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Bobby Keys

Posted April, 2012

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A guy who loved rock n’ roll music.”

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

Harry "KC" Casey

Posted August, 2010

Photo Courtesy of heykcsb.com

When I was in high school back in the seventies, one of my favorite things to do was go to the school dances.  It wasn’t so that I could dance because I really didn’t dance.  It was to meet up with friends, scope out my latest, weekly crush and to just have fun watching others have fun.

At those dances, everybody would liven up when the more danceable songs were played (for those fortunate souls who could actually dance, that is).  One of the bands that definitely got the kids excitedly onto the dance floor was KC and the Sunshine Band.  There was something about the danceable, carefree sounds from KC that made one want to dance and do so with a smile on your face.  Such were the not-a-care-in-the-world seventies.

I was recently offered the opportunity to chat with Harry “KC” Casey, who is currently on tour in the U.S.  What an honor it was to be able to chat with one of the people who contributed so much to the soundtrack of my youth.  After some small talk and relayed greetings from mutual friend, Rob Parissi, I asked KC what he has been up to lately.

“Lately, I’ve been off for the last couple of weeks. My main thing is that I do between 80 and 100 shows a year. It’s be a little slower since the recession has started because of the corporate side of it, but that’s what I do – what I love doing. Other than that, I just chill out and take care of other business I have to take care of.”

With KC enjoying a successful touring schedule, I wondered how the road is different for him today than it was back in the 70’s. After some thought, he replied, “Well, it’s gotten a lot easier. Because of technology and things like that, it’s just a lot easier to do the shows – to put them up; to put them together. You don’t have to have monitors on the stage any more – you just have the earphones in your ears and the sounds right in there and you don’t have to scream over the band. Every night is pretty consistent.  It’s just a great thing.”

With these kinds of changes in place, I wondered what kind of show that his fans could expect on this tour.

“Well, we have a lot of hits so the shows are mainly of the number one hits that we had. The girls and I change costumes during the show so during those parts, the band does melodies of cover songs from the seventies just to keep the whole show familiar to the audience.

“I used to put obscure singles that we had in the show but I felt, at times, that we were losing the audience by doing that. So I thought, ‘Let’s put some covers in there because I think the audience would relate to that better.’ I know people have come to the show and critiqued it and said how we put all this filler in but its deliberate filler. I want the show to stay familiar to the audience. I hate going to a concert and hearing all this stuff that were not hits. I think it’s damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”

When I suggested that covering the stuff that people know is the lesser of two evils, KC immediately responded by saying, “That’s what I thought and then I read a couple of reviews trying to tear me down. It’s like, ‘c’mon man!’”

When I go to shows these days – especially artists that I admired when I was a kid – I always make sure that I notice what the makeup of the crowd is. Regardless of the act, it always amazes me at the age mix that is in the crowd.  I asked KC what was the demographic mix is of his crowds.

“We’ve always had from babies to grandmas! It still is, depending on the venue we’re playing. If we’re playing where you have to be twenty-one and older, then it’s from twenty-one’s to grandmas. A lot other times it’s a family affair, which is great.”

While still on the subject of audience expectations, I asked KC what will be different from when they saw him and the band in the 70s and what will be the same. He responds after some brief reflection.

 “I don’t know, the show is definitely a more ‘production’ type show. It’s more put together than the shows in the seventies. The seventies probably would’ve been a lot more ‘free-for-all’, you know what I mean?  These shows are a lot more put together. I’ve added a lot more dancers to the show. It’s really a ‘production’ show. I didn’t really tour that much in the seventies, anyway.”

Having crafted tunes that have such staying power, I mention to KC that I hear his list of great hits everywhere from satellite and terrestrial radio and as well as many other places. He adds with obvious, well deserved pride, “They’re in movies and TV commercials all the time. I hear my sound everywhere. The new Eminem record with Rihanna - the rhythm is similar to a song I had out called I Get Lifted.  I hear my influence throughout everybody’s records.”

In all of KC’s years of touring, what’s been the most memorable thing that has happened on the road?

Laughing, he say, “Oh boy! I don’t if I can remember anything! It was very chaotic to me. That’s what I really remember about it all – how chaotic it all was and how lonely it was for me. It was very lonely for me.

Probing a little deeper into his answer, I asked in what way and why he felt lonely.

“Lonely? Well, because I had to be locked in all the time. Being on the inside looking out. That’s how I was, constantly. I would have rather been there with everyone and I couldn’t be. It became very isolated and very lonely for me.”

As an interviewer, I know that the people that I’ve been very fortunate to interview have been asked the same questions thousands, if not millions, of times.  With that volume of repetitious questioning, they are expected to answer as if they’ve never been asked those questions before.  With that in mind, I asked KC what would be the one thing that he feels has been least covered and understood about him and his work.

Again, after giving the question some thought, he says, “The least understood?  I know that we created a new sound. We changed the sound of America in the seventies. Sometimes, I think because of the word ‘disco’ there this backlash, sometimes, because of this word, that we get thrown into that. If you come to one of my shows, it’s not a disco show, for sure.  There’s nothing wrong with disco and I guess that’s the point I’m getting at.

“Just being thrown into this category that’s receiving all of this backlash for no reason at all other than a rock and roller was angry and upset that music had taken away his rock and roll and did this to get back at somebody – did something very cruel and vicious. And, because of that cruel and vicious thing, it’s affected a whole period of music that was free and a great period of music, actually. Even today, every rap artist that’s out right now has a dance song on the radio. I mean, it’s just crazy that something that was created 37 years ago is back stronger than ever right now. It’s a shame that it got such a bad rap. It was great music. It’s still great music.”

As I often ask during an interview, I asked KC if he was in his late teens or early 20’s today, as he was in the 70’s, how would he enter the music business today, given what he knows now.  Without hesitation, he responds.

“I went into it with a lot of knowledge to begin with. The only thing that I might do a little bit different is in the promotion and marketing department for KC and the Sunshine Band because people know my music. Sometimes, if you say my name to somebody, they’ll go ‘Huh?’ Then you say the song and they know exactly who it is. Because I handled my career in the very beginning, I managed myself and the group, the whole thing. The only thing I probably neglected in doing was the marketing and promotion of that name.  I tried to stay out of the PR part of it.  We were in teen magazines and a lot of that kind of stuff but I kind of kept a lid on how much was let out.

Would his style and musicianship be different?

Not hardly.

“Growing up in a gospel church, I always loved music that came from the heart and soul – that moved you. That’s the kind of music that I was doing. So, I don’t think that I would change anything.

With our time just about to come to a close, I wanted to find out what’s next, CD wise, coming from KC and the Sunshine band.

“I’m thinking about doing the kind of thing that Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart have all done but not from a certain period of time. Songs that my friends like, you know what I mean? Love songs about relationships, healing, that kind of thing. And, there are talks about maybe doing a Broadway show down the line. I’m trying to get a show together for Las Vegas. A lot of talks about a lot of things, so, we’ll see.”

I’m always curious what artist listen to on their iPods.  I’m often surprised by some of the responses I get.  For some reason, given the level of musical talent and knowledge KC has, I assumed that his listening habits covered a multitude of musical genres.

He proved me right.

“Everybody. Whoever is the hottest flavor of the moment. I love that song by Eminem and Rihanna, I Love The Way You Lie.  Flo Rida’s new song, The Club Can’t Handle Me Now. I love the one by John Mayer, Half Of My Heart.  I’ve always loved all kinds of music – more R&B than anything else but I love all kinds of music.  I have a little bit of everybody from Country to Pop to Rock to R&B to Rap to Heavy Metal – I have it all on my iPod.  Pretty soon they’re going to have to have one with more gigabytes, that’s for sure!”

Our phone conversation concluded after some more small talk.  I couldn’t help but think how great it must make one feel to know that they’ve contributed great music to the soundtrack of an entire generation.  Not just music but music that brings a smile to countless faces and inspires one to dance . . . even if they can’t.

KC and the Sunshine Band has done exactly that for those of us who were teenagers in the mid to late seventies.  And, as KC mentioned during our chat, his music has inspired new artists in the creation of their music.

If you would like to keep up with KC and the Sunshine Band, you should visit his website, www.heykcsb.com. You will be able to get the latest news about the band as well as pick up music and memorabilia from their store.

Chocky Kay

 

Posted November, 2010

Approximately four or five years ago (long before the launch of Boomerocity.com), a high school friend of mine told me about her cousin who was a pretty good guitar player that I should check out.  Not thinking much of it (okay, in my pre-“rock critic” days, I was thinking, “yeah, sure, okay . . .”), I clicked on the link (here).  I was blown away what I saw and heard.  The person I watched was Dr. Charles “Chocky” Kay.

I’ll stop right here so that I can insert an observation: There are a lot of great musicians across our fruited plain.  Many, if not most, of these artists are people whose passion is playing for the love of playing and either have “day jobs” that pay their bills so that they can play gigs at night or they have spouses, partners or significant others who help in carrying the financial load so that they can pursue their music careers.  Both scenarios make the up and coming music world go round.

Chocky Kay is one of those musicians who has a day job that finances his nocturnal, musical passions.  Not just any kind of day job, mind you.  No siree!  He’s a dagum, bonafide doctor – and I don’t mean one of those highfalutin PhD types. No, Chocky is an MD, not a PhD.

Kay is the consummate professional at everything he pursues.  If you noodle around YouTube, you’ll see, as I did, that Chocky approaches his music and performances with the same intense focus and professional seriousness as you would want your doctor to have  . . . at least while they are treating YOU.

Back to my story.

All of this was great but I hadn’t yet launched Boomerocity.com so Chocky’s talent soon slipped my mind.

Fast-forward to a couple of months ago.  The brother of that high school friend sent me a note on Facebook, wanting to turn me on to his cousin who was a great guitar player.  Trying to look clairvoyant, I said, “Let me guess.  Chocky Kay!” 

After I told him how his sister and already told me about Kay a few years ago, it did rekindle my interest in this fascinating guitarist. With said interest thus rekindled, I tracked the good doctor down and arranged a chat with him to find out more about his story.

The first thing I noticed during my couple of chats with Chocky was that he comes across as a very warm and caring individual.  While the temptation is to “chock” it up (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun) to his professional bedside manner, to have spent the time that I have with him on the phone tells me that the manner is sincere and from his heart.

We both learned very quickly that we travelled in some of the same circles back in the late seventies and eighties.  We both were involved, to one extent or another, in the Christian music business and knew some of the same people.   We were like two chatty school girls exchanging our war stories from our stints in that business.  When we finally got down to the business of Kay’s current music, we quickly found that we still had a lot to talk about.

One of the things I was very curious about was: Where did the nickname, “Chocky”, come from?

“My dad's nickname (for Charles Kay, Sr, of course) was ‘Charlie’, and I always said that my mom wanted the right man coming when she hollered!  So, they had to find a nickname for me. They didn't like Chuck or Chucky (thank God!), so they nicknamed me after a school buddy of my dad's. His name was "Chocky Hall".  And, it stuck from then on.”

Having solved the nickname mystery, the good doctor shares his story of how he first got interested in the guitar.

“I was given my 1st guitar at 5 years old. My father gave me a ‘Kay’ concert guitar that was larger than I was, so I had to put my" strumming" arm over the groove above the middle of the guitar just so my arm would reach the strings. I learned to play so quickly that my father ran out of guitar teachers in West Texas to teach me anything else. They were all country guitarists and when the Beatles invaded the U.S., the lessons were over. Besides I was teaching my teachers at that time, so my father just let me learn whatever I wanted to learn, however I could learn it.

“My brother and I had our first group when I was in the 4th grade and we won the Junior High Talent Show two years in a row. However, my brother and everyone else in the group were 5 years older than I was, so I was booted. Therefore, I had to form my own groups, and starting at 10 years old, I formed "The Shadows".  We played TV shows, dances, and parties all over Odessa, TX until I hit high school and could find no one but guys 5-6 years my age to form groups with and who were serious.

“We played from 4-6 nights a week while going to school and on weekends played everywhere from Southeast New Mexico down to southern TX, San Antonio and Austin, among other places. In fact, I can't prove it, but I think we played a gig one night with 12 bands and I'm almost certain Christopher Cross was in one of the groups. We were both playing at the same time in S. Texas. I'd love to find out. I never met Eric Johnson, but he was playing there around that time, too.”

As often happens with bands, especially successful bands, fractures started to appear in the early band.

“After deciding to move to Austin, Texas, everyone thought we were nuts because everyone knew Austin was a nothing town for music”, Kay says with a laugh, “and the musicians told me how stupid I was for moving there.

“Nevertheless, what killed our group was that we all moved in together in one house. That was the downfall. We argued, fought, and could never again agree musically about anything. After working and having nothing to eat for several days, I had enough. I got on my knees and asked God for help and made a promise to Him. I left the group, left Austin, and moved back to Odessa where I met one of the best guitarists (again about 6 years older) I'd ever heard.”

This chance meeting led to a musical partnership that resulted in Chocky broadening his musical horizons.

“We played BARS! I went from Metal/Hard Rock, to acoustic Loggins and Messina, the Eagles, and every song I'd never played before. And, because I wasn't even 18 years old yet, we had to lie and I had to drink beer (drinking age was 21 years old) just to act like I was old enough to be there.”

What about the deal Chocky made with God?

“I forgot my promise when He helped me. He didn't forget. The guy I was playing with came to me one day and said, ‘I've found God, and this time it wasn't while taking Acid!’ I was caught.  I gave in and began playing, writing, singing, living and breathing every minute for God. The problem was that rock music and God didn't mix in West Texas. I was forced to either sing in Gospel Trio's or die and go to hell.

“I chose hell, and met some great musicians like Phil Keaggy, DeGarmo and Key, Nancy Honeytree, Al Perkins (from Odessa- played with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Dallas Taylor and Al Perkins), and many others. Petra and Sweet Comfort became friends, stayed in our home and played concerts for us. They helped changed my life, but Odessa still would not accept a mix of rock and God.”

In time, with a wife and three kids to feed, Kay had some tough decisions to make.

“I had to feed 3 kids, so I went back to school, and the only thing I ever wanted to do was something BIG. So, I chose to become the only thing I ever wanted to be - someone who helps others: a doctor. But, while in med school, I started realizing that I could play good, wholesome, adult music like rock, jazz, fusion, country - anything I wanted to play. So, I learned every style of music I could find all while spending an average of 22 hours a day in medical school and residency.”

In time, Chocky’s medical profession brought him and his family to Colorado. However, the move didn’t affect his passion for music.  He continued playing, innovating and writing his own songs.  Along the way, one of his compositions, Chick'n Lick'n: A Bohemian Rap-City, made it into the Tom Green snowboarding movie, Shred.   Kay tells the fascinating story behind the recording of the song.

“I hooked up a drum machine, played bass on the drum machine, and did nothing more than play that stereo into a cassette recorder, while I played the lead guitar part stereo on the cassette right on top of it. That's it.”

Over the years, Chocky has recorded three CD’s, won a multitude of awards and was even inducted into the New Artist Radio’s Hall of Fame.  In addition to radio and movies, Kay’s music has also been used on TV. 

I own four of Chocky’s five CD’s and each one of them are a special treat to listen.  Don’t ask me which one is my favorite because I would’nt be able to pick one to tell you.  The only advise that I can give you is to purchase all three discs and see if you can pick a favorite.  Or, better yet, download his work now by clicking on the images on the right of this page.

And, if you live around the Denver area or plan on being there sometime in the future, check out Chocky’s schedule (as well as some of his video) at www.chockykay.com and see if he’s going to be playing around town.  And, when you see Chocky, tell him Boomerocity sent you.

Oh, and don’t try to be funny by asking, “Is there a doctor in the house?”  I tried it.  It ain’t very funny.  I’m just sayin’ . . .

Howard Kaylan

Posted June, 2013

If you’re, say, oh, I don’t know, over the age of eighteen and claim to love music and, yet, also claim to have never heard Elenore or Happy Together by The Turtles, I would have to say that the person making the claim is lying – either about loving music or having never heard the Turtles tunes.  I mean, c’mon!  One would have to be living under a rock to have never heard either of those songs – especially Happy Together.  That song is everywhere!

In 2009, I had the privilege of seeing the two founding members of the Turtles, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, perform these hits and others during their hosting of Hippiefest that included other legends from the sixties. My daughter and I were fortunate enough to be able to hang out backstage for a bit and I met, among other people, Kaylan and Volman.  Great – and gracious – men, both!

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.

I was thrilled to be able to get an advance copy of Kaylan’s autobiography, Shell Shocked: My Life With The Turtles.  I was further stoked when Howard’s publicist hooked me up with the lovely, talented and highly organized Mrs. Kaylan to arrange a phone interview with her legendary husband.

Once the arrangements were made, at the appointed time I called Howard at his home in the beautiful Seattle area.  I was immediately impressed with how well-read and articulate this legendary performer was. In making small talk about meeting him backstage four years ago and how much fun my daughter and I had at the show, he gave me an inside look at the evolution of that tour.

“Well, thank you!  We’ve been doing it every year with one guy or another. We kind of mutated from Hippiefest to the Happy Together Tour a couple of years after that. We thought that the Hippiefest direction was kind of going dark. I mean, it’s one thing to say ‘Flower Power’ and to represent your stuff as being that good time relief in your busy summer day so you can forget your troubles. It’s another thing to listen to down and out blues at the end of a two and a half hour set.

“No one wants to leave the auditorium feeling like you want to kill yourself.  You know, that’s kind of a downer for your night, especially if you just bought yourself a couple of tie-dyed shirts and you’re expecting to leave there singing a happy tune. Then, you go out thinking, ‘Awe, life’s just not worth it!’ That’s not quite the attitude that we want our tour to have so things are lighter and brighter these days. The past few years we’ve had incredibly good results by taking the tour out under the name ‘Happy Together Tour’ and bringing out with us some of the all-time best artists that we possibly could. If you’re not smiling by the end of our show – certainly the end of the five of our shows put together – then you’re dead!”

With tours like Happy Together continually successful, I asked Kaylan why these kinds of classic rock tours – whether they’re a caravan tour like Happy Together or just some of the legacy acts still touring – that they’re still quite an audience draw and how long did he think that they’ll continue to be.

“Well, I think they’ll continue to be a successful draw for ever and ever as long as there are enough acts that feel that going out together would be a lot better than going out separately. I mean, you have to admit that the draw here is that you’re not going to see just one act and either be elated or disappointed. If you don’t like the act you’re seeing at the present time, hang around for thirty minutes because they’ll be gone and somebody else is going to come on.

“So, what this is – as the Happy Together Tour – really a greatest hits of the sixties. We’re not giving you a chance to not like one second of this show. To that end, we’ve taken painstaking turns to make sure that everybody you’re seeing is the original guy that sang the song.  It doesn’t make any sense at all to have the bass player from Iron Butterfly, the drummer from Steely Dan and then the guitar player from The Blues Project. So what? They were never a band. You put them on stage together and they’re probably going to play seven different songs.  So, as far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t make a group. The talent alone doesn’t make a group. Playing together makes a group or, at the very least, you’ve got to sound like the record!  These are memories!

“As far as the Turtles are concerned, I fully understand that this is probably the first – and maybe the last – time that this audience is ever going to see us. If you don’t sound like your record this time around, then you’re messing with their memories and I’m not going to do that!  For all the humor we try to stack into the show – for all the frivolity that we, as an act, try to put into our performance – this stuff has to sound like the original record or it just won’t fly. That’s why Gary Lewis is going to sing six of his biggest songs and he’s had twenty huge songs in his career.  It’s the same with all of these acts - Gary Puckett and, oh my god, Mark Lindsay and Chuck Negron and ourselves.

“Everybody here is trying to condense ourselves because none of us can do all of our hits in the amount of time we’re given. You leave the auditorium or the theater or the lawn or whatever venue we’re in in that town and you’ve seen two and a half hours of nothing but the lead singers of all of those bands that you remembered from your growing up days or your parents days or you just found them on a record, God knows, and it’s wonderful however you got there – but nonstop!  I mean, just nonstop! It’s a barrage of 40, 50 songs in a row that are just mind boggling and you do leave the place humming all of these tune and you’re not hit with a bunch of feedback at the end and going, ‘What the hell was that?’

“The worst thing in the world that can happen at one of these shows – or before the end of one of these shows – is that you start looking at your watch in my age bracket or my kid’s age bracket, thinking about your babysitter or the fact that you’ve got to get up early in the morning because it’s a week night or whatever it is, certain things come into play as an adult that would’ve never crossed your mind as a twenty year old but now, with responsibilities, you’ve gotta make the concert really, really exciting and I don’t think we disappoint. We’ve been doing this year after year and every year the tour grows. We started out doing twenty dates and we’re up to around fifty-two this summer. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for much else.”

When I offered that it’s also what they represent – that the music stands quite well on its own, is positive and not anti-war; that their music shows up on the latest video games and movies, and is what people gravitate towards, Howard replied, “Well, we were a backlash to the war, certainly. We were not ‘Eve of Destruction’ protestors. We were trying not to take that stance because we realized that, as white middle class kids, we had nothing to protest, really. Had we been as adamant about our politics as Barry McGuire had been – yeah, he might have had a number one record but that was the only song this guy was ever gonna have.  There was just no doubt about it. You put out a song that strong and you’ve made a political statement. We didn’t want to be political in any way, shape or form.  We never were. We just wanted to make the music. We still just want to make the music.

“The fact that it’s been able to – like you said – morph into all different formats that, yeah, we are in Rock Band and we are in all these video games that you can buy as authentic Turtles songs. That’s a great feeling! And no matter how the audience of five generations learns a song like Happy Together – whether they’ve learned it from The Simpson’s or Adaptation or Shrek or however they come to know it, I don’t care as long as I can see people my age and their kids and their kids and their kids all singing, ‘I can’t see me lovin’ nobody but you’. You see fifty thousand people singing it at a time, it’s like We Are The World. That’s really gratifying!  That’s incredible. Certainly the internet and satellite radio and downloads have been a huge plus for us.

“We’ve never been more successful as far as sales of our catalog than we are right now. This has been a boon for us. The internet is the best thing that’s ever happened to the Turtles. Maybe we’re the exception instead of the rule in that Mark and I own the Turtles catalog and most of the people from the sixties and seventies still don’t. I mean, Peter Noone doesn’t own his stuff. He has to go in and re-record if he wants to sell that stuff. Mark and I were unfortunate enough to have to go through an awful lot of lawsuits to procure ours but, in the end, we came out with our name and the ability to sell this stuff – or lease it, as the case may be – in perpetuity so we’re doing great!  It’s sort of an annuity both mentally and physically forever.  So, Lord bless the internet!”

Shifting the focus of the questions to Shell Shocked – which is an incredibly interesting, informative and well written book, by the way – I asked Kaylan what the reaction to the books as been up to this point.

“From what I can judge, it’s been pretty good. I don’t know the market place. I’m not Dean Koontz. I didn’t expect this thing to come out and be sold in airports or anything. It’s gratifying to see it in the bookstores that still exist. There are stacks of books at Barnes and Noble where it is on display.  You can go to Amazon and it’s discounted and they’ll ship it for free.  For me – we haven’t even put out a real serious record since the last Flo and Eddie thing in, like, 1976.  So, this is really the first thing that I’ve had to push in a great many years and it’s gratifying to know that, at least critically, it’s being well responded to. Sales-wise, there are so many factors involved and so many people. It’s not going to compete with the great summer novels or the next Harry Potter and that’s what book people are all about.

“I really wanted to do something in print before the medium disappears. I’m a huge fan of print. I love books. I love the way they feel. I love the way they smell. I love turning the pages. I love having something tactile in my hands. And, while they’re e-book versions of this book that already exist – you can download them for Kindles and for iBook. I did an audio book that I finished last week that will be available in the next two or three weeks, I’m sure. That, to me, is a crowning achievement. That’s great!

“I’m sixty-five. I’m still doing things that are brand new to me and fields that I’ve never gotten into before in my life. So, if you can still say that and see another horizon ahead and see another kind of book that you haven’t written or another kind of script or screenplay that you haven’t taken on and you get somebody to go, ‘Yeah! I’ll bankroll that! That’ll be fun! Let’s do it together’ that’s wonderful! It keeps the plates spinning. It keeps me interested in what I’m doing and it makes those three months of touring in between not seem like something that is repetitive. There is nothing less creative than being recreated. To recreate those memories – like Brian Eno said many years ago; it was something, at the time, he refused to do and I had a lot of respect for that attitude. He didn’t really follow through with it and he made a billion dollars in his own way. But what he said and the principle behind it, I think, is really, really important: You still gotta remain creative.  Recreating what you did is not enough! It certainly ain’t art and it may pay the bills but you’ve got to have some sort of outlet or you were never as creative as you said.”

Speaking of creativity, I asked Howard if the book was tough for him to write and put together.

“Hard, man. It was hard!  It took the better part of a year. I was trying not to write from notes. I started from birth with this thing. Until I got up to about the eighties, I was fine. When I hit the eighties, things got a little foggy and I did have to rely on the daily diaries that I’ve been keeping ever since 1968. I didn’t need them. I really didn’t need them. I knew the high points of every year that I went through and they’re based either on marriages or songs or houses or cars. You remember things – everybody does in their lives – little bookmarks or touchstones or whatever.  That’s the way I sort of wrote this book. I just wanted it to read like I was talking you.

“I didn’t want it to be like it was crap like it was a VH1 movie because that’s just fraudulent. I’m a linguist. I’m a fan of the language so I tried to write it with a bit of intelligence and a little bit of humor. Even though some of the situations that I got myself into were very, very sticky and not much fun over the years, you’ve got to write about this stuff with a little bit of empathy for yourself or else you’re going to be a miserable guy.

“I personally found that by opening as many doors as I did writing this thing, you can’t just close them. I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t wind up in therapy twice a week because of this. I figure that I’ve influenced a lot of people for better or worse in my life.  You can either ignore that or move on or try to make yourself better for it. I just figured that it ain’t too late. I’m just going to attempt to do what I can here.”

Our conversation shifted towards one of the more comical and interesting stories that Kaylan shares in his book:  Puking on the late, great Jimi Hendrix.  I asked Howard if he thought that, with the release of his book, he would now go down in history as the only guy who can make that claim to fame.

“I’m not sure it’s something that anybody else would want to claim.  I’m not really proud of it but I thought I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell the story.  I was young and I was a punk. It was our first night in London and I had already met the Beatles and sort of got beat up by them at their table. It wasn’t fun. It really wasn’t fun. We thought that they were rock gods. One guy in particular, John Lennon, wound up being a jerk. I mean, he was a little tipsy and you can kind of excuse him because of his position in rock and roll. He was a king. But, you know, kings can be nice, too. He just kind of wasn’t. It affected me psychologically. It affected the band. It sent the night into a tailspin.

“I wound up having a dinner with a guy that I had never met before that a new friend, Brian Jones of the Stones, had introduced me to. It was this guy, Hendrix, and I had never heard of him or seen him and we just started talking. We started talking about success and women. He was playing Monterey Pop and he didn’t know what to think about it because he’d been away from the States for all these years and he came from Seattle. This Monterey thing was a really big deal and didn’t know how the U.S. press was going to respond.

“The entire time we kept drinking and drinking and eating and drinking and eating and smoking and drinking and eating.  It got to be a point at about four o’clock in the morning where I’m, like,  ‘I just don’t think that I can even make it to the bathroom, man’ and  I just blew chunks, as they say. It was horrible.   He changed from this soft spoken guy to this mad man and he jumped to his feet and he was cursing at the top of his lungs and I just passed out at the table.  That’s all I remember.  You can’t be proud of a night like that. I still don’t know how I got back to the hotel, though, and unless somebody reads this and answers me, I’m going to go to my grave not knowing how I got back to the hotel.”

While that was one of the biggest, surprising stories to me in the book, I asked Howard what other feedback he’s getting from people as to what they have found surprising.

“Well, a lot of people are amazed at the very first sentence of the book and the cojones it took to say what I said, let alone say it first right off the bat and that was referring to the White House incident in Abe Lincoln’s dressing room (and involved tooting some cocaine).  We were bad boys back then and we weren’t really fans of Richard Nixon at all and there were drugs involved. That’s all that I really can say. We were clowning. We were kids. We really didn’t expect that there would be cameras or guards. Good thing that there weren’t so we got away with murder, so to speak, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“But we had some interesting adventures. The Secret Service unpacked our equipment and they set off an electric metronome that started ticking. They thought it was a bomb. We all hit the ground and they soaked the thing in water and pried off the faceplate and then said, ‘It’s a metronome’ and we said, ‘We told you it was a metronome” and they sent us a check for seventeen dollars by government check. It’s one of those things you keep, you don’t cash.”

I couldn’t resist asking Mr. Kaylan if he thought there might have ever been coke snorted in the White House since the Turtles were there.

“Since we’ve been there?  Oh, absolutely! I could give you a list of people that I probably suspect of being involved since. I gotta say that we were the first rock band to ever play there so we set the stage for, I’m sure, an amazing array of drugs that were yet to follow. I mean, Willie (Nelson) has played there! Everybody’s played there!”

In Shell Shocked, Howard tells of the surprising storing of getting high with the late, legendary Soupy Sales.   Say it isn’t so!

“Seriously.”

Oh, man! Not Soupy!

“And it’s not like I had to supply the drugs or anything. I gotta tell ya, man, that guy was the biggest surprise of my adult life because, as a kid, I had really worshipped that guy. I had grown up watching all of those shows.  I was such a huge fan of Pookie and Hippy and White Fang and Black Tooth- they were like family to me. I couldn’t believe it when my good friend invited his neighbor from across the hall to come over. I thought it was going to be some plumber or something – no offense to plumbers.  In walks Soupy Sales. Soupy f-ing Sales  - and with a stash that I could not even believe. Just an incredible array of ‘What?  And you’ve got what? What’s that? That does what? Oh my god!’ He was just unbelievable.

“He was in the business a very long time and, evidently, I was a newcomer compared to him. So, the first night, especially, we proceeded to – I can’t tell you how high everybody was. He goes, ‘Wait, wait, wait!’ and he runs across the hall and he came back with Pookie!’ Come on, Man! He came back with POOKIE! I nearly lost it. That was it for me, man. I was in hog heaven. We worked with him many times. When asked who we wanted to open a show, we would check to see if he was still around and doing it (comedy) and, if it was a comic on the circuit, we would always say, ‘Soupy Sales!’ He wound up doing quite a few shows with us over the course of his life and we got to know him quite well.”

I’m a business geek and love learning the business side of anything. I wanted to bring our chat back around to something Howard already alluded to earlier in our conversation and that was the Turtles’ legendary ownership of their own name and catalog when so many artists from their time don’t own their own.  I was first made aware of this a few years ago during my interview with Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Here’s what he said in that interview, " . . . The Turtles are a BIG draw. There for a while, every movie that came out had that song in it. Remember that song, "So Happy Together"? Every movie! And there was one movie that had it in the title! (Laughs) I know how much you make on those things and they made a lot of money."

I asked Mr. Kaylan to give Boomerocity readers a Reader’s Digest version of how he and Mr. Volman wound up pulling off the business coup of rock music history.

“Well, every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, our cloud was huge and monstrous and what it was was our record company – a little independent called White Whale Records in Los Angeles had owned us for five and a half years – all of our hit records were not on a major label. They were on this little, tiny label. So, we were kind of brats. We recorded what we wanted to, when we wanted to and we were a bratty as kids could be and they were as ‘a-holey’ as guys could be on the other end of the spectrum. They were ‘suits’ in the worst possible sense of the word and thugs and that was born out in court.

“In one six month period of time – we went in and did an audit on those guys – and we discovered a $685,000 discrepancy in 1969. That wasn’t really in our peak earning period, even, but it was a six month period of time. Extrapolated over the amount of time that they were given, we sued them for two and a half million bucks and they countersued – which was their right to do. Anybody can countersue on any claim.  It was part of their countersuit, however, that the contract we had with them that signed us not only as the Turtles but signed each and every one of us individually. They had separate contracts with each of us. We didn’t sign a group contract; separate contracts with each of us so that I couldn’t make a record, Mark couldn’t make a record.

“We decided that, not only that we had it with the rest of the guys in the band, but we were also knocking our heads against a brick wall with the record company, White Whale, and decided to just disband the group. We found that it was easier to form a band than it was to break one up. We were a California corporation. We employed a great many people – indirectly or directly.  The suits started flying in our face. It wasn’t only them, it was management suits that came back to us over the years and divorce proceedings that were going on at the same time. So, literally, there was a period there at the end of 1970 where I was in court, personally, almost every day that we weren’t out on the road. A great, long period of time – maybe two and half years of constant depositions and constantly going to L.A. County Court and fighting for our name.

“We wound up winning the White Whale lawsuit. We wound up winning our name back. We won the right to be the Turtles and to be ourselves again.  This was only after our having renamed ourselves Flo and Eddie. As part of the lawsuit, we were awarded all of the Turtles’ master recordings. In the years in between the Turtles’ breakup and the settlement, all of the other band members decided that there was no future in owning any piece of an old band like that.  Mark and I had been able to borrow money from other people – like Alice Cooper’s manager and Frank Zappa’s manager – and, literally, buy those guys out for pennies – several thousand dollars. They were gone so Mark and I wound up being the only two guys who were responsible, at the end of the day, for owning the name and everything that went with it. That took place in the mid-seventies or so and ever since that time, when you hear Happy Together played on the radio or any of the other Turtles songs that have come out in the part of a Flo and Eddie, Inc.,  catalog, that’s us!  There’s no record company in between and it’s been an incredible thing.

“Like I say, when people hear it used in a Simpson’s or used in an Adaptation or a picture like that where it’s used in an opening or closing credits, that’s huge. That’s a great, great thing for us and it revitalizes that song and the catalog for another year or two. It makes people remember, ‘Oh, yeah! Those guys! They’re still around!’ We managed to still be around in a lot of people’s minds and that’s sort of kept us alive for all these years.”

With his unique experience and perspective of the industry, I asked Howard what he would do if he was Music Czar, tasked with fixing the music business.

“The first thing I would do is I would make sure that every radio station played every kind of music that there was to play so that you didn’t have to make a judgment before you listened to something whether or not that was your genre or not. Back in the day, you used to have a Turtles record and an Otis Redding record and a Supremes record and a Gary Lewis record and a Matt Monroe record. God knows, Dusty Springfield, Monkees, whatever it was, played back to back to back on the same radio station. It was great. Everybody was educated. Everybody knew what the music was.

“Today, unless you’re talking about a very narrow band of hits radio stations, whatever that means, you’ve gotta kind of make your mind up as a listener before you even turn the radio on as to what you want to hear. You can listen to the hip hop station. You can listen to the adult contemporary station. You can listen to the urban station. They’re all different. Country stations are different than top 40 stations. Active adult contemporary is different than regular adult contemporary. I mean, what the hell are they talking about? It used to be that a song is a song is a song. I don’t want to learn what’s popular by watching cover versions done on American Idol or The Voice. That’s not the way I want to hear my music.

“Fortunately, I don’t get involved very much with contemporary radio. Unless stands out to me as an entertainer like Rhianna or Adam Lambert or somebody who’s there for a reason and has earned their place, I don’t care. I just really don’t care. I’d rather stick to the people – present or past – that I’ve enjoyed listening to all my life and I don’t go all the way back to classic oldies. I’ll go back as far as the first Foo Fighters album. I really don’t take it that very far back. I’m an alternative radio kind of guy. I went through the eighties listening to The Replacements and Soul Asylum and Hȕsker Dȕ – bands like that and I’m still really into bands like that. Yo La Tengo are friends of mine and I love those guys. I see them constantly. That’s the kind of music I like to listen to.

“I don’t believe that good music stopped being made when Led Zeppelin quite. I think there are great bands out there to this day. I bring up Foo Fighters because they’re the hardest rockin’ band that I could think of off-hand but there are great players all over.   Man, certainly in Texas! I mean, you guys – every block there’s an incredible player! We’re talking about an area that is still yet to be mined all over the place.  And, yeah, the internet is great for those people to get a foothold – at least a small following in the business. But they’ve got to remember it’s still the same thing: it’s the record business. The minute you say you’re in music, you’re a champ. The minute you say you’re in the music business, you’ve turned a corner. Now you’re selling yourself already so you’ve got to be ready for the same four guys that were running the music business back when I was a sprout. I’m talking about Clive Davis and his cronies - the same four people that are still running the industry.  It’s kind of not fair because there’s all this illusion that there’s been an independent swing and that little labels are popular but that’s not really true. Once you’re on the internet or popular at all on a small label, your label’s bought by one of those four big guys anyway and you’re doomed.  There’s no place to go.  If you really want success on your level then you’ve got to do it by yourself.”

When I commented that there are only a couple of companies who control most of the venues where acts are booked to play, Howard added, “Exactly so, man, you’ve got to make nice-nice with those people  because it’s a monopoly situation where a company like, oh, let’s just call them the ‘Foggy Stations’.  Let’s say that Foggy Stations own the billboards that are on the edge of town. They also own the radio stations and they own the bands that are playing at the arenas that they own. Most people would think that’s some sort of trade violation. And, yet, it seems not to raise an eyebrow.  So, I’d make friends with those people because anything else would be suicide in that profession and for anybody who would speak against them. You kind of wonder who, exactly, is running this thing and how high it goes. Nobody wants to ask too many questions while they’re still earning a living and their checks are being made out by these incredible people.

“So, no, nothing’s really changed, man, since, maybe the days of Alan Freed and Dick Clark, things really, really haven’t changed very much. The tour busses are a little better. The sound systems are quite a bit better. The halls might be a little bigger.  But, as far as I can see, ‘Hey, isn’t that Gary Lewis I hear on stage?  Yes, it is.’ It’s 1966 as far as I’m concerned and as long as I don’t see the hall before I walk out there, I’ll never know and I’ll be ready for anything.”

As we wound up our chat, I asked Howard how he hoped to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy will be.

“How do I want to be remembered? Well, you know, this book was sort of written in lieu of the fact that we don’t sit around the camp fire anymore, like cavemen and tell stories. We just don’t. I realized that my grandkids are never going to have the advantage of me sitting around telling stories and making cave paintings and pointing out what I did when I was a youth. This is as close as I’m going to get. I’ve had a couple of people who have approached me and say that they thought it was a little strong and they wished I hadn’t been so frank about some of the stories I told. But it’s not their book. They’ll get their chance when it’s their turn to tell their stories and, if they felt that I was being a little too revealing about my impressions, then they should keep their grown up kids away from this book  or own it, on the other hand. Own it and just say, ‘Yeah, I did have a wild life’ and probably get the respect of your kids after all these years.  ‘Thank you, Mom. I didn’t know you had a life in the first place! I think that’s just great!’

“I think as far as leaving a lasting impression, none of us do. Happy Together is my lasting impression. This book is just a bunch of notes on a life. If you can leave any footprints in the sand at all, you’re doing great.  It’s just sand. It’s going to go away in a minute anyway. The wind comes along and you’re meat. But it’s kind of cool to know that, if there’s anybody out there looking for the Library of Congress in some ‘Planet of the Apes’ future, that my book will be in there.

“It’s kind of great knowing on the night that Elvis died that he was listening to our greatest hits album. I don’t know why. It’s just kind of a historical asterisk but it’s kind of a great thing for me. Meeting the Beatles and going through that stuff was a great thing for me. There were certain little things that I needed to tell people to kind of get off of my chest and purge that would’ve been stories otherwise never told. So, why not tell them? If it’s true that everybody’s got a book in them then don’t wait until it’s too late. Even if you’re just writing the book for your grandkids like I did, the time is now. Do it! Talk it into a tape machine or something.  Put a slide show together. Do something to leave a legacy as a legacy for your kids. That’s all that this is, really.  It’s not meant to sell anything.  Like I said, you can’t compete on this kind of level when nobody knows who you are it’s hard to force them to buy your book. I just want them to have the chance to hate me or to be apathetic. I’m a happy guy. I just want to be the guy that tried it!”

Sass Jordan

Posted March, 2010

 

Sass Jordan.  Have you heard of her?  If you’re Canadian, you more than likely have.  In 2003, she served as a judge on Canadian Idol.  In July of the same year,  at the Rolling Stones SARS Relief Concert in Toronto, Sass shared the stage with the Stones, The Flaming Lips, The Isley Brothers, AC/DC, Rush, and a few other of her “closest and dearest friends”.

She’s sold over a million albums world-wide and has worked with and/or toured with some of the biggest names in music including Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Joe Cocker (on the soundtrack from the hit movie, The Bodyguard, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith.  State-side, she’s starred in the lead role of the Broadway production of Love, Janis.  She’s also a winner of Billboard’s Best Female Rock Vocalist award.

In what little spare time that she has, she loves spending with the love of her life (Who also happens to be her husband. That usually helps.), Derek Sharp, lead singer for The Guess Who.

I view Ms. Jordan as one of North America’s best kept secrets that’s long overdue to be widely known.  Having released seven albums since 1988, the state side release of her latest effort, From Dusk Til Dawn, will take place on March 16th.

Having had the privilege of getting to listen to this disc in advance, it was to my immense pleasure that Sass and I chatted by phone to discuss the project.

The conversation was literally less than 10 seconds old and I knew that I was really going to enjoy the conversation.  She is a bubbly, engaging person to talk to.  Her enthusiasm draws the listener in to anything that she wishes to talk about.

We started out talking about the nuances and vagaries of technologies such as Caller ID, airport security and the like. After several minutes of discussion, we concluded that Caller ID is both a blessing and a curse and that Airport Security is klugy, at best.

If we didn’t have an album to talk about, we would have, in all likelihood, solved world hunger.  Perhaps on another day

Before we pursued the subject of From Dusk Til Dawn, I wanted to pass along a message from someone special: Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company and music director for the play, Love, Janis, that Jordan starred in.

I had mentioned to Sam that I was going to be interviewing Sass.  His comments echo many of those who have heard or worked with her:  “Goodness!  What a singer!  This woman is home-fried, strong, comfortable . . . Hey!  If she ever wanted to ever sing with Big Brother, well, that would be a lot of fun!  All of the Love, Janis band – my band – the one I put together for the New York show at the Village Theater on Bleecker Street  - they all wrote me that they all love working with Sass.”

Sass’s response was an awed and humbled, “Wow!  It’s so wonderful to hear stuff like that!”

The reason this quote about Jordan is sincere is that her earnest, weathered, bluesy rasp has been compared none other than Joplin as well as to Melissa Ethridge and even The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson.  I can’t disagree with those comparisons but I’d add Bonnie Bramlett and Bette Midler (in “Janis” mode) to the list. 

But here’s the thing:  I believe when one listens to Sass sing, and you try to pigeon-hole her voice, you’ll quickly find that it’s darn near impossible.  Why? Listening to her is like listening to a vocal hologram.  Listening to her, I realized that I was saying to myself, “Wow!  She sounds like Melissa! No, she just sounded like Janis!  Wait, no! She just sounded like Bonnie Bramlett!”

Listen to her sing and tell me I’m lyin’! 

When I shared this perception with Sass, she said, “Ironic!  Because Bonnie Bramlett’s daughter (and former Fleetwood Mac vocalist), Bekka Bramlett, used to know each other years ago.  Bonnie loved me, according to Bekka.  She said, ‘My mom thinks you’re the greatest!’, which is amazing to me!

“There’s another ‘Bonnie’ who I absolutely adore.  She’s one of my all-time favorites ever.  If I was to ever say that I had modeled myself after anybody – a white female singer – which I DIDN’T, by the way! – I was all about the white MALE singers from ENGLAND! – and the female singers I adored, I didn’t have a hope in hell of ever sounding like because they were all black!  But, anyway, the white one that I love, and to this day adore, is Bonnie Raitt. 

“I think Bonnie Raitt – even though she’s done INCREDIBLY  well – I STILL think she’s under rated!  Isn’t that a stupid thing to say?  She’s had many accolades and people do adore her.  But, my god!  She should be bigger than she is.  She should definitely, definitely be ‘up there’!

“Then there’s another one that you might be aware of, much younger, of course.  Her name is Susan Tedeschi.  She’s really, really good, too!  She’s married to Derek Trucks, the fabulous slide guitar player.  They do stuff together.  If you get a chance, definitely go check those two out!”

When Sass mentioned Raitt, I shared that I thought one of the songs off of From Dusk Til Dawn put me in mind of Bonnie’s I Can’t Make You Love Me, but from a different part of the “hologram”, so to speak.

She pipes in and shares some insight into the song. “It was actually an Eric Clapton song that made me want to write that song.  But that’s what I do.  You figured it out.  I will go and listen to songs that I adored, and still adore, from the past, that put me in a frame of mind and into a ‘vibration’ and then go write my songs. “

When I injected that it’s that song coming through her, influencing her, mixing with her thought and musical “DNA”, and producing a song that is “her”, totally and completely, she adds with her infectious laugh, “That’s right.  I could NEVER ‘knock off’ anybody.  I can’t.  I’d love to be able to say, ‘Hey! If I could do THAT, I MIGHT be wealthier!’  I never managed to do that but you’re so EXACTLY right.  I have no problem whatsoever with people – People are like, ‘Wow! What about the competition? Don’t you feel that they’re going to outshine you?’

“I say, ‘No, I don’t! There is not another that is me!’  Just like there’s not another that is THEM.  It doesn’t matter. It’s always going to have your unique footprint, fingerprint, whatever on it, because you’re a being all unto yourself.  I mean, I know we’re all part of the same being but we’re different bits of it. 

“It never expresses itself the same way twice, no matter what anyone says.  You just feel it energetically.  You relate to the resonance of that frequency or you don’t!  I’m sorry if I’m sounding to ‘New Agey” there.”

Speaking of her song writing process (or, “pro sess”, as they pronounce it in Canada), with the exception of Tom Wait’s Ol’ 55, Jordan wrote all the songs on Dusk.  Masterfully crafted lyrics and beautiful arrangements, she’s outdone herself on this one, folks.

With Dusk being Sass’s eighth solo project, I asked her what the similarities and differences were on this project as compared to the other seven.

“Well, it always has a different flavor and a different energy because of who you worked with on it – played with you on it, that kind of thing.  That makes a big difference.  On this one, From Dusk Til Dawn, that was done with a whole bunch of people I know up here in Toronto.  REALLY great players – WONDERFUl players!

“We recorded all of the basic tracks in something like three days.  It was one of those ‘get in and just focus, head down, plow, go!’ Overdubs and stuff like that were done over the next month after that.  We mixed it in California with an old friend of mine.

“I can tell you more of what’s the same rather than what’s different.  It’s a different time and a different set of songs so it’s going to have a slightly different flavor.  One before it, one that I also really love, which is called “Get What You Give”, I made in Nashville with these incredible players as well but a whole DIFFERENT vibration.  Much more ‘southern’, just that FLAVOR, that down home grit.

“The guy that played on the Motown stuff played bass on some of it.  There were some incredible drummers and incredible guitar players.  It was an AMAZING experience, too!  But, it has a much more ‘we made it in a barn’ type of feeling to it.  I love Nashville!  It’s such a great music town, needless to say!”

I told Sass that I had four favorite songs on Dusk – two tied for first place and then two behind those.  The top two are Awake and Love and Affection.  The second set of two are Ol’ 55 and Stronger. I’m telling you, folks, if the album had been in vinyl, I would have worn the grooves off of these two songs. 

Sass shares some of the stories behind those gems.                                     

“When I went in to make this record, I wanted to make something that had a flavor of what I started out singing back in the 70’s.  When I first started singing, we would sing in the park, me and a couple of friends who played acoustic guitars.  Me and my girlfriend, Vickie, we’d sit in the park, smoke pot – actually, it was hash because we lived in Montreal!  We were fourteen years old – I know, it was pathetic  but it’s the truth – and we would play the songs of the day that we loved and we would learn to sing in harmony  with each other.  That’s how I started out. 

“Eventually, we got good enough that people would say, ‘Hey, could you come play here, play there?”  Then they started to pay us!  That’s how the whole thing sort of started organically for me.  The songs that were big back in those days – the Eagles; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Bonnie Raitt; Jackson Browne; Linda Ronstadt;  - all of that kind of stuff that has that Southern California flavor.  I wanted to tap in to that energetically, even if I couldn’t pull it off sound wise, although Awake, to me, is EXACTLY that.  It sounds like Timothy B. Schmit (Eagles bass player) singing harmony on it. That’s really where I wanted to go.

“But there were also a couple of other things that I wanted to look in to on that record besides that Southern California thing.  I wanted the overall flavor and then I wanted to add a little touch of that British Soul that I love so much. 

“Somebody who is current, who’s out now, who’s a FANTASTIC soul singer in that British style, is James Morrison.  I LOVE that kid!  The song, Stronger, came from that line of reference.  Awake came from ‘Southern California’.  Ol’ 55 is obviously directly related to that.

“With Love and Affection, it goes back to 461 Ocean Boulevard by Eric Clapton. So, there, you have the British sitting in the heart of Southern California! All that stuff from the seventies. Those were the paint boxes that I was using on my canvas.  That’s really where they came from.”

Continuing to describe From Dusk Til Dawn, Sass says, “I say the say the same thing every time (about every record).  This record is really me going to back to how I started.  Exploring the vibe, the feeling of where I was when I was starting.”

Earlier in the conversation, I described to her the philosophy behind Boomerocity wherein we don’t live in the past but wish to draw from the lessons learned during, and the positive vibe from, those times.  She reaches back to that part of the conversation to further describe her work.

“It’s ironic because we were just talking about his earlier about your website, bringing what was good about the past into the present, but not living in the past, right?  That’s really what it (the feeling of the album) is.

“I get my inspiration for what I do from so many different places; from the life that I’m actually physically living; from books and films; from talking to other people; from the way the moon looked when you’re looking at the stars the other night.  Inspiration comes from everywhere - the feeling on the planet right now.  Of course, it’s going through my filters, talking about how I feel about it. 

“Things on the planet have sped up to such a frenzied place, not the least because of our technology – our extreme use of technology in everyday life.  I think humans are trying to keep up with their own technology.  I sound like a Sci-Fi nut!  Ha! Ha!  But it’s SO true! I’m of the group that believes that we’re waking up.  There’s a huge awakening going on. “

I asked if there was any one or two songs that drew more reaction from the listeners than others.

“No, not really.  I’m lucky enough to have really enthusiastic audiences. The difference is always if I’m doing an acoustic set or if I’m doing a full-on rock band set.  If it’s a full-on rock band set, usually the stuff that will get the biggest reaction is the stuff that people know.  That’s usually the way it is.

“I haven’t been playing a lot recently.  It’s been a long time.  I’m just getting back into it.  Basically, that’s what I want to do this year.  I just want to tour.  That’s really where I’m at.”

So, folks, stay tuned.  While Sass Jordan is lining up dates in the U.S., you can catch her acoustic set if you happen to be planning on attending SXSW in Austin, Texas, (March 12th thru March 21st).  She’s scheduled for 1am, March 20th.  Check out www.sxsw.com for more details. 

Also, you will be able to buy her latest CD, From Dusk Til Dawn, on March 16th (and can order it and her other great work here at Boomerocity.com!). You can read my review of it by clicking here.

You’re really going to fall in love with this tremendous, perennially beautiful, Canadian talent.  You really are!