlanta Pop Festival – with Jimi there. They were interviewing people that played it. She’s such a sweetheart.”

Circling back to Jimi himself, West continued:

“Too bad he’s not still around. I have very fond memories. I played with him at a club in New York at, like, one in the morning. Just me and him. Him playing bass and me playing guitar. In fact, on MoutainRockBand.com – our website – there’s a picture of Hendrix playing bass and me playing guitar that night. It’s not the greatest picture but you can certainly see that it’s him and me. 

“He went WAY before his time. Yeah, that wasn’t a happy day.”

Bringing the conversation to Leslie’s new CD, I asked him how many solo records this mad for him.

“I think it’s sixteen solo albums, believe it or not. I think. Somebody wrote that the other day. I started to count them but I feel really tired so I’m not going to start to count. Ha! Ha! The good thing is this one I’m really proud of. The sound is great and I’ve got some good people playing on it.”

When he says, “some good people,” West is referring to people such as Queen’s Brian May, Peter Frampton, Bonnie Bramlett, Jack Bruce and Joe Franco (via some resurrected studio tapes). When I said that having such a stellar group of artists willing to play on his album certain said a lot about the respect he has amongst such big names, Leslie said:

“On the ‘Going Down’ track with Brian May, a friend of mine was producing at the time and he got us all together. So, when I was doing this album, nobody had ever heard it, I don’t think. The song was written by Don Nix. Don sang it originally. But when we listened to the masters of it, he didn’t use Brian’s solo. Somebody else finished producing it even though my friend started it. 

“So, when me and my engineer heard it, I was playing the solo on the first half of the song. There was a break and then Brian played the solo on the second half on out. We put it together and it was great! We’ve got Max Milton playing the intro on piano. I get really excited. That’s probably my favorite guitar song to jam on of all time.”

As we talked about the songs on the album, I mentioned how unique his treatment of the old song, “You Are My Sunshine,” was in its contrary delivery.

     

Photo by Justin Borucki

With a chuckle, Leslie shared the background to that version.

“I gotta give credit to Sons of Anarchy because I heard somebody doing it on there. Instead of the major key that the sounds so happy, it was in a minor key. I said, ‘Boy, I think I can really do a very, very ‘funerally’ – funeral dirge – some kind of sad version of it.’ 

“I called Peter Frampton because I’d done something with Peter the year before. I said, ‘Peter, I’ve got a version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ that I’d love for you to play with me.’ I sent it to him. It really came out great. I’m really proud of it. Between the two of us – I think I started out playing the first solo and he played the second one. After the break in the middle, he plays the first solo and I play the last solo and we play the last line together.

“I’ve known Peter forty-five years – something like that. Even though we’d toured together, we’d never actually played together. He had this tour last year called ‘Frampton’s Circus’. He invited me to play a couple of shows on it. It was the first time we had ever played together. Now we’ve played together twice.”

After working with them on this record, are there any more plans to collaborate with any of these people in the future?

“Well, there’s a young guitar player – Jim Cook – a blues player. He’s going to be opening for me in New York when I play B.B. King’s. I play a track on his album. I think the kid’s gonna be something special. I’m looking forward to that.”

Having worked on all of the Mountain and solo records that he has – as well as appearing on many of his friends’ projects – I asked West how “Soundcheck” was different for him.

“It’s not so much different than the last one I did, ‘Still Climbing,” because that was only two years ago. The machines and everything else – every two weeks there are new things to try out. We’re pretty much on ProTools. The secret to making a good album is a good engineer. I can just play and Mike can edit where I need editing. Putting songs together is a lot easier now that it used to be years ago.”

As a “calling card” for the entire record, Leslie offered his choice of song:

“The first cut, ‘Left by The Roadside to Die’. It starts with a synthesizer. I actually played that part on the guitar and had my keyboard player start to play it. So, right off the bat, I guess you’d expect to hear a guitar from me. This, at least, you hear that synthesizer come on and then I start playing some slide and it gets heavy. It shows some different phases of what I can do in one song. I would hope that would get you to listen to the rest of the album!”

The best of the best guitarist are sought after by the various guitar manufacturers. It’s no surprise that Leslie West has a signature line through Dean Guitars. When asked how that line was doing, he said:

“Great. We ran about five models. From very expensive, to the middle, to very inexpensive so everybody can play it. Even the less expensive ones have great graphics on it. The newest model is the Leslie West Peace guitar. It has my logo. The logo looks like a peace sign but, if you look closely, one of the lines on the circle is left out so it looks like an LW. It’s a black guitar with a silver peace sign on it. It looks great! It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, I feel sorry for Jimi Hendrix. He’s dead and he never had a model while he was alive.”

Photo by Justin Borucki

     

Jimi Hendrix came up in the conversation about signature guitars when West started talking about what a Hendrix signature model might be.

“They were upside down Stratocasters. They weren’t left-handed. He would take a regular Strat and just re-string it. A guy like Albert King, he used to turn the guitar upside down and play it backwards. I don’t know how the hell he did that! He had the big Flying V and just turned it upside down so, where the fat E string would be, he had the little, thin E, first! I wondered how he stretched the strings that far. 

“The first gig we ever did was with Albert King. Fillmore West. Mountain’s first gig. I watched him play. I had been trying to develop my vibrato and stretch the strings. I wanted to stretch them as much as he could. When I found out that he was doing it from the opposite way, it made it a lot easier. I didn’t see that until I watched him. I wished that I had saw him before. It would’ve made my life a lot easier and simpler!”

Circling back around to Hendrix, again, Leslie said:

“Yeah, if Jimi was still around, I kinda know what his Strat would be like.”

Our conversation turned to another great, legendary guitarist – one who recently passed away and who, like West, played at Woodstock: Johnny Winter.

“I was on Johnny’s last album. ‘Long Tall Sally’. And Johnny played on my last album on the song, ‘Busted, Disgusted or Dead’. My engineer mixed Johnny’s last album and got a Grammy for it. We (Johnny) were pretty close. I actually helped Johnny get himself straightened out, drug wise. He didn’t die from drugs, man. He just died of natural causes. He wasn’t doing to well, health-wise. Neither was I, but, somehow, I’m still around!”

That last comment gave me the opportunity to ask Leslie how he was doing. As some of you may not know, West has had some serious health problems over the last several years – including the loss of a leg - so I asked how he was doing. His initial remark blindsided me.

“I was going to ask you, Randy: Did you find it (his leg)?” 

Then, on a more serious note, he added:

“My balance is terrible and I haven’t been able to use the prosthetic so I have to sit in a chair to play, unfortunately. But it hasn’t stopped me from playing. That’s a good thing. In rehab, they put me in the parallel bars with the prosthetic leg and made me put the guitar on. I put the guitar on and they wanted to see how long I could stand and play the guitar without falling. I didn’t last thirty seconds. 

     

Photo by Justin Borucki

“I said, ‘You know, this isn’t going to work on stage. I don’t want to be worrying about falling when I’m trying to play.’ Even though you have a prosthetic, it feels like an alien to you.”

Then, after sharing more about his adjustment to losing his leg, he said:

“Life is precious, Randy. Thank God for the guitar, right?”

I know you have many more years of work left in you but when you finally do go to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

“When the time comes, and they cover me with dirt and grass, to all my critics that didn’t like the way I played, they can kiss my big . . . “

I’ll leave it to you to figure out what else he said. 

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Marty Balin Discusses New Releases And Current Career

Posted December, 2015

     

It’s hard to believe that the iconic San Francisco band, Jefferson Airplane/Starship, took off fifty years ago but it’s true.  To commemorate this big anniversary this month, the band’s co-founder and key songwriter, Marty Balin, is releasing a two CD set of newly arranged old hits spanning the entire life and mutation of the band.  It’s entitled, “Good Memories. Then, in February, he’s releasing a CD of all new songs that he’s written, “The Greatest Love.”

I recently called up Marty at his Florida home to chat about both CDs, whether or not there would be any new work from his former band mates, and what his future plans are. 

We started off by talking about whether he had any idea the band would be remembered and listened to for fifty years and counting.

“No, I had no idea. Who would’ve ever thought that far ahead, anyway? It was fun to redo them all. I’ve been doing some of these things live. The audiences loved it and have wanted it on a record. It happened to be the 50th anniversary and it was a good idea. Put ‘em on a record. Why not? And it was a good set up for my next, new record, you know?”

With, “Good Memories”, Balin tackles the classics with some different spins, arrangement wise. I asked him if these are variations that existed back when he originally wrote the songs or are if they are relatively new.

“They’re not new ideas. They’re how I do them now, live. I don’t have all these instrumental breaks and everything - none of the musical interludes. I give them the body of the song. I make it a ‘song’ song. I don’t go off on all these jams.”

Speaking of the fans being the catalyst behind “Memories,” Balin said:

“They inspired me to do it. They’d call out these old tunes and I started doing them. My guitar player is hearing these songs around and asking me about these different songs; jogging my memory. So, we started doing them live. People were getting off on it. It coincided with ‘fifty year later,’ so we said, ‘Hey, let’s spit it out. What the hey?’”

Knowing that artists don’t like to pick a favorite song it’s like picking their favorite child, I did ask which song would he point to as a calling card to get fans to pick up

     

the album.

“Good Memories, itself, would be a good calling card. Reflecting on the people and the times, you know?”

I then asked the same question regarding “The Greatest Love”.

“I would say, The Greatest Love. The song, itself, is a good example of what’s going now, for me, musically. And, that song, Waves, is a good one. Everything goes in waves, right?”

Speaking of “The Greatest Love”, I asked Marty to tell fans what this album is, from his perspective, and what he hopes they get from it.

“I hope that they get the same joy I get out of the songs. The connection I get when I do them live with people is why I put them on the record. The fans wanted to have them on record – or download them – whatever you want to call it. They got the joy out of hearing them live. I get the joy out of doing them that way. The reaction from the audience has been great. It showed me that they accepted the songs. It’s good to get them all down while they’re hot.”

I shifted gears with Balin for just a moment and asked what kind of changes has he seen in the audience in his fifty years of rocking.

“I pretty much get the same kind of reaction in my live shows. There’s nothing like a live show to be at or to perform at. I think that hasn’t changed at all, no matter what’s going on. People still love to be in the presence of a performer and hear the songs fresh. I think that’s a thrill. You get a thrill out of that. You don’t get it anywhere else.”

He’s seen a lot of changes in both recording as well as the music business so I was curious what have been the biggest changes – both positive and negative – that he’s seen in recording albums as well as in the music business.

     

“I think the most positive change has been the Internet – the way you can spread your music. It’s probably, also, the most negative thing about it. You gotta be careful. I think it works both ways. I think it’s great – all the new ways to get back with people and communicate with the people; get your songs across. There’s a lot more variety to do that with today than it was in the past.

“In the past, you had to work through a company – a promo man and all that stuff; the radio stations – we used to go around to all of the radio stations. I mean, you still have some of that today. Now, it’s a lot easier, I would think.”

His comment begged the question of whether Marty found that these changes make it easier for him to connect with fans these days.

“Yeah! I think it’s much more direct. Instantaneous, in fact, on some of these things, you know? On Facebook, the web – everything’s right there!”

Switching to the positive and negative changes in the music business, Balin added:

“Well, you know, I don’t know much about the industry as it exists today, to tell you the truth. I’m running now like everyone else is. I use the Internet, talk to fans, and all this stuff about downloads. It’s an all-new world out there but I’m not knocking it because I’m using it. I guess it’s the way of the wave. The way you do things now. Why knock it? They’re still putting out vinyl for us old guys. We still got our stuff out there. You can still go see live shows and still buy a vinyl record, if you want. So, things have changed but they’re still the same.”

A reader/fan wanted me to ask Marty about an early 70’s project that he did called, “Bodacious D.F.” Specifically, he wanted to know if “D.F.” really stood for “dope funk”.

“It stood for ‘Dopey ****’. Sometimes, we would play and we’d tell somebody, ‘Hey, that was bodacious, man.’ Then, sometimes we’d play and they’d go, ‘Dopey ****!’

     

It became our name, Bodacious D.F. That’s how it came about.”

I knew Balin is always asked if there’s any chance of getting Jefferson Starship getting together to do another album. I knew it would annoy him to be asked the question but I knew you readers wanted to know so I asked him.

“No, I don’t think so because Grace doesn’t ever want to sing again and the other guys have their own projects. Hot Tuna’s got Hot Tuna and Paul’s got his Starship . . . .”

Marty then added:

“If we all got together, I’d have to be in charge. I can’t do the other people’s way of doing things. I don’t think they want to get together. Why try to do it again, anyway? We’ve been offered millions if we’d come together but nobody’s gonna do it, you know? That’s why everybody’s doing their own thing. They’ve got their own interests that they want to do. Me? I’m into new songs and new music - living some of the old songs but mixing in new stuff. Hot Tuna is doing Hot Tuna stuff and Paul’s doing the same ol’ Starship songs. I’m not into that.

“I like to be running my own show because people call songs out from the audience ‘Yeah! Okay! I’ll do that one!’ I’ll go right into it. I don’t have to wait for people to change guitars or have an instrumental break in every song. I just bam, bam, bam, hit ‘em with the songs. 

“People say, ‘Wow! You did thirty something songs in that set!’ Well, gee, when you don’t have an instrumental in every damn song . . . I’ve been doing 2 ½ to 3 hour shows and people ain’t walkin’ out on me because I give them a great variety of tunes – one right after another. I don’t waste time. I’m not losing any audiences by doing a long show.”

Since a Starship reunion isn’t in the works, I asked Marty if there were any particular people he would like to collaborate with.

“There’s many people I’d love to work with. Sure. I’d like to cut an album with Bob James. He’s a great keyboard player. I love his work. People like that. There’s a lot of people I enjoy and would love to work with. But, you know, at the moment, I’m just doin’ me. I’m not looking for anybody to work with. I’m just kinda happy doing my thing, like everybody else.”

As for any new talent that are catching his attention these days, Balin replied:

     

“Oh, god! Are you kiddin’, man? There are a lot of great stuff out there. I’m amazed. There’s so much good stuff. I’m just happy they’ve got a little niche for me, somewhere.”

In sharing what is on his radar in the next one to five years, Marty said:

“To just be playing. Making a few more albums. I’ve got a few more ideas that I’d like to finish off. Just go out playing like I’m playing. Just enjoy myself like I’ve been doing. Having fun. Keep on writing and see how people like my songs. I’ve not made any major plans except to keep playin’. That’s all.”

Tour plans?

“I’m just waiting until both albums are out and then will go out and do a bunch of gigs.” So keep your eye on Marty’s website, MartyBalinMusic.com, to see if he’s going to be performing near you.

Wrapping up our chat, my final question centered on how does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy will be.

“Um, geez, I don’t know. A good artist. One of the great singers. To be remembered like that. A good song writer. That would do me. I’m fine with that,” he concluded with a short chuckle. 

Be sure to pick up Marty’s 2 CD full of “Good Memories” this month and his disc of all new songs, “The Greatest Love,” in February.

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