Ken Mansfield Talks Philco

Published July 2018

 

KenMansfield2018ReducedUnless you’re an ardent Beatles fan or rock history buff, the name, Ken Mansfield, may not ring a bell with you. However, he is no stranger to Boomerocity.

We first chatted with Ken almost nine years ago. You can learn more detail about him by checking out that interview (here) and searching him out on the internet (here) and on YouTube (here).

All of that was the reason for our first chat with Ken. However, there was a whole new reason to catch up with our friend. Mansfield has just released his first-ever work of fiction entitled, Philco.

Philco is what one would get if they wrote about longing to go back to Mayberry in a Twilight Zone sort of way. I have to admit that I didn’t think that I wouldn’t enjoy the book when I received my advance copy to review.

Boy, was I wrong.

I couldn’t put the book down. Ken masterfully articulated (through fiction) what it is we have lost in America and tugged on Baby Boomer’s heart strings in uncovering the longing in our hearts to go back to those innocent days.

So, it was about Philco that Ken and I reconnected. After catching up a bit, I asked him what prompted the book and to go this route and what he hoped to accomplish with it.

“Well, first of all, it’s my first fiction book. I’ve been writing this book for eighteen years. I started it after my first book, ‘The Beatles, The Bible, and Bodega Bay’ and for some reason another book would always take its place. ‘I gotta write this book next.’ It kept getting shoved back.

“I felt like God had told me, ‘There’s a time for this book and I’ll let you know when.’ So, as I would write this EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditedbook, I would have fellow writers who I would pass ideas on to. It’s gone through about twelve titles – just remolding the concept. Then, just last year – I mean, God didn’t say, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you about your book. I think we should go with it, now.’ I just felt that it was time and some things fell together with my agent and this publisher. So, here it is, eighteen years later.”

Mansfield then goes into what the book is about.

“What this book is about, it’s about, in a way, my yearning for what life was like when I grew up in the forties and fifties. It was really an idyllic time. Now, I know some of the ‘PCers’ will go, ‘Well, what about all these issues – the racial issues and all that?’ I know there were problems. We weren’t a perfect society back then, either. But, there was a time when we would respect each other. Our parents – we all had parents, mostly, then. We were brought up with certain moral values. An honest day’s work for an honest dollar. If you saw somebody alongside of the road, you stopped and said, ‘Can I help with that tire, ma’am?’

“Today, I wouldn’t no more pull over to help somebody because I’m afraid that I’ll be beat up and robbed or something because of all these scams and things. It was a time of innocence; a time of helping your neighbor out and a time when things weren’t so complicated.

“I was just thinking the other day about when I was in grade school, how we minded and how we raised our hand and how we did all these things that we supposed to do. Life was just so simple. There were no drugs in school. There was no – just all these things that are so horrible for society.

“So, I started writing stories about real things that happened in my life. What I did was I made – that’s the true fact. Then, what I would do was embellish it with fiction. I would expand on the characters. I would take, maybe, one character and mold him out of three characters. Kind of make one person out of three people, if that’s what the story required.

philco“The first real story in the book is about an Indian lad that went to our grade school. At recess, he always run away and then come back at the end of recess – running around the fields and stuff. He would never talk to anybody. You could not get him to talk. He was bussed in from the reservation on the school bus. So, I kind of made it a project to corner this guy and find out why he would never talk.

“Finally, one day, I caught him at the drinking fountain. He got tired of me pressing him. So, he told me the reason was, in the tribe, his chiefs told them that we only have so many words when we’re born and when we use up our words, that’s when we die. Except, when we wanted to talk to God, we could go out and find God in the wind and find the words of the people who died before they used all their words and get their words.

“So, I created a whole story around that. It’s that kind of thing where I’d take an initial fact and then just embellish on it. Each story in here, Randy, is a story that has social content. God’s in every story. I don’t hit you over the head that you’ve got to be saved by the blood of the Lamb. It’s people that lived godly lives and made a godly example of their lives. It just shows stories of just how beautiful people can be.

“There was a black man in there. There was a homeless person in another story. There was successful musician in another story. All these different aspects and phases of our life – if you’ll look at each one, you’ll find Christ in each person through each story.”

I told Mansfield that two things that hit me about the book was, maybe restating it a bit, longing for Mayberry, again. Then, how Ken told the story, one feels that they’re reading old Twilight Zone scripts. Baby Boomers will love reading this book.

“In fact, what I did, was I pulled some things out because as I was writing these stories, I had such visuals of them. I was actually doing camera angles. I would describe how the camera would come in on something because it was so visual to me. But I did pull that out. But I’m glad that you got it, anyway, without having those in there.”

Is there anything in the book that is the gem that Ken hopes readers will take away from Philco that may not be readily obvious?

“This may not be what you’re looking for, but, one of the main points is I was trying to talk about when we were okay with each other. Like, in college, I started out in the music business in a pretty successful group called the Town Criers in California. We had an Italian guy in there. We had a Jewish guy in our group. A guy from Denmark. These were all guys who came into the college and met together. And a guy that had graduated years ago – older than us – the old guy.

“We spent all our time on the road. All our time enjoying each other by making comments about the Jewish guy, then the Italian guy – just ragging on each other. We loved our differences and teasing each other about our differences; enjoying our differences.

“Now, if I said, ‘The Wop in our group,’ these days, my gosh! It would be horrible! But that just set him up to comment on me. We enjoyed each other.

“The black guy in there (the book): I wanted to show how beautiful this man was before - there was no prejudice there. There was just no prejudice in that thing. I never thought about. We made fun of him and he made fun of us. He made fun of us because we were white, and we made fun of him because he was black.

“That’s kind of my favorite story in the whole book. There was an innocence. There was a time we could enjoy each other. There was a time when we – just yesterday, the Supreme Court passing a thing for the baker (not baking for gay weddings). Why don’t we accept that ruling? It’s been taken all the way to the Supreme Court. The Liberals will not accept anything. But back then, when a law was passed or something that went to court, we accepted our country’s decisions on things – our authorities.

“I think the main thing is just that we were able to enjoy the differences in each other and because we were ontheroofThe Famous Beatles Roof Top Concert - Ken Mansfield Is In The White Trench Coat On The Bench With Yoko Onobound together by a morality that we shared as a nation. Can you imagine, back then, not standing up for the flag or burning a flag or any of these things? We were Americans. We were bound together by a country founded on the principles of Christ and Christianity and God. We just abided by our laws. That kept us together.”

When I asked Mansfield if he felt that there was a single, seminal event that took us away from Mayberry, he replied:

“My mind is rattling through several events. I think there was more than one event. There was a series of events as we chipped away at things that we would have never done before. We keep crossing the lines. This thing is no longer sacred, any more. Now, this thing is no longer sacred, any more.

“Women cussing, for instance. Or, cussing on T.V. All of the things that we would have never done before, one by one are chipped away. All of a sudden, one day I felt as if there was nothing left.

“I don’t know if we can say it was the sixties; the whole free-love and drug scene may have been the thing that kind of weakened society to a certain degree. It’s kind of hard for me to say because I was having such a good time with all of that. Ha! Ha!”

I mentioned that some may pin things on Elvis or other cultural icons were the lynch-pin to losing Mayberry, Ken said:

“What you’re saying, though, made me realize that when we were growing up, maybe our family religion did not believe in us going to movies, so I couldn’t go to movies. I wasn’t allowed. I grew up under these different disciplines. When I was eighteen or whatever, when it was time to leave home, then I was able to make my own mind up with what I wanted to do. But I had this teaching – I had this discipline – I had this respect – all these things built in me. So, then, I decided if I would go to movies or not. I had something to base my decision upon.

“It wasn’t, like, for our whole life you weren’t allowed to go to movies. The growing years have been taken away from today’s youth – mainly because a lot of them don’t have fathers. We don’t have those years where we lived under a discipline or a morality.”

When I stated that Mel Brooks and others wouldn’t be able to make their movies today, Ken added:

“You look at some of those (Rowan and Martin) Laugh-In things, they wouldn’t even come close today. Some of the racial things they did. They were making fun of each other. It was funny.”

Out of the blue, I asked Ken if we can go back to Mayberry.

“No. I’ve written a song. Phil Keaggy and I were talking. They have theme songs for movies, why can’t we have a theme song for a book? We wrote a theme song for Philco. I’m going to post it on Facebook (Note: It’s now on Ken’s Facebook page). The point of it is I can’t go back there any more from here. Not from where we are. We could just never get back there like it was.”

In Philco, there’s a great scene involving a couple, Lou and C.J. and a homeless man. I wondered if the story was an “angels unawares” type of analogy.

“Yeah, you’re right. You could actually say that. When Rick Warren was writing A Purpose Driven Life, I was working on this book then. He used it in his Easter service one year for thirty-something thousand people. He sent me a cassette. People gasped. He said, ‘There was a gasp when I got to the punchline of the story.’ But, yeah, you’re right. It could be that kind of a thing.”

We can’t go back to Mayberry. We can’t put the bite of the apple back on it. What do we do?

“I think we try to recapture much of that as we can. Literature and the movies and everything is so dark these days. My wife and I like to go to movies but there’s never anything to watch. Everything’s so dark. Sometimes, we get up and leave just because of the foul language. I’m no prima donna, man. My gosh, I came out of the music business and was with Waylon (Jennings) for five years and rock and roll and stuff. But, after a while, it’s just offensive. And dirty. We’ll be watching a beautiful movie and you’ve got all this foul language and stuff in it.

“I think we can go back – some of us can go back, in a way. But we’ll not all go back. Society will never get back there, again.”

When I asked if the taste-makers and influencers would even allow us to go back without being driven into the ground with ridicule and shouldn’t we just have to make a conscious effort to turn from that junk, Ken replied:

“What’s interesting to me is: I’m a Conservative. Liberals are accusing the Conservatives of the things they’re doing even though the Conservatives aren’t necessarily doing it. They just turned the whole thing around. But, Randy, what I also think is starting to happen is you’re seeing God step in on some of these things. They’re not getting away with all this stuff, as much.

“Trump is an example of that. Hillary did all this stuff and she lost in the end even though she’d done enough to win. God just turned things around, I think on that. I don’t know what your politics are, but I just saw God not honoring her corruption.”

I queried if Mansfield felt that “the church” has been complicit in this change in societal mores.

“You can’t say every church or Christian band. But some do sell out and I watch them just adjust so that they can appeal to more people. But, what they do is they give up Christian principles to do it. Connie (Ken’s wife) was the associate director of the Dove Awards and worked at all the Dove Awards as a stage manager or whatever. She said that backstage at the Dove Awards, sometimes, that bands were worse than the rock band or country bands she worked with on TV shows. They have the same ol’ jealousies or selfishness or those kinds of things.

“I actually had a gay engineer in Nashville. I won’t name any names but had him working with a Gospel group I was working with. He started bringing his Bible to the sessions. He would lay it on the board before we would start. It just laid next to him on the board. They started getting into some crap up there.

“One day, he just took his Bible and threw it away. By their witness – here they are, the people speaking were what drew him to be a Christian and by their lives and their actions, they pushed him away. He didn’t want to be like that.

“I just see churches appealing to the masses and giving in. They don’t want to do anything offensive. They don’t want to say the word ‘Jesus’. In fact, when I was in Hollywood, a bunch of us used to get stoned and go to the Vineyard Church because they had all these great musicians in Hollywood there. Guys from the Eagles and guys like that and we’d go for the music when we’d get stoned and we really felt good when we left there, afterwards. And the reason we liked that particular church was because they didn’t use the word, ‘Jesus’. They said the word, ‘God’. They knew if they talked about Jesus, they would drive people away. They kept it generalized as “God’. And I think that the church, in essence, do a little bit of that today. They don’t try to say anything that would offend anybody.

“By the way, I did have a point in this book – I wanted people to be able to read something that made just them feel good – didn’t deal in all this horror that we’re dealing with these days. So, it’s a light-hearted book that has a Christian message underlying it – just a nice book to read in that respect. I wanted them to feel good. Each story has its own little moral.”

I wondered if there were any of the vignettes that Ken wrote that he felt he didn’t make the point clear enough. He straight-faced said:

“Yeah, the whole book is like that! I tried to do something like in ‘The Great Gatsby’ – the light across the water. I wanted to leave room for people to make their own conclusions – their own picture of some things. So, I tried to make it a little bit abstract. I wanted it to be the kind of book if you were in your class in school – your literary class and you would discuss, ‘Well, what did that mean? What did you think that meant?’ I really wanted it to be that kind of book – think about and discuss and kind of understand some of the symbolism.”

What has been the buzz been on the book, so far?

“The feedback that I’ve gotten, so far, has been exactly what I’ve been looking for. People really loved the beauty that was in there. One guy said that he cried. He said, ‘In three stories, I actually cried!’ I wanted it to touch people like that – to give them the feeling of lightness – seeing what life can be like. That there is this age-old thing – there is this goodness in each and every one of us. I just want people to know that – there’s goodness in people.”

Is a sequel to Philco that we can look for.

“I have, and I haven’t thought about that. Do you know who Andy Andrews is? He has this character called ‘Jones’ in his bestselling books. Jones is this ethereal character that comes in and out of people’s lives. I told him that Philco and Jones should become friends and we should write a book where they meet. Ha! Ha! Because his Jones is always giving wisdom to people and working in a godly way in their lives. He kinda drifts in and drifts out of these people’s lives.

“But, I don’t know. I’ve thought about it. Yeah. I have another book that I was going to write called, ‘Under The Hood.” It’s an analogy of how you don’t know how a car runs until you raise up the hood and look inside. People are the same thing. You don’t really know what they’re like until you get inside and take a look at them.

RoofTopBookCover“So, I was thinking about having Philco stumbling onto a gas station and going from there. I don’t know. I’ll think about it. I’m so worn out. I’ve got two books coming out this year. The next one comes out in November and it’s called, ‘The Roof: The Beatles Final Concert”. I’m the only person that was really there that is really writing about it from experience. Everybody else is doing research and stuff like that. So far, I’m the only author that’s still alive (that was there).

“My thing is that I like to see the best in people, so I really write about the good things about people and the nice things about them; the guys, themselves, and the feeling in the building that day and when we’re up on the roof and this (the rooftop concert) happened; what happened afterwards; what the building was like; what the neighborhood was like. The real personal story.”

While we anxiously await that book, by all means order Philco. It’s a wonderful read and one that you’ll want to read several times in order to catch little things that you missed in previous reads.

You can also keep up with the latest happenings with Ken Mansfield via his website, KMansfield.com.

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James Pankow of Chicago

Posted May 2018

 

James Pankow Cropped

I don’t know about y’all, but when I was in high school in the seventies, we had a lot of dances throughout the year. I couldn’t dance worth a darn (still can’t so I don’t even bother) so guys like me lived for the slow dance. 

 

Pretty hard to screw those up, huh, guys?

 

Anywho, one of the favorite songs to slow dance to was Chicago’s “Colour My World”. The opening notes of that song had clod-hopping guys like me fist-pumping and anxiously looking for whomever we had a crush on to ask them for that dance.

 

Since then, I’ve loved following what this tremendously talented band  over the years as they continued to crank out hit after hit after hit. It was also a personal thrill to have caught them in concert while on tour with Earth, Wind and Fire . . . but more about that, shortly.

 

After the launch of Boomerocity, I was privileged to interview one of the band’s co-founder, Robert Lamm (here) and, because of an upcoming show in my neck of the woods, I was recently afforded the opportunity to chat with another co-founder of the group: their iconic trombonist, James Pankow.

 

I called Jimmy at his home in the during a brisk winter day. At the beginning of our chat, Jimmy and I were engaging in small talk and he indicated that he lives in the Nashville area. He filled me in on the events leading up to that move and the quality of life he and his family are enjoying there.

 

“I relocated the family here almost eight years ago for a better life and, indeed, we found it. We escaped the L.A. area. It was not doable any longer. My children were approaching high school age and I did not like the idea of them growing up in a third world country. It was overcrowded and dangerous. I explored options and, actually, Nashville made a lot of sense – not only for a better quality of life; a simpler life; a more affordable life. 

 

“I have a sister here with six kids and two brothers in the Atlanta area with seven kids. Our kids have extended family here. EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditedThey didn’t have any of that on the west coast. So, it’s all good! I mean, there’s things we miss, you know? The perfect weather. The beach and all that stuff. But, hey, you know, there’s more to life than the environment and its perks. We can visit L.A. when we need to go back there. This is really a better life here, Randy, and I’m glad we chose to move out of that hell-hole. 

 

“Los Angeles is getting more dangerous by the day. And, frankly, the whole Hollywood thing; the lack of morality; the materialism. I didn’t want my kids growing up with that ethic.

“So, here we are. Nashville has turned out to be a great place. We might not necessarily be here the rest of our lives, but the kids have spread their wings. They’re safe here. We don’t lock our doors. The schools are amazing and it’s all good, man!

 

“I’m getting my irons in the fire locally, here. I’m starting to meet people and hook up with local talent here in Nashville in terms of song writing and stuff like that. 

 

“Chicago is so darn busy that as soon as I get something started, I have to put it on the back burner because I’m leaving, again. We were on the road nine months last year. The work ethic is insane! I mean, it’s good, you know? It’s amazing that, after fifty years, the demand is greater than ever. I guess the (Rock and Roll) Hall of Fame, the documentary movie that premiered on CNN. That stuff probably pumped the career even more. 

 

“The band is just better than ever. The band is slamming. People are loving the shows. We’re doing sell-out business. We’re far from throwing in the towel!”

 

I chimed in that he made a wise choice in moving to Nashville and that he’s joined by a lot of other rockers there. I also mentioned – since he was commenting on Chicago’s perpetual sell-out business – seeing them with Earth, Wind and Fire in Atlanta a couple of years ago and how that concert blew me away. 

 

“I came here before the secret was out and, now, it’s not just musicians coming in. I mean, there’s a hundred people a day coming to Nashville. It’s turned into one of the top destination cities. Frankly, now being a local, we’re getting a little concerned about the influx being more than the infrastructure can handle. 

 

Everybody in Nashville is worried about the rural charm going away in favor of high-rise condos and fancy restaurants and all that stuff. But it’s still a great place and I don’t blame people for wanting to be here because they probably wanted the same things I wanted. 

 

“Tennessee has a comfort to it. I guess that’s the best word: comfortable. I can do music here. I can raise my kids here. It’s centrally located, pretty much. It’s an hour and twenty minutes to Chicago. It’s a couple of hours to New York. When I was in L.A., man, it was flying across the country every time we went on the road. I’ve got family everywhere. I have a lot of brothers and sisters, so I wind up seeing everybody as I travel on the road. I get that done.

 

“But, yeah, the career is just leaping and bounding. That Earth, Wind and Fire show, man, I have to agree with you. We package with a lot of people. We’re going to be out – as a matter of fact – with REO Speedwagon together this summer. We went with them once before. I was a little apprehensive about that combination but, then, we went into rehearsals and, man, those guys are veteran rockers. They do it the old fashion way just like we do. Kevin Cronin is still playing his butt off and they put on a great show and it worked! So, we’re doing it again. 

 

“We were out with the Doobie’s last year. We’ve been out with Earth/Wind a half a dozen times. I have to agree: That is the most exciting performance I’ve ever experienced in all these years! When we’re up there together, two horn sections – I mean, it’s amazing! It’s a good fit, actually, when we’re together because they’re like the – well, they have their own thing, just like Chicago. They have their own identity. It’s kind of hip, R&B/Funk. But it’s their own, their own brand. You know it’s Earth, Wind and Fire when you hear it on the radio. Like Chicago. 

 

“The musician line up in both bands is very similar. When we’re together on stage, it’s just low ‘Wow!’. It’s amazing! I’m up there watching the people with their jaws hanging open because it’s so powerful. They’re watching me with my jaw hanging open. Ha! Ha!”

 

When I commented how exhausting it was watching EWF’s Verdine White on stage with his incredible energy, Pankow added:

 

“He doesn’t stop for a second. I’m not exactly a static individual, either. I like to run around the stage. Of course, when we perform together, I’m, typically, right next to Verdine. So, my trombone winds up going into the shop every week because I try to stay out of the way of his bass neck! Ha! Ha! 

 

“But, yeah, that guy – he’s my hero! He is Mr. Energy. There were nights where I was tired when I didn’t get a good night’s sleep and I show up at the gig and he just pump me up, man! Just being next to him energized me. 

 

“We actually just finished a residency in Las Vegas at the Venetian and I noted that Earth/Wind is going to be coming up and doing a residency at the Venetian, as well, I think in May. They’re kinda following the same path as we are this year. Hopefully, we’ll run into each other on the road.”

 

When I asked Mr. Pankow what has changed the most and the least over the years of his career and business-wise, he shared:

 

“Well, you know, the one thing that has, thankfully, remained constant is a demand for this music. I said this at the Hall of Fame and I say it many nights on stage. What we do is really rewarding. As a songwriter and a performer, you create songs. It represents a personal moment, writing your thoughts down. It’s a catharsis. It’s therapy, really. It’s probably prevented me from jumping off the deep end. You vent when you write songs. It’s a great release and when you share those ideas – those songs – with an audience, that’s when the song takes on a life of its own; when a song lives and breathes because it’s the audience who embraces that music that makes it come alive. It validates it. 

“I tell people all the time, ‘This wouldn’t matter – none of this would matter – Chicago; Earth, Wind and Fire – if people didn’t appreciate and enjoy and have a need to experience this. So, we’re very fortunate that we’ve had such a long career because of that. You could be the greatest artist since sliced bread but if nobody gave a damn, it wouldn’t matter. You couldn’t get arrested. If nobody cared, it would be meaningless. 

 

“The fact is, people not only love this music, they keep wanting more. They want to come back and they want to re-live the moments in their lives that these songs represent. We get on stage and we look at an audience and we can see these people re-living whatever song is the song that is meaningful to them. We can see them making that connection – that emotional connection. These songs have become the fabric of their lives and they come to have that communion with the band. That’s what makes it magical. It’s that give and take with an audience. That has not changed. And, thank God it hasn’t because I’m still putting food on the table doing something I love, which is a real blessing, as I’m sure you understand.

 

“As we matured; as we become more experienced and more knowledgeable, we’ve become more in touch with the business. It is a business. There are P&L sheets. There are expenses out there. It’s a big business. You have lots of big trucks, buses. You have support crew of dozens of people who without you could not do a show and you have to take care of their travel and their expenses. The stage. The production. There’s a lot that goes into putting a show together and you have to keep a thumb on those expenses. 

“We didn’t really care when we were kids. We had people doing the business for us, but things fell through the cracks and we didn’t know about it. So, we decided that it was important to have an idea of what was going on because it’s good business. It’s the right thing to do. It’s smart. So, as we’ve gotten older, we treated it more as a much as a business as entertainment. 

 

“When we’re on that stage doing that show, there’s nothing else on our mind. I mean, a bomb could go off and we wouldn’t know it because when we’re on stage, the business, the day-to-day situations are not on our minds. We’re absorbed absolutely 100% in the moment; performing these songs and having a great time doing it, man! It’s like the first night every night because it’s a different audience. There’s certain songs that everybody wants to hear. There’s the requisite songs: ‘You’re The Inspiration’, ‘Saturday In The Park’, ’25 or 6 to 4’, ‘Color My World’; the usual suspects. 

 

“But this year, we’re doing something that we’ve never done before. This year, we have kind of an experimental change, if you will. The second album, Chicago II, is being considered for the Lifetime Achievement Grammy and we video-taped the performance of the entire album on a soundstage in Chicago. It’ll be airing on public television networks around the country later this month. This album is arguably the template for all of the music that followed. I would venture to say that this album represents everything musical for Chicago. This is kind of the album that set the groove for all of the music to come. 

 

“It’s a challenging piece of work. And, this year, we’re going to be doing a two-part show. The first set will be the performance of Chicago II from top to bottom . It’s a challenging record, musically. I dare say – I’m performing this stuff now forty-plus years later – I’m going, ‘Holy cow, man! We were twenty-year-old kids and we did this?’ I’m getting this moment of clarity. 

 

“Maybe there is a reason that we’ve lasted so long. This is amazing stuff, man! We didn’t know what it was when we were doing it. We didn’t see the forest for the trees. We were just a bunch of kids writing down and recording what we heard. We didn’t know the rules and we didn’t give a s***. But now that we’re performing this stuff back-to-back, it’s a daunting experience. 

 

“I didn’t write any rests, man. The horns are non-stop. There’s a lot of very intricate instrumental work that most hit songs don’t necessarily include. It’s not hit after hit. Of course, ‘The Ballet” is part of this; ‘Make Me Smile’ and ‘Colour My World’, ’25 or 6 to 4’ is part of this, which is a rock and roll anthem. 

 

“So, there are hit songs on that record. It’s a double album. Wow! You get to the end of this record and you know you did some work. We’re getting great responses. We did it in Vegas and we’ve done it on some of the tour dates that we’ve done up ‘til now. The spring is typically warm-up dates. We’re getting our chops ready and the production ready for the summer tour with REO. 

 

“But, the folks in Knoxville as well as the rest of the tour will be hearing this album performed in its entirety. People – even the young fans – are amazed at the musicality. There are time changes. There are key signature changes. There are multiple vocalists. There are incredibly interesting moments, instrumentally, that don’t really happen for music that was written in the eighties and beyond because as the business evolved – you know, back in the day when this album was recorded – as well as the first album – I would venture to say the first three albums for sure – the fourth a live, four album box set at Carnegie Hall. It was a live performance. 

 

“The seventies, particularly, were a renaissance. It was amazing for an artist to be around and to be fruitful and writing to the chop in those days because you could manifest songs that were not ‘hit singles’. You wrote what you heard in your head. It didn’t have a time limit. It didn’t have a hook, necessarily. It didn’t have the formula pop necessities that songs in the eighties and beyond had to have. Record companies wanted that brand song. They wanted that niche on the radio. So, you went in the studio and you made three or four-minute singles/songs. But, back then, man, you did whatever you wanted to do, and it was really fantastic for an artist because you had free reign to be creatively uncensored. 

 

“So, to be able to perform this again, live, is really a trip because people are hearing the essence of what Chicago is, musically, without hit, hit, hit – three-minute little commercials; hit singles. 

 

“However, the second set is an hour and fifteen-minute encore because it’s all of those hits. So, the first set is a listening set – it’s a journey for the audience and, then, the second set is all hit-bound. It’s all the songs that they hear on the radio and it’s the songs that they’ve embraced as part of their lives. The songs that they hum in the shower. It’s really a great time. It’s the first approach like this that we’ve ever done. And, so far, the reaction has been incredibly positive. So, we’re hoping that the folks in Knoxville are just as enthusiastic about this approach. 

 

“So, they’re getting a little of everything. They’re getting the formative music that put this band on the map and they’re getting all the greatest hits. It’s a heck of an evening.

“We’re looking forward to taking this show on the road this year. Actually, we’re gonna be climbing all around the mid-south. We’re going to be doing Memphis and Chattanooga. We’re doing Nashville later in the summer with REO. It’s really great, now that I live here, it’s even more meaningful. We’re excited to be out, again. It’s the 51st year on the road. The band, like I said, is slamming. We have a couple of personnel changes. I was apprehensive, a bit, about the signature – the musical signature. But, man, I was delightfully surprised because things happen for a reason, apparently. 

 

“Tris had some issues. He had to do his own thing. His personal life needed more attention. So, he parted company. And Walfredo Reyes – who is an amazing percussionist and who we discovered is an amazing drummer, as well – he moved over to the drum chair. 

 

Chicago Publicity Final Reduced“And Jeff Coffey, who had replaced Jason Scheff, also had some personal commitments, hence, he had to depart. We replaced him with one of the most amazing voices in the business. Neil Donell is probably one of the top session singers, commercial legit studio vocalists in Toronto, Canada. He’s a celebrity in his own right up there. We ran into him for the last year/year and a half. Turned out he was a big fan. We invited him on stage to sing a song when we were in Toronto. When Jeff left, we reached out to him and he was thrilled with the invitation and he is now covering the tenor vocals.  

 

“We have a bass player who is amazing as well as a very accomplished vocalist: Brett Simons, who was with Zak Brown for years as well as a studio bass player in L.A. and in Nashville. Young, good looking guy. Plays his butt off. Also plays upright bass the old fashion way. 

 

“The band, now, is just – I mean, I just cross my heart, ‘Thank you, Jesus’ when I heard the band at rehearsal before we went to Vegas. We had the new line-up at rehearsal in L.A. I was so delighted to hear – not only was it great, it was better than ever. 

 

“So, we have a great line-up with a whole new show. We’re looking forward to an amazing year!”

 

And the U.S. is looking forward to being a part of Chicago’s amazing year. 

 

Keep up with all things Chicago by visiting ChicagoTheBand.com. Be sure to check out if and when this legendary, exciting band will be performing near you.

 

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Tommy Emmanuel Talks About "Accomplice One"

Posted April 2018

 

Tommy Emmanuel Photo 1aTommy Emmanuel and Boomerocity have a special relationship that goes back seven years when a friend and reader first turned us on to the Australian guitar virtuoso. Boomerocity became instant fans of the man’s work and performances and have been telling everyone who will listen that they should check this guy out.

It had been a couple of years since we last chatted with Tommy and with his upcoming April 27th show at the historic Tennessee Theatre, I felt now was a good time to catch up on news.

I caught up with Tommy to talk about that upcoming show as well as the others on the tour as well as his new CD, Accomplice One. We chatted by phone while he was vacationing in California.

“I’m in sunny California right now. No smog. Clear as a bell. Cold breeze but warm sun. I’m spending some time with my baby daughter.

“She was born January 6th, 2015. She’s so smart! Into just everything! Loves music. Sings along with everything. I sit and play for her. She calls the tunes. ‘Daddy, play Angelina. Daddy, play Halfway Home. Daddy, play–‘ She knows all the songs. Her favorite song is the one I wrote for her called ‘Rachel’s Lullaby’. That’s what she likes. ‘Play Rachel’s Lullaby, Daddy!’ And I play it!

“I’ve got a 30-year-old, as well. She married and lives England. And Angelina, my middle daughter, she’s nineteen. She’s in the UK. She’s an English citizen. My daughter, Amanda, was born in Sidney but because she married an English guy, I think she’s got an English passport, now.”

Regarding the Knoxville show, he shared:

“We’re coming back to the Tennessee Theater. One of my favorites. We kinda mix it up. The last time, I did two nights at the Bijou, which was nice, but the Tennessee was my ideal place. That’s what I was aiming at, you know? It’s a special place, there’s no doubt about it. It’s made extra special by the fact that my dressing has Chet Atkins’ name on the door. It’s Chet Atkins’ dressing room. It’s always good to call in the master’s voice.

“There’s beautiful theaters like that all-around America. The Fox Theaters, everywhere, were always the elite theater. The best place to play. But, of course, me playing in Knoxville is like coming home to me because it’s really where I started in America with the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society.

“We started in a little place called Ossoli Circle which was, basically, a lady’s bridge club. We got a little stage there and some seats. That’s where I started there.

“I used to go out there to Luttrell (Tennessee) to see where Chet was born and where he was from and visit some of the folksEverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited that lived next door and all that. It was a bit of a pilgrimage for me when I was young. And, then, to play in Knoxville was a great feeling because I felt like my life was coming full circle, almost, you know? I played the guitar because I loved the music that came out of that area and now I’m back there playing it.

“The same thing when I go to Kentucky. I play some Merle Travis tunes. It’s a great feeling because it’s like the music came all the way to Australia and I brought it back.”

I asked Tommy where he liked playing in Kentucky.

“Oh! Louisville, Lexington, Frankfurt, E-Town (Elizabethtown). I play a lot of places in Kentucky. Of course, every now and again I get a chance to go to Middleburg and Central City and places like that and pay homage to the Everly’s and to Travis.”

Boomerocity LOVES the new album, Accomplice One – especially his cover of Purple Haze. I asked Emmanuel about the LP.

“First of all, it’s called “Accomplice One”, which might give you a hint that I did a lot more recording than is just on that one record. With each of the artists, with the exception of Mark Knopfler, just about every one of the other artists and I recorded more than one song. I figured that we might have an Accomplice Two down the road with some of the same people but mix it up with some different people, too. I’ve already got people like Allison Krause organized to be on the next album. So, that’s fun!

“Basically, I wanted to do an album of, mostly, Americana/Bluegrass sounding music because that’s the music of my roots and my raising. And I also wanted the album to be absolute live in the studio kind of thing. I didn’t want people to be mailing in their part sort of thing. I wanted us all to be playing together each time I got an artist in the studio. We sat and worked out what we were going to do. Then we set up mics and we played is as if we were on the stage. That’s why the music sounds so fresh, I think, is because there was no laboring over stuff. There was capturing the performance and that’s what I love about recording . . . and another reason why I called the people that I called – because they’re on the same level. You sit down with Jerry Douglas and start running a tune and, all of a sudden, he’s got the arrangement remembered; he’s embellishing; he’s soloing. He’s just a great, all-around musician. That’s the kind of people I want to work with because it’s so exciting.

“Jerry came in on another track, which was a ballad that I had written. He nailed it and got it really beautiful and took the melody and all that sort of stuff.

“And, then, we had about an hour left before our studio time was up and I said, ‘Do you want to have a go at Purple Haze?’ and he said, ‘Hell, yeah!’

“I played a bit of it for him and he joined in and he said, ‘Let’s not rehearse it. Let’s just play it.’ So, we did and that’s the track. We only played it once.”

When I asked Tommy what was it about that song that made him think of it, he said:

“Well, I just thought it was the most unexpected thing: acoustic guitar and dobro playing Purple Haze. You would just never imagine that. Jerry said, ‘This will really tick off all the bluegrass purist against me and I’m okay about that.’ It was just an experience and an experiment, and it worked really well.

“Now, as far as tracks like I did with Jason Isbell, Deep River Blues: he was the right choice for that because he’s from Tommy Emmanuel Photo 1Muscle Shoals. He’s got that sound when he sings. It’s so relaxing. It’s such a relaxed sounding way of singing. I just love his voice, too. He’s the right choice for that.

“And his wife, Amanda Shires, will be at the Tennessee Theatre with me. Her and I did a cover of Madonna’s ‘Borderline’. Again, I chose that because she can carry that off. She can sing in that way – almost like a young Dolly Parton. She plays the fiddle great and all that and I just thought it was something unusual to do. It might grab the attention of radio and people who listen to radio. That was what I was trying to achieve there.

“The cut with Ricky Skaggs: I taught him a song – he’d never heard it before and in five minutes he owned it. Ricky’s such a good singer. And, of course, the track with Mark Knopfler: that was Mark’s song and he taught it to me in five minutes. We did the same thing. We just sat there in front of the microphones and played live. That’s the recording. I was at his studio a total of one hour and I had the finished master in my hand. It’s been really great.

“The Django Reinhardt track, Djangology, that I did with Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo: that was done with an audience, live in the studio and the audience were our students. We were teaching the first-ever guitar camp in Havana, Cuba, last year. The lesson for the day that day was everybody came into the studio and we seated eighty-five students in the orchestral room. Then, we proceeded to arrange Djangology for three guitars. Each one of us worked out a part that would harmonize with the other and we showed them how we did that. Then, we put it all together. Musically, it sounded really nice.

“We set up mics and said, ‘Okay, everybody, quiet as we can. We’re going to record it, now.’ So, we recorded it with eighty-five kids sitting in front of us. It’s just a great way of doing stuff.

“This album has so many quirky things going on with it. I think that’s why people like it. It doesn’t sound contrived or overproduced, you know? Everything’s just real instruments; real people; real microphones; and that’s it.”

Does Tommy feel that he’s moving more into the American direction?

“Well, it’s my favorite kind of music and I think it’s what I play best. I’ve had a go at jazz albums. I’ve had a go at rock albums and all that sort of stuff. I think this is the kind of music that’s in my blood. I can find a lot good songs in that genre that I enjoy playing and singing. I think it’s a great chance to collaborate with some real talent from this country, you know?

Tommy Emmanuel Photo 2“David Grisman, Brian Sutton, and I recorded six songs together that morning. I think they were all one take because guys at that level are so ‘on’ when they play that you just gotta capture it. You don’t need to be stopping and starting again. They can play it right every time.”

Tommy’s very good at reaching out and bringing in talent that people may not have heard of. He recently toured with another great guitarist that Joe Bonamassa turned me on to a few years ago: J.D. Simo. I asked Emmanuel how that tour went and there will be future tours together.

“I’m bringing J.D. to England with me next year because he’s well respected and loved in Europe and England. We’re going to tour together next year over there. The American tour was mostly in California and it was really wonderful. He just played on his own. Then he and I did ‘Dock on the Bay’ and a couple of other instrumental tunes. He just tore it up!

“J.D.’s a great talent. For that kind of fast, bluegrass tune, ‘Wheelin’ and Dealin’’, that’s on the album where he’s playing electric (guitar), I could’ve had Brent Mason or James Burton or Albert Lee – I could’ve had any of those guys play on that track and they would’ve done an amazing job. But J.D.’s more rock and blues so he’s kind of country/chicken pickin’ style is different. It’s definitely not predictable so I wanted him to have a chance at that track and he sure brought it home, that’s for sure!

“There are some videos on YouTube, if you want to see them. I think somebody filmed us at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. There’s some videos from that.”

I asked Tommy to tell me about the tour – especially the one that stops here in Knoxville – which includes Amanda Shires – and what fans can expect.

“Obviously, I’m going to be playing a lot of new stuff from ‘Accomplice’ and Amanda and I will do ‘Borderline’ and there’ll probably be something else. We’ll have to work that out. She’s going to showcase a lot of her new songs because she’s got a great, new album coming out. I’m going to play stuff from right through my whole career, really. I’m going to take everybody back to the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties – like that, you know? I’ll have that show all together.

“I’m about to go to Europe next week and the first show is in Germany. I’ll have the whole show mapped out by the time I get back.”

When I asked Emmanuel what was on his radar for the next year or so, it was obvious that he’s as busy as ever.

“I’ve got March in Europe and Scandinavia. Then, April is America. May is England and Scotland. I’m doing a camp in Tommy Emmanuel Photo 3Scotland, up in the Highlands. June, I’m back recording some stuff. July is some dates here at the Chet Atkins convention and my guitar camp in Memphis. August/September will be in Australia and South Africa. October is Italy, I think. Jerry Douglas is doing that tour with me. November will be France and Clive Carroll – the guy who plays the Irish tunes with me on the album – Clive’s doing that tour. Then, December, I’m back here in America for Christmas.

“The last three years, I did Christmas tours. I’m not doing Christmas tours this year. But, I’ll do some solo shows and I’ll slip some Christmas music in there, of course!”

Boomerocity has said it before and we’ll say it again: If you’ve never seen Tommy Emmanuel in concert, you are truly missing out on a real musical treat. Keep up with the latest on him – including his tour schedule – at www.tommyemmanuel.com.

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Jonathan Cain - Don't Stop Believin'

Posted May 2018

Jonathan Cain Cropped 2Quick: Who can tell me what the best-selling digital track from the 20thcentury was?

 

No cheating. 

 

Well, if you cheated and looked it up on the internet, you’d probably see that Wikipedia has indicated that it is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” with over seven million copies sold in the U.S. alone.

 

Co-written by Journey guys Steve Perry, Neal Schon, and Jonathan Cain, the tune immediately inspires and motivates whenever and wherever it’s heard. It’s not at all a stretch to say that it’s become an anthem to many.

 

I first had the privilege of interviewing co-writer, Jonathan Cain, seven years ago (here). At that time, we talked about the band, their then-soon-to-be-released album, Eclipse, and a memoir that he was working on. 

Fast-forward seven years.

 

The memoir, Don’t Stop Believin’, was recently completed and it was about that book that I was given yet another amazing opportunity to chat with Cain. After weeks of trying to get our schedules coordinated, he was kind enough to squeeze in some time to chat with me just before he headed out to church with his wife of three years, Reverend Paula White

Since our time to chat was short, I cut right to the chase by mentioning that I remembered him talking about working on his book and wondered if he felt about the finished product. 

 

“Yeah, it’s been quite a journey – no ‘pin intunded’ – it really has been a journey. I learned a lot. I must’ve re-wrote this book ten times, you know? But, really, getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame changed my whole focus. From the lens of that, it was easy to look back and see how to tell the story. I think that really needed to happen before the book could come together the way it came.”

 

When I asked if he had to do a lot of re-writing, he shot back:

 

“Yes, sir! A lot of re-writing. Once I got the new outline and I sat down with some really great editors from the Zondervan group, we went to it. They were very comfortable and understanding in what I was trying to do and what we wanted to accomplish with the outline and structure of how we wanted to tell the tale; the most effective way to take a listener on that sort of journey I was on and still am. Ha! Ha!”

 

I asked what he hoped people would take away from the book when they finished reading it.

 

“You know, I hope it gives them a sense of – they get confidence. They get hope. You have to continue to walk because you may have a good season and make a million dollars. That doesn’t mean anything. This seeking – you can always be better. I feel that there’s always a way to improve. I kept looking and searching for ways I could get better and be more affective. I learned how to engineer my own records, write my own songs, and became very independent. But that took a lot of work. 

 

DSB final1“Eventually, I learned how to tell my own story, which took a lot of work. Just because you can write a song doesn’t mean you’re cut out to be a writer. I learned where my voice was at. I learned a lot about grammar. It was like going back to school, again, really. I always sort of rambled on at school when I was writing. When I took English, I had a teacher who reminded me to ‘stay within the outline, Jon!’ I can still remember the teacher’s name who was so encouraging; encouraged me to continue to write. I ended up being the editor of our newspaper. I had actually been accepted into Northwestern University in the School of Journalism. I’ve often wondered what my life would’ve been like had I went that route. 

 

“But all that just goes to when I wanted to write songs, I focused in on that early on. I realized I wasn’t going to be a virtuoso. But, I think in the end, it’s confidence, perseverance, it takes work to get somewhere. Just because you think you got somewhere doesn’t mean that’s the end result, as my father said. It’s just a stepping stone. That was his big line: ‘It’s only a stepping stone.’ I’m, like, ‘Dad, how far do I have to go to prove it to you,’ and he’d go, ‘I’ll tell you when you get it.’

 

“When Journey came along, he looked at me and said, ‘That’s what I said. That’s what I meant. That’s what I mean.’ Pretty cool, Dad. That’s why I dedicate the book to him. 

 

“It’s also, I hope all the young fathers out there take note and pay attention to the gifts your child has the way my dad did and lift them up in those areas they’re excelling in and recognize it. Give them confidence it’s possible.” 

Cain makes it crystal clear in Don’t Stop Believin’ that his dad was a huge influence and encourager to him. I asked him how he thought his dad would feel about the book.

 

“It is a legacy of our family; of the generations that he was part of. He brought me to the fiddle with my grandfather and it turns out that my great grandfather played the violin. My uncles played. So, that legacy that he shared is well represented in the book. I’m only a part of him so I think he would be very happy with it.”

 

During our first chat, Jonathan talked a bit about the infamous Our Lady of the Angels school fire back in 1958 when he was an eight-year-old student at the school. Tragically, ninety-five people perished in that (ninety-two kids and three nuns). It was clear in the first interview that the fire still scarred Cain. In reading the book, he clearly articulates his thoughts and feelings about that tragic day. I asked him if writing about it was cathartic for him.

 

“You kind of understand it and accept how it changes your life; how out of pain something new is born. It’s in the Bible. There’s a Scripture that says, ‘Out of pain something new is born’ (Isaiah 66:9). That’s exactly what happened. There was a fire – a different kind of fire, if you will – that my father planted in me that was one of desire and not of destruction and death and sadness and sorry. And it’s like, ‘Here, learn this way. I got a plan.’ The Lord showed me it. What are you going to do, you know?

 

“I think out of the ashes God can do something beautiful. I think that is the message of life, you know? These ashes will be turned for good. ‘They’ll be something good, Jon, come out of this.’ I just had to believe it, wait, pray, work, focus, and win when I could. And it wasn’t always easy.”

 

In Cain’s book, he mentioned an acquaintance of mine: renowned concert promoter and fellow Chicagoan, Danny Zelisko, Ministering to others 9780310351344who had this to say about the Journey keyboardist, whom he’s known for a lot of years and whether or not he’s changed:

“Well, I don’t know that he’s changed. To me, he’s pretty much the same guy he’s always been. We met originally – I did a show with his ex-wife. He was in Journey, but I wasn’t promoting Journey, yet, because there was another promoter that had the booking relationship with the band. Their old agency asked me to do a date with his wife. We did it at a place called in Tempe (AZ). I think it was called, ‘After The Gold Rush’. It used to be Dooley’s. 

 

“We got on real well. God, I think I met him when he was with the Babys. I don’t think we got into anything, then. But, anyway, he grew up not far away from where I grew up in Illinois. We shared a lot of Chicago stuff. We’ve always gotten on real well. His mom was my – she’s dead, now – but she was my daughter’s godmother. He bought them a place not too far away from where I live. At one point, he asked me to help his dad get a job out here because they had to move because his mom was sick. Through a guy I knew at the New Times, I got him a job. They moved out here. She looked after my daughter all the time, his mom. Very, very much family stuff. Not your typical seeing a rock star whenever he comes to town or when you do a show with him. He was in and out of Phoenix all the time because of his folks living her and his brother also lived here. He’s always been a really good friend to me.

 

“It was interesting, when they decided to get back together and have a new singer, I don’t think they really knew at the time how many other groups would follow and do the same thing. People like to think that there’s no replacing certain members of a band but here’s a classic example of proving it wrong.”

 

Jonathan had this to say about Danny:

 

“Oh my god! He became part of the family! He settled my parents in Phoenix. He found them a condo. He’s almost like a brother. He’s an only child – he may have a sister – but we became brothers, in a way, and I still consider him my Chicago brother. I treated him to the World Series last year. We just had a blast.”

 

Since we last spoke, Jonathan’s spiritual walk seems to be much more prominent and devout. I asked him what would he like fans to know about that walk?

 

“I want people to know you are worth. I want fans to know this isn’t about religion. God isn’t about religion. It’s about the light and the hope and the love. He’s not an angry god. He’s not a judging god. He’s a good god. You can always return. 

“I guess I went off line when I kinda stumbled. I couldn’t find a way back. I didn’t know how to get back. I was kinda just stuck. I think when I met Paula (Pastor Paula White, who is now Jon’s wife), she saw something. She saw that desire. Being a pastor, she said, ‘There’s a light on you. You’ve been running and it’s time to stop running.’ I did! My question for her was is it possible to have the love of Christ I had when I was seven years old. Is it possible? She seemed to think it was with prayer, with repentance and sacrifice and work, I can get back there and be the kind of guy that my father raised; that my father would be proud of. He loved Jesus Christ with all his heart. A pray-er and a proud man. I want to go out like him. I want to go out with the love of Christ and to be a disciple; to be a game-changer and kingdom builder; and to leave a legacy to him because of the way my father loved the Lord.

 

“So, my point is that it’s never too late to return. He’s always there for you. He’s been there in the background. I tell people it’s like He’s pays for the suite that you’re in; he makes sure you got room service; He makes sure your room’s clean; and you just thank Him. He pays all the bills. 

 

“Just thank Him. Tell Him you love Him. Every day. It’s got to be every day. It’s gotta be every hour. I’m constantly thinking about the Lord and the goodness that He’s brought to my life. Just the miracles that I’ve seen happen. The book is a miracle! I gave up on that thing. I was just at the end of it with it. It was like, ‘Just try again, Jon. Something’s out there.’ It’s almost like my dad telling me, ‘Don’t stop believin’’ – one of those deals. So, I did, and I made the right phone calls and I had the right people around me. The lawyers queued together on this thing. 

 

Me moment onstage 9780310351344“Man! Wait until you hear the audio book! It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard because I’d written these autobiographical songs all these years and it came out on an album and I don’t think anybody knew what to do with it. Now, with this book out, they all matter big time. I’m putting out a CD, as well. There’ll be a CD that goes with the book on iTunes. It’s called, ‘The Songs You Leave Behind’ which is the theme of the book. It’s in the audio book. Of course, it’s what I want the readers to go away with.

 

“They say, ‘Well, what’s the take-away from writing that book?’ I wrote the song. It’s all I know how to do is put it in words and I think it came out pretty darn good.’”

 

Right after the release of Don’t Stop Believin’, Cain will hit the road with Journey for a monster tour with none other than Def Leppard. I asked him what fans could expect from those shows.

 

 “A lot of energy! We don’t mess around. With Def Leppard is on the same bill, this band’s gonna rock! It’s gonna rock hard! It’s gonna be a great set!”

 

As I’ve begun asking other artists of his stature since I last spoke with him, I asked Jonathan how he wanted to be remembered and what did he hope his legacy will be.

 

“I want to be remembered as the guy who wrote the songs that helped people dream; that helped people stay in love; that helped people have a positive effect on their life. I was the soundtrack to a lot of people’s growin’ up years. I think I was part of a musical movement that was unique; had its own sound; had its own style. I was faithful to it. I put in the time and that’s what this book sums up. It sums up the whole the ‘thank you’ to all of the people who made us who we are today. That’s all. Just a grateful, creative guy who loved his kids; who loved God; loved his wife; loved his music.”

And what’s on Cain’s radar for the next couple of years?

 

“I’ve got another Christian album in the works. Who knows with Journey? We might kick around some songs. Maybe get to recording something, you know? I’ve got some ideas that I’ve been sketching out. I don’t know. I’m just going to let the Lord take me there. 

 

“I know with this Christian album, I want to do more stuff in that arena. Work on getting my voice right. Just focus in on being the best praise and worship leader I can be. I’ll be reaching out. I just wrote the title track last week. I’m going to call it, ‘Unleashed’. It’s got some warfare. It’s got a little bit of everything. It’s gone to the next level of my worship. It’s very cinematic and bold.”

 

Keep up with Jonathan Cain and the band at JourneyMusic.com.

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Doug Gray Of The Marshall Tucker Band

Posted April 2018


marshalltuckerband I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut that even if you’re not an avid listener to music (and that’s unlikely or you wouldn’t be visiting Boomerocity.com), that you’ve probably heard the Marshall Tucker Band at least a half a million times on the radio since your teen years in the seventies. I know I probably have.

When I found out that the iconic band was going to be performing my neck of the woods at the world-renown Dollywood (April 21st), I reached out to the good folks at the theme park to arrange an interview with the band’s lead singer, Doug Gray.
Making small talk at the beginning of our call, I asked how the veteran rocker was doing.
“I couldn’t ask for anything to be any better . . . unless I’d of won the lottery and then it wouldn’t have changed the way I am, anyway. But I’d be kinda excited that I’d won and then see what happened, you know?”

When I added, “You’d see how many more friends you have?” He said, “I did that twenty years with cocaine – I knew how many friends I didn’t need. Once I quit, I was down to two friends, again; my mom, my dad, and, maybe, my sister. But, anyway, once I quit, it was the same friends. It didn’t matter to me. After twenty years of it, you just stop, and I stopped August 16th, 1989, and haven’t done any at all since then. I’m on the road to success, I guess. Ha! Ha!”

When I added that he was fortunate and wise to heed the wake-up call and has been able to live a fulfilling life and to help others, Gray said: “I’m kinda showing people that you can stop. That’s the most important thing. I don’t make a big issue out of it. I don’t stand on a pedestal. I don’t have to wave my southern flag and I don’t have to wave my Marshall Tucker flag and I wave any flag ‘cept for the United States flag. I have to do that. I just want to make sure that when we do what we do, we’re doing it for the right reason. And my band, as it stands right now . . . they’re out there to play every night. It’s just in front of a different audience – a new audience. And you would think that it would get old to them. Certainly, people think that it would get old to me, but it doesn’t get old to me because I make it interesting, first of all. I’m just that kind of person. I’ll change it around no matter what. I’m gonna make sure it’s – if the bass is sounding good that night, I’m gonna let Tony Black have that thang and I’m just gonna let him wear it out for five or ten minutes and give out because he’s working his butt off!

“These guys – their strength – not strength in numbers – putting the right people together, each one of those strengths add up to more than one hundred percent. That’s what I like to think we’re doing.”

With Gray having been in the rock and roll business for darn near 50 years, I asked him if he thought that it was going to work out.

“Ha! Ha! Well, I thought about it seriously and it’s either that or work at Krispy Kreme. I knew that at Krispy Kreme I’d be  a lot bigger than I am right now, okay? Let me tell you somethin’: Dunkin Donuts would be fighting me every day if I worked at Krispy Kreme.

“No, I really believe that I didn’t have any choice but to do this. This is a God-given gift. That’s the first thing I should say. But, also, it would not have been realized if my dad hadn’t taken me into a cotton mill and said, ‘This is where you can work, or you can go out there and sing,’ because he already knew that I could sing at seven years old, ‘kay? I’d get up there and sing with everybody. I think I more or less drove everybody crazy singin’. Then they’d push me off and then push me on the road and, then – So, here I am, some fourteen years later – I think that’s what it is: I’m very interested in what people think of the band. My last interview was with people that were interested in the other bands as well; the completion of what we try to do. We’re not out there to sell a record. We’re out there every night to play as hard as we can.

“Marshall Tucker Band is a go-see band. You see that band and I promise you – I know I’m singin’ and the rest of the guys are, too – you come see our band and we’ve created a memory. By creating that memory, it extends into your grandkids and your kids. When we go play a state fair somewhere and there’s fifteen or eighteen thousand people out there, we’re gonna do autographs and you got a girl that says she’s 10 or 12 years old and she says, ‘I love your band.’ And she’s real timid about the whole thing but she wants an autograph. I say, ‘Let me ask you a question: Who are you here with?’ She said, ‘My dad and my mom and my grandma.’ And I say, ‘Where are they’ and she pointed them out. So, I go over there, and I talk to them. Every one of them had been coming to shows for over thirty-somethin’ years. You know, if it had been forty, I’d been happier, but it was thirty, so I have to live with it, okay?

“It gives me the knowledge that got to have - you know, a lot of people don’t watch American Idol or The Voice or anything like that. They’re missing a little bit. It might be a little conglomerated in certain places. But you’re getting to hear people that are fourteen years old sing that, maybe, would’ve never got a chance to get up there, have confidence, and do things. I watch it and I get tears and cold chills. In other words, I’m still learning every time I go on stage. I’m still learning that this song works or that note works or the rest of the guys should be up there doin’ somethin’ else.

“Take ‘Take the Highway’ - I sing, ‘Take the Highway’ over thirty years. When I heard the flute players that’s with me and has been for 15 – 18 years, I heard him do ‘Take the Highway’ and he sang it and I went, ‘I think you just found your new job!’ You know what? He loved it and he’d been wanting to sing it, but he never really said anything. So, it just made it better and I’m all for making anything you can better.”

Right after high school, I went to a small Bible college in Fresno, California. While I was there, I met an amazing pianist by the name of Paul Thompson. We became good friends, and, after school, he went on to become keyboardist briefly for the Marshall Tucker Band until his untimely death in 1994. I mentioned to Doug that I knew Paul.

“The saddest part and the saddest day with Paul – his dad was a minister. I don’t know if you knew that. His dad was a minister and Paul had stopped his bad habits – stopped drinkin’ so much. His girlfriend and I were friends. She’s the one that called me up and said that Paul was riding his bike in front of the cemetery where we were all standing. We were all standing right there, and this lady changed lanes, went over too far and pushed him off the road. Automatically got him.
“So, as we’re sitting there – we’re all trying to figure it out – if that’s the place everybody talked about. Sure enough, somebody went right across – right where it was. We all said our blessings to Paul and his family. Paul had a couple of kids, too. They’ve been to our shows since he’s passed.

“Paul was an exceptional guy. He really was. He’d talk me into bicycle rides that I called from hell because I told him, ‘If you pull that hill, you’ve pretty much broken through to the other side.’ We were talking about him taking that Saluda River Run I think it was what it was called. He was a helluva guy.”

Shifting gears, I asked Gray what’s been the biggest changes he’s seen – positive and negative – during his fifty years in the music business.

“The simplest thing that I can say is the electronic age has helped an old band to be better. Primarily because people can hear one of our songs on the radio and they can immediately try to Google it or iTunes or all these places and find out what song that is and who wrote it. Then they’ll YouTube it and they’ll see who we were – who the band was. That’s the positive side of it. Do I think that it helped our band? The answer to that question is that we’re still signed with Sony/Red – a band that’s 45+ years old and still’s got another 5 years to go with the company. You pretty much know that you’re sellin’ records. But, you’re not selling records anymore because there won’t be any CDs after next year – which is a sad thing because it will all be streaming. That’s a whole ‘nother step. We have to grow with the things that we’re surrounded with. There’s one thing about it: we all can re-build. There’s a lot of things you can’t rebuild but most solid things you can. You can come back to that kind of stuff.

And how has technology hurt the music business?

“I that because people can’t pick up an album cover and they can’t read about what they’re listening to on their turntable and they can’t read it because it’s so small on CDs, they have identified Marshall Tucker as being not an individual band – not an individual group. It has nothing to do with my name not being Marshall Tucker. I could care less about that. But, what we found is that – and that’s why we put records out. That’s why we went back and have the rights to put all that stuff out. So, we put that stuff back together, put album covers out, but there was a two-fold reason for a lot of things. One was nobody could read who was playing what or what the lyrics was. We kind of insisted on doing that with the new record after we reproduced them ourselves and put them out for sale.

“The other reason – and I told somebody – I think Billboard Magazine the other day – one of the bad things is that people like to sit there and roll their pot on an album cover. Ha! Ha! That being said, the truth is there! ‘Hand me the album cover. I wanna roll another one . . .’ I’ve been there. I know. My twenty years sober but I did all that craziness and stuff like that. But you got to realize that that was one of the downfalls to it because people didn’t have that to sit around and talk about. They’d rather sit there and pull something up on YouTube. That’s the downfall because they’re not personally getting the info. If everything had subtitles, that would probably be the best way – putting peoples’ names underneath because people won’t know that Tommy Caldwell played that bass solo or won’t know that I sang this song or Toy played that song. They don’t know any more. They really don’t. It’s kind of a bless for a band that’s old but it’s even more of a blessing for a bunch of bands out there now that can’t stand on their own except for one song.

“People say, ‘I sure miss this, or I sure miss that.’ Yes, you miss it, but the thing is you should be happy that hold that is exposed is just gonna get stronger for whoever comes next. I say that with all sincerity that every time Tommy – when Tommy got killed, it made a sense of desperation for a minute. Then it made it to where we had to collect ourselves and realize that what we started – the reason we started this – not because we wanted to be in a band. It’s just that we knew that we were drawn together to play music that satisfied people. Made them walk away and went, ‘Wow!’ That’s why I’m still here doin’ it now.”

When I asked Doug what can fans expect from MTB’s Dollywood show and the rest of the shows on that tour, he said:

“Well, of course, we will do the same show – I can promise you this: It will be the same set list down at my foot that we do whether we play with Kid Rock or Zak Brown. That set list will be there. But we will never follow it. That, I can promise. Fifteen years now, they’ve done the same thing. They’ve put it out there and it’s been the kind of thing where I find it right at the microphone. It’s at my left foot. Everybody says, ‘Why do you do a set list?’ Why should we stop now? This is fifteen years later. It does give reference to a lot of the songs. It’s the same one. They just keep re-printing them, stacking them out there.

“So, we will be playing ‘Can’t You See,’ ‘Heard It in A Love Song’ – all those that people are familiar with that they created their memories with. We will be recreating some memories for those people and opening up the door to some younger kids that will come in to watch a band.

“I’ll tell you a little secret: One of the funny things about this is this one girl come up and I said, ‘Where did you hear this song?’ She was probably fifteen. I don’t know. She come up for an autograph and said, ‘I’ve heard this song a million times. I love this song!’ I said, ‘Where did you learn it?’ She said, ‘My momma strapped me into that baby seat in the back. I think all I ever heard was them two songs, Can’t You See and Heard It in Love Song.’ She said, ‘For five years, that’s all I ever heard!’ And I’m thinkin’ to myself, ‘How many other people are in the same thing?’ Think of that. Because you had to be strapped in.”

I asked Gray if he were made music czar, what would he do to fix the music industry, or does it need to be fixed?

“I think it’s too late to be fixed. We are just one people. We, as a group, are just one people. The music’s gonna come whether I’m in Jamaica or whether I’m watching that guy go down the street and he’s got his radio up a million times too loud for his own ears, I don’t think I could fix anything. I wouldn’t do anything different except for some of the stuff that’s being on certain radio (stations) right now that’s become a little bit nasty. It’s been a little bit too nasty. Would I be able to listen to it? I could listen to that song all day long by myself or with my girlfriend going down the road I could listen to that song and say, ‘That’s a good rhythm and a good beat.’ But some of the lyrics have gotten filthy nasty for their own good. And they won’t be around for very much longer. They won’t. The cleansing of the whole thing is going to be – not the parental stickers. That ain’t gonna work. But, the fact is that people will start listening and they’ll go back to the original type of music that inspires them.

“And I will tell you something else. Somebody asked me, ‘Now what band am I gonna be interviewing in thirty years, Doug, that will be around in thirty years?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s pretty simple to me. Zak Brown, who is a giver. He started out givin’. He did it before he had the money and then when he had the money, he gave more. That’s the guy with all the things you could possibly have in the world. To me, those are the kind of guys that will be around in thirty years. They’ll still be giving. Look at Ricky Skaggs. Ricky Skaggs just got put into the Hall of Fame in Nashville. Ricky and I played together, and he had never sang Can’t You See before. I had him up in Nashville as a guest standing over there. He was playing with us at the River Front. He got up there and he got to playing with us. I loved it so much, I was afraid to stop! I didn’t want the world to end! He was playing so well. Then, I said, ‘How about singing a verse?’ and he went right into a verse. I went, ‘Now that’s the kinda kid you wanna be. He’s younger than me. That’s the kinda kid you really want to hang out with that does nothing but help you to move along.”

Is there anyone up-and-coming that’s on Doug’s radar and commanding his attention?

“Well, there’s two bands. One’s Scooter Brown. The second one is Blackberry Smoke. Both of those people are opening shows for us a lot of times. They are headlining, as well. They’re doing their own little thing. They’re doing like Marshall Tucker did years ago. We got in a Dodge van and drove across the country with a trailer. ‘You want a band tonight? Here we are!’ That’s what keeps bands going.
I asked Doug Gray a question I often ask tenured artists such as himself: When he steps off the great tour bus of life up at that great gig in the sky (to borrow from Pink Floyd), how did he want to be remembered and what did he hope his legacy would be?

“I guess my legacy is just going to be the way I am and the way that I’m gonna be which you already know. I can’t answer that for myself. I don’t see myself as answering that. I don’t feel honored enough to put something like that on myself. If I were step off the bus and find out that, all the sudden, that was it. Couldn’t do it anymore. Was gone and was no longer on the earth, that I’m connected to the people that I love, I would want them to remember all the hugs and the kisses that I gave to them whether I was physically touching them or mentally touching them by my song.”

Be sure to visit Dollywood.comto order park passes and tickets to catch the Marshall Tucker Band’s April 21stshow there. Also, keep up with the band by visiting MarshallTucker.com.

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