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Kristen Stills Speaks Autism

Posted April 2020

Posted April 2020

Kristen Henry 001 CroppedAutism. According to the organization, Autism Speaks, an astonishing 1 in 54 children are affected by this condition. Those considered mildly “on the spectrum” can grow to be functioning and productive adults. Sadly, those considered severely autistic will require attention and care for their entire lives.

Autism is no respecter of persons or class or status. It hits the rich and the poor; the famous and the faceless. Fortunately, those famous who are affected are not sitting idly by as their loved ones live in that mysterious cage.

One such person who is actively involved in making a huge difference in the world of autism is Kristen Stills. She and her husband, legendary rocker, Stephen Stills, have a son, Henry, who is autistic. Kristen is rocking the autistic community with her active participation in not only helping her son and others who are on the spectrum, but she is also a formidable advocate and fundraiser for research and support for the autistic community.

Twelve years ago, Kristen was the executive producer for the HBO special, Autism: The Musical, “a poignant, heartwarming film that followed five children on the autism spectrum as they wrote and performed their own musical.” HBO recently commissioned a short follow-up film, Autism: The Sequel, to see where those children are today.

Like many people, my knowledge and understanding of autism is minimal, at best. When I saw that Autism: The Sequel was going to air, I reached out to Kristen for education and insight into the condition and the sequel. Note: though this article has run after the original airing of the sequel, it will be available on-demand on various streaming services.

Kristen started by sharing the history behind the sequel, beginning with “The Musical” and what we know about the condition.

“We shot it 14 years ago, we released it in 2007. All of the kids from that film are in the sequel. You see them as children. Then, on the 28th, you will get to see them today . . . transitioning into independent or inter-dependent living situations.

“Autism, itself, is a neurological developmental disorder. There are so many representations the communication piece is the really tough part because the young child on the autism spectrum may not have the impulse to connect with people. They're more inclined to kind of go into their own world, that's one of the primary, core symptoms. When that happens, the world becomes more and more unmanageable for them.

“So, in other words, if you take a child to a grocery store who is on the spectrum and let's say your parent doesn't know that about your kid yet, and they've just been sort of withdrawing into themselves more and more. They are aiming for controlling their own environment in that way as well. The music that's being piped through the grocery store is probably going to be too loud. The lights are too bright. The activity of people is too much to manage. It's all just overwhelming and confusing and that creates a lot of anxiety in the child. That is when you will start to see behavior which is a reaction to trying to manage all that sensory overload and the tantrums or throwing things or hitting parents or screaming. That's when stereotypical behaviors that people associate with autism are really just coming from a place of frustration and fear. That is a very simplified version of what autism is because it's such a complex disorder. Other developmental and neurological issues could be OCD, ADD. Tourette’s kind of weaves into there for some of the kids. It's really is case by case, depending on the child.

“Then, of course, the well-known characteristic is sometimes that the individual is nonverbal, so they cannot speak or initiate language. They have to be taught how to communicate in language or, in this day and age, technology.

When I shared with Mrs. Stills my limited experiences with severely autistic kids and adults and my inability to communicate with - or understand - them, I asked what was going on.

“Well, there's just an inability for whatever the reason - there are theories and scientific research as to why they are non-verbal and cannot initiate speech or language. But for those who are most severely impacted by autism, it's just not in their brain wiring to connect with another human being that way. So, when an infant who is neuro-typical, as they say, not affected by autism or any of those kinds of associated disorders, they want to connect. A baby wants to connect and communicate with the mother and the father and siblings and the dog, and that's the typical brain wiring of a human infant. That's when we see in our children what are known as milestones. You'd see a baby babbling and then you'd see a baby using one-word utterances and then ‘Momma’, ‘Dadda’ - whatever it is and with an infant on the spectrum you probably won't see those things as milestones being hit and other milestones, including crawling. Crawling is a really important thing because - not to get too geeked out on all that terminology - but when a baby - an infant - starts crawling, they're crossing the midline of their body, which integrates the left and right sides of the brain, which is necessary as a normal part of development. The idea is to have both sides of the brain working together in concert as needed and the crawling is actually making that wiring happen. So, if you don't see your infant crawling, that's an issue.

“When you see a pediatrician with an infant and they ask you those questions, ‘Is he crawling? Is he doing this? Is he sitting up? Is he rolling over?’ - all those things that doctors ask you? One of the reasons is that they are not doing those things. There could be a developmental issue. And that's one of the signs of autism - not meeting those marks.

“So why are they non-verbal? Hard to say.”

Autism: The Musical shows kids on the spectrum – one, in particular – with amazing musical talent. I have noticed similar abilities in others in the past. I asked about that.

“A savant ability. You will see that in both of these films, by the way. We have at least one child who is a musical prodigy, so it's very common. The way that I describe that, which is not scientific: imagine that there's some kind of a traffic jam in the brain and the cars can't get through a certain area, so that would be just regular, narrow transmission that is not happening in some area of the brain. So other areas of the brain will wire more profoundly. That is where you will see this kind of extreme talents and gifts. Because if one part of the brain is not functioning properly, the brain will change it. It will rewire itself if there's a weak, a very weakened, compromised area, it will wire very strongly in the other area. You will see that in autism. You'll see that child - he's a cellist and you will see him as a child playing his instrument, and then see him as an adult and how much he progresses. It's a pretty phenomenal story. He's at Berkeley School of Music. It's an interesting story because his mom here. His mom has to be with him a lot of the time. There are these moments where you see him wanting to separate from her and the mom always wants that, but sometimes the kid can put himself into danger. They're a vulnerable population. They might get in the car with somebody. They could wander off and get lost.

kristen and stephenKristen and Stephen“I have a friend who works at a local police force trying to train the officers about how an autistic person might behave if they had some kind of interaction with police officers because some of their behaviors just look like defiance. That can get you into a lot of trouble with an armed officer of the law. So, as much as parents want to sort of let them be more independent, there's a tremendous amount of fear around that.”

Later in our chat, Kristen commented more on the possible causes of autism.

“It’s very hard to know why some are impacted more than others, you know? There are genetic predispositions, there's family history. There are some people who believe environmental reasons that is a very hard thing to prove, so to speak, because it's just tricky. I believe that Autism Speaks - they're the organization that we do a lot of shows for - have embraced that, as well. There are certain pockets of the world where you'll see a high occurrence of autism and that certainly leads people to believe that there's some kind of exposure to something that is affecting their development, whether prenatal or early childhood. They're just genetic mutations that contribute to it. It's myriad.”

As to what she hopes viewers of Autism: The Sequel take away from the film, Kristen said:

“It just so happens that the kids - we chose kids for Autism: The Musical. We just chose a bunch of kids to do a musical theater production and we sort of thought we'll figure out who and where the great story for a documentary film audience will emerge and reveal themselves in. And, indeed, that's what happened. So, it just so happens that we got it. My big insistence in that process is that we show kids of varying severity of autism. We went from the highest functioning - which would be my son, Henry - to the most severely impacted and kind of a range in between. Fortunately, the sequel gives people a lot of hope - Autism The Sequel KA Vertical reducedpeople that have a young child at home and they are very concerned about that child's capacity to be in the world and have a full and rich life. We believe that the sequel will give people a lot of hope and promise that their child can have a good experience, you know. And that, you know, also there are a lot of things - we make a lot of assumptions about these kids and what they can and cannot do. Gratefully, we've made mistakes. We're not at all accurate about what they can and cannot do. They will surprise you. They surprise you in odd ways and I think that will be shown in the sequel, as well. From the perspective of a parent that's raised a kid on the spectrum, you are in a great deal of fight or flight while you're raising these kids from the moment they start showing behaviors that concern you until forever, you know? You're in a state of just making sure that they are safe and thriving and protected and happy, which is the job of every parent. But what it takes to get them there is much harder and it can be very tough. So, we think this film is going to show people that these kids will exceed everyone's expectations if given the opportunity.”

How can readers help Kristen help those who are on the autism spectrum?

“Well, the film itself is not necessarily connected to Autism Speaks. However, some of the kids in the film are - the actual musical theater program that featured in the film was supported at some point in time by Autism Speaks. I think it would be great (to donate to them) because right now is Autism Awareness Month. They have a donation page when you go to their website. This is a very tough year for all charities, obviously, because of what's happening and events being canceled. That's what we're doing and we know one of the reasons we had attached to that organization is that it's multifaceted. What they do, they do political advocacy. There are services for families and individuals on the spectrum, science, and research. There's a spectrum of things that the organization does to keep active in as many areas where they can be helpful as possible.

As we wrapped up our call, Kristen stressed a valuable point near and dear to many of us.

autismspeakslogo“Boomers are people that have grandchildren on the spectrum. At this point, most people are affected in some way by somebody on the spectrum and not. It's just that widespread. The current statistic is one in 54 people have autism so that that's a great number of people.”

If you don’t already help support an organization that helps those affected by autism, then please consider contributing to Autism Speaks by clicking on their logo on the left. Watch for fundraisers that are in the process of being scheduled and/or re-scheduled.

Sass Jordan Talks Blues, Booze, and Bowie

Posted March 2020


sass jordan5 CropIn the first year of Boomerocity, I had the privilege of interviewing an extremely talented artist from Canada, Sass Jordan. She was so much fun to interview, that I just knew that I would be interviewing her a lot more in the future. However, that didn’t happen.

What the heck happened? Was it something I said?

I recently got to interview her for the long-coveted second time and it was more fun than it was all those years ago. Incredibly talented. Vivacious. Funny. Smart. Perennially beautiful. All the things that Sass has been known for her entire career. It’s tempting to repeat what all she’s accomplished in that career. However, I do encourage you to read what I originally wrote about her in my first interview with her, here.

One thing I will say about Sass from the git-go is that she loves to laugh and her laugh is infectious. If we all could learn to laugh as much, as hard, as heartfelt, and as often as she does, we’d all be happier and the world would be a much better and brighter place.

Because Sass has a new album out entitled “Rebel Moon Blues” (and let me tell you: It’s un-friggin’-believable! Order it now if you haven’t already. It’s a phenomenal disc!), I scheduled a call to chat with her about it. I called Ms. Jordan at her home in a little village outside of Toronto. Her exuberance was immediately evident.

“I'm in Toronto under five tons of snow. But the good news is in one day I'm going to Barbados and I cannot wait! Oh, my God. I can't wait. I'm like, over this! Wow! I don't exactly live in the town. I make it like a thing to not live in cities anymore. Ha! Ha!

“I live in a village north of there. If I said the village, nobody about it. It's close enough to Toronto. You know what I mean? When I fly in and out, it's always from the Toronto airport.”

We dove right into discussing her new album with me asking if I counted correctly that “Moon” is her eighth album to date.

“I have no idea! Ha! Ha! I guess I need to look at my catalog and count. I'm not kidding. I don't know. Yeah. Maybe that could be right. That's it. Who cares? It doesn't even matter, does it? It doesn't even matter. It certainly means nothing to me. I don't give a crrrrap one way or the other! But, yeah, t's the most recent and for some reason, it really seems to be hitting a nerve with people are just getting the most wonderful feedback from them and making me very, very happy. I had so much fun making it. You know, we made it last June - almost a year ago!

“It was supposed to come out in September. Then it was October. Then it was November. Then, it was like, forget about it! Maybe next year! It was one of those. So now it's finally coming out in March. And all the people that have been getting it to review or what have you - or interviews - it's just such a powerfully positive response!

“One of the main things I'm hearing is, ‘Why didn't you do this earlier?’ To which I reply, 'I just didn't.' I didn't think of it. It never occurred to me. And then somebody asked me to do it and I told them to go sit in the field because I wasn't having any part of making a blues record. Like, what do I know about that? And then, these things happened and I - and Derrick, who produced it, said to me, 'Why would you not want to sing a song like Still Got The Blues by Gary Moore? It sounds like a song you would've sung or written anyway.’ I could not argue with that in any way shape. Not to say that I could write such a great song, but I'm just saying it's definitely not a far reach from what I really do right now.

“Then it was like, okay, so let's get into stuff that I used to listen to. For example, Leaving Trunk by Taj Mahal. When I was 13 years old, I had that Taj Mahal record on repeat. I just played it over and over. I'd turn it over because it was vinyl. Play it over. I turned it over. That's what I did with all my favorite records, including the Bowie stuff - like Ziggy Stardust and all that. This music just found its way into my blood and into my bones and into my cellular memory. And, so, it completely makes sense that, now, 50 or 40 or how many ever years because I can't count. Now that it had this time to sink in or, you know, age like a fine wine, now I'm ready for it to come out of me as a celebration again. Everything I do now - this is my promise to me - is I don't do stuff if I don't really love it and enjoy it and have fun with it and feel uplifted by it and feel like I am expressing the highest part of me. I don't do it anymore unless that's what's happening. And it really made me feel that way. I'm so, so happy that I've had the opportunity to do this and I intend to do more of it.”

sass jordan6That opened the door to delve into the blues and the state of the blues today. I mentioned that the genre is experiencing a good, strong resurgence wherein people are really appreciating it. I reiterated to Sass that we need people like her who know how to deliver blues. That all said, we also are seeing a deluge of blues being released that is “smooth” – which, while it, too, sounds great, it’s not what the blues was intended to sound like. So, for Sass to have an album like this come out, it’s refreshing. It has the grit and the grind in it to where you can almost smell the whiskey; you can practically hear the creak of the floors in a chitlin joint somewhere. It just the way blues should be played and that's how Sass delivers it in ‘Rebel Moon Blues’.

When I said all of that to Ms. Jordan, I capped it all off by asking her which song from the disc she would point to as the calling card for the entire album. She replied:

“First of all, just let me say thank you for what you just said. Because, wow! You SO hit the needle on the head. I’ve heard some stuff from an artist who is enormously well respected and excellent, by the way, at what they do. And they're a blues artist and they've won tons of awards etc., etc., etc.. I was peripherally aware of them. I didn't actually really know who it was but it was mentioned in an article with me that somebody sent and I saw this artist and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, wicked! Let me go look this up. This sounds like this must be really cool!’

“I found it on YouTube and played it. And although it was really well done, it was exactly what you just said: too clean. It didn't sound like the blues to me, you know? Even though this is a highly respected blues artist, it was clinical, almost. It was the antithesis of what I would consider to be the blues. It's the other thing that you just mentioned that I want to say something about as well. as he was saying that it seems like the blues is having a renaissance in this time and I would say that's actually probably true because people are tired of the bullshit and sick of the complicated, lying, fake nonsense in the news, in music everywhere. And to go back to something so simple and so pure and that taps directly into an emotional state, I think that that's what the appeal of it is.

“As far as what song on this record, I would consider to be the calling card for this record. I don't really know because each sass jordan live1song - I think you can use any of them, to be honest. But I really don't think one of them was a miss and that's the first time I've felt like that about a record I've made in a long time. Actually, ever.

Sass Jordan: It's not predicated on image as stuff that's more contemporary now. It's not that all of it's bad. There's a lot of good stuff that's coming out now, as well, as far as I'm concerned, in a newer type of music - hybrid stuff. There's a lot of great stuff out there. It's not all bad. Under no circumstances would I say that. But there's just such a preponderance of this fake news type news. Like it's fake people, fake freak sounds, fake instruments; too paint-by-the-numbers. It's just like, oh, enough already. I was just adding on to what you said there, I guess, you know, but I also wanted to just make the point that I don't think everything is terrible at all. There's a lot of good stuff and a lot of honest, real artists, as well. Blues and non-blues. We can't paint everything with the same brush.”

In the course of our meandering, music-themed chatter, Sass threw this little aside into the mix:

“The person I want to work with - but I don't think - I don't even know what the heck they're doing now, and it has nothing to do with any of the kind of music we've been talking about. The person that I would really love to work is D'Angelo. I have no connection that I know of directly into that world, but I would love to do some musical stylings and stuff in that way. I just loved that music. Love, love, love, LOVE!”

Circling back around to Sass’s new CD, I asked how long it took to make it.

“Well, really, to record it and everything, it was like three days - four days. There was there was really no overdubbing that happened at all except maybe just one word here. Like I hadn't been close enough to the mic or something, but we just did it live so it was like, boom, boom. And it's my live band that I use, Champagne Hookers. So, we're all on the same page, basically.”

As for a tour to support it, Sass told me:

sass jordan4“Absolutely! The first dates that I've got coming up are in May or the beginning of June in the Netherlands. I've got a string of dates in the Netherlands. And, right now, the agents and the management peeps are working on as much as they can, trying to find a blues festival and stuff like that that we can be a part of this time, because, you know, this is gonna stretch on for a couple of years. This is like the very beginning of it all because the record isn't coming out until the 13th of March.

“When Mike Garson asked me to do this Bowie Celebration thing, I thought, ‘What the heck? Why the heck not? You know, I love Bowie and I adore Mike.’ And you know this will get me into some markets, albeit not doing my own music, but at least showing up so that some people know I'm alive and into to some markets that I haven't been in for 20 years. So, it makes sense, you know, in every way.”

Then, Ms. Jordan came out of left-field and hit me with this . . . well, “shot”:

“Well, you know, I have a whiskey coming out. I'm not kidding. I got a whiskey coming out! You'll never believe what it's called: Rebel Moon Whiskey! Ha! Ha! Oh yeah. I'm super excited about that too. It just makes all the sense in the world. And it's funny how it all happened at the same time.”

I asked Sass about her participation in the Bowie Celebration Tour.

“It's Mike Garson's thing. Mike Garson played with Bowie for like 40 years. He was in so many of his bands. He was like the one stalwart member that remained throughout most of Bowie's bands. Bowie maybe had a couple of bands without him. His piano playing is such a signature sound on so much of my favorite Bowie stuff when I was 13 rocking out in the living room with my girlfriend, Vickie, parents’ living room. Vickie and I listening to David Live from the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. We knew every single note on that record and it was Mike Garson on keyboards. At 13 years old my first concert I ever saw in my entire life? Diamond Dogs by David Bowie! The opening band was the Edgar Winter Group. Crazy!

"Anyways, so, what happens is, when they do this show, it's all alumni from different bands that Bowie had over the years - all people that played in them at some point or another, except for the singers, obviously, because he was the singer. The singers are the only ones that were not in Bowie's bands, per se. Some of them might have sung with him. I don't know. So, whenever they go into a new market, they'll often ask somebody who is from that market to come up and do a couple of songs with them as a guest.

“So, when they were in Toronto. Bernard Fowler was singing with them. And it's Bernard who said to Mike, 'We should get sass jordan live0Sass to come down and do a couple of songs.' It's because of Bernard. Bernard's the one that got me in. For the past two years, when they came to Toronto, they asked me to come and sing a couple of songs with them, which I did, and that was the end of that. I never even thought about it for two more seconds. It was a big thing for me because I loved Bowie and I still do. So, getting to perform some of those songs, it never occurred to me to do any of the songs in my show. You know what I mean? Because, why? But anyways, 'Why not?' is another good question. It just never came up. So, I got to do the songs with these people and it was wonderful.

“Then, out of the blue, about three months ago, Mike called me and said, 'Sass, we're doing this five-and-a-half-week tour in the states and Canada in March-April and I'd love you to do it with us.' I'm, like, 'What?' I said, 'I really don't know. I don't know if I can do that' You know, 5 1/2 weeks, that's a long time to commit yourself to something that isn't necessarily your thing. 'Okay. Let me see.'

Anyway, when I found out that the record was coming out March the 13th, I didn't have any other shows booked up until then. Everything just sort of fell into place like it was meant to happen. It just flowed. I said, ‘Sure. I guess I will do it.’ And then at the very last minute, about two weeks before, Mike, calls me and goes, 'Sass, one of the guys that was supposed to be doing Europe and Israel with us has dropped out. They can't do it. Can you do it?' And I'm like are you ****ing kidding me? Like, thanks for the warning. Thanks for the notice, bro!’ But I couldn't say no. Well, I love playing in Europe and I've never been to Israel so, what the heck! Let's go! But it was, oh my god, it was a relentless, intense experience. REALLY intense.

“But what's so spectacular for me about doing this show is the audiences freak out! (Singing a line from Bowie's 'Moonage Daydream') 'Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah!' They freak out and it is absolutely mind-blowing. It really is and it's just so overwhelmingly moving and touching and it happens every single night, which is a testament to the power of music and his music in particular.

sass jordan live4“I tell you, it's like you see people of all ages, not just older people my age, that you would think are the ones that know his stuff. No! Like people of all ages and crying, singing every word, dancing, flipping out. It's just intense. Awesome!

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Sass what she hoped her legacy would be and how she wants to be remembered when she steps off the tour bus of life

“Well, there's funny saying - and thank you for asking: I don't care. I literally do not care because I won't be here! Anyone and everyone is invited to think or talk or forget about me. I absolutely, 100% just don't care! I won't be here. It's irrelevant to me in every way. It's like, you know. It's like if I manage to amass a fortune by that time, I'd like to leave it to whatever organization or charity that I choose closest to when I make that transition. But other than that, who gives a poop? I don't!

“I thought about it. I thought about it, too, because, you know, I have been asked stuff like that before. You just think about it, as in your life, you think about it. But I think I don't believe personally much in death, which is a weird thing to say. What I'm saying is it's like you don't die. Your body does. But you go on. I've got no doubt about that. I'm more interested in the adventures I'm gonna be getting into in the future rather than what happens in the past because it's all subjective, anyway. It's somebody else's opinion.”

Then, with that infectious laugh, she concludes: “It's me pontificating yet again. I appreciate the question.”

Keep up with all the latest with Sass Jordan at her website,

Greg Chaisson Talks Life, Lyrics, & Kings of Dust

Posted March 2020

KingsofDust002The ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Though normally, the music of those eras would mostly fall outside the Boomerocity wheelhouse of coverage, there are several exceptions. While I could name many, I’d likely forget some so I won’t. Who I will name for this piece is the supergroup, Badlands.

Badlands was an incredible band in the early ’90s that was made up of former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist, Jake E. Lee; vocalist Ray Gillen; drummer Eric Singer (yes, THAT Eric Singer), who was later replaced by Jeff Martin; and bassist, Greg Chaisson. While together, they released three albums (their 1989 self-titled LP; Voodoo Highway in 1991, and Dusk after the band had broken up) and still have a loyal fan base all these years after the band split.

While there’s no real chance of a Badlands reunion, the legendary bassist, Greg Chaisson, has put together a great band to reconnect with fans. The band is called Kings of Dust and they’re releasing their self-titled debut CD and let me tell you, it’s smoking hot with each cut from it worth the entire price of the album.

Yeah, it’s that good.

Because of our mutual adoptive roots in Phoenix, Arizona, I connected with Greg several years ago. We have mutual friends from our high school years and I grew up well aware of his pre-Badlands band, Surgical Steel, that was a Phoenix favorite. As Chaisson was putting the Kings of Dust disc together with his bandmates, I begged him to promise me an interview when the disc dropped. A man of his word, Greg and I chatted about the album when I called him at his Phoenix home.

I started by asking Chaisson to give Boomerocity readers a peek into his pre-Badlands background.

“I moved here (Phoenix) in 1969. I moved here for the beginning of my junior year of high school. I lived here until ’82. I moved to L.A. and I was there from 85 to 95 – just strictly for the music business. And then we moved back here. I didn't want to tour anymore. My son was a couple of years old and I wanted to be there to raise him as opposed to - I had a lot of friends that were in bands that toured and they didn't get to raise their kids. They were always gone. I didn't want to do that.”

I’d asked Greg if he knew good Boomerocity friend, Andy Timmons, from Danger Danger who was a happening band around that time.

Greg Chaisson04Greg Chaisson of Kings of Dust“Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we're all from that same generation when I was in Badlands. You know, I was in L.A. at that point and not a hundred percent sure they were an L.A. band. But you know, a lot of the bands from that generation of music - that early to late ‘80s, even early 90s - they all kind of met each other on the road or they all met each other at a band bar. If we happened to play in the town that they were in, they would show up and that sort of thing. So, yeah, I know a lot of those guys, I guess, peripherally, you know.

“The bands that were for sure in L.A., we all actually knew each other. But unless you are actually kind of on the scene, it would be kind of hard to know who everyone was. But at least you were familiar with their work and familiar with some of their personal stuff. So, it's all good.”

I hit Chaisson with a trifecta of questions about what made him decide to put the band together; how long they’ve been playing; and what is behind the band’s name.

“Well, the start of the band was around eight years ago with the singer that's in Kings, Michael Beck, he owns the studio. He was always recording other bands and he wanted to basically do something that he got to sing on. He knew a drummer who knew a guitar player who knew me. So, the four of us got together and we wrote a few songs and did a little recording. Then, over the course of about a year or so, the drummer and the guitar player left for their own reasons and that whole thing was dormant for a couple of months. Then Michael Beck called me and said, 'You know, I really liked the songs. Why don't we get another drummer and guitar player and we'll keep going with it?' So, we did. We found the guitar player, Ryan McKay, who played on the record - the Kings of Dust record. We went through a few drummers. And, then, around 2014, I was offered to join Jake E. Lee's Red Dragon Cartel, who is the guitar player in Badlands and Ozzy, as well. So, with that, the King's thing kind of went on hiatus while I did that.

Then, in 2015, I was diagnosed with cancer. So, the whole thing went on hold while I went through that. I had Stage 4 cancer. I went through all the cancer treatment and all the side effects of the cancer treatment.

“Lo and behold, it's 2019 and, you know, that this whole time Michael Beck has been saying, ‘Let's finish this! Let's keep KingsofDust003going!’ I just didn't have the energy or the interest to do it. You know, after dealing with that cancer crap. Finally, after some time last year, I said, 'You know what, I'm ready. Let's finish this.'

“So, we all got together, finished writing the record, and recorded it. The official release is the 13th of March, but we've been putting it out on our own and it's been relatively, modestly successful. I mean, we're selling it our own. We sold almost a thousand copies in less than a month and that's hard CD copies because we have not made it download available at all, which we probably won't for a while.”

Greg then shares who makes up Kings of Dust and the story behind the name.

“The band is Michael Beck on vocals, Ryan McKay on guitar, and Jimmy Taft, he's on drums. And these guys are all from other places, but they all moved here in the last 10 or 20 years. So, collectively, we are Kings of Dust and they're all excellent musicians. They are great, great songwriters and great guys to be around.

“As far as the name, the original name was a joke name, which was called The Prehistoric Steamroller, which we were just kinda goofing around with it. And then we were going to be called Deep Black Led because everyone said we kind of sounded a little bit like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath or Zeppelin. And then we realized a name like that was kind of confining. And, so, I came up with the name Kings of Dust and it really means kings of nothing but kings of everything at the same time. There's no real mystical meaning behind it or anything like that. I just like the way it sounded. And, lo and behold, no one else had used it. And, so, that's how we became Kings of Dust.”

Greg was kind enough to send me an advance copy of Kings of Dust and I love the whole disc. I was curious, however, which song he would point to as a calling card for the entire album.

“Well, to me, one of the compliments we've got on the record, so far, is that none of it sounds the same. There's 13 songs on the record, which most people put 10. But we couldn't decide which one to leave off, so we decided to put them all on there. The first single is 'Like An Ocean'. And that - it's a really good song. It's got a good groove. It maintains the groove throughout the whole thing. It's got a good - an interesting message. So, you know, I would say that's a good place to start. And if you like that song, you'll probably like the rest of the record.

“The record is very ‘70s influenced. I know bands that are doing the ‘70s sort of vibe are really popular right now and there's a number of younger guys out there doing it. And that's I think that's great. For us - and especially for me - I mean, that's the generation I grew up being a musician in. I started being a musician in 1971. And, so, the influences that are on the Kings of Dust record are pretty authentic because I come to it from first-generation as opposed to the third or fourth generation. Not that there's anything wrong with where you come from, where you get it from, which is, for me, writing these kinds of things is really second nature to me. My influences are all from the ‘70s.

“You mentioned Badlands. This record doesn't sound like Badlands, but what it does do that's similar to Badlands is the influences that Jake E. Lee wrote - the way that he wrote was very ‘70s influenced and he's from that generation as well. So, because of my affiliation with him and also coming from the ‘70s, it's very ‘70s oriented. Those are my influences. The songs aren't short. We don't have any three-minute hit songs. The other songs are all at least four minutes long. There's a lot of moving parts in the songs. It's not just your standard verse, chorus, first chorus and solo and a chorus out. There's none of that on there. I use a lot of parts because I find that interesting.

“That would be the other thing that would be relatable to Badlands: Jake wrote with a lot of moving parts. We had a lot of moving parts in those songs. And that's what made it interesting to us. So, that would be the closest relationship to those two. Other than the fact that I was actually in the band. But is it us intentionally trying to sound like anybody? It's just us sounding like everybody that we do like and that we were influenced by.”

Since Chaisson’s recording career spans four decades, I asked him what some of the significant changes are he’s seen that have been for the better and for the worse in the recording process.

“Back when I first started recording and then everything I recorded, which was just kind of local stuff. What we recorded at withKofDguitaristRyanMcKayRyan McKay & Greg Chaissonreal studios like Chaton and Pantheon - that was analog two-inch tape . . . and a real board and all that kind of stuff; with racks and effects and it was all tube oriented. And, so, you were going to get that real warm analog sound that you got in the ‘70s. Badland was recorded at real studios with tape and was done in the real way.

“As time, technology and time moved, the whole ProTools thing and all that made it easier to, for lack of a better word, fix things in the mix. Where back when I was recording in the ‘70s and ‘80s and even early ‘90s, you couldn't fix a drum track in the take. If something screwed up - for example, if the bass screwed up and you wanted to fix it, you wanted the drums to play to the bass, because the bass screwed up and it sounded cool. You had to do the track over or you had to find a break somewhere, cut or splice the tape, tape it back together and then go from there. Or if the drummer screwed up a part, you couldn't fix this part. You had to basically rerecord it. So ProTools made it possible to move things in and out. And that's a good thing and a bad thing because, when I was first recording, you had to know your stuff. You had to be able to come in and lay down the track and you had to be able to nail it from the get-go.

“Now, you can just kind of put it together however you want, especially vocally because of all the pitch shifting and all that. If someone's flat. You can just fix it in ProTools. If the guitar solo is a little off, it's all fixed. The guitar in the ProTools, it's all convenient. I prefer the way it was done back in the day because it was a more honest way of doing it, in my opinion, and you had to actually know your game.

“I will say this about Kings of Dust: the advantage of ProTools now as you have a lot of guys - they call it guys that have studios to call guys that have ProTools rigs, 'equipment in their living room'. So, if some guy with a living room studio and a computer and, basically, he fakes the drums, there's nothing wrong with that. That just makes it more fun for everybody. The way that Kings of Dust is recorded, Michael Beck owns the studio - Sound Vision Studios in Tempe (Arizona). It's an actual building. It actually has a real studio in it. It is a ProTools studio but he also has a lot of analog sort of things in there. And, so, the Kings of Dust record is recorded with modern technology but it has a very analog sound and feel. Everything is recorded in one take. There's no splicing together. If anything, there's no pitch shifting. There's no fixing. If we didn't get it right, we re-did it. I wanted it to have that 70s, 80s sort of vibe to it. There's no sample drums. There's no nothing. It's all done for real. The real bass recorded with a real 8 by 10 cabinet; loud as hell; yadda, yadda, yadda. The mix of the record is very ‘70s. It's very spread out.

“If you listen to music these days, most of the mixes, everything - you've got one hundred percent of sonic space. Fifty percent on either side of the middle. Most people record is right near the middle. And that's where all the instruments are placed. The way that Kings of Dust is mixed, it's widened out quite a bit. Very early Van Halen with the guitar way on one side, again, the guitar away on the other side with the bass somewhere off to the side of the drums. So, it almost sounds like the way something would sound live. That was very important to me - that we were able to do that way. Again, nothing against people that do the ProTools thing. I just wanted to make it more, again, authentic. I guess authentic and real, would, I guess, be the two words.”

Did the band record in the same room/at the same time?

Greg ChaissonMVHSDaysGreg Chaisson During His High School Days“It's live, together in the studio. All the drums and bass tracks are recorded at the same time. Most of the rhythm guitars are recorded at the same time. And then whatever they wanted to add to the rhythm guitars later was added later, which is how we also did it in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And then there's no fixes on the tape. We didn't use the advantage of Pro Tools to fix things. I didn't want to do it that way. I don't think the rest of guys did either. We wanted it to be what you hear is what you hear; what you see is what you get. And you know, consequently, there's certain little mistakes that are on there that no one else will hear but I hear 'em. And to be honest, I kind of went in and had that stuff fixed ProTools style - edited like what you're talking about. But I didn't do that because I wanted the realism of the recording session to be maintained. When I was in Badlands, if there was a mistake or whatever that no one would hear but the rest of the guys in the band, we left it on there because that was real life. That's the way our influences did it in the ‘70s and in the ‘60s. And, so, we wanted to remain faithful to that, which we did, especially on the second Badlands record and the third one. So, we wanted to maintain that same professionalism, consistency, whatever, while we were doing Kings of Dust. So, the guitar solos are all added on afterward because for any other reason, that's just the way that's always been done, too.

“Now, there is a song on the record called '’A Little Bit of Insanity’. That song is recorded live. I wanted one live track on there. It's just three instruments. There's no rhythm guitar. It's just the guitar. It's basically like one long guitar solo outro thing and it's kind of a nod to - if you look at the song, it says, ‘For JEL’, which is Jake E. Lee. Jake's my best friend so I dedicated it to him and we tried to kind of catch a little Badlands magic there - a little vibe - by doing one live track on there that is about four minutes long and it's got a lot of stuff going on in it, but it's an honest, live track. It came out really good. When you get a chance, you'll get to listen to it. I think it's right after 'Wolves'. And it's an interesting little track.

As for touring to support the new Kings of Dust release, Greg said:

“Well, we're working on that right now. We have a promoter that we're talking to in Texas that I think they're trying to put together a week and a half or so - ten days’ worth of shows through Texas and Oklahoma, and you can spend a couple of months in Texas. It's so big and there's so towns and they love rock so much. So, we're trying to see whether that works. We've been offered other dates - festivals and stuff - later in the year so we are talking about it. I mean, none of us really want to get on a tour bus. I have the store I have to run so I can't be gone for three or four months and everyone else has businesses as well, and lives. So, I doubt that we're going to get on our tour bus. But we are going to do some shows. I know we'll eventually KingsofDust001go play in L.A. and Vegas and Tucson and San Diego. Those kinds of places are within reach pretty easily. Michael Beck is from Nebraska so he has a following in some of those states. I know we'll go do something there. And then there's talk about us going to Japan. Apparently, because of my résumé, I'm relatively popular over there because of Badlands and other things that I've done - my relationship with Jake and stuff - my affiliation. I would love to go to Japan again and there's even talk about doing a couple of festivals overseas.

“So, yes, we are going to play. That's the long answer. We're just trying to make sure that it makes sense for us to do it. And it's not even whether it makes money, it's just whether we can put it together, sell some CDs; sell a T-shirt or something and see what happens. So, yeah, it's all on the table. It's all on the table.”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Greg how he would like to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy will be when everything with him is said and done.

“Well, I mean, what I'd like to be remembered as a decent human being who was always honest with people; a person that gave 150 percent at everything that he did. I'd like to be remembered as an excellent father and husband and I tried to try to maintain that. I have a background in coaching, so hopefully, people that I coached will remember me fondly as someone that helped them get to wherever it is they wanted to go. And as a musician, I would like to be remembered as one of the guys. I didn't become a musician to become famous or become rich. Probably I should have aimed higher. I don't know. I wanted the respect of my peers. So as long as people thought I was a decent songwriter and a decent bass player, I'm pretty good with it. I believe in God. I'm very active in that part of my life, as is my family. And so, you know, hopefully, God gives me a break on some of the things that I wish I hadn't of done or that I did wrong and allows me at a spot up there. I hope people never forget that I was a good person.”

You can keep up with Greg Chaisson and the rest of the good guys in Kings of Dust by following them here on their Facebook page. While you’re there, be sure and order their self-titled debut CD.


Posted March 2020

LisaFischer TwentyFeetFromStardomLisa Fischer As Seen In 20 Feet From StardomWhen one hears the name, Lisa Fischer, one of a few scenarios come to mind.

The first might be her 1991 Grammy Award-winning album, So Intense, and her hit song, How Can I Ease the Pain. Sexy. Smooth. Sultry. An incredible range. The entire package. Even today, she commands attention and accolades from her legions of fans who have followed her since. More about that in a moment.

Most likely, one will think of her as the sole – and soulful – female backup singer for the likes of Tina Turner, Luther Vandross, Roberta Flack, Teddy Pendergrass, Chaka Khan, Sting, Anane Vega, and, Chris Botti.

Oh, yeah. And the Rolling Stones.

For some of you, the light bulb has now lit up in your heads.

Yes, Ms. Fischer is THAT sexy singer who commanded everyone’s attention during her vocal solo during the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. The solo first recorded and made famous by the legendary Merry Clayton and that Lisa owned – lock, stock, and barrel – for the twenty years she toured and recorded with the bad boys of rock and roll.

All of this led to Lisa being among those featured in the award-winning documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. This led to an even greater interest in her and her talent which has led to a tour that is underway. For that reason, I had the personal thrill and opportunity to finally get to interview Ms. Fischer by phone to talk about her tour – among other things.

I started by telling her that I had just recently stumbled upon a video of her performing the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” with Scotty Sharrard that blew me away. When I shared that I felt that they both fed off of each other’s energy, she shared:

“That was my first time working with Tony. It was wonderful. It was at the Brooklyn Bowl - I think last year. Yeah. He's awesome.”

When I think of Lisa and her work and the energy that she projects when she performs - solo and otherwise - I sense a spirit of humility, confidence, and serenity. I sense a type of spirituality that is the foundation of her talent. I asked her if I was correct in my perception.

“Yeah, I think that's true. You know, kind of like you, as a person, you feel like everything around you affects you. When I was little, both of my grandmothers were church people. On my father's side - my paternal grandmother was the mother of a church in Brooklyn. My maternal grandmother, she was ill, but she read the Bible every day so she had church in her bed. And, so, I would always try to help her read the Bible and all that kind of stuff. So, I was always aware - or made aware - I was taught the awareness of something greater than that we're all just kind of here trying to figure it out. So, you know, this to me - there's so many threads in different spiritual practices that seemed to resonate with each other. It's just different colors and different names and different things. But the essence of it, if you were a baby and couldn't speak a word, it's the same feeling to me.

“It's interesting because my niece just had a baby last summer and the baby was smiling when she was born. It was just beautiful because, in my mind, I imagine that she's just fresh out of heaven and is still smiling, still seeing angels and maybe still seeing God. And still, you have all these scenarios in your mind like, why do babies smile? Why are you so happy? Certain babies are happier than others. And others are just kind of like more thoughtful. You have to kind of work on them to get them to giggle. But this one, she's just constantly smiling. She smiles in her sleep.”

I added that Ms. Fischer exudes level-headedness but, yet, a forcefulness of power behind her voice and in her stage presence that is much different than other excellent performers. She responded:

“It's so interesting you say that. It's funny because I think it's a background thing, which is, most of my life you have to learn how to listen, learn how to feel and listen. Sometimes, people say things without saying a word. And, so, you have to listen to those silent conversations as well. I've always had to be sensitive outside of myself, not just what it is I want to do. What does this person need? What do they require of me? What's the best way I can serve them and serve the music that they want to promote, promoting the dreams and their visions. And, so, having to shift gears so often, sometimes he's the same person, call you back to do something and they totally switch their whole perspective. So, it's like I have to constantly stay really open, really sensitive to what the job is, which really isn't work to me. It's really just a beautiful service. But when I get to do lead vocals, then the music becomes the boss. The music starts to become the boss in a melodic sense and a lyrical sense. The choices that I get to make become more intuitive. It's a lot of fun just shifting and molding, you know? Looking at a particular situation and go, 'What's required here?' It's just so much fun to feel that you're in service to a purpose.”

I didn’t plan on doing it, but I made a comment about the blinding glimpse of the obvious: It took a lot of guts and a steel spine to decide to walk away from a cushy gig like singing backup for the Rolling Stones as she had for twenty years. I asked her to tell me about what led to taking such a giant step.

“I was there. I was touring with the Stones. And though it is stable from the outside looking in, there's still a lot of instabilities on a day-to-day level for me because I never assumed that they're going to call me back. I never assumed that they may change their mind or find someone that they really want to try out because it's really the artist's decision what they want to do. But luckily, you know, everything worked out and then they continued to ask me back. I just felt so grateful that I would still be useful to the tour.

LisaFischer Djeneba Aduayom 2830 2 reducedPhoto by Djeneba Aduayom“But I never had any control over when I would work. And then there'd be times and huge spaces – years, maybe - that we wouldn't work. And, so, we’d have to go back to finding other things to do, which has also been a blessing. But it's definitely not stable in a working musician's mind if you know what I mean.

“With that said, the decision to kind of focus on myself came because I was trying to balance both worlds. I was trying to balance the Stones tour and then the aftermath of '20 Feet from Stardom' and the success of that. I had no idea what was going to happen. I just kind of did it as a labor of love and there was no money involved. I just kind of did it, you know, because it felt good to do. Gil Friesen, who - it was his brainchild and he sort of brought the whole thing to life - was such a beautiful man and it's such a beautiful purpose. I was just like, 'Wow, what a cool idea!' You know? Ask about background singers because he came to a show and he was, 'Oh, yeah, it's so great to see what you guys do and think about doing a movie about it.'

“So, fast-forward: The film wins an Oscar and I was getting offers to do shows on my own. It was so different from me. So, I said, 'Well, let me get a manager or someone to help me.' And I did. I have found Linda Goldstein who manages Bobby McFerrin. I've known her for a while and done some work with her. We had a really good rapport. Still do. And we worked it out to where I'd find out the Stones tour schedule, which was top secret even to me. Ha! Ha! I like it because it shifts and changes and it's their worlds, you know? You sort of ask, like, 'Hey, when are you guys working?' It's kind of like not such a comfortable conversation; not such a professional conversation. So, they were kind enough to give me the information that they knew. And then I would try to - not I - but my team would work on booking shows around the Stones tour. Fast forward. The Stones - some of those Stones tours got canceled for various reasons and they would have to reschedule. So, then I would have to reschedule.

“So, I'm thinking. 'I'm a new artist, even though I'm old, right? But I'm a new artist to these promoters and I don't want them to think I'm a flake. I call and I go, ‘Gee, well, you know, I know he kind of said I was going to do 30 shows, but I can't because the Stones are doing blah, blah, blah blah blah.’ It got to the point where I just felt like it's not fair, one, to the audience. It's not fair to the promoters. It's not fair to me as far as building my reputation in the business if I really want to do this.

Posted March 2020


“So, I had to make a very difficult decision. It's like I don't think I'm in the position anymore to try to work it out - with this scheduling - because life is a mystery and we never know why things have to change. But, you know, I have no control over that and, sometimes, neither do they. So, I had to kind of say, ‘Okay, it might be time.’ I thought that was one reason - just to sort of promote my own life and my own choices. And then also, too, I felt like, you know, I'm in my 50s now. I'm older and heavier now.”

To which I interjected: Aren't we all? Lisa laughed and continued:

“Yeah, well, everyone but the Stones. For some reason, they're just locked in time. Oh, my lord. And that's the truth. It's amazing. I think that's one of the reasons why I just get such a kick out of them. They give me hope, you know? So, it is LisaFischer Djeneba Aduayom 2934 reducedPhoto by Djeneba Aduayomhumanly possible! I just haven't figured it out yet for myself! Ha! Ha! It's humanly possible, you know what I mean? I always look at them with this wonderment and joy and appreciation. And it's so difficult to walk away from such a nurturing situation. It's like family. I watched the kids grow up. I've seen grandkids. It's just so much beauty and love and respect and joy. All the guys are just amazing and even all the side musicians - just love them. And, so, it was really emotionally difficult.

“I was doing a show in Canada and I had to call the promoter and I cried after I hung up the phone. It took me a while to pull myself together to do the show because I just like - it felt like a death. It felt like someone had died. Then the fear sets and it's like, ‘Did I make the right decision? Should I have, say, invested in my own path?’ It's a scary thing.

“It's been - I don't know - three years, four years now, maybe more. And so luckily for me, taking the chance was worth it. But I still miss them to pieces. I keep threatening to come and visit at a show, I just want to see them from a perspective that I've never got to see them. I've never gone to see a live Stones show. I've been in the shows. Yeah. It's like I keep threatening - before they decide to never tour again - to go and see them. I want to do that. So funny.”

I mentioned Mick Jagger’s health scare last year and that showed us that we’re all mere mortals. Lisa replied:

“Indeed. But, you know, you know, he does all the right things. And he's such a health-conscious human being. I think his dad was like a gymnast, a gym teacher. So, yeah, you know, health was really important - everything that he did and does. So that fragility that you're talking about – yeah, it's a crazy thing. And I know it's inevitable that we all happen to pass this way. You know, for some reason, I just feel like people live forever and ever - forever on certain planes. I look at Mick and Keith and Ronnie and Charlie and they're just so alive. They're alive beyond their living. I mean they live within us all as fans. People who love them. They live on different plains.”

While on the subject of the Rolling Stones, I asked Ms. Fischer if she was friends with her replacement, Sasha Allen, and if she had anything to do with her getting the gig.

“We've become friends. I've met her and she's just - I shouldn't say, like friends in the sense of, like, we go out to dinner. We are friendly and I really adore her. I think she's amazing. I didn't know her until after she was hired. I was trying to help them with names of different people to audition. You know, people that they hadn't seen before because they'd seen so many people some years back; to see who would be available and who would be a good fit. Only the Stones know what works for them. So, you put the name in the hat and you pray for the best for each person. I'm not sure how Sasha's name came into play, but it did. It wasn't through me, but it was a beautiful fit and they seem to love her. So, yeah, she's been doing a great job. She's got an awesome voice, a beautiful personality, a gorgeous girl, and the fans seem to really love her. So, it seems like a wonderful match.”

Lisa Fischer is embarking on a tour so I asked her to tell me about it and what fans can expect.

“This is a vocal piano duet show. It's a very personal show in the sense that it's very intimate. It gives me the chance to pick beautiful songs that have passed through me in my life. Some Stones tunes. Some Luther Vandross tunes. A couple of my songs and just songs that I like. Everything is really based on the message of the lyric for me because, as I'm walking through this path and realizing I can't really sing a lie, you know what I mean? It's kind of like I really want to sing stuff that at least makes sense to me in my head and my heart - mostly in my heart - and that has some kind of lingering energy and lingering message. So, it's a show of just intimacy between myself and Taylor Eigsti, who is an amazing and sensitive player. And we get to really dig our heels into the song - the craft of the song, not how it's made, but how it tastes, you know, what it smells like, what it feels like, what it breathes like. And, so, that's basically what the tour is about.”

All this begged the question: Can we expect a long-overdue solo album from her in the near future?

“Yeah, we've been talking about it. So, we hope to record this joining. It’s really beautiful to me. It's just something about the LisaFischer Djeneba Aduayom 2Photo by Djeneba Aduayom
way Taylor plays. He plays like a singer with as many voices as he has fingers and it's just so colorful. His choices are so tasty. And, so, I get to glide upon these beautiful choices and it makes me react differently to the melodies that are already set. It starts to become this other thing; not what you think you know; a little bit of what you know, but not completely what you know. It's almost like a new breath, a new kiss, a new experience when we're going through the music.”

As for what is on Lisa’s radar for the next year or two, she shared:

“I'm really interested in doing a Christmas record. I haven't done one ever and I've always wanted to do one. And, so, I’m in the process of collecting songs that I find really interesting. Some classic things. I also want to do some funny things, too, because I have a kind of sick sense of humor. Ha! Ha!

“I grew up with two boys. I'm the only girl so, a lot of times, they're giggling and teasing and doing all kinds of things. What would be funny to a boy sometimes isn't funny to a girl. But a lot of the stuff that my brothers did was hilarious to me. My sense of humor is a bit more boyish. So, yeah, I want to do a couple of things that are just kind of mischievous and other things that are a bit more classic. So, I'm looking forward to that.

“I'm also looking forward to just doing different joinings, different joinings with different people, different musicians; doing house concerts and different things like that where it's just personal. I just love the personal touch, even though I really enjoyed doing stadium work, because it's almost as though the whole stadium is one person. It's like all these people come together, all the different human beings come together in one space at a particular time to have and share an experience. So, in that sense, they are one body. I do love the sense of just the madness and the excitement of a stadium. And luckily for me, I've enjoyed so many different realms as far as concert halls or clubs or arenas or stadiums or just different places, you know, in someone's home. To me, it's music. It's all connection. It's all this conversation. It's all personal.

“I'm looking forward to just having different experiences and I never know what's going to happen, which is kind of exciting, too. You know, you may get a call to do X, Y or Z. Like, last year I got to sing with a woman named Ledisi, who's freakin awesome! She's an amazing artist and she was with Jules Buckley, the conductor and the Metropole Orkest and it was just so much fun. We did a Nina Simone tribute. It was on the BBC and it was really great. So, situations like that where I get to do art for art's sake. It's just so fun for me.

“And, then, my pet project in my mind, even though it's hard to find time, but I really do need to find time - is that I sort of believe that melodies and the vibration of sound can heal people on a - not only on a spiritual level but a medical level.

“Let's say, for example, sound breaking glass. I feel that certain illnesses could be healed in the same way, the same thought. We destroy cancer; you destroy mental illness; we destroy diabetes. I know it sounds crazy, but I'm sure there's been - there's been a lot of work, I think, that on it and I just need to read up and see what has been done. I can see where I can be useful in that realm because I have memories of pitches of songs and keys from years ago. I think I can remember the sound of the color of a note. It doesn't matter how long ago I heard it. So, I'm hoping that I can use that gift in order to help heal people in that realm. So, that's something I'm looking forward to exploring, as well.

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Lisa Fischer how she hoped to be remembered and what she hopes her legacy is.

“Actually, I haven't really thought about a legacy. I would hope that people feel a sense of feeling when they think of me singing something or any recording, perhaps. It's all about the healing, for me.”

Join us in keeping up with Lisa Fischer by visiting her website, While you’re there, check out her tour itinerary to see if she’ll be appearing near you. It will be a show that you won’t want to miss!


Marty Stuart's Pilgrimage

Posted February 2020

Marty Stuart David McClister 10 CroppedIf you’re a long-time, baby boomer country music fan or are a younger music aficionado who knows great country music when you hear it, then you are, undoubtedly, more than aware of country legend, Marty Stuart.

Whether it’s through his earliest work as a child musical prodigy with Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass (appearing with the band on Hee Haw at fourteen years old) as well as his work with Vassar Clements, Doc Watson, and Johnny Cash before launching his solo career.

That career encompasses eighteen solo albums, two live albums, a soundtrack album, a ton of compilation albums, and thirty-three singles. This earned him prominent screen time in last year’s acclaimed PBS Ken Burns documentary, Country Music. He’s been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for twenty-eight years and is a member and past president of the Country Music Foundation. The icing on the cake of his life is his lovely wife of twenty-three years, country star, Connie Smith.

Stuart recently added “author” to his list of achievements, with his book entitled, The Pilgrim: A Wall-to-Wall Odyssey. It’s a phenomenal book inspired by his 1999 album, The Pilgrim, that is chock full of photos reflecting his career and his own amazing photographic work taken while on the road.

To chat about the book, I contacted Marty while he was on his tour bus, headed for a show at Chattanooga’s Walker Theatre.

I started my questioning with a comment as to how the book seems to reflect the depths of his heart and where he currently is in his life and asked if I my perception was correct.

“Absolutely. Because, it was, at the time, it was a bold move. Part of the circumstances forced me to do it. But, you know, when you keep getting away with something that keeps working, whether it's right or wrong, you tend to go with it because it's easy. And that kind of played out. And at the end of the 90s, I was kind of forced to either keep going and become a parody of myself or turn around and go back into my heart and remind myself who and what I really believed in and who I think I was set on earth be. So, that sounds like me, me, me, me, me, but that's where I had to go at that moment. And, so, I think what Scott Somar said in the introduction, this book is absolutely true. There was kind of life before The Pilgrim in life after The Pilgrim.

Because of the depth and intensity, I read and felt from the book, it begged the question: Does Marty have a Pilgrim sequel in the works as a result of all this?

“I don't know that there is a sequel to The Pilgrim. It's one of those movies - it's a standalone thing that I can always refer to. And I'd never - even though there was not a lot of commercial success that went around it at the time, I knew the power inside the record and I knew the heart and the soul and the passion and the tears that went into making The Pilgrim and living through it. And I knew that it would come back around. But it was not one of those things where I go, 'I'm going to do The Pilgrim Part Two.' It just didn't work that way. It was too organic to work that way.

“What happened right after The Pilgrim was kind of a good indication because after The Pilgrim, everything kind of fell apart. I came up out of the ashes and put the Fabulous Superlatives together. And, so, we decided to take one more run at country radio and we made a double-minded record. It was on Columbia Records. It was called Country Music. Half the record was reaching for that parade that I was kind of trying to be a part of it. And the other side was reaching toward the heart and soul of the matter. It was a double-minded record. Some songs were really good. And I knew that I had to get on one side of the line or the other after that record.”

Continuing his reflection, Marty shared:

“I was in New York City and I walked into Bleecker Bob's bookstore on Bleecker, the Bleecker Box. There was an Ella Fitzgerald box set. Beautiful! It was linen-covered - lavender-colored with linen fabric and embossed with silver. It just said, ‘Ella Fitzgerald - The Verve Years.’ I bought it just because it was pretty. I didn't buy it for what was in it. But when I opened the box when I got back to Tennessee, there they were: all of Ella Fitzgerald's recordings from the Verve label. It was eleven things, Porgy and Bess. Ella sings with Louis Armstrong. Ella does this. Ella does that. Here's the Christmas record.

“I thought, 'Wow! Right there is how a musical life should- might ought to be lived.' And I have always remembered that box set that I still have. And whether it was The Pilgrim and after The Pilgrim, I don't think there has been any missteps there. You know, there came Soul's Chapel, then Badlands, Live at the Ryman, Way Out West, Compadres. It's all been meaningful stuff that I could listen to without coughin' at any point. But it was still The Pilgrim that lit the fuse on that and became a way of life after The Pilgrim.”

I asked Stuart to share what the book itself is all about.

Marty Stuart David McClister 10“Well, The Pilgrim, as far as who I am, I don't know. If you're a mandolin player, I'm a mandolin player. I'm a guitar player. But I think what I have become without trying is just - I’ve lived long enough that I think I'm one of the touchstone figures of the culture of country music. I think I'm one of the go-to people for the world of authentic country music. I'll buy that. I can back that up. And The Pilgrim was a record that happened in 1999, 20 years ago. That was a return after a long commercial voyage - an incredible run - back to the heart and soul, to the bedrock, the timeless place, to a timeless place in country music. Authenticity. As every evolving artist reaching for his roots and his true self, the authentic self buried within, I suppose. There was a lot of heartbreak and disappointment when the record didn't work. But, you know, the lesson in it for all of us is sometimes you have to wait around for things. So, my friend Tom Allen said in this book, I think he said sometimes paintings don't sell the first go ‘round. Monet, whoever. So, this is a painting that didn't quite sell the first go ‘round, but it comes back 20 years later. It teaches us all that authenticity and the real stuff that comes from the heart usually finds its mark however long it takes one. Is that good enough?


I thought the cover had a bit of a Stevie Ray Vaughan vibe going on with it. I asked Stuart if that was intentional or just him being him.

“Aw, that's just me wearing black clothes. And, you know, it looked a whole lot more Edwardian than Stevie Ray Vaughan to me, at the time. You know, The Pilgrim was this character that I had to makeup; a black hat; I don't know why I thought of a cape. But a lonesome character making his way through the world, you know, covering up his pain and misery.”

What section or chapter of The Pilgrim would Marty point to as a calling card for the entire book?

“Well, you know, I know that there's a true book buried inside me somewhere and I keep puttin' out books with a whole lot of pictures so I don't have to sit down and write the book. For a true music fan, the photographs alone in this book are, alone - out of the archives - are worth the price of admission. But as far as the story goes, I think you could look at Billy Bob Thornton's intro or what Johnny Cash advised me to do after the record failed; or you could look at the first chapter that talks about Memphis and what it was all about. Perhaps that would do it. Or, if you're a guitar collector, just the guitars there in the back of the book that we used on the record is pretty cool.

The book includes a re-mastered copy of its CD namesake. Why?

“I think that music was the entire story was - I think I alluded to in the book - in my mind, it started out as just one - a big ol' song, but it turned into a bit of a Shakespearean opera. And my friend, Jack Clement, though, great old record producer made a comment one day. He said, 'I promise you that Shakespeare would have been a great George Jones fan.' Ha! Ha! That kinda took me to a place like this. It's kind of a tragedy, a classical tragedy, in a sense. It needed voices along the way, in my opinion, to move the story forward. So, I just got my phone book and called my friends. And they came by EmmyLou and George Jones and Connie Smith and Johnny Cash and Pam Tillis, Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs. They all came by to help me get the project taken care of.

About the current state of country music, I asked Marty if he felt that the business was broken and, if so, (and if he was made “country music czar”), what would he do to fix it.

“Is it broken? No. It's doing the same thing it did in 1930. I read a review somewhere along the way from the mid-thirties, once upon a time, in a trade magazine about a Bill Monroe record that had just come out and he had taken a Jimmie Rodgers song and sped it up to a breakneck tempo. He sang in a high voice. And I think that review went something like what is this: ‘Is country music crashing? Is hillbilly music crashing and burning?’

“Now, this man has taken a sacred Jimmie Rodgers song and singing in the voice of a woman, playing at a breakneck L R Jerry Lee Lewis Carl Perkins Marty Stuart Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison ReducedL-R: Jerry Lee Lewis Carl Perkins Marty Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison Photo Courtesy of Marty Stuart

tempo that no one can listen to, you know? So, the question of what's happening to country music goes back that far. Old-Time fiddle bands thought it went to hell when they brought drums to the Grand Ole Opry and Ernest Tubb brought in an electric guitar. So, you know, that's the deal. We all have our points in which we think it's authentic and that speaks to us. So, if you look at the modern chart, I think it's doing the same thing now that's been spoken all along.

“It's a little bit more unrecognizable now because it's a little more homogenized if not a whole lot more homogenized than I think it's ever been. If I were the czar, I would probably just say take it back to the original blueprint to where you go to the Bristol sessions. The Bristol sessions had gospel music; it had fiddle things and they had your bawdy tunes and they had the Carter family. They had a little bit of everything. And I think that's what country music - the world of country music - still is. The beauty of it is now, it's big enough that whatever you truly believe in, as far as the music goes, there is a space for you. I think if you if you just look at the CMA Awards and what happens at CMAFest; and if that's what country music is to you, you're just getting started because there's a vast world that goes beyond that. I wish we could level it out for the masses where everybody had a bit more voice. So, that’s what I would do is level it out.

Congress of Country Music LogoClick Above To Donate To The Congress of Country Music!Fans know that Marty hosted The Marty Stuart Show on cable TV’s RFD-TV. The channel still runs the re-runs but I wanted to know if there are any plans for new episodes of the TV show.

“Different TV show. We did 156 episodes of that particular one and called it ‘Mission Accomplished’. I’m working on this cultural center down in Mississippi, the Congress of Country Music. It's my hillbilly presidential library. So, if you're going to be in the backwoods of any state, you must broadcast. We're working on a TV show right now. That will be based around the artifacts and the collection and tell and go from there. Cool stories. Yeah.”

A reader submitted a couple of questions. One of them asked what Marty would’ve done had he not pursued his career in country music and is there anyone Stuart’s wanted to work with that he hasn’t, yet.

His answer to the first question: “Either with my own florist or in jail. I don't know, man! I could have had a photography studio. But I'm glad country-music was there.”

As for the second question, Marty answered: “Well, I've worked with pretty much everybody I ever wanted to. But there's an artist that I've never met and I really admire the quality of her work and the quality of her voice. That's Norah Jones. And, so, I just think Nora's a real artist for real.”

As a prolific musician and accomplished guitarist, I wondered if there were any guitars that he considered to be the Holy Grail of guitars.

“Well, concerning country music, there's two. One is Mother Maybelle Carter's guitar, which is in the process jewels exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. And the other one is Jimmie Rodgers guitar that hangs in a vault in Meridian, Mississippi at the Jimmie Rodgers Museum. Concerning country music in my mind, there's those two guitars. Then there's everything else.”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked the country music legend how he wanted to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.

“Well, I think I think the truest thing I could say to you is that he finally found something that he believed in with all of his heart and, then, he followed his heart at any cost to get the job done without compromise. And I hope I could be true to that.”

That he has, is, and will, no doubt, continue to be.

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