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  • Bernard Fowler

    Posted February, 2013

     

    Photo by Jonnie Miles

    If you think you haven’t heard the name Bernard Fowler, think again. If I point out to you that if you’ve listened to any kind of popular music over the last, oh, say, nearly thirty years, you’ve absolutely heardBernard’s voice, trust me, you have. Remember the early eighties tunes Don’t Make Me Waitor Life Is Something Special by the New York Citi Peech Boys? Bernard was an integral part of that band. Oh, and remember Herbie Hancock’s albums, Future Shock and Sound-System? Yeah, Fowler fronted those. Then there’s Philip Glass’s Songs From The Liquid Days and Bootsy Collins’ album, What’s Bootsy Doin’?Bernard’s voice comes through on those, too.

    In 1986, Fowler was hired for vocal andvocal arrangement work for some guy named Mick Jagger on his solo album, She’s The Boss. Maybe you heard of him? That project lead to Bernard’s twenty-seven year long (and counting) gig with Mr. Jagger’s struggling little band called The Rolling Stones.

    You get the picture.

    Over his many years of excellence-making work, Fowler has earned the respect of the upper echelon of music makers and shakers around the globe. When I asked guitar great Steve Lukather for his thoughts on Bernard’s craft, he said that Bernard’s one of the greatest voices I have ever worked with and also one of the coolest people. We have done a bunch of stuff together - writing, jammin', hangin'. He sang on some of my solo records. I played on his and I am a fan. And he plays with the Stones! It don’t get much cooler than that!”

    Stones band mate and legendary sax player Bobby Keys said,“I was thinking back to when I first saw Bernard – I can’t remember which Stones tour it was but it’s been several tours back – over twenty years ago, I think – when Bernard first started singing with the Stones. When I heard that the Stones were gonna have singers, I thought, ‘Well, that’ll be good. Let’s see what they sound like.’ And, Bernard, man, the first time I ever heard him sing – I think Keith told me about Bernard before I actually heard him sing. The first time I ever heard Bernard sing, man, I really thought I was listening to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding tied together! I was, like, ‘Damn! This guy’s too good to sing with this band!’ I really did.”

    Continuing on, Keys said, “Then came Bernard’s work with Charlie (Watts). You know, the big band albums? He handled those ballads, man, just like he was born to it. I remember Bernard never hitting a bad lick. He’s one of the gifted people, man, who just has an inbred instinct and feel for music and expresses it vocally. As a musician, I really respect him. He’s not just a vocalist, as such. He’s a musician, man. His voice is an instrument. I find it to have been a great pleasure to work with him and hear him sing. Gettin’ ready to do that again in a month or so.”

    It was to that point about Bernard’s voice – and even his stage presence – that caused me to lead off with an admittedly unusual – if not unusually placed – question. I’ve grown up in church circles where southern gospel was prevalent. Knowing that Fowler was NYC born and raised gave me pause, however, some of his mannerisms might lead some to conclude that his musical background might involve church music of some sort. I asked Bernard if this was the case. And he answered.

    “That’s a funny question you’ve asked. It’s a “yes” and it’s a “no” - only because I’m from New York City – specifically the Queensbridge Projects. I was born and raised in New York City. But both my mother and father are from North Carolina. My father was from Zebulon. My mom is from Raleigh. So, yes, both of my parents are from the south and church was a big part of our lives.

    “As a kid growing up in New York City, my mom sent me away to North Carolina every summer. Every summer until I was about sixteen years old, mom sent me to Big Mamma’s house. Big Mamma was my grandmother and Big Mamma was a Christian woman. And let me tell you, you weren’t walking in or out of Big Momma’s house without her praying for you.

    “So I was pretty much introduced to the church at a very young age. I heard gospel music when it was gospel music. What I mean by that is that there weren’t no drummers. Wasn’t no bass players. Wasn’t no guitar players. It was straight-up choir, organ and piano. So, there’s a yes and no answer to that question.”

    As it was, Bernard and his family’s religious life was within Baptist circles. Bernard remembers, “It’s funny, I just left North Carolina. I went down to see my mom for Christmas. I hadn’t seen her in a while. My mother’s sister – my Aunt Nell - lives nearby in my grandmother’s house. As I was driving down for a visit, I was thinking about going down there when I was growing up, including this one time Aunt Nell set off for church on what turned out to be anything but a normal Sunday. This time Aunt Nell and I went church hoppin’!’ We spent the entire Sunday visiting different churches in North Carolina. And this was all day long! ALL DAY LONG! When I say ‘all day,’ I mean all day! We’d go to one service and then scoot off to the next.

    “I remember there was this one church in particular – it was different. It was different. I can’t explain how different it was but it was different. Trust me. We were deep in North Carolina. I remember my Aunt Nell saying ‘Baby, you like this church?’ I replied, ‘No, Aunt Nell, I don’t like this church.’ She said, ‘Me, either. Let’s go!’ And off we went!” After laughing an infectious laugh as only Fowler can, he added, “That just explains how much time we spent at church from a very young age.”

    Concluding his thoughts on that early part of his life, Bernard said, “So, yeah, although that’s not where my singing career started, it’s very much a part of me.” Then, with a smile that came clearly over the telephone line, said, “Very perceptive, Randy.”

    In pre-interview communications with Fowler, I became aware that he was working on a new solo album. I asked him to tell me a little bit about it.

    “I’m working on my second solo record. I’m excited about what’s going on and what’s happening with the music thus far. Right now I’m about eight songs in, and I plan to record five or so more. Out of those, I’ll pick ten to make the album. Of the songs that don’t make the album, we’re working on a way to give them to people – a little something extra. People don’t buy albums like they did when I was a kid. People buy songs. So, yeah, that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to get this record done by at least the end of the month or half way into March. I want it done. I want it finished. I’m hoping that there could be some Stones shows coming up. You never know until you know, but regardless, I want to get it done.”

    That comment prompted me to ask Fowler what drives his solo sales: his own solo reputation, his association with The Rolling Stones, or his work with other people?

    “Um, I think it’s a combination of everything that I’ve done in my career which, you know, has been pretty varied. Some know me before the Stones, and some only with the Stones. And some both. But yes, there are lots of people that have become aware of me through my work with the Stones, which is great, but I’ve always had such a diverse career. Ultimately I think it’s a combination, which is good.”

    Bernard is enjoying an amazing career – working first with Mick Jagger and then with the rest of the band. I asked, when looking back, is there was one pivotal part of his career where he can say that, if it wasn’t for that instant or experience, he would’ve never gotten the Jagger or Stones gig.

    “Absolutely. The New York Citi Peech Boys. That, along with Herbie Hancock. Those two projects – they’re what brought me to the Stones because I would say that before the New York Citi Peech Boys, nobody really knew who I was. At that time I was just a young vocalist trying to make waves. I had my first hit record with the Peech Boys. It was a club record and the Peech Boys were also the first to have a DJ as part of the band. Before that – before the Peech Boys – that did not exist. That was Larry Levan. He was the premier star DJ. There was nobody bigger than Larry at that time, DJ wise. Now, DJs are as popular as the artists that they sample! It’s totallyamazing. I don’t get it! People will fill a hall and watch a guy spin records. Where’s the entertainment factor? I’m still trying to get that. Maybe it’s the big room – the congregation of everybody – I don’t know.”

    And, then, bringing the conversation back around to the DJs who play the Peech Boys and other work that Bernard has been involved with, he added, “My hat is off to them. And I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for help keeping my voice in people’s ears.”

    While the focus of my interview with Bernard was on his own work and career, I couldn’t resist asking him one Stones related question. I was curious what he thinks is the biggest misconception that people have when it comes to The Rolling Stones.

    “I think it’s the hype about ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll’ that people think about the band. That’s probably the biggest misconception people have. When I talk to people and they’re, like, ‘Oh, man, you must be doing this and you must be doing that’ – it’s just wrong. Sure, everybody knows that, yes, there was a point in their lives that they may have done a lot of that – they talk about it honestly. But it’s like every other job, there were occupational hazards and sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll are occupational hazards for rock and rollers. But I have to say this. It’s all bullshit now. When I’m on stage with the Stones night after night – and I’ve been there. I’ve been there about 27 years now, and I’m here to tell you that the experience is incredible. Sometimes, I get mesmerized when I’m on stage with the Stones. I’ll be singing, and watching them do their thing. Mick, without a doubt, is the hardestworking man in show business. James Brown had that title but he’s gone now so that’s Mick’s. Hands-down, Jagger has that title. I watch him – all of them – and listen to them.”

    “I think the biggest misconception of them is that drugs play such a big part of who and what they are. That’s the biggest misconception. Maybe at one time in their careers it was but since I’ve been there, it’s not. We’ve had some fun times. I’ve been fortunate enough to be there and grow along with them. There are things that I did and we did when I first hooked up with them – we don’t do anymore. The one thing that has not left the band is the passion for the music. That has not left one bit. And I’m telling ya, that passion shows!

    “I’m sorry to go off on this but, real quickly, through the years, I see things and hear things that people write about The Rolling Stones and I want to take a moment to agree with all the accolades that Keith and Ronnie have gotten over the years and say that, without a doubt, those accolades are well deserved. Those cats arethey areour blues men now. Muddy’s not here anymore. Howlin’ Wolf ain’t here no more. But Keith and Ronnie learned from them. We did a show, I guess it was in London and Eric Clapton was there and we were playing and Eric did his thing. He’s a beautiful player, no question about it. He did his thing and it was great. But, when Keith did his thing, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I’ve got thick hair! It was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ And Ronnie…wow. The two of them.  Amazing. All that stuff they had listened to coming through, you could hear it – like a direct connection to the old blues cats. A direct connection! 

    “I grew up listening to that music. Going back to my folks, all those records that they (the Stones) listened to over in England were also in my house. My mom and dad listened to those records. It’s funny because, when I met the Stones, I remember spending some nights with Keith and I was listening to what he was playing and I’m like, ‘I know that song!’ And he’s kind of looking at me. One night, I’m with Keith and my mother just happened to call me. I’m talking to her and she could hear the blues in the background and she said, ‘Bernard, where are you?’ I said that I was at Keith’s and she said, ‘Is that him playing that music?’ I said, ‘Yeah, Mom’ and she said, ‘Let me talk to him!’ So, there you go.”

    Much later in our conversation, I found myself gushing over the lovely and ever so talented singing mate of Bernard’s, Lisa Fischer. He jumped right on my comment.

    “That’s my baby! I can’t imagine doing The Rolling Stones without her.” When I commented about her always stunning performances on the solo on Gimme Shelter, Fowler gave me some of his thoughts on that, too. “Randy, I’m with you, man, I’m with you. Mick knows I am such a fan of what Lisa does with that song that anytime they have any guest artist sing the song, I’m always walking around with a frown” he said with a laugh and then added, “I try in my way to talk him out of it because I’m just a fan of what she does with that song. It’s either Lisa Fischer or Mary Clayton, who sang the original and who nailed that tune. I’ve not heard anybody else – anybody else sing it like that.”

    When asked what have been the biggest challenges to his career, Bernard said, “The biggest challenge has been building my career. That’s been the biggest challenge because I’m a soul singer from birth. It’s in me. I am that. Growing up I listened to everything – everything. I listened to everything my mom and dad had at home like Muddy Waters and Little Richard and all of that. Mom would put me down for a nap and that music was playing. That is definitely part of me – and Motown and Atlantic and Stax – that’s all a part of me. I always had this thing for rock and roll. I remember when I was in junior high school and we would play hooky. I had a friend that had kind of the same musical tastes as I did – which were a bit off. I grew up in Queensbridge. If you’re familiar with the rapper, Nas, he’s from Queensbridge. We grew up in the same area. We grew up in the same projects. My musical tastes were a lot wider than the people that I was growing up with. Carole King, Three Dog Night, Santana, Buddy Miles, Hendrix. Some people in the hood might have listened to some of it but not like I did. I always thought that I was born a little late because I was supposed to be at Woodstock. I was born but I was too young to go. Something about seeing that film is like, ‘I was supposed to be there!’

    “I was a different cat when I was growing up. You know, the hood has its style of dress. I could’ve gone with the crowd and dressed like that but I had my own thing. I wore bell bottoms and a dashiki or a shirt that I had made or a hat that I had made. I walked around with a question mark on the back of my head. My head was bald except for the question mark. I was a different kid. A lot of kids in the hood said, ‘Damn! Bernard’s kinda strange!’ And I was super athletic as a young kid. People couldn’t quite figure out me. And neither could I. I just knew that I was different. I felt different.”

    Fowler concludes the thought with story filled with irony.

    “The first record my father ever gave me was 12 x 5 by The Rolling Stones. That was the first album I owned. For me to be where I am now – it’s crazy! And my father left my house when I was eight years old. I didn’t see my father again for thirty-something years. The next time he saw me, I was singing with The Rolling Stones. Very strange. Very strange.”

    Bernard Fowler has been referred to in other interviews as a sort of Renaissance man, musically speaking – very diverse in his musical talents. I asked him what he attributes that to.

    “I love music and I’ve loved all kinds of music. I don’t know. Maybe my mom had something to do with that because, like I said, when she put me down for a nap, the radio was playing. I’d hear this radio and there would be a lot of different stuff that would be playing. I don’t know. Maybe that’s where I got my appreciation for a lot of different music. I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. If I listened to something and it touches me, that’s it. I just need to hear it. I don’t know what it is about a particular piece of music – I don’t know. I’d like to think that it’s ‘song’. I’ve always loved ‘song’ and I love voice. I don’t know. Maybe that has something to do with it.

    “It’s a compliment to hear somebody describe me as such. I really appreciate that because I always try to go out of the box – out of my comfort zone. Some people will like something but they won’t go for it. They will listen to this thing they like from afar but are afraid of being ridiculed. I was never afraid of anybody talking about me – even when I went to school with Beatle boots on. I didn’t care. To me, it was the sharpest thing in the world and I begged my mother for those Beatle boots and I still wear that type of shoe to this day!

    “Once I started doing sessions and stuff, someone who had a really, really big influence on me was Bill Laswell. I spent a lot of years and a lot of time with Bill, making music, listening to music. It was music that no one that I knew had ever heard before. So that’s probably where that all came from.”

    With over thirty years in the music business, Fowler has witnessed a lot of changes. I asked him what, from his perspective, have been the biggest changes in the music business – both positive and negative.

    “I’ve never been a fan of record companies. My first experience was with the Peech Boys and then, with a lot of things after, I did not have good experiences. I think the way things are now with technology kind of empowers a lot of independent musicians. They can record the music that they like. They don’t have executives telling saying, ‘No, you have to do this or you have to do that.’ From that standpoint, musicians now can really be independent. And, with a lot of hard work, they can sell records. The downside of the music business is that promising artists who do their own thing might not have access to that industry machine, you know, to stand behind and circulate that music as it should be circulated. Those are just two changes.”

    Still chatting along that same vein, I asked Fowler to imagine President Obama calling him up and offering him a new cabinet position, Music Czar and that he’s been tasked with fixing the music business. What would he do?

    “You know what I’d do? I’d get a lot of musicians in those seats (occupied by suits at record companies) because something that I’ve never liked was that a lot of the people sitting behind the desks (at record companies) aren’t actual musicians, but number crunchers who are forcing what they think is cool, trying to tell actual musicians what they should or shouldn’t play. Those guys – those “executives” - are not musicians. A musician wouldn’t have the heart enough to play that game. Those executives don’t know what it takes and are not in the game yet they’re going to try to control a musical vision. So, let’s get rid of all of them first.

    “The second thing is: killauto-tune. Kill it right now! Kill it dead! Kill that damn auto-tune! I don’t mind someone in the studio working – singing over and over until you get it right. That’s what a studio is for. I’m going to say it but I don’t really mean this: Auto-tune has made great singers out of non-singers. You know what I’m sayin’. Let’s kill that auto-tune dead! I’m from the school, hey! You know what? You go into the studio and you’re going to record a song, sing the song from the top to the bottom. Before you start overdubbing, sing it from top to bottom. That’s when you know you know your craft! You know your craft! There’s such a thing as one take. It’s a magical thing when that kind of thing happens. Auto-tune is probably the worst thing that could have ever happened. I wasn’t a fan of home studios but, you know, not everybody can afford to go to a recording studio. But, recording studios are there for a reason, people! They’re there for a reason! All of my favorite stuff was recorded where? In a recording studio. I’m just sayin’. I may be a bit of a snob and someone younger than us will say, ‘He’s old!’ but I tell you what, I’ll take that old quality any day! Anyday!”

    I asked Fowler if he had heard Joe Walsh’s comments and feelings about the new recording technology versus the old.

    “I was talking with someone yesterday - I don’t know if you know but I did a tour with Joe Walsh. I sang for Joe Walsh. The DeLeo brothers (founding members of the Stone Temple Pilots) were the rhythm section. Anyway, someone yesterday was telling me something about Joe Walsh. I guess he was talking along the same lines as I have been. Good for him. Good for him! Yeah, Joe!”

    Despite reportedly having worked on over thirty albums, I knew there had to be some projects on Fowler’s musical bucket list that he would still like to do so I asked him about them.

    “That’s kind of a difficult question because there’s my heroes that I grew up with and then there’s some of the young cats that are doing stuff now. Marvin (Gaye) is no longer here. I’d have loved to sit and sing with him. That’s a hard question because, I’m not a big fan of what they call R&B these days. I’m not a big fan of that. I’d rather listen to the other stuff. I’d rather listen to Marvin and Jimmy Castor; some old George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. I’d rather listen to that stuff than to listen to a lot of (the new) R&B. I tell you what: I’d love to work with Bill Laswell again! It has been years since we’ve worked together so I’d like to do that again. Wow! That’s a real heavy question! I’d like to do Herbie (Hancock) again. I’d like to do Dave Grohl. I’m definitely a fan! I like his energy. Oh! I’ve got one for you! David Bowie! A couple of others that would be on my bucket list are Ryuichi Sakamoto and Philip Glass. I’ve worked with them both before but I would loveit if I could work with them again. They would definitely be on my bucket list.”

    Segueing into a heart-felt assessment of another great, Bernard said, “I tell you what: Bruce Springsteen? Ah! The heart in that man, sir, I’d sing for him in a heartbeat. In a heartbeat! I’ve had the chance to meet him and, I can tell you, what a class, class act!” 

    As for up-and-coming talent is on his radar, Fowler said, “I love – what’s that cat’s name? Gary Clark, Jr.! He’s on my radar!” Then, when Joe Bonamassa’s name was brought up, Bernard shared a great story.

    “Well, you know, Joe gets a extra star because, you know, the bass player in his band (Carmine Rojas) – he’s probably the reason why I’m with the Stones. Here’s a really cool, real quick story.

    “When I met Jagger, I did his first solo record. I didn’t just go and sing, I did the vocal arrangements for his first solo record. It doesn’t say it on the record but that was all mine. I had a Fostex four track machine. When I met him, we sat on the floor, sang a bit and he gave me a cassette. I went back to the hotel, put it in my four track recorder and did all my background stuff. The next day, when I went to the studio, that’s what we did.

    “After I did that, a few years had passed and I was living in New York. Someone called me and said, ‘Bernard, I hear Mick Jagger is looking for a male vocalist to do some dates. No one called you?’ And, I’m, like, ‘Nope. No one called me.’ So, I was preparing and rehearsing at S.I.R. to go to Avignon which the bass player, Carmine Rojas – the bass player for Joe Bonamassa – a lot of us guys who are side guys for the big boys. So, I walked out of the room and who do I run into? Mick Jagger! I said, ‘Hey, Mick! How ya doin’?’ And he’s, like, ‘Hi’ and kept walking. Five minutes later a chick comes into the room where I’m rehearsing and said, ‘Oh, I don’t know if you know but Mick is looking for a male vocalist.’

    “I was insulted. ‘He would like to know if you would like to audition.’ And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. I did his solo record. Audition?’ She left the room and, when she left the room I said, ‘I’m not going to audition. I did his first solo record and now he wants me to audition?’ 

    “Right then, when I finished saying that, Carmine Rojas grabbed me by the arm and took me to the corner and said, ‘Bernard, you go do that audition. Whether you take the gig or not, you go and do that audition. This guy’s got so much stuff in his head he don’t know half the time if he’s coming or going. But you’ve gotta go and do that audition.’ 

    “Carmine’s a lot older than I am. He’s like my big brother so he gave me a good talkin’ to. So, I took the tape that the girl left – a tape of four Rolling Stones songs that I had to sing. The band that he had was red hot. Simon Phillips on drums,Doug Wimbish on bass,Jimmy Rip on guitar,Joe Satriani on guitar. So I walk into this room and all these cats are lookin’ at me and one of them looks at me with his arms folded like, ‘Here we go again. We got another guy.’ Made me feel like a chump and I didn’t like feelin’ that way. I remember saying in my head, ‘You know what? I’m gonna give them a dose!’ I remember there were all these chairs lined up with all these people and I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna give ‘em a dose and I’m gonna show my ass!’ 

    “With a band like that, they started playing and I was spittin’ fire. Did the last song, looked at the band and said, ‘End it now!’ Boom! Ended the song, gave them the tape, and went back to my rehearsal room. This chick came and said, ‘Uh, we would like to know when you can start.’ I’ve been there ever since.”

    With our scheduled 30-minute chat running thirty minutes over time, I asked Bernard what was on his career radar for the next year, five years and the rest of your life.

    “Next year, well, I’m hoping to spend some of that year with the Stones. The rumor is that this could be the last time. I hope not but if it is, I want to be there. Hopefully, I will get to make a record with Luke (Steve Lukather).” And, then stressing it again as if anticipating that Luke will read this interview (and I sure hope that he does!), “I will make-a-record-with-LUKE. Hopefully, we can go and do some dates together, writing and singing great songs. I’m looking for that. That’s what I’m looking forward to do. I’ve got some other stuff. This past year I’ve been doing a lot of jazz things. I’d like to stick more than one toe in that water because Lord knows that we are not getting any younger, But after that, there’s still more rockin’ to do and I might need to soften up a bit. That’s what I’m lookin’ forward to. I’m looking forward to seeing my girls grow up. I was going to say ‘spend more time with them’ but they know what their daddy is like. ‘Dad’s gotta go. If Dad’s not singin’, Dad ain’t so happy.’ So I’m looking forward to doing a lotof singing. God willing, I’ll have a few more solo records.”

    My final question to Mr. Fowler before we both had to get on with our day was: When your life is over, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?

    “All I ever wanted to do was sing. That’s it. All this cat ever wanted to do was sing. That’s it.”

    And, man, can that cat sing.

    Follow Bernard Fowler onFacebook andTwitter for information about upcoming shows, and news about his upcoming album.

  • Bernard Fowler Chats About "The Bura"

    July, 2015

     

    Photo Courtesy of JamesPattersonsGallery.com

         

    As I started this piece covering my second interview with Bernard Fowler, I found myself forming it in a way that somehow felt familiar. As I wrote, I kept feeling that I’ve been down this path before so I stopped, thought, and then looked up my first interview with Mr. Fowler (here). 

    Dang it! I saw that I was writing something very similar.

    I share this – not because I have this masochistic need to publicly humiliate myself – but to show the steady, solid, classicness (I just made that word up) of Bernard Fowler.

    When I first interviewed Bernard, he was in the midst of working on his second solo album. That album was recently released (the Boomerocity review is here) and the opportunity presented itself for me to chat with the vocal giant once again. 

    We met in a private section of the lounge in the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel in the tony Buckhead section of Atlanta the day before he and the Rolling Stones hit the stage at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. The purpose was to discuss that album I was just talking about, “The Bura”. 

    The setting and environment in the lounge was comfortable and staff at the hotel was gracious and accommodating, making for an easy and quiet place for Bernard and I to chat while my business partner/cousin, James Patterson, photographed the conversation.

    Prior to the interview, I exchanged notes with our mutual friend, Steve Lukather, who was on tour with Toto and Yes in Europe. Luke said, “Send my best to Bernard from Norway ! Love the cat! Great singer even a nicer man! I miss him and tell him to say ‘hi’ to Daryl and Woody for me!” Sharing that message put the first of many warm smiles on Bernard’s face.

    As we got comfortable and sipped on water on that hot, June day, I asked Fowler for his “elevator speech” about his new project and why he chose that title for the disc.

    “The bura is like hurricane force winds that blow off of the Adriatic Sea, between Italy and Croatia. I was touring around that area and a friend of mine was taking me to some small town – I think it was called ‘Rabac’ in Croatia. We were going through a tunnel and some lights started flashing. We got out of the tunnel and he pulled over. I said, ‘what are you pulling over for?’ and he said, ‘The bura!’ I said, “what is a ‘bura’?’ Then this wind came and hit the van and the van started to rock and it shocked me. I said, ‘holy s***!’ He said, ‘this is small bura!’ He said, ‘if we don’t pull over, it will lift the truck and turn it over.’ I’d never felt anything like that.

    “The term stuck with me and I liked the way the words sound. I love the way they pronounce that word. I thought it would be a great title for a record.”

    As I mentioned earlier, Fowler was working on the album when I first interviewed him so I asked how long the project took him to create and what made “The Bura” different from other projects he worked on, including his first album, “Friends With Privileges”.

    “I would say it took about two years to make but I think the total work time would probably be eight months . . . nine months. I didn’t work on it all the way through. I had to go to the studio, do some work there then I would have to leave. I would go and do dates and come back. It was a back and forth kind of thing.

    “The only other one that I could compare it to would be ‘Friends With Privileges’. The process was very similar except that with ‘Friends With Privileges’, I did a lot of it by myself. This time, I made a conscious decision that I would have somebody sitting in the chair next to me and that person was Robert Davis – a guitar player. He co-wrote and produced the record with me so the process was pretty similar.

    “The other thing that was different was I would go to the studio and work but I wouldn’t take the work home with me to study while I was on the road doing things. I didn’t do that. I might’ve listened to something (but) after I listened to it, I left it. I never listened to it again until I got back to the studio. That was the first time I ever worked that way.” 

    I found that method of work interesting so I asked Bernard why he worked that way and why did he feel that it was important.

    “I needed it to be fresh all the time. I didn’t want to get stuck. I didn’t want to get used to works in progress. I didn’t want to get used to it. Too many times, I think people – and I’m one of those people – you work in the studio and at the end of the day, you make a rough mix and you’re listening to the rough mix until you get back into the studio the next time. You think something on it is really good and you can’t get past it. You go to the studio and if it’s not sounding that way then people may tend to freak out or, ‘no, I want it to sound more like it did the first day.’ 

    “It’s a work in progress so it’s going to change. When you do that, you kinda limit yourself to possibilities. I didn’t want to be limited so I just approached it that way. Every time I went back into the studio, it was fresh. If I had been gone for a while, I’d call the studio and say, ‘Hey, what days can you give me to work?’ and they would give me the days, I would go back in and I would familiarize myself with it. Then the next day I would start to work.”

    Fowler mentioned Robert Davis so I asked how he linked up with the guitarist and what made him decide to work with him as closely as he did.

    “I got a call from an engineer friend of mine – an engineer out of Los Angeles that I had known for long time and he called me one day. He said he was working with a band; that they

         

    Photo Courtesy of JamesPattersonsGallery.com

    had a really cool vocalist, a great guitar player. They need some vocal help. ‘Would you, if you can, do me a favor and come by and help them out a bit.’ 

    “So, I went to the studio and met the band. I did some stuff for them. Robert was there, obviously. I heard what they were doing and I got to hear them play and I think the first thing I said was, ‘This kid is good.’ I had some solo dates that I would do and I would put together a band and I called him and asked him to be part of the unit. We just got along really well. I enjoyed his playing, his enthusiasm and his fire when he plays. 

    “When I thought I needed somebody to work with – we’ve known each other for a few years but the relationship was still fresh so I thought, ‘Let me call Robert. He’s the guy I’m gonna work with.’ I just made that decision. It turned out to be a really good decision.”

    I have three favorite tunes that Fowler wrote on “The Bura”. They are, “See You Again”, “Will You Miss Me”, and 

    “My Friend Sin”.  I asked him for the back stories on these songs. He began answering with another one of those warm smiles and an easy laugh that I’d grown to expect out of him when he’s happy. 

    “Okay, ‘See You Again’, that’s probably one of my favorites – if not THE favorite of mine on the CD. When I was looking to write and compile material for the record, I would go and spend some time with Robert early in the afternoon. I went to his house. Most of the pre-production stuff was at Robert’s house. I went to his house and he goes, ‘B, I got something I want to show you.’ He started playing this thing that he put together – just a drum machine and a kind of keyboard. It felt really good and I kinda recognized it. It was a song that he played for me a while ago . . . but it was really fast – a rocker type thing.  

    “So he took that same thing and slowed it down – way down.  I’m listening to it and I’m, like, ‘I like that. Set up a microphone and let me try to put some ideas on it.’ Usually, that’s the way it works. I’ll hear something and I’ll just sing melody without words. But this time I started to sing words. I pretty much ripped myself off of a song I had written before for Ronnie Wood years ago. I just started to sing those lyrics but altered them a bit. I had a face on it. We listened back to it and I said, ‘Hmmm. There’s something there. It’s really minimal. A drum machine, some keyboard and voice, at that time.  

    “As things progressed, then I had ideas about certain people doing certain things on that. I think that’s probably the first song that we worked on when we went into the Steakhouse recording studio. Everybody on the record was hand picked for their specialties. 

    “My daughter’s school teacher called me up and needed a studio. I sent him to the Steakhouse. I went there to check on him to see how he was making out. He said, ‘Hey, there’s somebody in the control room that you know that you probably haven’t seen in a long time.’ I said, ‘Who is it?’ He said, ‘Well, go in there and see.’ I walked in and it was L. Shankar. I hadn’t seen L. in more than twenty-five years. We used to do recordings together with Bill Laswell years ago. I was so happy to see him. 

    “He had to go on the road and when I started working on ‘See You Again’, I thought, ‘Oo! L. would be perfect for this track!’ So I called him. He said, ‘Send it to me.’ So I sent it to him and he was gracious enough to send it back with great violin and some great vocal things on there. It just grew from there. 

    “Will Calhoun came into town. Will was the first one to overdub on this record. Waddy Wachtel is on there. Jeff Bova who I spent a lot of years with when I was singing for Herbie Hancock. Jeff was the second keyboard player. He did a great string arrangement for it. I love listening to it. It’s so good. Everybody did great. We were stuck. We needed a bass player but we needed the right bass player so I called this cat. He teaches at a local university. I said, ‘I need a bass player. Can you send me one of your students there?’ He sent me over this guy. A young cat. Emilio Teranova. He came in with an upright. We had a little trouble with the sound. Robert or myself put a t-shirt behind the strings. That stopped the buzz of the bass but it created another thing to that bass. We had it! Then it was just a matter of me doing the rest of the vocals.

    “That vocal is the vocal I sang when he played it for me. I didn’t go back in and re-record it. There was something about that vocal. I’m a fan of male falsetto. I loved Eddie Kendricks from the Temptations. I don’t have that range, really. I only use that vocal range when I’m doing a lot of background. I’ll use that part of my voice. But for a lead, I never did that before. I remember being really sick when I sang that, also. As it went on and I kept listening to it, I had a vibe. So I thought, ‘I’m not going to re-record it. I’m going to leave it just the way it is.’ 

    “’My Friend Sin’ also was when Robert and I were writing. I went to his house, again, early one afternoon. ‘I got a call from a friend of mine. He’s a movie director. He’s doing a movie and he’s asked if we would write something for the movie.’ I’m, like, ‘Okay, what is the movie?’ ‘The movie is about a kind of preacher. A holy roller during the day but when the sun goes down, he’s a bad man.’ I said, ‘Okay, well, do you got anything?’ and he said, ‘I got a little something”. I listened to it and I said, ‘Give me the mic and let’s try it right now.’ He said, ‘What about lyrics?’ I said, ‘I got it!’ I wrote a few things on a piece of paper. I just had it in my head. It was an easy one. We had a click track. He started to strum. I started to hum. That was it. It was done that fast. It was done really, really fast. 

    “That was just the beginning. I thought of how was I going to complete it. I wanted it to sound as authentic as possible. I wanted it to fit. If you were going to listen to Eddie Taylor or Robert Johnson or or Son House, it would be able to fit in there. So I kept the instruments to a minimum. I tapped my foot. I recorded that and Robert. I called Chicago and asked Sugar Blue if he would put some harp on it and I played a Jew’s Harp. I called Slash and asked Slash if he was in town and he was and I said, ‘I’m working on a record. I’d love for you to come by and play’ and he said, ‘Sure! Where are you at? What time?’”

    Then, with that infectious smile, Bernard shook his head and said:   

    “I love that!” 

    Then continuing his story about Slash, he quotes the guitarist: 

    “’Where are you at, Bernard? What time?’ He came with his guitar tech. He didn’t come with an entourage. Just the two of them. He walked into the studio with his guitar. ‘Lemme hear what you’re doin’.’ I played it. He plugged in, tuned up and went to work . . . and kicked some ass. I think that day he did three songs and ‘My Friend Sin’ was one of them. I’m very pleased with ‘My Friend Sin’. 

    “I did most of the vocals but I needed another texture so my girl, Lisa Fischer, happened to be in town and I got her by the studio and she added that texture that I needed, then it was complete.” 

    With Fowler mentioning the lovely Lisa Fischer, I just had to ask the question: When are you going to record a whole album together of just the two of you? Shaking his head slowly for emphasis, he said: 

    “Everybody asks that! I’d love to! It’s gotta be the right things, the right songs and probably even the right producer. I don’t know if I would want to produce that. Maybe! But I’m not sure. I think we could do a really killer thing and I think it would be not so traditional between the two of us. We both like kinda different things. It would be good.”

    One thing that is a bit different on “The Bura” is that Bernard has three “flavors,” if you will, of the legendary hit by the Box Tops, “The Letter.” I asked him why he chose to do that. He answered with a laugh.

    “I did that because – okay, making the record wasn’t easy. I was in my own pocket (paying for the recording costs himself). There was no record company. There was no budget. Reluctantly, I called Pledge Music – no, I didn’t call Pledge Music. Pledge Music called me. ‘We can help you raise money’ blah, blah, blah. I thought about it a lot. I was swinging back and forth. I have a problem asking people for things.  

    “So, by the third meeting, I agreed to do it. The pledge started happening. People started to donate money to the cause and we surpassed our goal. As we were recording, we got to the point where it couldn’t keep coming out of my pocket so I called pledge. ‘Call ‘em and tell ‘em that I need that money!’ My manager calls me and says, ‘you’re not going to be too happy’.  ‘Why? What’s wrong?’  ‘Pledge won’t hand you the money until you hand them the record.’” 

    When I suggested that that might be a tad backward, Bernard responded: 

    “That’s what I thought.” 

    He then continued by sharing:

    “I was forced to by any means necessary. Because of that, things started to take long. I wanted to get it done quickly and get it out but time! I would have to go on the road to do gigs. There were people who had donated money and they were getting impatient. ‘What’s happening? Why is it taking so long? I sent my money and I still don’t have a record.’ I apologized! I sent two or three apologies on Facebook. ‘I’m sorry it’s taking so long!’ But, for some people, that’s just not good enough and I understand. 

    “So, because they waited so long – there was only supposed to be ten tracks on the CD. Ten is always my magic number. Because it had taken so long, I just thought, ‘you know what? Let me just try and give a bonus track or two.’   

    “It was towards the end. I knew the Stones thing was getting ready to start up and I had some other things to do so I just thought, ‘you know what?’ 

    He then he interrupts himself by sharing a related story:

    “Early in my career when I was singing with the New York City Peach Boys, we were the first band to actually put out an a cappella. We put out a twelve-inch a cappella. The DJs – they were able to mix the a cappella with other songs. So I thought, ‘You know what? Let me just do that again.’ 

    “So, I just put up the track. The only thing I forgot to do was turn up some delays and stuff. I didn’t have a whole lot of time. The studio had other clients coming in so I put in a kind of dub mix and then the a cappella. It was just to give the fans something extra. That was it.” 

    Fowler covered “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and “Helter Skelter” on “The Bura” – the latter being the best cover of that Beatles tune I’d ever heard . . . including U2’s version of it. I asked him if this was his answer to the perpetual “Beatles/Stones” debate.  

    “You know what? It’s always the Beatles and the Stones, the Beatles and the Stones. I said, ‘**** it, I’m doin’ one of each! I’m doin’ both on the same record!’ I decided that any solo project that I do I will always do a Rolling Stones song. I’ve been with them close to thirty years now. It will be kind of my ‘thank you’ to them for keeping me around.”

    I sensed that, all seriousness, “Helter Skelter” has a strong personal meaning to Bernard so I asked him if it did. 

    “Well, yeah, I had been reading about – it was online that I was reading something about the Sharon Tate murders and that stuff. Long story short, the article said how that they did all these murders and they wrote the s*** on the wall. What they were, basically, trying to do – because of the climate at the time – the race relations climate at the time in America; the Black Panther Movement, the Watts riots and all of that stuff – so they killed all of these people and then they would try to shift the blame to the Black Panther Movement to try and start a race war! 

    “When I read that, I thought, ‘you gotta be kidding me! Like we didn’t have enough problems!’ Like they didn’t have enough problems! The black folk didn’t have enough problems without this guy trying to stir up more s***. I got a little heated and said that I’m going to cut that.

    “I went on YouTube and found a speech by Eldridge Cleaver. That’s the speech that you hear in the middle. Someone pointed out to me a couple of weeks ago, ‘do you realize that that speech that you picked for that is relevant right now?’  I went back and I listened to it and I go, ‘Shit! That’s exactly what’s happening right now!’ It was a beautiful coincidence!”

    I had mentioned to Bernard that I felt his cover of “Helter Skelter” was the best treatment of it (besides the Beatles, of course) that I had ever heard and had worn it out listening to it. He said:

    “That was the only song on the record that was recorded all at once. Me singing and the band playing all at one time. It is live. It’s live . . . all the way.”

    Since we had just discussed his cover of “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’”, I shared with Bernard a recording I had from the first time I interviewed him. It was a conversation between Bobby Keys and myself about Bernard. Bobby was the Stones’ sax player for most of their iconic hits that included a sax. He passed away in December of last year. I played the audio and listened as Mr. Fowler made comments back to Bobby as if he were sitting there with us and then he would look off as if he was glancing back into the past at his dear friend.

    I asked Bernard for comments about his late band mate.

    “I miss him. I miss him. We miss him. It’s really weird, now, everything kicking up and him not being here, man. Me, (Stones bassist) Darryl Jones, Lisa (Fischer), Keith (Richards), his wife, his manager, and some other friends - we all saw him off.”

    Photo Courtesy of JamesPattersonsGallery.com

         

    With the shock and disbelief clearly written all over his anguished face, Bernard said:

    “We all thought we’d see him again. I thought we’d see him again and I thought that he would play on this record. He didn’t stick around long enough to do it so I said, ‘you know what? I’ll just leave it off. Nobody’s gonna play saxophone on it. No Bobby, no nobody!” 

    To brighten the mood up a bit, I asked Fowler for his favorite memory of Keys.

    “There’s a lot! I’ll give you a ‘light’ one. One memory is we were in Toronto during a tour. I walk in the elevator and (sniffing), ‘I smell weed!’ I’m on the elevator . . . first floor . . . in the lobby! I get up to the floor. I walk out and I hear this vrrrrroooooommmmmm!!!! There were two HUGE air filters outside his door to filter the f***ing weed!

    “That’s one of my fondest memories of Bobby Keys. If we wanted weed and we didn’t have any weed to smoke, Bobby was happy to help us!” 

    I then asked Mr. Fowler my only question regarding the current tour with the Stones and that was how it was going for him.

    “The tour is doing absolutely amazing! I keep telling people – especially if it’s people who’ve seen them before – ‘you know what? Forget what you’ve seen. You’re seeing it at its best right now! I’m telling you! They are playing so good! Mick is killing ‘em! It’s incredible! It’s incredible to watch. They are playing so good right now. I’ve been there twenty-something years and, for me, it’s the best I’ve ever heard them.”

    Bernard then shared his post-tour plans. 

    “I got a couple. One is to try to do some dates to support ‘The Bura’. Another is to get back into the studio. I started a project a few months ago that I’d like to complete but I’d like to get into the studio and start work on the next solo record. Hopefully, it won’t be six years before next one. The last one was six years ago – something like that – so I don’t want to take too long. I think I would like to spend more time in the studio doing stuff for myself as well as with other people." 

    You can purchase “The Bura” on the Amazon or iTunes widgest, below and follow all things Bernard here on Facebook and Twitter. He really is a blast to follow and he’s always posting great, personal photos from his exciting and eventful life.

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Between Rock And A Home Place

    rockandhomeplacecoverBetween Rock And A Home Place
    Author: Chuck Leavell With J. Marshall Craig
    Publisher: Mercer University Press
    Reviewed: January, 2010

    If you love music; if you love the stories behind some of the greatest artists and their recordings; if you love learning about the personal lives of artists, then Chuck Leavell’s Between Rock And A Home Place is a must read for you.

    Leavell, keyboardist for The Rolling Stones for twenty-eight years and counting, has performed and recorded with some of the most iconic names in music – especially rock and roll. From his days with The Allman Brothers (that’s his ivory work on the classic, Jessica) to some of his more current contributions, this piano prodigy has seen and done it all.

    And while all the music history in this tome is fascinating, what I found particularly intriguing is Chuck’s extensive knowledge and work in the area of forestry and conservation. It blew my mind and piqued my interest in the subject. What you’ve got to understand is that I am not what one would commonly think of as one who would normally be interested in those subjects. However, Leavell’s telling of his work to build his family home and business, Charlane Plantation (his wife, Rose Lane, being the third generation to own the property), into a thriving tree farm and retreat is just downright fascinating.

    While many celebrities merely pay lip service to the idea of the environment and the earth’s resources, Chuck Leavell has literally put his money where his mouth is. Not only that, it’s obvious that he puts real world intelligence into his philosophy of conservation. Being the realist that he is, Leavell recognizes the economic reality of responsible harvesting of trees and their replenishment. He knows that mankind relies on products that come from trees as well as the jobs directly to the forest and lumber industries.

    While the book was published in 2004 and lots has happened in all aspects of Chuck Leavell’s life, career and business, Between Rock And A Home Place is still very much of an entertaining and informative read. You’ll definitely want this book in your personal library.

  • Blue & Lonesome

    blueandlonesomecoverBlue & Lonesome
    The Rolling Stones
    Label: Interscope
    Review Date: December 5, 2016

    In a recent television interview with Keith Richards, he said that he and the band never dreamed that they would record a straight blues album.

    Really? Seriously?

    I have long been surprised that the band hasn’t come out with at least five of them in their 50-something year career. That said, the wait is over and the Stones have finally doused us with a heavy dose of blues in their first studio album in a decade: Blue & Lonesome.

    You’ve got to leave it to the Stones to NOT cover blues standards that have already been infinitely covered. I mean,c’mon! Do we really need to hear them cover “Dust My Broom”? No, and, thankfully, they don’t.

    What they do serve up are twelve deliciously recorded blues goodies as only the boys can play. Jagger’s blues harp work is as great as ever as are Keef’s and Woody’s guitar work. Charlie’s steady beat and Daryl Jones’ bass work serve as a solid foundation throughout the disc. Chuck Leavell’s tickling of the keys is the best I’ve ever heard from the boy and I’ve prettymuch heard everything he’s ever done, I do believe.

    It goes without saying that, if you’re a Stones fan, you already have this disc or on your way to purchase it. If you’re a blues aficionado, you’ll definitely want to add this album to your personal listening library. If you’re a passive listener, pick this album up so that you’ll progress to becoming a serious listener of the blues.

    Yeah, it’s that great!

  • Bobby Keys

    Posted April, 2012

     

    Bobby Keys With the Stones in 2003. Courtesy of Jane Rose/BobbyKeys.net

    I’ve been a Rolling Stones fan since my teen years in the seventies. Tunes like Brown Sugar and Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ (along with many other Stones tunes) commanded my attention on so many levels – especially the sax solos.

    Since those days, the sax figured prominently in other favorite Stones tunes like Miss You, the live version of Going To A Go-Go, to name a couple. Because of my appreciation of those solos, I became very aware of the man behind that sax: Bobby Keys

    What I wasn’t aware of until recent years – and especially until I read Keys’ autobiography, Every Night’s A Saturday Night, was the long list of other rock and roll royalty and their iconic tunes that he’s played on. Musical monsters like B.B. King, Carly Simon, Delaney & Bonnie, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, John Lennon, Joe Cocker and many, many, many others. Saturday Night is a wonderful read and you can catch the Boomerocity review of it here. But it bears repeating that the tone and feel of the book is very conversational. You get the feeling that you’re chillin’ in Bobby’s TV room, shootin’ the breeze and listening to him share a ton of stories of his life in the business.

    I recently called up Bobby at his Nashville area home. It was my first time to have the privilege of chatting with him. His warm, Texas/Southern drawl told me that he’s the kind of person that I can immediately connect with. He’s as country as cornbread and never meets a stranger – my kind of people.

    As we got down to starting our chat, I asked Keys how he liked Nashville.

    “Ah, man, I love the town! It’s just a rotten place for saxophone players – but I LOVEthe town, I really do! I like the people that live here and I have a lot friends that live here. There’s just not a lot of sax biz that goes on here. That’s nothing personal against me. Ha! Ha!”

    As we set the stage for what the chat would cover, I mentioned that I would not ask if his main gig, The Rolling Stones, were going to tour or not. I was startled that he gave me a comment about it anyway.

    “Boy, I hope they do! I tell ya what, I really hope they do! I honestly don’t know. I found that it’s best for me not to speculate – especially publicly. Every time I think that they’re gonna jump left, they jump right. I just had one little brief line from Keith. He just said that he’ll let me know. That’s the extent of it. I’ve learned after all these years – you know, I’ve been playing with the band since, I don’t know, ’69 – forty-three years – and in that time I’ve learned that speculation about what those guys are gonna do is no way, really, to base your future on what you think they’re gonna do. I think there’s a good possibility of it, are my own thoughts on it. I hope so!”

    We shifted our attention to Bobby’s book. Since the book is a tales-from-the-road kind of tome – sharing all sorts of funny stories, I asked him what the reaction has been to it.

    “Well, so far, it’s been really good. I went to New York about ten days ago and did a gig there with my band and also did a lot of media – some radio, interviews and stuff. It’s all been really, really good! When I finished speaking into a microphone – I didn’t do I any writing – you always wonder, ‘Well, I wonder what is gonna come of this – how are people going to receive it?’

    “It’s been very rewarding to me because I’ve had nobody come back at me – except one guy said that there wasn’t enough sex and drugs in it. The thing of it is is that scene has been pounded into the ground for years and years and years by everybody that’s ever written a book about the Rolling Stones. But most of them knew very little about the Rolling Stones. The thing that I like about the Stones is playin’ with them! I love their music and that’s what I wanted to talk more about in the book than anything else was the music.”

    When I commented about all the people he’s worked with over the years such as Buddy Holly, Bonnie Bramlett and a whole bunch of others, I told him that he struck me as the friggin’ Forrest Gump of rock and roll. He cackled out laughing and said, “Now there’s a hell of an analogy! That’s funnier ‘n hell!” Then, obviously turning to his wife who was in the room with him, he said, “He just called me the Forrest Gump of rock and roll! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

    After having a good laugh, I asked Forrest – er – Bobby who hasn’t he worked with that either he wishes he had before they passed away or, if they’re still alive, want to work with?

    “Well, you know, that’s a very good question. I’d like to work with Stevie Wonder – LOVEhis music, you know? I’d love to work with more of the Motown acts, too. But, you know, I’m really pretty happy with what’s happened and what’s happened has really been kinda the left hand of God puttin’ me through a lot of this stuff. I never really planned out any master scheme to achieve what I’ve achieved. I’ve just been in the right place at the right time with a saxophone and was able to do pretty much what needed to be done. It’s just the feel of the music and the way rock and roll had an impact on me.

    “When I heard Buddy Holly playing that guitar on the back of that flatbed wagon and Joe B. up there playin’ bass and J.I. playin’ drums, man! That had an impact on me. I fell into the saxophone by accident. It didn’t start out that way. I got hurt playing baseball and I couldn’t play football so I went into the band and all that jazz. Somebody else has been pullin’ the strings – I’ve just been dancin’! Ha! Ha!”

    Since I’m real partial to the great Bonnie Bramlett, I was stunned to read in Saturday Night that she was one of those originally considered for the female solo on Gimme Shelter. I told Keys that I would have spent his last tour check to have heard her sing that – not that Merry Clayton was any slouch on her solo, of course. That revelation prompted to ask, Bobby if, from where he sits, there any one thing that he feels should have been done majorly different on a Stones song and, if it had, would’ve changed rock history as we know it?

    “Huh! Well, I’ve never considered it but, personally, I’ve agreed pretty much what the Stones have done – at least during the times I’ve been recording with them and the tracks that I’ve played on - and, of course, with Jim Price. He was a big part of that, too! But, as for the Stones, one of the things I’ve always tried to get them to do is I’ve always wanted them to do an instrumental and put it on one of their albums. It was never seriously considered. I seriously considered it but the minute it got it out of my mouth the laughter didn’t die down for about two hours!

    “But, nah, I don’t think there’s anything that I would go back and change, particularly. But I tell ya, the way I play, I play a lot off of the other musicians. I listen to other elements – what the guitar is doing rhythmically. I’ll play along with that. I’ll pick something out of that strata or that level. I’m very much a rhythmic saxophone player so playing with the Rolling Stones is really fun for me!”

    Keys says in his book that he always viewed Keith Richards as a kindred spirit – that, if he wasn’t born in England, he would’ve had to be a Texan. I asked him to expound on that just a bit. He was laughing his genuine, infectious laugh as he said, “Well, I had him made an honorary Texan. I had the Texas flag flown over the Alamo on the day of his and mine birthday (they both have the same birth day). I knew some people in Texas who were associated with the Texas Historical Society so I had them fly the Texas flag over the Alamo on December the 18th, got it documented and sent it to Keith, hoping it would finally induce him to take into consideration about coming down to Dallas and joining the team! Ha! Ha!”

    Since we were on the subject of Keef, I asked Bobby what the least understood thing is about the Stones guitarist. Without even a nanosecond of hesitation Bobby said, “His temperament. This is a guy, man, that goes out of his way to save the life of a little stray dawg in Russia. Keith is portrayed as a dark person, more or less and he’s anythingbut that! He’s one of the funniest sumbitches I’ve ever known in my life, man! 

    “Some people look at him as having his blood changed at some Transylvanian medieval castle, you know? Those people are not going to believe anything I say. I mean, I’ve met people in bars in hotels we’ve stayed and they’ll go, ‘How about that Keith Richards thang? Were you with him when he had his blood changed?’ and I’d go, “No, man, the guy didn’t have his blood changed!’ They’d say, ‘Ah, man, you can’t say anything about it, huh?’ It doesn’t make any difference how many times I say somethin’ ain’t right, they ain’t gonna believe me anyway. But the guys a sweetheart and chicks dig him for some reason! They really like him - chicks and critters! Ha! Ha!”

    A Boomerocity reader wondered how it worked out that Keith just let Bobby write his own side of the stories in Keith’s book - like maybe, Keith, "Hey Bobby, man I don't remember any of that, here why don't you write the story?"  Here’s Keys’ take on how that all happened.

    “He’s got a hideaway sort of place down in Turks and Caicos Islands and the writer, James Fox, was going down there to talk to Keith. I was asked to go down there. I spent five days down there. Keith would be in the same room. I’m not bashful, man. James Fox just asked me questions and I gave him answers. Keith didn’t say anything like, ‘No, I’d rather you not say this. Maybe not touch on that.’ He didn’t say anything about what I said. He said, ‘Just talk to James Fox and tell him whatever he wants to know.’ And that’s exactlywhat I did! I answered James Fox’s questions and we spent a lot of time talking over a period of a couple of days.

    “But it’s easy to talk about Keith. He’s a pretty memorable fella! I’ve been around him sometimes when it got verymemorable but the thing I remember about him and the most important thing is that he’s the most honest sumbitch and the best damn guitar player. I love playing music with Keith! He’s just got a feel for it that I can really relate to.”

    Success and failure are often determined by the opportunities grabbed or passed on and Bobby has certainly jumped at lots of great opportunities that have brought him to where he is today. Is there a particular song or album that he had a chance to work on and, for whatever reason, didn’t or couldn’t and now looks back and says, “Crap!”

    “Well, shoot! Let’s see. Well, of course, during the recording of Exile on Main Street, George Harrison did his Concert for Bangladesh gig. Jim Price and I had played on the All Things Must Passalbum from which he (Harrison) took most of the material to play at that concert. Anyway, he invited Jim and I to go play at the concert. I thought it was for a real good cause and I wanted to go do it and Jim wanted to go do it but we had already obligated ourselves to work there in the South of France. I would’ve always liked to have been there for that. It’s not like a great big, huge hole in my life because I wasn’t. I was having a pretty good time down in the South of France.

    “Also, not that it ever would’ve happened, I would’ve liked to have played some live stuff with John Lennon. I really loved him - and Harry Nilsson! I tried and tried and tried to get Harry to do a live gig but he was dead-set against it. He never did do a live gig. He did one video.”

    Bringing a little levity to the conversation (as if we needed any more), I interjected that, according to his book, he did manage to provide a frog sound on one of Yoko Ono’s albums to which he chuckled, “Oh, yeah, man, that was indeed a red letter day! There, again, man, some hand of Providence touched me there because I had no idea what I was gonna do. I was looking at John like, ‘Hey, man, give me some feedback here, son! Help me!’ He just looked at me and rolled his eyes like, ‘You got this one all by yourself, Bobby!’

    During my recent interview with Keys’ fellow Stones band mate,Chuck Leavell, I told him that I was working on an interview with Keys. He had this to say about Bobby and his book: “Bobby is a great friend of mine. We are ‘Southern Brothers’ - he from Texas and me from Alabama. We talk a lot about both on tour and off.  I'm so glad he is getting his story out there. It is a remarkable story. He has played with so many icons . . . John Lennon, Bonnie and Delaney, The Stones, the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and so much more. He has so many great experiences to tell about. I can't wait to get my copy!”

    At the time of my chat with Keys, I hadn’t yet these comments with him. However, I asked him what his thoughts were of the Stones keyboardist.

    “Oh, yeah, I’ve got lots of good thoughts about Chuck! One thing is he’s a brother from the south! So, we’re both brothers of the Confederacy. Heh! Heh! I believe that the earth is a southern planet! Ha! Ha!

    “Before I met Chuck I knew his name and was aware of his work, man! He stepped into some pretty big shoes and just by virtue of the fact that was, more or less, recommended by Ian Stewart – whose opinion really resonates with all the members of the Stones, I can tell you that – or it did before Stu died. Chuck stepped into a situation, man, where he had a lot of bases to cover that hadn’t been covered before. All of a sudden he was actually the musical director on the stage. He was the one that was in charge of going in and making sure that the songs were the correct tempo and that everybody started and ended at the same place which, generally, didn’t take a whole lot. But he brought together a lot of people. It’s a big band. I think there’s 13 or 14 of us counting the singers and horn players. Chuck has to walk a pretty tight line, sometimes, between the camps of Keith and Mick. He’s very much a southern diplomat to be able to do that because many have tried and few were successful.”

    With a well received book now under his belt and waiting to hear if the bad boys of rock and roll are going to tour, I asked Bobby if he was going to come out with a solo CD.

    “Yeah, well, actually, the guys I play with here in town – we call ourselves The Suffering Bastards – we’ve been into the studio. We’ve got four tracks that we’ve recorded and we’re probably going to be doing some more future gigs we’ll be having a CD available pretty soon online and at the gigs we play.”

    And when Keys boards that great tour plane to heaven, what does he hope his legacy will be and how does he want to be remembered?

    “A guy who loved rock n’ roll music.”

    It’s Bobby Keys’ love of rock and roll music that has allowed him to be a lively part of the soundtrack of our youth that continues to play to this very day. Somehow, I have this sneakin’ hunch – I just know it in my knower – that Bobby is going to be on many more great rock tunes to come. 

  • Crosseyed Heart

         

    Crosseyed Heart
    Keith Richards
    Label: Mindless Records, LLC
    Release Date: September 18, 2015
    Review Date: September 20, 2015

     

    Keith Richards repeatedly and notoriously says in Rolling Stones concerts that, “It’s good to be here. It’s good to be anywhere!”

    It’s certainly good to have him back with a new solo album, Crosseyed Heart, after twenty-three years. Richards worked with friend and legendary drummer/producer, Steve Jordan, to slowly but surely put together this sixteen song treasure chest of listening pleasure. All but three of the songs Keith either wrote or co-wrote. 

    Many from Keith’s last album came back to help him with this project. Waddy Wachtel, Ivan Neville, Sarah Dash, Boomerocity friend, Bernard Fowler, and Blondie Chaplin all rolled up their collective sleeves and hit the recording studio. Before his passing, late Stones sax man, Bobby Keys, played sax on a couple of track (“Amnesia”, and “Blues In The Morning”). Heck! Even Norah Jones chipped in to help with a song (“Illusion”). 

    Interestingly, Richards to made the decision to put two versions of the one reggae tune (and you know he loves reggae).  Both true to the genre, yet with different instrumental treatments, you’ll just have to listen to them both to fully enjoy and appreciate what he’s done with the song.

    Love the record and love Keith. May he be around for many more years doing what he enjoys and does best: make memorable music.

  • Crossfire Hurricane

    crossfirehurricanecoverCrossfire Hurricane
    The Rolling Stones
    Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
    Released: May 21, 2013
    Reviewed: May 19, 2013

    My earliest memories of anything to do with the Rolling Stones is just a tad bit on the macabre side. Two of my college age cousins, Jim and Kenny (both on my dad’s side of the family) were HUGE Rolling Stones fans. And I mean HUGE. It was July, 1969. I wasn’t even ten years old yet and was just about to enter into the fourth grade in Huntsville, Alabama, but was at my paternal grandparent’s house for a visit, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of rural life on the family farm.

    This visit was different though (if my memory serves me correctly). My two uber-cool cousins seemed upset about something. I learned later that they were devastated by the news of the death of Rolling Stones co-founder, Brian Jones. They were so upset, in fact, that they built a rather large stone monument to Jones back in the woods of Jim’s maternal grandparent’s property down the road a piece from where I was staying.

    Just what the heck does that have to do with a review of Crossfire Hurricane? Quite simply, the DVD rockumentary brings back all sorts of memories, small and large, for Stones fans regardless of when they began following the band.

    Available on May 21, 2013, Crossfire Hurricane is the kaleidoscopic new film that documents the key periods of the Rolling Stones’ career and their incredible journey.

    Directed by Brett Morgen, Crossfire Hurricane provides a remarkable new perspective on the Stones’ unparalleled journey from blues-obsessed teenagers in the early 60’s to rock royalty. It’s all here in panoramic candor, from the Marquee Club to Hyde Park, from Altamont to Exile, from club gigs to stadium extravaganzas.

    With never-before-seen footage and fresh insights from the band themselves, the film will delight, shock and amaze longtime devotees, as well as a new generation of fans, with its uniquely immersive style and tone. Crossfire Hurricane places the viewer right on the frontline of the band’s most legendary escapades.

    As befits the first rock band to reach the 50-year milestone with their global stature now greater than ever, the film combines extensive historical footage, much of it widely unseen, with contemporary commentaries by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Ronnie Wood and former Stones Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor. Period interviews, extensive live performance material and news archives give the production a truly kinetic aura and no-holds-barred approach.

    Bonus features on the DVD and Blu-Ray include previously unreleased concert footage - “Live in Germany ‘65”, NME Poll Winners concert footage from 1964 and 1965, a new interview with director Brett Morgen, “The Sound and Music of Crossfire Hurricane”, footage from The Arthur Haynes Show (1964), and the theatrical trailer Crossfire Hurricane received its worldwide premiere at the London Film Festival in October, where Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood all hit the red carpet to the delight of fans and media from all around the world. The film received a similar premiere in the U.S. the following month, hosted by HBO at the Ziegfeld Theatre.

    Asked in a formative interview in the film what it is that sets them apart from other groups, Jagger says with quiet understatement: “A chemical reaction seems to have happened.” Keith Richards added, “You can't really stop the Rolling Stones, you know when that sort of avalanche is facing you, you just get out of the way.” It’s been happening ever since, and the life and times of the Rolling Stones have never been as electrifyingly portrayed as they are in Crossfire Hurricane.

  • Every Night’s A Saturday Night

    everynightscoverEvery Night’s A Saturday Night
    Author: Bobby Keys with Bill Ditenhafer
    Forward by: Keith Richards
    Publisher: Counterpoint Press
    Release Date: February 28, 2012
    Review Date: April 8, 2012

    I’ve got to interview lots of artists. As of this writing, I’ve conducted close to ninety interviews. The most fun are the kinds of interviews are the ones where the person is just rattling off story after story about their life and the people they’ve associated with over their careers. What is even more enjoyable is when those conversations are relaxed and folksy – without pretense or an uppity attitude.

    One such person that I’ve recently interviewed is Bobby Keys, saxophonist for the Rolling Stones. To paraphrase what I wrote in that interview, he’s folksy and as country as cornbread – my kind of people! Bobby’s a great guy to chat with and one of the most fun guys I’ve had the privilege of interviewing.

    You might not be able to interview Bobby Keys yourself but I can offer you the next best thing: His autobiography, Every Night’s A Saturday Night. Easy to read and very natural, you get the feel that you’re sitting in Keys’ family room, sipping on iced tea as he regales you with tales of his life as one of the go-to sax players in rock and roll. Because of who all he’s worked with, I refer to him as the Forest Gump of Rock and Roll. When you read Saturday Night, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    You’ll read about the whole, complete story about his fabled bath in a tub of Dom Perignon. You read some very interesting stories about his friendship with John Lennon and his work with George Harrison and hanging with Harry Nilsson. You’ll read about his tours with Joe Cocker as well as Delaney and Bonnie. He tells of his meetings with Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley.

    Of course, there are lots and lots of stories about some band called the Rolling Stones and some guys by the names of Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Mick Jagger and their keyboardist, Chuck Leavell. No, he really doesn’t dish any dirt on the lads. As he said in my interview with him, that’s all be said and done already. To Keys, it’s all about the music and the friendships and that’s what makes Every Night’s A Saturday Night such a fun and enjoyable read.

    It goes without saying that avid Stones fans will want this book. However, if you love true – and often hilarious – stories about some of the greatest names in rock music (as well as some of the songs and albums associated with them), you’re going to want this book.

  • GRRR!

    grrrcoverGRRR!
    The Rolling Stones
    Studio: ABKCO/Interscope
    Released: November 13, 2012
    Reviewed: November 25, 2012

    GRRR! isn’t only the name of the new release by The Rolling Stones, it’s also the sound all of us avid fans are making when we learn that it’s not a collection of all new tunes by the greatest rock and roll band in the world. There would be two more r’s in our “grrr” if the Mick, Keith, and the boys didn’t slip in two new tunes in their greatest hits collection.

    More about those songs in a moment.

    GRR! is a three CD/50 song collection are derived from many – but not all – of the Stones’ albums they’ve recorded in their fifty-year history (For instance, their last album, Bigger Bang, isn’t represented on this compilation). When one considers the cost of downloading individual songs, the twenty-something or so dollar price tag makes the 3 CD collection quite a bargain. And, if you’re a Stones fan (and you must be if you’re taking the time to read this review), you don’t need me to pontificate on the virtues of the songs included (or not) on the discs.

    As for the two new songs, I find that they, in and of themselves, represent both the band’s historic span of musical prowess as well as their newer angle on music. For instance, Doom and Gloom’s flavor sounds like it may have been written during the Bigger Bang or even the Dirty Work era. One More Shot, on the other hand, conjures up memories of Street Fighting Man as well as Mixed Emotions. Both tunes are great and both are worth owning. It’s up to you to determine if you prefer to download just the two or to buy GRRR! so that you can complete your Stones library. Either way, you win.

  • The Bura

         

    The Bura
    Bernard Fowler
    Label: MRI
    Review Date: July 12, 2015

     

    “The Bura” is the second solo project by the legendary Bernard Fowler and what an incredible CD it is!  It’s been six years since his last album but – while I hope we don’t have to wait another six years until his next CD – this has been well worth the wait.

    Named after the hurricane force winds that blow off of the Adriatic Sea, between Italy and Croatia, Bernard just as strongly blows the listener’s ears and mind with that incredible voice of his. That voice executes to perfection great original songs as well as his treatment of some classics.

    Boomerocity will highlight three of the originals:

    Shake It: Fowler blasts right out of the gate with this driving, danceable rocker. Against the backdrop of Robert Davis’ killer guitar work, this tune will burn itself into your psyche and DNA.

    See You Again: Boomerocity doesn’t usually pick a favorite tune from CDs but, in this case, we’re making an exception. THIS is, by far, one of the best original songs we’ve heard in 2015 and is worth the price of “The Bura”, alone. Yeah, it’s that great.

    My Friend Sin: This song gives the listener the sense of being taken down to the Mississippi delta and the dusty crossroads, waiting for Robert Johnson to show up to make his pact with the devil. Oh, did I mention that Slash does some guitar work on this tune?  Yeah . . . 

    Of the covers (The Letter, Helter Skelter, Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’, Dragon Attack), Bernard’s treatment of “Helter Skelter” is the absolute best that I’ve ever heard . . . and, yes, I’m including U2’s version of it. Yeah, seriously.

    In Boomerocity’s opinion, “The Bura” is one on a very short list of CDs to purchase in 2015. Yeah, it’s that great.

     

  • The Rolling Stones - Atlanta, Georgia 2015

    The Rolling Stones
    Bobby Dodd Stadium
    Atlanta, Georgia
    June 9, 2015


    Photo By Lisa Nally-Patterson

         

    Last night’s performance by the Rolling Stones at Atlanta’s Bobby Dodd Stadium was one for the record books. From the opening chords of “Start Me Up” to the final fireworks marking the end of the show, the band put on a show that pleased the sold out show of forty thousand of the Stones’ closest and dearest Atlanta friends.

    When I interviewed Stones backup singer, Bernard Fowler, the day prior, he told me that the band was the best that they’ve ever been . . . and I have to agree. I do so not because it was error free, because it wasn’t. I agree because there was a sense of realness, of genuine fun and even whimsicalness amongst the band . . . especially from Mick.

    Yeah, way.

    This was my third time seeing the Stones perform. I own and have repeatedly watched their performance DVDs. Until last night, I have never seen Jagger joke, smile, laugh and compliment as much as he did last night. Nothing has been shared with me by anyone in the band or its organization but I have to wonder that there’s a greater appreciation of the lighter things of life. Perhaps since Mick suffered the losses last year of his long time girlfriend, L’Wren Scott, and his long time sax man, Bobby Keys, life has taken on new meaning. It’s his business and none of ours but I do like seeing a jovial Jagger after all these years.

    Back to the show.

    It’s virtually impossible for the Stones to play every song that every fan would want to hear during an approximately two hour show. That said, the boys from Britain served up great treatments of their classics. I got what I wanted with “Start Me Up,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” “Miss You,” “Midnight Rambler,” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (with help from Emory University’s concert choir) as one of the two songs during the encore.

    I hope that the Rolling Stones are around to perform for many more years to come. Judging from last night’s show, I think they will be.

Featured Photo

 

 

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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