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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.

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.

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.

Stu Cook "Revisits" Creedence, Litigation, Woodstock, & Retirement

June 2019

 

StuCook 1 cropBoomerocity readers are more than familiar with the iconic band from the sixties and early seventies, Creedence Clearwater revival. Their music catalog includes Proud Mary, Who’ll Stop The Rain, and many other songs that occupy the soundtrack of baby boomer’s youth. They were veterans of Woodstock and other huge festivals of 1969. Wikipedia states that, just in the U.S., they’ve sold 28 million records.

All of this led up to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 – twenty-one years after the band broke up on pursued years of litigation between Stu Cook and Doug Clifford and their lead singer/guitarist, John Fogerty.

For over twenty-years, Stu and Doug toured as Creedence Clearwater Revisited (the germ of one of the post-breakup lawsuits), bringing back musical memories to long-time fans and new fans, alike.

That is, until their recent announcement that they are retiring from the road after this year.

That news came on the heels of a re-hashed announcement that Stu and Doug and settled their pending lawsuits with John Fogerty. I reached out to Stu to have my second interview with him to chat about these announcements.

When I called Stu up at his home, we made some small talk, among which was the fact that it had been almost five years since we last spoke. He chuckled and said, “Holy Mackerel! We’re on the five-year plan!”

We engaged in some small talk, joking about their retirement as well as those of other artists who have announced their retirement – some as far back as thirty-something years ago. As I mentioned that CCR’s itinerary didn’t seem all that long, I hoped that more shows were going to be added. I didn’t like his answer.

“No. We don’t play in East Tennessee. We haven’t been in East Tennessee in quite a while. We never know where we’re going. We have virtually no say in it. The offers come in and our booking agency, William Morris, and our management, they try to figure out – they put the dart board on the wall then they decide, ‘Which dates they can possibly make it from A to B to C without killing themselves.’ We call it “No heroics,’ ha ha! If we can’t get there safely overnight, we probably shouldn’t take the gig.”

" allowtransparency="no">Later in our conversation when we chatted about the “Revisited” incarnation of CCR, Stu indicated: “Twenty-five. This is year twenty-five of ‘Revisited’. Who knew that it would go on like that? We used to have a plan. It was actually a five-year plan. But, after the first one, we just said, ‘Ah, what the hell? We’ll just do it year by year and see how it feels. At the end of each year, we’ll take a look, run the year backwards, see what worked and what didn’t, what we can fix and what we can’t, and decide if we want to move forward from there.’

“At the end of last year, we said, ‘You know? The playing is as great as ever. The audience is as great as ever. And, of course, the music is supreme for us. The road is just not much fun.’ Twenty-five straight years of straight of – you know, most bands take a break. Most artists tour behind product – new product or recent product. We’re touring on our legacy. We do it every year but when you start going back to the same place multiple times and it wasn’t your favorite place to begin with, the travel has really gotten unromantic.

“We’re not retiring from the music business, as such, or from music, or from being CCR, or even Creedence Clearwater Revisited. We’re just taking a break from the road which, at our age, this will likely be the last year of regular revisited appearances anywhere.”

I stopped my questioning to thank Stu and the band for such an incredible body of music that is stamped all over the soundtrack of my youth; what all it represents and the memories it conjures up – both good and bad – when I hear their songs.

“Well, you’re welcome! I love it!”

I then segued into another area by telling Cook that I had seen where he and the band had settled litigation with John Fogerty and then, right after that, I read about the retirement announcement. Why this? Why now?

“Well, the settlement actually occurred a couple of years ago. The settlement I refer to is ourStuCook 2 most recent legal battle. It started at the end of ’14 and then went through ’15, ’16. I think we settled at the beginning of ’17. It really had no connection at all, that I can call on or pull down and attach to our decision to get off the road. But, that said, to your question what it feels like; what our settlement looks like: at this point, it’s just a business arrangement but it’s far man than we ever had in the last forty-five years. We have a company together and we hope to do some interesting things with it.

“In the meantime, other projects have been in the wings and are now about to take stage. I believe that Creedence’s full performance, the quartet’s first and full performance at Royal Albert Hall is going to be released. It’s a DVD. Coming up also, I believe, this year, because this is the fiftieth anniversary, of course, of Woodstock. We’re trying to get together a complete set to be released on DVD, as well. We weren’t in the movie. Hopefully, people will be able to judge for themselves how good that performance was. I think it was one of the best of the event. A journeyman set under any circumstances, but Woodstock was not your normal circumstance.

“Other artists didn’t fare as well as we did. We were so well drilled that it really didn’t matter where we were or what was going on. We could play that set! Ha! Ha! That was our thing, you know? We were ready, always, to go into the studio. We never went into the studio when we weren’t ready. Never went on stage unless we were ready. So, I’m not surprised that our set still stands up.”

When I said to Stu that it had to be a bit surreal and mind boggling to think, Wow! Such a major, pivotal event in pop culture, society, and history, to be a part of that. When I admitted that it was a “freshman question” to ask what it was like, Stu said:

StuCook 3“Well, you know? At the time, it wasn’t that big a deal. There was some startling, amazing visuals at Woodstock for us. The artists had a completely different world than the audience. We were backstage where there was comfort of all kinds, right? There was no suffering backstage. There was no grit, as they say. Ha! Ha! That was all out in the audience.

“As time has gone by, I’m ever more convinced that the event was really about the audience. The music sold the tickets and was the draw, the bait. But what transpired was truly unique – probably unheard-of for population of that size. So diverse. Thrown together for a weekend – especially considering half the people paid and the other half didn’t.

“There wasn’t any misbehavior or social nonsense. I call it anti-social nonsense. If it did exist, it was immediately controlled by the people. They were self-policing. Two deaths. Two births. Something like that. For a city of nearly a half a million, that’s pretty unique, especially given the circumstances.

“The film, I think, shows it more clearly. The film is about the audience – the event that they created. The bands were really the soundtrack. The Muzak, if you will, for that elevator ride! We played the Dionne Warwick special the night before. Flew all night to Boston. Caught a private jet up to Bethel. The, I believe we helicoptered to the Holiday Inn where everybody was. Sort of camp headquarters. Everybody from Production was there. Everybody from all the bands, crews, everybody was there. But they weren’t at the site working.

“So, we helicoptered into the site. We came over the hill and saw that mass amount of people. It was just pretty amazing – to see so much humanity . . . and hair everywhere! Hair and teeth! Ha! Ha!”

I joked that if there was a reunion of those people held today, there wouldn’t be much of both, to which he laughed and said:

“Yeah, really! Ha! Ha! I went to a Woodstock party Saturday night. I was asked to speak. I asked the audience, ‘Is there anybody here this evening who had been to Woodstock?’ Actually, two people that said they were at Woodstock! I was surprised. Most people had seen the film. Some people had actually seen the film more than once.

“It wasn’t the biggest festival of the summer. Atlanta. California had one. Denver had a Pop festival – a rock festival; whatever they were called at the time. So, ’69 was the summer of festivals. At the time, for us, it was really just another one. We played four or five of them that year. The logistics were far more difficult, especially when it would start to rain, which threw the whole second day’s schedule off. We were supposed to play at ten Saturday night – we were supposed to headline.”

A technical glitch blanked out a few minutes of the recording of our chat, so I don’t have the StuCook 1 Fullrest of what Stu had to say about CCR’s performance at Woodstock. To say that it was fascinating would be an understatement.

I asked Cook what advice he would give aspiring artists who wish to subject themselves to the rigors of the music business.

“Professional advice not meant to start an argument. Creedence didn’t have that. We didn’t have someone to step in and say, ‘Hey, you know, this person is making a good point. You’re making a good point. But you’re wrong here, they’re wrong there.’ Have everyone honestly express themselves. This is what I would recommend you consider doing.

“I read a Science Fiction book – I forget by which guy it was. Frank Herbert, maybe. He was talking about the concept of a fair witness. Someone who can call ‘bullshit’ and they get the final say sort of a thing. That’s what was missing from our organization. We had the drive. We had the dedication. We had the friendship. What we didn’t have was someone who could navigate the dangerous waters of the music business which led to our early demise, just to wrap that thought up.

“That, and my advice would be to not let things simmer and fester. I think being candid, open, and honest is always a preferable route so that you don’t end up making compromises that you later regret. You thought this might be that way if you did this because you thought that’s what the other person wanted or needed or expected. Then, come to find out, they hadn’t even considered what you’d done as some sort of offering or compromise or something because you never really had the conversation about what needed to be done; who was willing to do what.

“So, there needs to be a really high level of honesty among all of the participants so that you all stay on the same page as long as possible. It’s inevitable that people will lose interest or finds other directions because that’s the way life is. Change is inevitable. But you shouldn’t be surprised by it and it shouldn’t cause a lot of grief. And it won’t if you understand what your relationships are, how they work, and you all are in agreement as you move forward. That would be my advice. I know it sounds overly ‘ivory tower’ or intellectualized, perhaps. You gotta be honest with yourself and with your co-workers and partners. And you need someone you can be honest with and they can be honest with you, to help you through uncharted waters.”

When I opined that people still have the idea that once a talent signs a record deal, they are instant millionaires and flying on private jets, he laughed and said:

“People need to get a grip on their own realities. How many people are going to be travelling like the Stones or Elton John or Billy Joel? That’s the stratosphere, up there. First, you gotta find a band. Then, you gotta find a manager. He has to find a deal. Then, you have to get an agent. Then, you have to get on the radio. It’s all much harder now.”

I commented that I hoped that the settlement with John Fogerty meant that there can be healing and a mending of the fences where there can be true friendship, again. He responded by saying:

“Well, you know, I’d been pushing for this for years. It was quite expensive, but we finally got it done. If nothing else, our heirs will like us because they won’t have to do it.

“I’m with you. There’s just no point in carrying grudges, being bitter. Life is far too short. We can all do much better than to carry that baggage around. Life has got enough challenges without carrying the past in that particular way. You look at it and say, ‘Yeah, well, everyone has a part in their pasts. You weren’t always the winner and you weren’t always right.’

“So, yeah, I’m with you. Let’s act like big people.”

I reminded Stu that, during our last chat, he had commented on the then-pending lawsuit between Randy California’s estate and Led Zeppelin over “Stairway To Heaven”. He said:

“Right there! That should tell you why you don’t want twelve strangers deciding your fate. The first lawsuit we were in with Fogerty when he blocked us, temporarily, from using the name, ‘Revisited’ – ‘Creedence Clearwater Revisited,’ actually – we were in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – the three-judge panel; heard the arguments. At the end of it, they went and did their deliberations. They sent us a message a couple of months later, saying, ‘We’re going to give Cook and Clifford back the right to use the name, ‘Revisited.’ In other words, John lost his injunction. It was overturned. Both lawsuits – his and ours – remained in place. They said, ‘We consider your actions against each other a family matter and suggest that you solve them in that manner.’ Ha! Ha! They could see, already, that if they were us, they wouldn’t want twelve strangers deciding these issues for them. We eventually took that message to heart. We got the first lawsuit out of the way. The second one Doug and I felt that we had to bring because we felt that John was inappropriately making a move to take over the trademark, which would’ve given him the power to do anything if we hadn’t fought it.”

The contractual war is over. CCR is giving peace a chance. “Revisited” is ending touring as we have been accustomed to seeing them this year. Visit Creedence-Revisited.com, purchase tickets and plan a trip to catch this iconic act one last time. They will put a smile on your face as you remember the times when their songs were new to – and dominating – the airwaves.

Thank you, Stu, Doug, Tom, and John, for the songs and the memories tied to them.