Article Search...

John Cooper Talks Victorious, Tour, & Comic Books

Posted October 2019

Skillet Press Photo 001 ReducedAs a teen in the 70’s, I grew up in a church world that was, much like Elvis’, centered around hellfire and brimstone preaching and gospel music sung out of a hymnal. Not just any hymnal, but “the red one”. Otherwise, it wasn’t deemed “sanctified”.

For extra sizzle, pizzazz, and goosebumps, we’d listen to Southern Gospel quartets. They brought energy (none dare called it “entertainment”) to a crowd and left self-produced vinyl albums behind.

Then, someone dared to change things. Bigtime.

That someone is believed to have been the late Larry Norman, known for his song, “Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music” and “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. Other artists and bands such as Barry McGuire, 2nd Chapter of Act, Love Song, and others helped blaze the trail from what was considered to be traditional Gospel music to something that a young kid like me would latch on to and drive my parents crazy with by playing too loud.

Within churchdom, the debate raged as to whether the style was acceptable to God because it certainly wasn’t acceptable to “the church”. Televangelist (and cousin to Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley), Jimmy Swaggart, preached against the evils of the genre’s syncopated rhythms (before getting caught indulging in his own “sin-copulated” rhythms – but you know that story).

That was then. Now?

The CCM industry is alive and well on planet earth (thanks for the great line, Hal Lindsay . . . and the pun is most certainly intended). That is especially evident with double platinum band, Skillet. Led by John Cooper and his wife, Korey, the band is bolding going to where CCM bands and artists seldom go. For instance, they’ll be performing at Exit One Eleven where such choir boys as Guns ‘N Roses, ZZ Top, and Def Leppard will be performing.

Yeah, seriously.

While heading to my day job a few weeks ago, I was channel surfacing on my satellite radio, listening to the news when I stumbled upon an interview with John Cooper. I stopped surfing and started listening to him.

Upbeat. Straight-forward. Energetic. Articulate. I sat in my car in a downtown Nashville parking garage and listened to everything John had to say. When he was finished, I was e-mailing his publicist, requesting an interview. It happened within five days.

John called me while still on a press junket in NYC. He came across on the phone just as he did on the cable news station that I heard his interview on.

“We're doing promo for the album and all that stuff. So, it's a nice busy time. Yeah, but it's great!”

As John and I exchanged pleasantries, I summarized my CCM experience as a kid, how the genre was received at that time, that I was glad to see a band like Skillet taking it all to the next level. I then asked if he could give me an elevator speech as to who and what Skillet is.

“Yeah. I'm with you on of your story you were just sharing - early Christian music. I've been a fan, you know, since I was a kid. And, so, Skillet; let's see. We're from Memphis, Tennessee, originally. And my wife, Korey, is in the band. We've been touring for 22 years together as a married couple; had two kids that are also raised on the road and got our start in Christian music; kind of crossed over, if you want to call it that, into rock music. I always believed in playing music for people. I never wanted to play only to religious people. That was, you know, not what I wanted to do at all. But music was a really powerful force in my life as a young person. Got me through hard times; always kind of been there for me. And I always wanted to write music about things that I believed and share that. Skillet is a very kind of upbeat and very inspiring, kind a positive rock band. And, to tell you the truth, we had kind of carved out that niche on our own for a while. And it's becoming, actually, I think, more in vogue in the secular rock world, to be positive and to be inspiring. But, you know, we used to kind of hold that candle all alone for a long time. You heard it actually on rock radio. They didn't really dig that for a long time, but then it didn't get working. And, you know, now it's kind of a thing, I guess. So that's kind of cool.

We’ll circle back to the band’s impact on CCM and the band itself. But before doing so, I asked Cooper to tell me about Skillet’s new disc.

“Oh, yeah! Yeah! The new record is called, 'Victorious' and comes out here. I'm so very pumped about it. Of course, you're always excited about your new album. Everybody just reviewed the record, so far. Every review I've read, it's been like, you know, 'This album makes you feel like you can take on the whole world, basically; take anything that comes along. And I think that's kind of cool because when we finish the album - well, some people might find this interesting. You may. I don't know. Hopefully, your readers will. Sometimes people don't know that, when you buy a record, it's got 12, 10 songs on it, this and that. But usually, we'll write 40, 50, 60 songs as a band. So, you never really know what's going to make the record until the label or whoever, producer, they choose the song.

“So, we wrote about 50 songs; chose the songs; finished recording. If you listened to all 10, you know, together you kind of get a vibe because you never know what's gonna get chosen. It's interesting. You end up naming the record on the backside. And it just felt that ‘Victorious’ was the right name because the record, to me, felt really inspiring and hopeful. It rocks really hard. Like, you could take it to a gym and run and really do some serious weightlifting and some running. But it also feels really positive. And everybody that has reviewed it has said that same thing.

Skillet’s label is Atlantic. I was curious if a label like that one welcomed the band’s message, faith, and lifestyle with open arms.

“They've always been really great. They've always kind of understood the band. Now, I'm not trying to say the very first time they ever met us that they understood it. I think for a while, they kind of quite didn't. In fact, we were very close to getting signed by Atlantic Records in 1998, which was our second release. And after about six months, I think, they sent four different A&R guys to see us play at about six months of talking about doing a record. We just never got a callback, which is really weird because, like I said, four different ADR people. That's a lot. And in the end, they just didn't get the Christian thing.

“But then Atlantic side, P.O.D, which was kind of a known - well, not really a known Christian artist, but they kind of become became known as being religious. And I think they were kind of sort of getting it a little bit more. By the time they (Atlantic) signed us in 2003, Skillet had made four records; on our fifth album. People were kind of learning what the band was all about. And I remember talking to the guy that signed us. At the time, he was president of Lava Records. And he was like, 'OK, so what does this mean? Like, I'm signing a Christian band. What is it going to be?' I remember it hit me because at the time, I don't want to say sometimes, but at the time there was a lot of rock bands - several rock band - that were renown at the time for having to end their tours because - and it's sad - but like some of the singers were getting thrown in jail for drug possession, overdosing on drugs, cancel on half of the tour. People are losing millions of dollars because they they're literally, like, killing themselves on the road from all of that or getting jailed. And, so, he said to me, 'So, what if I sign this Christian band?' And I said, 'Well, I said, Jason, what it means is that you'll never have to lose a bunch of money because we can't do half a tour because I go to jail for drugs. I get up on time.

“There was all these stories at the time of rock stars - that they go on stage four hours late and there's riots breaking out because they're in their hotel room. They don't feel like playing. So, I'll always show up on time. I always do my time. You'll never get a call saying Skillet is really bad because it's just not who I am. It's kind of against my faith. You're never going to get crazy stuff with us. I'm very serious about my job and I'm very serious about treating my fans right. And, hopefully, I'll make you a lot of money at the process. He said, 'OK.' I think that's kind of funny. They kinda let us be who we are, which I really appreciate. And, in return, I think that we've, in good faith, I think we've been really easy to work with. I mean, in other words, we don't go and open up for Guns and Roses and start preaching about Jesus on stage. That would be an inappropriate place to do so. I let my music do the talking. I let my lifestyle do the talking and we treat people well. And it's been a great relationship.

I posited that fans compare Skillet to bands who show up late and mistreat their fan base and the grateful fans reward Skillet with continued support.

“Yeah, you know, I think these days, I think it's a different world than they used to be in. Part of what I mean, is this: Axl Rose could treat every single fan that ever came to a Guns N’ Roses concert, he could treat every one of them terrible and still sell 80,000 tickets per show because it's Guns N’ Roses. They're icons, you know? And, these days, I think it's a different story because there is a lot of competition. And for an artist to come out and have that sort of impact, if they want to have longevity, they need to treat their fans well and they need to do things. If they don't take your job seriously, they could still last while they're on top. But as soon as they're out from the top, everybody will be glad to see them go because there's just too much competition out there.

Earlier in our chat, John and I were talking about some of the patriarchs and matriarchs, if you will, Christian rock. I wondered who John’s influencers were from the genre.

“Well, there's probably a lot I had to say about that. My family was very against rock music. And when I discovered Christian rock in fifth grade, which was a band called Petra, I came home and I was, like, 'Guess what? There's Christian rock music!' because my parents wouldn't let me listen to anything with drums. My mom gave me the holiest butt whoopin' of all time for listening to a Christian rock band! I'd never heard of it! I thought they didn't know it existed. So, I thought, 'Oh! They're going to like this!' Christian rock was even worse than normal rock to my parents. It was wolves in sheep’s clothing. They took me to a Bill Gothard seminar. People were CRAZY about it.

“Honestly, my parents would rather me have ended up in prison than be in a Christian rock band. I mean, they would rather have been a drug dealer because this is the number one thing that the devil was doing in the earth, you know? I grew up in that kind of a way. I convinced my parents to let me listen to some select acts, which they really didn't like. I think they finally realized, you know, you don't want your kids doing ABC at the end. Then you realize kids are going to do some of this anyway. I may as well give in on something so I can still make the rules, you know?

“So, they allowed me. Petra, DeGarmo and Key, Amy Grant. They weren't happy about it, but they did (let me listen to them). But they didn't like it. It was a really big fight in my house. At the same time, as I was listening to Christian music and I was expanding my Christian music taste into the Christian Metal World, Rez Band, Resurrection Band, as you said, White Cross, Stryper - my parents HATED all of that. But at the same time, I'm finding it at my friend’s houses, and it was the 80s.

“So, you know, metal was pop, basically, so you couldn't go to the mall without hearing Bon Jovi or Metallica or Motley Crue, or Iron Maiden. All of that music also became very influential to me, even though I didn't own it. I knew all the words. I knew all the songs. At home, I only listened to Christian music. I loved Christian music. That's also why I've always been so faithful to the genre. I never forgot where I came from and I'm proud of Christian music because it was always there for me. I learned a lot about my faith from Christian music. Petra - I mean, yeah, if you didn't have a Bible and you listened to all the Petra records, you’d know a lot about the Bible."

I’d responded to John by saying that it’s amazing when you consider that in the older hymns and gospel songs, one might argue that the listener didn’t get much biblical education from the music. Cooper responded:

"Interesting. Yeah. You know, the whole music thing never made sense to me. I honestly always just kind of viewed it from a perspective . . . I don't know . . . I just think that great Bible theology - this is going to sound like an oversimplification, but I believe it - great Bible theology can answer all of your questions in life. And every everything that you're fighting about, look at what the Bible says about it.

“I feel that, if people just done that was rock and roll, it would have become really clear that what our parents didn't want us doing was partying and having sex outside of marriage and doing drugs. It wasn't really that they didn't want us hearing a drumbeat. And it's not really that it makes any sense for Satan to create music. Satan doesn't create music. He distorts music. It was just such a dumb thing for our parents to be so crazy about. I honestly think it was a lack of Bible reading. I think it was, ‘We want our kids to look right and look respectable and act respectable. We don't like that long hair.’ It was all about just dumb stuff, if you ask me. But whatever."

Regarding the feedback from “the church” - or at least members, the kids, anybody that maybe even be outside of the faith and looking in at what Skillet is doing, I asked what kind of feedback they are were getting in all that.

“I think, in general, Skillet just has great fans; that people just understand Skillet. I know that there have been people that haven't and, I'm sure there's been people who thought, 'That's just too loud to be Christian music', and this and the other. But, for the most part, even today, a lot of what I call ‘the gatekeepers’, which is going to be, you know, Christian radio, Christian promoters, stuff like that - most of these people are - they grew up with Christian music. So, they're not like they're not like old people. They're not, like, 'I don't like all that young music', you know? They grew up with Zeppelin and they grew up with Hendrix and Van Halen and then discovered Christian music; a lot of that. So, people kind of tend to get it.

“Then, on the mainstream side, I guess Skillet's not really a preachy band. We're a band that we're very vocal about our faith, but we don't preach at people. And people kind of just seem to accept that, like, 'This band is cool.' They know that we're authentic and we will always treat people good and always play with bands. We've played with Slayer two nights ago. We play with bands who think very differently than us about the world and we're cool with that. So, we've had a pretty good little run. I think some of it is probably in what defines Christian music. I think there is some people that go that the meaning of what it means to be a Christian band might be different than it was 20 years ago, for me personally. And I think that that's OK. I think there's room for all of those philosophies in my book.”

As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Skillet is performing at Exit One Eleven in October. So, I asked what can fans expect from that show and any of the other shows during this tour.

"Oh, yeah! I can't wait! You know, that album's coming out, which means when we go on tour, we'll be playing brand new music, which I love. It's always fun to play new songs. And what people can expect from Skillet is as an incredibly energetic show. Every time somebody reviews a concert, they go, 'Man! This band's got a lot of energy!' It's just a passion for the music. Passion to put on a show. To me, it's all about connecting with the fans. One of the funniest things I read in a review of a Skillet concert reviewed is it said, 'I don't know how to describe how I felt about the Skillet show. But at the end, I felt like I wanted to do community service.' That was absolutely hysterical. He's like, 'I don't know why this show made me feel better and maybe want to be a better person'. I was just dying because we kind of get a lot of that. I don't really know why that is. But there's something about the vibe of the Skillet fans at the concerts that people always describe is like very uplifting. And I think that's kind of cool. That's what we're known for.

What’s on Skillet’s radar for the next couple of years?

"Well, probably, with this album coming out, it's going to be really busy touring, but also releasing a graphic novel, which sounds kind of silly. But I love comic books. I grew up with comics and graphic novels, and I've always dreamt of doing one. We're releasing it three weeks after our album releases, and we're going to be promoting that at some of the Comic-Con events. We recorded an exclusive song for the book, too. The book is called Eden and it's just a cool kind of science fiction - supernatural kind of a book and about a post-apocalyptic world. And we're all in a race to find the gate that takes us to paradise. That's kind of the idea. And it's pretty exciting. So, we're gonna be promoting the comic book, promoting the new album and touring - touring the world. We have tour dates from now to December 15th – which is our last one for the year.

Wrapping up our chat, I asked John the question I often ask artists and that is: When you step off the great tour bus of life up at that great gig in the sky (to borrow from Pink Floyd), what do you hope your legacy will be and how do you want to be remembered?

“Well, let's see. I mean, I think the only thing I really care about, honestly, is knowing that I lived my faith. That's really all that matters to me: knowing that I lived my faith, that I told people about it and wasn't a hypocrite. That's something that I just could not live with: saying that I believe one thing and acting like another thing. We all make mistakes, of course. Then we repent and we try to become better people. I'm not talking about not having regrets. I'm talking about going, 'I went for it, did the best I could and held strong to that.' I never, never want to be embarrassed of who I am; my faith, my God, the way I live my life. And that's really all that I want. I'd like to give people hope - the same hope that I have, if I can - through my music; through my relationships, the words I say. That's what I want.”

Undoubtedly, we’ll be hearing about Skillet for many years to come. You can keep up with John and the band by signing up for their newsletter at Skillet.com. While you’re there, you can purchase tickets for their Exit 111 gig or other shows on their tour.

Michael W. Smith Chats About His Career, Tour, & the State of CCM

Posted September 2019

MichaelWSmith003bIt’s hard to believe, but Michael W. Smith has been providing the world his incredible music – both Christian and mainstream – spanning five decades. His mark on the soundtrack of humanity is as deep as his commitment to his faith and to his family. From his first hit, “Friends”, to his sell-out concerts and Christmas extravaganzas, Smith is still a favorite among Christian and mainstream fans, alike.

Michael will be performing in East Tennessee (Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Sevierville) this month. He chatted with me about his career, his take on the music industry, and what fans can expect from his area shows.

“I think music, in general, ebbs and flows. And while it’s always adapting and changing – there seems to be some “patterns” and sometimes different styles come back into vogue. When I started writing songs – we were really “storytelling”. In more recent years – with Worship music being dominant – the lyrics have become more vertical. I think there’s room for both.”

When pressed for his thoughts as to the best and less-than-best changes within CCM, he added, “Well – the quality has to be there to be competitive. In the early MichaelWSmith001days I think quality of the recordings, of the mixes, etc., might have taken a backseat to content. But for a record to be truly great – I think the quality of the recording has to match the quality of the content.”

Approaching the subject from a slightly different angle, I asked Michael what he would do to “fix” the Christian music business if he was made its “czar”.

“At the risk of taking a little heat – I’d say – I’d push for radio to have more of an open mind. Quit relying on “testing” and go back to the days when a PD would take a chance on a song, he or she believed in. So much of radio has become formula and, I believe, it’s lost its uniqueness and, in some senses, it’s soul.

As I talk to fans around the world about various artists, it is striking how different people view different artists in different ways. In the case of Michael W. Smith, most people see him as an artist who writes, records, and performs Christian music. Still others see him as one who writes musical scores for movies. I asked him how he would describe his work.
“I’m not “resting”. I’m not looking back. Even this far into my career – I think the best days, the best music can still be ahead of me. I want to make better music than I ever have before. That’s what drives me.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Smith is making several appearances in East & Middle Tennessee (the Boomerocity stomping grounds). Naturally, fans for those shows - as well as the rest of the stops on that tour - would want to know what they can expect from the different shows. So, I asked him.

“The Nashville show is with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and it’s a Christmas Concert. Marc Martel will be with me. He’s amazing, as is the Nashville Symphony, so I know that’s going to be a great show! The show in Sevierville is actually a Women’s Conference. That’s actually a really fun audience to play for.”

As a successful singer, songwriter, recording artist, and movie score writer, I was curious if there was anything Smith hasn’t yet done, musically, that he still wants to do.

I had the good fortune to score some movies and I really loved the opportunity to score for a major release. My son is a brilliant composer. So, to score a film with him MichaelWSmith002would be great. I’ve also been writing an original Symphony piece that I hope to, someday, debut with the Nashville Symphony and then take it on the road!

When asked what is on his musical radar in the next couple of years, his answer was transparent:

I’ve never been very strategic about writing. Someday – usually when I’m not expecting it – I’ll get on a creative streak and start writing music. It’s almost like I can’t control it – it just comes. And it might be Pop, it might be Worship, it might be a symphony piece. Sometimes it’s all of the above! But eventually – some line or some melody grabs my attention more than the others - - and that’s the direction I go. It’s always been that way for me.

I asked Michael how he hoped to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy will be, he replied: I’ve been asked this a few times and my answers always the same: I want to be remembered as a guy that loved God, loved his wife and family and write some songs.

You can see if Michael W. Smith is going to be in concert on his website, MichaelWSmith.net, as well as purchase tickets there.

Alice Cooper Talks New Tour, His Faith, Solid Rock, & Being A Grandpa

Posted July 2019

 

Alice Cooper Paranormal press pictures online print copyright earMUSIC credit Rob Fenn croppedPhoto by Rob FennTo the uninitiated, one may still think of Alice Cooper as some psycho with a girl’s name, wears eye make-up, and gets his head chopped off via guillotine every show.

Everything but the psycho part is true.

Actually, Alice is your typical husband/father/grandfather/Bible believer. Okay, all but the “typical” part is true. Seriously.

I called up the man formerly known as Vincent Furnier at his home in Paradise Valley, Arizona, to chat about his upcoming brand spanking new tour that starts this year and a few other things. Boomerocity readers will recall that we spoke with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer early last year. So, when Alice called up, I asked him what has been happening with him since we last spoke.

“Things have been going great. I was just speaking with my assistant. He lives in Nashville and he says the NFL draft thing is insane over there. Ha! Ha! Pretty crazy. He says it’s pretty insane over there. They were going to pull down the cherry trees just before the Cherry Tree Festival. What does that have to do with the NFL?! Oh, the NFL guys don’t like cherry blossoms. I get it.

“Since I talked to you last, I think I’ve done 191 cities. The last tour was 191 cities, 17 countries, 4 continents, and that’s not counting the Hollywood Vampires in Europe. We did about 20 shows – 20-something shows in Europe with the Vampires. I’ve been off the road for three months now and we’re getting ready to go back.”

When I said that the tour would start just in time to miss the heat in Paradise Valley, Arizona, he said:

“Yeah, well, it’s gonna be 100 here on Friday.”

Continuing on with describing the upcoming tour, Coop said:

“Actually, it’s going to be more like the end of the last tour – the last time we’re ever gonna do this show that we’ve done for the last year and a half is in Mexico City with Kiss. It’s big – eighty thousand or ninety thousand people – then we’re putting that show to bed. Then, I start rehearsing with the Vampires. Then I go out with the Vampires for about two weeks or three weeks. Then that’s done for a while. There’s a new Vampires studio album coming out and a live album, so that’s going to be another thing. And, then, we start rehearsing for a brand-new tour which I’d say will be another one hundred and fifty shows.

“There’s twelve to fifteen songs we have to do on stage. You have to do School’s Out. You have to do Eighteen and No More Mr. Nice Guy, Poison. Those are the songs the audience have to hear. Then how do you produce that on stage visually different from the last time you did it? That’s really where the fun puzzle comes in. You start putting pieces together. You know you can’t use the Frankenstein again because we did it two shows in a row. So, now, that’s put to bed. Something else has to take its place.

“It is, actually, part of the fun – is knitting the show together from beginning to end in rehearsal.”

Cooper has an incredibly strong fan base that he calls his minions. I belong to several of the fan pages/groups on Facebook and they are as loyal and fervent as any star could ever hope for. Alice had this to say about them:

“Oh, I know! They let us know all kinds of things. Of course, they want us to do songs from Zipper Catches Skin and Special Forces. I’m going, ‘Guys. We only have two hours.’ We’re gonna put as many things in there that you haven’t heard as we can.

“One nice thing is you play to the band’s strengths. In other words, I wouldn’t be able to do songs like Roses On White Lace or songs like The World Needs Guts or things like that if I didn’t have Nita Strauss because she is a shredder. She can play the Kane Roberts stuff. If she was the only guitar player, then it would be very hard to do things like blues rock oriented – Under My Wheels and stuff. She plays all that stuff great. But her strength is really – when it comes to those solos – in a little bit more modern rock. So, we can throw those songs her way and the audience goes, ‘Oh, man, I never thought you would play that song!’ I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for her being in the band.”

Speaking of songs, I had always been curious about a song from his Welcome 2 My Nightmare album entitled, “I Am Made Of You”. To me, it sounds like a song you would hear in many of the “big box” churches across the fruited plain. Knowing that he is, in fact, a Christian (for those of you who didn’t know that little factoid, you can close you gaping mouth now), I wondered if it was a song about his faith and if it was written for use in church.

“It has been. It actually has been done by a church choir. Here was the deal: Desmond (Child), Bob Ezrin, and I sat down and wrote it at Desmond’s house. Desmond wrote it as a love song between a guy and a girl, right? Or a guy and a guy, whatever. I Am Made Of You. In other words, I am connected to you. Totally connected to you. I am nothing without you.

“Bob wanted it to be Alice singing to the audience; that he’s connected to them. I am made of you. Without you guys, I’m nothing. I wrote it as a hymn. I wrote it as from me to God. I am made of You. In the beginning, I was just a shadow. In other words, I was empty until You filled me.

“It really works as a three-pronged song; however, you want to take it. But I have heard it, now, by a choir and it is BEAUTIFUL by a choir! The guitar on that, by the way – Steve Hunter’s guitar solo on that is one of the best solos I’ve ever heard. But there’s another song on Along Came A Spider called Salvation which was also done by a choir. I listened to it lyrically and it totally makes sense.

“In all honesty, when I look back at a lot of my songs – even when I hadn’t yet come back to the church – Second Coming – there are certain songs that are talking against Satanic (things) and pro Christ. They may be disguised, but when you listen to them, you go, ‘Yeah! I get that! I totally understand what he’s saying there!’

“Last Temptation. I mean, people were really surprised when they heard Last Temptation because it was being sold in Christian bookstores. Christians were going, ‘Oh, I get it – what he’s saying here.’ Same with Brutal Planet and Dragontown. It was saying, ‘What is the worst thing that can happen to you? The worst thing that can happen to anybody is the fact that you had your chance on earth and you didn’t accept. And, now, you’re here in Dragontown and there is no. getting. out. It is the worst horror you could ever imagine. More scary than any vampire. More scary than anything is you’re here. That’s it. I wanted whoever was Christian to hear that and go, ‘Wow! You’re right!’ And other people that did hear it go, ‘What do you meant there’s no way out?’ I want those questions, yeah!”

When I told Alice that I Am Made Of You is one of the most beautiful songs he’s written, he added:

“I had five ballads in a row. I had Only Women Bleed. I had You And Me. I had I Never Cry and How You Gonna See Me Now. They were all Top Twenty hits. It was because disco was going on and it (radio) would not play any rock and roll. Kiss had Beth. Aerosmith, all their hits were ballads. And all Alice Cooper songs that were being played were ballads. It was a weird time.

“Ezrin and I and Wagner, I said, ‘I want at least one song that people go, ‘What?!’ It’s more shocking. It’s easy to write a shock rock song. It’s even better when you write a song that is so pretty that it’s shocking. Wagner and I wrote a song – it was on my Welcome 2 My Nightmare album: ‘Something To Remember Me By,’ which is one of the prettiest songs ever, after Dick passed it away. It was really a tribute to him. There’s another called, ‘Might As Well Be On Mars,” that I think might be the best song I ever wrote. That was never a single. It was just an album track. When you work with Ezrin, he said, ‘If you’re gonna make a ballad, make it a heartbreaker.’”

Alice’s new tour is being joined on a many of its dates with Halestorm. I asked Cooper why he made that choice.

“Lzzy has been a friend of ours for a long time. We met Lzzy the very first time the Vampires hit Rock In Rio. Lzzy was down there and we were gonna do ‘Whole Lotta Love’ in honor of Bonham. Lzzy was there and I think Johnny (Depp) or somebody said, ‘Let Lzzy sing this.’ And I went, ‘Yeah! Absolutely!’ She came out and sang it with us and killed it, of course, and we’ve been friends ever since. So, when it came time to pick an opening act for this tour, and when her name came up, everybody went, ‘Hell, yeah! Halestorm would be great on this show!’

“So, it’s a little variety, Halestorm, and I think there are other shows that are gonna come up. The Strut’s maybe playing with us in Australia. We have different people at different segments of the tour. Lzzy’s a great hit for us.”

If you haven’t been keeping up with Alice when he’s not on stage, you might be surprised to hear that he has established a ministry for youth in the Phoenix area. It is called Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock. He and his wife, Sheryl, established Solid Rock in 1995 with their close friend, Chuck Sevale. According to its website, “Like all great ideas, Solid Rock began on a simple premise. That inside every teen, there is a purpose. It all begins with hope.
A faith-based organization, Solid Rock’s primary mission is to make an everlasting difference in the lives of teens by helping them meet the spiritual, economical, physical, and social needs of teens in the community by offering a safe, engaging environment during non-school hours. Maintaining ‘a teen’s worst enemy is too much time on their hands,’ Solid Rock provides the music, arts, vocational programs and fellowship that challenge teens to discover their passion through music, dance, video and sound production, self-expression, and creativity.”

I asked Cooper to tell me more about Solid Rock.

“The idea behind was I was watching two sixteen-year-olds do a drug deal on the corner. It came to me, ‘How does that kid not know he might be the best guitar player in Arizona? Or how does the other kid know that he might not be the best singer or might be the best drummer?’ Because neither one has ever had the opportunity because they were born into drug dealing. They were born into gangs. They were born into – their mom and dad. Everything.

“I said, ‘Why not provide them with a place where they could actually have an option?’ I got a bunch of Christian business men together and we sat down as a board and for twenty years we made money and gave it away to teenage organizations. Then, we built our own place. It’s thirty thousand square feet. We get a hundred kids a day in there – from ALL walks.

“The whole idea is come on in, find your talent. If it’s art, if it’s photography, if it’s dance, if it’s guitar or bass, drums, whatever, come in and find your talent and it’s all free. All of it’s free. We’ll foot the bill for it. We get gang kids and we get rich kids. We get Muslims. We get Christians. We get gay. We get straight and they’re all teenagers and we say, ‘You’re all welcome. We’re not going to beat you over the head (with a Bible).’ That’s the whole idea. They’re not stupid. They go, ‘Why are you doing this? What’s the catch?’ And I say, ‘The catch is you show up. You do it. Why we’re doing it is because we’re taught to do it.’ I say, ‘That’s the only catch there is, is that we see what your problems are, and we can help. We don’t need anything else from you.’

“And the thing about it is – I had one girl. Sixteen years old. She comes up to me and she goes, ‘I want you to see the list I made last year.’ I said, ‘What list?’ She said, ‘I do everything by lists. Every morning, I get up and I write down what I have to do that day on a list.’ I go, ‘Oh, okay, let me see,’ and it said, ‘Get up in the morning. Have breakfast with the family. Go to school. Due my morning classes. Have lunch with my friends. Do my afternoon classes. Go to the park. Kill myself.’ And I went, ‘What?!’ And she said, ‘I had a pocket full of pills and a razor blade.’

“We don’t go in and ask them why. That’s not our job. We’re not psychologists. We’re just there to provide some sort of relief from whatever their life is. And on her way to the park, a friend of hers said, ‘Have you heard about Solid Rock?’ and she said, ‘No’ and she said, ‘It’s a bunch of kids over there. You can learn guitar, bass, drums’ and she said, ‘Well, I got nothing to lose.’

Alice Cooper Paranormal press pictures online print copyright earMUSIC credit Rob Fenn 5Photo by Rob Fenn“So, she comes over, and she’s there every day at 3 o’clock. Every day. Some of these kids say, ‘We feel safer here than we do at home.’ Other kids go, ‘This is exactly what I was looking for. I didn’t know where I was headed. Now I can sort of explore my talent.’ You’ll get a kid from the worst barrio; from the most expensive house; get them in the same room playing music together and neither one of them care where they came from. All they care about is the song or the music or what they’re doing. It’s been working. We get a hundred kids a day in there.

“We’ve only got one open. We’ve had people trying to open these places all over and I’m always afraid to farm them out because the original idea – there are certain things that we want to be at the bottom of it. It’s usually Christian business men – not that you have to be Christian, either. There’s no Bible study – unless you want there to be. There’s no requirement. You don’t have to learn Bible verses or anything. There’s no beating you over the head with a Bible. BUT it is available.”

At the end of our chat, Solid Rock came up again. Alice said:

“If you ever get a chance – if you’re ever in Phoenix and get a chance, come in and see it because we love for people to come in and just watch the kids working and watch the kids having fun in there. It’s a lot of lives changing in there! A lot of kids got dealt really bad hands in the beginning and this changes everything. Yeah. Yeah. All we have to do is be faithful to it. That’s all.

Another thing that the uninitiated might not know about Alice Cooper is that he and his wife are grandparents. I asked him if bedtime stories with the grandkids were frightening coming from Grandpa Alice.

“No, no, no! In fact, I had the twins over yesterday. Sheryl and I had Falcon and Riot over. They live up to their names. Riot, especially, was living up to his name. And they have a new little brother named Rexington who we call T-Rex. They got the power trio already going. They’re just absolutely so much fun! They’re a lot of work but they’re fun!

“They know that I’m not the same guy on stage. They know that’s Alice Cooper. I’m Pop Pop. I play Alice Cooper. They all get that. And their dad is in a band. Co-op (the band’s name) is really good. They sorta sound like Linkin Park – a heavier Linkin Park, and they’re Christian! I’m tellin’ ya, they have an album out that’s really, really good – Co-op does. It’s really, really a good record! The band is really good. I’m a little jealous of them, they’re that good.

“Calico (Alice’s daughter) is out with Beasto Blanco. She’s lead singer for Beasto Blanco and she’s still doing improv comedy. Sonora (Alice’s other daughter) is a make-up artist and her husband had Stage 5 kidney failure and got a new kidney. It’s not rejecting. It’s right there. So, we’ve been very, very blessed with that one.”

When can fans expect a new album from Alice?

“To be honest with you, I’m going to be writing the album with Tommy (Henriksen) on the road with Bob Ezrin. We don’t really have a target date for that album but a lot of it’s written right now. I think when there’s time off of the road, we’ll be going into the studio on that time off. We do albums fairly quick because Bob and I and Tommy work really well together, really quickly and we surround ourselves with great players. And we know – absolutely know if a song is right or if it isn’t right. We always over record everything. If we want twelve songs, we do eighteen. We do eighteen songs and pick the best ones.

“The legacy? You know, I would love to think that nobody wanted to go on after us. Do the show that nobody’s ever gonna forget and do it consistently for fifty years. I want to be the one that people compare to. That’s not out of ego, that’s out of the fact that a lot of work goes into writing and producing these shows. I like the fact that people still come to me and say, ‘I saw you in 1978. Best show I ever saw. I saw you in 1986. Best show I ever saw. I saw you in 1992. I saw you in 2005. Best show I ever saw.’

“To me, the consistency of how good the show was has a lot to do with the fact that Sheryl and I have been in show business since we were fifteen. Both of us kind of like really know if it’s right and really know if it’s wrong. Then, we have Shep (Gordon) and Bob Ezrin that are kind of the overlords that get it all done.

“I think the fact that Sheryl’s a perfectionist; I’m a perfectionist, and when it comes to getting it perfect – I don’t want it to be so perfect that it’s not fun. I want it to have a looseness to it. But I know you can be loose and still be perfect up there. I can tell now if one little thing is not quite in tune – and I’m never gonna yell at anybody. But I come over and I go, ‘I should tighten that bit up a little bit.’ And, a lot of times, mistakes stay in the show because, sometimes, mistakes are so good.’ They say, ‘Hey, I’m so sorry that happened.’ And I go, ‘No, no! They reacted great to it. We’re gonna do it again tomorrow!’

As our time to visit drew to a close, I asked Alice if he is staying with the same band as he has been touring with, he said:

“Yeah, yeah, same band. I’d never get rid of a winning combination like that. My job as a rock star is probably is fourth or fifth on my list of importance in life. But, it’s something that Shep and I and Sheryl have been doing for as long as I can remember, and I don’t see any way of stopping it. So, we’re just going to keep going until we can’t anymore.”

You can keep up with Alice and his band by visiting and signing up for his newsletter at AliceCooper.com. Also, please do visit his charity’s website, AliceCoopersSolidRock.com.

Corky Laing Talks Letters, Music, and Mountain

Posted September 2019

CorkyLaing001 cropBaby boomers and those less privileged are certainly aware of the great Saturday Night Live skit wherein Christopher Walken places Blue Oyster Cult’s record producer who keeps demanding more cowbell on their recording of “The Reaper”.

One might that the demand for more cowbell was heavily influenced by the song, Mississippi Queen, by Mountain, in which cowbell is prevalent. The man behind that cowbell was Corky Laing, who has released an autobiography, Letters To Sarah. It is a brilliant concept of an autobiography based on a stream of letters that Corky wrote his mom while he was traveling as a drummer.

I chatted with Corky about this book as he and his co-writer, Tuija (think “Julia” but with a “T”) Takala, were driving on a rain-slicked interstate somewhere in Connecticut.

“I am good! I’ve got to tell you, I am sitting with my co-writer Tuija; we are driving back to the city in downpour of rain here in Connecticut!”

I shared with Corky that I caught him and Leslie together when I first launched Boomerocity back in 2009 at one of the stops on the HippieFest tour. I had interviewed his Mountain mate, Leslie West (here) the month prior and was his guest to the show and backstage. I didn’t see Laing and I joked that he probably didn’t want to be seen around the likes of me. He chimed in:
“No, no, it’s not that. I just, I get away, because I don’t know what Leslie is going to say or do because he can be quite unusual in interviews. He can either tell ya to go f*** yourself or, ‘How ya doin’, Boomerocity?’ Ya know what I mean? He’s a moody guy. So, I just let him do his thing when that happens.”

I had just finished “Sarah” just prior to our call and I absolutely loved it. I’m a voracious reader, but if a book loses me, I " allowtransparency="no" width="120" height="240">don’t waste my time. I can honestly say that I couldn’t stop until I finished it. When I told Corky as much, his reply was gracious and sounded like it came from the heart.

“Well, I’d like to take credit for a good deal of that, but in short, I had my co-writer, Tuija (Tecala), who I had met in Manchester in 2006 and we kept in touch as I worked on a project, ‘Playing God’, with her, that she wrote. She’s very prolific. She’s a PHD, she’s a professor and she loves music. That’s the way we became partners - in writing the music in this play called ‘Playing God’.

“Hence, while we were rehearsing that in the New York area in my studio, she went to the storage area while she had some time and pulled out a box of letters that I had written to my mother over a period of about thirty odd years; that my mother had saved in this box, nice and neatly. I didn’t know about it. I never knew my mother did that. But, at the time, Tuija and I were talking about trying to do a memoir. She went online and she was pissed off. ‘Wikipedia, you got a lot of facts wrong!’
“She says, ‘Can we just clean up this brand of yours?’ And I said ‘yeah’. She said, “Well, maybe these letters could help us as a catalyst, in terms of a timeline of over thirty-odd years, which would coincide with me being in a local band when I was 15 years old; all the way through Mountain, West, Bruce & Laing; right through when she passed away. She saved these letters.

“Tuija was the one to say, ‘Well, wait a second. We can do this. We can put the letters in the book.’ She chose specific letters that were heartwarming, some were, whatever they were. But she was in charge of that, and she had them all filed beautifully as to the topic in the letter, and where it was, what the date was, what I was thinking, what I was smoking. Whatever it was, it was in the letters. Hence, she put it together, and I would tell the stories that would, hopefully, embellish the letters. That’s the way the book developed.

“I’m thrilled that you and people noticed that particular approach, because it was spontaneous and in terms of doing it. We had no idea. I have to say, a lot of my buddies in the music business say, ‘Cork, are you going to tell the story of snortin’ ants off a table and out late, with Ozzy?’ I said, ’No, we’re not going to tell that story.’ She insisted that we would tell a proper - not a proper story but write a proper book. And that’s what gave it, I think, the credibility.

“So, I give her credit. She did an amazing job, and I’m not being humble. I lived that life, and I was very lucky to live that life and I enjoyed pretty much every moment of it. It’s there in the book. But what else can I do? Just celebrate. You got over fifty years there. I can’t believe it’s been 50 years. Ya know, Randy, it flies. It flies by. Especially for a drummer that’s trying to keep time. I wrote the letters to tether myself to my family. Because I was the baby in the family and there was 7 other people in the house. And, Randy, if you ever want to get noticed, get a set of drums because they’ll notice. Play them as loud as you want. As it turned out, the drumming sort of took me to places that I was fortunate enough to enjoy.”

Sharing how it all started, Laing said: “Well I wasn’t sure if it was one of the guys, whether it was Todd (Rundgren), or it could have been any one of those (who said), ‘To be a teenager, in the 50’s was to be a nobody.’ To be a teenager in the 60’s was to be an everybody. And, if You were lucky enough to pick-up a guitar or a pair of drumsticks and play and get in front of people, that was your era. That was the soundtrack. You started the soundtrack.

CorkyLaing002“I went from my first performance where I got addicted to playing - I think I may have been 11 or 12 years old. I was helping out on this stage in a country club outside Montreal. It was called the Riviera Country Club. I think it’s in the book. And what happens is, my brothers were busing the tables because it was a restaurant/bar/theater. I was a couple years younger than them and they got me to sweep the stage.

“So, what happened is: The Ink Spots come up from the Catskills because Montreal is a half a day drive and this particular theater would book people from the Catskills in the summer at this club, this outdoor cabana club. Jackie Mason, you name it. The comedians would come up there. The Ink Spots were like the Temptations of their time.

“So, they walk in, and I’m sweeping the stage to get them ready and there’s a drum set and a couple of mics there. The guy says, ‘Boy, boy, where’s the musicians? We gotta practice.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Well, I think I just got told there’s a strike; there’s a musician strike.’ They looked at me like, ‘Really?’. One of the guys plays guitar in the band - they’re beautiful black singers; they’re gorgeous, The Ink Spots - and he looked at me with the broom and said, ‘Can you just pick up the brushes over there on that kit and just give us a little brushes so it looks like there’s a band?’

“I didn’t know what he meant. I never sat on the drums. I took care of the drums. I cleaned the drum sets, ya know? I took care of them. And, as I sat there in shock, I put on a bowtie, and I’m back there, 5 beautiful singers, black guys and this little white kid, right? And I can see the audience looking up, this was in the early 60’s - no, late 50’s, early 60’s. There’s all these families and kids - there must have been 150 - and they’re all having dinner and there are Th Ink Spots are singing and I’m brushing, doing whatever I could do. And I am enjoying it. I’m enthralled. People are noticing me. You know what I mean, Randy? They are looking at me! Coming from a big family that nobody noticed me, that was big time. So, that got me addicted to actually performing.

“I think there’s a photo in the book of me playing this drum set, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is the most beautiful instrument in any band!’ I remember going to music stores with my mom. I was going to buy a snare. I was shoveling snow that whole winter and I made enough money to buy a snare drum. I went into the store and my mother said, ‘Look at all these beautiful drums!’. There were sparkles. You’ve seen drum sets. Anyway, how could you not fall in love? So that’s when I fell in love with the drum - the way they looked.

“You go through these changes, Randy, where different things really inspire you.”

I interjected how cool it was, being born at the perfect time and having the perfect opportunity. It won’t happen again. It’s not going to happen again. You don’t know that when you’re there. Corky replied:

“But, somehow, something tells me, ‘Go for it, baby! Go for it!’ And I did. That’s where the book is at, in Montreal and just across the border into the states was a big deal - New York, was.

“You know, my father did tell me one thing ‘cause he saw me playing downstairs and he says, ‘Corky, if you wanna find out how good you are, go to someplace where the people know what good and great is.’ I remember saying, ‘I’m fourteen years old and I’m going to have to get my ass down to New York‘ ‘cause I saw King Grupa playing in New York at the Metropol on TV. They had a thing. So, once you see that, I got my ass in gear with the band and my buddy, George Gardos, and we got our visas and headed down to New York to the Peppermint Lounge, Randy! I don’t know how old you are, but do you remember? The Peppermint Twist was the coolest song in the world! What we didn’t know was that by the time we got to the Peppermint Lounge, it became a gay club! So, there we were, 14, 15-year-old kids, we were dressed up - like in those days all the bands wore the same outfit. We had suede vests with puffy white sleeves, ya know? White shirts, tight pants and dingo boots. All the same color and, boy, did they love us!

“What happened is, you had Johnny Maestro and the Crests who were playing, remember? (sings) ‘Sixteen Candles’, and after playing all these sweet sixteens, it was a big deal. They were headlining. And Johnny came over and said ‘You boys, just be really careful. Make sure you go into the bathroom together.’ And, I’m saying, ‘Wow! What advice!’ That was our first gig in the states. Then, we went on from there. That was like, the mid-60’s then.”

In “Sarah”, Corky tells a fascinating story about seeing The Who during their first tour in the U.S. and an incident that involved Keith Moon. I asked him about it.

“The point is, when I first saw The Who - we were opening. Our band, Bartholomew Plus III was opening the show at the Forum at the time. I think I mentioned in the book. This was the time the British invasion came in. So, because we were Canadian and because our manager ran the Forum, he booked us. We opened up for James Brown. Go figure. We opened up for the Kinks. We opened up for Herman’s Hermits. You name it. And they all came in because they had to get their visas. So, The Who came in and they were not celebrities, Randy. Nobody even knew who the f*** they were. They caused a riot. They broke up their equipment. You know what they did.

“Hence, at the time, Keith threw off this jacket and everything cleared. The police cleared the place. It was pretty heavy. And when things quieted down, I walked back under the stage - huge stage - and I see the jacket. I told the story (in the book), I don’t have to repeat it.

“I was going to steal it. And, as a result of me actually giving it back to him, I tell you, I think he’s going to kill me ‘cause I CorkyLaing003said, ‘Here’s your jacket.’ Because his grandmother made the jacket for the tour - for his FIRST tour, Randy - this was big time! He thought he lost it. When I handed that to him, he grabbed me by the collar – I thought he was going to kill me. He gave me a big kiss on the lips. I mean, he’s a funny guy. And I looked at him and went, ‘Whoa!’. It actually felt good. But the point is, he walked away, looked and me (and said), ‘Thank you, mate! I can’t thank you enough! I can’t thank you! I’ll never forget you!’ I went, ‘All right’ and he walks out, and at the time I don’t know what made me do what I did it, but I said, ‘I was going to steal it.’, just trying to relieve myself with that confession. He came running back at me, and this time I really thought I was dead. He grabbed me, again, and gave me another big kiss on the lips and he said ‘But ya didn’t steal it, did ya mate? Ya didn’t steal it and that makes it even better!’ And he says, ‘I love ya mate and I’ll never forget ya!’ Another kiss on the lips!

“So, what I’m saying is, he didn’t forget me. As time went on, Mountain was being managed in Europe and the UK by the same management company - it was Track Records that had Hendrix in England and they had The Who. So, we used a lot of the same crew as The Who, because they were off, The Who were off. In any case, we did become friends. Later on, he invited Jack, myself, and Leslie out to his house. And he came and, I don’t know how to put it. He pulled up in his Hydro plane. You know, the big thing? Anyways, so Randy, he pulls up and he sent a Mini Cooper to pick us all up as a joke because he knew Leslie was, like, 350 lbs. We got out of that and it was very funny, Randy. He saw Leslie trying to climb out of the f****** Mini Cooper and he says, ‘I’m so sorry mate. I’m so sorry. I would have sent the Rolls, but it’s in the pool!’ That kinda shit. We had a great time. We met a lot of times.

"In New York, when they played Madison Square Garden, he couldn’t have been nicer. He sat me right beside - right behind - Peter Townsend’s amps. Because, you know, backstage is one thing - the dressing room. He says, ‘Come on, come on, come on, come on!’ And he sat me right there and he had his tablecloth with his wine and his beer; his couple of shots of whatever, who knows what else was on the little table. But I sat there, and I watched him. Randy, I watched him. I focused every minute on him because I learn by the hand. I never took lessons, but I watched, and I was lucky enough to be able to do what I saw. And I remember, he got off the stage and he went back there. I said, “Keith I have to ask you . . .’, and he said, ‘Stop it! Stop it, right now! Don’t ask me how I do it! I have no f***ing idea what I’m doing, so don’t ask me!’

“It’s one of those things Randy, where it’s beyond being inspired. I just wanted to be Keith Moon, you know what I mean? I wanted to enter that vessel, you know, and take that journey. Which, I must say, that’s what the book is about, I guess. That’s the Nantucket sleigh ride, Randy. That the one we’re all on right now, as far as I know.”
Corky and his peers have seen a lot of changes in the music business. Not all of them have been good. I asked him if he were made music czar, what would he do to fix – if it can even be fixed.

“It was (broken), yes, (in the) early 90’s. I don’t think, number one, it can be fixed. It’s gone to a place - it started off kind of as a joke. You know, it was a summer job. It’s what you did on the weekend, whatever. But it was good. It was about the music. It was about the inventory. What you learned was in your heart. It wasn’t in your pocketbook. And, I’m happy to say, I never thought I’d make a lot of money in music. I knew when I started, you had to pay for things. You had to buy things, yeah. But I didn’t look at it like, ‘I’m gonna become a rock star’ ever, ever, ever! As a matter of fact, I always hated when we had West, Bruce, and Laing, and they started calling it ‘Super Groups’. It was. And there were musicians that played really well; that got more coverage than other people. You know what I mean? So, I hated that title that they put on different bands.

“But there are a lot of people that went into the music business thinking they’re going to be stars. And, hence, you have those TV shows of people singing one song really great, which is fine. But the true musicians - it’s kinda like this: I think it was my dad, I’m trying to remember, I said ‘Dad, I wanna grow up and I wanna be a rock drummer.’ He said ‘Cork, you’re gonna have to choose one thing or the other.’ So, I knew I would never grow up.

“But the drumming, it made you feel so much more. That’s why they call the drum seat a drum throne because it is the best seat in the house. When you’re sitting there, especially in over the last 23 years, I played in the trio, so I was usually at the top of the triangle - on the riser. And I would watch the guitar player. I would watch the bass player. Whether it was Leslie, whether it was Jack Bruce, or Felix, and I set the tempo. I was in charge. I was king of the world, of that world. That was the best seat. Whatever I played went right through to the guys in the band, right through to the audience, and the audience responded right back, if you did a good job.

“So, it was like that circle of life that Elton John sings about. I compare it to that. It goes ‘round and ‘round; it feeds each other. But as soon as you throw the f****** money into it, money has nothing to do with that. It’s a f*** sick item that f***ed it all up because all it was was music - playing and listening. You know, you had the ears out there. You had the players on the stage.”

Then, circling back to becoming music czar, Corky concluded, “So, I’m not sure it can be fixed. I’m not sure. You can’t go back on this stuff. But, yes, my new album is going to be on vinyl. Talkin’ about a turn around. There are a few things that still exist. You know, there are a lot of fans that are buying vinyl instead of CD’s. That’s just symbolic, though. That’s just symbolic of a time that you could feel, you know, you could literally feel the record and you have the album cover and you could read it and look at it. And, normally, if it was done well, it would project the vision of the record.

“Of course, when MTV came, it started going and it started spinning off into different marketing aspects. So, I don’t know if it’s going to come back to that. People can go get it. You can still go hear a great band, you know? I don’t know how you like. But to give you an idea, Randy, we are on tour this summer with the Legends of Woodstock, right? You were talking about the Hippiefest. It’s similar to that. The same guys putting on a few shows. We’re going to Houston and Denver, to play with 10 Years After, Cactus - you know, bands of the era and sort of implying there’s going to be a Woodstock-ish kind of vibe, which is fine.

“What I’m getting at is, that is as far back as one can really reach in terms of trying to find the musicians that played back then. And, like I said, they’re all dirt napping. If they’re not on stage, some of them have given up. Personally, I have no choice, I don’t know what I would be doing if I wasn’t playing drums. Maybe selling shoes, but they would all be the same size and the same color. I’m starting to get out there Randy, I’m sorry about that.”

“But it’s like, again, I’m very fortunate to have experienced a great time in music and a time when drummers were allowed the freedom to play the way they wanted to. When I was playing with Mountain, Felix turned to me, ‘cause I was scared to death, you know? I didn’t know what to play. I mean, they’re coming up with these riffs and all that. So, I, look at Keith Moon, right? Felix says, “Whatever you do, show me the one. Make sure if we start getting out there and jamming, whatever, make sure I know where the one is.”

CorkyLaing001“So, he allowed me to go right off any kind of click track or anything. And that’s a joy, that’s a freedom. That is the freedom that you want in music. I mean, these days, I remember Dennis (Elliot) from Foreigner, a really good friend, you know? He’s gotta play with a click track. And Foreigner’s a great band. It’s good to have great material so I would never make any judgement on that. But, really, Dennis said, ‘How lucky you are! You don’t have to be instructed or anything!’ And I was. I was really lucky. You’re playing with guys like Leslie and Jack and Felix - they don’t need a drummer, Randy. These guys got more time than many drummers I know. So, all I did was just fill in the blanks and there weren’t that many blanks. You know, it was like a joy. Yeah it was like riding on any kind of jet plane, just going way out there and making any turns you want. I’m going on now Randy, you’ve got to shut me down. This is when you shut me down.”

When I asked Laing why does he feel it is that our music is so much better than the crap that has come out in the last decade and why do our kids and grandkids gravitate towards our stuff, the classics like Mississippi Queen, he replied:

“I don’t know. I think you should ask them. I don’t know. My son is 31 and he won’t listen to Rap. He doesn’t listen to any of that. You’re right, he went right to The Doors. He went way back. I think the closest he got to new music was when Dylan and Roy Orbison and Tom Petty put together that great band - The Travelling Wilburys, yeah. And, if you were a Wilbury, you were cool, ya know? I’ve gotta say that that’s the latest one. But, again, those were the guys. They were all part of Classic Rock. I just don’t want to get in a posture to judge or diss the new music right now because there is some good things out there. They’re just - I don’t know, if you come from a headspace where music does certain things in a certain order in your head, you get used to that. So, it’s no fear of what’s new, it’s just how do I understand this?

“Last night I was watching the MTV movie awards, which I never watch. We happened to be in this cottage in Nantucket, and Tuija and I are watching it, and she’s looking at me saying, ‘How come you’re watching this?’ ‘I’m watching this because I’m curious.’ I had no idea, Randy, what the f*** they were doing. The guy was moaning, and he was lying down on stage. And this is a big - apparently a big star. Girls are screaming and all that. And a couple of whistles, who knows what he is doing. Can’t understand a word he says. I’m not putting it down, I’m just saying, I don’t understand what this is all about in terms of what they’re doing.

“And, so, you know, this is not just a generation, it’s 2 or 3 generations now from Classic Rock. You talk about the 10 years and stuff, you got about, it’s 2020. You know, right off the bat, we’re 20 years into the new millennium. I can’t say anymore, I’m going to shut myself down on that, because no, I don’t know what to say. Because, there are some great, great bands, Sublime - there are some good bands. You know they all break up. That’s the problem when new bands come. But I can’t criticize that because, we had a great band with Jack Bruce and myself, and we broke up too early. Who knows? It’s all the emotional aspect of it.”

I responded by quoting the late Sam Andrew of Big Brother and the Holding Co. from one of my first interviews when I launched Boomerocity. He said, “Randy when we were out there, it hadn’t been done before.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. “We were inventing this stuff, then. Nowadays, you’ve got schools cranking out 500 graduates a year who can play Hendrix”, which says a couple things. First of all, it speaks to the genius of guys like Mountain and others being able to tap into that muse out there and be able to create great classic works that stand the test of time. Secondly, it’s human nature to see this happen, but people try to emulate and mutate; they try to clone and copy. People try to commoditize. People are trying to take things that we all loved and try to carry on the tradition while creating a new tradition. People like Jonny Lang, Joe Bonamassa and others who are taking what Laing and his peers have done, honoring it and trying to create their own work to be able to carry the mantle forward. I concluded my comment by saying that I think there is something in the DNA of our generation - of our music - that is solid and, hopefully, our kids and grandkids will honor and respect that and carry it forward.

He replied philosophically.

“You know what, Randy? If they don’t, it’s all right, too. They’ll do what they do. I just found out a couple of years ago, I was listening to one of the Rap songs, I think it could have been JayZ. I guess his producer, was it Rick Baker? I’m trying to remember the producer. Anyway, they used a live recording of myself, the intro to ‘Long Red’. But I remember listening to a record, it could have been the other guy, Spotty D, or Icy Bull or whatever or whoever it was. But I remember that I said, ‘That feel was really cool.’ And I find out that my intro to ‘Long Red’- that we recorded way back somewhere, at the Fillmore. It was one of the top 10 samples that these rappers used. I looked it up. It said Top 10 samples, drum samples for rap. You’ll see, ‘Long Red, Corky Laing’ or whatever. And I’m going, ‘Where’s my check’, Randy?

“It turns out that I was about 8-9 years late. I gotta tell ya, I really felt like, wow, that is so cool that you know that happened. They sampled it and, apparently. It’s a real simple beat. Nothing over the top. I ‘m trying to think of the guy with the beard that produced JayZ. I’m sorry, I think it became Capital or Epic or something. Come on Cork... Rick, Rick, Rick . . . Anyways, the point is: Leslie got these huge gold records from JayZ on his wall, from ‘99 Problems and the Bitch Ain’t One of Them’. It’s a great song. I did listen. They used his guitar and they manipulated a couple of down beats and they use it as a percussive effect and they gave Leslie credit, which was kinda cool because you wouldn’t of. I couldn’t identify it, if you ask me. You know what I’m saying? In other words: You’re right about them using things from the past, manipulating them a bit and whatever they feel they want to do, I guess, to hold on to a little bit of yesterday day or whatever that is. But, you know, at this point, if the kids are listening . . .

“But you’re right about one thing: Because of everything being so disposable these days, Classic Rock is right there. It’s not going away. It’s not coming back. It’s not going away. It’s there. And, hey, I couldn’t be more happier than a pig in shit about it because at 50 years later, I’m playing Mississippi Queen, a song that didn’t even have any meaning in it. It was a rap song. The version of it on Don’s old records - somebody recorded me when I played in Nantucket, and the lights went out. There was no electricity and I started screaming out at this dancer who came up from Mississippi and I kept the lyric and everything, even though I was trying to pick her up.

“But the point is, how much happier can you be? This goes back to 1968-69 and people are still rockin’ with it. I love it, you know? What can I say? So, I’d be the last person to criticize anything. And what’s his name from Grateful Dead (he meant Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company) is right. We were just trying whatever was necessary - from whatever we felt was necessary from our heart. And it had to be LOUD, you know?

“I know a lot of the heavy metal bands these days, but, somehow, I’m associated with being a heavy metal drummer. The only reason I think that is because I had timbales when I started, which were, like, neutron bombs when you hit them. And then I had the cowbell. The only reason I had those drums is to cut through the stack of amps that Felix and Leslie played. They didn’t have all of the sophisticated microphones, Randy. You know it was like, you had to play really loud. And that’s what I did.”

Referencing the aforementioned SNL skit, I interjected “You were doing cowbells before they were being demanded more of, right?”, to which he replied:

“That’s right! I sold a lot of LP cowbells. I did! They were really happy with me.

With the book out, now, I asked Corky what’s on his radar for the next year or two.

“Well, I’ll tell you exactly what it is. At this point, we have the book, which we are just starting to promote. By the way, thank " allowtransparency="no" width="120" height="240">you for your support on the book. It’s really cool that you’re doing this. And we have a new record coming up, which was recorded last - well, 6 months ago we finished it. It’s coming out in the fall - the latest will be the fall. So, I will continue to tour that. We are going to Europe and Germany in October. I think we’re hitting France and maybe Romania? Romania. I’ve never been to Romania. Maybe Gastonia, I don’t know, one of those ‘nias’. Yeah, we’re going to keep playing. As long as I can kick it, I’m going to kick it, Randy. And I see we have a repertoire to work with, which is great, whether we’re playing old Mountain or West, Bruce and Laing. And, again, we have this new record called, Toledo Sessions, and I’m very, very proud of that from a writer’s point of view. Detroit, Toledo, it’s become the rock belt up there.

Speaking about his book, again, Laing said:

“The book is very special to Tuija and myself. That’s why it’s great to talk about it. You know, I’ve been talking about music for the last 50 years, which I love. But it’s very different. It’s a different format.”

You can order Corky’s book by clicking on the widget beside this sentence or wherever you prefer to purchase your books. You can also keep up with the latest going on with Corky by visiting CorkyLaingWorks.com.

Gordon Lightfoot On His Career, New LP, & Documentary

Posted July 2019

 

Gordon Lightfoot 01croppedImagine being an artist whose career is about to span seven decades (yes, seven). Imagine, writing songs that are immediately recognizable by every generation who listens to music today. Imagine writing songs that have been recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Olivia Newton-John, John Mellencamp, Harry Belafonte, and countless others.

The artist who personifies that and so much more is none other than Gordon Lightfoot. My earliest remembrances of the Canadian artist (and national treasure, in the opinion of The Band’s Robbie Robertson) are of hearing “If You Could Read My Mind” on the Phoenix radio stations when I was a radio listening eleven-year old. I became an instant fan. That following was further solidified when I watched Elvis Presley cover “Early Morning Rain” on his historic “Aloha From Hawaii” televised concert.

When I heard that the Canadian legend was going to be performing in my neck of the woods (East Tennessee), I had to reach out for an interview and was thrilled that it was granted. I reached Gordon at his home in Toronto. After making small talk, I asked him how he felt about still performing and having performed over six decades.

“Well, I think I better be prepared! I think I had better be prepared and I stay prepared. I have a group of people working with me and they’re all prepared. We’re ready to go. We go out seven times a year. We go on tour seven times a year. Each time we do about ten or eleven shows. So, if you add up the year, we’ve done about eighty shows and we play all over North America!”

When I mentioned that he’d be stopping at the Tivoli Theatre in Chattanooga (my neck of the woods), he said:

“Yes! That’s indoors! We try to keep things indoors in the summer. We do festivals. But I’ve played Chattanooga before. I’ve played there a couple of times already, so we’ll get back and pick up the ol’ vibes!”

I noted that Lightfoot had seen countless changes in the music business. I asked him what the best and worst changes in the music business are that he had seen over the years.

“Ah! That’s a question I cannot answer. It’s evolved. Things change into different modes. Country music becomes more rockGordon Lightfoot 02 Reduced and roll. That’s the best example I can think of. The rest of it just keeps rolling along; keeps changing. Hip-Hop music is out there big time right now. People like to tap their toes and dance to that stuff. So, do I!”

And his opinion of the music business today?

“It’s ongoing. If your stuff is good enough, it’s going to make it on the radio somewhere. The cream’s gonna come to the top. Take Drake, for instance. Drake is building a house right across the street from me. It’s a big thing around Toronto here. He’s been building it for two and a half years. I’ve never met him. But I wanted to what made his record be number one on the record chart for five weeks! Number one on the record charts for five weeks! I said, ‘I wonder what’s so special about him?’ I went and bought one (his CD) and it was like a great rap record. The great vocals. The great arrangements. Great rap, you know?”

Word has been circulating about a possible new album of new material by Gordon, so I asked him about it.

“The record is from some newly discovered material which I had forgotten I owned. Honestly. At that point, I really didn’t have enough for another album but when I found this stuff accidentally one day while cleaning my office. It became apparent Gordon Lightfoot 04that I had enough material available. It was interesting, too, because it was done just before I had a serious illness. I was at full strength. I was playing really strong on my guitar. My vocals were really at a peak at that point. It was about the year 2000. The stuff was written over a three-year period there. I dug it out and it was so good that I kept it all. I was able to work on it and do some orchestrating. That stuff sounds great! That’s going to be my 21st album. All original material.”

Canadian Television has been airing a documentary on Gordon Lightfoot. It’s not yet available in the States so I asked him about the documentary and how he felt about it.

“I’ll tell you, my wife and I have watched it together now four times – my wife, Kim, and I. She’s so philosophical about it that I really can’t believe that. I really got to give her great credit. It covers my personal life to a certain degree. But, mostly, it covers the titles. I have about twenty-five titles in there. A lot of photographs. Everyone from Elvis Presley right on down, performing my songs; like Gordon Downing. He just passed away last year. I had one called Black Day In July which got banned way back when. He did a great version of it. They showed me working with Johnny Cash and people like that. It was really fun. It showed some of my “Today” stuff with my band the way it is now. Now, it’s a five-piece band. Everybody’s all ready to roll. They’re a great bunch of guys. I have fourteen people in my entourage!”

When I asked Mr. Lightfoot what fans can expect from this tour, he shared:

“Well, okay, they’re gonna have a two-set show with a twenty-minute intermission. Each set is about sixty-minutes long. If theyGordon Lightfoot 07reduced can sit through that, they’re welcome! Some of these people, my goodness, they’ll go on for three hours up there! I like to be polite with my audience and time is one thing that I take very serious. I don’t like to work too long. We give them the best of everything we’ve got. And, believe you me, they play it well. We’ve got a good little orchestra here! By the time we get to The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, they start to get really excited.”

With such a stellar career and a still successful touring regimen, I wondered what Gordon would like to do, career wise, that he hasn’t yet done.

“It always comes to mind that Springsteen did his Broadway show. It’s there on Netflix. That’s a great show. I might do something like that, but I don’t think I could. You gotta be Bruce Springsteen to get on Broadway like that. Ha! Ha! A whole year! He’s one of my biggest influences! I love that guy! I love his work! Him and Bob Dylan and quite a few other people, too. Leonard Cohen!”

Since Elvis had a song or two of his, what were Lightfoot’s thoughts of the King?

“He covered my song, Early Morning Rain, better than anybody and that takes in a whole bunch of people because, I tell ya, a LOT of people recorded that song. I like George Hamilton IV doing it best of all. But, Elvis? Yes, I almost jumped out of my car when I heard it on my car radio because that was the first time I knew that he even done the song, when I heard it one day on my car radio when I was driving down the highway. I didn’t even know about it. All of a sudden, there it was, and I said, ‘Oh, my goodness! He’s done it! I remember buying a guitar when I was fourteen when I first started hearing Elvis Presley and there he was. I almost jumped out of my car, but I was doing about 75 miles per hour at the time. Ha! Ha!”

Did he meet him?

“Came close. Could have. They made a way for me in Buffalo. I was supposed to meet him backstage at the hockey arena when he played there. I didn’t make it back in time. They left by the time I fought my way back there. We were going to meet, alright. I just couldn’t get back there in time. They had to go.”

I don’t what possessed me to do it, but I the legendary Gordon Lightfoot the ongoing question among baby boomers: Beatles or the Stones?

“I gotta take the Stones because they’re still going at it and they’re this weekend up hear in Toronto! They’re doing a great big show! They’re expecting about twenty-five thousand people up there. You gotta choose the Stones because they’re still doing it! What else can you say? They’re still a band! They’re still out there doing it; playing their music! It’s amazing! I’m amazed that I am still doing it!”

And why does he still do it?

Gordon Lightfoot 01“I’m over eighty. You’re not supposed to still be doing this when you’re over eighty, so they say; still out there playing music. They tell me some people still play until they’re ninety. A prime example is Willie Nelson. Tony Bennett. They’re still playing their music. They’re not getting any younger. I really love the work. I feel confident and I like my material. I stay ready to perform. I stay prepared. You always got to be in a state of readiness to go out seven times a year. Those little month-long stretches in between there, they go by pretty quick and you gotta go back out there again, doin’ it. Each one is like its own little trip. Of course, you gotta make arrangements, too, for the work permits, all the time doing that for fifty-six years. I could’ve moved down to the states if I wanted to. It was my songwriting that got me accepted by the industry down there, originally. My songwriting deal allowed them to petition on my behalf for the work permits.”

We all hope that Gordon Lightfoot is around and performing for many more years to come. That said, I asked him a question that I’ve asked many of his peers: How do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy is? His answer was short, sweet, and to the point.

“My answer is always so simple, it’s so stupid: That I took care of business! That I took care of business. Yeah!”

Please check out GordonLightfoot.com to stay current on his touring schedule and other related news.