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  • Dave Mason Discusses His Traffic Jam Tour

    Posted October, 2014

    Photo by Chris Jensen

         

    If one were to make a list of attributes of a rock and roll icon, all of the qualifying boxes on that list would be checked under Dave Mason’s name.

    • Great guitarist. Check
    • Songwriter.  Check.
    • Wrote and recorded songs that are part of the soundtrack of the baby boomer generation.  Check.
    • Played with rock’s most historic figures like Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, The Rolling Stones and more.  Check.
    • Has been – and still is – an actively amazing performer and concert draw. Check.
    • Still putting out great music that people love. Check.
    • An inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Check.

    Dave Mason is all of that and more.  An energetically dynamic sixty-eight year old rocker, the co-founder of the legendary group, Traffic, still records fantastic, relevant music and still tours the country - and the world.
     
    I recently contacted Mason at his California home to discuss his latest album, “Future’s Past,” and his current tour.  This was my second opportunity to interview the rock legend (the first interview is here).  Always warm and engaging, we started off our chat by discussing “Future’s Past”. For the rare fan who might not know the story behind the album, I asked Mason if he would tell readers what motivated him to record it.

    “I have a studio at home. Making a CD or album like we used to, it’s something that I’ve kind of throw out the window at this point. But that being said, music is my life so, when I’m home, I’m always working on something in my studio. Albeit, it may be a revised version of an older song – I have versions of songs that I loved when I was growing up. There’s Eddie Cochran that I’ve done that hasn’t been released. And, then, I have new stuff that I’ve worked on.

    “So, to say that I was consciously putting an album together – I wasn’t. But what I do have, as I said, is I just have a collection of music that I constantly keep making. A lot of it is never in one style, which has presented a problem in the sense that it’s hard to pigeon hole me, musically. Am I rock? Am I ballads? Am I blues? I’m not any one of those. I just want to cover the gambit of songwriting.

    “So, I have a collection of stuff and I had some things sitting there and there was some stuff that I revisited. Like, I did a re-write of that version of ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’ and, yes, I was going out to do ‘Traffic Jam’ so it seemed appropriate to put a couple of things on that CD from that era. Then, I had some things like, ‘Sad and Deep As You,’ that I put on there that was from ‘Alone Together’ – my first solo album. It was such a strong and powerful version that I felt that it should go on there.

    “So, essentially, I had a mix of stuff that was new and old and, hence, the title eventually becoming ‘Future’s Past’. A lot of my fans who have been following me for years, for them some of that stuff

         

    Photo by Chris Jensen

    is old material. As an artist, one lives in the hope that there are some younger people that, to them, this will all be brand new material.

    “Music, for me, doesn’t span any age or style. The music’s just good music. Essentially, ‘Future’s Past’ was just me putting together a collection of stuff that I thought was pretty cool and represented some things I was doing at the moment and part of what I do in my shows. Then, I was lucky enough to have a friend send me some stuff from Graham Nash’s art show and one of the things that he had was the cover which is done by Graham. It’s a photograph of me in the seventies when I was at his house in Kauai and he did artwork on it. So, the cover is done by Graham and it sort of seemed to fit perfectly with the title.”

    Record sales for most artists in all genres have been tough over the past several years. Internet piracy is still a problem, detrimentally affecting album sales and decimating what we once knew as the record industry.  When I asked Dave what sales for “Future’s Past,” his matter-of-fact answer echoed those I’ve heard from virtually every other artist I’ve had the privilege of interviewing.
    “Well, record sales are pretty much non-existent these days for anybody. We just basically have CDs at the shows.”

    He continued by responding in a way that validated everything else I’ve heard about record sales.

    “Everybody is stealing everything. That’s the easy way to put it. They’re taking it all off of the internet – which goes for literature, as well. All intellectual property is somewhat being decimated by the internet – but that’s been happening for a few years now.

    “For any artist, it doesn’t really matter. I mean, even with Beyoncé and that new record, because a big corporation ordered a bunch of CDs to give away, otherwise, there are no record sales. They’ve just disappeared because everybody is just taking it from the internet. Some people are downloading and purchasing stuff, but for all us artists, a huge part of our life has disappeared. If I was to say, ‘Record sales are great!’ I’d be bullshitting and lying to you. It’s not just me. It’s pretty much any classic artist and any other artist. What would’ve been a big selling record, say, a half a million records or something like that, would now be maybe twenty thousand CDs.

    “I’m not just cryin’ the blues for myself. I’m just saying that’s what’s happening to all of us. People would rather spend five dollars on a café frappe latte mocha than they would spend a dollar on a piece of music that’s going to last them forever.”

    That all said Mason has, obviously, faced the piracy issue head on and has been an early adopter of online marketing and social media engagement of his extensive, global fan base.  One only has to sign up for his newsletter on his website (here) or follow him on Facebook (here) or Twitter (here) to see that he’s mastered the medium. As he remains resilient and adaptable to market changes, I’m sure that we’ll continue to observe Dave implement technology and changes in social media and implement them into his marketing efforts.
    Our conversation shifted to his current Traffic Jam tour and the shows that are going to be held in my home region of East Tennessee.

    “I’m looking forward to playing down there in Tennessee and some other states. I haven’t played these places in years! I’ve played Atlanta but not a lot of other places like Chattanooga and some other places but, I mean, it’s been years and years since I’ve played those places. I’m very much looking forward to playing there and hoping people will remember to come out. The band is great. The show is great. I’m as good at being Dave Mason as I’m going to be .Ha! Ha!”

    As for the current band line-up and what fans can expect at one of the Traffic Jam shows, Mason said, “Alvino Bennett is still playing drums with me. Johnne Sambataro is playing guitar as well and I have a great keyboard player named Tony Patler but he also handles bass. So, basically, it’s just a four piece band and we push out a lot of music for a four piece band.

    Photo by Chris Jensen

         

    Mason said about the show, itself, that, “Basically, the Traffic Jam show runs about two hours and we do it in two sections. The first half of it is pretty much the songs from Traffic days when I was with them. Then we take a fifteen minute break and then we come back and we do stuff from my solo career. Along with it all there’s some visual stuff that goes with it. I’ll BS a little bit and tell some stories. You’ll get a bit of everything but I’m sure that there’s something that I’m going to not do that somebody will want.”

    To that point, I had to ask Dave which version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” he would be playing during the Traffic Jam tour.

    “It will be the way it is on ‘Future’s Past’. Song-wise, I prefer it. I really came up with it because I was doing acoustic shows a year or so ago and I was trying to find a more interesting way to do it acoustically. The original version, basically, only has three chords to it and, so, there wasn’t a lot of places to go, acoustic-wise, with it. I came up with this version, again, I just started messing around with it and we thought it started sounding pretty cool.”
    When I ordered “Future’s Past” directly from his website, I took advantage of a pre-release offer wherein he also sent gave his live album, “Dave Mason Live at Belmont Park 1978”. What an amazing offering! Naturally, I was curious if he had any other goodies in the vault that might be released.

    “Yeah, I’m planning on a new CD which comes out at the end of this year or the beginning of next year – I’m not sure, yet. But, yes, we are working on some other combinations like that.”

    Almost as an afterthought, I told Mason that my favorite song of his was “How Do I Get To Heaven” from his “26 Letters, 12 Notes” album, to which he replied, “Yeah, it’s a really beautiful song. It’s an example of something that would have – to our opening conversation – had this been twenty years ago that would probably have been a hit song.”

    As our call was winding up, I asked Mr. Mason what 2015 looked like for him, tour (and other) wise.

    “According to my agents, there seems to be a large demand for Traffic Jam so we may be playing this out through 2015. And, then, I’m hoping in April, to go to the United Kingdom. I’m not sure if it’s going to entail some of Europe but I haven’t played there in over thirty years. That’ll be interesting. After that, we’re toying around with the idea of doing what would be, ‘Alone Together, Again,’ where part of the show would be the whole of the ‘Alone Together’ album. But, at the moment, it seems that the Traffic Jam thing – there’s still venues that still want to do the show so it will probably go through a good part of next year.”

    To see if Dave Mason is going to be appearing in or near your town, be sure to visit his website, DaveMasonMusic.com. While you’re there, be sure to shop around his online store and take advantage of his signed CD offerings. They’re a definite must-have for your own collection and excellent gifts for the music lovers in your life.

  • 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. 

  • Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.

    shellshockedcover2Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.
    Author: Howard Kaylan
    Publisher: Backbeat Books
    Published: March 01, 2013
    Reviewed: June 09, 2013

    In my simple and feeble mind, some of the best books written are those that give the reader the feeling that they’re sitting right across the table or living room from the author as they’re telling their story. Interestingly, most of the books that fit that description have been written by those who have made their mark in music history. The latest – and, perhaps, the best written of that group – is Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc. by Howard Kaylan.

    In my interview with Mr. Kaylan (here), he describes himself as a linguist. I couldn’t agree with him more. As in the interview, he is articulate and well-read in Shell Shocked. He opens the book with a story that will shock the reader and make them cringe (hint: it involves the Nixon White House and some white powder). He ends the tome with a tone that reflects a man very comfortable in his own skin and has reflected – and continues to reflect – on his life today and the lessons learned from the past.

    In between, the pages are filled with an entertaining series of stories that shed light on the history of one of the most successful and profitable bands in music history. The reader will learn about Kaylan’s upbringing and the formation of The Turtles, of course. There are stories involving a who’s who of rock music and pop culture royalty. Names like Hendrix, Jones (as in Brian), Lennon, McCartney, Zappa, Sales and many, many more pepper the pages of this excellently written book.

    Of all the stories (both entertaining as well as sad), to me the most poignant one is wherein Howard tells the story of his last visit with the late, great Harry Nilsson. In sharing the sad physical state of Nilsson, Kaylan shares the resulting change of heart and thought that ultimately led to radical changes in lifestyle for himself and as well as his bandmate, Mark Volman.

    Obviously, Turtles fans will most definitely want this book in their personal library. I would add, though, that historians of both rock music as well as pop culture will also want to read this great book and have it in their library for future reference.

  • Valleys of Neptune

    Valleys of Neptune
    Jimi Hendrix
    Label: Sony Legacy
    Reviewed: March, 2010

    The much ballyhooed release of Valleys of Neptune finally happened last month.  I seldom write about new releases unless I’ve been provided a review copy or live stream of the project.  However, since Janie Hendrix didn’t see to it that I received my own pre-release review copy, I had to swallow my pride and head down my local Target store to PURCHASE (it hurts my fingers to even type that word) a copy if I was going to enjoy listening to it, let alone write about it.

    As an owner of almost everything recorded by Hendrix, I didn’t really know what to expect on this project.  I mean, after all, everything he’s ever done has really been released, hasn’t it?

    Hardly.

    I read in another interview that Ms. Hendrix (Jimi’s step-sister) that there’s a vault full of recordings yet to be cleaned up and re-mastered for public consumption.  For Hendrixphiles such as me, this is very good news indeed but not surprising since it’s a widely known fact that Jimi after did something north of 40 takes of the same song before he felt he had it right.  If I could only play his mistakes!

    Back to Valleys of Neptune.

    This disc is a definite must-have for any Hendrix fan.  However, it shouldn’t be the first disc for someone who has never owed one of his recordings before.  Other previously released discs would be a better choice.  According to the notes contained in the little booklet thingy that comes with the CD, eleven of the 14 songs recorded shortly after the Electric Ladyland sessions.

    Valleys will give the fan some incredible examples of different flavors of the tried and true Hendrix favorites.  My personal favorite is Stone Free.  This version is exactly the same but completely different from other versions you’ve heard.  No, I didn’t just contradict myself.  Pick up a copy and see what I mean.

    I won’t cover all the songs on this CD, but I do want to mention Jimi’s cover of the Cream classic, Sunshine Of Your Love.  This near frenetic version of this song has Hendrix’s fingerprints all over it.  You at once both recognize the tune AND who’s playing it.

    Red House also is worth noting in that it is a completely different take of the song than the one everyone is familiar with.  One gets the feeling that this is how he would’ve wanted the song played had B.B. King been in the studio with him at the time.

    If you get a copy of the disc that has the two bonus tracks, you’re in for a real treat.  Slow Version is a tasty little jam session that you’ll find yourself hitting the repeat button over and over again.  The disc closes out with Trash Man and is well worth listening to the entire nearly 7 ½ minutes repeatedly.

    Again, while not necessarily the first disc to buy for a new Jimi Hendrix fan, ardent, long time fans will definitely want this in the music library.


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george lynch

Our Featured Photo by Boomerocity friend and famed rock photographer, Rob Shanahan (robshanahan.com), is of Dokken's George Lynch! Check out more of Rob's work at RobShanahan.com!

 

 

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