Article Search...

Dave Mason

Posted July/August, 2011

Photo Courtesy of Dave Mason

I suppose that, if I could conjure up an uber cool classic rock and roll resume for myself, it would feature such achievements as working on some of the most history making albums in rock, write some of the most memorable songs in rock and play with some of the most iconic figures in rock.

And, I suppose that if I did such a conjuring of that resume, it would wind up looking much like the life and legacy of legendary rocker, Dave Mason.  For instance, Mason was a member of the ground breaking group, Traffic, having worked on their first two studio albums, Mr. Fantasty and  Traffic  as well as their live album, Welcome to the Canteen.   He played acoustic guitar on Jimi Hendrix’s cover of the Bob Dylan tune, All Along the Watchtower on Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland album.  Though not credited for it, he reportedly worked on the Rolling Stones album, Beggars Banquet. He also worked on George Harrison’s album, All Things Must Pass.

When he wasn’t helping out his rock and roll friends, Mason was very busy cranking out very high quality and notable hits on his own solo albums – songs like Just for You, We Just Disagree  and even a duet with Michael Jackson entitled Save Me.  In addition to Harrison, Hendrix and Jackson, Mason worked with such rock royalty as Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Fleetwood Mac and Eric Clapton.

I couldn’t possibly have come up with that kind of dream rock and roll resume in my own feeble mind. That’s what makes Dave Mason’s life and career incredibly intriguing, making me wish that I could trade my resume for his.  Since that isn’t ever going to happen without landing me in jail for identity theft, I, like you, am more than content to enjoy Mason’s wonderful legacy that grows with every performance and new tune.

I had the privilege of catching Mr. Mason’s show during a recent stop here in the Dallas area (the review of that show is here).  The show was phenomenal and, on my way out of the venue, I picked up a copy of his latest CD, 26 Letters ~ 12 Notes (read the Boomerocity review of it here).  While I didn’t get to interview Mr. Mason at that time, the opportunity did afford itself recently to chat about his participation in the Hippiefest 2011.

Hippiefest is an annual event – a touring festival of sorts – where some of our most favorite artists from the 60’s and 70’s join together for a brief tour to reconnect with fans.  I had the privilege off attending the 2009 Hippiefest tour and had the honor of interviewing the legendary guitarist for Mountain, Leslie West. The tour is always a load of fun and is guaranteed to bring back a boat load of fond memories for those of us who were back in the day and is sure to introduce younger generations to real rock and roll music and legends.

Hippiefest 2011 begins in August when Dave Mason will join rock luminaries Rick Derringer, Mark Farner (here), Gary Wright (here), and Felix Cavaliere for a musical phenomena that will definitely go down in the history books as one of the best musical values of the year if not for all time.

When Mr. Mason called me from his California offices, we started off by discussing his participation in Hippiefest. I asked him if he had been involved in any other Hippiefests and if he had worked with any of the participating artists before.

“No, I haven’t done any others. I’ve done shows over the years with Mark Farner – both with Grand Funk and solo.  Gary Wright – I know Gary from back in my days with Traffic. Gary used to be with Spooky Tooth. I think from purely an audience point of view, it might be one of the better valued ticket price out there this summer.”

Dave has toured the world many times over in his 40+ years in the rock world.  With so many miles traveled, I asked him what’s changed about touring.  His answer was short and sweet, designed to elicit nervous laughter by the truth of it all.

“Mad bombers and TSA.”

I asked him what he missed about touring during the old days, he replied, “No mad bombers and no TSA.”

The weight of those comments and insights, brief as they were, still weighs heavy on my mind as I contemplate the impact 9/11 has had on the world.

In 2004 Dave Mason, Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi, as the original members of Traffic, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Prior to this interview, I asked the CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a comment on Mason. He had this to say about the rock icon:

“He’s a great guy. He’s one of the most, I think, approachable folks that I’ve worked with here – particularly relative to the inductees but also artist in general. He has a great since of humor and a great spirit of life and playing.  He’s also a great friend of the museum.  What I think is interesting about Dave is – and I mean this sincerely – he’s one of those artists that, I think, has upped his game over the years in terms of great work with Traffic.  A great, significant, individual career. But even now, with this last album – which I gave the last album to all of my board members and they all loved it. It’s an album that is so readily listenable – the quality of his guitar playing and the quality of his singing.  He did not stand still.  The gods blessed him with talent and something that remains with him at the same level he had when he was younger.”

With that in mind, I asked Mr. Mason two stupid questions: How did that feel and what has that meant to him?  His answers were heartfelf.

“Well, obviously, it’s nice to be recognized for the work that Traffic did. I was basically only there for the first two albums. I wrote half of the first two albums and there was that Welcome to the Canteen (Traffic’s live album released in 1971). There’s been multiple ‘best of’s’ and more ‘best of’s’.  It was a great time. I was eighteen but, on the other hand, it was not cool because there was – it’s hard to explain it without being ‘sour grapes’ but Steve (Winwood) just made it very difficult to do it as a unit.  It was more his show than it was Traffic’s, frankly. He dictated what was going to be done and what wasn’t going to be done. And the bottom line is they wanted to do Dear Mr. Fantasy.  They go, “Well, we want to do Dear Mr. Fantasty and we want to do it just like we did it when we were eighteen” and I’m, like, “Excuse me? That was a long time ago. Why would Traffic even want to do it the same way?’

“See, I classify Traffic as one of the original alternate bands.  A lot of stuff we did on stage was jamming. So, to me, it was a question of, ‘Well, let’s just get up there and let’s blaze it out, trade guitar solos and, basically, do the song but give it a fresh approach because it’s open for it.’ They go, ‘No, that’s not going to happen.’ Then I go, ‘Well, I’ll just stand up and play acoustic guitar.’  ‘No, that’s not going to happen. You’ve got to play bass!’

“I played bass on the original version and I played bass on a song called Dealer. I haven’t picked up a bass or played a bass since I was eighteen and I’m 65 now!  It was like, ‘Guys, it’s not my instrument. Let’s get up and make this happen.’

“So, that was the problem. It was sort of a bittersweet kind of event, I suppose, for me. Whatever the problem is – and still, to this day, I have no idea; no clue – it was a great opportunity to take that opportunity to actually do one last round with the last three remaining members because it was a year -  year and a half later that Jim passed away. So, there were just opportunities missed there and that’s unfortunate. One would think that you would work past those things but evidently not. That’s just the way it is.”

While Mr. Mason was offering reflections on his career, I asked him what, of all the questions and interest in his work, what would be the one thing that he feels has been least covered and understood about his work?

With a laugh, Mason responds. “Oh, gosh!  I don’t know. I think, personally, more from a music business standpoint, I’m just sort of hidden under the radar. I’m as good as I’m ever going to be at this point – of being ‘Dave Mason’.  The singing is still strong. The playing is still there. I’ve always tried to keep my music somewhat timeless and I think that works in a lot of songs. To me it’s either good music or it’s bad music. I listen to all kinds of music. Either I relate to it or I don’t. You know, like everybody, it’s subjective.

“It’s like, Terry Stewart, ‘When are you guys going to book me up for an induction?’” Mason rhetorically asks with a laugh.  “It’s not like I haven’t done quite a bit in this career of mine and influenced a lot of people and made a great classic album. So, it would seem that he would put me up there for something. But, otherwise, I can’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, wasting my time with that. We go on. Obviously, I haven’t played the huge venues that I used to play back in the 70’s but it doesn’t matter. What we do do we pretty much sell out. It’s still a great audience there and we have a great time playing.”

What hasn’t Mason done, musically that he still wants to accomplish?

“Music for a movie. It doesn’t matter what kind of movie. With the way I write, it would probably be for some sort of human interest story.”

As I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, I picked up Mason’s latest album, 26 Letters 12 Notes, that came out in 2008.  It’s a must-have for connoisseurs of rock and roll in general and Dave Mason and/or Traffic fans in particular.  I love the whole album but I think my favorite cut is How Do I Get To Heaven.  After telling Mr. Mason my honest, positive opinion of the album, I asked him what crowd reaction has been to any of the songs performed off of it.

“I only do a couple of songs live most of the time – Good 2U and Let Me Go.  I did that album over a five or six year period. The problem is radio is the weak link in everything. So there’s no way for anybody to hear anything new. There’s no DJ’s except if you’re in small, little, local markets you’ll find that occasional station but on a national level it doesn’t exist. It’s crazy. When I do listen to it (radio) – which I don’t – you never know who they just played anyway. There’s no back sell – there’s nothing. It’s just wallpaper for selling stuff. It’s the day music died, you know? Satellite helps a little bit but there’s, what, five or six million members?  You’re talking about a country of over 300 million people here.

“Back when radio was radio and you had DJ’s, you had songs up there being played, at least you had the opportunity for people to hear it and buy it. That whole thing is nonexistent. The bottom-line is that nobody is really playing anything new by artists like me at all. They just keep regurgitating the same stuff.  Even kids that come to my shows and I talk to about it, they go, ‘Well, we don’t even listen to it because it’s boring – there’s nothing going on.’  So, that whole human component thing was taken out of there. Whether it was to reduce their costs, streamline it or whatever – I don’t know. I have to feel that somewhere down the line it will have to come back somewhere.

“But that the reason why I think talk radio has become so big, because there’s somebody there. There’s actually somebody there talking – with an opinion so you can yell at the radio or agree with them, whatever.  They’ve taken all of that personal touch – that human touch – out of it (rock radio) and, without that, it’s just wallpaper. But, like I said, I have kids at my shows that get it! They say, ‘Well go to the internet. We’ll look for something else.’ They got it. They go, ‘What’s the second half of the show going to be like?’ and I go, ‘It’s going to be exactly like the first half!”

I asked Mr. Mason a question that I often ask artists of his stature: What’s been the biggest POSITIVE change, in his opinion, in the music industry since the 60’s/70’s?

“Basically, because of everything that’s happened, it’s kind of gone full circle. When I started, you made a single. If you got a hit with a single, then you made an album. It was all very singles driven. For the most part, it’s sort of where it’s gone back to. When I say that I won’t make another CD, I’m not going to make another album like that to go out to the market because there is no market.  Basically, that CD might be sold out there in the public about, I don’t know, 12 or 13 thousand albums/CD’s. Most of the stuff I’ll have to sell door-to-door like peddling Encyclopedia Brittanica or Tupperware and doing it at the shows.

“But the only other way for me, at this point, will be interviews like this. Where I’ve got it set up is I’ve revamped my entire website and I have a recording studio at home and I keep recording at home. There are a lot of great, old songs that I want to re-cut and do a different way. And there’s some stuff that’s new but it’s all going to be available at DaveMasonMusic.com. That’s where you can go if you want to download any Dave Mason music.  I don’t have a lot of stuff up there right now because it’s only been a couple of months since that thing was done and I’m still tweaking it out a little bit. I’m just going to keep feeding it into my website and, hopefully, people will enjoy it. I mean, for a $1 or $1.50 per download for music – that’s the biggest bang you’re going to get for the cheapest amount of money on pretty much anything you buy. You can play it over and over and over again. And the internet is a wonderful tool but it’s a double edged sword. It’s allowed everybody to steal everything. That’s just an odd situation to me. If you can digitize it, you can steal it.”

As our time was up, I asked Mr. Mason one final question: When he’s stepped off of the tour bus for the final time and Dave Mason has left this building called “Earth”, how do he want to be remembered?

After several seconds of thought, he responds, “Well, my thing with life before me goes along with my philosophy of everything – not that I’ve always succeeded, personally, but I like to leave things in a better place than I found them. That would be my quote.”

I’m of the honest opinion that, at least musically, he has done, and continues to do, exactly that.

You can catch Dave Mason during most of the stops during Hippiefest 2011.  As I mentioned before, it’s an incredible opportunity to relive some quality rock and roll memories.  You can also keep up with the latest developments in Mr. Mason’s career by visiting www.davemasonmusic.com and, while you’re there, you can sign up for his newsletter and check out his store for any music of his that might be missing in your collection.

Ken Mansfield

Posted September, 2009

At some time or another, have you ever fantasized about being on a first name basis with a certain celebrity?  During your youth, did you ever dream about hanging out with your favorite movie, sports or music star?

Admit it.  You would have loved to wow your friends and family with a celebrity knowing who you are and calling you by your first name or inviting you over to their place for dinner, wouldn’t you?

Well, if you are Ken Mansfield, you would have experienced just such a life many times over.  At one time, Mansfield was considered good friends with three of the four Beatles.  No, really, he was.  Not only that, he was head of the U.S. arm of their record label, Apple Records and was present during the much bootlegged video shoot of their last concert on the rooftop of Apple Records in London (viewable here on YouTube. Ken is the one in the white jacket).

As the old Ronco commercials of the seventies use to say, “But, wait!  There’s more!”

Mansfield was a high flying executive and producer for, among other companies, Capitol Records and on first name basis with many artists such as Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, Andy Williams, David Cassidy, Don Ho, among many, many more.

Kinda makes one want to put away those old fantasies for good, doesn’t it?

Ken Mansfield shares what amounts to 30 years of his life in three books.  They are (in order of publication), “The Beatles, The Bible and Bodega Bay”, “The White Book” and, the recently released, “Between Wyomings”.  All three tomes shed light on Mansfield’s illustrious career in the music industry. 

With sales of “Between Wyomings” already doing well, this promises to be a very successful conclusion to Mansfield’s trilogy of life in the very fast lane of the music business.  It was to discuss Ken’s new book that a recent phone conversation took place between the legendary producer and I.  We also managed to talk about the music industry today and how it compares to how it was in the 60’s and 70’s.

I start off by asking Ken what the response has been like regarding his new book.

“It’s very, very strange.  Like in ‘The Beatles, The Bible and Bodega Bay’, it got three kinds of responses.  I’ve heard from people who loved the whole thing and the whole idea.  And then I have people that really like the show business-travelogue part and don’t really care that much about the spiritual chapters.  And others that just think the spiritual chapters are the whole thing and not that excited about the show business stuff.

Concluding the thought with a chuckle he says, “So, it’s been three ways and it shows where their true interests lie.  And, so what I’m e-mailing my agent about is that I really feel that this is meant to be a CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) book that would cross back over into the secular field, more or less like Donald Miller’s, “Blue Like Jazz” and “A Same Kind as Different As Me”. I fear that, because of my previous books, it more or less, landed more to the secular side, which I think is not the side to get its initial acceptance.  So I do have a good basis because of the readers of the previous books.  I just think that we really need to concentrate more on the CBA.”  He also lamented the back-of-the-store placement of his books in the large bookselling chains that create obstacles to sales of his book.

There is an especially poignant story in the book that involves Mansfield hopping a plane to London and, miraculously getting access to the famous roof top of the former Apple Records building.  I posit the observation that “Between Wyomings” comes across that he is now trading what the roof top Beatles concert represents for new, more spiritual “roof top experiences”.

His answer just might disappoint the segment of his readers who only like the music industry travelogue portions of his writings.

“I have to say that’s basically what the idea is.  In going to the roof and wrapping everything up there is me saying good-bye to these kinds of memoirs and that portion of my life and the struggle of back and forth with that.  I’m an ordained minister.  I’m what I’d like to consider to be a Christian author.  I speak at churches and that’s really where I’m heading.

Ken goes on to describe that the book he’s currently working on is going to be in the in the style of “The Shack” or “Tuesday’s With Morrie”, concluding that “it’s going to be more in that direction and just totally leave anything to do with my background and business.  I’m moving myself out of those (kinds of) books.”

I had to wonder, though, if his readers would even allow him to leave his past behind.  His answer is refreshingly honest, forthright and delivered with a chuckle.  “Well, I think so, because, if I was one of them, I would think that I was kind of tired hearing about me.  And, I’m tired of talking about me and I’m already on the edge of repeating stories, you know.

Turning to a more introspective tone, he continues:  “I think what I had to say – basically, what the books are, they are three books that are testimonies.  And I’m moving from testimonies to story-telling and preaching, that kind of thing.  I’m an evangelist.  That’s what I am and so the purpose of the first book and the third book was really an evangelistic tool where I could draw people in for other reasons, you know? “  He concludes his thoughts by adding that it is his hope that he can hold the reader’s attention with the stories of his past while conveying the message of his spiritual journey and insights.  Mansfield illustrates what he’s talking about with a story from his days as a sought after record producer and song writer.

“The reason I was successful as a record producer is I could never make a record that was just exactly on with what everybody else was doing.  I always tried to make a record where I could grab more than one audience.  That’s why I was starting to do the crossover records, you know, to where it would go into both the country market and the pop market, that kind of thing.  I was looking for – especially with this last book, “Between Wyomings”, I’m looking at three markets.  People that like to get into the travel type books.  If you get me to read a travel type book – even if it’s bad, I just want to know what’s next.  So, it’s got that aspect in it and it’s got the spiritual aspect and it’s got the show business/inside story thing.”

Furthermore, Ken relays that he has come to learn a lot about his writing style from the feedback he has received from his readers.  He learned that he wrote books like he wrote songs.  He is, in fact, a very lyrical writer, which he acknowledges.  He has also come to realize that each sentence had a unique structure that was then mimicked in the resulting paragraphs, with the paragraphs arranged in a deliberate structure and story.  He concludes, “I used to do arrangements, and write songs.  I would write a good intro.  Then a verse would bump into a chorus and then back to a verse.  Then, two choruses and then out to a tag ending.  People will always write in dichotomies.  I think I always do that.  I like to juxtapose things against each other.  Like wearing an overcoat in warm weather, it’s just doesn’t make sense but there’s a reason for it. “Later, he states that “I write like a Christian on acid.  “

In “Between Wyomings”, Mansfield relays details of the crash of his legendary career, where he landed, and the lessons that he gleaned from the experience.  To the latter point, he unashamedly states that the lessons in humility were both necessary and priceless.  My favorite of the stories involves an event that took place during a Whitney Houston concert.  This and two other related stories can be helpful and instructive to any of us who have found ourselves un-, or under, employed.  I asked him if he found that the stories resonate with his readers as well as listeners during his speaking engagements.

“I tell that story from the platform.  It just blows everybody away.  I’m really able to tell the story.  I’m standing up there, usually with monitors and stuff, so I’m really able to tell the story because I have the props with me.  It’s very natural because I’m telling the story from the stage, looking into the front row and audience, with stage monitors in front of them.  I think THAT is probably one of the biggest points in the book, is the willingness to get down on your knees and not only in front of God Almighty, but in front of people and to have the humility and guts to be able to say, “Okay, here I am.  I lay it down before you, Lord.”  I’m not doing it in private because I didn’t do the other things in private.   I did all of my decadence in front of thousands of people, so I’m laying it down in front of thousands of people, too.   I think that’s a major point. “

With self-effacing humor, Mansfield ties in two similar stories that involve Julian Lennon and James Taylor.  “I had three real biggies there.  It was God saying, ‘I’m going to prick this thing about your pride.  Okay, here’s a one punch.  Here’s a two punch and a knock-out punch.’  The Julian thing was behind the amphitheater in the afternoon.  The James Taylor thing was on stage with him and his band and few other people around. And then the Whitney thing was in front of ten or twenty thousand people.  So, He (God) kinda ratched it up!  So I thought, ‘Okay, duh!’”.

With Mansfield’s incredible experience in the music business, I just knew that he had to miss being “behind the glass” of the recording studio or hob-knobbing with the rich and famous.  When I asked him if this was the case, his response was equally surprising, thoughtful, humorous and realistic.

“I did if it for 30 years.  I’m done.  Maybe, if Clapton called, I MIGHT do it.  But, I got to thinking about it the other day and I don’t even think if Clapton called that I would want to do it.  I’m just so focused on my ministry and my writing.  I feel it’s like being like a pitcher in the major leagues.  They can only throw so long and so hard before their arm starts giving out and I think I did that.  I don’t think I have the “speed on the ball” that I use to have.”

I couldn’t resist referring to a comment he made towards the end of “The White Book” regarding Ringo Starr, I asked him if he and the former Beatle ever rekindled their close friendship.

“No, I’m afraid not.  I was a bit surprised by the atmosphere when we last met.  When we first met each other in 1965, we were young guys in our twenties and were together on so many different levels.  We spent time together and our lives even fell apart together.  And, obviously, we were part of the inner circle after the Beatles.  I represented him in the 90’s and we went through our drug thing and mutual marriage ups and downs together.  “We had so much history with each other and because he was a very common person, in a way, it made a friendship with him very easy.”

Ken also thinks that the passage of time coupled with the dichotomy of Ringo still performing and Mansfield now in the ministry has prevented the two from re-establishing any kind of relationship.  That said, he laments, “I thought our history was something that we’d always have in common and be very close.  We both felt awkward and I really didn’t feel like I had a desire to continue it.  I think it was almost a known good-bye, in a way.”

Continuing on that thought, he goes on to say, “It’s very strange.  I’ve written before that, when I worked for the Beatles, it was so cool.  It wasn’t like, “I’m a Beatle and you’re not”, you know?  It was just so easy.  But when we met up, I’m standing there and I almost felt like, ‘He’s a Beatle and I’m not’, you know?  It was a strange feeling because, in the beginning, I think, in some ways, he was more enamored with me than I was with him.  So, I don’t know.  It’s very strange.”

Ken then concludes the “Ringo Story” with this introspective thought: “And I felt that was . . . one of the many little pieces of the severance from the past.  I don’t care anymore.  I don’t care if I go backstage anymore.  I don’t care if they go, “Hey, Ken!  How ya doin’?”  I don’t care anymore.”

I move the topic of conversation to the state of music and the music industry.  I lead off by telling Ken that some of my other interview subjects have said to me that they prefer going “analog” versus “digital.

Mansfield jumps right on the question.  “Yeah, and I think that it’s more than the technology being analog.  I think the emphasis of what they’re saying is really on the environment of how we use to record.  It was very real.  It was very natural.  I think that’s what they mean by the analog experience.  I totally understand that.

“I have been approached recently by a Christian project that is probably the only thing that I would consider.  And the reason I would consider it is because it would done in that manner, like we use to do in the old days.  I mean, it’s not that we’re not going to use the technology and all that is available to us.  But I really want to go back to the “analog” atmosphere.  That’s what I’m comfortable with.

This subject then leads me to the more routine questions that I ask in my interviews.  I start off by asking Ken if he agrees with the line of thinking that the 60’s and 70’s generated music with more meat and substance than is produced today.  His answer is quite thought provoking and is sure to step on the toes of artists and industry executives alike.

“I would agree to that and I think there’s an absolute reason for it.  I don’t think that I’m even second guessing this.  I think it’s because we worked harder at it.  I think it meant more to us, and I think the music is what drove us and not the fame and finances.

“We got to pick our own band mates and these were people we got along with, who we had history with and spent five years in the back of the van with.  Kind of like how the Beatles were playing 10 shows a night in the Cavern – that little stinky, dark, dirty, smoky place, all that time.  I think in those days, bands earned their stripes and put themselves together.  I think if you had a band mate that wasn’t holding his own, he was out.  It was a very strong work ethic.

“So many people that I’ve talked to have the same feelings.  I got into music because I was into music.  I was actually embarrassed the first time somebody paid me money for making music because I’d do that anyway!  Give me a paycheck and then let me be on an expense account and let me hang out with famous people and let me hear all this music and travel?  I get PAID for this?

“But, anyway, I think that’s why any time you look at the five biggest concert grosses of the year – every year – it’s all guys in their sixties and fifties these days.  It’s the Bruce Springsteen’s and the Rolling Stones, the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s, those kind of acts.  Pink Floyd coming back out and stuff.  It’s the bands. “

The fuse is lit and so he continues, “I asked my youngest son, ‘Why are you buying Iron Butterfly and Doors and records like that?’  He said, ‘Dad, you have better music than we do.’ The producer of the Doors told me – this was many years ago – he made much more money on re-releases from young people coming to the music than when he did when the Doors were famous and on the charts.”

Becoming a little more pensive, he states, “I think, maybe, if you had to put it down in three words, it would be, ‘We had heart.’   We weren’t run by a group of accountants, lawyers, and investors who picked a guy from Cincinnati and that guy from Ft. Lauderdale because he has curly hair and this guy has a high voice.   We just came together and made it happen.”

With the 40th anniversary of Woodstock this year, I asked him where he thought, back then, society would be 40 years later and did we make it there.

“Well, I didn’t think any of us were going to be past 30 so I never thought that far ahead.  Until we got to 30 we thought we were invincible and that the whole dream was going to go on forever.  I knew (Woodstock creator and promoter) Artie Kornfeld through all of that stuff.  I was supposed to be there and wasn’t because I was involved in a Beatles thing and I had to make my choice.  But I think that there is a current and a revolution, a revitalization of the music out of that era in both secular and Christian genres. “

Mansfield latches on to that latter genre, which I get the impression is his new, real musical passion.

“This Friday, I’m going to have the experience of my life.  Love Song (a Christian rock group popular in the early 70’s) is reuniting at Chuck Smith’s church in Costa Mesa.  That’s where the whole thing started, in part, because of Chuck Smith and the whole Calvary Chapel thing came about.  They (Love Song) were the Beatles of Christian music.  They’re getting back together and I think something’s going to come out of that.”

Ken wraps up his thoughts about the 70’s Christian music business by expressing his love and admiration for stalwarts like Chuck Girard, Randy Stonehill and a mutual favorite of ours, guitar phenomena, Phil Keaggy.

I wrap up our conversation with a couple of more questions, starting with, “What do you see as the single, most positive change in the music, or music business, since you were involved in it?”

Mansfield is ready to answer.  “ Well, there’s a couple of things and they’re things I don’t understand.  I think the fact that the record company is no longer king and people do have – if they’re turned down or rejected - they’re not dependent on the record company signing them.  And they’re also not dependent on finances.  These kids can get back in their bedroom with ProTools and start making these (CD’s).   

“And ,I think also, hand in hand in with that is, the electronics and the ease can really be – “  Stopping mid-sentence, Ken drills in to the meat of his point.  “You know, if a guy isn’t really a string arranger, he can still hear something and still accomplish it on his own through technology.  All the toys he has to use allow somebody to really be fully creative beyond their physical abilities.”

Still on a roll, Mansfield reveals a little secret about his days in the studio.  “I use to arrange all my own records.  I can’t write music.  On string arrangements, what I would do is sing them in somebody else’s ear that could write it down.”

I then asked Ken the converse question:  What are the negatives that he sees in music, and the music business, today compared to his days in the business?

“I’m really going to get into something here.  I just think that the morality and the greed of our society with the young people . . . they’re different now. They want something and they want it right now and they want it to shine and they want it to go fast and then they’ll forget about it.  It doesn’t mean as much to them.

“I think, the corporations have ruined themselves.  When I was in the music business, people had heart. They had an idea.  People would just go with something.  The record companies were music people and they would go, “I see something in this kid.”  The kid didn’t have to have a full management team with agents, a record already made, a concert tour in effect, or whatever.

“As a producer, independent producer, I was able to walk in to (former Capitol Records executive) Al Coury’s office and say, ‘I got this guy and I have been looking at him and here’s what he brings to the table and here’s what I think I can do with him.’ And we would make an album deal on the artist based on my conversation because Al Coury trusted me and he knew and liked the concept I had.  I validated the artists.  I played a couple of his tapes so he could hear what the artist sounded like and make a deal on that.”

We close our conversation by talking about some of the artists today that commands his attention.  Not surprisingly, he’s on top of a lot that’s going on, especially in the fields of Alternative and Country music.

“What’s happened to me is I love alternative radio.  I love the bands I’m hearing and their creativity.  Sometimes, I’ll hear a new band, and I’ll hear the intro and I’ll hear Led Zeppelin, the Beatles or, I don’t know, Waylon Jennings in there.  I just see this creativity.

“And the problem is, maybe they’ll ‘back announce’ it on the radio sometimes they don’t so I don’t even know who it is.  I try and track it down online and I can’t find it.  And the problem is, even though it’s a great band, they’re not consistent and it’s to the point where they don’t have success that keeps it ongoing to where you can stand back, getting into the band.  But, I just love what’s happening with all the alternative music.

“There’s a group called Amos in Ohio, and I cannot find anything out about them.  I heard probably the best alternative record I’ve ever heard as I was going across the country one day when we were on tour.  I tried everything to find that record.”

Are you hearing this, Amos in Ohio?  You heard it here first.

He wraps up by chatting briefly about current country guitarists Brad Paisley and Keith Urban and then tying a nice little bow around it by invoking the band, Foreigner.

Mansfield says that “he (Paisley) is one of the best guitarist around.  Keith Urban and him got together on one of these shows recently and it was just super.  They play their guitars without looking at the frets.  I like that!  They really know their instrument, you know?  Both Keith and Paisley have that special thing and so does Keaggy.

“Get the album, The Best of Foreigner, and you’re going to be floored when you put their hits together, how good they were (chuckles).  I didn’t realize how good they were when they were big and it, just in retrospect, I go, ‘Whoa!  These guys had powerful production and songs and performance.’  Amazing!”

Talking with Ken Mansfield is a treat for those of us who get off on hearing the people behind the scenes share their thoughts and insights about what was, what is and what should be.  There’s a lot more where this interview came from.  To learn more, I would highly recommend reading all three of Ken’s books and in order of publication.  However, if you must pick one, I would strongly suggest reading “Between Wyomings”. 

Donna Loren

Posted May, 2011

Ah, the sixties!  For many of the Baby Boomer Generation, that is considered the golden era of music, television, movies and cars.  One thing that we began to witness in those years was music busting out beyond the radio and jukebox and began merging with TV and movies to sell stars, cars and soda pop.    This was a wonderful, beautiful, creative perfect storm that captivated the attention of millions and turned stars and starlets into icons whose images are forever etched in our brains.

One young lady who found herself in the dizzying vortex of that perfect storm was the beautiful and talented Donna Loren.  Starting out in radio at the tender age of 8, she quickly broke into TV in the southern California area, eventually getting the nod to be the only “Dr. Pepper Girl” on the cola’s national advertising campaign.  She also managed to make it as a regular on the historic TV program, Shindig, as well as staring in a string of iconic “beach party” movies as well as lots of guest appearances many TV shows.

I was recently afforded the opportunity to chat by phone with the perennial beauty by way of introduction through her husband, Jered Cargman. After some delays caused by my schedule, they were still gracious enough to chat with me.

The first impression I had of Ms. Loren is that she still sounds like the “Dr. Pepper Girl” of 40 years ago.  As the conversation progressed, I quickly learned that the youthfulness of her voice is driven by the youthfulness of her heart.  When you visit her website or purchase her CD’s, you’ll see that she still has a very youthful look that mirrors her outlook on life.

As we settled into our conversation, I asked Donna how she has been doing.

“Oh, pretty well, actually.  I’m starting to rehearse for my first performance that I’ll be doing live since 1968, so that’s pretty monumental in my life. I mean, with one exception, I did one live performance in the early 80’s, opening for Jerry Lee Lewis. Other than the one time I was on the Merv Griffin Show, it was like a little blink in my life in the early 80’s. Now, I’m really going for it.”

Having been off of the stage (for all practical purposes) for more than 40 years, I asked her a real brainy question: Is she nervous? (Brilliant, Patterson! Geez!)

With her infectious laugh, she replied, “Um, as long as I remember all the words, that’s all that matters. I’m really digging deep.  Digging deep. I’m digging very deep. I’m going back to songs that I haven’t sung since I was a child – just reviewing things that happened to me in tandem with performing. I’m writing my autobiography so it’s (the show) sort of a musical way of taking people on my journey.”

Did she say, “book”?  This bookworm’s eyes widened at the thought of an autobiography by this woman.  Naturally, I immediately asked her when the book would be available.

“Gosh, I’ve been gathering information for a couple of years now. When my mother passed away, I received a bunch of diaries so I’ve been compiling and going through a bunch of information. Now, I’m actually putting it into manuscript form. Also, my father - my ‘now I-know’ adoptive father – was my manager back in the day. He was also a photographer, which was also a great deal of what he did during the days of my career. Some of the things I inherited after my mother’s death are just a bunch of negatives that have never been developed. So, that’s another process that I’ve been going through, looking at photographs that he took while I was doing my career.  I’m still sort of processing all of that information and seeing what’s relevant for the book. It’s a lot of reflection but it’s also just life in general right now.”

It’s at this point that Ms. Loren shares where her drive and motivation are rooted.

“My philosophy is that the condition of our dear planet is just crying for a higher consciousness and a coming together.  People are so fed up with all of the separation and all of the division and all the divisiveness. I constantly reflect on the condition of this planet and what I have lived through just in my lifetime and all the changes that are occurring now and the build up to where we are. I just see the likes of the people at the very top like the Bruce Springsteen’s and the Sting’s and the people that are out there, really, really giving - giving of their hearts, giving their all to help people come together.  Again, it seems that music is the one language that everybody understands.”

“You know, Randy, when you think of the different times of renaissance that have happened over the course history – all of the great minds and all of the great contributions to art through the millennia, you wonder why it only went so far and then, all of a sudden . . . A perfect example is, let’s just say, Nazi Germany, for one example, which is a time and period we had just begun the Industrial Revolution. It was well on its way. Things had just been invented. The telephone was common. Television hadn’t been invented yet. What was the first thing that was attacked? The arts!

“So, really and truly, what I’m getting – at least what’s motivating me a great deal – is what all the seeds that have been planted through the eons of time are now being supported. When you think about seeds being planted, we go back thousands of years with the same thread of information because it’s the truth, right? So, it’s like you’re remembering, I’m remembering, lots of people are remembering. There are lots of brave souls out there fighting for their freedom now - lots and lots of people all over the world!

“So, when you think about the seeds that are dormant in our earth – in the depths of our earth - just like the fossil fuels – at the depths. How many millions and millions of years that it takes for all of that to finally ‘surface’, let’s say. So, I’m just feeling that the universe is supporting this movement of freedom because it seems that it’s so contagious all over the planet even though we’re witnessing so much resistance because of leadership that doesn’t want to give up their power. Hey, man, you can’t fight it when you’re in the minority and I have a lot of faith in humanity even though we’re going through everything we’re going through.”

“I don’t know if you believe in ‘trapped energy’ but I used to go to Sedona (Arizona) a lot. In the early 80’s, I discovered Sedona and wrote a song about it. I fell in love with it – the energy there, the magnetic fields there.  They call them ‘vortexes’. There were times that I would drive to Sedona from Los Angeles or sometimes I would fly into Phoenix. I knew this man who was a minister and he was a pilot, so I felt safe in the sky with a man of faith at the wheel, flying me over the desert and up to those mountains – those red rocks. Sometimes we’d land at a place called Table Top Mountain. He would tell me, ‘You know, not everybody can stand the energy – weather the feelings you get from this particular power spot - especially people with heart conditions. There’s a heart energy on this particular mountain that some people, they just can’t come up here.’

“So, there are different vortexes. Some of them are positive and some of them are negative. I’m sort of getting that the heart energy of the earth is opening up rather than the intellect and what I call the ‘lower chakras’ of the warriors who feel that fighting is the answer. To me, that’s a dead end.”

Because Ms. Loren referenced her song, Sedona, I seemed to remember that she was backed up by guitar great, James Burton and the rest of Elvis Presley’s TCB band when she recorded that song. I asked her about it.

“Yes! Oh my god!  That was such a great experience because I knew James when I was a very little girl. He used to back me up on a radio show I used to go on to when I was, like, eight years old, called Squeakin’ Deacon. It was a live radio show – a country and western thing. When I was a very little girl, my favorite music was Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. It just touched my heart. I didn’t quite understand what the words were all about. Even at that age, I ended up being part of a little bit of the country scene that was happening in Los Angeles.  Cliffie Stone and the Bakersfield crowd would come down to Los Angeles.  Anyway, that’s when I met James.

“Then, probably when I was seventeen, so nine years later, we ended up doing Shindig together because he was part of the Shindig band. Then he became the leader of the Shindogs, so we worked together quite often during that period.  Then, in the early 80’s, we reconnected. During my divorce, which took almost two years, rather than going to therapy or finding some other way of ‘getting it out’, I had access to Amigo Studios over at Warner Brothers. So, James and I would go into the studio quite often and that (Sedona) was one of those occasions.”

“He’s (Burton) one of those guys back in the 80’s – he was a very high integrity man with a family and a wife of many years. By the time I got divorced in 1983 or ’84, he and his wife, Louise, told me that he was going to be moving back to Shreveport. So, once he did that, and I was a Los Angeles girl – then, eventually, I moved to Hawaii – we really have lost touch since those times – now going on 30 years.”

Donna Loren first gained national notoriety as the one and only “Dr Pepper Girl” back in the 60’s.  With so many companies going “retro” in their advertising, I asked Donna if she had any idea why Dr. Pepper hasn’t asked her to be their “girl” again?

“Well, the thing, is – just a little history. When I was hired to be the Dr Pepper girl, it was a solely owned company – it was a Dallas, Texas, based company. When I retired – first of all, I retired two years shy of my contract fulfillment. I spent five years out of seven with Dr Pepper. In my book, I go into detail of how and why I chose to stop at the last two years of my contract. Technically, if I wanted to be cute about it, they still owe me two years because I walked away when I got married and decided to change my life. At some point, Cadbury-Schweppes bought it, which is an English company. It’s just one of many companies that the corporation owned.   When you go from a solely owned company where I used to be invited to sing at the board meetings – they used to fly me into Dallas and I used to go to their headquarters with a dozen or so men around a long table at seven o’clock in the morning for a prayer meeting – man! I was there!  Going to a huge corporation like Cadbury and now Dr Pepper is just one of many, it probably got lost in the shuffle.

“A couple of years ago, I did get an e-mail from the museum for Dr Pepper down in Waco. They were searching around and they didn’t have anything on me. The curator or whomever it was looked around on the web and saw that I had some calendars and stuff on my website.  So, they contacted us to get some artwork and fill in some gaps.”

As Donna Loren’s popularity grew on the radio and on TV, it’s hardly surprising that the doors quickly opened for her to appear on the silver screen – most notably, the “beach party” movies that were all the rage in the 60’s.  I asked Donna her opinion as to what made those movies so endearing to the public.

“First of all, I think the people that were cast in the films – how would you ever expect Don Rickles to be in a beach party movie? Don Rickles – the guy is very close to 85 and he’s still doing it. And Frankie Avalon – he’s still out there. He looks sharp – looks great. He’s still out there doing it. With the exception of a George Burns, you didn’t think that people would have that longevity. Sid Caesar is another guy.  Mel Brooks is another.  Betty White. You don’t expect people in their late 80’s or 90’s to still be relevant in terms of that broad of a communication. I think there’s also empathy for Annette’s (Funicello) health – to remember her when she was young and full of life. All the years that she’s been a recluse and debilitated – but her spirit lives on. She’s so amazing! But you look at the cast and my god! Little Stevie Wonder – there were so many people in those movies!  From my experience – because I grew up next to the ocean – (it’s because) so many people have never even seen the ocean.

“When I lived in California growing up, I lived 2 miles from the ocean and it was a part of my life. The sea air was part of my life. Whenever I had the opportunity, I was always on the sand and near the water. When I eventually moved to Hawaii, I was even closer to the sand – closer to the water. At one point, I was living in Honolulu, right at the water’s edge. I could, literally, look off of the balcony into tide pools and it looked like an aquarium on a clear day. I could see the Humu­humu-nuku­nuku­āpua’a – the fish that, when you go to Hawaii as a tourist, somebody says, ‘Oh! There’s a Humu­humu-nuku­nuku­āpua’a!’ They’re a special fish that you can see that swims around close to the shore’s edge and it’s noticeable.

“Anyway, I, personally, had this relationship with the ocean. After a lot of personal things happened to me and I became aware of it, and I was gifted with this opportunity to be right next to my friend, the ocean, I was able to process so much information and so much emotion just by going into the ocean all the time. Having that experience in the ocean because – I want to call it the motion of the ocean – when you’re in the ocean and the waves constantly moving, that communion with the core of your being is all around you, it’s almost like being back in the womb. It’s very comforting. Yet, it’s this constant motion that allows you to release certain feelings that, maybe, in some other environment, may be still trapped inside you.”

I asked Ms. Loren what her fondest memories are of making those carefree, beach party movies.  After some thought, Loren shares, “You’re going to think this is silly but, because I love the ocean so much, being in the studio is, sort of, not my favorite thing – being inside all day. The idea that we got to go to so many beaches all along the coast in Malibu - each movie had its own location (was great). In my diary, there are notations of different beaches that I’ll be describing. Most of my career, I was heavily, heavily chaperoned and, so, most of my memories are, ‘Gee, they’re having so much fun.’ But everyone was of legal age and no one was hanging around them. Other than Stevie Wonder, when he was there, I was the youngest, so my life was more about my responsibility to my family and my father was always there watching me. I couldn’t go too far. But, I would say, of course, singing in those movies I thought the highlight was singing my duet my first time out the gate with Dick Dale. I go into stories in my book about my experience meeting with him the first time – all of the exotic animals he had at his house where we had our first meeting.”

At this point, Ms. Loren slightly interrupts herself to share a story that happened recently.

“I almost reconnected with him (Dick Dale) last year. There is an organization called American Cinematheque and they bought the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood and renovated it. They show all kinds of movies there – rare footage. Last year they honored Matt Damon during a coast-to-coast broadcast. They invited me to host a Beach Party marathon.  I was still living in Hawaii at the time and came back to California. That was my first public appearance and sang some of the songs from the movies. They asked me, ‘If you could have anybody join you, who would you like?’ I said, ‘Dick Dale!’  They contacted him and he declined based on what they were offering him, I guess. I’m still thinking that would be an interesting reunion.”

Donna appeared on some of the most iconic TV’s shows of the 60’s. Like the movies, I asked Ms. Loren her thoughts as to why those shows were such huge hits back in the day.

“I would have to focus on Batman. I don’t know what it was, but the seeds were planted for longevity during that period of time. I just think that it’s an energy that people now going on four generations are just not willing to let go of.  There’s something about it. It’s not just characters. It’s not even the plot. When you really get down to it, it’s an energy – maybe an intention that there is something possible – maybe you look upon someone as a hero.

“Batman, like Superman, were still flesh and blood. Robin was just flesh and blood. Yeah, they put on their pseudo-hero costumes but the supernatural heroism that anyone can show these characters symbolized. And for it to become a caricature larger than life, it’s sort of like the animated characters. They take a snapshot and they never age so the relevance is still ‘right now’. So, little kids that watch Batman on television – the first Batman versus the most current Batman – it’s pretty much this thread of continuity. It’s all basically the same. The technology changes but what you have with the character is the same. Who knew?  Who knew there would be this crazy amount of longevity back then?”

I asked if she thought that part of the reason was a sort of innocence that permeated the 60’s – a still-pervasive goodness that was in the hearts of society that existed before the assassination of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King and the Watergate scandal.

“Naiveté. Yeah, exactly. I think you hit it on the head, Randy. After all of those incidences and – if you really want to dig deep – there’s just so much corruption that’s happened.  The naiveté of the 60’s still hadn’t reached that point of cynicism. Finally, after we all witnessed three icons being shattered, it was a phenomenal power play to control our population and move in the direction we had been going in for way too long –since ’70. And when you think about the drug culture, why do people do that all over the world? Why do people put themselves in a fog? Because there’s a feeling of a lack of empowerment. Before that, there was a feeling of at least a little bit of empowerment – that dream of, ‘Yes, if I have a vision, I can make that dream come true with a lot of hard work. At least I’m going to try!’

“But, when you go through the 70’s with that major drug scene – even in the 80’s with politics and drugs, etcetera, etcetera – only now, since the beginning of the year in the Middle East, we see that people are willing to die for their freedom again.”

Because of the pervasive appeal that Donna obviously had with her audiences, the legendary Danny Thomas offered Loren her own TV show.  After the pilot was shot, she decided to retire and focus on raising her family.  Did she have any regrets about what could have been?

“As soon as I knew that I was going to be starting a family – it wasn’t the only reason why I retired – literally, I knew that I wanted to raise my children. I wanted to be at home and spend time with them. I wanted my children to know who they were and I couldn’t divide myself that way. I had to devote myself to them.  I knew that it was right for me. I also had to change my lifestyle in terms of my relationship with my parents because we had a business together and I was the commodity.

“But there were quite a few reasons that came to a head very, very quickly. What can I say?  I really believe that everything happens for a reason and that it’s for your own personal growth. If you can try to keep that in the front of your mind, your brain, your heart, that you’re doing what you’re doing exactly when you’re supposed to be doing it – even if you don’t get it at the time – just keep your faith that that’s where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be doing. Things just evolve. I wouldn’t be where I am right now if I hadn’t made the decision that I made then. I wouldn’t have my three incredible kids. They wouldn’t have their lives to experience. It’s not all perfect. It’s not why we’re here. I don’t think our souls are here to live in perfection.”

In recent years, Ms. Loren has been quietly but actively recording music, I asked her who she felt her music would appeal to most.

“Normally, I would say anyone who values the work that I did in the past. Last year, I had the good fortune to meet up with a couple of people – one was a big fan of Shindig. His name is Paul Shaffer (David Letterman’s Tonight Show band leader). Another one that I met up with was Little Steven who plays my song, So, Do The Zonk, all the time on his Sirius/XM radio program, Underground Garage. I would say that generation would see the value in my past work.  I would say that it’s infinitely possible to enter to a frequency that would make a connection. I’ve met people in their late 40’s that have an inkling of a memory of me based on TV. People in their early 50’s who remember my Dr. Pepper jingle. Then, there are their children and even, possibly, their grandchildren that have a fondness for, like you said, the Nick at Night and Nickelodeon.  I’m not going to limit it. There’s a big wide world out there and I’m hoping to connect with as many people as possible.”

As a follow up to my question, I asked Donna what the reception has been like for her latest CD, Love It Away.

“I can’t really articulate it that much because I haven’t performed it ‘live’ yet. I have a steady stream of internet sales through Amazon.com and downloads through iTunes and various other sites that have my music. I’m looking forward to seeing what the live audience response will be.”

So, what can we expect from Donna Loren in the next year and in the next five years?

“Ooh! My goodness!  Ideally and philosophically, I would say to stay with devoting myself to heart energy and really promoting that. Most of my songs that I write are about that. If I’m singing old songs or new songs, that’s my intention and what I want to put out there. I want to ride the wave of newness that’s happening on the planet and align myself with that. It’s a full time job – 24/7 – to not be distracted by the negative stuff. Not to put my blinders up – I like to be aware of it – but I don’t want to immerse myself in it.”

You can keep up with the latest happenings in Donna Loren’s life and career by visiting her website, www.donnaloren.net.  You can follow her blog, sign up for her newsletter and visit her store to check out her offerings of CD’s.

And, if she’s going to be appearing at a venue near you, why not check out her show and witness for yourself her talent and warmth?

Steve Lukather (2013)

Posted January, 2013

Photo by Rob Shanahan

Since the launch of Boomerocity over three years ago, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing lots of phenomenal, historic and iconic talent.  Whether chatting it up with Grand Funk Railroad (and former KISS) guitarist, Bruce Kulick, Billy Joel’s sax man, Mark Rivera, or guitar virtuoso, Andy Timmons, to a man each and every one of them mentioned Steve Lukather.

Luke (as his friends call him) is best known as a founding member/lead guitarist/songwriter/vocalist of Toto. However, he has also been involved with some of the hottest songs and albums in the history of popular music. From Michael Jackson’s  Beat It (and all of the Thriller album) to Olivia Newton-John’s Physical,  to working with such huge talent as Lionel Richie, The Tubes, Donna Summer, Chicago, Richard Marx, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and, currently, Ringo Starr, Lukather seems to find himself associated with the best of the best.  And those members of the upper echelon of musicians have great things to say about him.

Bruce Kulick (KISS and Grand Funk Railroad) says of Lukather, "Steve is one of the few ‘monster’ guitar players in the music business. I am always in awe of his amazing feel and melodic ability on the guitar. This is why he's admired around the world. Luke = Guitar Legend!"  Andy Timmons also speaks highly of his good friend.  “Steve has been a huge influence on my playing for many years! I think I learned more from him than any other player. Like Stevie Ray, he puts so much passion and conviction into every note. Couple that with his complete control of time feel (where a note is placed in the musical phrase) and you have an amazing musician. PLUS he's beautiful and loving human being. I'm proud to call him a friend.”

As I began my chat with Luke, I wanted to verify that I had it correct that his new CD, Transition, was his seventh studio solo project.

“Yeah, I suppose so. If you count the Carlton stuff and my Christmas record then it would something like ten. But, there’s some of my side projects like Los Lobotomys and things like that. So, yeah, as far as official ‘Here I am,’ I suppose it’s seven – lucky seven, as they say!”

In listening to Transition, I sense that the album has a positive “lessons learned/I’m still standing” kind of vibe to it, for the most part. I asked Steve if I was interpreting that correctly.

“Well, you know, the last five or six years of my life I’ve had the ‘lost years’. I went through a really, really bad time. And, unfortunately, when you go through a bad time in the public eye you have to do it in front of people. I was dealing with some people I didn’t want to be dealing with. There was some business things going on. My mother died. My marriage died. I had a kid during the divorce. I quit drinking and smoking and got really healthy. I had to go through all of the psychological stuff, digging up the bodies in my backyard, metaphorically speaking – emotionally – just to clean up myself and find my muse and find my voice as a guitar player and as an artist again.

“On the last album, I was going through all of it so it was a little darker. On this one, this is a little bit more the transition, hence, the title, coming from the darkness into the light again, as it were; dealing with all of the haters and things that I’ve just stuffed for so many years – some stuff that I really don’t want to get into but a lot of deep stuff in my personal life that was causing me to drown myself in a sea of alcohol which affected my playing, my personality, my muse, my reason for everything.

“So, I just woke up one day and quit smoking and quit drinking and said, ‘I’ve want to be me again!’ Thirty-six years on the road can make anybody crazy.  I just caught myself. I looked around me and a lot of my friends are sick, dying or dead. I’m going, ‘Wait a second.’  When you’re twenty years old it’s party till you drop and then you realize that thirty-five years went by. Like I said, I went through a bad time and I’m not in a bad time now. I’m in a great place. For years, now, I’ve been clean and finding myself. I work out. I practice. I wake up at five in the morning and play the guitar. I’m a good dad. Even my ex-wives love me! I’m a happily divorced guy! What can I say?”

Then, being a little more serious, Luke adds, “I’m on the road nine months out of the year. It’s hard for a woman to deal with that. I didn’t do anything awful. It just fell apart, you know? So, I had to re-calibrate my life – every aspect of it – and own up to the fact that I screwed up and played sloppy. You play how you feel. So, if you feel like crap, what do you think is going to happen? I was angry and I was just playing crap and I hated it.

“From 2004 through 2009 were bad times for me in my whole life. It affected every aspect of it – playing, I looked like crap, I felt like crap and I was just trying to get through it

Photo by Rob Shanahan

in a negative way. Now, I feel good again. I feel free from it!  I have to let go of resentments and the past. If I’ve said or did something stupid, I’m really sorry, you know?  But I can’t change people’s minds if there’s that negativity but I think people have warmed up to the fact that I admitted my sins. What can I say? Everybody loses their way sometimes – at one point or another. It’s  just hard when you have to do it in public.

“I’ve lived an extraordinary and insane life – not even a realistic one. It’s a bizzaro life. It’s fun. I mean, it has great rewards but I don’t get paid for the gig. I get paid for the twenty-two hours that I’m not playing, you know what I mean? A lot of guys will tell you that – it’s a cliché but it really stands true.

“But I feel great! I feel better than ever. I’m working with Ringo who’s seventy-two years old and looks like he’s forty. He’s a constant source of inspiration as a human being as well as being Ringo!”

In concluding his answer, he said, “I don’t want to dwell on anything negative. I’m just saying that this is where I’ve been, that’s what it was, this is what I’ve gone through and this is where I am now. I feel great – better than ever!  Ready to hit it!  I’ve had a really great year and I appreciate that more than I ever did ever in my whole life. I appreciate my career more than I ever did in my whole life.”

I asked if that was the biggest lesson learned from that whole experience.

“Yes! I think it’s great to still be here after thirty-six years of doing this and be booked up. I’m solid until 2015, pretty much. I couldn’t be happier doing all the different kind of cool things that I get to do. I’m just not a guy that’s in a band, makes a record and goes on the road. I did five different tours this year.”

In setting up my next question, I mentioned that it was reported that Lukather had a hand in over 1,500 albums.  Before I could segue to the core question, he interrupted me.

“These numbers get volleyed around. Sometimes it’s a thousand. Sometimes it’s 2,500.  Sometimes it’s a million. Sometimes it’s 50. I don’t know.   I like to refer to as that I’ve done a lot of records.  I really don’t know what the count is. But I’ve stopped doing sessions twenty-some-odd years ago. I’ll do a guest one or two a  year or something like that here and there. But as far as being a session guy, I’ve never really done that since 1992 or something like that.”

I asked him how working on Transition differed from all of the other albums – especially the first albums he ever worked on.

 “Well, the technology’s changed, obviously. I just kinda flow. Listen, when my first record came out on eight-track. That’s how long I’ve been doing this. So, really, for me, we did it differently in the sense that, from the moment my fingers touched the guitar strings and we played the first chord or riff – which, ironically, was Judgment Day – the songs were written almost in sequence as they appear on the record. C.J. Vanston and myself co-wrote and co-produced and played on the record with me.

“From the moment we started, everything that I played became a master recording and we just sort of went about it in a different way. Usually, I cut live tracks with live players. This time we did it different. I started adding people as the songs and record took shape – adding bass and drums later – after I’d done vocals and guitars and master keyboard. Then, we kind of cast it like a movie. Like, ‘Who would be great on this?’ I used my live band, obviously. They’re great musicians. Steve Weingart, Renee Jones and Eric Valentine. But I also had the pick of a lot of friends – a lot of people I had run into on the street by accident. I live in L.A., you know. We’re all friends. Everybody on the record is my friend. Some really old friends and some newer friends. All are really great musicians. We would say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have so-and-so on this track?’ and they came and played!  That’s how we did it. It was a different way of doing it for me and it was a lot of fun.”

When I asked Steve how long Transition took to make, he said, “On and off – I started last December and I would work on it for a few weeks, go on the road, do a tour, come back, work on it for three weeks, go back on another tour and I did that all year until I finished in October.”

Going into further detail as to how the album was made, Steve shared that, “We worked hard on it. I certainly didn’t phone it in, you know? Having the luxury of time, I would go, ‘I want to redo that vocal. I can do better.’ Or, ‘that lyric sucks. Let me fix that.’ That was a luxury I haven’t had in I can’t remember when. Not being under pressure. Not worry about it being a hit single or whatever. I made a record that I liked. C.J. worked hard on the music. My son (Trevor) co-wrote a track . . . but most of it was me and C.J. I just kind of wrote how I felt and that’s how it is from a guitar playing standpoint. I dug a little deep and try to refine it rather than trying to be super flashy. Other guys do it so much better. I went to my strongest point which is my melodic phrasing and play different stuff than a normal rock guy would play.”

As I’ve said in other interviews, I long ago quit asking artists what their favorite song is on an album. However, what I have asked, and did ask Luke, was if he was to point to just one song from Transition for someone to listen to in order to determine if they would want to buy the whole album, which song would that be?

“It kind of changes. Like, in the middle of making the record, you have your favorites but that changes as they get finished. At the end of it, I look at the record as one whole piece – the whole record. Not just one song. I’m proud of the (whole) record. I think the first couple of tracks kind of definite it. Judgment Day and Creep Motel kind of have the overall feel for the record. From a guitar playing, songwriting and signing standpoint, check that out. And, if you like that, keep on!”

Knowing that Lukather is going back on the road with Ringo Starr beginning February 2nd, I asked him if there are any tour plans to support Transition after that tour.

“Oh, yeah!  I’m rehearsing my band in January and then we’re going out in March and April in Europe for the solo stuff. Then I come back and gear up for Toto’s 35 year anniversary tour which will go on for the summer. We only work through the summer – May through September - because everybody else has stuff going on. We’ll do that for the next few summers all over the world. I’ll be back and then we go back out with Ringo in the fall, so I hear. Rumors. That puts me to this time next year and then I jump back out solo. I’ll do some dates in the states with my own band. We’re talking about doing a co-bill with somebody else just to get my feet wet as a solo artist in the U.S. but Toto is going to be working in the U.S., as well. I’ve got a full dance card and it feels good, man!”

As noted earlier, Luke has worked on a boatload of albums in his nearly 40 year career.  I was curious as to what he saw as the most positive and negative changes he’s seen in the music business in that time and, if he were named music czar, what would he do, if anything, to fix the music business.

Answering the second part of the questions first, Luke said, “The first thing I would do is unplug ProTools and ask, ‘Can you sing and play?’  That would be the first thing. That would eliminate about ninety percent of the people. I’d want to level the playing field. For those of us who started out playing and thinking that you had to be really good to make it in the music business, we were all of a sudden thrown off the horse by going, ‘Nah! You don’t have to be that good, really.’ The whole image/MTV years and then it became the technological years where people are up for Grammy’s who couldn’t sing Happy Birthday in tune at gunpoint.

“I think the whole game has changed and the worst part is no one cares – or, I should say not that many people care. Nobody’s perfect. The thing is, now, records are made so perfect that they’re unrealistic. And, to perform live, if someone sings just a little bit off or doesn’t bend a note just perfect, people think you’re crap. Go back and look at The Stones and The Beatles, there’s imperfections in the blues players we all loved. Hendrix wasn’t perfect. Nobody’s perfect. It’s an unrealistic perfection. Everyone wants this utopian perfection that is unrealistic. Let’s bring back a little grit and funk, man! We live in a fast-food mentality. Everybody wants everything now and everybody has a two second attention span. I don’t believe that’s across the board but that’s what the media plays to – the lowest common denominator. I don’t want to start ragging on people and naming names but anybody that uses the word ‘beats’ to describe music should be beat-en with a baseball bat!”

Up on a well-deserved musical soapbox, he continued, “I watched the 12/12/12 concert on TV and there were some brilliant performances, you know?  And the one, blatant WTF moment was rather obvious, need I say it?  And instead of me being a grumpy old man, I turned on Twitter and watched the comments come. And my twenty-five year old son – a great guitar player and the generation that that plays to – I look at him and I go, ‘Dude!’ and he goes, ‘Dad, it sucks, I know!’ And I go, ‘Okay, so it’s not just me?’ I wanted to love it!  I do want to love it but I can’t. I just can’t! Then, the attitude that goes with it! It’s the whole Star Magazine/Enquirer mentality of ‘let’s dumb it all down.’ To me, ‘yuh!’ is not a lyric, you know?  Just unplug the box and waddaya got? Unplug the auto-tune and put the kid up there with a band and let’s see what he’s got! Nothing. Nothing! Nothing but a bad attitude and a lot of money! I don’t want to say the name but there’s just this whole genre of people, they’re bragging about how rich they are and, really, it just makes them look how stupid they are. The arrogance of it all.”

Photo by Rob Shanahan

Winding done, Luke concluded, “The bottom-line: You really want to change the music business?  Can-you-play? It’s like they want to learn all of the tricks before they learn how to get there. Those of us who started out in the sixties playing the guitar like I did because of The Beatles, learned how to play folk guitar and learned how to play rhythm guitar. Can you play with other people or are you the guy that just sits on the edge of your bed and plays as fast as you possibly can in one key because you don’t know how to play in B Flat?  Be a well-rounded guy! There are some amazing musicians out there that need to be heard! The problem is how do you monetize it? How do you make a career as a musician? It’s really hard.

“My son. Twenty-five. He just signed with a major management company but, generally, if he was to have signed his record deal twenty-five years ago, he would’ve had his record deal at twenty! It’s a different world and there’s a lot of incredible musicians struggling just to get heard. They say, ‘Give the records away for free and then go out and play live and make money.’ Well, how many venues, really, are there and how much money are people are gonna spend? If you have one song on the radio do you think people will pay fifty bucks to come see you?  Can you sustain an audience for an hour and a half with one song? Because that’s what they’re telling you, ‘We only need one song.’ Well, if you make only one song, who’s going to pay to come see you live? And you better be good because everyone does it on ProTools and you can make anybody sound good on there. But can you pull it off live?”

As our time to chat was quickly coming to a close, I asked the legendary guitarist about working with Ringo Starr on his current tour.

“It was the best summer vacation of my life! He’s the greatest! He’s one of the most sweetest, the most soulful, smart, funny – everything you could ever want and imagine him to be, he’s that and more. Very wise. If you listen to him speak, you’re drawn into somebody that is very, very special on planet earth and I’m honored to call him a friend. I wake up and I get a text from Ringo!  It’s surreal. He announces me (and slides into a pretty good Ringo imitation), ‘This is my very last, real best friend and I’m not having any more!’ and he announces me. I mean, really, he took a shine to me and I to him, obviously. The band is so great: Todd (Rundgren) and Richard (Page) and Biss (Gregg Bissonette) and Mark Rivera and Gregg Rolie – what a joy to wake up and make music with these guys! Everybody is so good and so much fun. It’s so relaxed. We’re hanging out with Ringo! How awesome is that? It doesn’t get much better than that!”

Winding up that portion of his comments, he added, “What’s wrong with my life?  Nothing, really. I’m grooving. I’m thankful. I really, really am! I know how lucky I am. There’s a million guys that are better than me. I’m just the lucky guy that gets to enjoy what I get to do!”

My final question for Steve Lukather involved how he wants to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy is after he’s gone to that great gig in the sky. His answer started with a slight chuckle.

“Well, I’d like to think that people will say, ‘Good player, man! Funny guy! Good guy!’ All I know is that I’m trying to be the best ‘me’ I can be right now. I’ve had an extraordinary, wonderful career that spans thirty-six years and it seems to going to keep going for a while. I’m very thankful for that. I think that maybe in a hundred years somebody will poke my name in some little computer box and, hopefully, a whole bunch of information will come out and they’ll say, ‘Who the heck is this guy?’ I’d like for them to say ‘He was a funny guy. Played pretty good for a white guy.’ What can I say? I’d like to be remembered in some positive light. I can’t make a quote about myself!”

Well, as I started this piece with quotes from other great musicians, Steve can be assured that there are many, many more members on the short list of musical greats who are saying great things about him.  And, to paraphrase a great saying about music: If words fail, then his music will speak for him.

Nils Lofgren

Posted November, 2011


NilsLofgrenFOTEX RAINER DRECHSLERPhoto by Ranier DrechslerIn 1970, I was an eleven year old punk in Phoenix who was migrating from listening to the two or three Elvis 45’s we had in the house to listening to local rock radio stations. Some of my earliest memories of non-Elvis radio are of the haunting Neil Young song, Southern Man, that called out the horrors of racism in the south.

I didn’t grasp the meaning of the song at the time nor was I fully aware of who was singing it and who all was on the record. In time, I came to fully appreciate the song, the artist and those who helped put the iconic album together. One of those who helped Neil out on the album with piano and guitar was a young whipper snapper by the name of Nils Lofgren., who was also fronting his own band, Grin.

Lofgren went on to help Young on his next solo album, Tonight’s the Night, as well as serving a brief stint in Young’s Crazy Horse. In the years since then, Nils has crafted 43 solo albums (about which he says, “Ah, gee, I’ve lost count. I’m just thrilled to be making records and have a batch of new songs that I’m able to record and get out to share.”), contributed tunes to such shows as The Simpsons. He’s helped friends like Patti Scialfa and Lou Reed on their solo projects as well as serving two tours of duty with Ring Starr’s All-Starr Band. Most notably, however, is Lofgren’s role as guitarist and vocalist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

Lofgren has just completed his 44th solo album entitled Old School, which lands on December 6th.

He called me from his Phoenix area home (and my old home town) to discuss the album. After comparing notes about Phoenix I asked Nils how this album was different from the others as far as how it came together.

“The main difference is that I wanted to do a homegrown thing here at home. Over the years I recognized that I just don’t have patience in a recording studio. I thrive in a live setting where you’re playing in front of a live audience. I tried to come up with some rules and tricks to keep myself engaged.

“One would be that, after I wrote the songs, I would practice performing them until I could sing and play them very comfortably and fluidly as a performance and not even bother recording until I could sing and play the song live very easily. Thus, I went after live vocals in most cases and I think I got ‘em in 10 out of 12 songs. Even with large patches of guitar playing I went with a live approach and took half from this take and half from that take as opposed to crafting line after line kind of thing. So the main thing was to keep as live and emotional as possible even though it was a homegrown singular effort on my part.”

Lofgren shared some details about his home recording arrangement and how he used it to record Old School.

“I have big 8 car, adobe garage. A quarter of it has been turned into a studio where I got all of my equipment out of Marylandnilsanddogs where I grew up years ago. It’s right across the yard and I go out there and leave the doors open. My dogs come in and out and visit me. Because I’m not technically savvy my engineer friends upgraded me to a 24 track hard drive. But I don’t use a computer so, rather than have a million tracks, I had 24. I had a Mackie console and I just learned enough to print everything hot and good, clean sounds to tape and not mess it up with EQ.

“Finally, near the end of the project, even though 90 percent of it was done in that setting, I went over to a Pro Tools studio called Studio Cat Productions and a local, great engineer by the name of Jamison Weddle. We used that format to actually do the mixing which gave me a lot of freedom for instant recall. You know, you drive around and listen to a mix for a couple of days. It sounds fine then you get an idea and, of course, with Pro Tools you can recall the exact mix and just change that one idea. That was a useful tool at the end for mixing.

“But, in general, it was all in my garage to my 24 track. There’s a remote control as opposed to a computer so everything has numbers going up and back giving me the illusion of fast-forward and reverse – that kind of thing – just to kind of trick my old-school mind into working with this technology and still being comfortable enough to make a record mostly on my own.”

At one point in our conversation, Nils described his home of 15 years in the greater Phoenix area.

“We’ve got two and a half acres of desert land with dogs. It’s kind of a little compound my wife found – a 1935 adobe home so it’s really an old slice of early Arizona history and culture. It’s a beautiful, ancient desert compound. There’s nothing like this around. We are grateful to have it and find it.”

As our conversation comes back around to discussing Old School, I commented to Nils that I got the sense that the album is heavy with nostalgia.

“Gosh, I’m not sure. I guess, in a sense yes. Part of that is that was coming up on 60 years of age – which now I am – it was more of a reflection of acknowledging that, at 60, I’m a lot more schizophrenic and emotional than I thought I would be. When you’re a kid, you look at someone that old like your ancient grandparent. Now I realize – I look at the TV and realize my world is screwed up. I have great anxiety about my planet.

“A long like Miss You Ray talking about losing family and friends but having to look around and acknowledge that there’s some left – how you temper loss with what you still have and temper the pain with gratitude for what is left. Seeing the glass half empty is sort of a knee-jerk reaction as you get older and you have to start paying attention to see it half full – pay more attention to what’s around you and the goodness as you deal with all of the anxieties that come with the planet we’re in, the time we’re in and, also, getting older. And, so, it’s a bit of that – a bit of nostalgia but with a sense of hope for the future tempered by a reality and wisdom I hope sometimes rears its head in my old age.”

One song that I’m particularly intrigued with on the album is song Dream Big. Next to the lyrics printed with the album is a picture of a couple. I asked Nils if that picture was of his parents did the lyrics reflect advice that either of them had given him when he was younger.

“Yes on both counts. My mom and dad, their hobby was dancing. They used to play big band swing music and go dancing every weekend. They were very aware of the therapeutic, healing properties of music and when I wanted to take accordion lessons, for my sixth birthday they paid for them and encouraged me my whole life with my musical endeavors.

“So, yeah, without spelling it out that literally as I do in this song that was their message: Be proud of yourself. Follow your dreams and try to do it with dignity and humility. It’s a very dark, ominous kind of song because now I feel like you gotta do at least that to keep your head above water. You’ve really got to start paying attention. It’s easy to go under with anxiety, doubt and fear and depression.

NilsLofgrenJANMLUNDAHL“But, again, a lot of times I turn on the TV not to get down in it so much but to make sure that there hasn’t been som calamity in LA where I’ve got to drive east or vice versa. Then I’m like, ‘Okay, the world’s still here. Turn off the TV and go back to your work or your day or your dogs or your wife or whatever.’ It was more of an ominous thing like, ‘Yeah, man, I’ve gotta keep dreamin’ big and try to stay humble, work hard and dance a lot meaning even if you’re in a wheelchair, just find ways to be young at heart and try to find hobbies that aren’t dangerous to your health but are freeing to your spirit whether it’s music, dance, bingo with friends, whatever. Just get out of your head and try to do it in an admirable, positive way and just keep trying to fight the good fight and be thankful for what you have while you’re seeking more.

“At this point I’ve been blessed. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. Admittedly, I’ve had a fabulous 43 year career in music. My wife does good charity work in town. I do benefits to help her out. We’re looking to – in just a small way – give back and participate in charities whenever we can just to feel like we’re put of the solution even in a small way instead of the problem.”

Another song that I found interesting is 60 Is The new 18. Lofgren shares his thoughts about that song.

“Well, the lyrics are very self-explanatory. Basically, when you’re a kid – anyone who makes it to sixty you have this vision of the old grandpa in the chair, people are running to put his slippers on or get him a drink. He’s revered and respected. The truth is – I have a sense of humor about it – kids just think you’re some old fart. Nobody respects you. It’s like you’re Rodney Dangerfield of your community. A lot of times that can be a funny thing ‘cause people like me have a sense of humor about it. But, for most people, it’s a much more ominous thing. Right now there’s a lot of people around that age are unemployed, serious health issues, and they don’t know where they’re going. There’s a lot of shame and guilt that goes with the economy not allowing for dignity; the racket of healthcare where they’re not looked for and cared for – it’s very demoralizing and shameful adventure for a lot of people.

“Although I experienced some of that angst, I have a great life right now. I don’t know if I’ll have it in ten years with what’s going on today but I get it. I have my own fears. I look at the TV and I’m helpless to fix my world and I’m mad about it. I’ve very, very upset with the governments of the whole planet and with what’s going on and the corruption and the graft.

“This character in this song is taking it to new heights. He’s lost touch with his family. He’s abusing pills, alcohol, drugs. He’s cheatin’ on his wife. He’s miserable. He’s never felt more alone. He’s scared and he’s also full of rage because you just don’t imagine that set of emotions for someone who makes it to sixty. It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek, dark song about 60 is the new 18 and it’s not just the new 18 to have a beautiful life ahead of you with hopes and dreams. It’s also the 18 of where you don’t know what you’re doing or how you’re going to do it; the insecurity of being young and not knowing who you are or what you want to be. The whole planet is saying, ‘Pick a career. Pick a college, map out your whole life and get it straight, kid!’ What an awful thing! We’re still doing it to our kids!

“I remember having it done to me and it wasn’t even my parents. My parents just encouraged me to try to be happy. But still that’s what the planet did. I’m like, ‘What do you mean pick a career? I don’t even know who the hell I am! I’m a teenager. My hormones – every six months I wake up a stranger and you’re telling me to pick a career?’ There’s people who might not know what they want to do when they’re 30 but at least they’ve found the humility to work, take care of themselves, meet their overhead and have some sort of dignity while they’re looking and all that goes in between.

“The character in this song, he’s past that. He’s 60 now and all hell’s breakin’ loose and he doesn’t know what he’s gonna do. He’s breakin’ out in pimples from anxiety. He’s abusing everything in front of him and he knows it.” Lofgren then quotes a line from the song, “ . . . atone what I can, earn some self-respect, in a world in love with escape and neglect”. He’s learned that – escape and neglect – and it’s rubbed off on him and he’s in deep trouble in that moment in the song. Nevertheless, part of being 18 is having some hope and dreams and I would like to think that at almost any age you can find those but it’s a lot harder when you get older.”

One of my favorites off of the disc is Let Her Get Away that Nils wrote with the late Root Boy Slim. I asked Lofgren for the NilsLofgrenJOSEPHQUEVER2back story to that tune and its creation.

“Oh, man! Are you familiar with Root Boy Slim? He was this genius out of Yale who fried his brain with drugs who was a basket case but functional genius who started writing these songs like Zappa and the Fugs. They’re crazy lyrics – hilarious, witty, and he had great bands. Great musicians played with Root Boy. He was a local, avant garde/Hunter Thompson type hero in our community. We were friends and I’d always go to see him play. His lyrics would either make you cringe or laugh. He was always very thoughtful and surprisingly intelligent.

“One day we were in my backyard in this place I rented in Bethesda, Maryland, when I was living there. We were just talking. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I said, ‘You know? We really out to try to write a song together sometime.’ He said, ‘What kind of song are we writin’?’ I started playing a little melody riff which is the song and we started kind of hummin’ and singin’. The next thing I know, over the course of a few hours, we started crafting a song and it was really feeling good. We stuck with it and finished it in literally one afternoon. It was this beautiful, haunted, kind of a Kris Kristofferson type let her get away/can’t let you get away, too. Again, to me, very metaphorical about the rough times were in. You lose something, you try to get it back and you can’t. You just keep trying to hang on to what you can and trying to find some insight into that journey.

“It’s kind of a mystical song to me. It could even be about the same woman that’s still in your life but the core person you knew 20 years ago – that’s been destroyed by tragedy or whatever. But the person’s still there and you love them and you’re just trying to hang on. There’s a lot of layers to it but it’s a very haunted piece that Root Boy and I wrote years and years ago. I made a demo that was beautiful but it was all so scratchy on a little four track cassette recorder. It was so noisy and I kept debating to share it, noise and all. Then, finally, this record being old school, being a song I love and never been able to share it, I go, ‘Man, stop whining about it! You’re a professional musician. Just re-record it! Get over it! Yeah, it was a great take but, geez! That was over 20 years ago! You can write and sing and play. Just bite the bullet, start from scratch, and make that record again and make it right!” That’s the history of that one.”

Lofgren dedicated the album to his E Street Band mate, Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, who recently passed away. I asked Nils what he feels the world doesn’t know about Clemons but should.

“Geez, they know a lot about him but, you know, even though I stood next to him for 27 years on stage and had a beautiful friendship on stage – very deep musically and personally, I had a greater friendship and gift from Clarence as a friend off stage. We talked every week. From the moment I joined the band he was always there for me and always had a smile and a kind word. He was always someone I felt comfortable with no matter how good or bad my lot was on that day or that point. I always felt that he was a great confidant and sounding board for any and all trials and tribulations, good and bad. I do miss him and am heartbroken that he’s gone. I have a lot of great memories that I’m trying to hold on to. I believe he’s up there, glad that I’m carrying on singing and making music and trying to value every day I can. We miss him terribly.”

It’s easy to guess that Nils must own a store full of guitars and other instruments. I was curious if there was a guitar that he considered a “holy grail” and if he owned it.

“Well, you know, I’m an accidental collector. I’ve probably got a hundred and some guitars that I didn’t really set out to collect. But I’ve been on the road for 43 years. Of course a lot of that is a function of being the swing man now in the E Street Band for eleven years where I’m playing dobro’s and bottlenecks and lap-steels and six-string banjos and that’s a whole other dozens of instruments that aren’t technically guitars but are in that family.

“But I have to say, as far as seeking anything, I couldn’t think of one. By far, the most treasured guitar I have – which every guitar you hear on Let Her Get Away is this old, funky D18 that Neil Young used to write on. When we did After The Gold Rush – if you open the album, he’s laying on a couch at the Troubadour – there’s a shot of Neil Young on a couch and right next to his head is a guitar leaning against a wall. It’s this old D18. When we were doing the sessions, he needed me to play guitar and he said, ‘Get your acoustic’ and I said that I didn’t own one. So he said, ‘Here, borrow this one’ and he gave me this guitar. I used it on Tell Me Why. I played it on Till The Morning Comes and, after the end of the sessions, he said, ‘You know what? You can keep that guitar as a gift. Thanks for helping with this record.’ I was so freaked out. I remember we were up in the hills in Topanga Canyon. I grabbed that D18 without the case and I ran about a hundred yards in the deep woods. I just got lost in the forest, sat there under a big tree and just played it for hours. Then I walked back and, from that day on that was mine and it’s certainly my holy grail of guitars. It’s old and funky. It’s all beat up. It’s not like this rich, beautiful, classy sound. It’s kind of a funky sound. I used it on my Nils Sings Neil album where I play Neil Young songs live in the home. Obviously, that’s the only guitar that I could use for that record. But that would be my favorite – my most special, historic guitar.”

When I asked Lofgren what he still would like to accomplish in his career, he chuckled and said, “Oh, geez, I guess the obvious thing would be that I would like to think that this new record is as good a record as I’ve ever made. I’d like to keep getting better at making records and performing even though I don’t have a record company and I’m not on the charts and all of that. More and more, people keep discovering me because I’ve gotten better at sharing musical ideas that are emotional and inspiring to people to where I find a larger audience through getting better at what I do. I’m a performer at heart.

“I don’t dream of stadiums. I just dream of a larger audience to where you’re playing theaters and you bring your own stage and sound and lights and you can control the thing more. Because of the larger audience, you can bring a five piece band and crew and have lights and sound – have the freedom to really delve into creating a show. That’s where I’m at my best and most engaged is in the live setting. So, that’s all: Just keep getting better at what I do. I think that this is a great record. I think it has that potential. Whether it happens or not, my job is to keep getting better at what I do.”

As for tour plans to support Old School, Nils said, “I’ve got a couple of shows in February in Virginia. They’re kind of an annual performance there at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, with my brothers and Greg Varlotta who’s working with me on our duet show. We do an acoustic duo. That’s it. I’m laying low for awhile, promoting the record, work on a video or two and hope to promote the record most of next year and get to a lot of places.”

As our chat was wrapping up, I asked Nils Lofgren how he would like to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy would be. As he was with the first question I asked him, his answer to this question revealed a man who takes such things as life’s meaning very seriously. That comes from experience – especially the experience of losing friends and loved ones.

“Oh, man! You’re killing me here! I mean, honestly, to give you a respectful answer, I might take an hour of thought. You know what it is? I feel – and you can see it as kind of a theme throughout this record – I feel like I’m learning and growing. I feel that way not just musically but as a person. So, I’m hoping – whether its two months or two years or twenty years or forty years, I’m going to be able to give you a better tombstone than what I come up with today. I’d rather it be a work in progress towards something a little more useful and practical legacy. Something a little more substantial to offer than I have today – not that I don’t feel like I’m a decent person. But I’d like to think that that’s a work in process and, hopefully, I’ll have a little more time to create a better answer to that.”

Whether you’re old school or new school, if you still want to go to school to learn how to play the guitar and unleash your inner rock star, then Nils can help you. Simply click go to NilsLofgren.com and follow the links to the school. Once there, you can pick and choose from the wide range of lessons offered there. You’ll learn great blues riffs and scales, various chord progressions and picking techniques. Not only are the lessons offered in English but also in Spanish and Italian for those who are more comfortable communicating in one of those languages. Be sure and check it out.

And, while you’re at NilsLofgren.com, you may as well sign up for his mailing list so that you can stay in the loop as to what all is going on in his world. You can be sure that he’s always up to something interesting and creative.